Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two week later, JPGs still haunting

The uncertainty I'm experiencing in the selection of a new pro-body to use for my future photography is simply ridiculous. It should not be this difficult, the conundrum my mind has generated being several grades of retarded. A choice must be made, lest I fall in line with the legion of unfulfilled shooters in this digital world who won't invest in a system because it was planned to be released obsolete and replaced by the next high-tech fad only months later.

A friend came to me recently asking me for a patriotic photo to be used for the cover of his flag store's catalog. I was certain I had a fitting shot (which I was unfortunately unable to find before the deadline), so I proceeded to sift through the digital archive of photos I've taken since '04. It was a surreal experience, really, seeing the story of my life as told only incidentally by the photos strewn about the clusters of the disk. I had no idea that my innate inclination to photograph everything I see and do would ever amount to anything more than the select few I published online (and otherwise).

Once past the wall of indecipherable RAW formats that heavily populated all of 2011 and most of 2010, a gorgeous presentation of people photos dominated the theme of mid 2010 to about 2008. All were JPG, out-of-camera images shot with the D40x, and they were all gorgeous as-processed by that camera. They reminded me how much I miss that style of shooting, with no involved and numbing post-process necessary. That was all done beforehand, allowing the publishing process to quickly flow.

People don't much dominate my photography anymore, but I'm fairly confident that is because I traded in the ease of JPG shooting for a strict RAW process. And that transition was only due to a change in primary subject focus - I had been candidly snap shooting people for years, to the point where it came so naturally I wasn't impressed by the results anymore. The need arose for a new subject, so I traded in the Nikkor magic for the GF1 and perfected the shooting of decayed interiors as best as I could. Now I'm at another transitional period, with an interest equally in both people and static interiors. Two very different subjects, best shot with 2 very different approaches and most appreciated when approached with 2 very different post-process focuses in mind.

More and more the JPG output of my next pro-grade body is scaling the ladder of priority. Panasonic has never had very good JPG processing, only heavily detailed RAW files. For serious, static subjects, that is well and good, but I find my need for such heavy focus on the serious and static diminishing. I'm back to shooting people again, snapping at events and randomly while sitting at Starbucks. I do not want to be stranded in front of my computer for any amount of time to churn those files into usable images when the end result is ultimately only ever going to be a snapshot. Much as I love the G series that Panasonic has produced, impressed as I am by their bodies, their lenses and their image output, they will never be a strong replacement for candid people shooting until their JPG processing engine is heavily overhauled.

My choices are becoming increasingly difficult because I cannot adequately pursue my thematic affections without being invested in two systems. I am forced to choose between them. Panasonic has the best system for architectural and interior shooting, with in-camera correction of all distortion and aberrations in its RAW files so that, once in Photoshop, the hardest tasks are over and it all comes down to the artistic side of RAW processing. No matter what I do, I will always have a soft spot for Panasonic cameras and invest in them accordingly, they're simply that good.

For people shooting, however, my options open up and become much more difficult. In keeping with the MFT standard, Olympus has always been well known for having superb JPG output, with plenty of customization available for JPG processing and in-camera editing. With the recent release of their E-P3, a 45mm f/1.8 was also announced, a cheap and utterly fantastic lens for medium portrait shooting, making that camera seem a clear winner for dedicated people photography. On the flip, however, Fuji also has a camera equally up to the task of candid people shooting with the X100. Its APS-C sensor generates much cleaner higher ISO output, has just as much customization and flexibility with its JPGs and excels in just about ever area in candid people shooting, from flash sync to dynamic range retention. Of course, the issue there is its lack of interchangeable lenses (and the relatively wide 35mm equivalent lens isn't particularly geared to people shooting) and horrendous production schedule (the camera, ordered today, would take literal months to arrive, for sure). In both cases, severe compromise in some area is necessary, and it isn't yet clear to me what I'm willing to sacrifice.

Word in the rumor mill is that Fuji is in talks with MFT standard members Olympus and Panasonic about either potentially joining in the MFT standard or otherwise contributing to it. Panasonic hasn't yet released its scheduled GF1 spiritual successor, and I could only hope in a however unlikely miracle that the gift of Fuji to its potential MFT brethren is its JPG processing magic. If the GF1 successor churns out delicious JPGs then I would certainly love to a be a one-camera-system kind of guy. Today, however, with how things stand in the EVIL camera world, it appears I'll be waiting at least one more year before that kind of magic makes it way into the list of options. For now... choices...