How to get that “Fuji” JPEG look on your Sony Mirrorless Camera

on April 8, 2016

With the release of the new Fuji X-Pro2 and the Sony A6300 so close together, there were BOUND to be comparisons.  I have not seen a side-by-side teardown of the two models, but Fuji DOES use Sony sensors in their cameras, and the delay fo the sensor for the A6300 was one of the reasons for the delay of the X-Pro2 last year.  Looking at the specs, they are very similar in a lot of ways, but the Sony seems to pull ahead with the autofocus and video capabilities, recording gorgeous 4k for  under $1000.  The X-Pro2 also clocks in at almost twice the price at $1700.  So why would anyone pay more for a camera that has the same sensor and more limited specs?

DNA

Both BATS and BEES have wings, but how they got there is a very different story, even though they both achieve the same thing.

Ask anyone who has shot a Fuji and the will tell you how much they LOVE their camera.  It’s usually a slightly older photographer who has memories of the film days and has resented all the “gadgetry” of modern digital cameras.  (Yes, there are also hipsters who love it for the ironic-retro look, but they are now pillaging REAL film cameras and Polaroids, mainly because they’re cheaper and more “legit”.)  Shooting a film camera required a connection to the camera.  You had to know where everything was by feel.  Each lever and button had a purpose, and you would carefully compose your frame and release the shutter, then wait till your pictures came back to see what you shot.  There was an artistry to master, and it required patience and a CONNECTION to the equipment.

Then compact “Point & Shoots” came along and invented “snapshots”.  These were the kind of photos people took on vacation.  They documented experiences.  They were the equivalent of the Home Movie Camera.  The death of the P&S came with the iPhone 4 and it’s impressive camera.  It was the first smartphone with a camera that created images that could compete with a Point & Shoot.  This changed the market completely.  People stopped buying cameras for vacations and office parties.  Camera prices dropped all across the board, and suddenly a new market emerged: The DSLR Hobbyist.  The P&S market dried up and drove enthusiasts to more “pro” model DSLRs and created an explosion.  Sony’s dwindling “Cybershot” division, which had dominated the market, were suddenly pivoting to a new demographic.  Sony, ever the innovators, kept on the forefront of camera TECH and FEATURES.  Canon and Nikon, who had been the only name in DSLRs, continued to make better cameras focused primarily on the Megapixel War.  The names Fuji, Pentax, Olympus, Ricoh- these were all scavengers picking up the pieces of the market that the big boys didn’t want.

Mirrorless came out, and as a proof-of-concept, it was noteworthy.  People liked the idea of smaller, lighter cameras.  But the Image Quality just wasn’t there, and the autofocus was horrendous, so it was never a choice for professional shooters.  It offered features like wifi and EVF, but was still nothing more than a glorified P&S.

Then, it got better.  Actually a LOT better.  All of a sudden, mirrorless wasn’t about the size or the convenience, it was about the image quality and performance.  The Sony A7RII can go head to head with the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5DSR and actually PULL AHEAD.  It’s not just good for a mirrorless– it’s good period.

The Fuji X100 came out just as mirrorless cameras were finding their stride.  The Fuji brand had started to fall to the wayside, as a large part of it’s previous market had been “vacation cameras”.  They took a bold step in coming out with a camera that is technically a point and shoot with NO ZOOM.  It looked like an old-fashioned camera.  It was insanely overpriced for its specs.  And it SOLD OUT BEFORE IT WAS RELEASED.  This was the camera for everyone who grew up wanting a Leica, but now couldn’t afford it.  The Leica – once the workhorse of the photojournalist – has now become known as the “Dentist’s Camera” due to it’s exorbitant prices.  The Fuji shooters were a little older and didn’t mind paying a little more for a camera that felt “familiar”.

Using a Fuji was equivalent to driving a stick shift.  Even though there are “Tiptronic” automatics that can shift faster, nothing can replace the connection between machine and man than being in control of everything.  And for Fuji, that meant DIALS and SWITCHES.  They made a TACTILE interface that led to a more engaging interface and satisfying User Experience- what Web Guys now call UX.  Nothing can replicate that KINESTHETIC experience.  Certainly not digging through a Menu system.

But that wasn’t really it.  If someone wanted all that, they could still use a film camera.  What Fuji did was, they included a FANTASTIC JPEG RENDERER in the camera.  Ask any digital photographer what they spend most of their time ACTUALLY doing vs what they ENJOY doing, and they will complain that they spend too much time behind the computer when what they really love is SHOOTING.

And of course, they HAD to.  We’ve been told for so long that to get the most out of your photos, you have to shoot in RAW, and to get your RAW photos to look good, you had to edit them on the computer.

Then computers got faster.  And cheaper.  And smaller.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard- and said -“Don’t do it on the tiny processor in your camera, use the big processor on your computer.”  Those processors in your camera have come a long way.  The BIGGEST thing that Fuji shooters love is that they can share JPEGS STRAIGHT FROM THE CAMERA.

Tell that to a Nikon or Canon shooter and they won’t believe you.

The “Film Emulation” modes on the Fujis are just spectacular.  But the one thing you will hear ALL the time is how people RAVE about the Black and White modes.  To SHOOT well in B&W, you have to think and SEE in B&W, and that EVF is a great way to learn to do that.  Fuji has also started including an “Acros” B&W setting in their cameras now, and they have a great B&W + COLORED FILTER setting that will get you wanting to be Ansel Adams faster than any first-year photography student.

So what’s the point of this?

The point is: I have a Sony Camera with a PHENOMENAL sensor and a pretty powerful jpeg engine in the camera.  BUT, there are also Picture Profiles that you can customize to a VERY EXTENSIVE AMOUNT.  The only thing missing is “Built-In Presets”.

So I set out to do that.

The first thing you want to do is set up your camera for Jpegs.

Yes, I know.  You don’t trust it.  But your camera creates a jpeg thumbnail EVEN IN RAW MODE for you to look at on the back, so at least use RAW + JPEG mode.  We are going to be sharing the JPEGS in this test, so just try to have faith.

When it comes to B&W modes, there are a couple ways to do this, and a couple different looks you might want to go for.

The fast and easy way is to go to the “Creative Style”  section and modify one of your B&W settings.

All you have to do is pump up the CONTRAST to +3 and the SHARPNESS to +3. (Yes, I know you are cringing in your seat.  This is everything we have learned NOT to do.  But remember- we want to share SOOC.)  This look will give you a very contrasty B&W look that is the hallmark of what most people think of when they think B&W.  This is great for landscapes and street photography, and can make even the very mundane look “Artsy”.

That’s nothing new, though.  EVERY camera has a B&W mode.

What we want to do is replicate a TRUE film stock as much as possible.  For this, I will be using TRI-X as my base model.  I’m using an extreme version of the film emulation that’s very popular in Lightroom.

Kodak Tri-X

To do these adjustments, we need to customize one of the PICTURE PROFILES in your Sony.  Now, depending on your camera model, you might have up to NINE different slots for these.  Just pick one that you don’t really use that much, and we’ll go from there.  One of the things about film is the way it handles ROLL OFF.  We’ll go more into that later. You want to make the following adjustments, and I’ll explain why:

White Balance: Daylight

Most B&W film was Daylight Balanced, so keeping it here will give you some really interesting Monochrome Looks, even if it’s not “accurate”.

Black Level: +13

This is your “Pedestal”, or where your Black Point lives.  The Curves in Lightroom show this coming in at 13.3.  Raising your black level this much gives your image that “Matte” quality that has become so popular recently.  (If this isn’t for you, you can dial it back to maybe 5-7.)  When I’m feeling particularly artsy, I’ll bump it all the way to 15.

Gamma: Cine4

This is the response curve of your colors.  I’ve just found it to be the most responsive to the Film Look.  It is contrasty enough in the mid-tones, but still has decent detail in the highs and lows.

Black Gamma: Narrow, -7

This determines how your profile handles the Shadows.  For the Film Look, you want our shadows to roll off in a NONLINEAR fashion, meaning you want the left side of that S-curve.  I set it to NARROW, so that what is defined as the “shadows” are in a narrow spectrum.  I then set it to -7 to get that shadow roll off to emulate what you would find in film stock.

Knee: 90%

Slope: -5

The Knee is where the Right Side of the S-curve STARTS to bend to protect the highlights.  Seeing as we want those highlights to END at about 95-97, that curve should start at around 90%.

Slope is how EXTREME you want that bend to be.  A SLOPE of +5 is literally NO SLOPE at all, so -5 if s very soft roll off for those highlight details. (This is a look popularized with Leica Cameras and lenses).

Color Mode: Black & White

This should need little explanation.

Color Depth:

R +7
G -2
B+3
C +1
M +3
Y -1

This bit took a little bit of finesse.  The colors you can adjust are Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.  The colors on your Lightroom Sliders are Red, orange, Yellow, Green, Aqua, Blue, Purple, and Magenta.  Keep in mind, this is all for color sensitivity that will then be converted to B&W.

Screenshot 2016-04-08 01.32.23

 

(RED FILTER):

One thing I really liked in the Fuji Cameras is the ability to put on “Digital Colored Filters”.  I bumped up the “Color Depth” of the RED Channel to emulate a RED filter, primarily because I thought the look without it was too subtle.  This could be the effect of having your shared photos compete with the VERY dramatic Instagram Filters that are everywhere, but I just really loved the “Red Filter” look on B&W (as did Ansel Adams).  If you aren’t a fan of this look, I would suggest putting your RED channel depth to a +2 or+3.

Alternatively, you could also hijack your YELLOW or GREEN channels to do the same thing with those filters.

 

All in all, I am very happy with this Picture Profile.  While I will probably always shoot a copy of everything in RAW, I like to keep this on my camera when I’m just “out shooting” and don’t know what I’m going to get.  It’s my “Street Photography” preset.  The one thing it doesn’t have is Film Grain, but I like it enough that I feel comfortable sharing it on social media without running it through another photo editing app.  It looks good SOOC, which if you’ve been shooting RAW or (or especially Slog2) is something you might not be used to.

But the greatest thing that I love about this is that it give me less time EDITING my photos, and more time SHOOTING them.  And for me, that feels like a second honeymoon.



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