Digital cameras typically offer a range of ‘picture styles’ to suit different subjects or different tastes in color rendition. Often they are trying to create ‘film simulations’, or the look of analog ‘chemical’ films. Canon calls these Picture Styles, Nikon calls them Picture Controls and other camera makers have their own names.
They include options like ‘Vivid’, ‘Landscape’, ‘Portrait’ and ‘Black and white’, but the key point with all of them is that they are all applied in-camera when you shoot JPEG files. The camera processes the RAW data captured by the sensor to produce this different picture effects and it’s a one-way process – you can’t change your mind later. For this reason, picture styles are an important decision if you intend to shoot only JPEG images.
If you shoot RAW files the situation is different. Here, the camera will include your choice of picture style in the image data, but if you’re using third party software it will ignore this and use its own color profiles and presets. If you shoot RAW+JPEG you can get a JPEG image with the chosen picture style applied by the camera and a RAW file you can process how you like.
Fujifilm and film simulations
Fujifilm is unique amongst camera makers in having a history in film manufacture, not just cameras. Its cameras come with a range of ‘film simulations’ which work in the same way as the picture styles above, but have been designed and calibrated to match the tonal and color reproduction of Fujifilm’s classic analog films.
These include Provia, Fujifilm’s all-purpose professional transparency film, Velvia, its legendary super-saturated transparency film, Astia, a saturated but softer contrast alternative, and ACROS, a black and white film simulation.
Like regular picture styles, these are applied to JPEGs during in-camera processing but are ignored by third-party RAW processing software – though Lightroom and other programs may also offer their own versions of these in-camera picture styles and film simulations.
Black and white and digital cameras
Black and white photography poses a couple of problems for digital photographers. New users are often perplexed when they think they’ve shot a picture in black and white but their RAW software displays full color. This is because the camera’s black and white mode is a picture style applied only to in-camera JPEGs. RAW software will ignore it and you will have to choose a black and white profile or preset in the software.
It can also be difficult to recreate realistic-looking black and white film grain digitally. Digital camera noise has a completely different and unattractive appearance, so film grain has to recreated artificially. A few cameras have ‘grain’ options which do a reasonable job, but mostly this is best added in software which specialises in analog film effects.
A third issue is more subtle. Modern digital cameras are designed to capture a wider range of brightness levels without exaggerated contrast or shadow ‘clipping’, with the result that black and white images straight from the camera can look quite bland. Classical black and white photography often uses a much blunter, high contrast approach, often with heavy dodging and burning and other darkroom manipulation. You can’t recreate the drama of classic black and white images simply with an in-camera picture style – successful black and white images usually need a lot more work than that using the modern digital darkroom (software) to do the work previously done in an actual darkroom.
In camera film simulations vs software profiles
In-camera film simulations deliver specific ‘looks’ exactly as the camera maker designed them. If you shoot RAW files these picture styles will be ignored and the software will render a generic color image. However, many RAW processing programs now include ‘profiles’ to give a variety of different looks that typically include close approximations of the camera maker’s own, as well as a selection that go above and beyond.
For example, there is a whole range of Adobe Lightroom profiles you can apply to RAW images as part of your basic image adjustments. Many programs also offer presets, which can achieve similar results but use a combination of software adjustments to do it.