Pacific Palisades – ISO 200, f8, (1/680, 1/170, 1/40) – Lossless
Remember when the Sony A7rII was released and we didn’t have the option for uncompressed RAW and the Internet almost exploded with nerd rage?
Almost immediately Sony responded and gave us uncompressed RAW and a new trend was born, the option to pick between lossless and uncompressed.
When Fujifilm released the X-Pro 2 and the X-T2, they hoped on the trend train and gave the option between lossless and uncompressed right out of the gate. I believe many of the Fujifilm cameras like the X-T1 originally only shot uncompressed RAW, which probably contributed to the reason everyone thought the X-T1 had a slight edge when shooting detail compared to the competition.
So now that we have the option to choose with the X-T2 and X-Pro 2, uncompressed versus lossless compressed, the question arises, does shooting with one versus the other actually make a difference?
Fujifilm X-T2 – Uncompressed vs. Lossless Compressed
There is more of to the story of shooting lossless or uncompressed than just image quality. While that’s also important and should be a factor in your decision to shoot with one or the other, we also have to take into consideration storage space as well at how fast our raw converter hands these formats.
This guide should help clarify some of the differences between these two formats with some quick tests I put together.
Uncompressed captures 14-bits per pixel, which creates RAW files that are roughly 50.6MB.
Lossless captures 14-bits per pixel, but compressed the data creates RAW files that are roughly 24.9MB.
Edit: When I originally wrote this article I had ignorantly posted that lossless is 12-bit. I’ve yet to find any definitive information regarding lossless being 12 or 14 bit and was basing this article on what other cameras were doing. As for now, I’ve been told and will assume that the cameras is just adding a compression to the 14-bit capture. I apologize for any confusion.
Shooting uncompressed creates files that are roughly 100% larger in file size.
Importing Into Lightroom
I set up a camera and recording at 60fps the time it took to import 50 photos into Lightroom.
I’m running a Macbook Pro with 1TB of PCIe flash memory. Lightroom is 2016.6.1 and Camera Raw 9.6.
Importing Uncompressed took: 10 seconds 5 frames or 10.08 seconds.
Importing Lossless took: 8 seconds 53 frames or 8.88 seconds.
This means lossless imports into Lightroom 11.91% faster than uncompressed. Doesn’t seem like much but scale it over 1,000 photos and you could save a little bit of time.
File Handling In Lightroom
For this test I wanted to see which format, uncompressed or lossless performs better once in Lightroom.
Photo Ready Time
What I did was I set the first photo to Provia as the color profile and synced it to the other 49 files. I would then click through the files to see which loaded quicker, uncompressed or lossless.
This is tricky because the results depend on whether Lightroom has already built the thumbnail or not. If Lightroom has not built the thumbnail for the image, then uncompressed was about 54% faster and on occasions even faster than that.
When editing the photos I can’t feel a different between the tonal adjustments however, the curve tool has some significant lag when dealing with lossless compared to uncompressed.
Once you start stacking a lot of effects such as noise reduction, adjustment brushes and gradient filters, they both seem to perform the same.
First off this is not the best image to use as an example, but that was kind of the idea – a real world condition.
I shot a few shots of each, uncompressed and lossless, to see if I could actually see a difference to justify the larger file sizes.
Although there isn’t a lot of color in the shadows or in the fine details of this shot, you can see that the uncompressed image is slightly sharper. It just has a little more detail and feels a bit snappier.
The same applies in the shadows where I lifted the exposure +5 EV in Lightroom.
While recovering detail didn’t seem to give me much better recovery, the image as a whole feels a bit more crisp when shot uncompressed.
Based on the results, we could justify that shooting uncompressed is great for a studio and landscape photographers. But for a street photographer, or even a casual shooter where there will be a lot more shallow focus happening as well as motion blur, any image quality advantage of going uncompressed would probably go unnoticed.
Fujifilm X-T2 Lossless vs. Uncompressed – Bottom Line
It seems using both lossless and uncompressed have their advantages. While lossless imports into Lightroom 11.91% faster, uncompressed gains an advantage of just being all around a bit more snappier in Lightroom until some serious effects are applies.
So I want to say there isn’t any real advantage of using lossless compared to uncompressed with Lightroom. Both have their trade-offs.
However, uncompressed is also about twice the size as lossless. So you could fit twice as many files on a hard drive. But for the landscape and studio photography that works in Photoshop with Tiff or PSD files, this would end up not making any difference as they would probably be working in a 16-bit color space anyway.
For photographers on a hard drive budget, it might make sense to use lossless for casual / incidental photography and then switch over to uncompressed when detail and resolution really matter.
If you know something about shooting Uncompressed vs. Lossless that isn’t shown here, please leave a message in the comments so I can include it in this article. Thanks!
Be sure to check out the Fujifilm X-T2 review.