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SOOC – What, Why & How?

SOOC – What, Why & How?

Torquay Pier, February 2021
Torquay Pier, February 2021 SOOC Image

Spolier alert, this article is about using customised settings in your Fujifilm camera to create unique and interesting jpeg’s straight out of camera (SOOC). RAW shooters may want to turn away now 🙂

My interests in photography are coloured by the work of others, especially those involved in documentary, candid and so called street.  Photography of people doing everyday things in particular move me in a way that landscapes and formal portraits never have, despite the fact that I value them for the techical and aesthetic value they often bring to the table. This love of history and the photographers that trudged around the the streets 40, 50 and more years ago, push me inexorably to explore ways in which I can create my own style. This article looks at one such way.

While for the most part I’ve only been shooting digital for the past few years, my interests in photography go back to the 1970’s. My first serious camera was a Pentax KM complete with 50mm f1.8 kit lens although I also loved to play with Polaroid’s and instant film. Like most then I shot mainly in B&W, primarily because this afforded the opportunity to sit in dark cupboards and develop film but also because B&W was, and remains, enigmatic. It is as if by stripping away colour we are able to better see and enjoy the subject for what it is, rather than be confused by everything going on around it. Of course, I also shot in colour, why wouldn’t you, and although I preferred B&W as a medium for my photography, colour images of the day always offered a different take on the world primarily because of the limitations of the technology at that time and the vageries of the various emulsions on offer.

My first serious digital camera, apart from an old Nikon Coolpix from the mid 2000’s, was the Panasonic Lumix GX85 with a 12-32mm f3.5 kit lens. I updated the lens fairly quickly to the 12-60mm f3.5 although I have to say, that kit lens is a cracker. In fact, the GX85 was a great buy, technically capable of producing some great images despite its diminutive 16MP micro four thirds sensor. I still have that camera today but laterly, it’s been a little overshadowed by a move towards Fujifilm technology. It wasn’t supposed to be like this though, up until I bought my Fujifilm x-t1 I was looking to buy the Nikon Z6, newly released and getting excellent reviews. It was a chance article online where I learned about Fujifilm simulations, or so called straight out of camera (SOOC) jpegs that made me rethink that purchase. Although my GX85, and indeed my Nikon D600 and Canon G7 mkII all offered some interesting in-camera effects such as bleached bypass, monochrome, sepia, toy camera, vivid, subdued etc, none provided the tools to allow me to create my own unique style. Fujifilm did and that was a game changer for me because the one thing that I really wanted to do was to get closer to the tones and colours of my photography from the 1970’s. Fujifilm seemed the way forward to achieving that.

Although I could have waded in and bought the Fujifilm x-t3 or x-pro2, I decided to play safe and buy the older but very competent Fujifilm x-t1. My purchase, a 2016 model bought on Ebay, came boxed and still wrapped with all the extras for just £180. It looked brand new although how much use it had actually had I’ll never know. I also bought the 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens and a motor drive, to complete the setup figuring this would offer the perfect opportunity to explore SOOC without breaking the bank. If it was a success, I could always trade up or buy a second body, perhaps the x-t4 which was about to launch or even the x-pro3 which was an even better fit to my documentary interests.

So, what exactly is SOOC and why does it create so much interest? I don’t know about others but the attraction of SOOC to me is the ability to flavour what I capture through manipulating some of the key sensor parameters available to me. In the case of the x-t1 you start by choosing a base film emulation eg Classic Chrome, Pro Neg, Astia, Provia etc and then further modify this to provide a unique and interesting film intepretation. Factors you can control in the x-t1 include dynamic range (which is controlled by ISO), shadows, highlights, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction. Additionally, custom white balance with micro adjustments can be created to push or pull blues, push or pull reds. Changing any of these settings creates a new result SOOC giving the photographer access to literally an infinte number of looks to their jpegs.  

Of course to some people, especially those used to shooting RAW, why bother.  Jpegs after all have their colour and tone baked in and offer little scope for further processing without detriment to the original image. True. Fortunately, and like other systems, the Fuji is able to shoot both RAW and JPEG so you get the best of both worlds by choosing this option if you feel that the resulting output needs soem post-processing later. The primary difference to say Nikon or Sony is that, based on the ambient lighting and  your custom white balance, you are able to create a unique film-like jpeg SOOC plus you still have your RAW image to fall back on in post should you need it. The result of these manipulations to the jpeg is that they tend to have a milky, film like quality rather than the super sharpness you often associate with modern digital sensors. The image at the top of the page is an example of an unprocessed jpeg taken straight out of camera (SOOC) which uses various modifications to the tone curve as described above. I have also included a gallery of images at the end of this post that are created in a similar way, all SOOC from the Fuji x-t1. Later Fuji cameras BTW, such as the x-pro3 and x-t4 have even more features which provide for even better filmic experiences, for example the ability to add film grain.

The final part of this article is to look at the how in more detail. I mentioned that all of the images on this page have been created using a particular recipe. So that you better understand what this recipe looks like, I am going to outline the various parts in a little more detail. Importantly, this recipe is based on Pro Neg Hi, which pushes my jpegs towards Classic Negative or Fujifilm Superia 100 as it is better known. Superia 100 is a relatively unsaturated film stock pushed slightly towards blue and red. It has a harder tonality than say Pro Neg Hi which is can be achieved by adjusting the tone curve. Unfortunately, the natural start point for Superia 100 would be to start with a Classic Negative film emulation but this not an option on the x-t1 hence the reason I started with Pro Neg Hi and then modified the various parameters as explained above. So, here are the changes I made to the custom settings:

  • Film Type: Pro Neg Hi
  • White Balance: Grey card / B+1 R+1
  • Dynamic Range: 400
  • ISO: 800
  • Saturation: -2
  • Shadows: +2
  • Highlights: -2
  • Sharpness: -2
  • Noise Reduction: 0
  • EV: +1/3 – 2/3

This recipe is the base for all of the images on this page and as you can see, the ambient light conditions play a big part in what the final image looks like. Many photographers fall into the trap of labelling their images as Pro 400H, Superia 100, Portra 160 etc but in reallity I don’t feel that it’s possible to label a set of images in this way purely because as the light changes, so does the look of the image. I prefer to call my sets “like” Superia 100 as this is more appropriate in my eyes.

Fuji have in my eyes nailed the ability to take photography away from the pixel peepers into a whole new and exciting realm where the subject and composition matters much more that the sharpness of the image. Of course, my Sony shooting pals think I’m nuts but to me, it’s the imperfections in what I capture that make the image perfect for me.

The next phase of this particular “let’s get back to an analogue world” is to use my film results from the expired Superia 100 and Reala 100 films I have to help me fine tune my recipe. Although I love the Fuji x-t1 I fear that eventually I am going to have to upgrade to a later version in order to have access to some of the newer tweaks those cameras have with regards recipe formulation.

Hands on with the Viltrox 23mm f1.4

Hands on with the Viltrox 23mm f1.4

If you are thinking of buying the Fujifilm 23mm f1.4 then hold on a moment, there’s a new kid on the block and he’s not pulling his punches!! The Viltrox 23mm f1.4 is pretty much a no brainer when searching for the ideal 35mm equivelent street lens. With a full frame equivelent focal length of 35mm the Viltrox 23mm has to be one of the best bang for the buck prime lenses on the planet and an ideal companion lens for anyone shooting candid, street or documentary. Sure the Fuji version might be better optimised for use on Fuji equipment but I doub’t you’ll notice any difference whatsoever let alone anything significant. It’s an amazing lens at a steal of a price. I think mine cost me £230 here in the UK.

The Viltrox 23mm renders colour extraordinarily well, has very limited distortion and weighs practically nothing. Supplied with a lightweight metal hood, the Viltrox 23mm oozes class. It looks great, works great and feels great. It there is one tiny flaw it is that is has no detent on the aperture ring (distinct click) so you may inadvertantly open or close the aperture in use. Personally, I prefer a detent click but for £500 less that Fuji version, I’m not going to get too precious about that.

When I’m shooting lazy street I simply set the ISO to 800, aperture to f4 or f5.6, put the Fuji x-t1 on auto and start snapping. The autofocus is super quick so you simply can’t miss any shots with that setup. Why such a high ISO? It’s because I like to shoot SOOC and with the ISO set to 800 and dynamic range set to 400, the shots I get have maximum dynamic range. The photos above are from a while back when I had just bought the Fuji x-t1 so I think I was shooting classic chrome simulations then. Nowadays, I tend to use ProNeg Hi as the base film with DR400, ISO800 and EV +1/3 – 2/3rd but that very much depends on the light I’m dealing with. The images below are from today and these were taken at the same basic settings as above but with EV 0. I was using ProNeg Hi with a custom white balance based on the ambient light and a grey card. I set the WB at the beginning of every shoot as well as if the light changes throughout the shoot. If I was taking these images again now, I would use EV +1/3 just to lift the expsore a little plus I would probably softent the shadows. I suspect with this recipe I am using Shadows +2 whereas I think for this lens, +1 would be better. Something to think about for next time.

I personally don’t chase pixel perfection in my images. I’m a child of the 60’s so my earliest photographic moments were with a Pentax KM with manual everything. Nowadays, I prefer my images to look look like they were taken on an old SLR rather than a super sophisticated digital camera. If I wanted that I’d buy a Sony.

The Viltrox 23mm f1.4 is something every Fuji shooter should have in their camera bag, whether you’re into landscape, candid or documentary. I personally wouldn’t use it for portraiture as I prefer a nifty 50mm or 85mm lens but it renders colours accurately so no reason why you couldn’t, especially for candid / street portraiture. The Viltrox coupled to the Fuji x-t1 is also something else. The x-t1 can’t compete with it’s younger sibblings e.g. the x-t3, x-t4, x100v or x-pro3 but my gosh, what a sweet camera to have with you when you’re out walking the streets. It compares nicely to my other favourite street camera, the Lumix GX-85 which when coupled to the 12-60mm is a dream boat of a date. These two cameras are simply amazing for street work but either will equally excell at portraiture or landscape given the right lens combo.

The Fuji x-t1. What’s not to like?

The Fuji x-t1. What’s not to like?

It’s no secret that I am a great fan of Fuji tech. I think that their X series in particular offers some amazing opportunities for photographers of all interests and abilities. Not only perfect in size, even the top of the range x-t4  is easy on the shoulder, but in operation too especially with those sexy retro dials and yester-year looks. Add to that the second-to-none jpeg engine every model of the x series has access to and we are talking special.

At the moment, my squeeze is the x-t1 pictured here. Old by today’s standards but no less a gold mine of useful functionality from the amazing viewfinder to it’s retro looks and styling. Show me another camera outside of the Fuji range, and I’m not an old-school SLR, that looks like this and I’ll (maybe) eat it. Now, don’t get me wrong, the x-t1 isn’t going to knock spots off even some of the lower end of the Sony range  but that’s not the point. It’s a joy to use, a joy to experiment with and it produces some great images, especially jpeg’s SOOC despite its diminutive 16Mp X-Trans II sensor. Recent enhancements bought Classic Chrome to the firmware making it possible to get somewhere close to vintage Kodachrome styled jpeg’s albeit that a little bit of tweaking is required in post to add some grain and modify the tone curve very slightly to get the true film experience. That being said, there are plenty of SOOC jpeg’s that will pass muster “as is” especially in the right lighting conditions. My personal preference for achieving a true film look is shooting contra-jour, or against the light as this just seems to roll off the highlights in a way very similar to film.

With regards lenses, to-date I’ve persevered with the 18-55 f2.8-4 kit lens, although I actually bought mine seperately from the camera, the Samyang 12mm f2.0 which I bought for a interior photo shoot and the Viltrox 23mm F1.4 which I have had little opportunity to use at present. Other than these, the 16-80mm f4 definately interests me as well as maybe something a little longer. That being said, I haven’t felt that I am overly limited in any way because I tend to shoot documentary and candid so you’ll generally see the whites of their eyes when shooting.

In terms of outlay, the Fuji x-t1 cost me just £180 in perfect almost unused condition, and I picked up the 18-55 on Ebay for another £180. I also splashed out £130 on the battery grip from MBP as I’d read this makes the camera so much more useful on long shoots. All in all, I put this kit togther for just £490 which I feel is a good price for what is an amazing bit of kit. Since buying the x-t1 it’s been my primary camera despite the fact that for candid / documentary I loved using the diminutive Lumix GX-85 with go-to 12-60mm lens. That’s a great street camera by anyone’s standards and well worth looking out for if you like the idea of a touch screen and a great menu system.

Given that you can pick up the x-t1 for a song, especially if you already have a cupboard full of x-mount lenses, the x-t1 makes an ideal 2nd body or even a primary shooter if you’re on a tight budget. It’s a great way to get started with Fuji and I’m pretty sure that it won’t be the last Fuji you buy.