March 21st, 2022

The worst firmware design error I've ever seen

Suppose that you're checking some of the key settings of your Fujifilm GFX 100S by looking at your custom "My Menu" tab in the main menu area of your camera and you see this (this is how mine is set up):

What kind of RAW file will the camera be saving when you trip the shutter?

The interface says it will be a losslessly compressed RAW file (as opposed to either the lossy-compressed or uncompressed RAW formats).  The choice of 14- or 16-bit RAW format is not shown here.  Also, the aspect ratio of the saved RAW will be the full, uncropped 4x3 file, both with respect to the actual data saved and with respect to how those data are shown in a raw converter, in the EVF, and on the LCD, as opposed to being shown, for example, in all three places, as having been cropped to a 4x5 aspect ratio, in which case the indicated Image Size would be "L 5:4".  Note that in all cases, RAW files are saved without actual cropping and at full size (100+ MP), though sometimes a RAW conversion program will prove incapable of giving you access to the full, uncropped RAW data via special settings!

But that would be wrong (the obvious assumption that a Lossless RAW file will be saved).

The actual nature of the RAW file being saved is... None (!!!).

Largely as a result of this awful UI design result, stating that the "Raw Recording" will be "Lossless", when in fact no RAW file will be recorded, I just needlessly lost every single raw capture from among close to 2,000 captures made on two very important, far away, never to be repeated days of making pictures, wherein I made what would surely have been at least five very important and precious images.  This is where your heart drops through the floor.

After dealing with the horror of this shock for a couple of days, and carefully examining the consequences, I have tentatively concluded that thanks to my own very careful optimization of the JPEG quality in my camera setup and careful use of exposure techniques for difficult subject matter (coupled with Fujifilm's choice to keep the quality of even their lowest quality JPEG extraordinarily high) I will yet be able to get very solid results from most of this new work, though certainly not all.  But can you imagine the horror of this moment of discovery?  This is the biggest screw-up I've experienced in half a century of making pictures and it happened far too easily.  Yes, I might also have noticed the tiny RAW symbol on the top LCD being missing.  Or I might have realized that the number of frames which could fit onto my card was 4 or 5X larger than it should have been.  But I didn't, because I normally don't have to think about those clues.

Here is the subtly different appearance of the menu when the settings are correct for capturing the expected Large (in pixel dimensions), Normal quality JPEGs and the 14-bit, Losslessly compressed RAW files intended (compare to the first illustration and burn that into your brain):

See the difference?  Would you likely miss that little RAW symbol if it were missing?  Are you sure?

Don't ask me how the IMAGE QUALITY setting got changed, but somehow during the making of snapshots the day before, it did get changed.  I most certainly did not change it intentionally, nor do I have any recollection of having even looked into the IMAGE QUALITY menu item's list of seven choices, let alone of changing it.  At no point did I have any actual reason to look into that menu item.

Could it have changed itself because of a bug?  It seems unlikely but I can only conclude that this is possible.  Nevertheless, I have to say that I find it totally unacceptable that the GUI doesn't say RAW RECORDING:  NONE when RAW Recording is disabled!  Notice the MOUNT ADAPTER SETTING item?  When there is no third-party lens attached to the camera via an adaptor, that setting is grayed out and the difference is very obvious when viewing the menus.  The firmware design team didn't even opt to do that to the "RAW RECORDING   LOSSLESS" item.  Just graying it out would often be sufficient to call attention to the fact that no RAW files will be recorded.  Ideally, it would both say RAW RECORDING   NONE and be grayed out.  That would be hard to miss, which is what we need when dealing with this exceedingly complex camera, by far the most complex digital camera interface I've ever used extensively, among six major brands. 

My friend Samuel Chia had an even better idea: Add what I would suggest be called SHOOT WITHOUT RAW to the Wrench > Button/Dial Setting menu, on page 2, immediately after the SHOOT WITHOUT LENS and SHOOT WITHOUT CARD features.  Just like these other settings with ON and OFF choices, a user would typically set this to DISABLED from the default ENABLED and leave it there for the life of the camera — 100% insurance against this ever happening.  If the user wished to change the IMAGE QUALITY menu choice to one of the three that include only JPEG, a message might be needed to explain why the JPEG-only choices were grayed out, though I think a user would remember that they had set SHOOT WITHOUT RAW to DISABLED.

The other day I got feedback from another photographer, with whom I've had occasional correspondence, regarding the recent review of my second book in the On Landscape UK website, and he mentioned that, sure enough, he had suffered the exact same experience that I suffered — no RAW files recorded, unintentionally.                                                                                                                        

Fujifilm team:  Please fix this!  There are a number of other flaws in the GUI features shown here, as well as a great many others elsewhere in the menus, but this is the most urgent one that I can think of.  The Fujifilm menus leave a lot to be desired with respect to linguistic clarity but are exceedingly rich with features — more so than any other brand I've seen.  Thankfully the image quality is also exceptionally fine, which is most of what drives one to this system, and that has helped to make even the Large Normal JPEGs close enough to RAW quality in enough ways, given my careful setup of the JPEG recording options and conservative exposing techniques during these two days of precious working, for me to now expect to save most of this tragically missing work.

The first of the other errors here is that "IMAGE QUALITY" should say "FILE TYPE(S)" or "RAW &/OR JPEG".  Within that menu it should say exactly:                         








Outside the menu item, to the right of "RAW &/OR JPEG" it should say exactly either: SF ONLY, F ONLY, N ONLY, RAW+SF, RAW+F, RAW+N, or RAW ONLY.  This way the visual presence of "ONLY" vs "RAW" is easy to spot and an effective red flag or checks-out-OK scenario.

The next thing is that the "IMAGE SIZE" item is a confusing mess, because it tries to pack too much information into a single control.  What really is needed is to separate it into two controls: a JPEG SIZE control (Large, Medium, Small) which is a function that applies ONLY to the JPEGs, not to the RAWs, and an ASPECT RATIO control, which to a degree applies to both.  The ASPECT RATIO control would offer you, as it does now, the choice of all seven aspect ratios, but only for the chosen L, M or S JPEG size, and so would list seven items only, not 21 items as now.  It would also show the pixel dimensions and pixel count of both the JPEG at the Aspect Ratio selected and the pixel dimensions and pixel count of the RAW file for that Aspect Ratio as well.

Even though the RAW file when set to anything other than 4x3 will actually still contain the full, uncropped, 101MP file, it would be best to show the cropped pixel dimensions here and to teach elsewhere that the full RAW file will still be recorded, albeit with a flag instructing the RAW processing application how it should be cropped.  Note that because choosing the M or S JPEG size causes the pixel dimensions of any saved JPEG to shrink and doing so does not cause the pixel dimensions of the RAW file to shrink, the pixel dimensions of the cropped JPEG and RAW will be identical when Large JPEG is selected but will differ when Medium or Small JPEG is selected.  Both sets of dimensions should be shown always.  The way the dimensions change can clue users in to part of the way the RAW files actually behave, in case they don't read about it elsewhere.

The current GUI also shows the number of captures which are still possible given the space available on the SD card for each chosen Aspect Ratio, and that's a nice thing to include as well.  Since the space at the bottom where it says, for example "823 FRAMES" would be needed to show the pixel dimensions and pixel count of the RAW file, the list of remaining frames counts shown for each chosen aspect ratio should be spelled out.  For example, instead of just saying "823" it should say "823 FRAMES" and there is room for that.

So the list of items here, in my custom MY MENU setup, would read:

RAW &/OR JPEG or FILE TYPE(S) (See above for what to show to the right)

JPEG L-M-S   (Show either LARGE or MEDIUM or SMALL to the right)

CROP     (Show the selected Aspect Ratio here: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, 65:24, 5:4, 7:6 as now, though the logic of this existing sequence is unclear.  I would sequence them according to the ways in which they crop the image:  4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 65:24, 5:4, 7:6, 1:1.  This progression first crops an increasing amount off the top and bottom, then an increasing amount off the sides.)

RAW TYPE   (Here the choices are VERY confusing as presented.  They should be listed inside this control as "UNCOMPRESSED", "LOSSLESS", and "LOSSY", not UNCOMPRESSED, LOSSLESS AND COMPRESSED.  This silliness causes a tremendous amount of confusion.  It would be hugely helpful if the file sizes were also shown.  Those would be 210 MB, ~110 MB, and ~63 MB, respectively.  If the layout were rearranged, this vital bit of information could easily fit.  For example, on the right, where it says "OUTPUT DEPTH(bit)" it should simply say BIT DEPTH, allowing the dark vertical dividing line to be moved to the right, making room to include the three raw file sizes.






Those last five items are fine as-is, though I can't swear to that for the last item, which is a major, complex one.  If I find logical errors in there, I may write about that too, but for now, I'm done.


—Joseph Holmes