Comparing RAW Converters

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I agree this isn't a photogenic subject but that's not the point. This is an ideal subject to compare RAW converters.
I agree this isn’t a photogenic subject but that’s not the point. This is an ideal subject to compare RAW converters.

In case you weren’t already aware, not all RAW converters are equal. Some are quite automated and easy to use whilst others have lots of options and take a lot of effort to achieve the best image. The other day, someone contacted me about my recent Photoshop book and asked if I would consider a future book or tutorial about DxO Optics, a well respected RAW converter and with good reason.

Now, I haven’t used DxO for some time, as it used to be very slow on my old computer and often crashed when loading lens/camera modules. I decided to download the latest version and use the trial from the website. Here is a very quick initial impression based on what I want to see from a RAW converter – absolute image quality and detail resolution.

The image I used to judge the performance is the one you see above (the black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro after the conversion from RAW). This image was captured on my Olympus OMD using a 45-200mm Panasonic lens at around 200mm and an aperture of f/8.0. I should also point out that I was stood on a moving boat at the time and the shot was handheld. This isn’t a recipe for a sharp image now that I think about it.

The first image you see below is a screen grab from my computer showing the before and after adjustment, which is one of the screens available in DxO Optics. If you click on the image below it will open a larger version which is easier to see and judge.

Before and After comparison screens in DxO
Before and After comparison screens in DxO. Click to enlarge.

Looking at this, I was very impressed. The fine detail was well rendered and the lens module did a great job of removing the slight barrel distortion in the lens. Below you can see a section of the image at 100%. Again if you click it you can view the image properly.

Sample of DxO Converted image at 100%
Sample of DxO Converted image at 100%. Click to enlarge

All this was achieved automatically and I was on the verge of reaching for my credit card when I thought let’s see how Lightroom 5 fairs with the same image. Below you can see a section of the Lightroom version magnified at 100%. This time I did a little more tweaking but the distortion has been removed automatically and the sharpening setting is the default.

Sample image converted with Lightroom 5 and viewed at 100%. Click to enlarge.
Sample image converted with Lightroom 5 and viewed at 100%. Click to enlarge.

To be honest there isn’t a whole lot of difference but I feel Lightroom has the edge. The fine detail and tones are retained better than with DxO. It also appears a little sharper although to be fair to DxO, I didn’t apply any additional sharpening as I felt that it tended to degrade the image slightly.

Finally, I decided to convert the image in Photo Ninja, which as I have previously mentioned on this blog, tends to render fine detail better than Lightroom. Here is a section of the image at 100%; you can again click on this to view the larger version.

Sample of image viewed at 100% having been converted in PhotoNinja. Click to enlarge.
Sample of image viewed at 100% having been converted in PhotoNinja. Click to enlarge.

Wow! This is clearly a superior image in terms of how the fine details have been rendered and retained. I also didn’t put a whole lot of effort into this conversion, simply accepting the defaults.

So, whilst your choice of RAW converter will be determined by your needs, preferences and circumstances, if you are looking for out and out sharpness and fine detail rendering, Photo Ninja appears to win out.

If anyone knows of a better converter in terms of image quality I would love to hear.

2 thoughts on “Comparing RAW Converters

    Mark said:
    October 11, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Everyone who converts from raw will inevitably have a different opinion and favoured tool(s). I have spent some time trying to come up with a satisfactory workflow, from raw to final image. I found that Lightroom conversion of Nikon raw (NEF) was noticably inferior to what the standard Nikon software (View NX) was able to render. But with some images, RawTherapee was able to dig out detail and texture which eluded even View NX.

    One point to emphasise is that the best converter may depend on what you’re converting. Canon shooters seem to be very happy with Lightroom and it may be coincidence, but I’ve read that the Lightroom developers shoot Canon 😉

    With a bit of work to establish the right settings, I think RawTherapee is worth a try with whatever you’re converting.

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      October 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm

      I have done some work with RAW Therapee as it works a treat with my Infrared. It also lets me do channel swapping in the conversion for false colour. It’s a good point you about different files giving different results with different converters. I must play some more. Thanks for your thoughts.

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