At the weekend I managed to take the Fuji XT1 out for a full day’s photography. In short, I loved using it but there was a nagging concern throughout that my images were being affected by the possible water colour effect. Am I right to be worried or am I imagining problems where there aren’t any?
Here’s an update following the day:
Initially I purchased two lenses, a 10-24mm and 18-135mm. The 18-135mm was always going to be a bit of a compromise in terms of image quality but I reasoned that the trade-off between optical performance and the convenience of using one lens was acceptable. In the end, a lot of the images I found unacceptable were shot with this lens so it went back.
A lot of the “image failures” I have found relate to loss of fine detail in rocks and foliage, particularly in the mid distance (20m-100m). The Lightroom and Photoshop RAW converters do seem to exaggerate this effect but I suspect quite a lot of the problem relates to the lens:
- I may have bought a bad copy of the 18-135mm as a lot of people love this lens and swear by it.
- It could be diffraction was setting in earlier than I would expect from a quality lens and this could then be exaggerated by the RAW conversion.
- It could be (very fine) camera shake from using the lens at longer apertures although the IS should deal with that. I also saw this with the camera on a tripod so I don’t believe it’s the issue.
Whatever the cause, the lens has been exchanged for a 16-55 and 55-200 which appear to produce good image quality more consistently. Whilst I can still detect a problem with Lightroom RAW conversion using images shot with these lenses, it’s now much less of a problem and the images are acceptable. Both of the lenses are good performers and the 16-55 is outstanding. Although it doesn’t have IS, the optics are excellent and the focal range is perfect (for me).
The use of these lenses has though helped me refine my thinking further.
Lightroom and Photoshop do still produce a watercolour effect as well as some other “problems” that I don’t like. This may not be as bad as it once was but I can still see it in Landscape images, especially where there is fine detailed foliage in the distance. I often see a false pattern effect in the foliage of distant trees and it doesn’t look natural to me.
Fine detail in RAW files converted with Adobe also seems to become “blocky” when sharpened which may cause some of the fine detail to become lost.
If I use Lightroom for RAW conversion, I now prefer a sharpening Radius of 0.7 or less. I then set the Detail slider to around 85 before adjusting the Strength setting. This usually requires a Strength setting of at least 30-45 but sometimes more. I also leave the threshold at 0 as increasing it also seems to cause the blocky effect I mention. Colour and Luminance noise reduction are both set to 0 and only introduced gradually where problems are found.
Please keep in mind these are RAW conversion/capture settings only. Once the image has been further processed additional sharpening is applied and the image seems to respond well to the additional sharpening. Images which have the “blocky” effect I mention don’t appear to respond well to additional post conversion sharpening. You may think I’m being picky and it is hard to see from screen grabs, but it does make a difference to the image.
There are definitely better RAW converters than Lightroom and Photoshop for Fuji RAW files. The three best RAW converters that I have found in terms of being able to render fine detail are:
- Iridient (Mac only – I have now purchased this)
- RAW Therapee (Free but complicated)
- PhotoNinja (quite expensive)
All three seem to do a much better job than the Adobe RAW converters and having tried these on a large range of Landscape images they all do a great job. I can’t though decide which is best – it’s probably Iridient.
Incidentally, the size and resolution of your screen definitely plays a part in whether you see an issue with the conversions or not. I have now tested the RAW conversions using a MacBook Pro, iMac 27” 5K retina display and a PC with a 24” screen at 1920 x 1080 pixels. The two Apple machines don’t display any problem when using the Adobe RAW converters but when the converted image is moved to the PC (with the lower resolution screen) the problems can be clearly seen. The images also tend to have been over sharpened for the PC dislay.
When shooting with the Fuji I have noticed a couple of other problems that may be relevant to the question of image quality:
- I was trying some long exposure shots with the 55-200 lens. The exposure was around 10” using a 10 stop ND filter and the camera was having difficulty focussing automatically. I switched to manual focus using a combination of focus peaking and focus assist and found I needed to focus at infinity. When I reviewed the results though I found they were out of focus even though I was certain I focussed correctly. At first I thought the problem was camera shake but I repeated the exercise a number of times. Each time I found I needed to reset the focus to infinity between shots suggesting the focus is shifting. When I switched to autofocus and managed to pick up a point in the far distance to focus on. The result was a sharp image. I’m not sure what quite is happening here but I was able to repeat the problem.
- After shooting with the very forgiving micro 43 format I may be focussing too near to the camera. This is limiting my depth of field and may be seen in some images as a lack of fine detail in the mid distance (but not exactly image blur). If you then combine this with the “painterly effect” of the Adobe RAW converter, the effect is further exaggerated.
In summary, I am now achieving much better results and love using the camera and lenses. I am even considering stepping up to the XT2 in the future, which was my original plan before encountering this problem.
My tips for Fuji users who suffer from the painterly effect are to try the following:
- Pay close attention to lens quality and be honest. Do you see the effect on all images or is it at certain focal lengths and or apertures?
- Try a different RAW converter (any of the three I mention seem to minimise the issue).
- Be sure to use a fast shutter speed (probably twice as fast as you might otherwise) or tripod mount the camera.
- Ensure you select a good point of focus and aperture to maximise depth of field.
- Try shooting the same image at various apertures to check where diffraction kicks in and if this causes the water colour effect.