Tag Archives: image quality

Upgrade Your Camera by Changing RAW Converters

Snow covered mountain on Rannoch Moor. Fuji X-T2 with Fuji 10-24mm lens. ISO200, F/11, 1/420".
Snow covered mountain on Rannoch Moor. Fuji X-T2 with Fuji 10-24mm lens. ISO200, F/11, 1/420″.

This week I feel the urge to highlight something to the readers of this blog. If the image quality from your camera and/or lens is disappointing you, don’t rush to change it. Instead, try a different RAW converter.

I’m seeing more and more that there’s a large variation in image quality produced by different RAW converters. You’re probably thinking there’s nothing surprising there, except it’s not necessarily one converter that comes out better than the others.

The Best RAW Converter Depends on Your Camera

As I investigate this further, what I’m finding is that a RAW converter that excels with one camera can perform poorly with another. And it’s not just the camera that seems to be a factor. Some RAW converters appear to handle some lenses better than others.

This is important. The image quality of some RAW converters with certain camera/lens combinations can fool you into thinking the lens or camera is at fault. Don’t fall into this trap.

A couple of weeks back I demonstrated this using RAW files from a Sony RX10 and RX100. This week I published this video on YouTube. It shows the results from four RAW converters, processing two Fuji X-T2 RAW files.

There are two interesting points to come out of this:

  1. The difference between the best and worst of the four RAW converters tested is significant.
  2. The best RAW converter changed with the RAW file. Although I didn’t highlight it in the video, this difference is down to the lens I used.

So, before you rush out to change that camera or lens that doesn’t quite perform, try using a few different RAW converters. It could save you a lot of money.

Friday Image No.215

I captured this week’s Friday Image in Scotland last week on the famous and Rannoch Moor. I was fortunate enough for my trip to coincide with a light snowfall. Had it been a heavy snowfall I doubt I would have thought I was lucky.

I used the Fuji X-T2 with a Fuji 10-24mm lens handheld. The pool of water you see in the foreground was really very small. It looks a lot larger than it is because I had the lens set to 11mm. To make the foreground loom large, I crouched down low and in close to the pool. I was also careful to avoid distorting the mountain with the super wide lens by keeping the back of the camera vertical. Had I tilted it the image the mountain wouldn’t have looked quite so impressive.

I didn’t use any filters for the capture as the camera could just about cope with the dynamic range of the scene. I processed the converted RAW file using a combination of Nik Color Efex, Nik Viveza and Luminosity Masks created with Lumenzia in Photoshop.

I hope you like the video & image and have a great weekend.

Friday Image No.212

Heswall. Olympus EM5, 9-18mm Olympus lens, ISO200, f/8.0, 1/25″.

Today I’m returning to an image that I’ve probably shown before. It may not be the same identical file but it’s possible you’ve already seen this. I’m doing this because I’ve been back through my image library and reprocessed quite a few of the RAW files.

The reason for this is because I noticed some of my image quality problems of the past are fixed by changing RAW converter (no, I’m not talking about Fuji). In fact, some of the lens and camera performance problems were so bad I ended up selling the camera/lens. Now I’ve discovered the problem was mostly my RAW converter. If you want to see five examples here’s my video.

But back to the image above.

I shot this with an Olympus EM5 (micro 43) using the Olympus 9-18mm lens at 10mm. The camera was tripod mounted and I used an ND grad on the sky (2 stops I think). In the past when I processed this file it was a struggle. There were noisy shadows which lacked detail and a blown-out sky. The image also had a lot of distortion, especially in the corners of the frame.

The difference is that I used DxO PhotoLab to process the RAW file.

Now I’m not recommending switching to DxO, but it is interesting how good the RAW processing now seems to be. What I am recommending though is to always shoot in RAW format and hang onto your files. At least that way you can take advantage of future developments in software.

An unfortunate side effect of all this though is that it’s made me think of buying another Micro 43 camera.

I hope you like the image and have a great weekend.

Do I Love my Zeiss 32mm Prime?

Studying in John Rylands Library, Manchester
Studying at John Rylands Library, Manchester. Fuji X-T2, Zeiss 32mm lens, ISO800, f/2.2, 1/100″ handheld.

A couple of weeks back I mentioned that I had purchased a Zeiss 32mm prime for the Fuji X-T2. I’ve now had an opportunity to use the lens out in the field and I’m pleased, but not delighted. Here’s my reasoning:

  1. The lens is sharp, actually it’s very sharp. It also resolves lots of fine detail, even wide open. But because of this you tend to pick out even the slightest wobble when shooting.
  2. I struggled a little in low light situations and found it much better outside. For the image you see with this post, I had to shoot several frames to ensure I had a sharp one. It may be me, not being used to shooting without OIS and using a standard lens. What I do know is that I had a lot more confidence and success when using the Fuji 18-55 kit lens. Most of those images came out sharp whilst taking less care.
  3. I love the colours and tones produced by this lens. The contrast and saturation levels are pretty much spot on. I haven’t done very much editing with this image at all. I just set the camera profile and sharpening.
  4. I found the autofocus OK but perhaps a little on the slow side compared to my expectations.
  5. There was a slight audible noise from the aperture when shooting. Perhaps I only noticed this because I had the camera set to shoot with the Electronic Shutter and the sound turned. That makes the camera silent in operation, so it follows you would hear any noise, especially in a library.

In summary, this is a good lens which I’m keeping. It just didn’t blow me away, unlike the Fuji 56mm my friend was shooting with. That may be my next prime lens purchase.

Super Lens Performance on the Fuji X-T2

Blackpool beach. Fuji X-T2 with 18-55mm lens. ISO200, 1/240″ at f/9.0. Handheld.

I mentioned in a recent post that I purchased a new 32mm Zeiss prime for my Fuji X-T2. If you read the post, you’re probably thinking I’m going to tell you how great the Zeiss is.

But I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with the Zeiss lens and will be doing a post about it in the future. But then I expect a lens like that to perform well. Because of this it hasn’t wowed me or blown me away with its performance.

But the Fuji 18-55mm has.

This is the kit lens that came with the X-T2 and I ignored. I think I paid a couple of hundred pounds extra to get this lens with the body and it seemed like the obvious thing to do. And perhaps that’s what’s stopped me from using it. I think I have taken the lens out a couple of times in the past and maybe shot a few frames. After all, I have the amazing 16-55, although that lacks stabilisation which the 18-55 has.

Recently, I took the 18-55 lens out twice and used it properly. When I first pulled up the images I shot with it, I thought I was looking at images from another lens. Even when I zoomed in to 2:1 magnification on my Mac I was quite shocked by the sharpness of this lens and the detail it’s resolved.

The image at the top of this post was taken using the 18-55. There’s loads of detail, even in more distant objects and colours are excellent. It’s also such as small lens that it’s easy to carry and pleasure to work with. I’m going to be taking it out with me more often.

For the Love of a Prime Lens

Reflections on Formby Beach. Fuji X-T2, Fuji 10-24 lens at 10mm. ISO200, f/13, 1/50″, 2 stop ND Grad. Converted in Lightroom using the Acros Yellow profile for the Fuji. Contrast adjustment and effects using Nik Color Efex.

I have done something rash! Yes, again.

Having sold all my prime lenses a couple of years back, I bought another. And I have a feeling I may buy more. Want to understand what changed my mind? So would I.

When I look at my camera equipment you can divide it into three categories:

  1. Point and shoot pocket cameras. I haven’t used these much recently and, in all honesty, I have become a little disillusioned with the lens performance of the ones I own.
  2. Mirrorless cameras ranging from Micro 43 to Full Frame. These are the cameras I use most of the time. They are the work horses of what I do, and I only have zoom lenses for these.
  3. Film cameras that I use occasionally. This is now a short list of the Bronica SQAi and Hasselblad XPan. I seldom use them but when I do I love the experience. I only have prime lenses for these cameras.

Now this is where it gets a little weird and I can’t rationalise why.

For some reason I love the experience of shooting with the prime lenses. It’s as though zoom lenses make me lazy whilst the primes make me work for my shots. When I shoot with zooms there’s a tendency to exchange movement for zooming. I know zooming my lens in and out isn’t the same as walking around the scene, but for some reason that’s what seems to happen.

When I use a prime lens, I feel I move more. I certainly need to move in and out of the scene, but I also find myself moving around to find new compositions. I also shoot less, and the quality improves, or at least I think it does.

The downside is that zooms suit Landscape work better than primes. Or at least that’s the feeling I have inside. What made me reconsider them is a strange desire for optimum lens performance. I’m sure it’s a psychological problem you can trace back to a Sigma 10-20 that was soft down one side. It ruined many a good shot and I didn’t recognise it for some time. But that’s another story.

In the end, the lens I bought isn’t a wide angle prime; I’m saving that for another day. I bought a standard focal length lens for the Fuji X-T2. Originally, I was thinking about the Fuji 35mm f2 but then saw the 35mm f1.4 and thought “that looks like it’s in another class” (although I bet there isn’t much difference). I had just finished convincing myself that I needed the f1.4 when I looked at the Zeiss 32mm f1.8. Remarkably it was on special offer and only a few pounds more than the Fuji.

So, I now have a Zeiss 32mm f1.8 for the Fuji and am itching to use it. If it’s good and I enjoy it, I’m going to be saving for the Zeiss 12mm.

As for the image attached to this blog post… It has a tenuous connection to the new lens. It was the corner performance of my Fuji 10-24 (a great lens used for this image) that started me wondering if primes would be better.

Will Fuji Image Quality Make the Grade

Hardknott Pass in the Lake District. It’s single track and has a gradient of 1:3 (33%). This is one of the submitted images.

Some years back, I posted a work to Stock Libraries quite regularly. It’s always been my intention to return to this activity when time allowed. Most of the work I posted at that time was shot using a Canon 5D MkII with L series lenses and I hardly ever had a problem with images being rejected.

Then came my switch to Micro 43 cameras, which was a turning point. For some reason the reject rate started to rise. Looking at the image submissions and problems logged, I couldn’t understand what was happening. Even now, looking back at some of the examples I still can’t see the problems that were reported. Ultimately this has made me nervous about restarting submissions, especially using the Fuji X-T2. Now before my Fuji readers begin to complain and defend the camera, I need to explain why I’m concerned.

Firstly, I always shoot in RAW format and then process my files to images in Lightroom. When I first started using a Fuji camera, Lightroom wasn’t a great converter for the X-Trans files. In fact, if you search the internet you will find lots of comments about the “watercolour effect” and “wiggly worm pattern”. Whilst there has been a distinct improvement in Lightroom performance, the resulting image files “look different”. In some cases, the difference may even cause you to call into question the sharpness of the image. This concerns me as it could cause the images to be rejected.

Secondly, whilst Fuji has some great lenses in its line-up, the 18-135 isn’t known as one of them. In fact, its come in for a lot of criticism in the photography press. It was also one of the first lenses I used with the X-T1 and guess what, that lens was poor and I ultimately returned it. I now have another of these lenses and I love it. It’s a great lens when out walking and whilst not as sharp as my other lenses, I think it performs well. It certainly gets full marks for versatility. Despite all the positives, making stock library submissions with images shot using this lens makes me nervous.

Finally, I have switched from processing images on a PC using a 23” HD resolution monitor to using a 27” 5K Retina screen on a Mac. Virtually every image viewed on the Mac looks great, even at 100% magnification. I now find myself needing to view images at 200% magnification to determine if they are critically sharp. Now when I look at images on my PC, I find even the smallest flaw looks awful and terrible and most images look grainy/noisy (but not the Fuji which look almost falsely smooth). I’m now finding it difficult to judge image quality using the Mac and it’s making me nervous.

Having considered and fretted over these points for a while now, I decided to do what’s probably obvious to most of you. I decided to submit some images to see if they make it through quality checking. The images were captured on the Fuji X-T2 using the 18-135 lens. I will report back the results soon.

Exercising the Ghost of Fujinon

Fuji X-T2 with Fujinon 18-135 lens. ISO200, f/11.0, 1/125″.

It’s almost a year since I purchased a used Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon 18-135 lens. I loved the X-T1 and fairly quickly upgraded to the X-T2. The Fujinon 18-135 was though a complete disappointment.

I remember returning home following the first outing where I had shot the scene above. I downloaded the images to my computer to review, but something didn’t look quite right. I zoomed in to 100% and to my horror the image looked odd. It was kind of soft without any camera shake. In the words of my wife, it looked like a watercolour painting.

After a lot of investigation with different RAW converters, I concluded the 18-135 wasn’t a good lens. I had read a lot of similar stories on the internet and had read a lot of reports which said it was the weakest in the Fuji line up. In the end, I returned the lens and invested in the 16-55 and 55-200.

Recently, I decided to have another try with the 18-135, purchasing a new example. Initial test shots appeared promising but it’s not until you use a lens in the field that you understand its weak points.

I have now had a couple of outings with the lens and have concluded that I love it. Sure, I would like to go to 24mm equivalent at the wide end, but you can’t have everything. I’m really enjoying the results and the earlier image sharpness problems seemed to have vanished with this particular lens. It isn’t the best performing Fuji lens in my line up by a long way but it has other redeeming features that mean I’m keeping it this time.