Following my last post which explained my experience with various RAW converters and ranking RAW Therapee as the best, I have received a few emails. I can only think they are from disgruntled Adobe employees. Let me be the first to say that I want someone to prove me wrong – I would love Lightroom to be the best converter as I have been using it for years and have a lot of time tied up in its workflows.
To say that I am keen to learn how to improve the results from the Fuji RAW files as an understatement so I am issuing a RAW file conversion challenge to anyone who wants to take it up.
If you use Lightroom and are interested, follow this link to my Lenscraft website. Here you will find the rules of the challenge together with a link to a zip file which you can download. The zip file contains the RAW file I used for the testing in my last blog and a JPEG produced using RAW Therapee. If you can match the results from RAW Therapee post the settings, you have used as a comment either here or on the website. I will validate the results and we all get to learn how to produce great results in Lightroom.
In case you haven’t been following the story so far, allow me to recap. I decided it was time to replace my trusty Olympus EM5 and I was seduced by the great Fuji lenses and the promise of excellent image quality. I purchased a Fuji XT-1 and a couple of lenses only to find problems with the RAW files when I came to convert them – the images look as if they had been painted and lacked crisp details. Apparently this is a well-known problem.
I managed to improve the performance of the system by updating firmware. I also returned one of the lenses, replacing it with two others so that I have:
The results from all of the lenses can be excellent which leads me to suspect lens quality is a factor in the problem. I have also chosen my words carefully here as I have seen the painterly effect with the 10-24mm when used at the longer end of the focal range.
Despite all these improvements, the single biggest factor seems to be the RAW converter used and this can have implications for all of us, even if you’re not a Fuji user. Let’s take a look at an example focussing just on the image quality.
What I want to see in my images is plenty of sharp, well defined fine detail as well as getting a feeling of texture in the image. What I don’t want to see is lots of noise.
The first thing I have noticed with the Fuji RAW files is that they are incredibly clean and don’t have much noise even when shooting at ISO 800 or 1600. In some cases, they seem unnaturally clean so I have started to shoot at ISO 400 and 800 regularly as I prefer the appearance.
Something else you may have read is that the JPEG files are great out of camera and are difficult to improve on. My experience of the JPEG’s is that they are indeed very good out of camera. But when processed well with a good RAW converter, you can easily exceed the results. With this in mind, let’s take a look at an example image.
OK, it’s not pretty but it was shot in good light and features the type of detail that people often complain isn’t rendered well by the Fuji. I have checked the image over and its sharp everywhere.
Here is a section from the JPEG out of the camera image at 100% magnification. You may need to click on this to view at full magnification.
What you see here is a screenshot of my screen which us 24” and running at 1920 x1080 pixels. This isn’t a very forgiving resolution but is great for sharpening and checking if things are in focus.
Let’s now compare this with the RAW file processed in Lightroom.
If this doesn’t look quite as sharp and detailed as the OOC JPEG image, I agree. This Lightroom rendering was also using all the tips I could find from the resources on the Internet that readers suggested as well as my own trial and error.
An improvement on Lightroom was Capture One which you can see below.
A word of warning with this image, it was produced using version 7 pro. I have tried to upgrade this but it just goes wrong with my Capture One 9 Sony only version. The results from version 9 may be better than the above. The RAW file converted in Capture One shows great colour and lots of contrast. The sharpness and detail are marginally better than Lightroom and probably on a par with the JPEGs. Some of the improvement may be contrast related.
Next we have Iridient which many people seem to swear by.
Apologies for the watermark but this is an evaluation version. The results are very promising and I may well spring for a copy of this. The detail is better than Capture One and the image looks very natural. It’s definitely better than the OOC JPEG.
Now for second place runner up and in fact, with some practice I might put this in the winning position but equally I might also relegate it to last spot.
This is sharper and more detailed than Iridient but much more difficult to control. I have actually over sharpened this image in the RAW converter. Part of the problem is that the image preview appears to have some form of blurring applied each time you make an adjustment but once you apply the conversion the blurring effect is removed. This may make it very difficult to handle but the results can be very good.
Now for the top spot in RAW converters for extracting fine detail and texture and one I recommend for all Fuji users and possibly other camera users as well.
This is from RAW Therapee. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a free RAW converter and it really does blow away the competition with the Fuji RAW files. The OOC JPEG files don’t even come close to the detail that can be rendered by this application.
I repeated this testing with a number of files and the results are consistently good. Here is a second test image from the Fuji.
And a section of this at 100% magnification.
And if you don’t use Fuji, please still try this out as I had great results with the Olympus EM5. I suddenly realised how poor Lightroom was in comparison.
Now for the slight downside, the interface for RAW Therapee is pretty poor and the software crashes from time to time. There are that many options available that you probably need a PhD to get the optimum results. Despite this, it’s well worth the effort, especially if you have been plagued by the dreaded painter effect.
If you are wondering what happened to the fuji RAW converter from SilkyPix, I started to see quite a lot of artefacts in the tree detail so ruled this out. Equally, I didn’t like the lens distortion from Photo Ninja although the detail and sharpness was good. I have been a user of both of these software packages in the past and they may be worth taking a look at.
Finally, I will point out that the painter effect isn’t just as a result of the RAW converter. I’m finding it from time to time in all the RAW converters and in some of the JPEGs. I will post more about what I think is causing it once I have managed a little more research. But for now, RAW Therapee is producing great results.
I hope you found this useful. I’m off for a lie down.
If you have been following this blog of late you will have no doubt read about my possible switch to the Fuji XT1 and the problems I have encountered. The problems became evident after I shot my first few images and noticed the camera wouldn’t resolve grass very well at all, rendering areas which should contain fine detail as a green mush.
Many of you made some valuable suggestions for which I am very grateful. Apparently this is quite a common problem and relates to the RAW converter not being able to translate the data from the XTrans sensor very well. Some of you agreed there is a problem whilst others haven’t noticed an issue. I have three points to make on this before we start to look at the RAW converters.
There appears to be variation between cameras judging from some of the RAW files people have shared.
There is variation between lenses used. I have two lenses, an 18-135 and a 10-24. At the common end of the focal lengths (18-24mm) the 10-24 lens performs much better than the 18-135. I have also noticed that the 18-135 lens is softer and less able to resolve detail across the focal range. That’s no great surprise but it seems to exaggerate the issue.
If you’re a Mac user, you might be interested to know that you probably don’t notice the issue. But before you get excited, I believe the issue is being masked to some extent by the brilliant retina display. I suspect the pixel density is hiding the effect as I can process an image on the Mac and it looks great at 100% but move the resulting file to my Windows PC and it’s not good.
With these points in mind, let’s take a look at how we will evaluate the available RAW converters.
RAW converters are really quite personal tools. What one photographer likes will drive another crazy. Some will see fault where others will see perfection. What some may see as essential others will see as a waste of time. So here are my categories for evaluation and they are in the order of importance I place on the feature:
Ability to render fine detail in the converted image.
Natural colour rendition and the ability to control colours.
Control over sharpening and noise reduction.
Support for lens profiles and automatic lens correction.
Support for colour profiles.
Some functions such as exposure, saturation, contrast, shadow and highlight controls are a given. If the converter doesn’t provide these then it shouldn’t be on the market to my mind.
In the next blog post I will look at how some of the available converters fair in my assessment.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the 18-135 lens is going back. I should have known there was a problem with it when some of the early test shots produced images such as the one below. Just because the issue seemed to right itself doesn’t mean it’s entirely fixed.
My previous post detailing problems I have seen when trying to process RAW files from my XT1 has caused quite a bit of feedback. As many of you have pointed out, this is a well-known and documented problem with the Adobe RAW converters. Apparently it’s been largely fixed except that in my opinion it hasn’t.
What I’m going to share with you over a few blog postings are some findings. It appears quite a few people who read this blog are Fuji users so I hope some of you find this useful. To remind you of the effect, take a look at this image and image section.
This image is a RAW file and has been sharpened. The red box on the left shows the area of the crop with the right side of the image showing this area zoomed to 100% magnification. The image itself is sharp but the detail has been lost and now appears to be more like a painting than a photograph.
I’m pleased to say that I can now achieve much better results through the steps I have taken.
There are only two things that I have done that made a difference:
Upgraded the firmware of the camera and lenses
Switched RAW Converter
Starting with the firmware (a tip from Dave Shandley – thanks Dave), this was 4.10 for the camera body and has now been upgraded to 4.31. One of the lenses had version 1.10 firmware (the latest) but the other had 1.01 and so was also updated. This seemed to improve the results, not just of the RAW files but also the JPEG images. This had me producing acceptable images, even in Lightroom although I can still detect the water colour effect in the fine details.
The second improvement was to the RAW converter. I will be writing about these findings in a little more detail in a separate blog post as I think everyone could benefit. To give you a flavour, here is a test file I produced together with some close-ups.
File from Lightroom at 100%. This was after the firmware update.
File from Affinity Photo at 100%
File from Iridient at 100%
In my testing, Lightroom really struggles when converting Grass but it also struggles to pull decent levels of detail from the Fuji RAW files. Every RAW converter I tried performed better. I also ran some of the Olympus and Sony files through the other converters and found they were either on a par with Lightroom or better.
In testing the Fuji with Lightroom, I came to realise a few other things that people might find helpful:
Lightroom noise reduction, particularly colour noise reduction hurts the quality of the Fuji files and seemed to add to the effect.
Hard sharpening of the Fuji files in Lightroom seemed to make the watercolour effect more obvious rather than pull detail. I would suggest using the detail slider at the maximum value, the Amount slider below 25 and Radius slider below 25. I would also use the masking slider between 10 and 30. Once you have the file out of Lightroom sharpen it with something else such as Nik Sharpener Pro or Focal Blade.
Shooting at a higher ISO improves the look of the image. I found an ISO setting of 800 seemed to give the image a little more definition. I also found that adding a little grain or noise to the image could help reduce the effect.
I have two lenses for the Fuji, a 10-24 and 18-135. I knew the 18-135 was a compromise but I wanted it for single lens use when out walking. Lightroom definitely made a better job of sharpening and detail extraction from the 10-24 lens, almost to the point where I would question the 18-135. Running the same files through the Iridient RAW converter was amazing. Details that were blurred and out of focus in Lightroom snapped into sharp focus.
I don’t want to say too much more in this blog other than I am very impressed with the Fuji XT1. It’s also a great camera to use.
When I started publishing a Friday Image I never dreamed that I would reach 100 but here it is. I shot this image almost 10 years ago using a Canon 300D DSLR. This was the first affordable consumer DSLR and cost me around £900 with a kit lens. At the time I was shooting 35mm film with a Canon EOS3 and a Pentax 67 MKII medium format kit. I had considered buying an XPan but decided I wanted to try digital.
Today, I’m going back over the RAW files of the day and reprocessing some. The quality of the image that this camera produced is amazing when you use the latest editing tools. It’s also only now that I am able to produce the image from the RAW file that I envisaged. Previously the colours just didn’t work and the shadows were completely blocked up and black.
The image was converted from RAW in Lightroom and then enhanced in Nik Color Efex. I used it as an example for my latest video on You Tube if you want to see what I did.
I find this image very exciting. Now before you think I have lost the plot I need to explain a little about why I’m excited. It’s not the content or the composition, although I do quite like the scene, it’s actually the quality that’s exciting me.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the fine detail viewed at 100% magnification.
And from a little further in the distance.
I’m sure you will agree that the image quality is very good and that the camera has resolved the fine detail in this scene well.
Now the exciting thing for me is the camera I used for this shot. It’s actually a Canon 300D using a Sigma 10-20 lens and was shot in September 2006. But what I find really remarkable is that the reason for the quality is not the camera but today’s software. Somehow the software we have now appears to pull much better image quality from these old RAW files.
I remember when I first purchased my Canon 5D MKII. One of the drivers behind this decision was to have a 21MPixel sensor. This was partly due to the main stock library I supplied only accepting 50Mb files and the pixel count on the 5D making this easy to achieve without interpolation. The other factor was that I wanted to be able to print large; 30 inch, perhaps even 40 inch images with good quality. When I recently purchased my GX1 I was also keen to ensure it would allow me to print large.
The GX1 is a 16Mpixel camera but it’s only the 4×3 format that gives an image this size. The 3×2 (similar format to my 5D) gives a smaller size and the 16×9 a smaller image still. To put this into context the 4×3 image would produce a 45Mb TIFF image, which is just short of the size required by the stock library but it’s not too far off and easily achieved with some interpolation. Print size was however the more important to me and out the camera the image is around 15” on its longest side when printed at 300dpi.
Now you are possibly reading this and thinking that the resolution is more than enough to create a 30” print given the viewing distance should be at least 3 feet and I would agree with you. I am however quite fussy (as are most photographers) and I want to look more closely at areas of my photographs and feel happy and confident that the image stands close scrutiny. Now you might think I am ignoring lens quality (which is true) but I know the 14-45 standard lens I use is more than capable of resolving sharp detail. No, what matters to me is the question am I satisfied when I look at the image closely when I print at 30 or even 40 inches.
To test this I resized my starting image (above) to 30 and 40 inches at 300 dpi using Genuine Fractals. I then extracted A4 sized sections from each image, sharpened and printed these on A4 Gloss paper ready to examine the results. If you want to know why I picked this image it’s because it has lots of fine detail. The glass as you can see from the images below has lots of fine straight, parallel lines on it that will show up any problems.
Image sample when viewed at 100%.
So the results? I’m not happy with the 40 inch print when viewed closely but it will be fine at normal viewing distance. The 30 inch print as show by the sample below is however is very good and you need to look very closely indeed to see the problem areas.
Image sample from 30 inch print scanned at 75ppi.
I do however know that I could achieve a good 40 inch print as I would simply reduce the resolution of the 30 inch print to 200dpi rather than 300dpi. I am also questioning the results of the Genuine Fractals software as I find it produces quite blocky results and this is what I can see in the 40inch print, but that’s another issue for another day.
Have I proved anything? Only that I am now satisfied that the GX1 is a really credible performer and fast becoming my camera of choice.