Landscape Photography

Friday Image No. 106

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Fuji XT1 converted in Lightroom with built in Fuji mono profile.
Fuji XT1 converted in Lightroom with built in Fuji mono profile.

I thought that I would share another image from the Fuji XT1 for this week’s Friday image. This was from last weekend and is a three image stitch. The lens was the 16-55 f/2.8 and the image is very sharp – even converted from RAW in Lightroom. Now that I’m starting to get used to the Fuji I’m really beginning to love this camera.

I’m going to take a break from blogging next week as my schedule is very hectic. I have devoted a lot of time recently to experimenting with the Fuji and launching my new HDR book. I need to spend some time catching up a little on other things.

Have a great weekend and see you all soon.

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Further Fuji Thoughts

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rwhalley_xt1_2016_09_10_dsf3221
Fuji XT1 + 16-55 f/2.8 lens.

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.

Click the image to zoom in. Tree foliage takes on an odd look.
Click the image to zoom in. Tree foliage takes on an odd look.

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.

Click image to zoom in - Grass has a blocky appearance rather than showing fine detail.
Click image to zoom in – Grass has a blocky appearance rather than showing fine detail.

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.

Grass is more natural with the finer settings
Grass is more natural with the finer settings (click to zoom or you can’t see the difference)

 

Trees are also more natural
Trees are also more natural (click to zoom or you cant see the difference)

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:

  1. Iridient (Mac only – I have now purchased this)
  2. RAW Therapee (Free but complicated)
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. Try a different RAW converter (any of the three I mention seem to minimise the issue).
  3. Be sure to use a fast shutter speed (probably twice as fast as you might otherwise) or tripod mount the camera.
  4. Ensure you select a good point of focus and aperture to maximise depth of field.
  5. Try shooting the same image at various apertures to check where diffraction kicks in and if this causes the water colour effect.

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Friday Image No. 105

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Scalber Force, Settle, The Yorkshire Dales.
Scalber Force, Settle, The Yorkshire Dales.

I love this waterfall. It’s called Scalber Force and is just outside of Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. I actually shot this image back in April and in colour it doesn’t look good. But converted to Blakc and White it seems to work ok.

It seems though as if I were there just yesterday. I can’t believe that Summer has been and gone. I think I need to get out more.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Fuji RAW file Conversion Challenge

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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.

Thanks for reading and hopefully participating.

Fuji RAW File Processing for Optimum Quality

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Test Image 2 at 100 percent
Test Image 2 at 100 percent magnification. Superb detail from a Fui RAW file.

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:

  • 10-24mm
  • 16-55mm
  • 55-200mm

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.

Test Image
Test 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.

JPEG File From Camera
JPEG File From Camera

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.

RAW Processed in Lightroom
RAW 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.

RAW Processed in Capture One
RAW Processed in Capture One

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.

RAW Processed in Iridient
RAW Processed in Iridient

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.

RAW Processed in Affinity
RAW Processed in Affinity

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.

RAW Processed in RAW Therapee
RAW Processed in RAW Therapee

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.

Test Image 2
Test Image 2

And a section of this at 100% magnification.

Test Image 2 at 100 percent
Test Image 2 at 100 percent

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.

Friday Image No. 104

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Sony A7r + 16-35mm Lens. ISO50 f/18.0, 1/3". 0.6 ND Grad + Polarising filter.
Sony A7r + 16-35mm Lens. ISO50 f/18.0, 1/3″. 0.6 ND Grad + Polarising filter.

Although I love a good sunrise or sunset, it’s not my favourite light to photograph. I actually much prefer a low warm sun that provides a lovely warm side light. If you couple that with flowering heather and vibrant green ferns blowing in a breeze you have my perfect scene. Whilst I struggled a little for composition with this image I loved being on location.

Have great weekend and watch out for more on the RAW processing/Fuji problems. I have some interesting findings to share.

Fuji XT1 RAW Processing Part 2

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Test shot from the fields near my house. Fuji XT1, ISO200, f/6.4 1/220", 10-24 lens.
Test shot from the fields near my house. Fuji XT1, ISO200, f/6.4 1/220″, 10-24 lens.

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.

  1. There appears to be variation between cameras judging from some of the RAW files people have shared.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. Ability to render fine detail in the converted image.
  2. Natural colour rendition and the ability to control colours.
  3. Control over sharpening and noise reduction.
  4. Support for lens profiles and automatic lens correction.
  5. 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.

Can you spot the point of focus.
Can you spot the point of focus.