RAW convertion

Sharpening the Fuji X-T2 RAW

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Sunrise in the Peak District
Sunrise in the Peak District. Fuji XT2 + 16-55 lens + 0.3 ND Grad filter.

I have now been shooting with the Fuji X-T2 for a couple of months. Whilst I have only had a few outings, I’m very pleased with the results. I like the handling of the camera and also the lens quality despite a couple of problems. In fact, the 10-24 and 16-55 lenses are nothing short of exceptional.

There is though one problem that has niggled me for a while and this is the “Wiggly Worm” pattern. You tend to find this in areas of fine detail when converting RAW files using Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. This is a real shame, especially as I use Lightroom for much of my cataloguing and image management.

To illustrate the problem, a look at the image below which has been magnified at 2:1 in Lightroom; you may need to double click the image to open it at full resolution (I was also running my Mac at 2048 x 1152 when I took the screen shots so this will magnify the image further).

Section showing Wiggly Worm pattern. Click to topen the image at full resolution.
Section showing Wiggly Worm pattern. Click to topen the image at full resolution.

I can easily avoid the problem by switching to Iridient Developer or RAW Therapee but I like working in Lightroom. I have therefore been looking at how to reduce the “Wiggly Worm” effect and I think I have hit on something.

I had originally put the effect down to the demosaic routine that converts the RAW file. But I have changed my mind and now think it’s the sharpening routine that creating much of the problem. The example I showed above was created using the default Lightroom Radius setting of 1, an Amount setting of 45, a Detail setting of 75 and Threshold of 10. The culprits that seem to exaggerate the problem are the Amount and Masking sliders.

Masking causes the sharpening effect to be concentrated onto the edges in the image. Only when the Masking is set to 0 is the entire image sharpened. The “Wiggly Worm” effect seems to be created when the edges in areas of fine detail become exaggerated. Effectively the edges are becoming over sharpened, which is why the Amount slider has such an impact on the result. You only need to increase it slightly and the effect is emphasised. The Detail slider has less of an effect because it sharpens only very high frequency details.

So, what does this mean and how can you use it?

Limit the sharpening applied in Lightroom. Here is the same example but sharpened using much less aggressive settings.

Section with alternate sharpening settings.
Section with alternate sharpening settings.

This used the settings or Radius = 0.8, Amount = 30, Detail = 30 and Masking = 0. The image is a little softer but much more natural.

Following this approach, I have found I can minimise the “Wiggle Worm” effect whilst producing images with greater detail. Although the images coming from Lightroom are slightly softer, they respond so much better to additional capture sharpening using Nik RAW Sharpener or Photoshop Smart Sharpen. You can see a further example here viewed at 100% magnification.

Section of image following application of Smart Sharpen, viewed at 100% magnification.
Section of image following application of Smart Sharpen, viewed at 100% magnification.

You may now be wondering why bother with Lightroom capture sharpening at all and simply apply Capture Sharpening in another tool. Well, I tried this and to my eyes at least, a small amount of Capture Sharpening in Lightroom seems to produce better results when sharpened a second time outside Lightroom.

But does all this pixel peeping matter? My answer to this question is yes and no.

If you are going to be displaying your image on the internet, then you will most likely be down sampling them. The act of down sampling will remove some of the “Wiggly Worm” effect and can even remove it completely depending on how much you reduce the image size. If you are going to be printing the image, the softening effect of printing will also remove the pattern. For these reasons, I say that it doesn’t matter.

Where this effect does cause a problem, is if you are submitting your images to others for inspection. A typical example might be when you submit images to a stock library for sale. Here they probably will pick up on the pattern and might well reject the images.

 

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Another RAW Processor

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Forest Scene. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens. Post processing in Ididient + On 1 Effects
Forest Scene. Fuji XT1 + 16-55 lens. Post processing in Ididient + On 1 Effects

Since I purchased the Fuji XT1 (and had the fright of my life due to soft, distorted images) I have become a little obsessed by image quality. The results I can now achieve using the XT1 are far beyond my expectations. I’m even beginning to question the need for my Sony A7R, especially as I have the Fuji XT2 on order. I need to give this some serious thought.

Anyway, back to the purpose of today’s blog post. I should stress that whilst I am using the Fuji XT1 RAW files as an example, other RAW files also see improvements. Whatever your camera, you need to experiment with alternate RAW converters.

So far I have concluded the best converters for the XT1 files appear to be RAW Therapee, Photo Ninja and Iridient. This is purely in terms of ability to render fine detail and image sharpness. If you’re not a Landscape Photographer, this might not be as important to you.

I have now returned to test Affinity Photo and have been quite impressed.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Affinity Photo is an image editor with Photoshop like capabilities. Currently it’s only available for the Mac but its priced well and includes a RAW developer module. If you are a Mac user and want an alternative to Adobe, it’s worth exploring. It also costs less than Elements and Iridient (but infinitely more than RAW Therapee which is free).

In this test, I processed the same RAW file (from which the above image was produced) and developed this in both Iridient and Affinity Photo. The conversion was done on a Mac and then the resulting TIFF files loaded onto my Windows PC. Here the two images can be seen side by side at 100% resolution.

Sinde by side comparison at 100% magnification. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.
Sinde by side comparison at 100% magnification. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.

The image on the left is from Affinity whilst the image on the right was converted using Iridient. The Affinity image appears sharper and with better defined detail. It does though suffer a little from my having added too much clarity. The Iridient image appears slightly more natural and softer. For the Iridient image I used the Deconvolution sharpening. If I apply a further round of sharpening using Nik Pro Sharpener (RAW) I can pull more detail from the Iridient image but not from the Affinity image. I suspect the difference in performance between the two is down to my (as yet) lack of experience with Affinity.

Something further that I noticed when doing the tests is that Iridient appears to have automatically corrected for lens geometry whilst Affinity didn’t. Overall, both packages did a great job of converting the RAW file as can be seen below (Affinity is on the left).

Side by side comparison. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.
Side by side comparison. Affinity is on the left and Iridient on the right.

As I mentioned at the start, the results from the Fuji XT1 have impressed me greatly. I’m so pleased I didn’t dump the camera. I can’t wait to test out the XT2.

New RAW Developer

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Fuji XT1 Test image fully processed
Fuji XT1 Test image fully processed

Many of you reading this will be aware of my move to a Fuji XT1 and the concerns I had regarding the image quality. Now to be clear, it wasn’t that the image quality was bad but rather under certain circumstances fine detail was lost during the RAW conversion in Lightroom. Sometimes foliage would have an unusual appearance that was almost false.

In the following screenshot you can see a section of the above image at 100% magnification (you may need to double click the image to view it at full resolution). Whilst this isn’t a severe problem I don’t care for the detail in the image foliage as much as I do the results of other RAW processors I have now found.

Example 1 - click to see at 100%
Example 1 – click to see at 100%

Since encountering this I have been experimenting with a number of RAW converters including RAW Therapee and Iridient. I am very impressed with both of these as RAW converters but they lack some of the tools of Lightroom and/or are a little trickier to use. RAW Therapee for example has a very large selection of tools in an interface that’s hard to grasp initially.

In the following image you can see the same image processed with Iridient, also at 100% magnification. Although lacking in midtone contrast, the image is more natural in appearance and there is greater detail in the foliage.

Example 2 - click to see at 100%
Example 2 – click to see at 100%

And here is the RAW Therapee conversion at 100%.

Example 3 - click to see at 100%
Example 3 – click to see at 100%

Again, this has more detail and is sharper than the Adobe version but also looks more natural. I also prefer it to the Iridient version if I’m honest.

I have now come across another RAW converter that clearly has parallels with Lightroom, even offering some of the same functionality. Although it’s not as easy to use or quite as well designed as Lightroom, it does seem to produce images with excellent levels of detail and sharpness. This is also true when processing XTrans RAW files and so may be another alternative for people who want an alternative to Adobe. Best of all the software is Free and the enthusiasts behind this project are to be commended. The only potential downside is that it’s not available on the Windows platform but if you use a Mac, you really should take a look at the software.

Here is a section of the image at 100% (I apologise for not matching the colour and contrast but I haven’t yet mastered the processing).

Example 4 - click to see at 100%
Example 4 – click to see at 100%

The name of the software is Darktable.

http://www.darktable.org/

 

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Fuji XTrans III RAW Files

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In my most recent blog posting I shared my thoughts about the Fuji XT1 and at the end, mentioned my intention to upgrade to the XT2 once available in the UK. Following this a few people contacted me to ask if I had considered the XPro2 and in one case, someone offered to share with me sample RAW files from their XPro2.

To answer the question, have I considered the XPro2, the answer is yes I have. Personally I find the camera body a little wide and I don’t like the handling anywhere near as much as the XT1. I’m therefore prepared to wait until I can get the XT2. I don’t need to urgently change my camera and getting something that I can love and work with for a number of years is much more important to me than just changing the camera to improve the technical spec.

Now for the interesting part and for which I have to thank Nick Harvey-Phillips for sharing some RAW files from the XPro2. All the images on this page are provided by Nick as test sample and he retains copyright. The reason XPro2 RAW files are helpful is that the same sensor is being used in the XT2.

The first thing I noticed on opening the image below is the very high image quality.

Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips
Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips

In the next shot you can see a section of the train at 100% magnification.

Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Section at 100% magnification
Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Section at 100% magnification

This is a 25Mpixel sensor giving a large image at 6,000 x 4,000 pixels. The images appear to be very well defined and sharp. The detail in the objects is very sharp but then it always was in the XT1 which uses the previous generation of the sensor with a lower 16Mpixel count. Clearly, Fuji has been able to maintain the good performance here so let’s take a look at the problem area of fine detail in grass and foliage, which often gives rise to a water colour effect.

As I have mentioned previously the water colour effect tends to be more obvious on screens where there is a lower pixel density. For this reason, I am doing the assessment on a 24” screen which is 1920 x 1080 pixels. When I look at the images on the 27” Mac running a 5K display I see perfection.

The other factor which seems to cause or emphasise the water colour effect is the RAW converter. Here Adobe converters seem to have problems so I used the latest version of Lightroom (CC 15.7). When I review the images in Lightroom at 100% I see a much better result than I expected. The “false” water colour effect/pattern is largely gone and you need to look extremely closely into small areas to find any trace of this.

Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips
Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips

This is the full image with only modest adjustment to the exposure, contrast and sharpening for the purposes of the comparison. In the next shot below you can see a section of the image magnified to 100% with an area of the grass which exhibits traces of the water colour effect. In all honesty, if you didn’t know what you were looking for I think you would miss it.

Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Section from the Lightroom conversion at 100% magnification
Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Section from the Lightroom conversion at 100% magnification

To provide a comparison I processed the image using the Iridient RAW converter. Here the “false” effect isn’t really detected (although I did over-sharpen the image for the lower resolution monitor). The image is also lacking some of the mid tone contrast present in the Lightroom conversion.

Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Section at 100% magnification from the Iridient conversion.
Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Section at 100% magnification from the Iridient conversion.

Overall, the images coming out of the new sensor are excellent. They actually reminded me a little of the RAW file images from the Olympus EM5 except they are much larger and more flexible.

Now, when you compare the images from Lightroom and Iridient side by side, you can still see the Iridient images have more fine detail and Lightroom version is a little soft.

For the Lightroom images I used the settings

Amount = 36

Radius = 0.6

Detail = 57

Threshold = 10

I also had the Colour and Luminance noise reduction set to 0.

I recalled though that one of the comments from the “Fuji RAW Conversion Challenge” I issued said that you needed Deconvolution sharpening to bring out the best in the XTrans sensor. I therefore thought that I would apply a second pass of sharpening to the Lightroom file using Nik Sharpener Pro RAW sharpener (available free from Google). What a difference.

Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Lightroom conversion at 100% following sharpening with Nik Sharpener Pro.
Image Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Phillips. Lightroom conversion at 100% following sharpening with Nik Sharpener Pro.

The results now match those from Iridient in many areas of the image. Attempting the same with the Iridient file didn’t produce much of an improvement. Next step is to try this experiment with some of the XT1 file I have.

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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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.