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.
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.
And here is the RAW Therapee conversion 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).
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.
In the next shot you can see a section of the train 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.