XT2

Friday Image No.125

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Bamburgh Castle at sunrise
Bamburgh at sunrise. Fuji XT2, 16-55mm (at 16mm) Fujinon lens. ISO200, f/13.0 for 1″. 0.6ND Graduated Filter.

I know this view has been shot a million times but I still love it. There is something quite magical about standing on a beach, in front of a castle, waiting for the sun to come up. Judging by the huddle of photographers around me at the time, I’m not the only person who thinks this.

Hopefully I can shoot some more images with less well known scenes this weekend.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Image No. 124

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Bamburgh sunset. Fuji XT2 + 16-55 lens. 0.6 ND Grad and Polarising filter for extended exposure. f/10.0, 2" at ISO400
Bamburgh sunset. Fuji XT2 + 16-55 lens. 0.6 ND Grad and Polarising filter for extended exposure. f/10.0, 2″ at ISO400

Last weekend I was up in Northumberland, staying at Bamburgh. As you would expect of any landscape photographer, I took the opportunity to shoot the castle at both sunrise (wonderful) and sunset (challenging).

The image above is from one of the rather challenging “sunsets” (there wasn’t any sun) but I still like something about it. I have experimented quite a bit with the processing, even producing the black and white version below. Despite this, I don’t think I have hit on quite what I wanted (although the B&W is my favorite) so I think it will be back to Bamburgh at some point. I will share a few of the better images in the future.

Have a great weekend.

Bamburgh at sunset through the dunes
Bamburgh at sunset through the dunes

Fuji RAW File Processing Improvements

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Waterfall near Thirlmere i the Lake District. Fuji XT2.
Waterfall near Thirlmere i the Lake District. Fuji XT2.

Many of you will be aware of my frustration over the poor results when processing Fuji RAW files with Lightroom. This apparently is a well-known problem amongst Fuji users who want to shoot RAW (although it wasn’t well known to me when I purchased my XT1). The problem seems to have spawned many different solutions among users, from trying to work with Lightroom using “quite extreme” settings to adopting other RAW converters. I personally have pursued and experimented with this last option myself, but it’s not ideal. Lightroom is a great tool and provides an excellent workflow.

Then, a few weeks back I reported here that following experimentation, I was now able to achieve improved sharpening results when using Lightroom. This involved minimising the use of the Detail and Threshold slider, then applying a subsequent Structure adjustment in Viveza. What I couldn’t rationalise though is why I was now experiencing such an improvement by holding back on the Detail slider when previously it had often been necessary to push this to 100%.

Then the penny has dropped.

I had been contacted by a couple of Fuji users who asked if I was aware of any improvements to Fuji sharpening in the latest release of Lightroom and Photoshop. Whilst I hadn’t seen anything, it made me realise that I had upgraded to the latest Adobe CC release, just before experiencing the improvement.

I have since processed a lot of XT2 RAW files and all are responding very well to a traditional sharpening and processing approach in Lightroom. In a recent comparison with my Sony A7r (with which I use with Canon L Series lenses), the resulting images are similar except the Sony has slightly larger dimensions and is slightly sharper at full magnification. Both images produce an excellent print where you can’t see any difference.

Here is an example comparison at 100% magnification. The image on the left was captured using the Sony A7r whilst the image on the right is the Fuji XT2.

Sony A7r compared to Fuji XT2
Sony A7r compared to Fuji XT2

I wondered if this was just an effect when sharpening the XT2 RAW files, so I returned to my XT1 files and tested some of these. The results are also much improved. Comparing the results from Lightroom to the same file processed using the Iridient RAW converter, the gap has narrowed. The Lightroom results now appear much closer to those from Iridient when applying just Capture Sharpening. The Lightroom results can then be improved by applying Selective Sharpening in Lightroom as well as Structure adjustment with the Nik Tools.

Due to the workflow in Lightroom and my use of other cameras (Olympus EM5 and Sony RX10 & A7r) I suspect I will be using Lightroom for most of my Fuji RAW conversion. I may have occasion to venture into Iridient or RAW Therapee but where I need to work fast I think Lightroom is now up to the task.

I’m interested to hear if others have any similar experiences to share.

Bracketing Limitation Workaround

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Fuji XT2 six image HDR
Fuji XT2. Six images at 1 stop intervals blended using HDR processing in Lightroom. The image sequence was shot using the technique discussed.

From time to time I like to shoot multiple sequences of images at different exposures. I then blend these either with HDR software or using luminosity masks in Photoshop. My Olympus EM5 makes this very easy. I call up the bracketing option in the menu, set it to the number of exposures I want and the interval. I also set the shooting mode to continuous which allows me to shoot a sequence by holding down the shooter button. When the sequence is complete there is a slight pause allowing me to release the button. This makes the entire process very easy, allowing me to hand hold.

At the weekend, I came to shoot a bracketed sequence using the Fuji XT2. This also makes shooting the bracketed sequence very easy. There is a dial switch allowing you to change from single shot to bracket. You press the shutter button once and the sequence of three images is captured with no need to keep your finger on the shutter. I found this great, until the scene I wanted to shoot required a five-image sequence at 1 stop intervals. That’s when I found out that the XT2 is limited to shooting only 3 images in a bracket. Come on Fuji, please fix this in your next firmware update. It’s basic stuff.

Now, I should stress that it’s not just Fuji that seem to have overlooked the obvious. When I also came to set up my Sony A7r at the weekend, I found a similar problem. This camera can be set to shoot a bracket sequence of 5 images, providing you don’t want to set the exposure intervals to more than 0.7EV. As soon as you set the exposure interval for a bracket to 1EV or more, you can only shoot a 3 shot sequence. What on earth are they thinking.

If you have been frustrated by this limitation with your camera, there is a simple workaround (other than changing your camera):

  • Set your camera to bracket 3 shots at 2EV intervals in the Av mode (aperture priority) and set your exposure compensation to 0.
  • Shoot the bracket sequence of 3 images.
  • Set the exposure compensation to +1.
  • Shoot a second bracket sequence of 3 images.

This gives you two sequences of three images, but across the two you will have images at 1EV intervals. These will range from -2EV to +3 EV which is what you need for HDR and Luminance blending if you want to ensure maximum flexibility. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to hand hold using this method but hopefully it will make things a little easier.

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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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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.