1
Mar
2013

RAW, JPEG, Silkypix and “Fuji Colors”

by Rico Pfirstinger

Since pretty much everybody wrote about Lightroom 4.4RC in the past few days, I won’t. After all, what’s the big story? It took Adobe a full year to get their paying customers what the free RAW File Converter EX software and Fuji’s internal JPEG engine delivered from day one: decent X-Trans demosaicing quality. Big deal! But for those who are still interested in LR4.4RC, I have updated my RAW converter comparison set on Flickr with several new renderings.

Let’s take a look at colors, so-called “Fuji Colors” in particular. It’s often noted that Fujifilm’s built-in JPEG engine is one of the best in the entire industry. Obviously, people either love it, hate it or are just plain ignorant about it, but if you belong to the “I love it” crowd, there’s a good chance that “Fuji Colors” have played a role when you made your decision to buy an X-series camera.

The heart of these colors are the different film simulations Fuji’s cameras are offering in either the shooting menu or in the camera’s internal RAW converter. X-Trans sensor cameras feature five different color film modes, named after famous analog slide and negative FUJIFILM brands: Provia, Astia, Velvia, Pro Neg. Std and Pro Neg. Hi. Make no mistake: These aren’t accurate recreations of analog films. Instead, you get modern, state-of-the art color gradations that feature key qualities of their vintage role models: Provia is a more-or-less neutral all-purpose film mode, Astia delivers more distinct “Fuji Colors” with added pop in the shadows and smooth highlights, while Velvia offers high-contrast JPEGs with strong, saturated colors. Pro Neg. Std and Hi deliver accurate and pleasant skin tones, with “Std” acting as the neutral option and “Hi” as the one giving additional pop and contrast.

Here’s a practical example illustrating the five different film simulation modes:

This example was shot with an X-Pro1 and the Fujinon XF 60mm Macro prime lens at f/4.0, 1/480s and ISO 200. The top row is showing Provia, Astia and Velvia, the bottom row shows Pro Neg. Std, Pro Neg. Hi and a Lightroom development that looks like something in-between Provia and Pro Neg. Std. You can click on the image for a hi-res view, but even if you don’t, you can clearly see that Fuji’s different film modes can deliver quite distinct results. Remember, this is all the same shot, just developed with different film simulation modes in the camera’s internal RAW converter (aka JPEG engine).

Let’s decide for Astia at this time, as it offers a very distinct purple-red rendering of the flower, with smooth highlights and nice contrast in the darker shadows. A typical problem of mono-colored subjects like this one are overflowing RGB color channels, in this case the red color channel. Here’s a magnified view of our Astia shot, showing three different color saturation level settings that can be applied either in the shooting menu or when (re-)developing the RAW file in-camera:

The color settings used here were -2 (left), 0 (center) and +2 (right). Clearly, too much color saturation in the reds goes at the cost of image detail, so we are better off using a saturation setting of -2 (aka “low” when you are using the internal RAW converter). Here’s the less color saturated Astia JPEG of this shot, straight from the camera’s built-in RAW converter:

As usual, click on the image for a full-size view. This was a hand-held macro shot, so I used the smallest available AF field size and moved it precisely over the area I wanted to be in-focus.

So far, so good. We now have an image with quite distinct “Fuji Colors”. Some people may like it, some may not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that many of those who like their own JPEGs with Fuji colors would often also like to achieve similar looking results with external third-party RAW converters like Silkypix or the free RAW File Converter EX (which is an older version 3 of Silkypix).

How can we do it? Let’s play it through! Here’s the RAW file as it looks in Silkypix 5 with the software’s default settings:

Uh-oh! While this default rendering proves that claims about X-Trans sensors being incapable of delivering saturated reds are wrong, this is obviously not the result that we had in mind. In order to emulate the Astia rendering of the in-camera JPEG engine, we need to make some changes. But there’s more! If you click on this image for a full-size view, you will see ugly artifacts in the deep reds, almost like dirt soiling the colors of the flower. Here’s a zoomed-in view of this phenomenon, just click on it to see it in full size:

This doesn’t look nice, not to mention that the red is somewhat over-saturated and obscuring image details. So let’s correct this, shall we? After a few modifications in Silkypix, the image looks like this:

To make the comparison a little easier for you, here’s the original Astia JPEG again:

It’s not exactly the same, but it’s close enough for me. Of course, you could achieve a perfect match with a few further adjustments in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture or any other powerful image editor, but maybe an exact match wouldn’t really improve the image, anyway? Also note that the “dirt” and other color artifacts in the red flower are now gone.

So what exactly did I do to make it work?
Well, buy my next book to find out.
Good night, and good luck!

Just kidding.
Here’s a screenshot with the settings I have used:

I didn’t change exposure or white balance. I also didn’t apply any dodging or HDR. So not only Silkypix 5 users, but also those using RFC EX could basically apply these changes. I did change Silkypix’ film mode from Standard to Memory Color 1, tough. Typically, I switch the color profile to “Version 4 compatible” in order to get rid of a green color cast—but not this time! Instead, I left the color profile at “Natural”, as it simply came closer to what I wanted to achieve. I made minor adjustments to contrast and tone, such as adding gamma (brightness), moving the contrast center a bit to the left and adding black to shadows by moving the Black Level slider to the right.

Obviously, the most important changes had to be made in the color department, so I opened the Fine Color Controller panel to adjust the reds and greens. The screenshot above shows the changes I made to the reds, and the three images below show what I did to orange/yellow and the two green sectors. By the way, Capture One offers a quite similar “color sector tool”.

Finally, I opened the Highlight Controller panel and moved the Chroma/Luminance slider to the left while adding some dynamic range by moving the DR Expansion slider to the right from 0.40 EV (which is the default setting for DR100% RAWs) to 1.60 EV. This basically emulates the softer highlight color transitions of our Astia JPEG.

To get rid of “dirty” color artifacts, we need to move the “Demosaic Sharp” slider in the Development module. At ISO 200, Silkypix 5 uses a default setting of 80, but for this shot, we need to slide it all to the left to Zero. And bingo! The ugly artifacts are gone. To compensate for any loss of image sharpness, I increased Outline Emphasis in the Sharpness module and used Pure Detail as my sharpening method in order to preserve maximum detail in areas that are actually in-focus. Since Pure Detail also minimizes artifacts in areas that are out-of-focus, this method lends itself to this particular shot. For the same reason, I also added some False Outline Control. Noise Reduction was kept at Silkypix’ default settings.

The following screenshot illustrates what reducing Demosaic Sharpness from 80 to Zero did for us. All remaining settings stayed the same in this direct comparison:

What a difference a slider makes! I’m not sure how many RFC EX / Silkypix users have been unaware of its existence—until now!

If you take a closer look at the in-focus part of our image, you’ll see that Silkypix (left) was able to extract more fine detail than the camera’s built-in JPEG engine (right). Click on the image for a magnified view:

Our Silkypix image can now be saved in a robust, lossless 16 Bit format (like TIFF) for further post-processing, printing or display.

For your convenience, here’s a TOC with links to my previous X-PERT CORNER articles:

Rico Pfirstinger studied communications and has been working as journalist, publicist, and photographer since the mid-80s. He has written a number of books on topics as diverse as Adobe PageMaker and sled dogs, and produced a beautiful book of photographs titled Huskies in Action (German version). He has spent time working as the head of a department with the German Burda-Publishing Company and served as chief editor for a winter sports website. After eight years as a freelance film critic and entertainment writer in Los Angeles, Rico now lives in Germany and devotes his time to digital photography and compact camera systems. His book “Mastering the FUJIFILM X-Pro1” (Kindle Edition) (Apple iBook Store) (German version) is available on Amazon and offers a plethora of tips, secrets and background information on successfully using Fuji’s X-Pro1 and X-E1 system cameras, lenses and key accessories.

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  • ds

    well well, but its better sylkypix or the new capture one? i find c1 can extracn some more details

  • Peter

    That was very informative, Rico! Thanks.

    The core message that comes through is: know when you really need an outside-camera RAW converter because it takes quite some effort to get a better result. Is that a wrong conclusion or not?

    I can’t help it but I am also curious to the LR4.4 RC results. ;-)

  • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

    I am lazy, so I usually use an external converter when it’s easier for me to get pleasant results. I rarely try to emulate the camera look, I’d rather create my own. So this is more like a proof of concept. Plus, there’s always VSCO Film.

  • http://www.sagi-k.com Sagi

    One of the benefits of digital photography is that we are no longer bound to the manufacturer’s colors. We are not restricted to type of film in our cameras.
    We can create OUR own colors.
    Be creative… :-)

  • Marshall

    Thanks RICO for another very interesting and informative read.
    I think most of us are lazy when it comes to getting our pictures edited, but with a little bit more knowledge and time you get great results.
    Maybe time to re look at Silkypix before spending out on other raw converters eh?

  • Robbert

    Rico, your remark about it not being a big deal Adobe finally supports the X-Trans sensor is quite unbelievable. Coming from a Nikon D300 on the RAW-files of which Lightroom 3 simply worked magically, I wasn’t quite prepared how much I was handicapped when changing to an X-E1. I’m very pleased with Lightroom 4.4 as I now have my preferred workflow back. Gosh, I missed it! SilkyPix is a pig to work with, I’m glad I can finally delete it forever from my PC.

    And let’s not forget that the fault was hardly at Adobe (at Adobe, they make plenty of errors on their own): it’s difficult to reverse-engineer a complicated demosaicing pattern at the best of times, it’s quite impossible without help from the engineers at Fujifilm. It looks the folks at Fujifilm finally did the wise thing and helped Adobe make sense of their RAW-files the way they should. It’s quite incomprehensible what took them so long, they DO want to sell cameras, right?

    Better late than never…

    • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

      So why could Sandy from Chromasoft do it as a one man project within several weeks without any help from Fujifilm? And I think his AccuRaw does better X-Trans demosaicing than Adobe.

      By the way, Fuji managers repeatedly stated that they gave all information to major RAW developers right when the X-Pro1 was introduced more than a year ago. So are you saying these Fuji managers were not telling the truth and can you offer any proof to back up your claim, because that would actually be quite interesting news.

      Are you also saying that when Adobe bought their Lightroom/ACR RAW engine from Scandinavian company Pixmantec several years ago, they kept experts from this company employed just in case that engine needed a major code modification? Or could it be that Adobe simply paid-out those experts after the deal and project was complete and sent them on vacation with a large check and a non-compete clause? Because this is how things usually work when you don’t just buy a product, but the entire company (including employees) in order to get new technology from the outside. You can certainly speculate all you want, but wouldn’t it be nice to back up accusations with some sort of proof?

      • klehmann

        Hahaha – right on the money there!

        And I believe Fuji claims they gave all info needed to demosaic the sensor from early on to the various software-houses…. Whether this is fact or fiction we’ll probably never find out;o) When I initially spoke with P1 (very early on), they ‘blaimed’ Fuji’s former trackrecord of stickin’ with/abandoning a camera-system for long as their main concern for puttin’ in the required efforts to do the demosaicing. So obviously they had the info needed, or?

        However as Rico says; Sandy did a hell of a job investigating this ‘funky’ rgb-pattern and came up with several suggestions/workarounds and finally and actual solution. Respect to that!

        • klehmann

          Crapp – overlapping surplus info here – sorry guys! Rico just explained what was to be said there;o)

      • Robbert

        I was brazenly misinformed, so an apology is in order. But despite others saying that Rico is right on the money here, I beg to differ: my main point still stands. I’ve got my workflow back, which I did sorely miss. It doesn’t matter hoe many competent and even cheap/free RAW-converters are out there, my hobby is photography, not learning new software, especially software that doesn’t quite match the abilities of Lightroom (like SilkyPix).

        • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

          About a year ago, I posted several warnings to Lightroom/ACR users in different forums. I warned everybody who’s NOT flexible and who is married to Lightroom/ACR to NOT buy an X-Pro1 camera until Adobe would offer full support and they were happy with the actual results. As usual, nobody cared or listened.

          Knowing Adobe since the company was founded, I expected there was a decent chance for them to mess things up, so I thought a clear warning was warranted. Those who are married to Adobe (and who don’t consider using anything else but Lightroom/ACR) could find plenty of conventional cameras in the market (including the very good X100). Alternatively, they could simply wait (in this case a full year) for Adobe to catch up with Ichikawa, PhaseOne or even Sandy working home alone.

          I am pretty happy with Lightroom 4.4RC results. I have also added a few more examples to my RAW converter comparison set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25805910@N05/sets/72157632525602228/

          When it comes to fine details, Adobe is now pretty much on eye-level with Silkypix or RAW File Converter. In any case, users who are married to Apple and will only consider Aperture to process RAWs should wait until Apple is officially supporting the sensor. And those who are married to DxO should move on, because unlike Apple, I don’t see DxO supporting X-Trans or EXR in the foreseeable future.

  • klehmann

    Great, great stuff, Rico!
    Just emailed Patrick with some alternative/supplemental info on the subject that might prove usefull as well – to some at least…
    To much typo/info to put here in the comments section.
    Best
    klehmann

  • http://Www.genelowinger.com gene lowinger

    Very interesting processing. As to your point about Adobe taking a year to get it right, however, eh! In the end they DID get it right, and I don’t have to change my workflow or catalog structure. Yes it was annoying having to deal with the interim processing, but no more or less annoying than dealing with Fuji’s initial firmware which required SEVERAL updates. In both cases, Fuji’s and Adobe’s, the initial release was annoying but doable, now it’s better. Hooray for Fuji. Hooray for Adobe. Hooray for Slickey Pix [sic]. Hooray for Capture One. Boo hoo for Aperture. Now can we move on and talk about how to make moving,wonderful, meaningful images?

    • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

      According to my sources, there will be Apple Camera RAW / Aperture support for X-Trans (and EXR, too). I assume it will be released along with a new major version of Aperture (“Aperture X”) and I very much expect it to include standard features such as digital lens correction based on RAW metadata or lens profiles.

  • http://rogergw.tumblr.com/ Roger Whitehead

    Interesting and informative as usual, Rico.

    I have a question, though — how close is your chosen final image to the ‘real’ colour of the hibiscus flower? They are usual a deeper red than that, more like the one from Silkypix 5 with default settings.

    I’ve noticed with my X-Pro 1 that reds are often not really red and tend to the mauve, whether Raw or jpeg. I infer from what you write that getting the colour more lifelike involves a trade-off in quality. I that how you see things?

    Roger

    • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

      I really don’t remember. I am very confident it wasn’t as purple/pink as my rendering. But I like the Astia version. That’s the nice thing with color: You can change them as you please. Velvia simulation will change the color towards red. You can always download the RAW and put in your own X-Pro1 to experiment with different JPEG settings, including film simulation, color saturation, contrast settings, push/pull (pull in this case), WB and WB shift.

      When taking pictures, I am not really interested in getting “life-like” results, aynway. I’m interested in getting the result that I have visualized in my head. So I’m going after what my inner eyes are seeing, not my actual ones. If I wouldn’t do that, I couldn’t use any filters and could nor take pics in black&white. I also couldn’t use long exposure times for water or clouds, as this isn’t life-like at all. Using super-tele lenses (with lots of bokeh) or wide-angle would be very problematic, too, as we don’t see things that way. Our eyes don’t see bokeh in real-life, after all, and neither do they offer panoramic vision.

  • http://rogergw.tumblr.com/ Roger Whitehead

    Tsk! “Is that how you see things?”

    • http://rogergw.tumblr.com/ Roger Whitehead

      > When taking pictures, I am not really interested in getting “life-like” results

      That’s fine, of course, unless one is trying to supply reasonably accurate pictures to a magazine or agency. It’s the difference between natural history photography and photographs of nature. I’m interested in both.

      > Our eyes don’t see bokeh in real-life…

      Try living with cataracts!

      Roger

      • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

        Since Getty Images keeps asking for some of my processed images, it’s probably not as bad as one might think. Not to mention that magazines like TIME print iPhone pics (processed with Instagram), even on the cover page.

  • http://www.clutterfreecoding.com/member/239246/ http://www.clutterfreecoding.com

    Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew
    of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  • http://no Paul-M

    Sehr geehrter Herr Pfirstinger,

    durch mein Schulenglisch limittiert, geht doch viel meiner Konzentration beim Lesen Ihrer informativen Beiträge für`s Übersetzen drauf. Darum bitte ich Sie mir mitzuteilen, wo ich die entsprechenden Texte in der originären deutschen Sprache, nicht im Google-Kauderwelsch, wiederfinde.
    Danke auch für Ihren Einsatz für die Nutzer!

    P. B.

    • http://www.lets-ride.de Rico Pfirstinger

      Fuji X Forum / Systemkameraforum haben von mir bereits vor einigen Monaten die Genehmigung erhalten, deutsche Fassungen der X-PERT CORNER in ihrem Blogbereich zu publizieren. Nachdem zwei Texte rasch ins Deutsche übersetzt wurden (einer davon leider mit relevanten Übersetzungsfehlern), ging es mit dem Projekt jedoch bisher nicht weiter. Anfragen, Wünsche und Kommentare bzgl. einer deutschen Fassung bitte ich deshalb direkt an die Betreiber dieser beiden Foren zu richten. Ich verfasse diese Kolumne auf Englisch.

  • dieterpixel

    I still have a S5pro as my backup camera, and honestly, I miss the “Hyper Utilities” – RAW – converter on the X-pro1.

    This may be surprising, as Hyper Utilities was not at all appreciated generally. However, I used it just the way it is described for Silkyix here: To go from RAW to TIFF 16 bit and to continue all further work in Photoshop.

    Anyway, Hyper Utilities was just like the in-camera converter on the computer screen, but with the ability to do a better conversion and in particular, to get more resolution.

    So, you can choose to keep the film simulation setting just like it was set when the picture was taken, and Hyper Utility renders it that way. With Fuji Colors obviouseliy. Or you could change the Film simulation to any other setting. Or you could bring out more DR (taking further advantage of the SuperCCT-capabilites). And so on.

    This was in my opinion very user friendly, as the software was so close to the in-camera-software, but with more possibilities and available higher quality settings for the simple fact, that developping on the pc can be made without time pressure.

    Why does Fujifilm not offer any really Fujifilm – like RAW – converter anymore for its X-cameras? I would really appreciate that.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.silkypix.eu Jörg Regier

    Hi all,
    just want to share some news regarding the availability of Silkypix Developer Studio Pro5.
    There is now a new website to cover customers inside Europe, outside Germany, Astria and Switzerland:
    http://www.silkypix.eu
    This site is in English and provides tech support in the same time zone, local payment methods…
    Silkypix 3 LE users can take advante of the upgrade pricing.

    Best regards,

    Jörg

  • kecajkerugo

    Hi all,
    very interesting topic for all the lovers of the Fuji colors. Anything change since the last post was submitted here? Did Fuji at least provide batch processing capability in the in camera RAW converter? It is not a science project. Such functionality can be found on quite a few, also cheap cameras like Pentax K-x I own and it is so powerful: you can just select as many pictures as you want, apply settings you wish and save the JPEGs in the camera into a new folder! Too difficult for Fuji?

  • Jörg Regier

    Hi again, just want share that there is a new version of Silkypix available…
    v6 for PC has been realeased – mac version will come later. Great new features…
    http://www.silkypix.eu/developer-studio-pro/