6
Sep
2013

Ultimate RAW Converter Shootout

by Rico Pfirstinger

Talk to Rico (open forum for questions & feedback)Rico’s Flickr sets – RAW converter comparison Flickr set (private set, must use this link) – Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1 reading samples (65 free pages)

Hello, again! Remember me?

It’s been a while, but to my defense, I have been busy finishing my new book Mastering the Fujifilm X-E1 and X-Pro1. It went to the printer yesterday (it will be printed in the U.S.A), and it’s expected to hit the stores by the end of October. You can preorder it by clicking here (currently with a 30% discount).

Of course, there’ll also be an eBook version for Kindle, iBooks and the likes. I’ll try to prepare a new set of reading samples for one of the next editions of this column. One will feature a first look at Fuji’s new X-A1 entry-level system camera (I have been testing a pre-production camera for several weeks), another one a look at the XF23mmF1.4 R lens that has just been officially announced (I am currently testing a pre-production sample).

As for this X-Pert Corner edition, it appears like I am promising you an “ultimate” RAW converter shootout, but of course, that’s just stupid marketing blah to lure you in. I was told that this kind of language attracts readers (hey, it worked on you, didn’t it?), and by the way, did I mention that the DSLR is dead and that Fuji is the new Leica?

Relax! Just kidding! ;)

What I am really going to do in this column is offering you a humble comparison of eight different X-Trans compatible RAW converters with respect to critical detail rendering at higher sharpening levels. My goal was to use AccuRaw 1.1.1, Aperture 3.4.5 with Apple Camera Raw 4.0.8, Capture One Pro 7.1.3, Iridient Developer 2.2, Lightroom 5.2RC, RPP 64 4.7.1, Silkypix 5.0.45 and the internal RAW converter of an X-Pro1 to extract as much detail as possible from two proven RAW sample files, then presenting the results without telling you which sample was made with which converter. This means that you’ll have to drop your preconceptions. Just look at the files without a safety net of hearsay! Spooky, huh?

Let flowers speak!

Enough introductory talk, let’s have a look at the first demo file:

By clicking here, you will get to a private Flickr set showing you eight different renderings of this image, labeled DSCF0544-1 to DSCF0544-8, displaying the results from RAW converters 1 to 8, respectively. I didn’t care about matching colors, contrast and the likes (you can change those anytime and anywhere to your personal taste). Instead, I focused on revealing as much sharp detail as possible, so for some of you, the results may look a tad too sharp. That’s intentional, as weaknesses tend to reveal themselves at critical sharpening levels (think “watercolor effect”).

Here’s how it goes: Look at the samples 1 to 8, then vote in the poll below for the one you like the most. I did my best to set each RAW converter to maximum effect with respect to revealing as much detail as possible, but hey, I’m only human (aka not Ken Rockwell). That’s why you’ll also find links to the original RAW files in Flickr’s image descriptions. Go ahead, knock yourselves out and do a better job with the RAW converter of your choosing!

Poll for DSCF0544-1 to DSCF0544-8:

Regarding maximum fine detail at critical sharpness, I prefer the rendering of...

  • RAW converter #5 (22%, 199 Votes)
  • RAW converter #4 (16%, 144 Votes)
  • RAW converter #7 (15%, 133 Votes)
  • RAW converter #3 (14%, 126 Votes)
  • RAW converter #2 (13%, 118 Votes)
  • RAW converter #1 (9%, 85 Votes)
  • RAW converter #8 (8%, 77 Votes)
  • RAW converter #6 (3%, 30 Votes)

Total Voters: 912

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Personally, I think it’s interesting to not only see how differently the RAW converters are rendering the overall image, but also how different parts of the image reveal quite different levels of fine detail depending on which converter the file was processed with. If you click on the “original size” versions of the samples in Flickr, you will get 100% magnification views in lossless JPEG format, so prepare yourself for extended loading times. Many files are 20 MB+ in size. Yay!

Green is mean!

Our second sample is a particularly tough one, as it contains foliage and grass in all shapes and sizes. It’s a genuine X-Trans nightmare. I love it!

Click here to go to Flickr for eight different versions of the file, this time named DSCF0998-A to DSCF0998-H. Of course, the sequence for this sample is different from the previous example, so don’t even think about crossmatching sample 3 to sample C, etc. ;) That, my dear friends, won’t work.

Are you done pixel-peeping? Then let’s poll for DSCF0998-A to DSCF0998-H:

Regarding maximum fine detail at critical sharpness, I prefer the rendering of...

  • RAW converter C (27%, 120 Votes)
  • RAW converter E (18%, 81 Votes)
  • RAW converter B (18%, 80 Votes)
  • RAW converter F (11%, 50 Votes)
  • RAW converter A (8%, 34 Votes)
  • RAW converter D (8%, 34 Votes)
  • RAW converter G (7%, 29 Votes)
  • RAW converter H (3%, 18 Votes)

Total Voters: 446

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Again, don’t try to judge colors, contrast and the likes, just focus at the rendering of fine details and the artifacts that come along with it at critical sharpness levels. Of course, you can download the RAW file and work on it with the RAW converter of your choice.

Just to be clear: This isn’t another (yawn!) comparison of “default sharpening settings” (which, in my maybe not so humble opinion, is useless), but of settings I found optimal (as in “the sweet spot”) for each converter and each sample file. It’s simply the best I could come up with, based on my poor eyesight, my poor taste, my poor skills, my crappy computer screen and my limited time. I am convinced that 95% of you can do a much better job, so please try to keep the flaming in the comment section below 50 posts per minute. Thanks! :)

The polls will close shortly before next week’s X-Pert Corner edition, when I will reveal the names of the converters behind the samples 1-8 and A-H.

Lightroom vs. Fujifilm

To conclude this not-so-ultimate shootout, I have set-up a comparison between the internal RAW converter (which, according to Internet gossip, is supposed to be sooo goood) and Adobe Lightroom 5.2RC (which is supposed to be sooo baaad). For the internal RAW converter, I used Sharpening +2 and Noise Reduction -2 in my X-Pro1. Then, I loaded the RAW file into Lightroom and set the sharpening parameters to closely match the result from the internal converter.

Here’s one of four screenshots, each with a direct comparison of the same image parts at 100%. Click on the image below or click here to go to the Flickr set and view all four screenshots in full-size:

Can you really tell which parts (left/right) are from Lightroom and which are from the internal RAW converter? Personally, I couldn’t, at least not by merely looking at the details. For me, the detail rendering is pretty much identical. The so-called watercolor effect shows in both versions, so if you ask me, Adobe is already using the same demosaicing algorithm as Fujifilm’s internal JPEG engine. Fuji is just smart enough to keep the sharpening at lower levels and to apply a large enough radius (I did the same in Lightroom), so even at Sharpening +2, the effect isn’t pronounced enough to create the usual Internet shitstorm. If there’s a giveaway as to which version is which, it would rather be the different color renderings.

As promised before, I will give you the resolution in next week’s X-Pert Corner. See ya!

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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  • Tom

    “…lossless JPEG format”, very funny!

    • http://www.fujixspot.com/f34/ Rico Pfirstinger

      Always happy to brighten your day. :) Here’s some reading matter after you have stopped laughing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lossless_JPEG

      • Tom

        :) OK, I’ve stopped laughing for the moment to ask: What part of your work flow do you create the lossless JPEG? (presumably 2000 or LS) Does each of your 8 RAW converters support lossless?

        • http://www.fujixspot.com/f34/ Rico Pfirstinger

          Obviously, you need to do this as a final step and treat all 16 Bit TIFF images with the same software. In this case, using Apertures 100% JPEG setting.

          • Derp

            100% is far from lossless JPG, they’re very different things and visually noticeable.

    • MJr

      Folks, there is this really nice compare feature in FastStone Image Viewer (free), where you can select multiple images and view them next to each other fullscreen, at any zoom level. (up to 4 at a time) You can get there by pressing the icon with the two trees (ironically). :) Be sure to turn on Smooth when viewing at any level other than 100%.

      example: http://i267.photobucket.com/albums/ii301/moviemonster6/faststoneimageviewercomparefeature_zps051a5a22.jpg

      http://www.faststone.org/FSViewerDetail.htm

  • XE11

    im intertested to find out. I havent use lightroom/ACR. but i have been doing jpeg-only black and white and what i found is that, the jpeg almost always “not black enough” in the shadow as we can see on the left sample. can some one confirm the one on the left is internal convertor? Thanks!

    • tim

      From the camera output, if its ASTIA then I would say the left one, if PROVIA then the right one (because of the saturation).

      In either case is possible to make the blacks blacker with the JPEG settings, don’t exactly recall which (shadow tones?) and it works well enough for an internal converter.

      You can do _much_ more working from RAW on a computer.

      • tim

        Sorry, VELVIA not PROVIA. Oh well, all those film simulations sure did sound good in the marketing spiel ;-)

        Will admit would be easier to have Outdoor Portrait, Indoor Portrait, Landscape … but Fuji is not about Easy, Fuji is about hard work … _real_hard_ work!

        I love it 8-D

  • MuMinded

    Pixel Peepers, ATTACK!!!!

  • GrauUhu

    Welcome back, Rico.

  • Andy

    Rico, I enjoy reading your articles. They have generated a lot of interest in the Fuji X system and this site for me. When I finally buy my X camera(probably future XE-2) I would like to have a way I can support your continued work.

    • http://www.fujixspot.com/f34/ Rico Pfirstinger

      Send a copy of my book to everyone you know for X-mas! ;) Just kidding. Glad I can be useful.

      • MJr

        lol, “X”-mas. ;)

  • http://www.yosemirza.me Yose

    I’d like to make a guess :) The second image is from Rice Fields in Tegalalang, Bali. Am I right?

    • http://www.fujixspot.com/f34/ Rico Pfirstinger

      It’s Bali, for sure.

  • john

    Personally since so many praise Fuji for the SOOC jpegs skin tonees, i would very much hope Fuji could come out with more film simulation in the digitall cameras with their vast knowledge in the colors of film. It would be a waste if the knowledge of Fuji in film colors is not fully put into good use in the production of their digital cameras. I mean just imagine how great it would be if a wedding photographer can just choose a Fuji 400H film simulation in his X-series camera, shoot it and straight away print it out to their customers at the end of the day.Time is also cut short. No more editing, converting issues, facing monitor all day long. Fuji, bring it on! Give us more film simulations. With their vast knowledge in films colors, i believe Fuji can do it.

    • Markus

      There’s always VSCO Film which seems to get pretty close…

  • Mat

    I only had time now to go through the first set of images, of the flower, and while I could see definite differences between the different renderings in terms of sharpness, to my eye all were very much acceptable results. At print resolution and a normal viewing distance all would easily pass muster.

  • laurance

    It is really hard to make any decision…as the sample files are really not enlarged to the max. Meaning that while there might be a 100%…..the on screen sample is just not large enough to make a serious inspection.

    • Mat

      If you go to Flickr the full size files are there.

  • me

    I’m so happy I don’t need these endless comparisons articles, I recommend that you stop buying fuji until they get the non support issue fixed.

    • http://deleted Calking

      Hahahahahahaha

  • http://www.mikelyonsphotography.com Mike Lyons

    Rico, Thank you so much for this awesome post. I will be hitting the refresh button next week to find out which raw converter is best for my eye. I have voted and written down my answers. I have invested in a different converter then my main one for my Fuji’s for this very reason. I am very interested to see if it is the same one I purchased. I do have 2 questions:
    1. These photos were taken with a pre production lens. Have you found any differences between the production lens and the pre production ones?
    2. Can you explain the “Water Color” effect?
    Thank You!
    Mike

    • http://www.fujixspot.com/f34/ Rico Pfirstinger

      1. Looks like the PP lens was pretty good, but I never tested it against my production sample. I did test ma 35mm PP lens against the production sample, and found the latter to show a little more detail.

      2. I don’t know what causes the effect, but I think it’s good expression to describe what’s going on. I didn’t mint it, though. It usually manifests in images with lots of detailed foliage and grass at higher sharpening levels.

  • http://asylum-photo.com Asylum Photo

    Anyone who doesn’t say B is clearly blind. ;)

  • tester

    I am sure the one with the ugly und purple tones are from Silkypix, with some short tweaks ist looks much better.
    Tooks me some seconds.
    Take a look
    http://www.datenkeule.de/dl.php?file=file1378502509DSCF0544.jpg

  • Bemused

    Thank you for being the person to finally point out that Lightroom is really not that bad. The colour is the main difference.

    • Randy

      One could say that Lightroom is not that bad, but it is doing poorly in the polls, so clearly there are better alternatives. Even with the improvements, X-Trans processing is a point of frustration for me. I have been using LR/ACR for years; I prefer Adobe tools and 3rd party compatibility, but I often need to use other processors to get the printed results I want from X-Trans images. My workflow has become convoluted, but I love the feel and controls of my Fuji cameras. I have tried all the mirrorless systems and I like Fuji the best, but I would love to have an X-Pro or X-E1 sans X-Trans.

  • http://www.jimgamblin.com jim gamblin

    Rico, thank you for going through the efforts. As far as clear cut winner, I tend to agree with you and the poll results. In that there is no clear cut winner. Recently I ran a similar test (http://gambofoto.blogspot.nl/2013/08/fuji-x-pro-1-and-raw-converters-part.html) with the same feeling as you and the readers have had. So I guess it comes down to functionality of the software. For all around use, I found that Capture One Pro 7.3. gave me the best results. Again I say all around use. Many thanks!

  • Dan

    The images look fantastic. However, I could never give up the viewfinder. I hate taking picutes with the LCD.