by Rico Pfirstinger
Talk to Rico (questions & feedback) – Rico’s Flickr photosteam
Considering the lively discussion that is going on about Apple Camera Raw and Aperture finally supporting Fujifilm cameras with X-Trans sensors, earlier reports about Aperture’s death appear to be a bit premature. As was to be expected, most of the discussion focuses on heavy pixel peeping, so this is what I am not going to talk about in this edition of my X-Pert Corner column. That’s because with all the pixel peeping, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. There’s more to processing a RAW file than looking at perceived artifacts in 100%-400% magnification modes. Let’s instead focus on the following:
- How usable is Apple Camera Raw for highlight recovery?
- How is Apple Camera Raw dealing with digital lens correction and RAW metadata?
- How is it handling RAW files that were taken in extended dynamic range modes, like DR200% and DR400%?
If you open a “standard” (that is DR100%) X-Trans RAW file in Apple Aperture using the latest Apple Camera Raw, chances are it won’t look that much different from a standard Provia SOOC JPEG file. Why bother, then? We could just use the JPEGs from the camera (maybe with additional tweaking in its internal RAW converter) and carry on with our lives, right? Yes, we could, at least in many instances. However, there are situations that the camera’s built-in JPEG engine cannot handle. This is where external RAW processing options shine—at least some of them, because not all external RAW processors are equally well-suited for specific tasks, such as highlight recovery.
Let’s have a look at a practical example. This is a (cropped to taste) SOOC JPEG image I recently recorded with a XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS prototype lens:
You can immediately see that the dynamic range of this subject grossly exceeds the range of the JPEG: shadows are blocked, highlights (clouds and sky) are blown-out. No matter how you deal with this RAW file in the camera’s internal converter, you won’t get a balanced result showing the full tonal range of the scene. For example, redeveloping the JPEG in-camera with soft (-2) shadow and highlight tone settings won’t rescue the clouds:
Neither will “pulling” the image -1/3 or -2/3 EV using the built-in converter’s push/pull function:
It is important to note that both -1/3 EV and -2/3 EV versions shown here don’t induce any any clipped highlight warnings, neither in the camera’s “info display” view nor in Apple Aperture. This means that no matter how much further I might pull the RAW in-camera, the texture in the clouds won’t magically re-appear. The internal RAW converter simply cannot rescue this shot. However, a state-of-the-art external converter can.
I shot this sample using the basic “ETTR exposure technique for RAW shooters” that I am recommending in my book. This means setting the camera to DR100% and using the live histogram to set the “right” exposure, clipping the relevant highlights in the histogram just so much that they can still be recovered in Lightroom/ACR or, in this case, Apple Camera Raw and Aperture.
Here’s what the standard import of the RAW file looks like in Apple Aperture: