Pixel peeping with the Fuji X (and the question of RAW converters)

Pixel peeping with the Fuji X (and the question of RAW converters)

Full disclaimer: I’m very far from being a pixel-peeper and, in fact, I rather detest such endeavors when done in a compulsive manner. Still, there are times where it helps to reach some conclusions pertaining to processing decisions and workflow.

Consider this image. Rather boring, I know; please bear with me.

I believe it is evident that, color reproduction, contrast, sharpness and detail are quite good. This says something, because it is a 100% crop from this image:

It was shot with the X-E2 and 18-55mm lens, and processed from RAW in Photo Ninja. It was then imported into Lightroom, for reasons that will be explained shortly.

Here we have the infamous and much discussed issue with X-Trans RAW file processing. Given I’m rather new to the system, my problem is defining a proper workflow and selection of tools, and I’ll admit I haven’t reached an optimum solution yet.

It would be trivial if Lightroom, my usual RAW conversion/Processing tool, could deliver results that I could describe as “satisfactory”, at a regular base. But please take a look at the following take on the exact same image, processed in the optimal way possible, in LR 5.6:

Differences are astounding. It almost seems it was taken with a different camera; one with several megapixels less, or a much inferior lens. It doesn’t even play at the same category.

Both images were, more or less, normalized in LR (in the first case, processed in Photo Ninja and imported as tiff). Although I tried my best, and followed the best instruction available in processing RAF files in LR (e.g. optimal sharpening settings, using the same camera profile, etc), it just can’t hold a candle to the PN version. Just for kicks, here is the same crop I posted at the beginning, from the LR version:

My workflow goes somewhat like this: As it is, PN is rather rudimentary for many tasks, so I only use it for RAW conversion, initial exposure settings, sharpening (superb), noise reduction (Noise Ninja, one of the best I’ve seen) and color profiling. It also seems PN does a much better work with lens profiles and initial distortion corrections. I then export to uncompressed tiff and import into LR, for further processing, which is much easier/more complete in LR. For example, cropping, retouching, vignetting , etc.

Is it worth it? Well, most of the time, the answer is a resounding yes. Here is a bonus comparison; the first image is a LR optimal processing attempt, the second is with PN. There is detail in the second one, which simply isn’t even there with the LR instance.

And now for the caveats: I would have no severe problem with PN being slow and missing a number of crucial features. But there are times where real problems ensue.  For example, have another look at the first full image: there is a weird purple blob at the center top of the picture, at the sky between the roof and cables, some kind of chromatic aberration that I couldn’t remove. It is not visible in the JPEG file, out of camera, and neither is present in the LR import. That means PN introduced it, and I sincerely don’t know why. I have also noticed the same with some artificial light portraits; skin tones show signs of a color cast that can’t be vanished with WB manipulations.

I should also note that LR is probably “good enough” for a variety of photos, e.g. when absolute HDR-like detail isn’t needed or wanted. It may be that it is even preferable in some cases.

All of which, doesn’t make my sleep any easier.

This is an introductory piece, and, as I said, from the viewpoint of a fairly new X-Trans user. Your input will be very highly appreciated, please chime in, in the comment section below, with your own impressions and experiences!

Update: please check the supplementary post to this article, featuring a couple more RAW conversion options

Supplement to the X-Trans RAW conversion article

Supplement to the X-Trans RAW conversion article

Jupiter 37a on the E-M1

Jupiter 37a on the E-M1