RAW convertors

Updated on Dec. 2, 2018 Note: I wrote this while I was working with and learning Capture One Express. If you read the entire page, you will see I thought Capture One was an excellent raw convertor for the Fuji X-Trans. However, I must report that I will not be using Capture One at all. Why? Because, on my MacPro running Sierra Capture One crashes constantly. These are not “the application quit unexpectly” crashes but crashes that take out the Finder; the only way to recover is to force a Power Off, then reset. I have no idea, and am not going to attempt to debug, why this happens. I’ll let someone else take that on. So, no matter how good it is at converting raw files, it’s not useful. I’ll stick with Luminar and the Adobe world.

After deleted Capture One, I decided to try the new version of ON1 – On1 Photo Raw 2019. The results are very good. You will have to page down to see the comparison.

Read on if you want to see what I learned before making this decision.

For some time I’ve been following the ‘discussions’ about Lightroom’s problems with Fuji X-Trans cameras. My interest is that I’ve used LR since version 1 and, during that time, have had five different cameras some of which I still have and use. My current main camera is the Fuji X-T1. This post is about my thoughts on three different RAW convertors: Lightroom, Luminar and Capture 1 Express. That last one is what started me on this path. Phase One came out with a free version of Capture 1. Quite a few people have indicted Capture 1 is better than Lightroom. So, since it’s free, why not test it? I like Luminar but, as of now, there’s no DAM. The company says they will introduce Luminar+Libraries on December 18, 2018. That may change my conclusions.

A couple of things: One, this is a personal study. You may, or may not, agree with my conclusions. That’s fine – you should use what works for you. Second: “What, another review/comparison of RAW convertors? WTF?” Well, yes. See the first part of this paragraph. As I said, this is for me. Hopefully you will find it useful in some way. On the other hand, you can stop reading whenever you feel like it.

First, versions I used. I became a subscriber to the Adobe world a couple of months ago. Didn’t really want to but it seemed like the best way for me at this time. This decision is subject to change. So, the Lightroom version I used is Classic CC 8. Photoshop is Photoshop CC 20.01. Luminar is version 1.3.2. I own Luminar. Capture 1 Express is 11.3.1. But, you say, what about the other RAW convertors? I own ON1 but it’s the 2017 version. So I left it out of this comparison. Another one that gets a lot of good reviews is Iridient X-Transformer. I have an old sample copy so I didn’t include it. You may want to test either of those.

For starters, let’s look at the Lightroom vs Fuji problem. It’s real. Here’s an urban scene without any sharping. And, below, the same file, oversharpened in LR. (Click on an image to see more detail.) Yes, I oversharpened a lot to demonstrate the problem. Notice the “worms” on the sides of the buildings. When it occurs depends on the detail slider and the sharpening slider. You can change when it happens but it does happen. The same problem seems not to occur in ACR but I’ve seen mixed results on that. My understanding is ACR uses the same RAW conversion.

There are at least two ways to create this problem. One, set the detail slider to a high number. Then drag the sharpness slider to the right. The worms pop up fairly soon. The other way is just the opposite: set the detail to a low number then drag the sharpness to the right. The worms will show up with a higher sharpness number than the first method but they will show up. Using the first method, my default settings are detail=100; sharpness=35. With some images, sharpness can be increased but you have to watch carefully to avoid the worms. For the image above, I was able to get to a sharpness of 50 without the worms. That, of course, depends on the image. As to what you should use, sharpen to taste.

So, what’s my solution? Well, since I’m embedded in the Adobe world – for now – my first attempts involve using Photoshop to sharpen images. There are several ways to do that but I get the best results using Smart Sharpen or ACR Filter. The results are slightly different but more than acceptable. I suspect if you’re a real pixel peeper, you might quibble with that conclusion. Go ahead, just leave me out of it.

Here’s an image comparing ACR with Smart Sharpen.
The differences are slight but, given that I can look at the originals on my display, the edge goes to ACR Filter.
This is, so far as I’m concerned, a workable solution to the sharpening problems of Lightroom vs Fuji X-Tran. One objection I heard on the ‘net is that sharpening in Photoshop requires a trip to Photoshop from Lightroom. I find that acceptable in my workflow. As you will see below, I think I’m stuck with using a second app for sharpening anyway. LR and PS work well together so…

Luminar 2018 is a solid program. I suspect if Skylum had introduced the Libraries version earlier, I might not be an Adobe subscriber. But that’s not where I am right now. Here’s a comparison of Luminar vs ACR.

ACR is slightly better. Note that I did not use any Luminar controls beyond Sharpen. There are several other things I could have used but wanted to keep it simple; in particular, the Details and Microstructure controls. I wondered about the tree details at the top of the hill – using the unsharp mask sharping in PS “aggressively” could generate halos there. Here’s a blow up of that area with ACR and Luminar.

Not a problem here. The Luminar version begins to look grainy in the sky region. That’s hard to see in the jpeg version but it is there. And, again, I didn’t use any noise reduction so it might be easily fixed.

Well,so far it’s pretty much a draw. Workflow would say Lightroom with either Luminar or Photoshop for sharpening. Using Capture One would mean a different workflow. However, most of the critiques of Lightroom are about images with foliage – trees, bushes, flowers – that kind of thing. So let’s take a look at that. Here’s an image of California poppies from this spring.
On the left is an exported tif sharpened using ACR. On the right, a Luminar version. And, the clear winner is Luminar. It’s much sharper. The ACR version leans toward looking like a Monet painting. Which is fine, if you like that kind of thing.

A workflow description – I used Lightroom, reduced the sharpening to 0, then “Edited in Luminar.” I don’t think that gives me different results than using Luminar from start to finish – that is, not involving Lightroom in anyway. Note the colors of both images are very close. Now, what about Capture 1?

OK, it’s clear. Capture 1 is much better than ACR. However, note the colors of the two images. Capture 1 does not have the Fuji camera profiles – it uses a generic “Fuji X-T1” profile. Could I work on the colors? Sure, but that’s just more time. Also, Phase One has announced they will have Fuji Camera profiles but it’s not clear to me right now the Express version will support that. There may be another work-around but…

And, later. Here’s the comparison using ON1.
As you can see, ON1 does an excellent job with this image. And, again, the worm problem is non-existent in ON1. The UI for ON1 has been changed in the most recent version – I find it much more intuitive than previous versions.