Best RAW converter

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by ian_watt|3, May 10, 2010.

  1. Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom2 seem to be pretty much the same, and they both do a good job. Phase One is another option that gets good reviews. Does the Phase One software have additional features over Adobes? Which if any of these would deal best with noise in over saturated skies or flowers on a bright day. Any links to help with RAW processing and dealing with these issues would be a great help. Or even a book on the subject. I have read many articles on RAW processing but they only cover the basics, its this issue of reigning in clipped color and noise that I need information on. Unless of course that stage of the edit is not done until opened in photoshop in 16bits.
     
  2. I think ACR is pretty good to be honest. Apart from that I also like the one in ACDsee 3.0

    As far as a book on CR is concerned try this
     
  3. Last summer I did extensive tests to find the raw converter that gave the greatest degree of sharpness and amount of fine detail from the DNG files from my Leica M8. I tried ACR (in Photoshop CS3), Capture One 4, which came with the camera, and a third program I read about on the Leica Users Forum, RAW Developer. RAW Developer was the best converter by a wide margin, allowing me to make 13"X20" prints from the M8's 10MP files that other photographers could not distinguish from prints made from scanned 6x9cm negatives (400 ISO). The results were so good that I stopped using film.
    RAW Developer lacks many of the features found in Lightroom, Photoshop, or Capture One. However, it excels at converting files to preserve maximum sharpness and detail and, for me, that trumps all other considerations. Using RAW Developer on 18MP Leica M9 files allows me to make 27"x40" prints that are sharper and more detailed than those I get from 6x9 negs scanned on an Imacon 343!
    RAW Developer is made by Irridient and is relatively inexpensive, $125 if memory serves. It has a good, simple interface but lacks some features found in other programs such as the ability remove moiré and fringing, but there are easy ways to do those in Photoshop. It also lacks a Vibrance adjustment. Finally, note that it is only available for Mac, not for PC. Still, despite those minor drawbacks, it is in my opinion the best RAW converter out there.
     
  4. I agree about Raw Developer*. The rendering is lovely. But I still do all my work in Lightroom due to the functionality of the various modules. The new 3beta has some impressive new demosaicing algorithms so I do need to revisit how it compares to RD.
    *http://www.ppmag.com/reviews/200607_rodneycm.pdf
     
  5. Andrew,
    I suppose it's possible that Lightroom has caught up tp the quality of RD. Do post any conclusions that you reach if you compare them.
    I also tried various upresing programs but the results from them, as from Photoshop itself, were not as good as upresing in RD. The only thing I didn't try was Qimage because I'm on a Mac, though I hear great things about that program.
     
  6. One feature I KNOW RD does better than LR/ACR is highlight recovery. In the ACR engine, I get odd color shifting and some banding. The Adobe team is aware of this, only time will tell if they can address it and produce results as good as RD. Some examples:
    http://digitaldog.net/files/RD.jpg
    Top is RD, bottom is LR.
     
  7. On a cheap end Raw Photo Processor works well and I've grown to like it. But these days I do most of my work on Lightzone (for developing) and then move to Photoshop. Lightzone has good tools, nice amount of detail and doesn't mess up your photos (meaning that it doesn't apply anything with out you knowing). Besides I like the user interface.
    In the end it's matter of preference in most cases, if your applications need the best possible detail then there could be a winner, which one I don't know.
     
  8. There isn't one. In all honesty, it's like asking what the best developer for B&W film is. The answers is, it depends. Some are better for detail, others for noise, others for good color straight out.
    To make matters more complex, they all work differently on different cameras. What I like for my Pentax isn't always as good for my Canon gear.
    Take Andrews advice above....he knows his stuff.
     
  9. Since I use only one brand RAW files, a look on only that... for Nikon, Capture NX2 / View NX in my view gets the best results.
    For high ISO files (D300), Adobe for me really didn't cut it; ugly noise, mediocre sharpness. ACR simply did not get the best from these files, and required a lot of hand-holding. CaptureOne (4.x) did much better, and I like the way it works too. The standard version is, in my opinion, very good value for money. Recently I tried Bibble 5, nice program, fast (very), good options, very usable. Certainly worth the try.
    But Nikon's own software for me simply gets the best from their files. Can't say for other brands, and obviously this software is a 1-brand pony.
    I think Dave's right. There is not a "best", there are many good. I tried quite a lot of them to make sure I spent my money well, and hence found out which one I like best - but what I perceive as an OK user interface and good output may be pure horror to others.
     
  10. The good think about the Adobe Photoshop raw convertor (ACR) is that Adobe constantly improves it. Now in version 6.0 (along with PS CS5) I believe and hold that ACR is by far the best raw editing tool out there.
    So far the improvements from 5.7 to 6.0 are very minor (primarily in noise filters). However in going from 3.x to 4.x and 5.x ACR greatly improved and no other tool is better or has more books written specifically for it and used by so many amateurs, semi-pros, and pros.
     
  11. I'd never rely upon the camera manufacturers' software. They're good at producing cameras and lenses, and generally wretched at producing software.
    Lightroom does the job fine for my purposes. If I'm pixel peeping close enough and often enough to see significant differences, well, there just isn't anything in the photos really all that interest to me.
     
  12. DxO deserves an honorable mention for correcting lens defects, and if you have a full-frame DSLR with Canon 24-105/4, gawd knows you need your lens defects corrected. Take a look at dcresource.com's review of the 5DmarkII + 24-105 for some yucky results that can be bettered by a Panasonic P&S.
     
  13. RAW Developer lacks many of the features found in Lightroom, Photoshop, or Capture One. However, it excels at converting files to preserve maximum sharpness and detail and, for me, that trumps all other considerations.​
    If Raw Development really excels in sharpness and detail, why not use it first, then open the file in ACR for its other feature?
     
  14. I'm a Bibble user, couldn't be more pleased...
     
  15. DxO deserves an honorable mention for correcting lens defects...​
    Not much longer thanks to the amazingly good corrections in ACR 6.X and Lightroom 3.
    If Raw Development really excels in sharpness and detail, why not use it first, then open the file in ACR for its other feature?​
    You can’t do that unless you render the image out of RD. Then you no longer have raw data to work with in ACR/LR. Once you begin with a raw converter, you are “stuck” there until you render pixels. One raw converter can’t understand the instructions from another.
     
  16. You can’t do that unless you render the image out of RD. Then you no longer have raw data to work with in ACR/LR. Once you begin with a raw converter, you are “stuck” there until you render pixels. One raw converter can’t understand the instructions from another.​
    I am no means a raw converter expert and have my hands full with ACR, hence the question.
    My suggestion is to get the most out of RD and save as psd. Open the psd as raw in PS, and apply the ACR features missing in RD as appropriate. While many such features can be done with PS without ACR, some such as "remove moiré and fringing" can be challenging and time consuming, at least for me.
    When will Adobe buy out RD, like they did Raw Shooter?
    http://www.dpreview.com/news/0606/06062602adobebuypixmantec.asp
     
  17. My suggestion is to get the most out of RD and save as psd. Open the psd as raw in PS,​
    A PSD is not a raw, its a rendered image. So you can’t use the raw converter as a raw converter any more. You’ve got baked RGB pixels at this point. You have to move to Photoshop (the pixel editor). The advantage of raw processing is now over.
     
  18. Andrew,
    Even though one is no longer working with the raw file, it is possible to use Camera Raw to open a tiff or psd file that was processed in Raw Developer and then use some of the controls that Raw Developer lacks, such as defringing. I just tried this and the defringe feature, at least, seems to work quite well. However, I haven't run any tests yet to see if there is any degradation in the detail or sharpness of the file as a result of running it through Camera Raw.
     
  19. For nikon, capture nx2 used to get better details out of the raws than the competition, but the camera raw 6.0 on cs5 seems to be able to match it. camera raw is a faster, more efficient program than capture nx2, but despite it being slow capture nx2 has some excellent features. phase one capture one is good, excellent workflow, same conversion quality as the old camera raw (so not as good as the new one or nx2). what do i use? capture nx2 if i need to use its functions, cs5 if i dont as it is quicker. if capture one got the same quality i would probably move back to it, they are all good programs. i just wish nikon would make more user friendly software that was less of a system hog. my detail observations are all with sharpening turned off, i only sharpen in photoshop.
     
  20. If you are a Nikon shooter, Capture NX 2 is by far the best RAW converter. Adobe Lightroom 3 and Adobe Camera RAW 6 are getting closer but still not close enough. There is still a lot of manual labour involved in getting results that match what Capture NX does automatically by understanding the NEF file and applying the Nikon picture controls used in the camera.
    I had to re-convert a lof of images because the results from Capture NX where just much better and I am a pretty good at post processing.
     
  21. Nick,
    Hmm i havent run extensive tests yet, but my brief ones saw NX2 get the same detail as camera raw 6 (NX2 was definately significantly better than the previous camera raw). One possibility to consider is that capture nx applies the in-camera settings, and on mine they are set to neutral with no sharpening, so i am comparing unsharpened images in both cases. If you have sharpening set in-camera, then this is being applied and you are comparing unsharpened with sharpened. Dont hold me to this! I will run some proper tests at the weekend when i have some spare time!
     
  22. Even though one is no longer working with the raw file, it is possible to use Camera Raw to open a tiff or psd file that was processed in Raw Developer and then use some of the controls that Raw Developer lacks, such as defringing. I just tried this and the defringe feature, at least, seems to work quite well. However, I haven't run any tests yet to see if there is any degradation in the detail or sharpness of the file as a result of running it through Camera Raw.​
    Thanks for understanding and confirming my suggestion. I think the key is to apply as much raw conversion as possible with RD first, followed by using *only* the ACR features that are challenging in PS, such as defringing. Would appreciate to know your test results.
    At the end of the day, working with the tools available to me, I care only about the end result's IQ that is *observable to me* and *suits my purpose*. How the tools get there, and degradation only measurable in numbers or only observable under a microscope maybe intellectually interesting, but serve no pragmatic purposes.
     
  23. I've now had the chance to make the comparison between an image processed in Raw Developer, then sharpened in Photoshop (with PhotoKit Sharpener) and printed at 13.5 x 20" and one where the tiff file that came out of Raw Developer received the additional step of being opened in Camera Raw (in PS4) for defringing before moving into Phosotshop. After poring over the prints for a couple of days, the best I can report is that the results are inconclusive. At times it seems there is no difference in sharpness/detail between the two prints, at others I think that the image that did not go through Camera Raw is slightly sharper. I suppose that, if the difference is so slight that I'm not certain it's there, we can conclude that using Camera Raw to address features that Raw Developer lacks is a viable option, at least for minimal and judicious adjustments. Of course, one would want to do as much in Camera Raw, working with the raw data rather than a processed file, but I think that when there is no other option, you can use Camera Raw to make necessary adjustments.
    This may seem to beg the question of why not simply use the lens correction filter in Photoshop itself, though in my experience that filter isn't as effective as the similar control in Camera Raw.
     
  24. Even though one is no longer working with the raw file, it is possible to use Camera Raw to open a tiff or psd file that was processed in Raw Developer and then use some of the controls that Raw Developer lacks...​
    Yes but again, its not raw data you are dealing with. And you’ve got another color space and bit depth conversion (every edit in ACR/LR has to be converted first into Linear ProPhoto RGB). There are some compelling reasons to edit pixels in this engine compared to Photoshop but its not the same as processing the original raw data there. Ideally you’d do all the raw processing possible in a single raw converter.
     
  25. Andrew,
    I do understand that one would not be working on the raw data. Perhaps the mode and bit depth conversions explain the slight degradation in quality that I may have observed. I'm not suggesting that using Camera Raw after Raw Developer is ideal, but I think it might be a viable option in some cases, and in the absence of an alternative.
     
  26. Richard,
    ACR 6 is getting there regarding detail, but color profiles and details in shadows and hightlights are better than excellent in NX2. Pictures from my new Nikon camera look great in Lightroom 3 beta, but even better in NX2. I think Active D-lighting is the magic at work. On an older Nikon camera I could apply some default tone curves that all sucked, now the contrast applied is D-lighting and I was really impressed. I believed that I could do that better in Photoshop after opening the RAW file in ACR with the highlight-shadow tool, but the defaults in NX2 were great. One thing is certain and that is that versions of ACR older than v6 are no good or too much work.
    What I like about NX2 is that it makes me understand the settings on the camera very well, and I can now use them both for in-camera processed JPGs and RAW processing though NX2 -> Photoshop. It IS a waste of time to change settings on a camera only to see the image opened in ACR with some not too good default settings every time.
    A shame Nikon did not make a light version of CNX as a ACR like plugin for Photoshop.
     
  27. "The new 3beta has some impressive new demosaicing algorithms so I do need to revisit how it compares to RD."​
    As far as I understand the new demosaicing algorithms have been incorporated in LR 2.7, and telling from the few comparisions I've made, it seems that LR's rendering has cought up with Raw Developer's. Especially the "wormy" artifacts of previous LR versions in high-frequency areas seem to be a thing of the past.
     
  28. Well, I was pretty excited to read that Lightroom 2.7 had caught up to Raw Developer. However, I just did a comparison test processing the same DNG file from my Leica M9 in both programs. There is no comparison: the amount of detail and sharpness is considerably higher in the file from Raw Developer. This was a big disappointment as I was looking forward to using the controls in LR that RD lacks but, alas, it is not to be: the sacrifice in detail is too great.
     
  29. Well, I was pretty excited to read that Lightroom 2.7 had caught up to Raw Developer.​
    3.0. Not 2.7 at least as far as I’m concerned. The new demosaicing algorithms are in 3b, not 2.7.
     
  30. Oh, I was responding to Martin S.'s post which said LR 2.7.
    Of course, now I will have to make the comparison between RD and LR3; I downloaded the LR beta a while ago but haven't had time to try it. Will post here when I have done so.
     
  31. "The new demosaicing algorithms are in 3b, not 2.7"​
    You had me confused there for a moment, but I wasn't imagining it: see LR Journal
     
  32. http://blogs.adobe.com/lightroomjournal/2010/03/lightroom_3_beta_2_now_availab.html:
    The raw processing engine also received an overhaul right down to the fundamental demosaic algorithms that now allows unprecedented sharpening and noise reduction results.​
    Beta 2 allows you to know work with the full noise reduction tools as well.
     
  33. No answer, really. The answer is WAY too complex. That said, I use ACR with PS CS.
     
  34. 1. Rawshooter
    2. ACR
     
  35. 1. Rawshooter
    2. ACR​
    Really? I would think that after Adobe bought out Rawshooter four years ago, all its desirable features have been implemented in the current ACR rev.
     
  36. Andrew Rodney wrote:
    I agree about Raw Developer*. The rendering is lovely. But I still do all my work in Lightroom due to the functionality of the various modules. The new 3beta has some impressive new demosaicing algorithms so I do need to revisit how it compares to RD.

    Andrew Borowiec wrote:
    now I will have to make the comparison between RD and LR3; I downloaded the LR beta a while ago but haven't had time to try it. Will post here when I have done so.
    Hi Andrew & Andrew,
    Have you guys had a chance to review the RD vs LR3/ACR6 performance? -- if so, what's the verdict: still decidedly in favor of RD or not any longer?
    Interesting no-one has mentioned SilkyPix; though it was one of the best (e.g., Michael Ezra is advocating it in his Fine Art Photography Workflow and he seems like someone for whom achieving the highest possible quality is of the utmost importance.)
     
  37. I did do the comparison, I was just too busy to post about it and wanted to avoid getting into a prolonged online discussion. For what it's worth, here is what I found: Lightroom 3 is almost as good as Raw Developer at rendering detail and preserving sharpness. For very large prints (27"x40" from Leica M9 files) Raw Developer still holds a slight advantage but for any smaller size there is no visible difference.
    I ended up buying Lightroom 3 for one particular feature: the ability to correct perspective (Lens Correction) in the RAW file before burning pixels. If you do it in Photoshop instead, you introduce a degree of softness (again, I'm talking about things that are only visible in large prints). In the end I only use Lightroom when I need that particular feature as it still lags behind Raw Developer in one crucial area, the ability to recover highlight detail.
    Obviously, Lightroom has much greater functionality and more features than RD, but for me little of that matters. Raw Developer allows me to recover detail in very contrasty situations that are beyond the ability of Lightroom, so it remains the converter that I use 99% of the time. Of course, others will have different preferences and priorities. Download the trial version of Raw Developer and see if it's for you.
    http://www.andrewborowiec.com/
     
  38. RD is still better in several areas, especially when dealing with highlight recovery.
     
  39. Cheers Andrews!
    Highlight recovery definitely sounds like something of interest to me, and as for sharpness and detail, I'm still on ACR5 (PS CS4), so that's an additional reason for me to trial the RD :)
    Robert K wrote:
    My suggestion is to get the most out of RD and save as psd. Open the psd as raw in PS, and apply the ACR features missing in RD as appropriate.

    Andrew Rodney wrote:
    A PSD is not a raw, its a rendered image. So you can’t use the raw converter as a raw converter any more. You’ve got baked RGB pixels at this point. You have to move to Photoshop (the pixel editor). The advantage of raw processing is now over.

    Andrew Borowiec
    Even though one is no longer working with the raw file, it is possible to use Camera Raw to open a tiff or psd file that was processed in Raw Developer and then use some of the controls that Raw Developer lacks, such as defringing.

    Andrew Rodney wrote:
    Yes but again, its not raw data you are dealing with. And you’ve got another color space and bit depth conversion (every edit in ACR/LR has to be converted first into Linear ProPhoto RGB). There are some compelling reasons to edit pixels in this engine compared to Photoshop but its not the same as processing the original raw data there. Ideally you’d do all the raw processing possible in a single raw converter.
    While it's merely my speculation, I think there might be a way to harness the raw power (pun intended ;) of two different RAW converters. Simply run the same RAW image twice, or even thrice, as if you were doing a comparative side-by-side test to determine which one performs better, however each time targeting different aspects of the image by focusing on particular converter's strengths. Then blend the results DRI style, i.e., picking and choosing the bits that you like more from each independently rendered image. It surely won't work on all images (especially difficult would be those where spacial relationship between pixels/object was altered, like after performing Lens Correction, or where "problem areas" such as fringing and highlights are close to one another), but reckon it could be an option worth exploring for some 'emergency situations'. Effectively, it'd be no different from multiple RAW processing of the same image on the same converter.
     
  40. @ Richard Vernon and Nick: "One possibility to consider is that capture nx applies the in-camera settings,..."
    Whether or not Nx2 applies the in-camera settings is a user choice, not a flat fact. The user may or may not choose to use in-camera choices for white balance, tone curve, saturation or sharpening. Noise reduction Im not sure about .... I believe that if used in the camera, it is baked in to the NEF, but stand to be corrected.
    @ Andrews Rodney and Borowiec: Although the lens correction and fringing features you mention are contained in ACR are you sure they are being applied to raw data and not pixels that are already rendered by the demosaicing process? eg the case of lens corrections involves moving pixels. If so, the process is really not a part of raw development, but pixel editing.
    For what it's worth, I use NX2 for convering raw files and usually continue with NX2 modules past the deveop stage, but sometimes use CS2 for further pixel editing.
     

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