Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Raw Converters - Lightroom versus Capture One Pro

In my constantly evolving mission to see whether I should be a 3 system photographer, I venture into the RAW files produced by my Fuji X-T1. Before I turn this into another one of my reviews, I will say that when I first opened the raw files in Lightroom, I was taken aback by how smudgy some of the details look at 100%. I have heard reports about how Lightroom version 5.4 (and higher) has done a better job with their demosaicing of the Fuji X-Trans RAW files, but to my eyes it was just shy of being great.  Now don't get me wrong, I still like the files produced by the X-T1 paired with the 56mm f/1.2, but I want to be sure I get the most out of my files even if it means using a different RAW converter.

My initial search for a new converter led me to Iridient Developer. From what I have read online it is one of the best, if not the best converters for Fuji RAW files. The biggest problem - I don't own a Mac computer. ID would have been the perfect tool as it would have integrated with Lightroom seamlessly. As I continued my search, the name Capture One Pro (which I will  now refer to as C1P) kept popping up. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try it out since they offer a 30 day free trial. I am only days into my testing and immediately, I can tell you I have found a difference in the amount of detail and sharpness in my files. I generated a TIFF file from C1P and synced the image in Lightroom to do a one to one comparison. Exposure and color aside, it is pretty clear Capture One Pro is the winner - the screen grab will not do it justice.

Note: all of the screen grabs below have not been edited. All files are at their default setting. 

FujiFilm RAW X Trans File Comparison

RAW file converted in CP1 on the LEFT and RAW file converted in LR on the RIGHT.  Looking at the fur on the top of the squirrel's head it is clear C1P has far more contrast, clarity and detail. I initially thought I had misfocused, but upon viewing the file in C1P it was clear to me that LR was the "problem"
This immediately sparked my interest and made me consider the differences  in how LR converts my Sony and Olympus files. The results surprised me because I heard the root of the problem was how Adobe products dealt with this files produced by Fuji's unconventional sensor layout. I won't pretend to know coding and/or the demosaic process, but I could only imagine how the arrangement of the blue, red and green pixels could pose a problem. I found a very interesting blog post by ChromaSoft that goes into great detail about the topic if you want to read more about it (I can't comment on the accuracy of the article but it is compelling nonetheless). Otherwise, I will just provide samples from both Sony and Olympus RAW files. 

Traditional sensor layout vs. Fuji X-Trans

Sony Alpha A7 RAW File Comparison

RAW file converted in LR on the LEFT and RAW file converted in C1P on the RIGHT. Like the Fuji files, I noticed far more contrast and clarity with C1P's conversion. The eye shadow and pupil has a lot more punch and the fine details in the skin are more pronounced. Even the rendering of colors are slightly different. From a sharpness standpoint, Capture One Pro is the clear winner

Olympus OMD E-M1 RAW File Comparison

RAW file converted in C1P on the LEFT and RAW file converted in LR on the RIGHT. Given the results I have found with my Sony and Fuji X Trans files, it wasn't a surprise C1P brought out the most detail. In fact, I am inclined to bring down both the Clarity and Contrast sliders in touching up this particular headshot.
RAW file converted in LR on the LEFT and RAW file converted in C1P on the RIGHT. I decided to throw in clothing to show how both are rendered. 
Although I am only a few days into testing Capture One Pro, to me it's clear who has the better raw converter. However, in the next three weeks, I will see which software offers the best user experience. At the moment there are a lot of features I like, but there are other aspects that seem a bit backwards or counter intuitive to me. I'll chalk it up to growing pains for now. Expect a report about my one month trial period in the coming weeks. Only then can I truly say if I find the "upgrade" worth the price. Thanks for stopping by.