With Adobe Lightroom being the most popular post-processing tool on the market, one might wonder how good the software really is in processing RAW images. After-all, that’s what we use Lightroom primarily for – to post-process our images and get the best out of them. Having been using Lightroom since the early release versions (dating back to Lightroom 1), I have seen the software grow from a simple RAW editor to a pretty complex piece of software for both image management and powerful RAW processing. While there have been many great additions to Lightroom over time, Adobe certainly has had its share of rather disappointing problems, from typical bugs and stability issues to poor handling of RAW files. True, the software has gotten much more complex and with that complexity, it is surely expected to see potential bugs and issues. But one would hope that things would get better with each new release and bugs would eventually get taken care of. Sadly, the direction where Adobe is heading with Lightroom has just not been looking good. It appears that with every update, instead of getting proper fixes, all we are getting is additional bugs and new features that are not ready for prime time.
One such “feature” was rolled out in the last release of Lightroom CC and you have probably already heard of it – the brand new “Import” screen, which proved to be such a disaster for Lightroom users, that Adobe had to officially apologize, promising to bring the old Import screen back. But that’s not what I want to write about today. Instead, I want to focus on something that gets little attention, which is Adobe’s RAW processing engine. Many of us rely on Adobe’s RAW processing engine heavily for our photography needs, trusting that the software would handle RAW images properly, as it should. However, during the past few years, that’s really not what I have experienced. In fact, after working with other software, I found Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom to be quite poor at properly handling RAW images.
Having access to a variety of different camera gear, I get a chance to work with a lot of new cameras, most of which have the capability to shoot RAW images. Without a doubt, Adobe is often one of the first to provide RAW processing capabilities in its Lightroom and Camera RAW software when compared to other software vendors. But with each new release, I notice a recurring trend – paying little to no attention to how RAW images are handled. Even when there are serious problems with RAW processing, it seems like Adobe’s team puts the handling of RAW images as one of the lowest priorities. I could name a number of such cases, where RAW support was never properly addressed.
For example, when I initially reported RAW processing issues in Lightroom / ACR for the Nikon D810 (see my Nikon D810 review), I was under the impression that the newer version of Lightroom / ACR would address all the issues and make the D810 look comparable to what I was seeing in Nikon’s NX-D software. Nope, it has been over a year and the files still look pretty much the same at high ISOs.
What about the poor handling of Fuji’s RAW files? I have written about this in pretty much every Fuji camera review and earlier this year even wrote a post, showing brightness differences between Fuji and other cameras. Thanks to our very knowledgeable contributors like Iliah Borg (co-author of amazing software like RawDigger and FastRawViewer – see our detailed review), who discovered a rather nasty case of rendering of Fuji RAW images by both ACR and Lightroom, where the RAW engine was not properly applying the midpoint compensation, which is required to properly handle RAW images. This resulted in much darker images when compared to other cameras. It is almost the end of 2015 and Adobe still has addressed neither this particular issue nor the paint-like artifacts that are commonly seen in images with a lot of detail. Things have gotten better in regards to the latter, but it is still not comparable to what Photo Ninja and other software can accomplish. This leaves many Fuji users quite unhappy, as they find themselves still having to use other software for their post-processing needs.
Yet Another RAW Handling Issue: Canon 5DS / 5DS R
Earlier today, while comparing the Canon 5DS R to the 5D Mark III, Sony A7R II and Nikon D810, I came across yet another problem in Lightroom CC, particularly when it comes to handling of Canon 5DS and 5DS R images. Take a look at the below two crops from the 5DS R and 5D Mark III:
Look at how drastically different the two images appear! The brightness on both appears completely different, with the 5DS R appearing much darker in comparison. And yet if you look at the exposure data on each image, you will see that the exposure time was identical on both cameras at the time of capture – two seconds each at f/5.6, ISO 100. How can this be? At first, I was trying to figure out what was going on with my lighting, but then once I opened both images in RawDigger, I quickly found out that there was nothing wrong with my setup – it was Adobe yet again incorrectly handling these RAW files.
Let’s take a look at how both RAW images are handled by RawDigger’s straight conversion to TIFF:
Now look at that! Both look identical in terms of brightness, as they should. Environment and light were the same, exposure was the same and the lens was the same, so there was no reason for the two to look any different. It appears that Lightroom is again incorrectly applying the midpoint compensation values to these RAW files, making images appear different when they clearly should not!
This is the kind of stuff that can drive anyone who is trying to compare cameras side-by-side nuts. So keep this in mind when looking at camera comparisons going forward – if the comparisons were made with Adobe’s ACR or Camera RAW, you might want to look at another comparison that uses other RAW engines for a potentially more accurate evaluation…
Going forward, I will not be using ACR or Camera RAW for camera comparisons anymore. All camera RAW files will be rendered and compared with RawDigger – something I should have done a long time ago!
I’ve never used Lightroom past a quick look and see. Sometime in the 1990s I started to use ACDSee as a graphics viewer & organizer and I just grew with them. I wasn’t doing much in the way of post processing until about 2004 when I bought my first DSLR (Nikon D300) and learned about RAW files, which ACDSee handles very well, and then someone introduced me to NIC Filters. Now I needed PS for the filters. So, kicking and screaming, I had to learn PS. Then Tony Kuyper came along with his luminosity masks and I became even more attached to PS. Then Brad Hill, on a photo tour to the Grizzly bear sanctuary in northern BC, introduced me to Capture One’s butter smooth treatment of RAW files. On my!
I still use ACDSee for importing, fast viewing, organizing my images, and doing some last stage JPG adjustments but I do most of my editing in C1. I take a round trip, which C1 facilitates, to PS if I need something that is unique to PS or to use a plugin. The latest version of C1 includes a luminosity masking function and plugins (not many). I expect that I’ll be doing even less in PS. Yes, the UI is very different and a bit of a learning curve but well worth it. Their site has many tutorials and webinar recordings. This link takes you to their new features page and offers a 30-day trial.
I moved to Capture One Pro a few years ago. Very happy with the move and the IQ results that I get when processing my Fuji X and Leica RAW files.
What a discussion about raw-converter.
First, you have to know about, which democaising algorithm works best for your digicam! Not all digicam has the same sensor-type!
So, try it out with RawTherapee. There you can change the democaising algorithm! You will be surprised.
Second, how the raw-converter read the color information from the raw-file for White Balance and color rendering!!!! Ups, you will see so much difference which all raw-converter software on the market.
Third, How you will know, what the Raw-Converter Software will running behind!! You cannot see, what Adobe Camera Raw or other RAW-Converter software runs after open the raw-file. All raw-converter are running an internal process and then show you a start-version you can continous to developping.
How you can compare Raw-converter? It is not possible, because as example Capture One use as default a “harder” democaising-algorithm, as Adobe Camera RAW! And, the color rendering is also different. And the worst, I cannot change it!!!!
I cannot understand, why all raw-converter software developper are doing so mysterious. Nowaday with the open-source-software possibility it would be better to work with the people….
And I donnot want to have more raw-converter software for my digicams.
I wrote several times to Phase One, Adobe, DXO and other. But, they not want to change something and to give the possibility that the user can choise the democaising algorithm and color rendering (White balance).
Furtunately, RawTherapee and darktable are free software and very very powerfull. And gives you the possibility to set up for you digicam.
There is of course alter and adulterate. C1 opens my RAW file, checks the EXIF data, corrects for the camera and lens, and adds some “touches” that to my eye are probably where I want to go to begin. They work with a concept of variants which means you can at anytime, now or later, go back and start over. You can have multiple variants plus the original and send the lot to PS as several PSDs or pick the one you want. Batch processing and/or taking all or selected adjustments form one image and applying them to another is dead simple.
Someone earlier mentioned the interface and in particular the Color Editor. The UI is different but, in its own way, logical. Unfortunately not to my head. I put it down to independent Danish thinking and Tuborg beer (which I do like). As to the Color Editor, I watched the webinar on it and I really like the option box that turns everything blk/wht except what has been selected. And, in the Advanced mode, an icon is available without digging in to a submenu to invert the selection. The UI is full of convenient things like that.
What I send to PS is much more to “my liking” than anything I ever got from ACR. I do use ACR now and again via the PS filter dropdown for things like the haze filter. I have had a personal battle to work through the UI to understand the command interface, and we are not friends yet. And I so want to just load one RAW file without a catalogue or session. Still, I find the trip worth it.
Great perspectives. I am currently exploring alternative to LR, and as a D750 owner was wowed by the vibrant colors and default sharpness of Capture One (CO) – great print also when you can figure out how to use that function properly. A little less impressed with my D7100, RX100 and D3200 shots, but still kudos. LR does flatten the image a little too much especially with Neutral setting. However, I am flabbergasted by the painful and counter-intuitive CO user experience – I never use the help or a book to figure things out because I try to think like the developer who built the software but in this case many things did not make sense to me. The worst so far being the color editor tool. What was the developer thinking? I am a software engineer and I hate to criticize my peers but the user experience is terrible, no KISS guidelines here. Managing catalog entry is also a puzzling journey. I wish Adobe would buy Phase One and migrate the RAW interpreter in LR/PS. I am also missing the camera and lens profiles I usually refer to, but that could be because of the trial version.
I also tried FastRawViewer (FRV) and liked it very much because you do not need to import anything. So it is now part of my workflow. However, the RAW interpreter may confuse people as the color may be way off from what they may recollect of the subject – was my case. But very good for culling.
So what are your initial reactions as you are exploring CO yourself?
“Vibrant colors and default sharpness” applied by CO? Why would you want the application to alter your image? Most of my images coming out of adobe’s raw converter are flat, as they should. RAW is your digital negative and as such requires processing – the amount varies but as a negative just like film is is waiting for you the photographer to make of it as you want. If all you want is vibrant and sharp why not just shoot jpeg?.
“Why would you want the application to alter your image?” Because if done right, it may spare my time, and please me more. Simple.
I misunderstood the initial response … all good.
Maghi Cat and DanY
Ah, but what looks good to DanY may not look so good to you and I.
Flat is good.
RAW is called RAW for a reason.
It needs to be cooked to the user’s personal recipe before it’s ‘just right’.
If you want fast photo food, use JPEG.
But don’t expect your RAW file to look like a ready cooked JPEG.
Why don’t you leave Maghi Cat and I alone in our conversation? We do not need one more troll.
“Why don’t you leave Maghi Cat and I alone in our conversation?”
Because this is a public forum in a global internet space – a space designed specifically for the free and unimpeded exchange of views between enthusiasts sharing a common interest – photography. Simple.
Now, if you don’t like it and want to have a private conversation, that’s just fine too. You and Maghi Cat can exchange email addresses or phone numbers or maybe go on a date together.
And please try to rise above common abuse.
I am still using Aperature. But very soon I will be testing other software for the switch. Looking into capture one, Lightroom, one1 and macphun. Even before the testing I am thinking about capture one. Would love to read more reviews of it from you along with others if you have the time. It seems like people are starting to question Lightroom and looking into other software.
LR and PS are the complete package. You can add any number of plugins as filters to work within LR an PS. There is nothing wrong with these applications. What I find, is that many expect them to apply magic to of a catastrophic capture. That is not possible. There is no magic fix-all button. I would not invest a dime or time in learning any of the suggested applications. I would recommend investing in yourself. Take classes, workshops, join a local photography club, do field trips and learn everything you can about composition and light. IMO it’s not that people are unhappy with adobe and their products, they are more likely unhappy with their own work and then blame the post processing application for their problem or they blame their cameras, lenses, tripods and anyone and everything else. The method of how adobe handles raw is the very least of your worries.
Ansel Adams said, the most import thing about photography is 12 inches behind the camera. Alluding to the photographer and his use of composition an light as they key to a good capture. Master composition and light and how adobe handles raw becomes quite unimportant.
Nice post Nasim! Good for discussion. And thanx to all contributions!
I personally blame the camera manufactures for not giving the right tools to convert their RAW-format into a file-format of my choice. They’re still look like living in the days of film; “Developing the picture is someone else’s job”.
The most complaints I recently hear/read about Lightroom is that it’s new versions only will be available though a Internet-account and one has to pay monthly for a copy. A majority of users doesn’t care what the conversion does to their files. To them Lightroom is a perfect workflow and has loads ‘creative’ RAW-tools. They can still slip ‘n slide with the effects till the picture looks the way they want it to look. I can’t blame them. That Adobe ‘customer’ needs ‘autorecovery’ instead of a untouched RAW-conversion.
For more critical- and pro-users it’s not enough and therefor really hard to find a good alternative, cause they all have flaws. All converters alter the RAW-output of the camera in some way. Why can’t they leave it alone? I don’t want software(read engineers) to decide auto-contrast, -whitebalancing, -recovery, -sharpening, etc. It’s my picture so I want to control those settings myself. I want the basic-file, a 1:1 linear translation.
For sometime I have really wanted to get away from the all Adobe eco-system. I think it’s expensive and I think that Adobe too often takes their customer base for granted. Despite that, I have a hard time switching. I am heavily invested in the LR workflow and after nearly a year of further refining I feel more trapped then ever. I have adapted to how LR works from import through catalog backup. I also use the Develop module from top to bottom as it gets me more focused on a consistent process. There would have to be a very clear advantage that I don’t really see to get me to switch. I don’t have a problem with how LR handles my Nikon D7100 and Olympus OMD files mainly because I don’t know better. I do know that I can get the images to look the way I want. For example, I don’t really see the magenta color cast that others are mentioning. I have both DxO and ON1 and I don’t find either a solid alternative. I use DxO for its excellent noise reduction and haze reducer and that is about it. I do like ON1 for a variety of things that it does better than PS (the eraser tool works really well on some images versus patch tool / healing brush, it does a great job resizing images, and I like some of the portrait tools) but they just don’t provide a complete workflow solution for me. I use them as add ons instead of as a primary tool. The only real alternative I have seen is Capture One, but I am not willing to go through the relearning process at this point when I am happy enough with my current tools.
Yes, Ligtroom is the buggy soft last time. I found that in version 6.1 the edited shots (edited in 5.7) look very differ!!!
Something like contrast or clarity parameter looks differ but they the same (one XMP).
A very interesting article and subsequent discussion; seems there are a few, ahem, raw nerves here ;). I didn’t realize that this could become a religious issue.
All of us who have been in computers/data processing/IT for years know that any software product is a Procrustean bed in many ways, and sometimes one person may fit well but another may be a bit too tall or too short, so using the software becomes painful. Having several choices helps us find the best fit for us. For me, that is currently DxO OP, and while the fit is still not perfect, I have to say it has been getting gradually better with each release.
Nasim, thank you for providing a fair discussion platform, and for daring to point out the deficiencies in the emperor’s clothes.