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 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, along with the D810 vs D800E ISO comparison), 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 not 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!