As good as X-Trans sensors are in terms of performance, most software makers have had some trouble with demosaicing the slightly unusual RAW files in the past. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has been noticeably trailing behind in this regard even back when version 5 was introduced, as I found out in the review. That’s not brilliant given that X-Trans has been around for, what, almost three years now? To be completely fair, the paint-like rendering isn’t as much of an issue in most cases as one might think, and yet I can’t help but wish Lightroom was able to render X-Trans RAW files at least as well as Fujifilm does with its in-camera conversion. After all, superior technical image quality is the whole point of RAW, and Lightroom should certainly deliver. So the question is – does it? Since the X-E2 has permanently taken residence in my camera bag and is now my second tool, if not quite the first one yet, I am very curious to see how my favorite RAW converter will perform.
Careful, now. I am about to get technical.
I’ve converted five image samples, RAW to JPEG, using both in-camera engine and the latest version of Lightroom. Whilst Lightroom has Fujifilm colour profiles and you can get pretty close to in-camera JPEG look, it’s not identical. Discard any slight differences in colour reproduction, sharpness and contrast – instead, look at the way the image itself is rendered and whether the dreaded paint-like effect is present or not.
Keep in mind that the images have been processed with very “flat” standard settings (which I actually quite like). I avoided tinkering with shadows, highlights and colour so as to produce final results from two different RAW converters that are as similar as possible without having to start subtly readjusting the Tone Curve, etc. In-camera conversion settings were as follows:
- Film Simulation: PRO Neg. Std
- Color: MID
- Sharpness: STD
- Highlight Tone: STD
- Shadow Tone: STD
- Noise Reduction: STD
Settings I did not mention – white balance, push/pull processing and the rest – were at their default values.
When converting the RAW files with Lightroom, I just chose “Camera Pro Neg. Std” profile in the Camera Calibration tab, Develop Module, with the rest of the settings at default values.
Here are the five sample images I took specifically for this test. As I mentioned before, no post-processing has been done whatsoever save for the most basic conversion from RAW to JPEG. The uncropped images were converted in-camera and resized to 1920×1280 resolution with Adobe Photoshop CS5 using “Bicubic Sharper” resampling. Each sample is followed by two 100% crops, one of an image converted in-camera, the other – with Lighroom 5.6 (exported as 100 quality JPEGs with no Output Sharpening). Click on the cropped images to see them in full size (600×600) and use arrow keys on your keyboard to switch from one conversion to the other for simpler comparison as you really need to be eagle-eyed to see any difference by looking at them side-by-side.
Image Sample #1
Image Sample #2
Image Sample #3
Image Sample #4
Image Sample #5
Let’s be honest – there’s not much to tell the images apart. Default sharpening settings used by Fujifilm and Adobe are, obviously, different. Fujifilm images are just a tad sharper, whilst Lightroom applies lower radius value. There is also a slight difference when it comes to contrast and colour, as we’ve mentioned already. But if the difference in looks is minor, the difference in rendering itself is almost nonexistent. I’d be hard-pressed to find even the smallest trace of the paint-like effect looking at Lightroom-converted image samples, regardless of colour and/or finesse of the detail in question. As far as I am concerned, Lightroom is certainly capable of rendering Fujifilm X-Trans RAW files without issues.
Is It Affected by Sharpening?
In case you rarely leave your sharpening settings at default values – and I can understand you if that is indeed the case – you might wonder what effect more prominent sharpening might have. After all, sharpening did bring out and emphasize the paint-like effect more than anything else in the past. Well, take a look at the following 100% crops (click to enlarge). The crop on the left is of an image converted with the X-E2. All the settings were as described previously save for Sharpeness, which was now set to HARD. The crop on the right is of an image converted with Lightroom 5.6 using, again, the exact same camera profile and default settings, save for sharpening (Amount: 60; Radius: 1,4; Detail: 30).
Lightroom handled these more aggressive sharpening settings admirably and, dare I say, even better than X-E2 itself. Adobe’s software might have left the background slightly busier chiefly because no Masking was applied, and because the radius seems to be smaller than that applied by Fujifilm’s conversion engine. But it can be fixed if necessary. On the other hand, Fujifilm-produced JPEG lacks the finest of detail and even produces a bright halo around high-contrast edges because of that same radius.
I’d go ahead and say “nice work, Adobe” at this point, but here’s a hunch. Somehow, I got the feeling Lightroom might not do as well with a different sort of texture. Care to look at some bricks? All the settings are as described for the previous sample:
You will instantly notice the Lightroom version to be sharper. But… it’s also less natural-looking. There it is, the paint-like effect. I managed to provoke it a little bit. Should you worry? No. The solution is actually very simply – don’t shoot brick walls! On a more serious note, I noticed the effect to get more prominent if you use the lowest of radius values – those below 1 – and only with very specific textures.
Basically, the issue is still there, lurking. Or maybe it’s a characteristic? Whichever you prefer, one thing is clear – instead of being this huge ugly pile of trash in the corner of a beautiful white room, it is now merely a drop of coffee someone spilled on the floor. It’s small and only noticeable if you happen to stand right next to it and look down. It is also easy to clean. I trust Adobe to do so, perhaps discreetly, without anyone noticing. At the same time I hope they do it quickly – it’s not nice, spilling coffee on the floor. Someone might think you’re careless.
Is It Affected by More Extensive Post-Processing?
You might find the post-processing of these image samples to be quite… conservative. And it is. In case you are wondering whether the paint-like effect gets more prominent with more aggressive editing, I can only say this – not from what I’ve encountered. I did my usual post-processing on some of these very same images in Lightroom and they turned out great. In fact, the crop on the left side of this paragraph is taken from a B&W conversion of one of the images showed earlier (you can see it at the end of this article). And, important or not, it looks good at pixel level to my eyes.
Now, it is certainly a little different to what I am used to seeing from my Nikon D700. Makes sense, since the camera is very different, and the technology used, too. But it is not bad different. Or good different, for that matter. Just different and in no way an issue for me.
Lightroom has come a long way. It’s not perfect at rendering X-Trans RAW files, but, in my opinion, it is certainly capable to such an extent where post-processing potential should no longer be a factor when choosing Fujifilm as a system. And that is a good thing, too. Fujifilm was brave to launch new sensor technology, to innovate the way they did. It could have backfired, and the way X-Trans RAW files were handled could have very much been the reason for it. But it isn’t. And because of it, we, the users, are left with more important factors to help us decide which tool to acquire for our art and craft. Now, you either like the system or you don’t, and the same goes for Lightroom. Post-processing capability, at least in this specific case, is no longer an issue.