Fuji X100s

Choosing a raw processor for Fuji X-Trans Files

Capture One Pro 8 Interface

I've covered post processing of Fuji X-Trans files fairly extensively over the last two years on this blog. In particular I've discussed how, if you're a Lightroom user, using a third party raw converter can give you much better results than just using Lightroom or Camera Raw when working with X-Trans files. I've used and written about Photo Ninja and Iridient Developer the most, but since Phase One have released Capture One Pro 8, I've been giving that a good work out too (and I'll have a report on that in a week or two)

One of the things that I've noticed though, is that usually, when you talk about one piece of software, someone will invariably tell you "how much better" the other is. There seems to be a lot of strong opinion as to which is the best. Some people swear by Photo Ninja, others swear by Capture One. In terms of pure image quality, a lot of it is quite subjective, and personally I've changed my mind over the last little while. To put it diplomatically, all three of the main third party converters have image quality that is sufficiently better than Lightroom or even Fuji's own Raw converter that picking between them comes down to your personal perceptions.

Photo Ninja Interface

In my personal opinion, I think that the best, in terms of pure image quality, is Photo Ninja, at least when you tweak the default settings. It's the best at highlight recovery, and it's very good at maintaining detail and saturation in the shadow parts of an image.

Second, in my opinion is Capture One Pro 8. The quality is pretty good on X-Trans files, and in most cases is near enough to Photo Ninja, but it just lacks something compared to the former. Again, I can't emphasise this enough, this is just my opinion.

In third place is Iridient developer. This still does nice all round conversions, and for a while this was my favourite, but having worked with all three now for quite some time, I think that images rendered from Iridient Developer just aren't quite as good as those from the other two.

As I said at the start though, they're all reasonably close, and depending on your perceptions, you may favour one over the other. The thing is though, there's more to an application than just the image quality. Some people may prefer the user interface of one over the other, and the feature set of one over the other. So how do you decide?

I've made a little pros and cons list for each piece of software. I've based this on my experience using them and not just the specs. I've also tired to be as fair and honest as I can about each of them I'm sure some out there will have their own features that they prefer, but I've tried to keep the lists short, and focus on the areas that matter, especially if you're primarily using it for X-Trans conversion:

Software Pros Cons Reason To Choose
Photo Ninja

High Quality Conversion

Detail Slider is powerful when used sparingly

Highlight Recovery is very good

Can be used as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop

"Noise Ninja" Noise reduction

Ability to learn settings for specific camera/iso combinations

Can render out 32 bit Tiffs and Pro Photo RGB

Vignette tool not very useful for creative vignetting

User Interface is a little unusual

Doesn’t Auto Crop when rotating images

Chromatic Aberration tool a little complicated

Not Retina Display Optimised

No Curves Tool

If you want a companion App to work along side Lightroom

You also get “Noise Ninja” included

Capture One Pro

Works well as a complete solution with integrated database and management

Highly customisable interface

Powerful level of control over an image

Very good colour manipulation controls

Selective and Layered Adjustments

Has a curves tool

Retina Display Optimised

Only basic Unsharp Mask type sharpening (although functional)

Steeper learning curve than other software in this group (but much more powerful overall)

Expensive

Ideal if you want a complete stand alone solution.
Iridient Developer

Works as a plug-in for Lightroom

Lightweight and Fast

Wide range of sharpening and noise reduction options

Curves tool

Cheaper than the alternatives

Limited Controls

Mac Only

Certain adjustments work post raw conversion and therefore cause clipping

If you want a lightweight companion to Lightroom that uses a traditional mac interface.

You want the most inexpensive option.

As I said, this is by no means a complete list, but people keep asking me which is best, and as it depends on what you want, so I hope that little chart is of some help. Incidentally in terms of price, Capture One Pro is significantly more expensive than the other two. Capture One Pro is around $300 (€229). There used to be a less expensive "Express" option but it's gone. They do however, offer a subscription option. Photo Ninja is currently selling for $129 and Iridient Developer, which is the least expensive of the three is currently selling for $75


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Some Thoughts on the Announcements from Nikon and Fujifilm at CES

If you don't know already, the annual Consumer Electronics Show is happening in Vegas right now and several prominent camera makers have chosen to use the event to launch their latest wares. I won't go into everything that was launched. For that you can pay a visit to DpReview which have been doing a good job on reporting the happenings. Instead, I want to share my thoughts on a few things that piqued my interest. Fuji X100s and Fuji X20

X100s small

I'm a big fan of the X100. While I was disappointed with the X Pro 1 and eventually sold mine, I missed the Fuji look and eventually got an X100, which I absolutely love. One of the things that I really like about the X100 is the fact that you can process its raw files in just about any software, and they always come out pretty damn good. Well, kiss that option goodbye with the newly announced replacement, the Fujifilm X100s because they've put in the same X-Trans sensor from the X-Pro1 in the x100s. I'm sure that most fuji fans think this is a heretical comment to make, and that this is a great leap forward, but I much prefer the X100 files over the post processing hoop jumping that you have to do if you want to get the best from X-Pro1. On the plus side though, perhaps with more cameras using the propitiatory sensor design a few more companies might add support to their raw converters (I'm looking at you Apple) and maybe Adobe might finally accept that they need to improve Lightroom's handling of the X-Trans files. There's lots of other nice features in the update though, including improvements to autofocus, and a very interesting digital split image focus aid. I'm very keen to see that in real life.

The other big news from Fuji is the X20, the successor to the X10, will also get a new tiny cousin of the larger X-Trans sensor found in the bigger cameras. The results should prove interesting. Again, same caveat as the x100s. This means that you can expect far fewer third parties to support the x20s Raw files. Then again, you never know. Fuji are certainly doubling down on their unique sensor technology, so maybe that will spur better support.

Oh, one cool thing about the X20 is that they've now added some information as an overlay in the optical view finder. That was something I found sorely missing when I tried out the X10. It looks like a nice camera but to be honest, I can't see anything competing with the Sony RX100 until someone else decides to up the sensor size.

Nikon 1 Series

Nikon 1 J3 small

Nikon announced two new cameras in their mirrorless range. The "J" series now reaches its third incarnation with the J3, and they also introduced a new "S" series, which is a lower end model. The Nikon 1 series has taken a lot of flak from camera enthusiasts, and yet, for the people who use it and take advantage of its unique features, it's giving them great results. The biggest surprise for me regarding the Nikon 1 series was recently reading that it was the biggest selling camera in Japan in the lead up to christmas. I guess Nikon knew what they were doing after all. I have to say, anything I've seen shot with it looks great. The only problem is getting narrow depth of field shots, but then that isn't everything. In fact some photographers would benefit from learning to stop down and give us a sharp image the odd time.

On the subject of the Nikon 1 series, I really home that the next version of the "v" line goes back to the original design. The V1 was lovely, but what the hell were Nikon thinking when they released the V2. It's bloody hideous. If there was an award for the ugliest camera of the year, it would clearly win. It's just that the V1 (and the J series) are beautifully designed, especially the white ones.