Fujifilm

The Right Place at the Right time

bell-tower-hero

Sometimes it takes a lot of work and careful planning to make a great photo. Other times it’s just pure dumb luck. I’ve been travelling all this week, and I’m currently in the Belgian capital of Brussels. The other morning I was walking through the Botanical gardens early in the morning with my Trusty X-E1 and I was taking some pictures of the flowers, the lavender and the statues that are throughout the gardens and I looked up and actually exclaimed out loud when I saw what was in front of me.

Overlooking the gardens is an old abandoned church. I don’t know much about it but it’s a pretty tall building and the bell tower towers over the park and the surrounding streets. At the exact moment I turned around and in the exact spot where I was standing, the morning sun, desperately trying to break through the light cloud cover was right behind the bell tower. I stopped to think about the odds of that happening when a little voice in my head said “shut up and take the damn picture” and so I did, and here it is. To make matters even better a bird flew into the shot just as I pressed the shutter and landed in exactly the right spot to make an already ominous looking shot even more so.

Pure dumb luck. More from the trip to come!

Church Tower

Fujifilm X-E1 + Photo Ninja = Awesome

As many of my long time readers know I’ve spent quite a bit of time going back and forward between different raw converters trying to get the best out of Fuji’s X-Trans files. While I use Lightroom as my main photo management and digital darkroom application, I’ve found that whet it comes to images from Fuji’s cameras you can get better results from a third party converter. In the past I’ve looked at both Iridient Developer and Photo Ninja, and for a while I preferred Iridient Developer. Lately, I’ve been giving Photo Ninja another workout, and after using it for a while now, and having come up with some new default sharpening settings, I’m absolutely loving the results I’m getting.

I took my Fuji X-E1 out this morning and was shooting around Dublin city, and I wanted to process the whole shoot with Photo Ninja for a change. I still start by bringing images into Lightroom first, and then rating the ones I want to work on with 5 stars. Once I do that, I’ll save the metadata back to the disk and then open the folder in Photo Ninja. Now I can see the images I’ve selected and I can go through and process them. It’s pretty much the same process as I’ve outlined before when working with Iridient Developer. I’ll post a full tutorial on my workflow for using the two together sometime in the near future, but for now, I was just I just wanted to share some of the settings’s I’m using.

The key to making your images look great is the sharpening settings. In the past when I reviewed Photo Ninja, I liked the results I was getting but I still preferred Iridient Developer’s rendering. Anyway, after experimenting recently, I found a good combination of sharpening settings that I really like, and now, I’m definitely preferring the results from Photo Ninja. Here are the settings I’m using at the moment:

  • Sharpening Strength: 40
  • Sharpening Radius: 1
  • Noise Masking: 100

Obviously, these settings are just my personal preferences, and I’m sure some people will prefer things differently, but this is what works for me, so by all means give it a try.

I got the images as close to where I wanted them as possible before rendering them out, and re-importing them back into Lightroom. It’s not just the sharpness and detail that are great from Photo Ninja, but the colour rendition is amazing too. While I’ve tweaked the settings on a few of these images substantially, most only required minor adjustments in Photo Ninja. Once back in Lightroom, I didn’t really need to do anything. On one or two images I added an extra bit of clarity, and fixed some purple fringing, but for the most part these are rendered straight out of Photo Ninja.

I’ll cover this all in depth in more detail in the future, but for now, here’s the results of this morning’s experiments. For more information on Photo Ninja check out Picture Code's website.

A Spider's Web

Wild Flowers

Tree Details

Long Grass

Trees

Grass

Reeds by the canal

Shadows

Car through the reeds

Water falling over the canal lock gates

Dublin Streetlight

Cycling by the park

Watering Cans

Red Details

Pub Walk

Lolly and Cooks

Flowers

Walking with the Paper


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2 Quick Tips That May Help You Get Sharper Images on the Fuji X-E1

Over the months of shooting with my little Fuji I’ve discovered two things that can really help you get sharper pictures. While Fuji’s x-trans sensor and the excellent x-series of lenses generally produce sharp images, there are times when there are circumstances that may make for soft images, that aren’t necessarily bad technique on the part of the photographer. These tips may work for other cameras too, although the first one is specific to Fuji’s cameras.

Change the focus point size

I’ve found that occasionally when I take a shot, the focus can be ever so slightly out. At first I thought that I was either doing something wrong or I was going mad. However, putting the focus point over a clearly defined area of an image and focussing, would often result in an image that was slightly soft. At first I thought that this was just the way the camera rendered, until I was looking back at some photos from my older X-Pro1 and realised that they didn’t have this softness, so I figured something was wrong. I put the camera on a tripod and focussed on an easy to define point, then switched to manual focus and zoomed in on the LCD. Sure enough, it was slightly out and could be fixed by manually tweaking the focus.

There’s there’s no micro adjustments available in the camera that I’m aware of, (and also, contrast detect auto focus is generally devoid of alignment errors) I’m not talking a huge amount either, it’s only very slight, but it can result in a slightly soft image. There is a very simple solution however. All I did was shrink the focus point size and hey presto, the focus is now properly aligned.

If you’re unsure how to do this, the process is really simple. Just press the AF button on the bottom left of the rear of the camera and turn the control wheel on the back near the top right. This will enlarge and shrink the size of the focus point. In my experience, a smaller point works best. Here’s a short little video showing you how to do it. (Apologies for the audio quality)

The other thing this is useful for is for shooting in low light. If you’re having trouble locking focus, increasing the sample size seems to help a great deal.

I don’t know if this is just my specific camera or if this affects all models. I don’t think it’s necessarily a fault, but more of a function of the way it works. The newer Fuji’s have phase detection points on the sensor, so they may not have any similar focus alignment idiosyncrasies. Still, if you think your images are soft, you might want to try this trick.

Reducing Vibration

The other factor that can effect image sharpness has to do with the small size of the body, and can be a potential issue on any small camera . I noticed that in some cases, when shooting hand held, my photos would exhibit camera shake, even when my selected settings should avoid it. This was occurring even when the shutter speed was high, certainly high enough to avoid camera shake, but I was still occasionally getting slight motion blur on the images. I put this down to the fact that the body on the X-E1 is incredibly light. I find that for me it can feel unbalanced, especially with larger lenses on. To be fair, this isn’t just a fuji problem, it’s a potential issue with any mirrorless or small camera, especially the lighter ones.

I think because the body is so light and the lens unbalances the camera away from a natural centre of gravity, that this causes minor vibration when the shutter fires. I could of course be completely wrong, which I’m sure people will let me know once I post this (that and how this is entirely my own fault.) Luckily the solution was really easy. I was planning on getting a third party grip or case to add weight, but I found that if I left the quick release plate from my (manfrotto) tripod on the bottom of the camera this little bit of extra weight was enough to help with the balance and stop the vibration. Now, I’m no longer getting motion blur on images taken at a reasonable shutter speed.

I hope these little tips have been useful. The Fuji X-E1 s a great camera, and so I hope it is understood that I’m only posting these tips to help anyone who may be having similar issues, and they’re not intended as a criticism.

Incidentally, speaking of the X-E1, the camera is selling amazingly cheaply on the second hand market right now. I found one at a local camera store for €499, with the kit lens. If you’re looking for a good inexpensive way to dip your toe into Fuji’s X-System, keep an eye out for bargins.

Street Photography Pairs with the Fuji X-E1

I was out shooting some street photography earlier today with my trusty little Fuji X-E1 and I noticed that I had taken a lot of portrait orientation shots. As I was sorting through the shots I noticed that all the vertical images paired up nicely, so I thought I’d do a set of paired images, just for the fun of it. All of these were taken around the streets of Dublin city, using a Fujifilm X-E1 with a combination of the Fuji 35mm and the 18–55XF lenses. It was a lovely fresh Autumn morning and I was there early so the city was coming to life with the fresh energy of a new day, and for some reason I just had a really good time shooting. While these aren't award winning images by any stretch, I did catch a few quirky sights around the city. I'll post some more shots from this shoot over on my Photoblog. Processing was done in Lightroom, using various presets as the starting point. There’s a combination of VSCO Film 01, 02 and 04 in there. The VSCO presets work really well with the Fuji sensor, especially if you want to create an authentic film look. I’ve started using VSCO 2 a bit more lately, and I’m really liking the look of the Fuji Superia film presets. I don’t think that I’ve ever shot with that in actual film.

To create the two up images, I used the print module in Lightroom. The print module has a handy option to print to a file, so I set up my options and printed all the images out. The only thing I had to do then was bring them into Photoshop and scale them down a bit. I also had to adjust the black levels a bit as for some reason they were set up slightly (I probably had something set wrong in Lightroom.

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I am a fine art Photographer and do not shoot commercial projects. I do my best to keep this site regularly updated with lots of tips, reviews, news and photography advice, all for free. If you like what you read here and want to help support the site, then please consider buying a Print, checking out my Lightroom Presets

Fuji Colour Profile Presets for Lightroom to help speed up your workflow.

Lightroom-screen-grab

Now that Lightroom has added colour profiles for Fuji’s x-series of cameras, you may want to use them regularly in your processing. Rather than having to go down to the calibration menu each time and find the profile in the list (which can be quite long if you have VSCO installed) I’ve created a set of presets for each of the main profiles. This way you just have to click on the relevant preset.

To take it a step further I’ve added a few variations of each one for common tasks, again to help speed up ones workflow. The four variations are:

  • Base: Just the profile applied
  • Sharp: With added sharpening from my Fuji sharpening presets.
  • Sharp CA: With sharpening and Chromatic Aberration reduction turned on.
  • Sharp DRE: With all of the above, and some highlight and shadow manipulation as well as some tweaking of the tone curve and clarity for a little extra oomph.

I’ve just created versions for the colour looks. I haven’t done the black and white ones, because personally, I have better ways to make black and white images. These are just workflow tools to help you get started, they’re not meant as magical fixes for your images

(I know that is obvious but I got email complaints when I posted the sharpening presets because all they did was sharpen - I kid you not!)

To download the free presets click here.

If you’re not sure how to install Lightroom presets, I have a guide here. (This is meant for the premium presets, but the procedure is the same). I’m offering these as is, as a gesture to the community, and I can’t offer support I’m afraid, but I’ll do my best to answer any questions in the comments. These are pretty straight forward though, so their use should be fairly obvious.

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Film candy for Lightroom

A Quick Look at the new Fuji Colour Profiles in Lightroom 5.4

Lightroom-Screenshots

Now that Lightroom finally ads colour profiles for the various picture modes that come with Fuji's X-Series cameras, I thought I'd give them a quick review. I've already played around wight the velvia profile and found it quite pleasant. Today, I was out shooting so I took some time to go through all the picture modes so that I could compare the Jpegs to the Raw files processed using the relative colour profile. As far as I can tell they all look pretty accurate. I've posted the pairs below so you can judge for yourself. A couple of caveats. I have the camera set to sRGB (as opposed to Adobe RGB) but I don't think that makes a huge difference as I'm exporting from Lightroom as sRGB anyway. Secondly, I didn't do any sharpening or lens correction to the raw files, so there's some chromatic aberration on the Raw images and they're a bit softer than the Jpegs. I literally just applied the relevant colour profile.

Provia / Standard

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Provia - SOOTC Jpeg

Raw with Provia Colour Profile: Provia

Velvia / Vivid

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Velvia Original Camera Jpeg

Raw with Velvia Colour Profile: Lightroom Velvia Profile

Astia / Soft

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Astia Original Jpeg

Raw with Astia Colour Profile: Astia Colour Profile in Lightroom 5.4

Pro Neg High

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Pro Neg High Jpeg

Raw with Pro Neg High Colour Profile: Raw with Pro Neg High Profile

Pro Neg Standard

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Pro Neg Standard Jpeg

Raw with Pro Neg Standard Colour Profile: Raw with Pro Neg Standard Colour Profile

Monochrome

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome Colour Profile: Raw with Monochrome Colour Profile

Monochrome +Y

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome+Y Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome +Y Colour Profile: Raw Monochrome+Y Colour Profile

Monochrome +R

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome+R Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome +R Colour Profile: Raw - Monochrome+R

Monochrome +G

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome+G Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome +G Colour Profile: Raw - Monochrome+G

The only thing missing is the sepia picture mode, but I'm guessing that's not something that can be down with a colour profile anyway. I think they did a good job overall. The colours are mostly the same. The only one that looks a little off to me is the Pro Neg S. I only ever use Provia and Velvia anyway personally, and occasionally Pro Neg Hi, but I wouldn't use the profile as it's too soft. Velvia works great though.

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Cherry Blossoms with the Fuji XE-1 and the New Fuji Colour Profiles in Lightroom 5.4

Cherry Blossom Closeup

I absolutely love Cherry Blossoms. They’re my favourite flower and I love the way they herald the start of spring and the end of the winter. I hope that sometime I will be able to visit Japan during the Cherry Blossom season, but for now I’ll have to make do with the trees around Dublin. Actually, there are quite a few around the city, especially in Stephen’s Green park in the centre of the capital.

I had taken my Fuji XE–1 with me for a walk today and I got some nice shots of the flowers beginning to bloom. I was using my 35mm lens, which while not the ideal focal length, it’s wide aperture did mean I got some nice smooth bokeh in the background. I also thought that the vibrant colours gave me an ideal opportunity to try the new colour profiles for Fujifilm cameras in the latest Lightroom release. Adobe have finally added colour profiles for all the standard picture modes that come on Fuji’s cameras, including Provia, Astia and of course Velvia. For these shots, there could be no other choice - I had to go with the Velvia !

I started by changing the colour profile to Velvia in the calibration section of Lightroom’s develop module. Even just this change alone makes a huge difference. I’ve often found that Fuji files are a bit desaturated in Lightroom, but with the profiles this problem is mostly rectified. Here’s the raw file, untouched.

Cherry Blossoms Velvia

Now here’s the version with the Velvia colour profile selected.

Cherry Blossoms Velvia

Finally I added some further enhancements using one of my Quick Lux presets. Finally I applied one of my Fuji sharpening presets (X-Trans-Sharpen-SuperSharp). Here’s the final result.

Cherry Blossoms Velvia

I used the same process for the rest of these examples, combining the new Velvia profiles with either Quick Vivid or Quick Trans from my Quick Lux presets and finishing off by tweaking the sharpening. The new profiles are definitely a huge improvement, and I think the results speak for themselves.

Cherry Blossom Bright

Cherry Blossom Bokeh and Flare

More Cherry Blossoms

DSCF7076

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I am a fine art Photographer and do not shoot commercially. If you like what you read here and want to help support the site, then please consider buying a Print, checking out my new Lightroom Presets

Film candy for Lightroom

Two Great Video Reviews of the Fujifilm XT1

Light illuminating the bust of a statue just inside the window

The new Fuji XT–1 has been getting some great reviews. In fact, I can’t recall a camera getting such an overwhelmingly positive response over the last while. Two video reviews caught my eye recently. Well, actually, I subscribe to both of these on youTube, so when I say “Caught my eye” I really mean, popped up in my you tube feed!

The first is from the Canadian Camera Store. They have a great you tube channel and they always have good, informative reviews. Check out their one for the XT–1

The second is from my absolute favourite reviewer, Kai, from Digital Rev TV. If you’re familiar with Kai, and Digital Rev TV, then I don’t really need to say more. If you haven’t heard of them, then think Top Gear, only with cameras.

Photo of the Day

In the spirit of Fujifilm, my "photo of the day" today was a shot I took with my little XE1 last week. I was getting off the tram into the city and I noticed that the light was falling in a little patch through the window of the old Georgian building (It’s actually the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin) that’s just at the tram stop. The beam of winter sunlight was just shining through the window in just the right spot to illuminate the bust that was inside.

Light illuminating the bust of a statue just inside the window

Taken with a Fuji XE1 - Fuji 35mm - Click Here for a Limited Edition Print


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Updated X-Trans Sharpening Presets for Lightroom

A while ago I posted some sharpening presets for sharpening images taken with one of Fujifilm’s X Series of cameras in Lightroom. I was attempting to find a way to minimise some of Lightroom’s idiosyncrasies when it comes to X-Trans processing. They were well received and people seemed to like them. Since then I’ve kept working on it and I’ve been continuing my quest to get the best out of X-Trans files. While I’ve been focusing on using third party applications in recent blog posts, I’ve still been working behind the scenes on best practices if you’re just using Lightroom. I believe that most of the issue revolves around sharpening. Whatever it is about Lightroom’s sharpening algorithms, it doesn’t seem to play well with Fuji’s X-Trans sensor. A lot of people have commented on this across the internet, but most people seem to believe the issue is due to the way that Lightroom / Camera Raw is demosaicing the X-Series files, but having analysed it extensively at this stage, I’ don’t think’m not sure that’s the main problem. I think it’s the sharpening, or how the sharpening interacts with the demosaicing. I’ve been playing around with files from Sony’s A7R and if you sharpen them, they too have some issues in Lightroom including the odd edge duplication that the X-Trans images suffer from. I could be wrong, but it’s possible that Lightroom has an issue with cameras without a AA filter. The other thing that leads me to suspect that the sharpening algorithm is the culprit, is that if you set sharpening to zero and send the image to Photoshop and sharpen there, the results are much more natural looking.

Anyway, that’s all well and good, but people have been asking for a solution that doesn’t involve having to leave Lightroom. As mentioned earlier, I had posted some sharpening presets a while ago. I’ve updated these based on my research, and I believe that they can get you descent results in Lightroom. Unfortunately, in my personal opinion, Iridient Developer (or Photo Ninja or Capture One) is still probably better for detail, especially when it comes to repetitive patterns like tries and grass. However, under normal circumstances, unless you are cropping a lot, or are scrutinising the images at 1:1, these sharpening settings should get you results that are more than good enough. If you combine them with a little bit of photoshop processing you can get even better results, but more on that in another post.

Of course, as with all things visual it is a matter of personal tastes, so you may not like the results yourself, but try them, and if you don't like them then that's fine.

About the Settings

I’ve created a whole new set of presets. There’s 4 different sharpening settings, and a couple of looks which can be a useful starting point. I’ll talk about the sharpen settings first:

There’s four different presets fro sharpening which you can apply and they are each aimed at different uses.

X-Trans-Sharpen-SuperSharp - This is the main preset. It should give you good sharp edges. It works well all round and it’s very good with architectural detail, landscapes and anything where you have a lot of detail you want to sharpen

X-Trans-Sharpen-SuperSharp-Cleaner - If the previous one is too sharp, this version adds a tiny bit of noise reduction. The edges in this are a bit smoother and the over-all look is more organic. This too should work well for most subjects

X-Trans-Sharpen-Smooth - This is less sharp, but again, more natural looking and works well when you have details in focus and areas out of focus.

X-Trans Sharpen-High-Radius-Low-Detail - This is form the old set and is useful if you have people or faces in the foreground and the background is de-focussed. It can work well with buildings too.

I’ve also added some looks which are inspired by the picture modes from the camera, but are not trying to emulate them. There’s standard, Vivid and Neg. The standard and vivid have variations which expand the dynamic range and simulate the in-camera DRO settings (albeit roughly!)

Some general Notes about the Presets

The looks presets are there as a starting point. They’re there to get you in thew ball park, and you can then tweak the settings to your own tastes. Each of the looks uses the “SuperSharp” sharpening settings

The sharpening presets only adjust the sharpening. Because of the way Lightroom works, you may not notice any change in the image after you apply the preset when zoomed out. You may need to change Lightroom’s zoom setting to 2:1 or 1:1 before you notice the changes. They should still have an impact though when you export a file (at a reasonable size) or when you print.

To install the presets complete the following simple steps.

On A Mac

  1. Download the File from your account page or the email you received from the store.
  2. Locate the downloaded file (usually in your Downloads folder). Unzip the File if it did not unzip earlier.
  3. In Lightroom, choose “Preferences” from the Lightroom Menu. This will open the preferences dialog.
  4. From the list of tabs across the top of this window, click on the one called “presets”
  5. Click on the button that says “Show Lightroom Presets Folder…”
  6. This will bring you to the finder and the folder Lightroom should be highlighted inside a window that says Adobe
  7. Open this folder and Navigate to folder called “Develop Presets”
  8. Copy the folder that unzipped from the file you downloaded earlier into the “Develop Presets” folder that you just opened. Be sure to copy the whole folder and not just the individual .lrtemplate files.
  9. Restart Lightroom

On a PC

  1. Download the File from your account page or the email you received from the store.
  2. Locate the downloaded file (usually in your Downloads folder). Unzip the File if it did not unzip earlier. To unzip the file right click on the zip file and choose extract all.
  3. In Lightroom, choose “Preferences” from the Edit Menu. This will open the preferences dialog.
  4. From the list of tabs across the top of this window, click on the one called “presets”
  5. Click on the button that says “Show Lightroom Presets Folder…”
  6. This will bring you to Windows Explorer and the directory “Lightroom” should be highlighted inside a window that says Adobe.
  7. Open this directory and Navigate to the directory called “Develop Presets”
  8. Copy the folder that unzipped from the file you downloaded earlier into the “Develop Presets” folder that you just opened. Be sure to copy the whole folder and not just the individual .lrtemplate files.
  9. Restart Lightroom

Please Help Support the Blog

I am a fine art Photographer and do not shoot commercial projects. I do my best to keep this site regularly updated with lots of tips, reviews, news and photography advice, all for free. If you like what you read here and want more, then sign up for our newsletter to get regular site updates and occasional special offers. You can also follow my photographic exploits on Facebook and Twitter

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Photo Ninja for X-Trans Processing

In an ongoing series looking at alternatives for processing X-Trans images, I’ve already looked at Iridient Developer and I’ve written about using Aperture. I’ve also posted some of my initial thoughts on using Photo Ninja. Now that I’ve had some time to use it more thoroughly I can share my findings and let you know my thoughts on using it for processing raw files from the ever expanding line of cameras using Fuji’s X-Trans sensor.

Before I start, here's just a quick recap of what this series is all about. Regular readers of my photo blog will know that I am a big proponent of Iridient Developer for processing files from one of Fujifilm’s X-Trans series of cameras. I’ve noted in previous posts that it gives a much more natural look than Lightroom does, and it is much better at extracting detail in my opinion. Since my posts on the subject, numerous readers have contacted me and suggested that I also give Photo Ninja a look too for it’s X-Trans rendering. The good folks over at Picture Code were kind enough to send me an evaluation license, and as mentioned, I had previously posted some initial thoughts. I've finally had the time to write a full review so here it goes...

Using photo ninja as a plug-in

As mentioned in some of the previous articles in this series, I’ve been using these third party applications in conjunction with Lightroom. As they are more stand alone image processors (with the exception of Aperture) rather than fully fledged workflow applications, they still require an asset management programme. For me that has mostly been Lightroom, and I will often send images to the other software for processing, and then do some final tweaks in Lightroom. With Iridient Developer that requires some thinking outside the box for a smooth workflow, but the developers of Photo Ninja have come up with a really elegant solution.

You can use Photo Ninja as a plug in with Lightroom. Normally, when you set up an application as an external editor in Lightroom, it can only use Tiff or PSD files as the source. Photo Ninja that gets around that problem with a clever little trick. When you send an image from Lightroom to Photo Ninja Lightroom still exports a Tiff but there is a setting in Photo Ninja that tells the software to use a matching raw file instead if one exists. Then when you’re finished, it uses the tiff that Lightroom generated originally when you chose to edit the file in Photo Ninja, and writes out the rendered version back to that TIFF file. It’s deliciously simple and it works a treat. It’s pretty seamless, and it makes it great if you only need to use Photo Ninja for processing one or two images at a time.

Image Quality and Performance

The quality of the conversion can’t be faulted. Colours are rich and vibrant and detail is excellent (more on that in a minute). With X-Trans images it generally does a good job of rendering colours, and the initial rendering is generally more vibrant than the Lightroom equivalent. The default settings are also very similar to the jpeg files that the camera produces colour wise (with the Standard setting) but with perhaps a bit more contrast.

Photo Ninja Raw Version

The Original untouched Jpeg version in Aperture

The Original untouched Jpeg version in Aperture

In terms of controls the software gives you the usual fare for the most part with a few twists. The controls for adjusting exposure for example are a little unusual, using “Exposure Offset” and “Illumination” in conjunction with highlights, shadows and blacks. The adjustments for an image are broken down into sections of grouped controls and you must click apply when in a section to get back out of it and go back to the main set of groups. So for example, if I click on “Exposure and Detail” to open up the exposure and detail controls, I can’t do anything else in the application until I click Apply to close the controls and get back out to the main settings. This had me confused a few times when using the software at first, as I was trying to move to another image and nothing was happening. Initially I thought that it had crashed, but it was just waiting for me to apply. You get the hang of it after a while, although I’m still doing it.

One of the cool things that you can do is train each set of adjustments. You can set a combination of settings as the default for a particular camera at a particular ISO. This is especially handy for settings like noise reduction and sharpening, where you may want some defaults that change with the images ISO.

The one thing that seems noticeably lacking is a curves tool. There doesn’t seem to be any curves functionality at all in the application which is a shame. Another oddity of the interface is that you can only seem to get to the batch render option by right clicking on the thumbnails in the browser window. It doesn’t seem to be in any of the menus which is weird.

The software also has the ability to render out 32bit tiffs. I’m not really sure if there’s any real advantage to this, but Lightroom will read 32 bit tiffs. I had hoped this might preserve clipped highlight details in the way that a hdr file does, but it doesn’t seem to unfortunately. When you bring a file back into Lightroom, the entire image data is squeezed into visible range, so brightness levels are all over the place. I’m sure there is some use for this, but I’m jsut not sure what it is yet.

Detail

The most impressive thing I noticed about the way Photo Ninja processes files, was the level of detail you can extract from an image using this software. The ability to extract a high level of information from an X-Trans image is very impressive. I really can’t undersell this. Photo Ninja lets you extract every last ounce of detail from a shot. A very obviously named “detail” slider in the Exposure and Detail section does an incredible job, but you need to be careful as it comes with a price. The more you crank it up the more it exaggerates any noise in the image. I’ve also found that while it does allow you to bring out detail, the edges in the image aren’t as clean as they are from Iridient Developer, but more on that later. The other disadvantage to this detail control is that it’s quite easy to over-do it and if you’re not careful, you’re images will take on a fake, almost HDR like look.

Speaking of noise, the included Noise Ninja processing is also very impressive. Noise Ninja is Picture Code’s stand alone noise reduction technology, and for years it has been industry leading in it’s algorithms. Noise Ninja is fully integrated into Photo Ninja and the results are very impressive. However, I’ve found that it doesn’t clean up the edges and you still get slightly noisy edges, although you generally won’t see this when zoomed out

A Few Issues

One of the things that I noticed is that there is no built in lens correction on Fuji files. There is a lens correction tool in the software but it has to be done manually. You may be thinking that you’ve never needed to add lens correction in Lightroom or Aperture for Fuji files if you use either of those applications, and that’s because it’s added automatically at the raw decoding stage. Photo Ninja doesn’t seem to do this. In the example below, you can see the difference between Photo Ninja and Lightroom. Note that I haven’t added any lens correction in Lightroom, it’s done as part of the raw decoding process.

The Photo Ninja Version, Notice the bowing in the Window

Lightroom Screenshot. No extra Lens Correction Added

For me, the biggest issue with Photo Ninja, is that it does weird things with highlights. Unlike other the other software that I’ve been testing in this series, it does not do a good job with areas that are slightly or significantly over exposed. I’m not sure if this is just with X-Trans files, or with all raw files. The colours on recovered highlights are weird and luminous and there is a degree of banding around the threshold between the two. Even areas which don’t show up as overexposed in Lightroom can appear clipped in this for some reason.I’ve noticed this phenomenon once before in another application and that is the Raw Converter based on Silky Pix that comes with Fuji’s Cameras. That suffers from the same problem, which makes me suspect it’s limited to the Photo Ninja’s decoding of X-Trans files. Here’s an example of a file rendered in Photo Ninja and the same file rendered in Lightroom.

Notice the highlights on the Basket

Same file in Lightroom, note that the highlights are much more natural looking

Here's another example:

Here's the Photo Ninja Version, Notice the Leprechaun's Nose

Here it is in Lightroom

This is a shame really, as it’s one of the few major issues that I have with the software. It doesn’t happen with every image, but when it does, there’s not much you can do about it. I’ve tried everything from reducing the exposure to tweaking just about every slider, all to no avail. I’m sure some aggravated know it all will say that you should get your shots right in the first place, but there are many times that you may need to shoot in a high contrast situation, and the information is there because you can recover it in other software. Incidentally, the shot above is not over exposed, and Lightroom handles the highlights perfectly fine. Again, you wont encounter this issue on every, or even many shots, but when you do, there is no work around. For me personally, this is a deal breaker.

[UPDATE] A reader has pointed out to me that the supported camera notes for Photo Ninja state:

Note: Highlight recovery is not yet implemented for X-Trans models.

So hopefully that will be fixed in a future release

A matter of taste

While Photo Ninja is an admirable and impressive piece of software, and does a fantastic job of extracting detail from X-trans images, whether you like the final result or not depends on your own personal tastes. While I have to say that I’ve really been impressed by some oft he results that I’ve been getting, I still prefer the look of files from Iridient Developer. There’s just something more natural looking about the images that the latter produces. I think Photo Ninja’s files, while technically very good, and sharp, have a certain harsh quality to them that I personally don’t like, but this is really just a matter of personal taste. It’s not a pixel peeping thing either before someone goes there. You can see it even in images zoomed out at screen resolution, but again, this is just my personal preference. I know some people will actually prefer this kind of rendering. Perhaps this is just because I am more used to the other files, but again, it comes down to taste Incidentally, If you are checking your images at 1:1 (You’ve just committed a serious crime against the gods of true photography, apparently) you may notice that edges can have a very slight zipper like pattern to them which is a bit weird. You probably won’t see this in any practical situation but it’s an odd artifact of the demosaicing process that isn’t in other software.

For X-Trans processing, personally I still have to give the edge to Iridient Developer for a number of reasons.

  1. I prefer the tonality of images
  2. I think it’s demosaicing and sharpening are more natural. They may not produce as much detail, but the results are more organic looking to my eye.
  3. I prefer the more mac like interface. I don’t like the having to go in and out of sub-sections of the development controls and having to apply each time.
  4. Iridient Developer includes Fuji’s in-raw lens correction.
  5. Iridient Developer has a curves tool.
  6. Iridient Developer’s highlight recovery is much more natural and works a lot better on X-Trans files

Photo Ninja does have some advantages over Iridient Developer though:

  1. The Detail Slider can add an incredible amount of detail, albeit at the expense of adding some noise
  2. The Ability to work as a plug in makes it great for just processing an image now and again when you need to
  3. The ability to render 32bit floating point Tiffs may be of some advantage (needs more investigation)
  4. The Noise Ninja noise reduction is really impressive.

Conclusion

If it sounds like I’m being overly negative towards Photo Ninja, I don’t mean to be. Technically, apart form the highlights Issue, there’s nothing wrong with it as such. It has some really nice and powerful features, and the way you can use it as a plug-in is great. Personally, I just prefer the rendering from Iridient Developer, and that is a personal choice rather than anything fundamentally wrong with the software.

Photo Ninja is available directly from Picture Code and they have a trial version available so if you want to try it yourself and see how it works for you.

I'm still working on an improved workflow for getting better results for X-Trans files when just using Lightroom, and by using Lightroom in conjunction with Photoshop. I also have some improved versions of my sharpening presets for Lightroom, and I'll have them up soon, so stay tuned.

In the mean time, here’s a random selection of images rendered out from Photo Ninja. I’ve taken most of these from my recent Brussels trip. You can see the versions processed with Iridient Developer here. On the original versions of these I had done some additional processing in Lightroom to add some looks with VSCO Film, but for the Photo Ninja ones (below) I’ve kept them “pure” so you will have a good idea of what comes from the software. Just be aware that there will be some differences in colours because of this. Also, you can see the effect of the lack of lens correction in some images.


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