Breathing New Life Into Early X-Trans With Capture One

Following up on my last post, I’ve been going through some old RAFs in Capture One. The difference I’m seeing compared to what I can get out of Lightroom is shocking. Check out this terribly underexposed sunset image, captured with an X-E1 in 2013.

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My exposure compensation was still set at -2.0 from a previous shot, so I’m certainly not hoping to get anything useful out of that shot, but look at the difference in what I’m able to pull out of the exposure in Capture One 12 compared to Lightroom Classic (or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days).

Now check out this crop.

Capture One sharpening settings are at their defaults ( I would typically reduce them slightly). In Lightroom, I used the oft advised high Detail slider at 85, and relatively low Amount of 25. Any higher on the amount and Lightroom starts sharpening noise. Increasing the Luminance Noise Reduction blurs detail.

From the farm buildings, the detail in the foliage, the bizarre 8-bit-looking grass, Lightroom’s limitations with these older sensors is astounding. No wonder I decided to shoot JPEG.

Fuji have come a long way with their sensors, and I have already acknowledged that Lightroom started doing a lot better when X-Trans III came out. The point is, if you’ve decided to make the jump yourself and you’ve got some older X-Trans 1 RAFs in the archives,1 it could well be worth reprocessing them in Capture One.→

Luckily I got my exposure set a little better on my next attempt.

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  1. Or you’re simply happy with an older body. For a lot of people, 16 megapixels is plenty. ↩︎

Switching to Capture One

It finally happened. After years (half a decade, even) of being unsatisfied with Lightroom’s handling of X-Trans RAF files, and an underlying dissatisfaction with my workflow workarounds, I’ve completely made the switch from Lightroom to Capture One Pro 12→1 for all of my personal2 photography.

The transition period was actually quite short, just a couple months or so. I started out importing all my current RAFs into Capture One, while maintaining my Lightroom library and doubling up my asset management in case I decided to move back. Well, my last import was only to Capture One. Those, and future images will likely never see Lightroom.

Adobe has certainly made some progress since the first and second generation of X-Trans, but it is the definition of “too little, too late” in my book. In my hopelessly dated RAW Converter comparison, I concluded that Capture One delivered superior results. A year later when Lightroom 6 came out, I left little doubt that Capture One produces cleaner images with better detail.

So why did I wait so long?

Honestly I’m not sure, but version 12 of Capture One does have some additional niceties that have made the switch easier, and Phase One’s commitment to Fujifilm cameras really helps.

Back to the RAF

The other big change to my workflow is I’ve gone RAF-only for my personal photography. One big reason for this is Capture One’s interpretation of Fuji’s Film Simulation Modes and lens correction profiles are so good, I don’t feel the need to capture both RAF and JPEG. Unlike Lightroom, Capture One imports my RAFs with the Film Simulation Mode I captured the image with applied automatically. This gives me the best of all worlds; I can make creative choices while I’m shooting, I can totally change my mind about those choices later, and I don’t have a second set of files I need to reference what I was thinking when I captured the image.

Another big reason is exposing to the right with the ETERNA Film Simulation Mode is a fantastic way to get the most out of your exposures, but that’s another article.

Have you heard about these things called presets?

I never got too deep into the preset world in Lightroom. There were just too many, and many seemed dreadfully overpriced, all too similar3 and would break or not adapt when Adobe updated their rendering engine. I feel like that market has settled down a little, and the better quality preset shops have added (or are starting to add) Capture One versions as well.

It can be easy for presets to become a crutch, but they can also just as easily be a starting point for discovering your own style. I’m enjoying editing photos more than I have in years, so clearly it’s the right thing for me right now.

Have I looked back?

Hardly. I miss some things like the dedicated slider for Dehaze once in a while, but in truth you can get similar results that are arguably more natural using the Luma Range mask, an absolutely stellar feature. Speaking of sliders, I also find myself reaching for the Blacks and Whites sliders, but I’m falling deeper in love with Levels and Curves as a result. Ironically, while I loved Lightroom’s separation of Blacks, Shadows, Highlights, and Whites, when I go back to Lightroom for an old photo, I find myself missing the Brightness slider.

Lightroom’s Library module is quite a bit more robust than what Capture One has in my experience so far. Filtering photos quickly is vastly superior in Lightroom. Capture One’s commercial photography origins likely didn’t call for the kind of filtering that’s available in Lightroom, but I love, neigh need to be able to quickly view photos taken with a particular lens, at a specific focal length, and certain apertures, etc. Even if I didn’t have this website, I do still like being able to see which images came from a certain lens without having to create a bunch of Smart Albums that clutter up my Library/Collection View. This may or may not matter in your workflow, and I’m certain with more time and perhaps a tweak or two to my own workflow, things will get faster in this area.

I appreciate how efficient Capture One’s UI is, but I do wish I could hit Command J to add or change the information that’s up on screen. I also used to resist the vertical image browser, but on my iMac, it actually allows my image to be displayed quite a bit larger.

I miss Selects (or Picks) and Rejects in Capture One, but I’ve adapted to colour labels which have more efficient keyboard shortcuts, especially if you’re on a full size keyboard.4

Performance wise, I’m not having much trouble on my 2015 27 inch iMac. I’ve run into the occasional memory crash when waking the computer up, but never while actually working. Capture One seems to use more of the computational resources available to it. My processors are actually working hard enough that the fans spin up on occasion.5

The image is what matters though, and even after all these years, Adobe just can’t compete. Maybe you can get similar results using the new Enhance Details, but for now the cost in time and storage space is way too high when there’s software that can do much better with RAFs natively.

Should you switch?

If you shoot RAFs, you should seriously consider it. And there couldn’t be a better time because Capture One Pro 12→ is 50% off for just a couple more days. I can’t say that pricing didn’t also help ease the transition. I went straight to Pro. Layer Editing is more than enough reason, but the Advanced Colour Editing is no joke. I grabbed the 6 Style Packs which bumped the total savings up to 60%. All told, I’m really happy with the change.

  1. The Fujifilm Edition, natch. ↩︎
  2. The Lightroom library I use for product shots for this site will still be used for the time being as I only shoot JPEGs for those. ↩︎
  3. Wedding, engagement, and pregnancy photos from 5–10 years ago are likely to be pretty easy to pick out. ↩︎
  4. Plus key = Green for Pick, Minus key = Red for Reject, Asterisk = Yellow, and I’ve set the Equals key to Clear rating. ↩︎
  5. This is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I want software to use the processors I paid for. It does make that silent iMac Pro I’ve been waiting for an upgrade to more appealing. ↩︎

Adobe, Enhance Details, DNG Files, and Film Simulations

Way back on episode 40 of the FujiLove podcast—which, if you are reading this site and you like podcasts, you should probably be subscribed to—Jens and Billy Luong of FujiGuy fame had Product Manager Sharad Mangalick from Adobe on to talk about updates to Lightroom and ACR, and specifically the new feature “Enhance Details”.

Enhance Details

For those who don’t yet know, Adobe’s own dialogue box says:

“Enhance Details uses machine learning1 to improve details and reduce artifacts in most RAW files. The enhanced results will be saved as a DNG file.

It’s a computationally intensive process that performs best with a fast GPU. The estimate Adobe gives me on my Late 2015 5K iMac for a single image is 5 seconds, and that seems about right. What’s really unfortunate is the file size of the resulting enhanced DNG version of a 24.6 MB compressed RAF out of an X-H1 is 117.7 MB.

The results out of this feature would have to be pretty spectacular for me to consider taking on that kind of additional data.2 I’m seeing some decent results in my own limited testing, but weirdly, the Enhance Details dialogue preview totally betrays what the feature is actually capable of in some cases. I had one image that looked significantly worse in the dialogue box preview—more false detail, crunchy texture where there shouldn’t be—and I was ready to call Adobe out on it. After I actually rendered the image though, it did look a fair bit better than the default rendering.

It’s fantastic that Adobe are putting in the time and effort to support X-Trans—they could easily have made this a Bayer-only feature since they obviously support many more Bayer cameras than they do X-Trans. I’m looking forward to the day this feature is part of Lightroom proper, vs. behaving more like a plug-in, but one comment from Sharad on the podcast really jumped out at me:

“Fuji’s proprietary RAW file, the RAF, it doesn’t have an openly documented specification that Adobe can use to add the additional information.”

This is the result of Adobe having to create a separate (huge) DNG files. An obvious question is why doesn’t Fuji open up the gates enough to allow Adobe to write this additional information to the RAF/a sidecar file so we don’t need to go through this cumbersome workflow? I’m sure Billy has asked Japan this question, and either his hands are tied or there’s a really good reason that he agrees with.3 Either way, I wish we got an inkling as to what the issue is there.

Another obvious question is why are other applications able to generate better results without having to create a separate file? What does Phase One know that Adobe doesn’t? Adobe talk about having to balance performance with resolution, but Lightroom isn’t exactly blowing away the competition when it comes to performance with RAF.

For the time being, unless you’re all in on Adobe and a Creative Cloud subscription maxes out your budget allotment for photo editing (which is perfectly reasonable), a strong case can still be made for better, more specialized tools like Iridient Developer for those really important or really challenging images.

Film Simulation Modes

In the back half of the interview, the trio speak about Film Simulation Modes and how Adobe works with Fujifilm to ensure they have the same understanding of how each Film Simulation Mode should affect an image. This has been the official story for years now, and back when it was first told, Adobe’s interpretation of Fuji’s Film Simulation Modes were nowhere close to what we saw out of camera. To my eye, they’ve gotten better, but my recent experimentation with Capture One 12 suggests Phase One is quite a bit closer. Indeed, Phase One’s interpretations of Fuji’s Film Simulation Modes so far has been strikingly good. I’m on the cusp of switching to Capture One for much of my X-Trans processing needs for a few reasons, not needing to create whole separate files to get better detail out of my images and Film Simulation Modes are two big ones.

  1. What doesn’t use “machine learning” these days? Anyone else already tired of that? ↩︎
  2. In the early days of DNG, I remember reading about photographers converting to DNG wholesale with some going so far as to then delete the original RAW files. I’m awfully glad I never considered this kind of asset management. ↩︎
  3. Billy also does a remarkable job navigating these waters. He’s in a tough spot having to balance transparency and trade secrets, but he comes across as really quite genuine. Having spoken with Billy myself quite a few times in the past, I can say he truly does take user feedback to heart, and when he says he’ll take something back to Japan, he means it.

    I’m really digging this addition to FujiLove. It can come across as an advertisement at times, but it’s counterbalanced with honest upgrade recommendations to listeners who could perhaps skip a generation. ↩︎

Post Processing Style Evolution

As I was digging through my catalogue of images for my XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 OIS review, I came across the image below. It’s your typical vacation snap, nothing terribly noteworthy, but I like it, and figured I’d reprocess it anyway. It’s not uncommon for me to look back at my post processing, especially in my earliest days of shooting, and find myself somewhat aghast.

In this case, I don’t hate the way I had processed this image before, but I don’t like it either. There is a lot about it that is no longer to my taste. Believe it or not, I was long since out of my days of wanting to extract every last bit of detail from shadows when I first edited this photo, but even then, I think I was much too heavy-handed on the Shadows slider in Lightroom. I started with Adobe’s built in profile since that’s all there was available back then, whereas today I started with PROVIA. Less vibrance, more contrast, I don’t know what I was thinking with the sky and the greens on the mountains. Probably that I wanted to emphasize the warmth of the sun hitting the mountains. Now I find my eye hunting around the frame, side to side, and top to bottom with the reflection. With the left side more in shadows, it encourages a subtle rule of thirds, and lets my eye rest where the sun hits the mountains after the clouds lead it there.

Maybe you agree with me, maybe you think I’m out to lunch and my first pass was better like my wife does. Or maybe you think they both suck, and that’s fine. What’s interesting to me is how we as photographers grow and evolve, not just in the kinds of images we capture, but also in how we handle them after the fact. I am the furthest thing from a SOOC snob. I still enjoy tinkering with an image in Photoshop, and man, would I like to have the time to take another processing pass on a lot of my older images.