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 what results in 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 resolutions, 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 is your budget 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 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.

Photokina Day 2 – Capture One 8

 
 

Introduction

In my recent RAW Converter for X-Trans comparison, it quickly became clear that Capture One 7 offered fairly substantial improvements to image quality for X-Trans sensors over other big all-in-one solutions, Lightroom and Aperture. Yesterday, I received an email to inform me that version 8 of Phase One’s software had been announced. Today I sat with a very knowledgeable member of the Phase One team to talk through the changes to Capture One, and what improvements have been made (or will be made) for Fuji shooters specifically.

Improved Catalogues

Catalogues have been improved, but the big deal is full catalogues can be imported from both Aperture and Lightroom. This is great news for Aperture users looking for a place to turn after Apple’s announcement support would be discontinued, and for Lightroom users looking to get more from their RAFs.

The import process is “pretty smart” according to Phase One. Not only will metadata be preserved (ratings, labels, etc.), but some basic editing will also be pulled into Capture One. This includes things like Exposure, Brightness, and Contrast. Local adjustments of course won’t be preserved, nor will adjustments like Clarity and Definition as they don’t have direct equivalents.

It will be interesting to see just how well this import process works, but it’s nice to know something like this is available.

Tethering

Tethering isn’t supported for Fuji cameras, and there are currently no plans to do so. This is a real shame, but like a lot of items not yet available to Fuji users, if the demand is there, it will happen. If you want tethering in Capture One, let Phase One know. They are listening.

Edge Selection

Edge Selection isn’t supported yet, but they are working on it. Because of the X-Trans sensor, they have to work things like edge selection a little bit differently. It’s good to know it’s in the works.

User Interface

No more crappy menu bar texture! The Phase One dev I talked to didn’t like it either. Overall the UI is much nicer. Cleaner, and without those terrible drop shadows. Very pleased.

Unfortunately full screen mode still doesn’t work the way most people would probably like, but this is another area they are working on, so hopefully we’ll be able to go wide screen and have the panels show always soon.

Shadows and Highlights

These two features have been completely rewritten. When you import a version 7 catalogue, you will be presented with the option to use the new version 8 engine, similar to Lightroom going from 2010 to 2012. Version 8 turns on new algorithms for Shadows and Highlights. The result could be considered as slightly less overall recovery, but the transition between recovered and unrecovered portions of the image are much more natural. This was demonstrated very clearly for me.

Clarity

A “Natural” clarity method joins “Neutral,”“Classic,” and “Punch.” I haven’t had an opportunity to check out the differences yet.

Local Adjustments

Capture One catches up to Lightroom a bit in this area with the addition of White Balance and Noise Reduction local adjustments, but also adds HDR as a new one. This sounds like it could come it really handy.

Aberration Correction

In previous versions of Capture One, fringing could be “over-corrected,” resulting in grey edges where the fringing was. It can now be scaled back for improved correction.

X-Trans Performance

For now, X-Trans rendering is strictly CPU bound. We won’t get to enjoy the GPU optimizations that DSLR owners will. This might not be so bad for owners of computers that lack a discrete GPU, but Phase One are looking into ways of bringing those optimizations to us. Again, the more they hear users want X-Trans support, the more likely they are to provide it, so let them know.

Fortunately, X-Trans CPU performance has increased in many areas from 1.5x all the way up to 2x.

In general there’s been a lot of recoding on the Mac in particular for optimization, and further stability improvements. So far I’ve found 7 to be really solid, but more stability is always welcome.

Image Quality and Camera Support

There have been overall improvements to image quality for X-Trans and preliminary support for the X30 has also been added.

Missing In Action

I asked about a before and after keyboard shortcut, and it’s still missing. They seem content with the creation of Varients as a history and don’t believe that seeing the image as it appeared at import compared to where the image has been taken is very important. This is a matter of opinion, but the real problem is the Browser must be explicitly selected for one to arrow back and forth between two Varients. I watched the dev search for a faster method, but none existed, so I think it may have sunk in a little that they’re still way behind Lightroom, Aperture, and even Nik in this area. Capture One needs a way to see the Before at all times with one keyboard shortcut.

Conclusion

With all these improvements, and Capture One 7’s already superior demosiacing, it’s getting really difficult to not switch over entirely. I intend to do just that once I get home and can download the update.

The “Best” X-Trans RAW Converter

Aperture vs Capture One vs Iridient Developer vs Lightroom vs LightZone vs Nik Sharpener vs OnOne vs Photo Ninja.jpg

Perhaps my most fussy article to date, I’m going to great lengths to determine what the “best” RAW converter is for X-Trans sensors. As it stands, I’ve only examined how these applications treat a typical wide angle image shot with a FUJINON XF 14mm ƒ/2.8 on an X-E1. I will add more images as time permits.

See for yourself what the best RAW converter for X-Trans is.