Taming the Beast ! X-Trans RAW, Part 1

So you've read all the reviews and finally decided to go for that compact Fuji X mirrorless system with its amazing X-Trans sensor … And now you’re hearing all kinda scary stories about “detail smearing”, “waxy skin”, “weird artifacts” & the like ?

Well, in case it calms you down I was in exactly the same situation: Got my Fuji (X-Pro1 it was at the time), just LOVED the retro style camera handling & the JPG’s it produced, BUT (once compatible RAW converters started to appear) hated, yes HATED converting RAW's, coz it was such a hassle ! How great the SOOC JPG’s are (if you need quick ‘n easy results), so limited is their ability to simultaneously capture extreme highlights, while preserving detail in the deepest shadows !

Spanish Courtyard

After lots of late night research, blog reading, review digestion & experimenting on the computer I found an optimal solution, giving me superior results to anything I’d seen previously: I use Lightroom for image management, embedding X-Trans RAW processing by Photo Ninja in my workflow (see my previous Blog post here on how I do that) !

Today I’d like to elaborate a bit more on my evaluation of various X-Trans RAW processing options, leading up to my choice for RAW conversion & post processing. Maybe this can help one or the other of you aspiring “X-Trans tamers” out there in your own decision making process, please read on …

In my evaluation (split in 2 parts: this & next week's Blog posts) I've concentrated on the following 4 main options (Windows only):

  1. Picture Code’s Photo Ninja 1.2.4, with Lightroom post processing
  2. Phase One’s Capture One Pro 8.1.1 (all-in-one solution)
  3. Adobe’s Lightroom 5.7, with embedded ACR (all-in-one solution)
  4. Silkypix’s Raw File Converter EX 3.2.22, with Lightroom post processing
    (this RAW converter is also bundled with Fuji cameras)

2 & 3 are fully integrated image catalog management / RAW conversion solutions (incl. image search via keywords). Consequently I've used them "stand-alone", w/o any additional external processing. In contrast 1 & 4 are more focused on RAW conversion, so I’ve used these to create an optimal max. dynamic range “digital negative” as starting point for final post processing in Lightroom. Note that Photo Ninja RAW conversion can be accessed like a plug-in from Lightroom (see here my previous Blog post on how that works), while Silkypix RAW conversion needs to be done externally & the TIF files imported manually into Lightroom ...

In today's PART 1  of my evaluation I'd like to share my detailed analysis of the Photo Ninja RAW converter, with TIF images post processed in Lightroom (this being my preferred solution) !

1. Photo Ninja RAW conversion + Lightroom Post Processing:

I'll start with the conclusion (to save you from scrolling to the end of this post ;-): If you’re more into Black & White imagery, I believe that Photo Ninja is the best ever RAW converter, able to deliver an optimal "digital negative" with maximum detail & dynamic range for subsequent Lightroom post processing ! In case you're more interested in color photography, maybe Capture One Pro is an interesting alternative solution for you (if you can accept a slight loss in detail extraction) ! See here the full image, RAW converted in Photo Ninja & post processed in Lightroom:

Façade in Buitrago del Lozoya by Photo Ninja & Lightroom !

Below some detailed crops, note the level of detail extraction, highlight & shadow rendering (click on images to see a larger view !):

Photo Ninja Crop 1

Photo Ninja Crop 2

Photo Ninja Crop 3

So, here's why I think Photo Ninja is the best RAW converter for Fuji X-Tans RAW files:

  • Best detail extraction, with minimal artifacts / “smearing” of small details (esp. foliage) - compare with images I'll share in next week's post !
  • Maximum highlight recovery, w/o losing details in the shadows (max. dynamic range potential) – It's absolutely AWESOME how much details the X-Trans sensor can record in the highlights !

Areas where i wish Photo Ninja could be improved:

  • Colors, esp. skin colors are more difficult to manage: They come out a bit “pink” (less an issue if you do just B&W, like me :-)
  • Still need some additional noise reduction in Lightroom post processing, despite the already excellent integrated Noise Ninja noise reduction
  • Photo Ninja only does basic image management – it would be great to have Lightroom image catalog management capability included !

OK, so this concludes PART 1 of my X-Trans RAW converter showdown. For me the other options delivered less convincing results, but I'm sure y'all can't wait for my next week's Blog post, where I'll share my evaluation & a detailed analysis

I'm sure some of you out there swear by other solutions, coz you've maybe found a better workflow / parameter combination - so, expect you will challenge me on my conclusions ;-) ! For now I appreciate your comments & look forward to an interesting exchange of ideas & experiences. Many thanks for reading & talk to y'all soon, best regards,


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