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Best Raw conversion software?

Peter Nelson , Aug 12, 2005; 10:06 a.m.

I've noticed both with my Canon 20D and my Nikon D100, that if I shoot brightly contrasting colors right next to each other there will often be a solid, line of different-colored pixels at the boundary. (I have a posting in the Digital Cameras forum about an instance of this). For example where a dark blue object and a bright orange object come together there will be a solid bright red line a pixel or two wide outlining the blue.

It almost looks like a sharpening artifact except that I shoot strictly Raw so there should be no in-camera sharpening. The red fringe is definitely not chromatic aberration because it's the same on both sides of any object and occurs all over the frame, whereas true c.a. would produce a red fringe on one side and a blue fringe on the other, and be worse near the edges.

People have suggested that I try different raw converters but,
(A.) I have no reason to suspect a different raw converter would fix it, and
(B.) if it IS a Raw converter problem then I assume another converter would introduce its own artifacts. I already know this is the case because the EOS Viewer Raw converter produces weird streaks with high-ISO Raw files that do not occur when the same files are converted with DPP.

Is there any Raw converter that's free of artifacts, and doesn't just represent a different set of tradeoffs? I don't want a workflow that forces me to convert the same files through multiple converters to see which one I like best.

Also, I work professionally designing digital image processing software, and while my work does not involve bayer matrix conversion, the idea of trying to faithfully reconstruct an image from R,G, and B samples taken at spatially different locations has always seemed fraught with risk, to me. I could easily imagine that artifacts could emerge wherever you have two very different color regions at adjacent groups of sensors.

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Rob Bernhard , Aug 12, 2005; 10:20 a.m.

There are plenty of camera review sites (like dpreview.com) that, in their reviews of DSLRs, will look at the output from a number of RAW conversion software tools.

Here's the one from the 20D review:

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canoneos20d/page19.asp

None of them are created equal and each produce slightly different results. In my opinion, you are doing yourself a disservice by not trying out at least one other one to see how (or if) the results are different.

Peter Nelson , Aug 12, 2005; 10:33 a.m.

In my opinion, you are doing yourself a disservice by not trying out at least one other one to see how (or if) the results are different.

I indicated above that I've tried THREE. The EOS Viewer and DPP for the Canon. And since I mentioned that I've seen this problem on the D100, you can conclude that I must have used a different one for that (it was Nikon View). So how many more should I try?

Ron, just like in your response to my Feedback Forum question, I don't feel like you read questions before you answer them.

Alistair Windsor , Aug 12, 2005; 10:55 a.m.

Peter, it does sound like you haven't updated your software in a while. The weird high ISO streaks in EOS Viewer has been fixed. There were also complaints about the demosaic algorithm in the early DPP though I don't know whether this has been addressed.

It is an interesting problem. I will try taking this situation and running it through the simple demosiac algorithm and see what I get.

Unfortunately RAW conversion is just like life - everything is a tradeoff. The best workflow is exactly as you describe; convert the same files through multiple converters to see which one you like best. Most images do fine with them all but sometimes you see moire or similar artifacts and changing converter can help. I still use DPP and EOS Viewer for my raw conversion but I will be getting a new PC in a couple of weeks and I will try Raw Shooter Essentials. At some point I will pick up the new Photoshop and switch to using ACR.

Rob Bernhard , Aug 12, 2005; 10:56 a.m.

Speaking of not reading, my name is Rob, not Ron.

All software sucks. You're going to get different results with different converters. I don't see any way to avoid this. No conversion is going to be perfect every time. In my opinion, Adobe's software produces the most pleasing results, but those are only my eyes.

P C Headland , Aug 12, 2005; 11:46 a.m.

Peter,

I have read in several places, including from someone who developed his own RAW conversion software, that some manufacturers DO sharpen / apply noise reduction to the RAW files. It may be worth checking if your cameras are known to be "guilty".

The only way you will be able to find a converter that works for you is, unfortunately, to test them. Most, even the more expensive commercial ones, have a trial version.

You could also send an email to Dave Coffin, the author of DCRAW, to see if he has any thoughts on this problem.

Paul

Ted Marcus , Aug 12, 2005; 12:34 p.m.

Is there any Raw converter that's free of artifacts, and doesn't just represent a different set of tradeoffs?

No. The process of converting a Bayer matrix to colored pixels involves a lot of guesswork and estimation. So it will necessarily introduce artifacts. Different software does the guesswork and estimation differently, so it will produce different artifacts. That's actually an advantage (but not a convenience), since you can choose the software and associated conversion approach that produces the best results for a given subject. I suppose the ideal raw converter would implement different de-Bayering approaches and let you switch between them.

I don't want a workflow that forces me to convert the same files through multiple converters to see which one I like best.

You may not want it, but if you're fussy about artifacts you may need such a workflow. It's likely that once you have experience with different software you'll know which to try first for a particular type of image. That will make it easier.

I recommend downloading RawShooter Essentials. I've found it better than either of the two Canon raw converters that shipped with my Rebel XT. It gives you a useful degree of control over the de-Bayering process, so you can set "detail extraction" to minimize the inevitable artifacts. You can also completely switch off sharpening, and the unique "Fill Light" control can easily extract shadow detail without blowing out highlights. Best of all, it's free.

RawShooter Essentials has its own problems with artifacts, notably one-pixel dots and three-pixel lines in areas of blue sky, but it's not difficult to remove them. Canon's DPP has well-documented problems with artifacts and moiré; ZoomBrowser EX doesn't have those problems but it provides only the preset controls available on the camera. Considering the price, RawShooter Essentials is worth a try.

Scott Ream , Aug 13, 2005; 10:00 p.m.

I'll second that. RawShooter Essentials seems to 'work' better for me. I don't like the sowtware that shipped with my Nikon or the plugin for CS nearly as much. Plus it's free.

Scott

Matt T (Brooklyn) , Aug 24, 2005; 03:59 p.m.

I've been using RSE the past couple of days to work on my pics from Hawaii, and I quite like it. It gives you more control than Nikon Capture, and, the price tag is great. I also quite like the fill light feature (as has been mentioned here).

It does have some things that I'd change, but I'm quite happy with it.

Brian Duffy , Oct 02, 2005; 04:38 p.m.

CS2 has a great raw conversion tool that works outside of photoshop so you can convert a large amount of files at the same time and still be working in photoshop on another project. Granted it helps to have a fast computer for this, but atleast its possible.


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