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Best RAW converter

Ian Watt , May 10, 2010; 04:19 a.m.

Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom2 seem to be pretty much the same, and they both do a good job. Phase One is another option that gets good reviews. Does the Phase One software have additional features over Adobes? Which if any of these would deal best with noise in over saturated skies or flowers on a bright day. Any links to help with RAW processing and dealing with these issues would be a great help. Or even a book on the subject. I have read many articles on RAW processing but they only cover the basics, its this issue of reigning in clipped color and noise that I need information on. Unless of course that stage of the edit is not done until opened in photoshop in 16bits.


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Ton Mestrom , May 10, 2010; 05:18 a.m.

I think ACR is pretty good to be honest. Apart from that I also like the one in ACDsee 3.0

As far as a book on CR is concerned try this

Andrew Borowiec , May 10, 2010; 08:23 a.m.

Last summer I did extensive tests to find the raw converter that gave the greatest degree of sharpness and amount of fine detail from the DNG files from my Leica M8. I tried ACR (in Photoshop CS3), Capture One 4, which came with the camera, and a third program I read about on the Leica Users Forum, RAW Developer. RAW Developer was the best converter by a wide margin, allowing me to make 13"X20" prints from the M8's 10MP files that other photographers could not distinguish from prints made from scanned 6x9cm negatives (400 ISO). The results were so good that I stopped using film.

RAW Developer lacks many of the features found in Lightroom, Photoshop, or Capture One. However, it excels at converting files to preserve maximum sharpness and detail and, for me, that trumps all other considerations. Using RAW Developer on 18MP Leica M9 files allows me to make 27"x40" prints that are sharper and more detailed than those I get from 6x9 negs scanned on an Imacon 343!

RAW Developer is made by Irridient and is relatively inexpensive, $125 if memory serves. It has a good, simple interface but lacks some features found in other programs such as the ability remove moiré and fringing, but there are easy ways to do those in Photoshop. It also lacks a Vibrance adjustment. Finally, note that it is only available for Mac, not for PC. Still, despite those minor drawbacks, it is in my opinion the best RAW converter out there.

Andrew Rodney , May 10, 2010; 09:06 a.m.

I agree about Raw Developer*. The rendering is lovely. But I still do all my work in Lightroom due to the functionality of the various modules. The new 3beta has some impressive new demosaicing algorithms so I do need to revisit how it compares to RD.


Andrew Borowiec , May 10, 2010; 09:11 a.m.


I suppose it's possible that Lightroom has caught up tp the quality of RD. Do post any conclusions that you reach if you compare them.

I also tried various upresing programs but the results from them, as from Photoshop itself, were not as good as upresing in RD. The only thing I didn't try was Qimage because I'm on a Mac, though I hear great things about that program.

Andrew Rodney , May 10, 2010; 09:25 a.m.

One feature I KNOW RD does better than LR/ACR is highlight recovery. In the ACR engine, I get odd color shifting and some banding. The Adobe team is aware of this, only time will tell if they can address it and produce results as good as RD. Some examples:

Top is RD, bottom is LR.

Santtu Määttänen , May 10, 2010; 11:05 a.m.

On a cheap end Raw Photo Processor works well and I've grown to like it. But these days I do most of my work on Lightzone (for developing) and then move to Photoshop. Lightzone has good tools, nice amount of detail and doesn't mess up your photos (meaning that it doesn't apply anything with out you knowing). Besides I like the user interface.
In the end it's matter of preference in most cases, if your applications need the best possible detail then there could be a winner, which one I don't know.

Dave Luttmann , May 10, 2010; 03:06 p.m.

There isn't one. In all honesty, it's like asking what the best developer for B&W film is. The answers is, it depends. Some are better for detail, others for noise, others for good color straight out.

To make matters more complex, they all work differently on different cameras. What I like for my Pentax isn't always as good for my Canon gear.

Take Andrews advice above....he knows his stuff.

Wouter Willemse , May 10, 2010; 03:30 p.m.

Since I use only one brand RAW files, a look on only that... for Nikon, Capture NX2 / View NX in my view gets the best results.
For high ISO files (D300), Adobe for me really didn't cut it; ugly noise, mediocre sharpness. ACR simply did not get the best from these files, and required a lot of hand-holding. CaptureOne (4.x) did much better, and I like the way it works too. The standard version is, in my opinion, very good value for money. Recently I tried Bibble 5, nice program, fast (very), good options, very usable. Certainly worth the try.

But Nikon's own software for me simply gets the best from their files. Can't say for other brands, and obviously this software is a 1-brand pony.

I think Dave's right. There is not a "best", there are many good. I tried quite a lot of them to make sure I spent my money well, and hence found out which one I like best - but what I perceive as an OK user interface and good output may be pure horror to others.

Ken Papai , May 10, 2010; 05:58 p.m.

The good think about the Adobe Photoshop raw convertor (ACR) is that Adobe constantly improves it. Now in version 6.0 (along with PS CS5) I believe and hold that ACR is by far the best raw editing tool out there.

So far the improvements from 5.7 to 6.0 are very minor (primarily in noise filters). However in going from 3.x to 4.x and 5.x ACR greatly improved and no other tool is better or has more books written specifically for it and used by so many amateurs, semi-pros, and pros.

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