Published on: 22nd Mar 2015
Early in 2014 I "evaluated" the Fujifilm XT-1. The camera did not come with the software CD, and the software on the Fujifilm website did not support the XT-1 yet.I am so used to photograph in RAW that I just could not get myself to photograph exclusively in JPEG, so I set the camera to JPEG and RAW. Like everybody else I was very impressed with the quality of the JPEGs, but really wanted to see how the XT-1 will perform once I processed the RAW files.
I must admit, the first time I photographed a landscape scene with high contrast, I was not impressed with the JPEG results. I found that it created a white line between the dark and the light areas, very similar to a typical over sharpened image. I changed the in-camera settings but nothing I did fixed this problem. This was a deal breaker for me. If I could not find a way to create a photo without this apparent over sharpened artefact, I would not invest in the Fujifilm system -even though I really loved its ergonomics.
I then started looking on the Internet for 3rd party RAW converter software thatcould handle the XT-1 RAW files and tested all the candidates, including PhotoNinja. I am not a Photoshop Lightroom user (this is a story for another time) but I learned that Lightroom supports the Fujifilm RAW files, so I downloaded their 30-day trial version. Although it did a reasonable job in converting the RAW files, the end result still had the same "over sharpened" artefact problem. At this point I started to think that it was an inherited problem with the x-trans sensor and that this camera will not be good for landscapes, especially when you have high contrast scenes.
PhotoNinja comes with a 7-day trial license, so I downloaded it on a Friday evening to thoroughly test it over the weekend. My first results - using the default settings - already showed that this software understands the x-trans sensor. I did not see any white line in the high contrast areas! So, at this stage I started my "pixel peeping", and I could not believe the amount of detail available at 100% viewing. I compared these results with the out-of-cameraJPEG files, and for me the difference was like day and night. I was only looking for a way to get rid of those white lines, but found that it is possible to get much more detail from the RAW file.
I decided to do the typical clich'd comparison test with the same RAW files in Lightroom and PhotoNinja. I expected to see much more detail on my landscape photos, but was surprised to see how much more detail is also available in portraits.
As you know, I am not a Lightroom user, but I tried the Peter Bridgwood (http://petebridgwood.com/wp/2014/10/x-trans-sharpening/) sharpening technique to see if it is possible to get as much detail from Lightroom as from PhotoNinja, but did not succeed. (For the Lightroom diehards, remember I am not a Lightroom user and I am sure you will be able to get better results from Lightroom than what I manage here. Even so, do yourself the favour to try the PhotoNinja trial version.)
One of the other extra benefits of using PhotoNinja is the fact that it includes a Photoshop plug-in. With this plug-in, it is possible to associate the Fujifilm RAW files with Photoshop which will then automatically start the PhotoNinja RAW converter before streaming the converted photo to Photoshop. Before changing to Fujifilm I used the Nikon Capture NX2 software, and my workflow used to include a step to save the converted file as a TIFF before opening it in Photoshop. With the PhotoNinja plug-in, this intermediate TIFF file is eliminated.
I did, however, find a workaround for this EXIF issue: I noticed that the ExifTool utility from Phil Harvey still understands the embedded EXIF data. After some experimentation I worked out that it is possible to export all the EXIF data to an intermediate file and then, by just re-importing it via ExifTool, the corruption gets fixed.
To simplify this process, I created a wrapper application with a drag and drop interface that will fix the EXIF data in any PSD, JPEG or TIFF file. I call my tool "Exif Updater" and it is available for download from my website here: http://johann.vdalt.net/downloads.php
As an extra feature, I also added an option to embed my copyright information in the EXIF data. This is one of the few things that is amiss in the Fujifilm cameras.
Footnote: When I looked at the two versions of West Gate next to each other, I was surprised to see that there is a huge difference between Lightroom and PhotoNinja's default lens correction - I don't know which one is correct. My lack of Lightroom skills is also very visible in the West Gate Tower comparison - I just could not get it to look as vibrant as the PhotoNinja version!
I will update this review once the EXIF issue in PhotoNinja is fixed.
(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)