Fuji X-Trans sensor and Aperture raw conversions - Part 1

OK, this might be a post that Fuji X-Pro 1, X-E1 and 100s owners, who work with PC's, might like to ignore. Apple have just released a raw file compatibility update to the Mac operating system that means that Fuji X-Trans raw .RAF files will now open in Aperture and iPhoto. (Finally!!) I happen to think that this (Aperture) is now the best conversion software yet and I'm going to be showing why in this article. I think its better (with reservations) than Photoshop / Lightroom, Capture One, Silkypix (of course) and even Raw Photo Processor 64. 
I updated my Mac yesterday and since I didn't have Aperture on my computer (I have an old version) I initially tried some Fuji X raw files in iPhoto and compared them with Photoshop ACR.

Now the iPhoto files were supposed to be unsharpened, and I had turned all the sharpening off, but the files did seem to me to have sharpening applied in some way. There were telltale white halos around the branches, so I think something is going on in the background here. However, I was impressed enough by the obviously crisper files and the foliage / grass rendition to buy myself the latest version of Aperture from the Apple App. Store for £54. 

Now Aperture is software I don't like much and having bought the first and second versions I was so unhappy with it I was moved to write a letter of complaint to Apple. However I decided to risk £54 on my quest for the 'Perfect' Fuji X-Trans raw conversion. I was particularly keen to see if the 'smearing / watercolour effect' in foliage was better than Adobe and how sharpening impacted on this. In essence the two main problems that these files have created over the last year. Photoshop and Lightrooms latest version of ACR have improved this greatly, but I've still always thought that there is more detail in the files as Raw Photo Processor 64 has proved. I did try the Capture One attempt (via a trial version of their software), but was very disappointed with that. I thought if anything it was worse that Adobes first attempt in terms of the smearing and problems with sharpening. So I was keen to see what Aperture could produce.

Here are a couple of comparisons. There are versions with sharpening turned off in both software packages and with some sharpening applied in Photoshop to both. I really don't rate Apertures parameters for this and to try and get a valid comparison, I applied the same level of Smart Sharpen to the ACR file and the Aperture file, saved as a tif, opened up in Photoshop. For the original raw conversion I turned all sharpening off in both Photoshop and Aperture.

Now I like the Aperture versions here. There is not much in it, but notice how the Photoshop rendition has almost 'noise-reduced' away part of the writing on the canal boat. However when I looked at typical 'problem' areas for the Fuji files, dense areas of green foliage, it was a different story.

The Aperture files, as you can see, are clearly superior and don't have that unnatural look that the Adobe files have, even with the latest version of ACR. There is none of that 'smudging' of detail and the look that some kind of dodgy filter effect has been added.

Great you might think, but this does come at a (slight) price. There is definitely some colour noise and moire present in the Aperture files. Below is a comparison showing that. The Adobe file has all colour noise reduction turned off and its totally noise free. However on the Aperture file you can see colour noise on the white letters of the notice.

Again you can see that Aperture has rendered the foliage and the grass on the lawn in a more defined way. Also have a look at the flowers on the sign. As I said all colour noise reduction, plus CA and fringing removal as well, was turned off in the Adobe ACR conversion, so its not anything in the Camera Raw software creating this desaturation. At least nothing that can be seen or altered. Most people who have looked at the latest ACR update have noticed that the conversions of Fuji X-Trans files are slightly softer than other programmes and I think that its now obvious that Adobe are pre-processing the files before we can get our hands on them. Presumably because they think we can't cope with the sight of moire or colour noise and will probably swoon at the mere thought of it!! 

And indeed there is more colour noise, CA and fringing in the Aperture files in general. However since I'm an adult I am able to deal with things like this and don't need protecting from the big bad world of colour artefacts. (Note to Adobe, can we have the files as is please.)

So overall, I'm VERY impressed with the Aperture renditions and the colour problems I can deal with easily. Finally, this is commonly used raw conversion software (if you use an Apple-Mac that is!) that does justice to the Fuji files and I got some spectacularly good conversions using it. Only surpassed in definition by what I got from my Sigma DP Merrills, and yes that means that I think the X-Trans sensor gives me nicer looking files than the Leica / Kodak CCD in the M9.

I'll be doing more on this in the next few days.