The implications for me and the Fuji X system from Photo Ninja support.

Sometimes it's the little things, the unexpected things that change how you perceive what you do and what you use to do it. I had my X-E1 up for sale on ebay not so long ago. I was getting fed up with the amount of work it took me to get my raw files from the camera to look how I wanted them to. Photoshop and ACR do a decent job in most situtaions, but there is the green foliage smearing problem. And I shoot a LOT of images with green foliage. Iridient Developer sorted that out but the colours that software produces usually need work in Photoshop to get what I want. 

I've always maintained that the Fuji X-Trans sensor produces the best image quality I've seen in a camera I've used. The qualification to that is, the Fuji sensor CAN produce the best image quality IF I'm prepared to work at it. The quality of the jpgs. is well known, as is the exemplary high ISO performance. The raw files possessed extraordinary quality I knew from my processing of X-Pro 1 files ages ago using Raw Photo Processor. Incredibly sharp and no smearing problem. But that software has a difficult to understand user interface and the colours are 'odd' to say the least. So it was always a case of lots of post processing work in Photoshop. It got to the stage where after the great summer we've had and the number of images I've shot, I was thinking if I continue to use my Fuji, I'll never clear my backlog and become imprisoned in front of this computer for ever processing the files I've shot with it. Superb image quality yes, a satisfying and pleasurable experience, no way.

However, I didn't sell my X-E1 as nobody was prepared to pay what I wanted, so I kept it and decided to persevere. I even bought the X-E2, which I really like, and I've also got an X-Pro 1 again, for the current excellent Fuji lens deal. On the processing front, I'd pretty much decided to work with the jpgs. as it was much quicker and since they were certainly decent enough and my picture libraries and clients seemed to have no problem with them. But still, nagging away at me was the knowledge that there was 'magic' in those Fuji pixels but unless I spent a lot of time working on the files I wasn't going to see it.

And then two people on Google+ recommended Photo Ninja. Ho-Hum I thought, here's another way to edit my life away. But then I got round to giving it a try. I downloaded the software, got a trial licence key and opened up a file. First off I thought, lets have a look at the defaults for the X-E2 and then work out how long it's going to take to get it right. So, I opened up the tiff I'd processed in Photoshop expecting not a lot and then BAM! there it was, pretty much everything I'd ever wanted to see in Fuji X file. Sharp, noise free, wonderful vivid saturated colour and (drum roll......) the complete absence of any green foliage smearing. OK I thought, what happens when I sharpen the file up for reproduction. Again, no problems. 

Now that's a little bit 'over the rainbow' there, it did take a little longer to get everything set up how I wanted and explore the possibilities of the software. But after a few days I've got this lightning fast workflow. Double-Click on a .RAF file, it opens up in Photo Ninja, I apply one of the presets I've got set up, another click and the Photoshop Plug-In which PN provides gets the image into Photoshop without saving a .tiff file somewhere to further clog up my hard drive. A few more edits and levels balancing and I'm done. No more time taken than any of my other camera files and these beautiful (and yes they are beautiful) flles saved ready to upload to picture library sites. So there it is. Photo Ninja changed my life!!

So leaving behind what reads like the plot for a Rom-Com, there are lots of implications for my workflow and camera choices here. Nobody can argue that I haven't 'stuck with' the Fuji X system, despite my reservations about the raw processing. I have written a lot about it, more than any other system in recent times. I do like the cameras and find the whole lookaleica design ethic very appealing. The cameras are small, but not too small, and I can tailor the size and weight of what I use to what I want. The introduction of focus peaking in a recent firmware update was a welcome update and indeed Fuji do seem better than most at this. The X-E2 is a fine camera, with snappier AF and a host of other improvements over the X-E1. I also like the Fuji pricing for cameras and lenses. Somewhat high at first but now pretty reasonable. So pretty much a decent system apart from the achilles heel of raw processing. 

The Fuji / Silkypix provided software is ordinary at best and when Adobe announced that they would be supporting the X system, then many of us thought that would provide us with access to really high quality files, but as has been well documented, here and elsewhere, that has not proved to be the case. To date Adobe have had two attempts at getting this right, but still the green foliage smearing / watercolour effect hasn't been solved. Plus overall, Adobe conversions of the .RAF files are not as sharp as they should be. Believe it or not, there is now a petition on trying to get Fuji and Adobe to sort this out. The petition is :- 
'Please cooperate to provide your common customers with better X-Trans raw files support.' and can be found here - I've signed it and if you are a Fuji X user and feel the same, then have a look and see if you want to sign it to. Who knows, Fuji and Adobe may be persuaded to try again. 

Aperture, Phase One and Iridient Developer have all had a go at raw conversion, with varying degrees of success. Aperture makes a reasonable fist of it, Phase One pretty much looks like Adobe's attempts and up to now Iridient Developer has been the best alternative for the smearing problem, but does produce somewhat muted colours by default and of course is Mac only, as it Aperture. So in the light of this Photo Ninja is a revelation. Sharp, colours that reflect what Fuji come up with in the jpgs. and the complete absence of any smearing or foliage problems, plus its Mac AND PC. It is now possible to add sharpening in post-processing without destroying the image and overall the software allows seriously impressive renderings of Fuji X files with options to process as desired in terms of colour, sharpness, noise reduction etc. There is also a very nifty Photoshop plug-in that allows integration between the two programmes quickly. 

What Photo Ninja does now is provide files of extraordinary quality from the Fuji X cameras. Files that have really high resolution, and important for me are capable of really dramatic upsizing. And no, the 36MP files I produce aren't quite as sharp as those I got from my Nikon D800E. (N.B. There is no support for the Sony A7r as yet) But I have to say that it's now VERY close. Plus, and I do realise this is a personal choice, I actually prefer the Fuji X files. Digital files can often appear to be flat and dull to me, efficient, sharp and clean but somewhat lacking in the colour depth, contrast and overall punchiness that I got from film. Or rather they did, since Photo Ninja has a much more vivid default look than other converters. In the post I published last - - Jim Christian, who developed the software outlined his 'philosophy' behind the software and why it converts the way it does. And certainly for me, its right on the money. The files I have processed in this software, and I've done a lot in the last few days, are very much what I would have hoped for with this sensor and it's lack of an AA filter. 

Now I've also looked at a lot of other camera files processed via Photo Ninja, and they are all very good indeed. However, the Fuji X conversions, to me are the most impressive. I have, for example, got some really good conversions from the Nikon D7100 I had, but with that camera I did shoot everything at ISO 100, whereas with the Fuji, I'm shooting at ISO 400 or 800, because of the two to three stop 'ISO advantage' the sensor provides. In fact I use ISO 400 as my default setting, with all the resulting advantages for me of high shutter speeds and narrower apertures. (Incidentally there was strange 'review' I read of a comparison between the X-E2 and Sony A7r which attempted to assert that A7r was better for high ISO noise because you could downsize the files!! Now I've not used an A7r and have only worked with a few raw files, but I have worked extensively with the D800E, which has the same sensor and according to DxO has virtually identical performance. Now, while I agree that downsizing does improve the high ISO look, the notion that D800E raw files downsized to the same size as Fuji X camera files are better at high ISO's, just isn't true and is a complete fabrication. I suspect that the 'reviewer' was comparing jpgs. but even so, if you read stuff like this then I'd take it with a pinch of salt.)

So the Fuji X cameras now give what I want in terms of image quality, are now as fast as other images to process and the software allows me to use higher ISO's than I do with my other cameras. The improvements to the X-E2 in terms of AF and the recent lens firmware updates now give me a 'fast' camera, should I need it. Manual focusing with the Nikon lenses I like so much is easy with the focus peaking and there are only two real issues I still have left with Fuji X. Firstly the poor battery life and secondly the lack of a telephoto option that works for me. However with regard to the latter I might be mellowing on the 55-200mm. Some of the images above were taken with the Nikon Series E 36-72mm f/3.5 I have, fitted via my Metabones Speed Booster. I did actually really enjoy using it, but it did occur to me to check the weight, since it's a pretty chunky outfit. In fact it ends up as just 6g lighter than the 55-200mm so I may yet be tempted by one of those.

So, for the foreseeable future I'm going to be using Fuji X, and usually the X-E2. I haven't yet decided whether I want to sell my X-E1 and X-Pro1 and get another X-E2, but for the time being I'll probably hang on to all three. In the end, I'm glad I stuck with Fuji and my patience has been rewarded. And all because somebody designed a piece of raw processing software and thought that there might be another way to do it. So my thanks to all at Photo Ninja for what they have come up with. As in the previous post I'm including a link to their website so that you can give it a trial. (Plus if anyone is thinking I'm getting something out of it, I'm not. I'm paying for the software just like anybody else. This is a recommendation of something I think really makes a difference.)

Link to the Picture Code website - Here you can download a trial of Photo Ninja and email to ask for a 2 week trial licence.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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