Working with Photo Ninja - Give us RAW raw files!!!

All images processed from raw via Photo Ninja

The above images were shot during the last 9 months using Panasonic GX7, Leica X-Vario and Fuji X-E2 cameras. I processed the files in the last couple of days using Photo Ninja as my raw converter. In all cases I prefer these conversions to what I get in Photoshop and with a little work to find what gives the best results for each camera I can get some really impressive files. What I like is how PN 'bypasses' the background processing that happens to raw files in Adobe software. Most of this occurs with input from the manufacturers and usually involves a degree of noise reduction even before you get to the camera raw interface. This 'noise paranoia' results in a softening of the files. The most notorious example of which is what Adobe do to Fuji X files. PN and other smaller (i.e. not Adobe) 3rd. party software programmes for raw conversion 'let more of the original image through' (I can't think of a better way to describe it) allowing the user to decide how much 'correcting' and noise reducing to do.

Now I much prefer this. And once I get used to how these programmes work and balancing the desire for sharpness with the need to keep both luminance and colour noise under control, I can get some incredibly sharp and detailed results which can turn most lens and sensor tests on their heads. For people who just shoot OOC jpgs. and base their asessment of how good their sensor and / or lenses are on that, they can in be in for a significant shock when they realise what programmes like PN and others like Iridient Developer and Raw Photo Processor can do with their files. That soft lens can become pin sharp and that MP pixel challenged sensor is suddenly capable of producing superb files that can be upsized dramatically. 

In a way, I'm not sure raw files is a good way to describe what we mostly get. Because they certainly aren't that raw. They often come with all sorts of pre-loaded embedded instructions to the native software of PS / LR to adjust certain parameters without giving us the opportunity to decide whether we want them or not. Lens profiles are now turning up automatically in Photoshop ACR for example and while most of the time they don't do any harm, it's another matter entirely when all sorts of noise reduction is performed on the raw files without it being able to be turned off. Because apart from anything else it is entirely possible to get sharper files than ACR or Lightroom can offer us AND still keep CA, noise and fringing under control. However, many camera manufacturers and Adobe obviously think that we aren't mature enough to be able to handle that and consequently they 'nanny' us with their software constrictions and expect us to put up with it.

But there are alternatives and yes they do sometimes have to be worked at, but in many instances the results are worth it. The Fuji X files are an obvious case where a programme like PN produces much sharper results with none of the softening effects that Adobe create, but my Leica X-Vario files are significantly sharper when processed via PN, showing that even Leica like to dictate what we get. And in the past I've written that I don't think PN works so well on m4/3 files. However, after doing a lot of experimentation and trying different combinations of adjustments, I need to revise that. I can now get some superb renderings from PN for my GX7 files. Just to give an idea of what I can achieve, I compared an upsized low ISO file from my GX7 processed via PN with something similar shot on a Nikon D7100 processed via Photoshop. In terms of sharpness and noise levels the files were identical, showing that raw processing is just as important, if not more so, for producing quality files as sensor size and lenses used.

I'm not going to show any examples of what I've written about because I don't have the time nor the inclination to do that. And also because we all want different things from our raw files anyway. But if you haven't already tried them and you're not entirely satisfied with what you are getting from proprietry software and Adobe then I do urge you to try some of these programmes. All are either shareware or have a trial download period. Plus I also urge you to experiment with them, to see what combination of settings work for you. And yes some of them are a bit fiddly, but Photo Ninja has a decent interface and isn't that daunting. Certainly if you are used to Lightroom it's positively minimalist! You may think that after trying them you are happy with what you have already, but you may also well find yourself surprised at just what kind of quality is lurking in those files.

Finally just to whet your appetite if you are, like me, a helpless Fuji fanboy, I have both the 10-24mm f/4 zoom AND 56mm f/1.2 lenses arriving tomorrow!! It's going to be a fun weekend!!

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