RAW Converters Comparison

10. Conclusion

As I’ve stated all along there is so much subjectivity in making a RAW converters comparison that everything you read in this conclusion should be taken with a pinch of salt. Your mileage may vary with your images from your camera and the renditions you prefer will certainly differ from mine.

In order to rank them I have opted to order them according to my personal preference on each of my tests and score them from 8 down to 1 accordingly. The reality is that these rankings are based in many cases on such marginal judgements that the differences in image quality between one RAW converter and another ranked three or four places lower on a particular test may be barely discernible.

Nevertheless, it gives us something to go on, so here we go:

The Results

ALR AP C1P CAP DXO ID PN RPP
Defaults 3 2 6 1 7 5 8 4
Details 2 3 7 1 6 8 5 4
High ISO 2 3 6 1 5 7 4 8
Shadow Recovery 6 1 5 4 8 7 3 2
Highlight Recovery 5 4 8 2 6 3 7 1
High Dynamic Range 6 1 8 2 7 3 5 4
Low Dynamic Range 2 3 8 1 7 4 6 5
TOTAL 26 17 48 12 46 37 38 28
PLACE 6 7 1 8 2 4 3 5

Discussion

BEST: Capture One Pro 7.2.2 (48) + DXO Optics Pro 9.5 (46)

There is really not a lot to choose between these two. If you want the ultimate in noise reduction and lens correction then DXO is probably the better choice; if you want superb tools, local adjustments and focus on colour then Capture One Pro would be my pick. This all explains why, traditionally, DXO is favoured by architectural photographers and Capture One Pro by fashion photographers.

The landscape photographer requires a bit of both, but for me, Capture One Pro delivers perfectly good lens correction and keystoning and I very rarely shoot at high ISO and hence have modest noise reduction requirements. Whilst it is necessary to keep an eye on its defaults, which supply overly aggressive luminance noise reduction and sharpening, it is such a pleasure to edit images in that it wins for me. DXO, for want of a better expression, ‘lacks soul’, and using it makes me feel like I’m engaged more in a science project than an artistic endeavour.

GOOD: Photo Ninja 1.2.2a (38) + Irident Developer 2.4 (37)

Next come two very technical RAW converters, though their approaches are very different; on a default conversion Photo Ninja probably does the most to an image; Irident Developer does very little. Given a well exposed image, shot at any ISO, with a lot of high frequency detail, I will now be reaching for Irident Developer on a regular basis (remember, I already own it, but haven’t used it much). It is the clear winner in this review when it comes to extracting the maximum amount of detail from an image.

I really want to like Photo Ninja but it does have a couple of problems for me, the lack of automatic lens profiling and its denoising algorithms, where the results are not to my taste. The latter is a strange result for a firm that built its business and reputation on noise reduction, and others may very well disagree with me here. My overall feeling with Photo Ninja is that the developers have gone the extra mile to try to provide tools that allow one to try to extract the best quality image possible; however, these tools are not always easy to use, can tax even a powerful computer to its limits and I have not, as yet, seen any evidence of markedly better results. I feel that this software is one to watch though and I predict that it will improve further.

OK: RAW Photo Processor 4.2.7 (28) + LightRoom 5.4 (24)

RAW Photo Processor does what it does; that is, it does a lot less than the rest of RAW Converters but what it does do it does very well. It certainly does enough that I will consider using it when I wish to pursue my existing workflow of doing almost all my editing in Photoshop.

Lightroom’s results are disappointing. I feel other RAW converters return better results in just about every scenario that I have employed them. To be fair this has been pretty marginal in most comparisons, and it is not that Lightroom’s results are bad or unusable, but a pattern has emerged across the tests. Lightroom performs just about as well as its competitors on undemanding images but as soon as any noise reduction is required then I struggle with it. I have the distinct feeling that Lightroom is destined to be the DAM where I manage my images, and little else.

POOR: Aperture 3.4.5 (17) + AfterShot Pro 2.0 (12)

Aperture, I feel, is simply suffering from neglect. I have little doubt that 3 or 4 years ago it was producing images of a similar quality to the rest of the RAW converters here but, now, they have all moved on and Aperture has been left behind.

AfterShot Pro is, in retrospect, an application that I shouldn’t have bothered testing. Whilst it has some decent tools it is simply unable to deliver images of similar quality to the other RAW converters.

Final Remarks

I started this RAW converters comparison because of my suspicion that using Lightroom was not delivering me the best possible results from my images. This has turned out to be the case. It remains very hard to imagine a world without Lightroom because I rely so much on its DAM capabilities.

Nevertheless, I now feel inclined to work out an alternative workflow for my images, because the RAW converters I lean towards most as the result of my testing are Capture One Pro, Irident Developer and RAW Photo Processor.

I am so impressed with Capture One Pro as a general workhorse RAW converter that I have now purchased it whilst it is available at half price (tip for UK or European purchasers: buy it from a US reseller rather than direct from Phase One for a further substantial discount). If I have a well exposed image for which I need to extract ultimate detail then I will be firing up Irident Developer in the future, which I own already, or RAW Photo Processor for which I will be making a donation, and combining it with my Photoshop workflow of Topaz Denoise and Focus Magic.

I’m a bit of a software junkie though and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the development of Photo Ninja for the future. I do like DXO Optics Pro but I still can’t find any compelling reason to justify the very expensive upgrade from Version 6, which I own from way back, to the current Elite version to support my E-M1. Maybe Version 10 will bring something new to the table.

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