RAW Converters Comparison

8. Low Dynamic Range

The final image comparison in our RAW converters comparison is a test of the abilities of the software to deal with an image where there is a low dynamic range; other ways of expressing this problem would be to say that the image has a compressed histogram or low contrast.

As a coastal landscape photographer this problem occurs on a fairly regular basis for me. Large amounts of spray in the air, misty conditions and shooting through a telephoto lens are common occurrences and all can result in a low dynamic range in an image.

The image I have chosen contains two of these problems. It was taken above Millook Haven looking North past Widemouth Bay and up the Culm coast towards Bude. It was shot with the EM-1 and 75-300mm lens at ISO200, f/5.0, 1/1600s.

Original image of the Culm Coast near Widemouth Bay prior to a RAW Converters Comparison of for low dynamic range recovery in Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One Pro, Aftershot Pro, DXO Optics Pro, Irident Developer, Photo Ninja and Raw Photo Processor

Processing an image such as this is generally a matter of placing the white and black points close to, or at the margins of, the available data by whatever means the RAW converter allows. However, this can (and will) result in the creation of substantial amounts of noise and problems on the data margins; for this image this manifests as loss of detail in the surf, mid ground rocks that are too dark and have lost detail, and noise in the sky and cliffs.

The RAW Conversions

[You can click on the images to bring up a larger version in a lightbox.]

Settings & Notes


Tonal (Basic) – Exposure: +1.30; Contrast: +33; Highlights: 0; Shadows: -50; Whites: -56; Blacks: -34; Clarity: +100
Tonal (Curve) – Highlights: +88; Lights: -25; Darks: -11; Shadows: +81
Sharpening – Amount: 25; Radius: 0.9; Detail: 78; Masking: 78
Noise Reduction – Luminance: 30; Detail: 59; Contrast: 50; Color: 25; Detail: 50; Smoothness: 50
Notes – Every method (of which there are many) that Lightroom offers to increase contrast has been thrown at this image.


Tonal (Exposure) – Exposure: 0.62; Recovery: 0.02; Black Point: 18.07; Brightness: 0.09
Tonal (Enhance) – Contrast: 0.3; Definition: 1.0
Tonal (Highlights & Shadows) – Highlights: 5.13; Shadows: 41.82; Mid Contrast: 49.02
Noise Reduction – Radius: 1.88; Edge Detail: 2.44
Edge Sharpening – Intensity: 0.39; Edges: 0.22; Falloff: 0.69
Notes – Aperture has plenty of tools for manipulating tonality but I couldn’t find any easy way of lifting the crushed blacks in the rocks without losing a large amount of overall contrast in the image. This included a long time spent with the the curves tool but I abandoned it in the end.

Capture One Pro

Tonal (Exposure) – Exposure: -0.20; Contrast: 12; Brightness: 8
Tonal (High Dynamic Range) – Highlight: 0; Shadow: 10
Tonal (Clarity) – Algorithm: Neutral; Clarity: 15; Structure: 32
Tonal (Levels) – Black Point: 7; Mid Point: -0.10; White Point: 180
Noise Reduction – Luminance: 59; Color: 100
Sharpening – Amount: 60; Radius: 1.0; Threshold: 1.0
Notes -The magic happens here with Capture One Pro’s fantastic Levels tool. Considerably more detail can be pulled out but at the expense of losing shadow detail in the rocks.

AfterShot Pro

Tonal – Blacks: 53.97; Exposure: 1.11; Fill Light: 0.27; Fill Range: 0.08; Contrast: 100; Local Contrast Strength: -19; Radius: 29
Noise Reduction – Raw Noise Removal: On; Perfectly Clear Noise Removal Strength: 40; Detail:10
Sharpening – Amount: 80; Sensitivity: 6
Notes – A general lack of fine grained control of contrast; this plugin could probably benefit from some sort of curves tool.

DXO Optics Pro

Tonal – Smart Lighting Intensity: 142; Contrast: 80; Microcontrast: 15
Tonal (Selective) – Highlights: -9; Midtones: -3; Shadows: 14; Blacks: -3
Tonal (Curves): Black Point: 9; White Point: 194
Noise Reduction – Luminance: 40; Chrominance: 100; Low Freq: 100
Lens Softness – Global: -0.50; Details: 50; Bokeh: 50
Sharpening – Lens Softness Global: 0.20; Details: 60; Bokeh: 50
Notes – Quite substantial adjustments to Exposure Compensation and Smart Lighting but a pleasing result emerges.

Irident Developer

Tonal (In) – Exposure: -0.50; Shadow Fine Tune: +100; Highlight Recovery: 100
Tonal (Adjustment) – Brightness Shadows: +20; Brightness Midtones: +30; Brightness Highlights: -31; Contrast: +30
Tonal (Curves) – LAB luminance curve adjustments
Noise Reduction – Adaptive Early Stage: 5; ChromaLogic: 2; ChromAdaptive: 5; Luminance: 10
Sharpening – Algorithm: Richardson Lucy Deconvolution; Radius 0.60; Iterations: 20
Noise Reduction – Adaptive Early Stage: 5; ChromaLogic: 2; ChromAdaptive: 5; Luminance: 5
Notes – Whilst Irident Developer struggled with extreme shadow recovery it manages better with this less demanding example.

Photo Ninja

Tonal – Illumination: 13; Exposure Offset; 1.28; Highlights: 0.30; Shadows: 0.05; Black: -0.56; Contrast: 17; Detail: 17
Noise Reduction – Algorithm: Noise Ninja 4 Turbo; Luminance Smoothing: 17; Residual Noise & Detail: 70; Color Strength: 50; Defringe: 0
Sharpening – Strength: 50; Radius: 0.60; Noise Masking: 100
Notes – For the first time when adjusting an image with Photo Ninja I struggled to get a result I liked the look of. It was very difficult to retain any detail in the foreground rocks whilst injecting sufficient contrast in the background.

RAW Photo Processor

Tonal – Exposure: 1.20; Contrast: 20; Brightness: 55
Topaz Denoise – Strength: 0.00; Shadow: -0.67; Highlight: 0.00; Red: -0.67; Blue: -0.61; Clean Color: 0.11; Black Level: 1.00; Recover Detail: 0.21; Reduce Blur: 0.15; Add Grain: 0.10
FocusMagic – 1 pixel
Notes – After a little bit of head scratching about how best to approach RAW Photo Processor’s tools for this type of shot I actually found that they work well together and offer some very fine grained adjustment.


There are some quite clear differences in image quality here. Capture One Pro produces the most pleasing result for me, getting good detail across the image, but DXO and Photo Ninja are close behind (with the usual caveat about Photo Ninja’s noise reduction, particularly noticeable on the cliffs).

Whilst a little flat both RAW Photo Processor and Irident Developer manage to increase the contrast very well; Irident Developer’s noise reduction and sharpening algorithms work well, as do the third party ones on RAW Photo Processor’s rendition. Both produce a result that is optimal for subsequent editing.

As usual, Lightroom’s luminance noise reduction lets down its rendition and smears details, particularly in the cliffs, where it does a marginally worse job than Aperture. Maybe I didn’t find the right technique or settings in AfterShot Pro because it fails woefully to produce a useable image.

This discussion of low dynamic range completes our image analysis in our RAW converters comparison. We’ll turn now to a brief discussion of the additional features that each RAW converter offers the landscape photographer.

« 7. High Dynamic Range | 9. Additional Features »