RAW converters: are they equal?
While I typically use Adobe Camera Raw (otherwise known as ACR, included with Photoshop) to process my RAW images, I’m always looking for other RAW conversion applications that may deliver higher quality or other improvements. There have been a number of RAW converter updates released recently, particularly Lightroom v3 beta, and CaptureOne v5, making a comparison very timely. LR3 beta contains a beta version of what will be the processing engine for LR3 and the next version of Photoshop/ACR, and there have been numerous improvements made to the program. While I did use CaptureOne a few years ago, I have never warmed up to the workflow or the look and feel of the images.
At this point I’m using Bibble 5 under Ubuntu (Linux), for photo organizing, such as culling images, keywording and other asset management tasks. Any images I select for processing are then processed under ACR in an XP VM. While it’s not the most ideal solution, Lightroom does not run natively under Linux, and although it does offer excellent RAW conversions, there are significant performance advantages to running Bibble, both due to its architectural speed advantages, but also by running it natively and not in a resource-constrained VM.
Without further ado, here are some samples of an image processed in various converters, using the default settings.
While CaptureOne has great detail extraction, it’s noise handling is not as visually appealing with lots of fine grain; while perhaps not that apparent in this photo it’s my experience in general. Bibble 5 offers good conversion, but needs more tweaking to get similar looking images to the other converters, and exposure and levels can initially be quite off. LR3 has more pleasing noise characteristics and delivers warmer tones using the default (as shot) WB setting. Canon’s DPP offers excellent RAW conversion, as one would expect from manufacturer supplied software. The workflow is clunky enough with fewer adjustment options that I don’t even see DPP as a viable competitor.
I haven’t decided which program I will use for my 7D images, though it will likely be ACR. The image quality is lacking at this point with the beta profiles, so for the time being Canon DPP or CaptureOne 5 would be better options. I’m still enjoying the 7D, and it’s easily the most impressive crop body I’ve used so far. One thing I’ve really noticed is the faster card write speeds, and even when shooting in L-JPEG + RAW I didn’t run into the small 6 shot buffer limit too often. Even though I was using a non-UDMA Sandisk Extreme III card, the large 18MP images were still dumped to the card very quickly. By comparison, on the 1D III I would often fill the 30 shot RAW buffer and then wait a considerable amount of time for it to clear. The 1D IV will be even better in this regard, offering a 10% larger buffer than the 1D III, which is much larger than the 7D’s, while writing at similar speeds as the 7D.