Feedback, please: Adobe raw processing vs. others

Competition is a great thing, and over the last few years photographers have benefitted as numerous companies sought to make their raw image processing tools. Various apps have leapfrogged one another, making it possible to extract better image quality even from existing cameras.

Comparing quality can be tricky. To some extent it’s subjective (“I prefer skin tone A to skin tone B”), and it’s influenced by default values (i.e. the starting point each app chooses) and user familiarity (“I personally am able to get better results in X than in Y”). Add to that a possible lack of awareness of the power enabled by the DNG Profile Editor.

Over the years I’ve heard fans of Capture One tout the image conversion quality possible in that app. Unfortunately, I’ve always found it difficult to get any actual, concrete demonstrations of what they’re talking about. Lately a number of people (all using fake email addresses, oddly enough) have commented here about how C1 produces “better quality,” yet none of them have been able to back up their claims.

So, I ask–not to pick fights, not to start any holy wars, but out of constructive curiosity: Are you getting better results with a raw image processor besides Camera Raw or Lightroom*, and if so, are you willing to share your images (raw & processed) so that we can see exactly what you like/dislike? This sort of concrete data is precisely what we need in order to keep making progress. If you’re interested in participating, please add a comment or drop me a line.



* The Lightroom 3 beta includes an improved demosaicing algorithm, so it’s the best basis for comparison.

88 thoughts on “Feedback, please: Adobe raw processing vs. others

  1. I wrote a post about Lightroom vs DxO vs Capture One (see — it’s a bit old but many things still hold true. It also includes pics and details.
    Overall, I find the lens correction features that are present in DxO an absolute must for Lightroom, especially when dealing with architectural shots. Purple fringing reduction is also much more effective in DxO.
    On the other hand, I love the new demosaicing in LR3, compared to Capture One 4 and DxO 5 (I haven’t compared yet to DxO 6 or C1 5).
    Personally, I could never get superior results from C1; it was always LR or DxO for me…

  2. I find DXO (5.35) to have a superior Demosaicing, Noise Reduction, Sharpenning (I guess based on the measured PSF of the Lens) and Optical Corrections compared to ACR (5.4) / Lightroom (2.5).
    Haven’t tried Lightroom 3 Beta though.
    If you enhanced the 2 ways Demosaicing and even applied Pre Demosaicing NR it would be great. I wish you published more background data about the improvements.
    I’ll try to find examples I can share and send it over.

  3. ….(all using fake email addresses, oddly enough)….
    what´s oddly in avoiding to get spammed?
    why would you have my email adress at all?
    i never give away my email when i don´t have to.

  4. If I can’t “get” a fabulous image from LR (or Aperture or Photoshop itself) I usually figure it’s because I (“me”) got the exposure or whatever wrong in the camera.
    LR (the Adobe product you care most about) does a good job with reducing noise/grain in underexposed mages, but I was impressed by Armand’s link above with the stained glass window (DXO). Although so far, LR’s combination of Fill Light, Exposure etc. does fine.
    Plus, yeah, if Lightroom is a photo-correcting app, why no keystone/distortion mechanism? Your day job (Photoshop) has it. And, I’m one of those people who would actually like more DAM… the Library should be more of a Library that supports ALL of XMP. Why all the fuss in v3 about “import”? How was v2’s import difficult for anyone?

  5. Besides Lightroom/ACR I’ve only used Capture NX and, frankly, couldn’t see any real difference in the processing from either. Lightroom works and is easier for me to use so I dumped NX and haven’t missed it.

  6. For bulk work I always use Bridge/ACR, due to its superior workflow –and I have to say, since version 5, ACR’s color rendition has improved dramatically. However, when perfect skin tones (and contrast) and overall color accuracy are critical, I still have to go to C1.
    I’ll see if I can dig up an image I can share, but right now I can only congratulate you on wanting feedback on this critical issue.
    If for the next version of ACR you can manage to improve it as much as you did from 4 to 5, I can easily see you leaving C1 in the dustbin. Kudos and good luck.

  7. I’ve been a huge fan of Aperture since it was first release and recently gave the Lightroom 3 beta a shot. I was actually a bit shocked how much detail Lightroom was able to pull from my 5D mk ii raws and how film-like the rendering was. I would rate its quality as being noticeably better than Aperture’s. As Apple appear to have abandoned Aperture or at least are giving no information from which to base any decisions in their favor on, Lightroom 3 is looking very attractive to me.

  8. DxO’s lens correction seems like a significant advantage over ACR. I’m really hoping LR 3 will have this feature by the time of final release. It’s the only “must-have” upgrade feature I can think of that would be comparable to LR 2’s local adjustments.
    [One never knows… –J.]
    To hit it out of the park, use the field of view information to calculate pitch and yaw perspective transformations. PS could really use this, too: distort free transform gives too many degrees of freedom and perspective loses width:height ratios…probably a way to do this with the 3D extended features, but it’s not easy to figure out.

  9. I have been using LR since the first beta … but have always heard great things about Capture One.
    I downloaded both trials – C1 5 and LR 3 and did about 25 different RAW conversions. I could see no meaningful differences and can say I’m happy to stick with LR and can’t wait for LR 3’s official release.

  10. what reactions do you expect on a “adobe site”`?
    i expect that most people who come here are LR users.
    most are fanboys who know how to use LR but have no clue about the powers of C1 or aperture or dxo….
    [Thanks for impugning the experience and objectivity of my readers, about whom you have no information. –J.]
    so if you really want to know what users think you better ask on some “neutral” ground like dpreview.
    there are all kind of users (nikon, canon, sony, LR, C1, silkypix, aperture, pentax, leica….).
    [I’m asking you. –J.]

  11. Nikon Capture NX has the black and white point settings. The black point has been very useful. I have a recent image of a stage performance with very yellow lighting that was hard to get the skin tones at all OK. With NX I was able to set a black point on the black part of the microphone and that fixed it. With Lightroom I couldn’t get a white balance that wouldn’t leave a colour cast.

  12. if your to dumb to do WB with LR it´s not adobes fault!!
    that said i think capture one has better sharpening and demosaicing.
    [Can you provide an example of what you like? That’s what I’m asking for (and have been asking for, and have not been getting). Thanks. –J.]

  13. we all were able to see how many times DPReview were forced to use C1 instead of LR/ACR
    [Where, specifically? –J.]
    because of the excellent code you (Adobe developers that is) put there – so J, why don’t you put your own house in order before calling anybody out 🙂
    [You know who I’m calling out, Denis? People who make assertions without providing evidence. That’s what you’re doing here. It would be great if you’d be constructive in backing up your assertions with specific, measurable data. –J.]

  14. hey instead of asking other to show you something.
    what about YOU showing that LR is able to get the same results as C1?
    post a few difficult images and process them with LR. im sure you will find a few who use C1 and show you the differences in the shadows and highlights.

  15. hell we could make this a competition.
    i will post your question on any photography site that you challenged the capture one user.
    [Great. –J.]
    now we only need a few good examples from you. im sure you know what stresses a RAW converter most!
    [I’m not the one who’s been making the assertions. And unlike you and so many who *have* made those assertions, I’m using my actual name and contact info. –J.]

  16. “With Lightroom I couldn’t get a white balance that wouldn’t leave a colour cast.”
    Speaking of white balance, why can’t I use an area sample for white balance in Lightroom?

  17. This is very interesting for me, as I recently did a pretty thorough comparison between ACR, Aperture and C1. This was done with Mrk lll files (which is what most of my clients shoot) and some D300 and D3x files. As far as i can tell, ACR is the clear winner overall. I’ve heard a lot of good about C1, and I was disappointed. I find C1 to be sluggish and cumbersome and I simply wasn’t able to get as good sharpening and demosaicing as I can with ACR (exactly contrary to what Hugh posted). Maybe it has a lot to do with what you’re used to, but I’ve also noticed that a lot of great but not so tech savy photographers tend to jump to conclusions based on marketing hype and expectations and not on actual testing. So if a specialized high end company like Phase One makes a piece of software, it “must” be great and better than Adobes “standard” converter.
    This might hold true when used with Phase One files but in my opinion in no way when using Canon or Nikon files.
    If you REALLY KNOW how to tweak the software (which a lot of users really don’t) you can get great results from all the converters out there but personally, as someone who makes a living delivering to a clientel of very picky photographers, I’ve found no reason to switch from a great converter and a speedy workflow to a much more cumbersome solution that doesn’t deliver on the quality.

  18. Oh yeah – One more thing …
    WHEN will we get the option of proper CM tools in ACR ? Like, setting proofs and gamut warnings with diff profiles? The colorpicker tool is pretty useless when I can get numbers for a specific CMYK profiles, and as I do more and more in ACR and less and less in PS, this is seriously slowing my workflow. Sorry, John, just my pet problem with ACR!

  19. i wonder if mr. madsen will be asked for proof too, that LR is the clear winner.
    or if this goes unquestioned…. 😀

  20. [I find C1 to be sluggish and cumbersome and I simply wasn’t able to get as good sharpening and demosaicing as I can with ACR (exactly contrary to what Hugh posted).]
    john asked for exapmples. if you have done such a great deal of testing lately then why not posting it here?

  21. if your to dumb to do WB with LR it´s not adobes fault!!
    I cannot allow people who write so poorly to call other people “dumb.”
    First, capitalize the sentence. Then change “your” to “you’re.” Then add an “o” to the first “to.” Finally, capitalize and add an apostrophe to “adobes” so that it looks like this: “Adobe’s.”
    I have French friends who write better English!

  22. Hi John,
    I should be able to send you something, just need to find a bit of time.
    My compaints with LR in the past were about:
    – poor comprise between pixel sharpness (demoisaicing and sharpening) and noise. Specifically in terms of rendering of fine details/textures and overall crispiness of the files when looked at 100% on screen,
    – average colors with my Nikon bodies (Canon files were handled much better is seems).
    I did indeed find C1 Pro 4.8 and Raw developper to do better job on both of these accounts.
    My first experiments with LR3 show that is has mostly caught up and differences do now appear to be smaller. Is that going to be good enough for me to spend money on LR3? Not sure since I am very happy with C1 Pro 5.0 that I have just upgraded to.
    My fundamental problem with LR though is that my DAM solution will have to be able to deal with different raw conversion engines because, raw conversion being a domain where the entry barrier is very low, we can expect new entrants to keep pushing the limit, and I will want to convert my images stored in a DAM with these.
    Although LR3 seems to have improved significantly in terms of detail/sharpening compromise, I don’t believe that it will stay on top for years to come.
    So the DAM capability of LR is good, but I have a hard time forcing myself to commit my files to a solution that is mostly closed in terms of conversion engine.
    If I don’t use the keywording, then the need to import images in the DB of LR has no value for me and becomes more of a deterent.
    Anyway, all things considered, it is great to see that Adobe keeps investing heavily in this and that you are so open to the voice of your customers! 🙂

  23. To Yang and others…
    Maybe I wasn’t specific enough – First off : Do your own testing with your own files and pick the tools that’s right for you… With that said I did the testing coz i was curious whether I was missing out on quality using ACR. My conclusion is that using MY files (using top of the line small format SLRs ) there was neglible differences between the converters – in fact I found that C1 fared SLIGHTLY worse in terms of demosaicing where I saw small areas of weird luminance noise in the C1 processed files. NO BIG DEAL ! But for me, no need to switch to what I regard as a cumbersome and sluggish tool when there are zero advantages (right now) of doing so.
    I see a lot of pros and students alike everyday engaged in what I regard as a futile search for an elusive “silver bullet” or “make great button” and they have a tendency to gravitate towards new exciting, “exotic” tools that might perform 0.1 % better than what there currently using. Mostly, they’d better off learning how too use the tools at hand. But again, use whatever suits you… A lot of photographers have a great workflow going using C1 or Flexcolor or Aperture or Lightroom or whatever … Just don’t believe everything you read or hear – there’s so much marketing bull**** and rumors and fairytales out there…

  24. John,
    First, let’s get this out of the way:
    I don’t think this question can be answered objectively or definitively. Many of the attributes described in the arguments so far are questions of habit or taste. You could be asking “Kodak, Agfa, or Fuji?”, for all that’s worth. Most of the programs mentioned do their job effectively or they wouldn’t be in the same discussion. They do it in different ways, with different effect and different artifacts. To that extent this is the land of holy wars and there is no argument that can be made to convince a true believer, or chronic complainer, for that matter, to give up their cause.
    I think you would be much better off finding out how or why people come to have particular preferences rather than asking them what is best. It’s also important to understand what they are using the programs to do and how they are using the resulting photos. Portraits, landscapes, events, news, wild life, scientific photography? Family albums, art books, magazines, billboards, web publishing? Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony?
    What is the user’s expectation of a raw conversion program? Is that even the portion of the program that they are addressing when they comment or compare programs?
    Now, to your question:
    Capture NX does an exceptional job with Nikon proprietary files, but what else would you expect? I used Capture NX as my PS front-end until Lightroom came along and because of LR’s features and PS integration I migrated to it.
    I have become habituated to the LR raw interface and rarely use the ACR UI in PS. Why? Because I’m used to it.
    When I want to get the absolute best out of NEF file, especially if it is going to be a large or highly detailed print, I run it through Capture NX. The results just seem a little cleaner. Do I have empirical evidence? Not really, but it works for me. Do I use it often? Maybe once a month. I use LR2 nearly every day and virtually every photo I take passes through LR2.
    Which brings me to LR3. I pulled it down the day it was released and used it for a few days with pretty good results. But not always the results I expected. Underneath the familiar interface is a different beast altogether. It seems to have better definition and noise tolerance, and the colors appear a bit smoother. Overall, the same pictures look better in LR3 than in LR2, while within their native processing environment.
    But some odd things may happen when I take the files into PS4 as a PSD or jpeg file and begin editing them. High ISO images will show an enormous amount of illuminance noise (duh!, NR isn’t in there for that yet, which may be why grain is a “feature”) while intricate colorful images will take on a somewhat smudgy appearance when enlarged, while others will be just fine.
    I’ve also taken some previously marginal older raw files and put them through LR3 and resurrected them. I don’t know why, but it works much better on some files than others. (This “unpredictability” is also somewhat subjective at this point I haven’t traced exposure details specific files. )
    The question, ultimately, is whether I am getting what I want out of a raw conversion program: its ease of use and its adaptability to how I work and what I want to ultimately create.
    P.S.- As bizarre as it may seem, I have found LR3 to be very good for fine tuning files that I have already run through raw conversion in LR2 or Capture NX and PS4. PSD’s and jpegs really benefit from the develop module in LR3. I haven’t put my finger on it yet but something seems very different about the feel of the develop module. At what poit will LR3 and PS be truly synched?

  25. We use CaptureOne to process our p30+ RAW files. CPOne does a superior job accessing all the data in the phaseOne Raw Files. I’m sure i can get close to the same in ACR but it would take a lot more work and never looks quite as good. For any other (nikon, cannon, etc) i use ACR and Lightroom (mostly lightroom now that i’m addicted.)

  26. DxO kicks ass. The DxO raw converter doesn’t add weird mosaic patterns and does a better job in NR and sharpening.
    [Again–and I’m trying to be really clear here–I’m not looking for assertions, I’m looking for demonstrations. Everything else is just a bunch of hand-waving. –J.]
    And the lens correction is obviously superior to anything Adobe has to offer this far.
    But it’s really more than that. I mean, who’s idea was it to pre-release a not-ready-for-primetime 7D raw converter in ACR 5.5/LR 2.5? It’d be one thing to have a beta (or even alpha) with pseudo-support for the 7D, but to roll that *half-baked* into the production releases? REALLY?

  27. Hey John, sorry to answer a question with a question, but can you tell me how can DNG be taken seriously when Adobe has yet release a x64 version of the codec? The community have been really patient, but every time this question comes up in the forums or on Adobe’s blogs like this one, all we get is “it is coming”. meanwhile we are approaching 2 years since the original x86 beta release on the Adobe Labs. Pretty disappointing considering that a “2 men” company (Ardfry Imaging) is selling a x64 DNG codec since 2007.

  28. I normally use LR. I tried all the players out there withexception of raw developer. If I need the most detail, I use Raw Therapee.

  29. In my work-flow I use mainly LR, and PS only for the pictures that need special treatment. I haven’t tried other RAW converters because I like the LR work-flow and ease of use, and the quality has been good enough.
    However, for one reason I have to process part of my pictures in Capture NX, and that is when I photograph infra-red pictures with my Nikon D50. The LR and ACR don’t respect the “Shot as” colour balance, but makes the picture all red. It would make mine (and other IR photographers’) life much easier if LR/ACR would respect the original colour balance by allowing lower colour temperatures like Capture does.

  30. Responding to my own post: it seems like I should be able to do a custom camera profile with DNG Profile Editor to get my IR shots behaving well – I need to do some experimenting this week.

  31. My comment is mostly in regards to Phase One files, specifically from the p45+. Much like a previous comment, I simply cannot get the same result with Lightroom. Fine tuning of skin tones in preparation for very large scale hi-res printing is impossible for me in LR and I always have to resort to Capture One. As for DSLR files, I cannot fault it. I do not like the sharpening default however. The key difference is in shadow details for me and this is really only an issue if your going to present this detail (extreme cropping or large prints, greater than A1). And I assume that for most people it is never revealed. So again… a small vocal minority? Most comparative reviews I have seen, show subtle differences. So why do I prefer Capture One for Phase One files? Certainly in my workflow, using Lightroom did not work once I entered CMYK world and proofing.

  32. …….First off : Do your own testing with your own files and pick the tools that’s right for you…
    oh….. another dumbo….
    maybe john was not clear enough.
    he don´t asl for your OPINIONS he asked for EXAMPLES.
    are you all to stupid to get that?
    so stop your stupid blahblah and show us examples. nobody wants to read your stupid OPINIONS here!!!

  33. well im from poland….
    and im sure that a middle class public school boy like you doesn´t even know where poland is on a map… not to mention that you can speak another language then english… oh you can be proud of that!!
    because of your low IQ (of most americans) we other people speak english..

  34. Also ich denke das LR sicherlich seine Vorzüge hat was die Dateiverwaltung angeht.
    Was die Bildqualität betrifft denke ich, das C1 hier einen leichten Vorsprung hat.
    Besonders sieht man das bei dichtem Blätterwerk.
    Vielleicht liegt es auch an mir, aber ich bekomme mit C1 grundsätzlich mehr Details im Blätterwerk angezeigt als mit LR.
    Mit LR wirkt das oft sehr verwaschen und matschig wo bei C1 noch Details zu erkennen sind.
    Da ich hauptsächlich Landschaften fotographiere ist mir das sehr wichtig.
    Beispiele braucht man da kaum geben, da es bei mir grundsätzlich der Fall ist.
    Eure eigene Fotos sollten das also auch zeigen.

  35. I don’t really compare ACR to capture one, I do join the other about Lens correction from DxO.
    But what I REALLY want is to be able to play with the curves on the local adjustement basis (as well as hue/saturation/luminance). For post processing it would be fantastic.

  36. When I first started photography I shot JPGs and sent them straight to Photoshop which was more than enough at the time. When I took my photography up a notch, I quickly realized the advantage of shooting RAW. At the time I only had Lightroom (first version) to convert my photos. I learned about DXO from my father who beta tested for them, and was so impressed with the results that I switched definitely to DXO for all my serious RAW converting.
    I use both Lightroom and DXO in quite an odd workflow. I use Lightroom for all the cataloging, and then export only the best photos to convert with DXO, and then finish them off in Photoshop. It’s quite a cumbersome workflow, but by using each software only for what I think they’re best at, I believe I get the best results possible; I would never trade quality for efficiency.
    DXO is amazing and superior to Lightroom in RAW converting IMHO for the following reasons :
    – DXO does an excellent job of reducing the noise (the best with Imagenomic’s Noiseware), leaving you with a beautiful film grain-like noise if you decide to reduce the settings of the tool in question.
    – DXO automatically and accurately corrects for all of the following : Softness of Corners, Chromatic Aberrations, Lens Distortions, Color Shifts, and Vignetting.
    – DXO has amazing color options such as the film packs which accurately mimic film-looks based on lab tests each films’s colors and contrast over thousand of rolls of films to be as accurate as humanly possible.
    – It also features one amazing tool that I have never seen in other softwares, Volume Anamorphosis. Which will automatically correct human features distortions caused by wide-angle lenses (but not in the same way as a regular lens distortion correction). You have to try it to see what I’m talking about, it is simply amazing !
    – Also DXO’s Lighting tool is most amazing, it is somewhat the equivalent of the Fill Light tool in ACR, but is way more comprehensive (lets you set six different options for the tool alone such as Gamma, Black and White points, Local and Global Contrast…), it is more realistic, and simply gives much better results than ACR’s Fill Light, even with default settings.
    I trust DXO for all of my professional work, and it has never let me down.
    All other photographers I’ve shown it to where amazed and most of them have added it to their workflows.
    If you want to visualize what I’m talking about, just check out their website :
    Unfortunately DXO is not the most user friendly software and doesn’t provide the most efficient workflow compared to Lightroom.
    Lightroom has pros and cons over DXO, for example DXO is quite slow to process photos (about a minute per shots for a 50D’s raw on my MBP 15″ 2.6Ghz C2D with 4Gb of Ram). Lightroom is far more user friendly and has simply the best workflows of the market (that’s why I still use it for all my Cataloging needs), but it’s image quality is IMHO incomparable to DXO’s.
    Here’s an idea, DXO’s a small and resource-limited french company, have Adobe take them over, and merge their outstanding technology in ACR and Lightroom !
    Here are my two cent, and I’m really glad to have the ability to share some feedback here !

  37. another handicaped guy who has not understood that john asked for EXAMPLES for not 3 pages of personal opinions…

  38. John’s request reflects humility and will to cooperate.
    I’d like to share some of my opinions upon RAW processing, however I should come back as soon as luminance control for noise reduction is reality on LR2. As Nikon shooter I always thought Capture NX to be better because of the “grain” on Hi-ISO and shadows. I felt ACR to be to messy, full of “tiny worms”, or vermicelli as I’m used to call them in italian.
    LR3 is way better as anticipated. I’ll try to figure out where some artifacts are still present on LR3 and where not.
    I agree with the fact that is most of all a manner of taste. I never found two RAW processing engines with similar color rendering, however with DNG Profile Editor we can actually customize color the way we want.
    In conclusion I think everything is reduced on how grain is presented and how artifacts or aberrations are automatically adjusted.

  39. …..I’d like to share some of my opinions upon RAW processing….
    he did nopt aks for your opinions.. he asked for EXAMPLES… IMAGES!!!!

  40. Ok. DXO produces the best quality images of any raw program on the market today. Its automated correction features based on camera and lens just can’t be beat.
    However, that is also one of the things that kills it. They offer few lenses for most cameras, they are slower than honey in a snow storm at adding more. Once a camera has been replaced you can forget about new lens support. If your not Nikon and Canon you are treated like a third class citizen. If your lens isn’t supported but your camera is without the automated correction they suck because they don’t allow manual access to those correction features so you can adjust the stuff yourself.
    Oh and they have one of the worst interfaces.
    All of that being said I still use Adobe. First off I like the Adobe interface better. It isn’t perfect but seems to be more logical.
    Second, Adobe while slow at seems to be a lot more interested in improving things. You offer more camera support faster than anyone else and while you are much slower at it you are slowly improving the raw processing under the hood.
    Where I have my biggest complaint about Adobe is they lack of quality noise reduction (since LR 3 beta doesn’t allow us to use the supposed new NR I have decided not to hold my breath with LR3 either), the lens correction features are next to non-exisitant (no distortion correction and if what is in Photoshop is any indication it would pretty much suck anyways) there is no support for plug-ins at the raw data processing level. I choose to shoot raw for a reason I don’t want to have to convert to bitmap to do something and frankly shouldn’t have to.
    The LR interface isn’t bad but we need to be able to move and rearrange the palettes and it needs true dual monitor support.
    It could also do a better job with Sony cameras.
    Now all of this being said I will still use Adobe over anything else (at least at this time) and just hope and pray that Adobe and the people making the decision there will wake up and do what the paying customers want and need, though based on requests for things in Photoshop that have gone unanswered and some of the poor choices made in Photoshop that have went uncorrected (like the godawful filter gallery, outdated filters, no logic processing in actions, no way to save and other options for using history, etc.) I am not holding my breath there either.
    In the end I have resigned myself to the fact that A) Adobe does whatever it wants. B) When it does listen it usually chooses to listen to people like Scott Kelby and his pack of people as well as a few others that seem to be lucky enough to have Adobe’s ear. I find very seldom does Adobe act on what the small unknowns users want, need or desire. Of course I am sure Adobe denies this, but the proof is in the the products. I have used Photoshop, LR and ACR long enough and have been around the various forums long enough to know what the popular requests are and given that I don’t see them happening is proof enough for me.
    This I am sure makes my unpopular, but I am not running for a popularity prize.
    The other thing I do know is that as Adobe layers more and more stuff over the old things that are there Photoshop is quickly becoming a bloated confusing mess. It is high time that Adobe removes some of the old trash. Things like being able to apply image adjustments (levels, curves, etc.) in a destructive manner. It is time to use adjustment layers and smart objects.
    Photoshop needs to be cleaned out and streamlined so that as new technologies (some of which have been pointed out on this blog) become available for public consumption Photoshop is in better shape to really makes those technologies something special instead of seeming moore like plaster over holes.

  41. where are yours?
    He would get a bunch of examples if he would provide raw files (at best perfectly sharp + at different ISO)…

  42. —[Ok. DXO produces the best quality images of any raw program on the market today. Its automated correction features based on camera and lens just can’t be beat…]—-
    what a stupid nonsense!
    everyone with a clue knows that raw therapee has the best image quality.
    [I’m not really interested in either assertion. I’m interested in seeing comparison images. –J.]

  43. RawTherapee has 2 main advatnges over LR:
    1) color propagation on highlights, very useful for blown out human faces;
    2) better moire control.

  44. All John asks for is some sample images and specifics as to where/how non-Adobe tools are doing RAW better, and it turns into this 2nd grade schoolyard level debate. You Capture One developers are giving real photographers a bad name! John, I guess this means that aside from the holy war factor, you guys are doing alright!

  45. > All John asks for is
    “…For our usual tests, we use Adobe Camera Raw for our RAW tests, however, as part of our normal reviewing process we discovered that ACR simply wasn’t getting the detail we’d expect out of the E-30 files (we always compare at least three raw converters before we start this section). When we compared ACR’s output to Olympus’s own converter and Capture One the results were more different than we’d expect (ACR usually does very well in the resolution test).
    Athough the most recent version of ACR offers support for the E-30, it does not appear to be producing the sort of quality we would expect to see – specifically it’s resolution is actually lower than JPEG (probably not something you’d see in a print, but it would be very unfair to the E-30 to use it for pixel-level comparisons). We contacted the ACR team at Adobe and they acknowledged the rather sub-optimal resolution results for the E-30 in ACR 5.3 (it wll be fixed later). As a result, we have taken the unusual step of offering preliminary comparisons based on a different RAW converter….”
    I have to repeat that here.

  46. The empirical evidence is there for all to see…
    Lightroom 3 will be Adobe golden boy… Whether you like it or not! Lightroom with become the industry standard in digital photography just like big brother Photoshop….

  47. capture one has the better image quality then lightroom… anyone with eyes can see that.
    no need for examples.
    [No need for eyes either, then, I guess. –J.]
    [Update: Oh, and what do you know, this comment came from yet another fake email address. Worthless. –J.]

  48. I have to disagree.
    While C1 is better then Lightroom i think the best is DxO.
    Most real pros i know in Spain using DxO.
    LR is for the amateurs with consumer Cameras.
    And it is good enough for consumer cameras!!
    [Reading comprehension fail. –J.]

  49. Seem like there are less intelligent people in this world:)
    Let me quote the writer of this blog; Are you getting better results with a raw image processor besides Camera Raw or Lightroom*, and if so, are you willing to share your images (raw & processed) so that we can see exactly what you like/dislike? This sort of concrete data is precisely what we need in order to keep making progress.
    The Lightroom 3 beta includes an improved demosaicing algorithm, so it’s the best basis for comparison.
    I don’t use Capture One.
    I don’t use DXO.
    I don’t use Raw Therapee.
    I use Lightroom.
    So are you willing to share your images (raw & processed) so that we can see exactly what you like/dislike? This sort of concrete data is precisely what we need in order to keep making progress.

  50. why the hell should we help the product manager of adobe for free?
    i should spend my time developing images with DxO and comparing them to LR…. for what?
    i have done that, that´s why i decided to use DxO.
    as long as adobe does not support older versions of photoshop with new ACR versions they can f**k off.
    greedy bastards….

  51. I’ve been doing some testing this evening and what I really like about C1 over LR is the starting point it gives me. The on screen preview is closer to the in camera thumbnail preview than what LR gives me.
    The skin tones of studio strobe lit shots in LR are always so way off for me.
    [Can you show us what you’re seeing? I hear, “The skin tones in C1 are better,” but what does “better” mean? Please, please, please–I’m asking for concrete data. Thanks. –J.]
    I don’t think much of the LR D700 profiles and find C1 does a much better job with my files. From there I go to PS for finishing my images.
    I want to use LR more because of the UI but the starting point is just not good enough for me yet. Maybe LR3 is better?

  52. Peter – How is providing the FREE DNG converter for support of new cameras in legacy versions of Photoshop/ACR greedy? In fact, DNG provides new camera support to 3rd apps that read DNG for FREE.

  53. It’s great that you are asking for input John. Now that LR3 beta is out I am having a tough time using LR2.5. The beta rendering is significantly better, and comparable to other converters I have tried: NX, Bibble and C1.
    To put my following comments in context I use LR as my main converter and luv the workflow.
    Where I see a difference is in localized adjustments. NX permits any edit to be localized. Bibble 5 will as well if it ever gets off the ground. The design of “channelized brushes” in LR does not seem to be a good design decision. Also the auto mask feature needs fine tuning – it leaves halos around high contrast edges and its behavior is hard to predict.
    Another area for improvement is the library, which only accepts jpg, tiff, psd, raw and now CMYK files. It is a part way DAM, but still requires the photographer to run another DAM to manage all their images. Bridge reads lots of files but has no database, so it is not a DAM either. I predict Adobe will continue to add files to LR as users protest, grudgingly, fighting each step. Has adobe thought this one through?
    I was enthusiastic about LR early because there was going to be an SDK, including options for third party rendering plugins. I do not see any progress here, just comments that this is difficult to do, and I find this is to be a serious point of concern. Adobe has some great engineers but I want to see competition and innovation. Please open up the rendering pipeline. By encouraging plugins you will be reducing the need to export to other products, breaking the parametric edit chain.
    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  54. I’ll add a couple of comments to an already crowded list of issues and answers. This discussion has been less about pure RAW image conversion and more about ensuite tools that — among other things — include RAW conversion. Lightroom, DxO, Capture One, and Aperture all have RAW converters, some element of DAM (some more, some less), metadata manipulation, and a slug of other stuff that’s really not related to RAW image conversion. Be that as it may, that’s the playing field, so that’s the discussion as I see it. So when I say “RAW converter,” what I mean is “one of the tools that has a RAW image conversion engine as part of its functionality.”
    First: What’s most important to me in a RAW converter:
    1. Stability. I really don’t give a cr@p how great DxO’s demosaicing is if they have memory leaks and the program just up and dies after a couple of images. This may seem like a cheap shot, but a glance at DxO’s own forums will reveal how difficult their last couple releases have been in terms of stability.
    2. Adheres to the principle of least surprise. I have a ton of muscle memory built up to drive Photoshop. Maybe you do too? It really pisses me off when software either invents keyboard shortcuts that are different from Photoshop or forgets all about keyboard shortcuts. DxO, C1, Aperture, etc. are all in this category. When I use a Mac, I expect keyboard shortcuts that make sense across all applications. When I use Windows, same deal. And by and large that’s true. Except for RAW conversion software.
    3. Doesn’t have insanely aggressive default settings. DxO looks mondo great until you look at how that greatness has been achieved. It’s at the expense of image quality — pixel stretching, discoloration, etc. C1 defaults to quite a bit more sharpening than is acceptable during RAW conversion for my application. To me, the snappiest looking RAW conversions were done with these aggressive settings and they just knocked my eyes out. Then I discovered that the image had been essentially post-processed. I can’t use eye candy for my monitor and neither can my buyers. I need an accurate, conservative conversion to use as a starting point.
    4. Flash-Gordon fast. If I shoot a good image on a 1DsMkIII, I should spend, like, 2 minutes and have it completely spotted and ready to ship. If I shoot a so-so image, I should spend 5 minutes and be ready to either go with it or scrap it. If I shoot a “project” image, then that’s my bad and I don’t expect my RAW converter to bail me out.
    With that stuff in mind, I find Adobe has the highest stability out there. Aperture and then C1 right behind. DxO is a remote 4th. This is derived just by counting crashes or inconvenient performance lags. That was my number 1 priority so both LR and ACR/Bridge or ACR/PS win on #1.
    The principle of least surprise item is a bit loaded in favor of Adobe because when it comes to tails wagging dogs and vice-versa, Photoshop is the dog. So anything not like Photoshop violates the POLS. Aperture is the worst violator of this, but C1 and DxO have been surprisingly inconsistent at following Adobe’s lead with respect to keyboard mapping. In some cases, simple tasks like zoom and move shortcuts have (for at least a release) been overlooked. I have two hands and like to use both.
    Aggressive default settings are really sexy, as I mentioned previously. They look great on the screen but they are so dangerous. Great looking images can be oversharpened, oversaturated, etc. This can seem like an increase in detail, but it is typically an increase in local contrast, which is destructive. Granted, some of this work needs to be done, but I want to drive it myself from a very conservative starting point. C1 is quite conservative in terms of saturation and contrast, but they’ve set their default sharpening too high. Aperture is pretty much on target (i.e., neutral), while DxO is a different beast altogether. I have a hard time getting anything out of DxO that’s not over-something’ed without spending a lot of time figuring out which of their features to disable. Yes, I know sensible defaults can be saved…but what’s the point of investing in the DxO feature set if you have to disable most of it to get usable images.
    Finally, speed. Adobe’s software can be a bit pokey at times — but it’s improving. Compared to the processing speed of DxO and C1, LR2 is very fast and the LR3 beta is even better. At this point, I’ve been assimilated into the LR/PS workflow, so I don’t constantly have to switch programs just to get one more tweak done.
    Just my $.02

  55. John!
    I’m a happy Lightroom user whose RAW is 16bit TIFF scans of my negatives (film). The thing that is glaringly missing for me is white point, grey point, black point eyedroppers to align the primary colour curves in a negative scan.
    Inability to align the ends and midpoints of the primary colour curves leads to colour casts that change from light areas of the image to dark areas. Gross corrections using the split toning tool are possible but it is neither automatic nor precise enough for careful work.
    Three eyedroppers would save me hours a week and give me much better results.
    Sorry if this is regarded as a “highjack” but I couldn’t resist the request for feedback.

  56. Although I used a Canon 10D for a few years (and a Nikon film camera before that), my main cameras now are two fringe Sigmas with Foveon sensors, so all of this talk about demosaicing doesn’t apply to my raw format at all. And while Lightroom’s Foveon support is good and welcome, I can in almost every instance achieve better image quality by using Sigma’s own proprietary raw converter, Sigma Photo Pro. So while I do use Lightroom to import and organize my raw files, I always process the raws in Sigma Photo Pro and bring in 16-bit TIFFs which I stack with the raws. So I guess what I’m saying here is that, in this big push to improve Lightroom’s raw decoding quality, I hope there’s a little energy left over for non-standard raw formats such as Foveon X3F which require special care. And if that’s too much to ask, it would be nice if I could at least round-trip my X3Fs from Lightroom to Sigma Photo Pro and save the TIFF directly into Lightroom so that I don’t have to constantly show in Finder, open, save, import, stack; show in Finder, open, save, import, stack; show in Finder, open, save, import, stack ad infinitum.

  57. Ironically, the feature Sam Agnew is asking for — white point, grey point and black point eyedroppers — is in Aperture. It really is critical for color correcting film scans, and their absence in Lightroom leaves a fairly large void for this sort of task.

  58. You know, as I sit here at 3:37 in the morning reading all these comments, I can’t help but wonder how long this raw chaos can go on. Every day more proprietary raw formats enter the market, with few vendors interested in standardizing on DNG (God bless Leica’s heart, though!), and every day the enormity of the raw support task facing Adobe and Apple etc. grows more and more daunting. Eventually it’s going to get to the point where it’s just too much. As the capacity of hard disks and camera flash cards becomes increasingly massive, I’m starting to hope, and even believe, that we’re going to start seeing 16-bit TIFF emerging as the camera “negative” format of choice, with demosaicing handled by the camera’s onboard circuitry.
    So I have a question: just how different is a raw file to a 16-bit TIFF, and are the benefits of manipulating a raw — e.g. tagging white balance etc — entirely the domain of raw, or could a 16-bit TIFF work just as well?

  59. My experience WITH an example:
    I have extensive experience with the Nikon D300, Nikon D40x, and Sony A700.
    I have had the same problem with all three:
    Wildly inaccurate color representation in Lightroom/Camera Raw, as compared to Capture One, especially with reds. Also, slight overexposure in Lightroom.
    The above crops were taken from photos processed with both Lightroom 3 and Capture One’s DEFAULT settings. No settings or edits were made, with the exception of the crop.
    Notice the more natural (although still ugly) skin tone in Capture One, and notice that the skin is more overexposed in Lightroom.
    Also, notice how in lightroom the skin takes on a much more reddish/yellowish cast, depending on the area you’re looking at.
    The hair does look a bit warmer and nicer in Lightroom, but that’s only because it looks a bit REDDER which just happens to work for this photo. 99% of the time its a “very bad thing”.
    I would say that on an average day, any images with a significant amount of skin tones, are basically *ruined* in Lightroom.

  60. John,
    I am right up the street from you in Los Altos. I have the latest build of C1 on my MacPro as well as the latest build of ACR. I invite you to come by my office and I can show you exactly why where I see C1 generates a better conversion from both a detail and color standpoint out of my Phase and Canon files. (I say color, though I agree *some* portions of color rendition are subjective — like skin. For example, it seems Adobe prefers really, really red skin, so if that’s you then you may not like C1’s out of the box skin rendering.) Oh, and this is a real email address! I’ll even spring for the sandwiches…

  61. Regardless of issues of interface,and perhaps sharpening (where ACR is the winner). The question is not about these issues – its about image QUALITY. What produces the best file.
    To my eye its absolutely clear that Capture One produces the best results. In two areas I can identify: Capture One produces better and more natural tonal shifts – this issue can be easily demonstrated by grayscaling a Capture One file versus and ACR file. Tonal relationships are more subtle, and have higher quality.
    ACR’s approach to color is also far cruder. Colors (hue values) seem to be split into flat ‘ranges’. Flesh tones particularly are quite obviously much cruder through ACR. Capture One on the other hand produces far more natural less ‘processed’ looking result.
    [Please show us what you’re talking about. Just writing up an opinion without data isn’t moving the conversation forward. (It’s frustrating to keep repeating that point.) Thanks. –J.]

  62. Ok fair request. I’ve made an attempt to ‘break apart’ the differences in these jpegs.
    The first is an easy to achieve Capture One process.
    The second is a much more difficult to achieve ACR process. (using point curves and very careful tweaking) in an attempt to even come close to what Capture One can achieve. A typical ACR process would be even worse than this.
    When I was talking about tonal relationships, – this image attempts to show the difference. Capture One seems to pull out better tonal definition always. This is done in a completely natural way and not processed looking like ‘clarity’ or ‘contrast’.
    These cannot be up for that long so please take them. Thanks

  63. Well I did attempt to provide this. But for some strange reason the jpegs I carefully made up and posted, have not appeared. Hmmm
    [Ah—was caught in my spam trap for some reason. Publishing now. –J.]

  64. My experience parallels what Marky has shown with his “Smile” image.
    C1 displays a greater openness and dimensional depth in the shadows and more elegant transitions in the mids and highlights. It’s subtle, but obvious. I’m working on my own set of examples to post.
    I’ve had limited success getting ACR to mimic the C1 “look” (both tonal and color) via the DNG Profile Editor.
    All of this said, I still use a Bridge/ACR/Photoshop workflow because of speed. But I covet that C1 look.

  65. Ok. It looks like Adobes RAW processing algorithm needs to be looked at from the ground up. Unfortunately no tweaking the interface and localized adjustments is going to patch this gap.
    So I humbly suggest that Adobe with their resources, try and commandeer whoever it was at Phase One who came up with their ‘extremely sophisticated and patented algorithm’ which they brag about.

  66. I haven’t tried LR3 Beta yet, so take these comments as being more relevant to LR2.5.
    I love LR (except for the existence of the pointless and political word ‘Photoshop’ in the program name), and have used it almost exclusively since version 1.0, and even prior to that. I did a shootout compared to Aperture at the time, and found the interface cleaner, the speed greater, and the two programs otherwise comparable.
    I haven’t regretted, but I do find the occasional need to jump to some other program for adjustments, including C1, NoiseWare and Photoshop CS4.
    Apart from the fact that many of sliders have too short ranges (such as the white balance sliders; why not be more generous with the range?), the primary weaknesses of LR2.5 were the white balance tools (I often found that even after clicking on a grey, there was a colour cast; this is not the case in C1), sharpening, noise reduction and detail from the demosaicing. I also found that I would like to have a stronger system of profiles, more like C1 or Aperture’s support for ICC profiles, more accessible to the user. The problem often is simply that the algorithms used don’t work that well with my cameras (Leica M8, Sinar eMotion e54 LV), or the ranges of the sliders are too short, and so although I can see the image improve, I hit the end of the slider before I get where I want to be.
    I have heard good things about LR3 w.r.t. noise reduction, which I will be sure to try out. I am reluctant to jump to LR3 Beta right now, since I am in the middle of reworking the structure of my library, but will upgrade when the final is released. I look forward to it.

  67. Here’s another example of Sigma Photo Pro doing better with an .x3f raw file than Lightroom:
    The Sigma Photo Pro version on the left preserves the yellow color information in the highlights of the flower’s petals, whereas Lightroom makes the petals look waxy. Also, the green leaves in the dark background look cleaner and greener in the Sigma Photo Pro version, while Lightroom makes them look somewhat dull and dirty.
    And let me say that I’m not trying to make the Lightroom image look worse. I really want it to look better so I can stop using SPP altogether.

  68. Re-posting* my first example of Sigma Photo Pro doing a better job with an .x3f raw file than Lightroom:
    Notice how the Sigma Photo Pro version on the left preserves the color information in the white areas of the cat’s face, while Lightroom loses it. Clearly the color information is in the raw file. So what’s happening to it in Lightroom? Is it clipped in the conversion to linear DNG?
    *Not sure why this didn’t post the first time. Maybe because I linked to a file (the DNG)?

  69. With the same WB setting, I get nicer skin tones straight out of C1Pro version 5 than I do straight from the LR3 beta. I’m a huge fan of LR for its file management, tagging and web gallery exporting functions, but I think C1 beats it out for skin, which unfortunately for me and my workflow, means I will have to use two RAW managers.
    I’d be happy to provide samples once I have the time and return to my studio computer. In short, LR3’s defaults render skin more washed out and yellow. I’m shooting with a Nikon D300 in 14 bit RAW.

  70. I have done innumerable head to head comparisons of LR2 vs. DxO 5.3. DxO’s IQ is superior, and in the case of lenses for which it has specific correction modules, it is WAAAY superior. A blind person could see the difference. Also, DxO’s geometric correction tools are great.
    LR wins in terms of localized edits and DAM, and I also prefer its color rendering for my camera. For this reason, I process in DxO with all color corrections disabled and then export DNGs to LR for fine tuning. But the best images end up in PS, where I use the Nik Suite extensively, so localized edits in LR are not truly essential to my workflow.
    I have recently been testing Capture One 5, and I am impressed by the detail, sharpness and color. LR3/ACR will have to make big improvements in IQ in order to stay in the game, as far as I am concerned.

  71. Used LR1 but changed to NX1 and then NX2 for better COLOR ACCURACY, COLOR HANDLING and COLOR APPEARANCE, especially when using recover highlights and fill light.
    Tried LR2.5 with camera profiles which seemed to do better but still not well. LR3 beta version seems much better for rendering colour. Also noise and sharpening seemed to do better.
    When sunset looks more like just one shade of orange instead of rich colors of red, yellow AND orange, it makes no sense using LR for rendering those images.

  72. Jim, Rob, heikkipekka. John asked for examples, not statements. If you really want ACR/LR to evolve, match or surpass those other raw conversion engines, please post the different results you get, and better, the raw files themselves…

  73. For decades, I seemed to be the only person who noticed that extreme wide angle lenses shift colors slightly at the edges. Most ultrawide lenses get a little cooler in the corners.
    I’m the only one who reports on in in lens tests, as I do in my report on the Nikon 14mm and my report on the Zeiss 21mm lenses.
    Lo and behold, yesterday I was learning how to use Phase One Capture One 5 PRO, and it has the ability to calibrate and correct for this problem! Heh heh, I have a few ideas of what I’m going to do with this.
    Phase One Capture One 5 PRO is software for professional use in converting raw files into final images. It is a few steps above Photoshop and amateur programs like Lightroom in being designed for exacting, ultra-high quality conversions.
    For $400, this software is a bargain, considering that it’s the same software real studio pros use with Phase One digital backs that can cost as much as a new Mercedes C-Klasse.

  74. For decades, I seemed to be the only person who noticed that extreme wide angle lenses shift colors slightly at the edges. Most ultrawide lenses get a little cooler in the corners.
    I’m the only one who reports on in in lens tests, as I do in my report on the Nikon 14mm and my report on the Zeiss 21mm lenses.
    Lo and behold, yesterday I was learning how to use Phase One Capture One 5 PRO, and it has the ability to calibrate and correct for this problem! Heh heh, I have a few ideas of what I’m going to do with this.
    Phase One Capture One 5 PRO is software for professional use in converting raw files into final images. It is a few steps above Photoshop and amateur programs like Lightroom in being designed for exacting, ultra-high quality conversions.
    For $400, this software is a bargain, considering that it’s the same software real studio pros use with Phase One digital backs that can cost as much as a new Mercedes C-Klasse.

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