Raw Converter Shootout Part #1

Conversion Speed and Initial Results

Introduction

Most cameras, and even phones, provide the option to shoot RAW images, rather than JPEGs. There are many advantages to this:

  • Significantly increased ‘bit depth’ that allows for far more image processing afterwards.
  • Better dynamic range with the ability to correct exposure (to some degree, at least)
  • Ability to adjust White Balance
  • The ability to make multiple versions (standard, black and white, ‘arty’ and so on) of an images without sacrificing any quality.

But there is a downside: to gain the above benefits, the RAW image has to be ‘processed’ using software on a computer/tablet.

Some cameras come with a RAW converter such as Canon’s DPP, but most users end up using a commercial alternative, especially one that fits in with their workflow.

This series of articles compares several of the most popular RAW converters. It can’t be comprehensive – I don’t have access to every converter.

These are the converters I will be testing:

I will be testing the following features of each converter:

  1. Basic RAW processing speed
  2. Basic RAW processing quality
  3. Camera Lens Corrections
  4. Post processing options
  5. Full RAW processing speed
  6. Full RAW processing quality
  7. Integration in your workflow.

I will be testing them on a Windows 7 PC, 64 bit, I3 chip with 16GB RAM. Not the fastest system but not terribly slow either.

This article deals with items 1 and 2 on this list.

The test image:

Original Image, no processing

I chose this image because it has a wide dynamic range and has a lot of detail in it. It was taken with a Samsung NX1 (28MP) with the well regarded NX 16-50mm f2-2.8 lens at 20MM, F8, ISO 400, 25 second exposure using a polarisar and a 10 stop ND filter.

1. Basic RAW Processing Speed

I measure this from the time I click ‘Process’ (or whatever it is called) in the relevant program. I do not include the time spent getting the image into the program as that is hard to measure and each program has its own way of doing it.

In each case I’m applying no extra options – no camera/lens corrections, no noise reduction, no sharpening, no colour or white balance adjustments.

Photolemur presents a challenge as it is a ‘one stop shop’ that does everything when you click ‘Done’. However, it does have the facility to produce a converted file without applying any of it’s extra processing, so that’s what I’ve done here.

The image is output as a 16 bit .TIF file and is saved to an SSD, so write to disk time should be negligible.

The timings

Here are the results of the basic processing time test:

Quite a wide range of results, with Lightroom the clear winner. I’ve included Photolemur here but I don’t think the result is a true reflection of its processing speed. It still went through all its smart image processing stages and then produced the final image without applying any! Clearly, it wasn’t designed for this sort of test and I suspect that, when I do the full processing conversion test, its processing time will be unchanged.

I wonder if Lightroom’s algorithm is actually so much faster that the others, or if it is pre-processing the images a bit and caching the results. I don’t know, but it always feels the fastest when I use it.

The Quality

As the images have had no processing of any kind other than turning a RAW into a TIF the results should be identical. But are they?

Here are each of the images, sized to fit the screen just as an overview.

Click the image to go full screen…

Raw Shootout 1 Results

Overview

Overview

Central rocks

Central rocks

Top Right

Top Right

Bottom Left Corner

Bottom Left Corner

Grassy Bank

Grassy Bank

Top Left

Top Left

Grasses

Grasses

Centre

Centre

The result so far:

Thus far, Lightroom is definitely the fastest of the RAW processors tested here. There aren’t many differences between the results at this stage, with both Luminar and Photolemur recovering more shadow detail (see the bottom left corner) than the others. I suspect these two converters use the same processing engine, as the results are so similar.

Detail wise, there is very little in it.

However, this is not the end of the story. Far from it. But thus far Lightroom has a definite speed advantage.

For part 2 click here

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