FrankF asked if I could write up something about processing X-Trans raw files, noting that his usual adjustments for NEF files didn’t work with RAF files.
Straight off, and despite much dismissive hand waving by those who would use Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw to process their files regardless of any opinion as to the quality of the end result for X-Trans files, I can only say that I’ve tried ACR at every update until CC Rent-a Shop came into play and the results, while tinkered with substantially about the edge, were still nowhere near as good as processors using Dave Coffin’s dcraw algorithms for the X-Trans demosaic.
So the following will not be for Adobe users as I don’t use LR/ACR for X-Trans. Ever.
As Frank uses Photo Ninja (as do I), I’ll run through what I do to convert X-Trans raw files using that program. This is just how I use it, I'm not suggesting it is gospel. I really like the results I get this way, so I guess that's what really matters to me - your needs might vary.
For whatever reason the folk at PN did individualise their program by assigning names to sliders that are not common in their effect to more conventionally consistent names in other makers’ programs. This isn’t really a problem once familiarity is gained, but can be confusing at first.
Here’s the image I used as Photo Ninja presented it straight from the demosaic. I used this image because it has fine detail, the highlights are overexposed, and there are many fine and small colour gradations - plus the folder was open on the computer anyway . As a photograph it isn’t anything much, but as a taxing of the demosaic it perhaps is.
The following is how I have found it best to use the controls - this might differ from any “official” instructions, but hey, whatever works....
Note that when you're working in any panel, clicking on the ◄► icon under the sliders (highlighted in screen grab below)will show the unprocessed image, releasing will show the processed image concerning that panel. After exiting one of the control panels for the overall menu, clicking on them will show the unprocessed image, releasing will show the processed image including all panels adjusted so far. So at any time you can flick back and forward between processed states without having to hunt all over the screen for a preview box to tick or un-tick.
Here’s a screen grab at 100% of the image as opened, along with clipped highlight indicators:
So here’s the PN controls panel as it has opened an un-worked image with default settings:
Starting at the top, and the first hurdle which had me stumped for a long time when I first used this current version of PN (and which took an email to PN support to get an answer) is the “Color correction” menu.
Misleading, because in it is the slider that controls what everyone else calls "Highlight recovery" but has been called “Color recovery” in PN. Further confusion is caused by the fact that its default setting is strength 100. At this setting PN will fill any blown highlights with an aggregate colour from the surrounding un-blown area, which can sometimes look awful, even taking on a solarised appearance.
The Color correction panel:
I have changed that default number to 50 in my prefs, which I find a better overall beginning setting for my files, but that might vary according to your shooting style. Whatever, it is something to be aware of.
On the whole PN and Fuji together seem to do a good job on colour balance, but if there’s a lot of green in shot you’ll probably have to do a custom WB and knock excessive magenta compensation out of the default. I didn't mess with WB in this case, though, although it could be improved a bit I suppose. For comparison purposes I also thought a constant WB might be more useful. I would have warmed it up, although in this case the cool tone serves to locate the scene on the cusp of winter during a cold (6°C) day rather effectively.
Next in the main panel is the primary adjustment menu - “Exposure and detail”.
These are the settings it opened the sample image with:
As can be seen, there’s a bit going on at the right of the histogram that’ll need hauling into line (clipped highlights indicated with the red line).
The first thing to keep in mind is to try to work from the top down in this panel. The Illumination and Exposure offset sliders directly affect one another and should be worked in concert, keeping an eye on the highlight clipping indication in the preview image as well as watching the histogram. In this case in order to haul the highlights back it will be necessary to further reduce Exposure, then return the image to its original overall brightness with the Illumination slider. (If the image is underexposed to the left of the histogram, then the opposite movements of these two sliders will be required, and contrast increases in that case).
As can be seen, the image no longer spills to the right, and the histogram light tones are a bit more centralised and the clipped highlights are recovered. The visual effect will be to have slightly flattened the contrast of the image, and as there is no need to adjust shadows as they are are not falling off the left of the histogram the Shadows and the Black sliders can be skipped and the Contrast slider gently bumped up until the shadows just start to block, and then backed off a bit. In this case enough punch was added back by shifting Contrast to +7.
The final slider in this panel is the Detail slider and this must be approached with the utmost caution with X-Trans files. With Bayer files it is relatively gentle but with Fuji X it is vicious and some real artefacting can occur. I’ve found that maximum setting of +4 is all I can use before things get choppy.
This slider can be used to the negative side with great effect to reduce grain noise, however, and sometimes works better than third party NR programs, or Noise Ninja itself, for that matter.
Next comes the Color enhancement window. This has three presets in a drop-down menu - “Plain" (obvious as to effect), “Portrait” (which darkens/dulls green and blue but lightens/accentuates yellows and reds) and “Scenic” which saturates all colours.
My default opening settings for this image:
I have set my prefs to open this in Portrait mode as above, and will then use the fine-tuning sliders to alter the depth and saturation of individual colours as indicated in the colour boxes above the sliders. Select a box (green in this case) and adjust the Hue and Hue affinity sliders to bring back the brightness to the greens that the “Portrait” preset had killed a bit much.
The rest of the control panels are more targeted and to be honest I rarely use them as I have other programs that do the job better. Occasionally I'll use the vignette for effect or the Chromatic aberration if processing a file taken with an older Nikon AI-s wide-angle, but the Fuji lenses really don't have any aberrations to worry about - at least none of mine do. Even the little Samyang 8mm fisheye is amazingly free or fringing.
For sharpening I use Helicon Filter as a Photoshop plug-in, specifically the “sharpen fine details” slider in the sharpening panel, which usually gets best results between +15 & +25, and it has the least halo effect of any sharpener I have used.
So here’s the finished processed shot
And here’s a set of 100% sections of the before, the after, and one final one with +15 Helicon Filter sharpening as well.
Processed and Helicon Sharpen Fine Details +15:
The final version here might be a bit over-sharpened for screen, but is about what I find prints best on my Epson 7800 using Innova Smooth Cotton High White and Ilford Gallerie Gold Fibre Silk.
Once familiar with the program, running through these adjustments takes only a few seconds, and from that point of view it is much quicker than other dcraw-based processors I've tried (Windows - I don't use Mac). But getting quick at it does take practice, as with anything.
As always we'll be compromised by the ancient web colour space of sRGB and jpeg compression. Of course this image was processed in 16-bit Pro Photo colour space, and saved so tagged as an uncompressed TIFF, which means it probably looks a whole lot different to what you may be seeing on your monitor. One day the Web will catch up, maybe after it is done trying to be a phone app and gets back to being something worthwhile.
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I needed something wider than 18mm for the X-E1 to take pictures whilst doing safety inspections of heavy machinery. The choices were my superb Sigma 12-24mm in a Nikon mount, the Fuji 14mm and the Samyang 12mm f/2.0. The Sigma is slow at f/4.5 and quite large, and the Samyang is half the price of the Fuji.
The loaner Samyang arrived today, and after an hour's use my first impressions are quite positive:
Nicely packaged; not luxurious but not the bare minimum either.
Nice looking lens.
Smaller and more compact than I expected for a relatively fast lens. With hood reversed the camera with lens attached will fit in a Lowepro AW50 on my belt.
Well made; not quite the Fuji XF, but good finishing, well polished and feels substantial. However the plastic lens-hood and focus collar feel like hard plastic of a type I've known to break on other types of equipment, but this is a subjective observation.
Printed lettering, not engraved.
Substantial metal mount with three screws
The aperture ring clicks are audible and feel positive, with two clicks per stop. The aperture stops are clearly marked on the top of the lens.
The focus ring is fairly tight on a warm day (mid twenty deg C), with no chance of creep. From near-to-far involves just over a 90 degree twist, and the focus mechanism is internal and rear elements do move. Distance scale is on the top of the lens in feet and metres, and is quite legible but printed on.
There are no depth of field scales on the barrel.
The hood is large and reversible, and does obscure the popup flash so much of the bottom half of the image will be in shadow. Clicking into place is positive, but it may become quite loose over time. The camera rests almost flat with the hood attached
The front element does not protrude past the body of the lens, so you could stand the camera face down without the hood on a flat surface like a desk (not that I'd recommend it).
Optics are coated, with a purple sheen on the front element and amber-purple at the rear.
First impressions on performance are also good:
I haven't taken any images of brick walls, but distortion seems managed and not fish-eye. Lines through the middle of the image are straight, and along the edges the distortion seems to be a simple curve and not complex moustache.
Colour is neutral and not yellow as some Sigma lenses can be.
Bokeh is smooth, but I haven't tested it on point sources yet.
There is minor purple fringing on the edges of the frame in high contrast areas (i.e. twigs against white cloud). This seems better to the centre of the image.
Drawing is pleasant and neutral.
There is some vignetting, but it's not particularly obvious.
Depth of field ranges is enormous at narrower apertures and at the long end, but it does have a narrow depth of field at the other end. Close up at f/2 took me by surprise. Maybe 15mm of depth is usably sharp at closest focus, 15cm of depth at 1m away.
Resolution appears good and sharpness too.
And the lens is very easy to use:
It is manual focus only. For snaps just use focus peaking and hyperfocal distance and the X-E1 gets it every time.
Use the camera zoom function for close work and wide apertures.
It is much easier to focus than the Sigma 12-24, because one had to be careful with such a wide field to focus carefully or the lens would hunt a bit (also to do with aperture).
Small enough to be convenient, but not too small for my hands (not the biggest, but not small either)
My verdict is that this is a keeper. I will take some interesting images over the next few days and add them to my impressions.
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On Sunday the Forests issue got traction yet again in protest to the current Federal government's attempt to have half of the recently declared (by UNESCO, at the previous Government's request) as extensions to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, with an on-location protest rally in the forest. Considering it was a cold day, and that there is only one road into the area and no facilities at all out there, some 2,000 people turning up from all over the State was indeed telling as to the public mood concerning the situation. The main road was parked on both sides for over 4km, which meant some had a decent return walk to accomplish, with the rally itself being held on a contentious forestry logging road.
I had been contracted specifically to photograph 13 people standing in a line holding large cut-out letters in the form of a slogan whilst standing in the old growth forest. Now this may sound easy, but the room to do that simply doesn't exist in that forest, however a combination of the X-T1 & 14mm lens on a Nodal Ninja pano head, with the people standing in a part circle each 3 metres from the camera solved the problem just fine, 9 shots left to right. When stitched they appear to be in a roughly straight line . (Yes, I anticipated that & did it deliberately this way). Click on for 1920px HD size.
I also covered the shot with the X-Pro1 and Samyang 8mm fisheye with the camera on a 60° tilt, and while this allowed more foreground & height it was nowhere near the IQ of the Fuji 14mm on the X-T1 above:
I love the kid in the left background who got bored and went to look at the fungi
The forest was dark as it was raining lightly, so I shot the thing @ 1/15 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1600 for each frame to avoid as much subject movement as possible without losing DOF, and despite taking 5 separate sequences on two separate setups I only had one fidgety bloke who managed to move his head each time, but slightly enough that it made no difference.
I then switched to "coverage mode", shooting a series of speakers at the mic under a green marquis at 3200 ISO with the 55-200 lens and OIS engaged and only had to cull two shots out of the lot for movement. The IQ was better than acceptable, and I would have struggled for that keeper rate with the D3s (and for which I certainly didn't have a lens that could have gotten in so close with).
Celebrity TV actress Lisa Gormley getting a bit emotional (Home & Away TV soap drama)
Activist & Tasmanian forest tree-sitter (457 continuous days) Miranda Gibson
Lastly I attached the X-Pro1 & fisheye to my fully extended RRS monopod and held it up at full arm's stretch after triggering the self timer @ 2secs delay for an "overhead" of everyone turned to wave at the "official" aerial photographer who had climbed onto a platform 20 metres up the tree to take his shot... (I say "official" inasmuch as several photographers had each been allocated their particular tasks - this was primarily an event for publicising via the media).
So yes, I don't regret for one second switching to the Fuji - I was still fresh at the end of the day, no backache or shoulder pain, and my load including the tripod was around 6kg instead of over double that, all contained in four pouches on my Lowepro Technical vest and in my RRS Tripod bag.
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