Third party RAW developers for Fuji X-TRANS files in Lightroom

Introduction

The Fuji X-Trans CMOS II sensor incorporates an original colour filter array with an extremely random pattern, eliminating the need for an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). These filters are used in conventional systems to inhibit moiré at the expense of resolution. The X-Trans CMOS II sensor array lets the sensor capture unfiltered light from the lens, achieving excellent resolution. And indeed, Jpeg’s straight out of the camera look stunning, but the RAW files can often look soft in comparison, especially if you’ve based your image workflow around Adobe’s Lightroom application.

Lightroom and Fuji X-Trans II RAW files

I’ve personally been using Adobe Lightroom for years, as it is not just a RAW developer, but also one of the easiest ways of building and maintaining your image library on your desktop computer. Other significant advantages for me are that you can easily use third party plug-ins, edit in Photoshop straight from the application itself and that Lightroom has the most straightforward export options.

When I bought my first X-Trans sensor camera (the Fuji X100S), I believe these RAW files were not even supported, and when they finally were, they looked very soft with strange colour anomalies. I started looking for another RAW developer and went for Capture One, which absolute did a far better jab at decoding the Fuji RAW files. But I missed the flexibility of Lightroom, not to mention that my images from other cameras were still being handled by Lightroom. Let’s face it, they are the industry standard, support new cameras more quickly and do a decent job for most RAW formats from other brands.

When it comes to X-Trans files, much has improved in the last six months since Adobe have been working closely with Fujifilm and you can now even dial-in Fuji’s in-camera film emulations for RAW files.

Because of the architecture of the X-Trans sensor (and the way this information is stored), additional sharpening is needed in order to ‘pull’ these images into focus. You should see sharpening with these files as an essential step in your processing workflow. Since Lightroom is mostly used for processing RAW from Bayer sensors (where this is often not needed, or at least differently), the usual sharpening methods and settings don’t work for RAF files. There are a few blogs out there explaining how to setup sharpening in Lightroom for Fuji files, Google it, as I don’t want just to copy and paste other people’s work.

RAF file sharpening

long exposure sharpened in Lightroom

RAF file sharpening

long exposure sharpened in Iridient with some highlight recovery

 

Third party RAW developers ideally suited for X-Trans II files

You might have heard about PhotoNinja and Iridient Developer, two independent RAW developer applications that can, at times, render superior results than Lightroom. Especially when it comes to sharpening methods and noise reduction, both offer different flavours with extensive customisability of settings.

Iridient Developer

Iridient Developer is a powerful RAW image conversion application designed and optimized specifically for Mac OS X. This RAW software gives you total control over your digital pictures, yet still provides easy drag and drop batch conversion. It uses the open source RAW decoding program Dcraw as a backbone and supports over 550 RAW image formats. There is a new version 3 beta out right now with exciting features added like a clarity slider and an ‘Iridient Reveal’ sharpening method. This sharpening technique lowers the learning curve when it comes to making the best of the methods available.

Photo Ninja

Photo Ninja uses the same Dcraw backbone architecture as Iridient. It is a professional-grade RAW converter that delivers exceptional detail, outstanding image quality, and a natural look. Photo Ninja has unique capabilities for improving and optimizing your digital images. Their noise reduction algorithms are one of the best currently available.

Incorporating Iridient Developer or Photo Ninja in your Adobe Lightroom workflow

Both Iridient Developer and Photo Ninja are stand-alone applications, but there is a way of integrating them into your Lightroom workflow. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always necessary to use an external RAW developer with Lightroom nowadays. You might find that in some cases where the standard sharpening methods or noise reduction algorithms are not sufficient, you can trick Lightroom in using them as a plug-in. This involves making a copy of your RAW files as a TIF and  exporting your image to either Iridient Developer or Photo Ninja. This technique forces those applications to load the original RAW file and overwriting the TIF with the developed file in Lightroom.

Method in Lightroom:

First you’ll need to go into the Preferences window in Lightroom (Lightroom – preferences) and add the external editor as a preset. Point LR to either Iridient or Photo Ninja, select TIFF as format, 16 bits/component bit depth, 300 dpi resolution (or whatever you prefer) and select ZIP compression (for smaller files).

After you’ve done this, name and save your new preset by going to the Preset drop down menu in the Additional External Editor window. (see screenshot)

Now you’ll find the Preset you just made when right clicking on an image (where you’ll find other plug-ins in Lightroom)

Fuji X-TRANS raw developers

For Iridient Developer:

Second step, launch Iridient Developer, go to Preferences and select “Find and load RAW for TIFF, JPEG, PNG, PSD file open events. This setting is telling Iridient to search for and load the original RAW file instead of the TIFF you’ve just made in LR.

Fuji X-TRANS raw developers

In order to overwrite the TIFF in Lightroom after developing in Iridient, you need to go to File-Process Image and Overwrite (Standard image).
Fuji X-TRANS raw developers

Return to Lightroom, and you’ll find your Iridient developed file as a TIFF there.

For Photo Ninja:

Second step here is to go to User Preferences and enable “Attempt to open/re-edit matching RAW file when JPEG/TIFF received from other application.

Fuji X-TRANS raw developers

Third step, after you’ve developed the file to you liking in Photo Ninja, go to the Image menu, and click quick render to overwrite the TIFF file in Lightroom.

Conclusion

Although it is not needed to go to an external RAW developer in Lightroom 5 for every single Fuji X-Trans RAW image, it is definitely handy to have the option if you feel it is lacking sharpness or you just can’t seem to get it right in Lightroom.

Both Iridient Developer and Photo Ninja have their own unique advantages, with Iridient being better at sharpening and Photo Ninja having the advantage for noise reduction. By integrating either of these with Lightroom, you’ll get that easy workflow back with a centralised image database at your disposal.

 

 

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