Am I Just Pixel Peeping?

Micklegate, York.

Just over a year ago I wrote about using a then new piece of software called Iridient X-Transformer which dramatically improved my results when processing photos from my Fujifilm X System cameras.

Back in January 2017 Iridient X-Transformer was in beta testing but the results were impressive enough for me to purchase the software right away.

Since then I have been using X-Transformer on a photo by photo basis where I think it will be of most benefit to the image.

I’m now beginning to think that I should just run all my Fuji photos through X-Transformer regardless. Why? Have a look at the screen shot below. This is one small section of a photo I took in York back in November, looking along Micklegate from Micklegate Bar. It’s not a great photo, I didn’t bother to process it at the time and I’m just using it as an example here. Click on it to see it at 100% or I doubt you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about and particularly look at the lettering on the red “shop to let” sign, but also at the brickwork and the little Christmas tree.

Small section of a photo viewed in Lightroom’s compare loupe. Click to see at full size.

Which looks better / sharper / clearer / better defined to you? The image on the left or the image on the right?

To my eyes the version on the left is the clear (and clearer!) winner. No surprise then that the version on the left is the .dng file processed through X-Transformer whereas the version on the right is the default .raf imported by Lightroom.

I was originally planning to run all of my Fuji photos through X-Transformer as I stated in that original blog post but then I noticed how much more disk space the .dng file took up compared with the .raf file. In the case of the example shown the .raf file is 24.4MB, the .dng is 66.7MB. This photo was shot using my X-Pro2 and I use a (losslessly) compressed raw format so the .dng version is always going to be much larger as that compression is removed during the process of converting to .dng.

I am now thinking that it would better to accept the greater file size and just process everything I shoot on a Fuji camera (99% of my photography) through X-Transformer. I likely wouldn’t have used it to process this photo as I wouldn’t have viewed it as containing lots of intricate details – just a normal (and rather dull and uninteresting) street scene.

The difference is clear so I think it’s time for another change to my workflow. Process everything through X-Transformer before importing into Lightroom and I might as well stop using that compressed Fuji raw format on my X-Pro2 as there will be no benefit if converting to .dng anyway. Yes, the photos will take up more space but that might be a good incentive for me to be more ruthless with my “pruning” during the editing process.

I dont think this is “pixel peeping”. I think that Lightroom’s de-mosaicing of Fuji raw images is substandard and I’m not getting the full benefit of the image quality my Fuji cameras are capable of providing.

Adobe should be doing way better than this. I pay a subscription to use Lightroom, it’s not “cheap”. X-Transformer currently costs just £23.75 and is produced by a small, independent software developer. I do wish they produced their full Iridient Developer package for Windows, I’d be highly likely to switch from Lightroom.

I have considered and tried using Capture One and again the results are way better than Lightroom but at the moment I would rather not spend hundreds of pounds on new software and I don’t know how many hours learning to use it. I know Lightroom pretty well and get along with it fine, if I pre-process my photos with X-Transformer I can then just carry on as normal with Lightroom. I just wish to heck that Adobe would do something about its treatment of Fuji files. Good job Iridient are there to step in where Adobe fall short.

Iridient X-Transformer

1:1 crops : default Lightroom import on the left, same file processed with Iridient X-Transformer to the right. Click to see full size (X-Pro2, Fujinon 10-24mm f4 – yes, I know – not a “portrait lens”!)

I use Adobe Lightroom as my raw processing software of choice and I have done so since it was first released. Back then I was a Canon shooter but for the last several years I’ve been shooting more and more Fuji to the point where as I write I’ve not shot using my Canon gear for over a year.

As a Fuji shooter I have been aware of the raw processing software “Iridient Developer” for quite some time. I have often been astonished by the apparent difference in the rendering of Fuji raw files between Adobe Lightroom and Iridient Developer. Iridient seemed to create cleaner, clearer, sharper renderings of the same image. This seemed all the more remarkable as Iridient Digital is a “small” company, indeed to the best of my knowledge a “one-man band”.

Impressed as I was by the results I was seeing being obtained using Iridient Developer it was sadly not for me. The software was only available for Mac OS and I switched back from Mac OS to Windows several years ago now. As a keen amateur photographer (ie – not somebody who makes a lot of money out of photography) I was not going to switch back to using Macs again just to be able to run Iridient Developer, no matter how much better it might make my results.

Last year I read rumors that Iridient were working on “something for Windows”. This was exciting news for me as I found it galling that despite much improvement over the last couple of years Lightroom still didn’t seem to render Fuji raw files as well as Iridient did.

I had been checking the Iridient Digital web site for any further news of a Windows release for several months and then just as it seemed like nothing was ever going to happen I seem to have missed the notification by about a week.

Iridient X-Transformer isn’t a full-blown raw processing package. What it does is de-mosaic the Fuji raw file and store it as a dng (Digital Negative) file. Once X-Transformer has produced the dng file you are free to import it into any raw processor you like which supports the dng format – for example Adobe Lightroom.

Over the last year or so I had been thinking that Lightroom had caught up a lot and maybe there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between X-Transformer results and a native Lightroom import.

I was wrong!

The comparison I posted at the head of this post shows very clearly just how much of a difference there is (click on the image to see the full size version). This is a photo I took of my daughter during a visit to Bolsover Castle on December 27th 2016. It just happened to be one of my favourite portraits of her for quite a while so it was foremost in my mind and I thought that the catch-lights in her eyes along with her eyelashes and eyebrows would give X-Transformer a good test. Lots of fine detail in the shot.

The original Lightroom import to the left looks almost like there’s something over the top of the image which makes it less distinct, although at the time I took it I was pleased enough with the photo. The eyebrows and lashes almost seem to smear together, the catch-light just isn’t crisp.

Looking at the X-Transformer processed version to the right is like putting on a pair of spectacles.

And when I say “processed” both of these images are before I’ve done any actual edits on them. The only processing has been importing into Lightroom and in the case of the X-Transformer version being converted to a dng and then importing into Lightroom. Everything is set to “default” for both versions.

The results appear to be so clear, so crisp and so sharp that I think I might need to tone down my homemade Lightroom preset for sharpening X-Trans files.

The image shown in the comparison was produced with X-Transormer before I paid to register it – an event which happened very shortly after I carried out the comparison! It cost me around £32 to purchase the software and this seems like very good value for money to reveal the true brilliant performance of all of my Fuji X-Mount lenses (and my X100T).

I intend to add X-Transformer into my Lightroom workflow by pre-processing all of my Fuji shot photos though it before importing the batch to Lightroom. X-Transformer can also be used from within Lightroom as an “external editor” (once configured according to the instructions included in the help file) – right click a photo in Lightroom and send it to X-Transformer.

It seems that X-Transformer is very aptly named. It really does transform your X-Trans photos if you’re used to the results Adobe Lightroom produces.


Edit : A bit of an oversight maybe not to show the whole of the image I used for the comparison in this post. This is after processing in Lightroom but not shown at full size.

My daughter Michelle at Bolsover Castle. Fujifilm X-Pro2, Fujinon 10-24mm f4.