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Fujifilm Xtrans RAW conversion: Lightroom vs Luminar follow-up with more examples

Fujifilm Xtrans RAW conversion Lightroom  vs Luminar featured image

This is a follow-up post to the previous article I published here about Fujifilm Xtrans RAW files in Luminar from Macphun and about how it stacks up to Adobe Lightroom. I initially recorded a video with the intention to upload it to Youtube. After I reviewed the recording, I decided it will be far better to publish this as a blog post. Not sure how Youtube compression would handle the fine detail  With this out of the way, let's continue.

Luminar Xtrans RAW demosaicing is superior to Lightroom

Now, that I put more images through this test, I confirmed what I stated in my previous article. When it comes to demosaicing and interpreting data from Fujifilm Xtrans RAW file, Luminar seems to do a much better job in demosaicing. In some photographs, the difference is quite striking, while in others not so much noticeable. Luminar images have overall more detail, they are flatter, slightly darker and cooler. I am showing the only fraction of images I tried in this post. I want to keep it short. Here is the firs example of a pagoda I shot with Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 14mm lens in Cambodia.

Fujifilm Xtrans RAW file demosaiced in Lightroom. 

Fujifilm Xtrans RAW file demosaiced in Luminar. 

There are quite obvious differences between the two images. Lightroom version has definitely more contrast and saturation. Looking at 1:1 scale, additional details will be revealed. Let's take a look.

When examining above examples, differences are quite obvious. Surprisingly, when it comes to foliage, the main difference is contrast, saturation and little hue shift to the cooler side from Luminar. In terms of details in this part of the image, both renderings are quite equal. The amount of details rendered on the pagoda is a different story. Lightroom is not even close to Luminar. Without any other adjustment applied to the image, it shows a mushy and watercolor effect that we all know. There is no way to bring the detail back in Lightroom to the same level as Luminar rendered it. I tried. Everything I did after this point just exaggerates the watercolor effect and introduces more strange artifacts.

Here is another example. A bright image, very flat lighting, and hazy conditions. As before, Luminar conversion is darker, retaining much more highlight details. The image has also a considerable amount of magenta color cast.

Xtrans RAW file demosaiced in Lightroom

Xtrans RAW file demosaiced in Luminar

Take look at the detailed comparison below. There is more detail in the highlight areas in the Luminar image. After messing around with the settings, I brought back some detail in Lightroom in highlights. Definitely not the same amount and quality of the detail. And it was at the expense of rest of the image looking absolutely terrible. I could do the same with local adjustments of course but I get that level of detail out of the box from Luminar. Highlights in the file are not blowing out. Check the histogram of both files.

Fujifilm Xtrans RAW file comparison between Lightroom and Luminar. Differences in highlights and histogram comparison.

Below is an example of an indoor portrait photograph. Shot with cool white balance and CTL gel on the speedlight.  I did some adjustments to the images and just for a change, I converted them to black and white. As you can see, even in this case, Luminar outputs flatter, less saturated image, a little bit on a cooler side compared to Lightroom.

Xtrans RAW file demosaiced in Lightroom

Xtrans RAW file demosaiced in Luminar

In this case, Lightroom did a decent job and in some aspect, it turned out better than the image from Luminar. There is plenty of detail in the skin area, yet it is not too harsh. Image from Luminar has overall more detail and sharpness. This can also be attributed to aggressive highlight/shadow response. The second example shows that Lightroom version clearly retained more shadow detail. Even the heavy overexposing in Luminar didn’t help to bring those shadows back. I had trouble keep histogram without clipping either darks or whites and still maintain nice contrast in the image.  Also, this “heavy lifting” introduced a lot of noise to the image. Granted, this image was always meant to be a low-key shot and it was exposed with this in mind. The last example shows more detailed fabric rendering in the Luminar image. I also need to note that Luminar has more tools to bring the details back. More on it later.

Lens correction

There is one more area that differentiates these two Xtrans RAW demosaicing algorithms. They handle the lens corrections differently. Flipping between Lightroom and Luminar images I notice slight pixel shift (on images shot with XF 14mm). I randomly tried a photograph shot with XF 50-140mm zoom and the difference was huge. Fujifilm Xtrans RAW files have lens correction information embedded in the file and they come in Lightroom already corrected for distortion. I am not entirely sure how Luminar handles the lens correction if at all. The difference is quite obvious in the following example. I converted images in Lightroom and Luminar and then I used the “Difference” layer mode in Photoshop to visualize the distortion. Obviously, there are slight differences in the color as well as structure. But the main bright outline on the trees accounts for different distortion in both images.I assume Luminar has not done any lens correction.

Lens correction difference between Lightroom vs Luminar

The watercolor effect

Following example demonstrates still existing “watercolor” effect in Lightroom. I quickly developed the previous photograph in both Lightroom and Luminar. Then I applied the same and recommended sharpening technique from Peter Bridgwood to the Lightroom image. I did sharpening and slight structure boost in Luminar version and here is the comparison. Close inspection of enlarged green grassy patch shows how hard it is for Lightroom to render the greens nicely. As I mentioned previously, this is probably not an issue when target destination for the file is Internet. As you can see at 1:1 scale the effect is almost invisible. However, closer inspection clearly shows the watercolor effect and noodle/wormy pattern.

Example of Lightroom "watercolor" effect. Image converted in Lighroom lacks detail and is full of artifacts.

Detail and sharpening tools in Luminar

There are few tools in Luminar I wish they found their way to  Lightroom.  These tools I talk about bring out or enhance details such as detail extractor, microstructure, structure etc. With appropriate use, I can achieve the quite detailed look at the photographs while the still retain their natural look. Heavy handed use creates quite distasteful results, though. I find this particular set of filters quite useful. The underlying math that drives these effects is much more gentle and it doesn’t cause the above mentioned “watercolor” and “worm” effect we know so well from Lightroom.

Convert in Luminar, develop in Lightroom

One option can be the RAW conversion in Luminar followed by development in Lightroom. From few images I tried to develop with this workflow I’d say the results are still better than if conversion happened in Lightroom. The main difference is that adjustments will happen on high-resolution 16bit Tiff file. This begs a question if there is another RAW converter that will handle Xtrans RAW conversion better than Luminar. Iridient Developer comes to my mind first. But that would be a topic for a different article.

Test image to compare two different RAW conversions. Both images are developed in Lightroom.

 This image is another good candidate to illustrate the point. Lots of foliage, structure and small detail is great to show the difference between two RAW conversion engines. The shown example is converted and developed in Lightroom. As you can see, there is no real issue when the image is downscaled and displayed on the web. Close up, however, shows a completely different picture. 

Above detailed comparisons are scaled up 3:1 and they clearly show the difference. On the left is the image converted and developed in Lightroom. The image on the right is converted in Luminar but developed in Lightroom. In that case, Lightroom works on 16bit Tiff image rather than a RAW file. It is worth to notice that I set Pro Photo RGB as default color space in Lightroom. If I am not mistaken, Luminar works in Adobe RGB only. Even in this example, Luminar RAW conversion wins hands down.

Will Luminar replace Lightroom?

Does it mean that Luminar will replace Lightroom? Definitely not. I have been Lightroom user since version 1. Over the years I got very comfortable with it.Main reason is that Lightroom is full digital photo management solution which Luminar is not.I like the non-destructive editing in Lightroom, it's connection to Photoshop, the plugins available for it. My only real gripes with it really are the speed and Xtrans RAW file demosaicing.

I also prefer how Lightroom's tools and sliders work. While Luminar's  Xtrans RAW file conversion appears to be superior to Lightroom, some of the filters may not be. Perhaps it is a matter of taste or matter of getting used to it. I feel much more comfortable in Lightroom at the moment. Macphun and Adobe are different companies, they have different RnD teams. Although they develop similar tools doing the same thing, the underlying algorithms are different. As an example, the shadow and highlight sliders have a very different response in Lightroom compared to Luminar. I found that sliders in Luminar respond more aggressively in general.

How does Luminar fit into the workflow?

Choice of RAW converters is wide. Converters that deal well with Fujifilm Xtrans RAW are harder to come by. There are only a few applications that support entire digital workflow. Besides Lightroom, there is Capture One, ON1 when considering the major players. My goal is to simplify my workflow. Having one application, that can do everything would be certainly preferable. Since I am with Lightroom for so long, I stick to it for now. I know(hope) it is due for a major rewrite and I really hope Adobe is working on it. Xtrans RAW demosaicing is just not the best, no matter what other say. As I said, if my target output is still going to be the Internet, I will not make that much difference but any improvement in this department would be welcome.

As for Luminar, I will continue to use it on per image basis. Meaning, if there is an image worth of big print and Luminar will give a better result than Lightroom, then, by all means, I will use Luminar. One advantage to this is, that resulting high-resolution 16 bit Tiff file is great for archiving. I can be sure I will be able to open the file many years from now. I cannot say the same about any RAW file.

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