With the start of a new year, we thought it would be a good time to explore the current state of raw processing with a head-to-head comparison of the leading cross-platform raw image converters: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, Phase One's Capture One Pro 7 and DxO Optics Pro 8. Of course, today's raw converters offer much more than just demosaicing algorithms. Issues such as processing speed, imaging workflow and output options rank right up there with image quality for amateur and professional photographers alike. And as software gets more and more clever about image analysis, the ability to start with a pleasing image at default settings is enticing as well.

So we loaded our test computer with hundreds of raw files from a variety of cameras and put each application through its paces to find out which one offers the best combination of performance, features and of course, image quality.

The minimum hardware requirements of each application are fairly similar, with all three available for both Mac and Windows operating systems. Each application benefits from multi-core processors, plenty of empty hard drive space and lots of available memory. I'd suggest at least 8 gigabytes of RAM on any system, particularly if you like to have multiple programs running at once.

The contenders

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.3
US $149/ €134.07/ £106.48 (discounted upgrade pricing available)

Lightroom 4's modular approach is tailored to a comprehensive capture to output workflow.

Adobe's raw converter and image management software offers tight integration with the company's industry-standard editing software, Photoshop CS. Among the new features in the latest version of Lightroom are geo-tagging, soft-proofing and the ability to create print-ready books. You can read about these and other features in our Lightroom 4 review. For a list of currently supported cameras, visit Adobe's Camera Raw page. Adobe also has Lightroom 4 online training videos available. 

Capture One Pro 7.0.2
US $299/ €229/ £228 (discounted upgrade pricing available)

Capture One Pro 7 introduces image catalog support for expanded management and organization options.

Phase One's raw converter has long been popular with fashion and studio photographers due to its robust support for tethered shooting. New to version 7 is a catalog-based asset management option and live view during tethered shooting for select DSLRs. The latest dot release (7.0.2) introduces support for Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor cameras and you can see how it handles the X-Pro1's raw files in our recent test. For a list of currently compatible cameras, visit Phase One's support page. Phase One provides a video tutorial series for Capture One Pro 7 on their YouTube channel.

DxO Optics Pro 8.1.2
US $299/ €299/ £269 (discounted upgrade pricing available)

DxO Optics Pro 8 is best known for its extensive, automated corrections for lens flaws.

DxO Labs' raw converter is built around the company's well-regarded camera/lens correction modules. Long favored by many users in conjunction with external asset management apps, version 8 introduces selective tonal edits and print capability. You can read about these features in our DxO Optics Pro 8: What's New article. For a list of currently compatible cameras, visit DxO labs' support page. DxO Labs also hosts a library of DxO Optics Pro 8 tutorials on their web site.

In this raw converter showdown we'll compare these three programs in the following categories:

Let's get started with our raw converter showdown and find out which one comes out on top.

Click here to continue reading our Raw Showdown article...