Lightroom was 'broken'. Now it isn't..

Started May 19, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Big Ga
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Lightroom was 'broken'. Now it isn't..
May 19, 2012

.. And this probably applies to ACR as well, but I haven't checked yet.

Here we go:

Olympus (and panasonic) cameras have historically delivered noticeably inferior results compared to the main competition, when performing major PP operations on RAW files using the 'industry standard' Adobe software. You couldn't pull up shadows as much and you also couldn't pull back as much highlight detail before the files started to break apart and display unwanted artifacts such as colour casts and posterisation.

Most people have simply blamed the limited DR of the smaller sensors, and while this is probably true for the shadow end of things as the sensors have always been quite noisy, I am now wondering if the poor performance at the highlight end has been amplified and exaggerated by some combination of how ACR/LR deals with the files, which is not present or as pronounced with other sensors from other manufacturers (read - Canon and Nikon). It is also possible that other RAW converters do the same thing.

Over on the Microfourthirds forum, many people have been posting examples and experiences of how LR4 is significantly superior in terms of recovering highlights. We've got a raving GH2 fanboy over there, 'Adventsam' who claims that LR4 improves the PPability of the GH2 files no end over using LR3, and now that camera gives even more flexibility in the files than the acknowledged ultra low noise 16MP sony sensor, as in some miraculous way, it only does this huge improvement on the panny sensor, not the sony one.

I was very sceptical. Sure, I could imagine LR4 being an improvement as it could have new improved algorithms in it. But surely if it improved the GH2 files, it should also improve (possibly even more) the Sony sensor?
So I've done some quick tests and I think he was mostly correct.

Last year, I did my own personal 14 camera mega shootout! I took a range of bodies and shot a range of real life outdoor scenes to see how far I could pull and push the resultant files. One of the tests would be to overexpose say a landscape scene with lots of puffy clouds, and pull the exposure down by three stops to see how the cloud detail was retained.

Some cameras were noticeably worse than others, with harshly clipped highlights, severely hard transition areas, posterisation and sometimes colour casts. While other cameras gave very good results that were quite usable with none of the aforementioned problems.
'Good' cameras were things like D3s, D700, D300s, D5100.
'Bad' cameras were e.g. E620, L10, Pany G1, GH1 (and a Canon G10 P&S)

Kind of what conventional wisdom would dictate. Its the limited DR stupid!

However I've now run the same files, through LR4 using the 2012 conversion engine. Any differences in the 'good' cameras are very small and very subtle. However the 'bad' cameras are now producing highlight recovery results that are much more akin to the 'good' group. Its remarkable.

Yes, you still get more total pixels that might get clipped to pure white (although its not a million miles away), but what has gone is the harsh tonal transitions, the colour casts and the posterisation. Even nasty regular demosaicing pattern noise visible at some magnification settings on the Panny L10 and Canon G10 files, seems to have been cured.

If you own any Olympus or Panasonic cameras and you've been a lightroom or ACR user and have struggled in the past with limited highlight recovery because of the files breaking apart, I strongly recommend you try reprocessing your problematic files using the new 2012 process engine which is in LR4 or ACR7 (CS6 only I'm afraid).
Give it a go and report back! I'm curious to see how other people get on.

Cheers
G.

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