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Raw

Supplied software

The X1, unusually, doesn't come with a software disc at all. Instead you get the option, after registering the camera with Leica, to download a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. As this program will normally set you back the best part of $300 / £200, and is streets ahead of the software most manufacturers supply with their cameras both in terms of functionality and usability, this adds significant value to the overall package (unless, of course, you've already bought it separately).

Lightroom is a hugely sophisticated image organizer and editor designed specifically to cater for the needs of photographers. You can organize your shots into 'collections', easily assign tags (such as the subjects' names or locations), develop raw files (with a vast range of adjustments), view slideshows, and output files for both printing and web display. It takes away all of the hassle often associated with working with raw files, working on them transparently and non-destructively.

Lightroom allows you to organize your files as 'Collections', and add tags so you can easily search out all your pictures of a specific subject (Auntie Milly and her cats, for example). The raw developer is based on that used by Photoshop (Adobe Camera Raw) and therefore hugely powerful, offering adjustments for almost any parameter you can think of - including exposure, white balance, color adjustments etc. You can also make localized adjustments to specific areas of an image.
You can radically alter the look of your images (in this example by mono conversion, split toning and post-crop vignetting) without worrying about the underlying raw image data, which is always preserved. It's possible to save multiple interpretations of any individual image as 'Snapshots'. Lightroom also makes it a breeze to print your favorite pictures, or output them to a web gallery.

RAW conversion

As is normal in our digital SLR reviews we like to compare the supplied RAW conversion software, any optional manufacturer RAW conversion software and some third party RAW converter. For the Leica X1 we've used Adobe Camera RAW (which should give identical output to Lightroom), and compared its output to that from Phase One Capture One 5. Other converters we tried (including DxO Optics Pro and the free open-source Raw Therapee) failed to recognize the X1's DNGs correctly (obviously this is likely to be fixed when the camera becomes widely available).

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, Default settings
  • ACR - Adobe Camera RAW v5.6 (beta)
  • C1 - Phase One Capture One v5.01

Color reproduction

Place your mouse over the label below the image to see the color from a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart produced using each RAW converter. Typically we are used to seeing almost no difference between in-camera JPEG and the supplied RAW converter as it is normally intended to exactly duplicate the color response of the camera. Obviously, though, ACR isn't doing this (yet - we presume X1 profiles will appear in due course) and clearly has a rather different color map, giving a much punchier, and dare we say more appealing, result. Capture One is a little more saturated still.

Leica X1 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardVividNaturalB&W Natural
B&W High Contrast

Sharpness and Detail

The crops below show that ACR is capable of extracting fine detail from the X1's output with rather greater finesse than the camera's own JPEG engine, and that it gives a punchier, more saturated color response than the X1's decidedly muted JPEGs. Capture One isn't doing quite so well in this comparison, with the blue feathers in particular subject to some very visible moire. It's important to bear in mind, though, that the X1 isn't officially supported yet, so this may well improve in future.

Even at default settings with no real tweaking, though, ACR is producing a much more appealing and detailed output than the JPEGs - the X1 is clearly a camera that benefits greatly from shooting in raw.

Adobe ACR 5.6 Beta RAW -> JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
Capture One 5.01 RAW ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
JPEG out of camera, Super Fine quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
 
Adobe ACR 5.6 Beta RAW -> JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
Capture One 5.01 RAW ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
JPEG out of camera, Super Fine quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

These crops demonstrate just how much more raw conversions can extract from the X1's output compared to the JPEGs. The crude broad radius sharpening of the JPEG means that it gives up on separating fine detail long before either Capture One or ACR; and while there's the odd artifact in the raw versions, we'd take that over the somewhat mushy JPEG any time.

JPEG from camera Adobe Camera Raw 5.6 Beta (RAW)
 
Phase One Capture One 5 (RAW)  

Real world advantages

We've not been hugely impressed by the X1's JPEGs, which (at default settings) combine crude, broad-radius sharpening with low key, desaturated colors, and make for distinctly unappealing prints. Playing with the JPEG processing parameters can help a little (we found turning up the saturation and contrast by a notch each worked quite well), but for the best possible results you're simply much better off using raw. Indeed with Lightroom's powerful development tools at your disposal, there seems little point in considering the JPEGs as anything more than (very) rough proofs. The examples below demonstrate this - the difference in fine detail and color between JPEG and raw is striking (and much greater then we're used to seeing these days).

Even if you don't care about the pixel-level quality, the ability to non-destructively fine tune exposure, white balance and color always makes shooting raw a sensible option for the serious photographer.

JPEG from Camera
(default sharpening)
ACR conversion
(see below for details)
  • ACR conversion parameters: Brightness +30, sharpening disabled, 'Correct red/cyan fringe' -20, Highlight defringe. Followed by:
  • Photoshop unsharp masks: amount = 5, radius = 50, threshold = 0, followed by amount = 200, radius = 0.3, threshold = 0

RAW files for download

Here we provide RAW files, both from the review and the sample shots we take, to allow you to apply your own workflow techniques and see whether your experiences match ours.

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