Raw and raw conversion

Supplied software

Pentax includes SilkyPix Developer Studio for Pentax version 3.0 with the K-30. SilkyPix is a RAW conversion application developed by Ichikawa Soft Laboratory which is probably better known in Japan. SilkyPix provides a wide range of advanced RAW conversion options including adjustable noise reduction, lens aberration correction and rotation / perspective correction.

SilkyPix is one of the most comprehensive, if not particularly user-friendly, bundled image software packages around. Of course you get all the usual parameters in RAW conversion but there are also more advanced tools such as perspective correction. The browsing element works well too and it also includes batch processing options. Some photographers might feel the need to invest even more in a new RAW converter after splashing out on their new DSLR, but SilkyPix Developer Studio offers most, if not all, of the capabilities of 3rd-party options (although it is worth noting that many of them are easier and faster to use than SilkyPix).

SILKYPIX has a comprehensive feature set, though the lack of any meaningful documentation (and occasionally incomprehensible menu options) mean it can take a while to really feel comfortable and to find your way around. Most options have plenty of presets to allow you to start getting good results without too much fine tuning. once you're comfortable with the options, you can save your own favoured settings as additional presets, to speed up your processing.
The level of control can be a little overwhelming - for instance, in addition to the White Balance tools on the left-hand tool bar, there's also a White Balance Adjustment palette. The two don't appear to interact, which can be confusing. And, once you're really familiar with the software there are some very fine-level controls over functions such as noise reduction and sharpening. It's not the most approachable software but it's very powerful once you understand it.

Raw conversion

As is normal in our reviews we like to compare the supplied raw conversion software, any optional manufacturer raw conversion software and some third party raw converter. For the purpose of this test we've picked Adobe Camera Raw and DxO Optics Pro alongside the Nikon software. Here we compare these three converters to the camera's JPEG engine to see how each of them pulls detail out of the images.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, Default settings
  • SP - SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 for Pentax
  • DxO - DxO Optics Pro 7.5.4
  • ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 Beta

Sharpness and Detail

Often we find manufacturer-supplied raw software to pretty much replicate the in-camera JPEG quality but with the K-30 that's not the case. The bundled SilkyPix version produces, at its default settings, output with more muted colors and less aggressive sharpening than what you get straight of the camera. Adobe Camera Raw's default output uses, as usual, natural looking colors and tones and a slightly more subtle sharpening with a smaller radius which leads to a small but visible gain in detail over the out-of-camera JPEG.

DxO uses significantly more aggressive sharpening which is not too far off the default JPEGs. The image looks visibly 'crisper' than the ACR and SilkyPix versions but there is no discernible gain in detail. That said, any differences will only be visible at a 100% magnification and are therefore only really relevant if you plan to display your images at very large sizes, but in any case processing your raw files gives you the flexibility to customize image parameters for your specific requirements.

SilkyPix ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
Adobe ACR 7.2 Beta raw ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
DxO Optics Pro raw ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

The resolution chart confirms pretty much the observations we've made when looking at the crops above. The SilkyPix default settings produce output that looks very soft next to the ACR and DxO images. Adobe ACR's fine sharpening squeezes some extra detail out of the raw file while maintaining an artifact-free appearance. DxO's sharpening is more heavy handed, but does not get you any more detail than the ACR version.

JPEG from camera SilkyPix (raw)
Adobe Camera Raw (raw) DxO Optics Pro (raw)

RAW vs JPEG

The Pentax K-30's 16MP sensor captures large amounts of detail but at a pixel-level the camera's output looks a little overprocessed, with fairly heavy sharpening applied and a lack of detail in low-contrast areas such as distant foliage. However, a visible amount of additional detail can be squeezed out of the raw files by applying customized sharpening.

The sample below was converted in Adobe ACR 7.1 (Amount 44, radius 0.5, detail 50) and shows better low contrast detail and an overall more natural appearance. This sample was shot at ISO 100, 1/320th sec, F7.1 at a focal length of 50mm with the Pentax 16-50mm F2.8 lens.

JPEG from camera Adobe Camera Raw - custom sharpening
100% crop 100% crop

Even if pixel-level detail is not your number one priority, the ability to modify shooting parameters in raw conversion after an image has been taken can be extremely useful. Depending on the light source Auto White Balance systems don't always work 100% reliably, and if you don't have the time to take a custom reading you can snap away in Raw mode and take care of the problem in post-processing.

The picture below was taken in very low light. The K-30's white balance was set to 'AWB' and the candle-lit scene resulted in a very strong yellow cast. This sort of light is so intensely warm that critical color accuracy is basically impossible but in Adobe ACR we modified the color temperature and tint to create a more pleasant and realistic end result, albeit not what you might call 100% 'correct'. The sample below was shot at ISO 12800, 1/10th sec, F5.6 and a focal length of 36mm.

JPEG from camera Adobe Camera Raw with custom WB

Raw conversion can also be a life-saver when an image was accidentally over-exposed. When we took the image below the metering mode was accidentally set to spot which resulted in a heavy over-exposure and large 'blown out' areas. By applying some negative digital exposure compensation (-1.9EV, Highlights - 58) we were able to recover most blown highlights and save the image. The result is not perfect (some detail on the snowy peak has been lost) but usable. This image was shot using the Pentax 16-50mm F2.8 lens ISO 100, 1/125th sec, F4.5 and a focal length of 26mm.

JPEG from camera Adobe Camera Raw - custom sharpening

Raw files for download

Don't just take our word for it - take a look at the Pentax K-30's raw files for yourself, and run them through your own software and preferred conversion settings. Here, we provide you with a selection of raw files of 'real world' scenes, and if you want to take a closer look at the Pentax K-30's studio scene shots, you can download original raw files from our compared to (raw) page.