Raw and Raw Conversion

Supplied software

The Sony Alpha NEX-6 is provided with the following software:

  • PlayMemories Home (Windows) - This cataloging and browsing application replaces the previous Picture Motion Browser and is part of a suite of cloud-based apps designed to make your content available on both desktop and mobile devices with direct sharing to social media sites.
     
  • Image Data Converter 4.2 (Windows / Mac) - A further development of the previously
    seen Image Data Converter SR, provides advanced raw conversion capabilities, adjustments
    include Creative Style, Sharpness (including overshoot / undershoot tuning), Highlight Color
    Distortion reduction and Noise Reduction. Now includes the side-by-side image comparison features of the old Image Data Lightbox software.

Image Data Converter 4, the raw converter that is bundled with the NEX-6, is relatively simple compared to most third party packages but nevertheless offers all the usual conversion parameters and is easy to use. It provides for the fine-tuning of brightness, color, white balance, sharpness, noise reduction and tone-curve and also lets you choose your preferred Creative Style, reduce the effects of vignetting and change the in-camera setting of the D-Range Optimizer. It also incorporates the images browsing, tagging and cataloging functions of the now-discontinued Image Data Lightbox software.

Image Data Converter incorporates the image browsing and organizing features of the old Image Data Lightbox software from previous Sony cameras. All of the important RAW editing tools can be found on the right side of the screen. Individual adjustments can be floated in windows, if one desires.

Raw file conversion

In the sections below we'll compare the same raw file as processed by Sony's supplied Image Data Converter, DxO Optics Pro 8.1.2 and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 7.3, alongside the associated in-camera JPEG file.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, default settings
  • IDX - Image Data Converter 4, default settings
  • ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.3, at default settings using 'Adobe Standard' profile
  • DxO - DxO Optics Pro 8.1.2, default settings

Sharpness and Detail

As you can see below, converting a raw file has the potential to bring out a more natural, pleasing rendition of ultra-fine detail in comparison to the more aggressive sharpening applied by the camera's JPEG engine. You'll see this the most in the 100% crops from the DxO Optics Pro and ACR conversions, which are very similar in the level of detail shown. The Sony conversion is less impressive, and at default conversion settings detail is mushy, even compared to the camera's JPEG output.

Adobe ACR 7.3 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
DxO Optics Pro 8.1.2 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
Sony Image Data Converter 4.2 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting, manual WB (all other settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

The examples below show that DxO Optics Pro delivers the sharpest, apparently most detailed results of the group, with ACR not far behind. Sony's own Image Data Converter doesn't make a good job of our resolution chart at all, and color moiré and blurring can be seen from 1600 LPH.

Adobe Camera RAW 7.3 DxO Optics Pro 8.1.2
Sony Image Data Converter 4.2 JPEG Large/Fine

Real-world benefits of shooting RAW

The NEX-6's JPEG processing is optimized for reasonably sized prints and web viewing. In other words, things look great when printed, and not quite as great when viewed at 100%. You'll especially notice this in areas of low contrast, such as grass or hair, which can appear smudged.

The example below illustrates the improvement in critical detail capture that can be obtained by shooting and carefully processing RAW files with the NEX-6. Here, we're presenting the original JPEG (at default sharpness), a RAW conversion using default settings in Adobe Camera Raw, and a third RAW conversion with sharpness adjusted to taste - the 'ideal' conversion, in our opinion - to get the most detail out of this scene.

JPEG, 1/160 sec; F11; ISO 100 100% crop
RAW (ACR std), 1/500 sec; F9; ISO 100 100% crop
'Ideal' RAW, 1/500 sec; F9; ISO 100 100% crop

The original JPEG has very mushy low contrast detail. Switching to a RAW brings back some detail at default settings in Adobe Camera Raw, and if you really play with the sharpness, you'll get back even more. Some may say that our 'ideal' RAW conversion is a bit too sharp, but that's the beauty of the format - it's all up to you.

There are plenty of other benefits to shooting RAW, beyond just optimizing detail reproduction. If you've botched the white balance or really underexposed the image, a fix is just a few clicks away, likewise recovering clipped highlights and drawing detail out of shadow areas.

White Balance and Brightness

Shooting in low artificial light, the NEX-6 delivered a pretty uninspiring pet portrait, here. As you can see from the JPEG on the lower left, exposure is dull, and there's an unpleasant yellow-ish color cast, both of which make this shot a definite 'reject'.

JPEG, ISO 3200, AWB Processed raw file

However, after spending a few minutes with the simultaneously-captured raw file in Adobe Camera Raw 7.4 RC, we've been able to greatly reduce the color cast, significantly boost exposure, and increase contrast just enough to give the image some 'pop'. Taken at ISO 3200, the raw file also benefited from some luminance noise-reduction, too.

Shadow Detail

Another benefit of shooting in raw mode is that because of their wider tonal range, raw files typically allow much greater latitude for exposure adjustment post-capture, allowing you to bring out detail from shadow areas much more successfully than would be possible with JPEGs.

Shadow Detail/Noise Compared

Below is our standard test scene, taken in RAW and overexposed by three stops in Adobe Camera Raw. We've included the Canon T4i (which shares the same sensor as the EOS M mirrorless camera), Fujifilm XE-1, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 to show how the NEX-6's sensor compares to its competitors.


Sony NEX-6 ISO 100, ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop
Canon T4i ISO 100, ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop
Fujifilm XE-1 ISO 200, ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop
Panasonic GX1 ISO 160, ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop

The NEX-6's sensor is clearly very capable, and our (pretty extreme) +4EV brightness adjustment has brought out a lot of detail in the shadow area of our studio scene. Although there's a little chroma noise in the brightened image, compare it to the Canon Rebel T4i/EOS 650D, where the only thing that we've really 'revealed' by brightening the raw file is noise. The Fujifilm X-E1 has done well, and as we'd expect from our recent in-depth test of that camera, there's very little chroma noise in the brightened raw file. The Panasonic Lumix DMX-GX1 is less impressive though, and like the Canon, there's a lot of noise hiding in the shadows.

In the scene below, (chosen for its deep shadows more than aesthetic qualities) you'll see the the entrance to an underground parking lot, inside of which is some signage. This is barely visible when the scene is exposed normally, which makes this a good example to show just how much detail you can get out of the shadows in raw files compared to JPEGs from the NEX-6 (and indeed all cameras that offer raw capture).

The crop of the signage (indicated with a red rectangle) is completely dark in the original JPEG. 100% crop

This is the JPEG after exposure was increased by 4 'EV' in Adobe Camera Raw. As you can see, we've been able to pull a lot of detail out of the darkest areas of the scene, but the smallest text on the signs is illegible, and chroma noise is pretty obvious. There's also some severe postarization on the wall at the far left.

100% crop
Shooting RAW instead of JPEG and increasing the exposure by (again using ACR) to match the brightness of the brightened JPEG reveals more detail in the signage, (including the smaller text) and less chroma noise, with none of the same postarization on the left-most wall. 100% crop

The photos and captions speak for themselves. There's simply more detail in raw files than JPEGs, and our raw conversion literally brings detail back out of the darkness, with a lot less visible noise than the JPEGs. That said, it's impressive how much detail there is also hiding away in the shadows of the NEX-6's JPEG file. Naturally, in a real-world shooting situation, unless you were correcting dramatic underexposure you'd want to selectively apply the shadow brightening to your raw files, rather than universally, as we've done here.

Raw files for download

Here we provide RAW files from the sample shots we've taken, so you can apply your own workflow techniques and judge the results for yourself.