Raw and Raw Conversion
The Fujifilm X-E1 ships with the 'FinePix CD' software disk, which includes:
- MyFinePix Studio Ver 3.2 - A basic file viewer / manager (Windows only)
- FinePix Viewer Ver 3.6 - A file viewer / manager (for Mac OS X 10.3-10.6)
- RAW File Converter EX - A full-featured RAW converter based on SilkyPix
The X-E1 ships with its own customized, but fully featured version of SilkyPix, called RAW File Converter EX. This is a flexible piece of software that includes a vast range of options and adjustments, and which is capable of producing pretty impressive results. It's not the easiest converter to get to grips with though: its menus give the impression of having been machine-translated, the available options aren't necessarily very logically organized, and the on-screen 'Help', although comprehensive, is about as obtuse as you'll ever find (it tends to repeat what the options are, rather than explain what they mean). But if you're prepared to put in the time and effort to work it out, then the results can be very worthwhile.
Once you've worked your way past the slightly odd terminology (images are called 'scenes', and parameter sets get saved to the 'cloakroom'), you'll find a vast range of tools to rival industry leaders such as Capture One or Adobe Camera Raw. This includes features you won't always find in bundled software, such as highlight recovery, lens aberration correction, and perspective correction (here known, somewhat obtusely, as 'Digital Shift').
As usual we like to compare the supplied RAW conversion software, any optional manufacturer RAW conversion software and some third party RAW converter. In the case of the Fujifilm X-E1 we used the supplied RAW File Converter EX, Adobe Camera Raw 7.4 RC plug-in for Photoshop CS6, and Capture One Pro 7.0.2.
- JPEG - Large/Fine (default settings)
- ACR - Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 7.4 RC (default settings)
- Capture One Pro 7.0.2 (default settings)
- RFC - RAW File Converter EX (default settings)
Sharpness and Detail
Most cameras show distinctly more detail in RAW compared to their JPEG output, due to a combination of over-enthusiastic noise reduction and unsubtle sharpening usually present in the JPEGs, but de-mosaicing programs have struggled to handle the X-Trans sensor until recently. As a result on the X-E1 and X-Pro 1, it's the in-camera JPEG conversion that pulls a huge amount of detail out of the sensor data. Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One Pro and Raw File Converter EX all struggled with fine detail, particularly with detail in foliage.
The latest versions of ACR and Capture One both do considerably better than their predecessors, now rivaling the X-E1's JPEG output. Between the two, Capture One Pro characteristically sharpens more noticeably, while ACR leaves things a bit softer, producing a file with fewer sharpening artifacts, presumably so photographers can make their own choices about how much sharpening to apply. Fujifilm's own version of Silkypix comes up short without some custom tweaking, as you can see from the crop below, which is soft and murky.
In this comparison of the high-contrast detail of a test chart, the situation is slightly different. The in-camera processing produces a clean image that's entirely free of artifacts. Neither RAW converter can deliver higher resolution, and neither can quite match it for cleanliness either. Both ACR and Capture One produce color artifacts, but the latest versions do better with detail; Capture One's images are again a little sharper than they should be, leaving slight halos around areas of high contrast. SilkyPix's default rendering is softer, yet still exhibits some color error, though faint.
|JPEG from camera||RAW File Converter EX (RAW)|
|Adobe Camera Raw 7.4 RC (RAW)||Capture One Pro 7.0.2 (RAW)|
The X-E1's unique feature is, of course the X-Trans CMOS sensor, with its non-Bayer color filter array. This requires an entirely different de-mosaicing approach to produce an image file from the sensor data, and consequently third-party Raw converters can't support the camera as easily.
Adobe Camera Raw had trouble with color bleeding into spaces it shouldn't. Look closely at the Fujitsu and Rowney logos below, comparing the JPEG images to those translated with ACR 7.3. Even the blond hair passing over the robot body in our test shot turns to red and blue as it passes over the different colors. Adobe has minimized this effect, though overall image sharpness is reduced; it's difficult to tell whether the two phenomena are related, but it's far easier to fix softness than it is color bleed.
ACR 7.4 RC
Our studio test scene reveals these errors quite distinctly, but they're not as apparent in most real-world images. Still, those who want the image rendered as correctly as possible will cheer the new efforts of Adobe and Phase One, who seem to have successfully tackled the difficult de-mosaicing challenge posed by the X-Trans sensor.
See our more detailed analysis of Adobe's new X-Trans engine, built into the ACR 7.4 Release Candidate in our 'Adobe's Fujifilm X-Trans sensor processing tested' story.
Real world advantages
As we've shown above, Fujifilm's excellent processing means that the X-E1's JPEGs lose nothing in terms of detail compared to RAW. On top of this, the camera's generally-reliable white balance and appealing color rendition (especially in Soft/Astia mode) means that for many purposes it makes perfect sense to shoot JPEGs with the full intent of using them. What's more, if you shoot RAW alongside, then you can use the in-camera processing to apply many of the changes that make shooting RAW worthwhile, e.g. to correct for white balance errors, tweak image brightness, or adjust colors.
The example below was shot using Standard mode on a cloudy day, and the camera's automatic white balance rendered it quite cool. By adjusting the Raw file with a simple Cloudy white balance preset in ACR, we warmed things up a bit.
|Original JPEG||RAW file reconverted in Adobe Camera Raw|
Like the X-Pro 1, the XE1 delivers excellent JPEGs at high ISO sensitivity settings, to the extent that you don't really need to shoot in Raw mode from the perspective of applying noise reduction or sharpening tweaks. It's actually pretty hard to coax better image quality out of the X-E1's Raw files than you'll get out of the camera's JPEG engine. However, again, shooting raw does allow you to make changes to the color and tonal distribution of your images, something that can be very useful at high ISO settings. In the example below, we processed this ISO 6400 image with the aim of reducing the yellow color cast, and slightly lifting the shadows.
|Original JPEG, ISO 6400||100% crop|
|RAW file reconverted in Adobe Camera Raw||100% crop|
Overall then, the excellent quality of the X-E1's in-camera JPEG processing means that for many purposes it makes perfect sense to shoot JPEG+RAW with the full intent of using the JPEG by default, and only resorting to the RAWs when you want to pay an image special attention. You can also use the camera's own processing to make global tweaks to white balance and exposure for images that only need minor changes. Of course it's still best to use RAW for more extreme manipulations.
RAW files for download
Don't just take our word for it - take a look at the Fujifilm X-E1's RAW files for yourself, and run them through your preferred software and 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 X-E1's studio scene shots you can download original raw files from our 'Compared to (Raw)' page.
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