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Choosing a RAW converter– My Karma ran over your Dogma

Which image is better? (Click to enlarge)

It seems like no matter what you do or where you go, you can never escape the incessant drone of “my product is better” posts out in cyberspace. Name a photo product, and you’ll find fanboys (and girls) trumpeting the merits of their particular choice in gear, software, whatever. We live in a world where product diversity and competition is fierce, but one thing is completely evident to me: when it comes to RAW processing software, you really can’t go wrong with most of the popular choices out there right now.

The one thing that has started to irk me, though, is the beating of drums from people who claim Product A is superior to Product B based on no provable fact. Case in point: Nikon’s Capture NX. In 2005, I compared all the major RAW converters from a Nikon user’s perspective as part of a multi-part segment for The Image Doctors podcast. At that time, we were able to discern clear rendering quality differences between Capture NX and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Ah, but times have changed.

Since 2005, ACR has evolved better demosaic algorithms, new features, and camera profile settings that give you results that are at least as good, in my opinion, as what you can do with Capture NX2. The same is true for Aperture, Capture One, and other RAW processors. While there is no doubt that Nikon’s engineers understand the NEF format best, the argument that CNX2 somehow produces a superior conversion to everything else has gotten pretty weak over time. When I look at NEFs I’ve converted with Capture NX2 using standard settings and compare them to ACR conversions with similar settings, I don’t see anything between the two resulting images that would indicate that one is somehow “superior” to the other. What I see are two slightly different images, but neither one is “better” or “worse” in terms of detail, artifacts, or other obvious quality issues.

So what does that mean for you, the photographer, who is trying to filter through all the chatter and pick a RAW processing tool? Remove the subjective component of “conversion quality” from the discussion and instead look at features and workflow. Continue reading Choosing a RAW converter– My Karma ran over your Dogma

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