Raw conversion software is not all the same, as each has strengths and weaknesses that affect your images in very different ways. Richard Sibley compares seven third-party raw converters to see which resolves the most detail

Software Choice

Every camera that shoots raw will come with
its own raw conversion software. Many photographers are happy with this
and there are obvious benefits to using software developed by the
manufacturer of your camera. Colours often more closely match in-camera
JPEGs, while extended options, such as dynamic range optimisation and
other image effects, can be found in the software. However, if a person
owns more than one digital camera from different manufacturers,
switching between different raw converters can become a pain. This is
where third-party software comes in.

Ease of Use

While
image quality should, of course, be the overriding concern when
assessing raw conversion software, the program should also be
understandable and easy to use. If software has awkward layouts and
settings, it becomes more difficult and frustrating to achieve the
desired result. If using the software is not enjoyable, it will take you
longer to edit images, which is time better spent taking photographs.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is excellent for image management

How
straightforward these programs are to use is hugely subjective. Those
who use Lightroom will no doubt find switching to another raw converter
difficult, and vice versa. Conversely, if a raw converter is too simple,
it will be difficult to maximise the full potential of your images.

Although
most of the software in this test is straightforward, some of them do
have a few quirks. For instance, Apple Aperture has basic sliders for
sharpening and noise reduction as part of the main image settings
palette. However, there are further options that aren’t shown or enabled
by default, but using these allows for a far greater level of control
compared to using a single slider.

Corel AfterShot Pro (formerly Bibble)
has three different noise-reduction options

AfterShot
Pro also has three different noise reduction options: Noise Ninja
Standard, Noise Ninja Registered and Raw Noise, which includes the oddly
named Raw Impulse Noise Removal button. Noise Ninja is actually
third-party software that can be used from within the standard AfterShot
Pro dialogue. If you have a registered copy of Noise Ninja, the
extensive and excellent settings can be used, including dedicated noise
profiles, depending on your camera and the image sensitivity.

Some
software will also help to catalogue and organise images. Lightroom,
Aperture and Capture One really stand out in this respect. Meanwhile,
other software performs image adjustments based on the particular
camera, lens and exposure settings used. This means all basic
adjustments can be automatically performed, leaving you to get on with
the fine-tuning of your images.

DxO Optics Pro has a huge range of automatic corrections based on the specific model of camera and lens used

DxO
optics has long been the industry standard for automatic image
correction based on the camera and lens used, but others have started to
follow suit in the past few years. Capture One and AfterShot Pro both
offer automatic lens corrections, while Adobe has added this facility to
Camera Raw and Lightroom, even giving photographers the ability to
create their own profiles for their own camera and lenses.

Value for Money

Price
should, of course, be a consideration, but given how long you could
potentially spend editing images, this is one area where it really pays
to get software that will suit your needs. Otherwise, you might save a
few pounds only to end up spending far more time than necessary staring
at a screen.

With all the software in this test available as
free 30-day or 60-day trials, why not download a few packages that have the
features you want and decide which one you prefer?

  1. 1. Raw Converters
  2. 2. Software Choice
  3. 3. Verdict
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