Lightroom and Fuji RAW Files

For a long time, I used Adobe Lightroom to manage my photography and process my RAW files. It was a good solution and I have thousands of hours invested in my Lightroom Catalog. If it weren’t for my having purchased a Fuji camera, I suspect I would still be happy using Lightroom. Unfortunately, a few years back I bought a Fuji XT1 which is where my problems started. And if your reading this it’s likely that you’re also dissatisfied with Lightroom processing, especially if you have a Fuji XT camera. If you are, read on because there are a few things you can do without switching to another RAW converter.

I should also clear up a couple of points in case your reading this and thinking just change your RAW converter. I have a lot of RAW files that I’ve catalogued in Lightroom since it first launched in 2006. Some are from my Fuji XT cameras, but a lot are from other cameras like Sony, Canon, Nikon, and Olympus. For many of these RAW files Lightroom does a great job in processing them. Because of this and that I built my workflow around Lightroom (for activities like keywording) I will continue to use it.

As for the RAW processing of Fuji XTrans RAW files, I have switched to Capture One which makes an excellent job of preserving image detail. Despite this, there are some editing techniques I use in Photoshop like Double RAW Processing where I need to work in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. When this happens, I want to be able to process my Fuji RAW files to a high standard.

Possible Fuji RAW Processing Solutions

Before we look at possible ways to improve Fuji RAW file processing in Lightroom let’s look at an example of the problem using this image.

Example Fuji RAW file processed in Lightroom

I shot the image using a Fuji XT2 with Fuji 18-135 lens. This lens isn’t the sharpest lens in the Fuji line-up and for some reason it seems to be prone to exhibiting problems when processing the RAW files in Lightroom. Here’s an example to illustrate.

Split screen Fuji RAW file processed in Lightroom

This is a section from the foreground of the image magnified to 200%. On the left is the unsharpened Fuji RAW file whilst you can see the sharpened version on the right. Notice how the ferns appear a little odd and unnatural, caused by something that’s become widely known as the wiggly worm effect. It’s typically seen in grass, ferns, and the bark of certain trees when the subject is a little more than 10-20 feet from the camera.

I’ve read a lot of articles by photographers who claim you can avoid the effect with certain sharpening and noise reduction settings. Having experimented with many of these, some work to a degree, but the image is often less than optimally sharpened. This is because part of the problem is the way Lightroom performs the Demosaic of the Fuji RAW file and isn’t only an issue with sharpening.

Lightroom Enhance Detail

If you don’t want to improve the way Lightroom processes Fuji RAW files without spending money, you may be able to use the Enhance Detail feature. Adobe launched this feature in 2019 which immediately improved the processing of Fuji RAW files. It will work with any RAW file supported by Adobe but whether there is any significant advantage for other types of RAW file is questionable.

This is also now available in Adobe Camera RAW which includes a Super Resolution feature.

To process a Fuji RAW file using Enhance Detail, first select the file in the Lightroom Library module. You can then select “Photo | Enhance Detail” from the Lightroom menu. This will process the RAW file, converting it to a new DNG format file. You can then process the DNG file in Lightroom, applying sharpening and noise reduction as required.

Lightroom Enhance Details produces sharp and quite natural results, with the wiggly worm effect being difficult to identify.

Example Fuji RAW processing using Lightroom Enhance Details

Here you can see a section of the image at 200% magnification. The Fuji RAW file was processed into a DNG file using the Lightroom Enhance Detail feature. I then sharpened the DNG to create the image on the right. Whilst it may be difficult to identify from screenshots, this is quite an improvement on the way Lightroom processes the standard Fuji RAW file.

Fuji XTransformer Processing

If you don’t mind investing a little money into a Lightroom solution, an extremely useful tool and one that I use is XTransformer from Iridient. You can use this application standalone or as a plugin for Lightroom. It works by handling the Demosaic of the Fuji RAW file, creating a DNG. You can then process this DNG file with Lightroom as you would any RAW file and the results are excellent.

Iridient Xtransformer DNG sharpened in Lightroom

In this example you again see a section of the image at 200% but this time processed using Iridient XTransformer. The unsharpened version of the DNG RAW file is on the left and clearly shows better detail than either the native Lightroom processing or Enhance Detail processing. On the right side you can see the image sharpened using the Lightroom sharpening tools.

It’s also possible to apply sharpening in XTransformer as part of the DNG conversion. When you do this and then apply additional sharpening using Lightroom (if required) you can further improve the results. But I won’t show the results here because there may now be a better option.

Topaz Sharpen AI

A few weeks back I shared some of my frustrations about processing Fuji XTrans files in Lightroom on my Lightweight Photographer blog. Someone then replied to say they get great results in Lightroom processing their Fuji RAW files by turning off the sharpening. They then apply to sharpen in Photoshop with Topaz DeNoise AI. Initially, I was a little sceptical but thought that I would give it a try. To my surprise, it appeared to work well.

Spurred on by this discovery I began to experiment with the different noise reduction modes. In case you aren’t familiar with Topaz DeNoise, it has three modes you can use and applies sharpening as well as noise reduction. You can read my review of Topaz Sharpen AI in this article. I then also tried out Topaz Sharpener AI and the results with some images were even better.

Here’s an example of the standard Fuji RAW file which I processed in Lightroom and with Topaz Sharpen AI.

RAF file processed in Lightroom and Topaz Sharpen AI

I processed the image on the left (1) in Lightroom from the Fuji RAW file but without any sharpening. The image on the right (3) is the same but with sharpening applied in Lightroom and which displays rather odd edges and detail. The central image (2) is the same as image 1 but sharpened using Topaz Sharpener AI set to auto.

Whilst it may be difficult to see from screenshots on a website, the most natural and detailed results came from using Topaz Sharpener AI. When you try this for yourself the improvement you see between the methods is quite marked.

Something else that I noticed whilst experimenting is that the sharpening preview in Lightroom at 200% magnification is poor compared to the final image. This could be because Lightroom is using a “rough” algorithm to produce a fast (but poor quality) preview of the sharpening. After processing the image and export to Photoshop it looks much better than the Lightroom preview.

Sharpen AI with XTransformer

Given the excellent results seen in Lightroom when first converting the Fuji RAW file with XTransformer, you may be wondering how well that DNG file would perform. Well here’s the result.

Xtranformer DNG with Sharpen AI

The image on the left (1) is the unsharpened DNG file from Iridient XTransformer. On the right (3) we have the original unsharpened Fuji RAW file processed in Lightroom. In the centre (2) we have the XTransformer DNG file sharpened with Topaz Sharpener AI. The improvement is substantial, and don’t forget that these samples are at 200% magnification. Not only is the image now packed with detail, but it looks completely natural.

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Closing Thoughts

Whilst this article has involved a lot of pixel peeping in Lightroom, I’m hoping it’s demonstrated there is a lot you can do to improve Lightroom processing of Fuji XTrans RAW files. If you don’t want to spend any money and have a recent version of Lightroom, the Enhance Detail feature will improve your Fuji RAW file processing. But if you don’t mind a little investment (or already have the software) there is a better way.

So far, the best results are by first processing the Fuji RAF file using Iridient XTransformer. I then export the resulting DNG to Photoshop where it’s sharpened using the Topaz Sharpener AI. For this I use the auto settings, but you may improve the results still further with a little experimentation. The only word of caution is to not sharpen the image or apply noise reduction before processing with Topaz Sharpen AI. Topaz Sharpen AI appears to work best when it handles both sharpening and noise reduction.

If you’re interested to try this out for yourself, you can download a demo version of Topaz Sharpen AI (affiliate link) from the Topaz website.

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