Right Software for Raw Processing

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Today’s Question: I recently was told that RAW conversion should be done through the manufacturer’s software rather than from a third party like Adobe. The reason being that Adobe has to reverse engineer the RAW conversion and data is lost while the manufacturer’s software is optimized for their RAW format. How big an advantage is this?

Tim’s Quick Answer: With the advances of the latest software for processing raw captures, I would say there is no advantage in terms of image quality when it comes to software from the camera manufacturer versus third party software developers such as Adobe. In my mind the only reason to use the software from the manufacturer of your camera to process raw captures is to take advantage of special camera features that third-party software applications don’t support.

More Detail: In theory there are some advantages to using the software from the manufacturer of your camera to process your raw captures. In reality, the benefits are mostly quite minimal.

The most important aspect of raw-processing is creating an image with optimal quality, with relatively accurate tone and color, and a pleasing look. The top software tools available today all provide very good image quality, and the baseline interpretation of tone and color are generally good. And if the tone and color aren’t optimal, you have a variety of adjustment tools available to optimize the appearance of the image.

Therefore, in my mind the only real reason that would clearly favor the software from the manufacturer of your camera is to take advantage of special camera features you aren’t able to access with third-party raw-processing software. For example, some cameras include a dust removal feature, where dust and other blemishes are detected on the sensor, and that information can be used in post-processing to automatically remove the blemishes from the image.

It is true that a raw capture will contain proprietary information that only the camera manufacturer can interpret. However, in general the lack of access to that information won’t create significant problems. For example, in-camera settings that alter the appearance of a photo won’t affect a raw capture, but much of that information may be available in the special metadata that can only be interpreted by the software from your camera’s manufacturer. Because of this issue, the initial interpretation of the raw capture may have higher fidelity with the manufacturer’s software. But you could still achieve an equally good result with adjustments using other software.

Ultimately, I feel you should make a decision about raw-processing software based on both image quality and workflow efficiency. In my experience the best results don’t require the software from the manufacturer of your camera, and in fact you can achieve excellent results with Adobe’s raw processing tools (such as Lightroom and Camera Raw).