Sharpening Fujifilm RAW Files Without Worms

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UPDATE: I have dabbled with many options since I wrote this, I moved to Capture One Pro for a time which produces incredibly sharp results. I didn’t like the way it processed the tonality of the images and I didn’t like the workflow. I went back to Lightroom and now only use a small amount of sharpening in Lightroom and finish it off with different sharpening in Photoshop. I did not like the results of Iridient after using it for some time. I will be writing a post about how I sharpen my X-Trans files now soon, so please subscribe to be notified.

In my review of the Fujifilm X-T2 I remarked that the files were extremely sharp, while commenters pointed out that if you zoom in closely, there were worm looking artifacts and blotchy areas, especially in foliage. I failed to adequately examine the files at more than 100% zoom, which at this zoom level the files looked fantastic, at 300% it was a different story.

The ‘worm’ problem is a common one with Fuji raw files processed in Lightroom or Camera Raw; Adobe has failed to fine tune their raw processor to work with X-Trans files properly due to the different sensor array than most cameras, which have the Bayer array.

Once I identified this problem, I went on the hunt for the optimal Lightroom settings to get a clean raw file. Previously with the X-Trans II sensor (X-T1, X-E2, etc.), it was common to use a small radius of 0.5 and a high detail of 100 which produced relatively good results. With the X-Trans III sensor (X-T2 and X-Pro2) a Detail setting of 100 produces massive amounts of worms and artifacts when zoomed in farther than 100%. After hours of testing, I finally settled on the following settings: Amount: 60, Radius: 1.0, Detail: 5

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100
5
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I was surprised to see that I had to change the detail from 100 to 5, but this adjustment was where the worms were coming from, any amount over this instantly creates a nasty mess. The results with these settings are not great, but it is the best I could muster out of Lightroom with the limits on the Detail slider. To put it bluntly, Adobe sucks at sharpening X-Trans files. After deciding that Adobe was to blame, I went on the hunt for a raw processor that could handle X-Trans files properly.

The most common raw processor recommended for X-Trans files was the Iridient Developer, the only problem with this is that it was limited to Mac, and I am on Windows. I finally decided to borrow my girlfriends Mac and play around with Iridient, I was immediately impressed with the incredible detail in the files with no worms, it seemed glorious, and I thought about buying a Macbook. Then I quickly realized that I could not get the same colors and contrast that I was used to in Lightroom, I conceded defeat and went back to Lightroom, and did additional sharpening in Photoshop in the meantime.

A New Solution: Iridient X-Transformer

 

 

Recently, I was very excited to learn the developers of Iridient have released a new program called Iridient X-Transformer which is currently in beta and for Windows only, but there will be a Mac version in very soon according to the developer. This program allows you to process the raw file using the Iridient engine for sharpening, noise reduction, and lens corrections only. You end up with a ‘raw’ file that is properly sharpened with Iridient, but without the color adjustments, you can then bring the new file into Lightroom for all your other raw adjustments.

Iridient achieves this by interpolating the .raf file into a full-color RGB image, it is not quite as ‘raw’ as the original .raf, but it still has the same latitude as a raw, it is somewhere between a .tif file and a raw. The resulting file is a standard .dng file, so most raw converters like Lightroom treat this as a raw file, you can still change your white balance, and recover highlights and shadows in the same manner you would a .raf file. I have done extensive testing to ensure there is still plenty of data to work with, and I can see no difference in the .dng file and the original .raf when recovering highlights or pulling shadows.

Below is an example zoomed in at 250%, on the left is Lightroom complete with worms, and X-Transformer on the right, lots of detail with no worms. Keep in mind that this is RAW sharpening and zoomed in very tight, you should not see incredible amounts of detail at this stage of sharpening in either case, but the sharpening should be clean.

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Lightroom
X-Transformer
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Iridient X-Transformer is a dead simple program, you only have a few settings to choose from, the primary setting to pay attention to is RAW Process, there are two settings to choose from (More Detailed and Smoother), either works very well. For landscapes, I lean towards More Detailed most of the time and have found the default settings for everything else to work very well after extensive testing. The Sharpening amount of Default seems to lie somewhere between Medium and High, which I have found to be the perfect amount of RAW sharpening for landscapes. Using an amount of High is too much for most images and leaves no latitude for later specific sharpening for creative sharpening, print sharpening, or web sharpening.

 

 

The lens corrections seem to work well most of the time, but Lightroom does seem to handle chromatic abberation better on some images. Occasionally I found some Axial CA which shows as red fringing on certain images, a simple adjustment in the Lens Corrections panel of Lightroom fixes this easily, under Manual > Defringe set The Amount for Purple to 2, and the Purple Hue to 60/100. I would not apply this to every image, only when the fringing appears.

Below is the final web sharpened version at 2500px, click to see large.

There are different ways to use X-Developer in your workflow; you can choose to keep your current workflow of importing .raf files into Lightroom and process each file individually in X-Developer. (If you use Lightroom there are instructions in the help file of X-Developer to add a new external editor which will automatically process your files in X-Developer and re-import them back into Lightroom with two clicks.) The other option is to download your .raf files onto your computer, batch process all of them in X-Developer, and then import the resulting .dng files into Lightroom. If you are working with a lot of images, the second option is your best bet, but keep in mind that the processing is baked into the new .dng file, there is no going back unless you keep the original .raf file. I have chosen the first option since I tend only to process one image at a time and spend a lot of time on each image.

Another example of foliage from a different image zoomed in to 300%:

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Lightroom
X-Transformer
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I highly recommend Iridient X-Transformer to all Fuji shooters, it will dramatically improve the sharpness of your photos, with minimal disruption in your workflow. The software is well worth $30 to me, it is free to try but the file will be watermarked.

Another Option: ON1 Photo RAW

Another option that has just appeared is the latest version of ON1 Photo RAW. Finally, in the most recent update they have added support for compressed .raf files and it will properly sharpen X-Trans files. The sharpening is exceptional using the Progressive setting, but I personally do not like all the other aspects of processing in this RAW converter. I was unable to achieve the colors, contrast, etc. that I am used to in Lightroom, plus it feels clunky to me. Between the disruption of workflow this would cause, and the overall feel/usability of this software, I will not be using it. Try the demo yourself and come to your own conclusions.

ON1 on the left, X-Transformer on the right:

If you would like to take a closer look at all the sharpening methods used, you can download a full resolution .tif file that has all the files layered into one document, open this is Photoshop and turn the layers on and off to see the differences.

In a future post I will cover sharpening for web, print, and creative sharpening so be sure to subscribe below.

David is a professional landscape and nature photographer originally from Loveland, Colorado who is now traveling the American West full-time in an RV with his photography and life partner Jennifer Renwick, and their two cats.

David has published an eBook called Nightscape and has in-depth videos on post processing. David and his partner Jennifer Renwick find joy in teaching others photography in their photography workshops, and through their blog.

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20 thoughts on “Sharpening Fujifilm RAW Files Without Worms”

  1. I just opened my X-Pro2 files in Luminar 2018. Luminar does a very nice job of opening the RAW files directly. I was able to do basic processing there and open the processed file in PS CC. I haven’t printed a file yet…. Stay tuned. David, have you tried Luminar?

  2. We just tried out an X-T2 and processed the pictures in LR and Capture One. Huge difference. Capture One, like all software, has its quirks/learning curve. But I was able to print both pictures, which were heavily cropped, at 16×20. Night and day difference. Capture One is the way to go.

  3. https://www.flickr.com/phot
    I just see pictures as a whole”, Im not examining photos looking for secret codes or worms. I think many pictures already great but people tend to push the sharpen sliders just to get the worms. If you got a good focus you dont need to do any sharpen and this applies to every other camera

  4. With my X-T20 I was about to go crazy or believe I had a faulty camera before finding this. I never had this problem with the X100S which produces beautiful raw files. I believe the problem arises when they went with the bigger resolution files. Even on files with low ISO I find these awful artifacts. Completely unacceptable. I love Fuji Color rendition and skin tones, but I’m out. I’m currently selling the camera on ebay and will keep my Canon gear until they fix this issue.

  5. Here’s the problem: the pictures are not sharp enough unless you apply sharpening, and then the worms appear. Objectively it is an issue, not just opinion.

  6. Catherine Manne

    Yeah I agree that pushing the Sharp sliders does create more worms.
    Its not a secret when you can plainly see poor rendering and when a mere 100% look at the files reveals the basis of that rendering its not a secret code but an obvious FLAW.

    I tend to use awareness in judging my work and not hiding from the obvious.

  7. Catherine Manne

    I think that the worms display themselves in the structure of the rendering, and lack of micro contrast.
    I discovered the worms bc I first questioned the rendering and the look of the files lacking pop and having an overall flatness.
    Zooming in to discover an ocean of worms permanently turned me off to Fuji knowing what lay beneath, ugh.

    An example would be to compare to higher quality lenses like a Leica or Zeiss on a body that isn’t X Trans.

    You can see the smooth beautiful rendering created by other sensor and lens combos.

    Fuji’s 16mm is it’s best lens and its a poor second to many others because of the X trans sensors issues.

    1. Recently I switched over to Capture One Pro as well, the results are light years better than even Iridient, I am finally happy with the X-trans files!

      1. When processing the files with Capture One I believe this statement is incorrect, and discerning photogs should consider Fuji. Here is an example of recent images I have processed in Capture One (forgive the placeholder text as this page is a work in progress) https://www.davidkingham.co

        1. Catherine Manne

          I am hoping that Capture One can bring fuji files into the realm of professional use. Thought I think the smaller sized sensor is also an issue when you can buy smaller FF bodies more and more.

          Your images look interesting but don’t you agree they are missing Microcontrast? I am not sure what lens you are using.

          I think that the 16mm is Fuji’s best lens and still it often is a let down compared to my simple Coolpix A in rendering and sharpness.

          1. Catherine Manne

            I agree with you that Capture One is creating results much superior to Iridient which I feel merely added noise and other issues while forcing sharpness unnatural looking.

            But I will have to continue working with them to see if the files can reach a level of acceptability. When there are so many options that produce better results with great ease and joy.

            Why settle.
            Life is short.

            But I will work with Capture One more before selling my Fuji system and going of rah new Nikon body or simply using a RX1 which destroys the fuji files in every way.

            If I didn’t enjoy the Fuji bodies SO much I wouldn’t even be trying to save these files and finding a better workflow.

  8. Catherine Manne

    Agreed, Capture 1 Is the BEST for Fuji files so far.
    I will use it a bit more before I sell my Fuji on eBay and move on to Sony.

    With so many options there is no reason to settle for worms, noise and poor rendering.

    Ill pay the extra cash and get better gear.

  9. Catherine Manne

    Perfectly stated.I love the bodies and their usability. But the raw files are garbage especially at higher ISO’sWhy struggle to process files after working so hard to capture good photos only to have poor quality to work with.I fail to understand how people can’t see the POOR rendering and flat photos that are bing created by Fuji. You don’t need to go to 100% to KNOW something is wrong, bc the rendering and microconstrast is SO poor.But when you dig in, and see terrible WORMS and waxing etc it’s obvious the evidence doesn’t lie as to why the photos look the way that they do.Fuji makes great and fun toys.But for the discerning photog.Fuji isn’t even a consideration.And that’s why Fuji didn’t use the Trans sensor in the GFXThat would have been suicide.

  10. Catherine Manne

    I just tried the new Capture 1 and it had some good results with Fuji raw. I think it’s better than iridient in that it brought out some sharpness without adding more noise.

  11. https://www.flickr.com/phot
    I just see pictures as a whole, Im not examining photos looking for secret codes or worms. I think many pictures already great but people tend to push the sharpen sliders just to get the worms. If you got a good focus you dont need to do any sharpen and this applies to every other camera

  12. I sold my X-T2 because of this, the solutions are just a small bandage for the problem really. If I use Iridient, I have to mess around with another program and spend time rendering in that as well as Lightroom’s 1:1 previews.I found that in lower light scenes, Iridient isn’t very good because it adds artefacts and makes noise look much worse. So my three choices are: put up with poor sharpening algorithms which make a watercolour and wormy effect, use Iridient which needs low sharpening when the scene is dark which is going to result in soft looking photos OR use low sharpening settings in Lightroom which makes the sharpness look very poor indeed for a 24mp sensor with no AA filter.Enjoyed the ergonomics and style of the X-T2 a lot but I’ll reconsider them when they start using Bayer sensors…

  13. Simon Sant Cassia

    Great tips! From the screenshots above it seems ON1 produces the best results, but overall I agree – not worth the workflow disruption.

    I’m still with my X-Trans II sensor and I’m using the Pete Bridgwood method: http://petebridgwood.com/wp

    However, I also experience significant worming when I try to push it further. Frankly, I feel like sometimes it doesn’t matter how much I sharpen as so few people are zooming in to 100%, and they look great when printed no matter what. It almost feels like a distraction.

    1. Whether it’s a distraction or not really depends on how large you are printing, if you print an 8×12 you will never see the worms, a 30×45 print would be a very different story

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