Is There a Preferred RAW Converter?

Short answer: yes, but it varies with the camera you're using.

It always feels like I'm going down a rabbit hole these days. Bugs Bunny is getting really annoyed with me dropping in for a visit.

There's just one problem with my short answer: everything keeps changing. Photo processing software is a seriously moving target. Just when you think you have an answer, a new version of something comes out and the answer changes (see final paragraphs).

But at the risk of having the ground fall out from under me and paying an unexpected visit to Bugs again, here's my current thinking:

  • Canon userAdobe converters. Originally, the Photoshop guys were pretty much a Canon shooting crowd. The Adobe assumptions about demosaicing and color were very much informed by that. Given that Canon is the overwhelming market leader in terms of volume (50% of ILCs), Adobe seems to spend more time and care dialing in Canon results than anything else. I wouldn't expect otherwise. 
  • Fujifilm userIridient Developer, probably. Oh X-Trans. Now complicated by phase detect positions on the sensor. More than any of the other type of raw files, the best way to convert a RAF has changed over time. I'm not even sure my current experience is correct things change so fast. One problem with Iridient is that it's a Mac product (though there's a Windows "transformer" option). The other problem is that it's a slightly awkward program to use in a workflow. Still, the best RAF conversions I've seen come out of this converter.
  • Nikon userCapture NX-D, but... If you want raw conversions that exactly match what the JPEG engine in the camera does (which is really, really good), then there isn't another choice. The problem is that NX-D is just the Silkypix base with Nikon modifications, and it tends to be slow, cumbersome, and buggy. Personally, I've had no end of issues with Capture since Nikon took it back over from Nik. So Nikon users tend towards Adobe, Capture One, onOne, or Luminar. Note that the Z6 and Z7 NEF files provide Adobe converters with some additional XMP information automatically, so Adobe isn't a bad choice over Capture NX-D.
  • m4/3 userDxO PhotoLab 2. In particular, if you can endure the extra processing time needed for the PRIME noise reduction in PhotoLab, this is really the best way to make the most from the small image sensor. If I've got higher ISO m4/3 images I need to process, PhotoLab is always where I head first.
  • Sony userCapture One. First, there's the fact that Capture One Express is free for Sony users (and upgrades to a fuller version are discounted). But then there's the fact that Sony and Phase One did some work together behind the scenes, and I think it shows. Phase One's color science works quite well with the Sony cameras. 

That said, there's something to be said for choosing a converter that fits your workflow and sticking with it. Moreover, choose one that has plenty of tutorial instruction and instructor support.

Over time, I've learned how to make Photoshop ACR jump through hoops and do what I command it to. On my Olympus ORF files, for example, I've got maybe 16 "corrections" I pretty much perform at some level from what Adobe wants to do by default. 

You can chase your tail by switching from converter to converter. Your learning curve will be massive, and then new versions of converters come out, and everything you think you've gained is now questioned again. 

But someone asked, and I answered. Different answer available tomorrow...

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