Monday, 14 October 2019

Beware of the Worms - sharpening Fuji files in Lightroom

Worms. Not a word I typically associate with photography. We have a dog though. And yes, worms is a topic of conversation that is often associated with her (every 6 months with the vet).

Yet since moving to the Fujifilm system, I have come across the term 'worms' being mentioned in relation to Fuji images on many occasions. Mainly in regards to the post-processing of files from the x-trans sensor, in Adobe's Lightroom.

Rock the Boat. Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 pancake. f/5.6 @ 1/480th, ISO 200. C1: Classic Chrome recipe
Many people report to seeing 'worm-like' artifacts in Fuji files, specifically after image sharpening. Fuji files have become somewhat notorious for the dreaded 'worm' effect. Lots of reports on the interwebs discuss the issue, and refer to photos that look like watercolour paintings due to the worm-like pattern that pervades the entire image.

This kind of talk is, not surprisingly, cause for some concern. And also, for someone like me, requires a little more investigation. I don't want photos that look like watercolour paintings (unless that's the specific look I'm going for), and would certainly like to avoid 'worms' in my images if at all possible - thank you very much!

Rock the Boat detail - 100% crop of central portion
Which of course got me thinking - and looking - very hard, at all the images I've taken with the Fuji X cameras thus far. And I can't say that I have ever noticed, or been bothered by, worm-like artifacts in any of my Fuji images. The above 100% crop is as crisp and as clear as any other file, from any other camera system, that I've ever used. The 'mottling' you can see on the surface of the boat is actual paint - not wormy artifacts generated by the sensor! It's super crisp, super sharp, and not a worm in site!

But then again, it hasn't been sharpened at all in Lightroom. It is a jpeg direct from camera, which LR does not apply any sharpening to on import. I even have sharpening set to -1 in-camera for the above image, which was taken using my C1: Classic Chrome recipe. And it's plenty sharp enough (btw, Lightroom does have a default sharpening for RAW files upon import; Amount: 40, Radius: 1, Detail: 25). I have found the Fuji x-trans files to be super sharp straight out of camera, even the RAW files, and have honestly not felt the need to sharpen them later on in post. But what if I did need to?

Beach Sculpture with Worms? Fuji X-E1 with XF 27mm f2.8
Above is a Fuji RAW file (RAF), processed in Lightroom, with a heck of a lot of sharpening applied! Looks okay on the web at screen resolution, but what about zoomed in to 200%?

Worms galore!
And there it is folks! Worms! My Fuji has Worms! They are clearly visible at 200% (and 100% to be fair), and certainly give a very watercoloury effect to the details (or lack thereof) in the image.

But hang on a minute. This is, as I said, after a heck of a lot of sharpening has been applied. Sharpening that, as I've already stated with my Fujifilm files, I didn't need to apply. How much sharpening has been applied you ask? How about 140% (close to Lightroom's maximum) with a 0.5 radius and 60 detail. That's a serious amount of sharpening! How would other files hold up to this amount of pixel punishment? How about a Nikon or Canon RAW file?

Motukeikei Beach Low Tide. Nikon D300 with Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens. f/11 @ 1/13th, ISO 200
With the same amount of excessive sharpening applied in Lightroom, the Nikon NEF file above (converted to a jpeg for posting) also looks fairly decent at screen resolution for the web. But what happens if we zoom in a little closer?

Nikon NEF at 200% 'oversharpened' in Adobe Lightroom. Yep - it's got worms!
Zoom in to 200% on the over-sharpened Nikon RAW file and you will also see the wormy artifacts all through the image. Perhaps maybe not quite as prominent as in the Fuji file, but they are definitely there nonetheless. So it would seem this whole worm thing isn't a Fujifilm issue per se, but an Adobe Lightroom oversharpening issue for all files? But let's not stop there...

Home Sweet Home. Canon 650D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm. f/8 @ 1/400th, ISO 200.
And then there was Canon. Once again, with the same excessive sharpening applied, the reduced image for the web is passable.

Wormy worms everywhere!
And once again, zoomed in to 200%, the resulting Canon file has the dreaded worms! They're everywhere! So it would seem that, pushed to the limit and over-sharpened, all image files from all camera manufacturers will produce the worm-like artifacts when processed in Adobe Lightroom. Not just Fujifilm files.

These examples are admittedly fairly extreme. What happens if we dial back on the aggressiveness? 




With all the images re-processed at a less aggressive sharpening in Lightroom (Amount 120%, Radius 0.5, Detail 20 and Masking of 80), the results are much better - all the worms have gone, from all the files. So it would appear that the worm issue is not a Fujifilm issue at all, but is in fact an Adobe Lightroom sharpening algorithm issue.

Want further proof? Sharpen your Fuji RAW files in Capture One's Fuji-specific RAW processing software (Capture One Express for Fujifilm is free). Ramp that sucker up to 1000% sharpening and there will be nary a worm in site! Not one. Of course it will look terrible for other reasons (never sharpen at 1000%), but it certainly won't have a 'worm' issue. The worm issue is Adobe's, not Fuji's.

So I'm moving my workflow to Capture One for my Fuji files then - right? Well, I have certainly downloaded Capture One Express 12 for Fujifilm (the free version), and if I was going to do a lot of sharpening of my Fuji files then I would most definitely be doing it in Capture One Express.

But (there's that 'but' again...), as I said somewhere near the beginning of this post, I have never noticed worm artifacts in my Fujifilm files - all of which have been processed in Lightroom, and none of which have, as yet, needed any sharpening. So my 'need' to switch to Capture One to avoid worm artifacts doesn't actually exist. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke..."

I'm happy/thrilled/ecstatic with the final results I'm getting processing my Fuji files through Lightroom. Maybe I'm not all that picky? Maybe I don't know what the hell I'm on about (that's a possibility). Maybe I can't be bothered learning (and paying $240NZ or $20NZ per month) another software programme? 

Don't get me wrong, Capture One Pro looks like an amazing RAW processing engine. In many ways superior to Adobe's Lightroom. But I'm already paying for Lightroom, which in itself is superior to Capture One Express - the free version (not surprisingly). And who knows, maybe one day Adobe will fix their sharpening algorithm?

I appreciate this probably isn't the most scientific of studies. If you're not sure about my findings, go ahead and go through this process with your own files. Be my guest. I think you'll probably come to similar conclusions?

Finally, I want to end by restating my claim about this worm issue. This is not a Fuji file problem. It's an Adobe problem. I'm also really not quite sure why it's only being associated with Fuji? Why is there no 'Nikon worm issue' or 'Canon worm issue' pervading the internet? All of these manufacturer's files exhibit 'worms' in Lightroom when pushed. So forget Fuji. It's Adobe that has worms. Ewww!

1 comment:

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Wayne