Phase One says the Capture One 12.1 X-Trans processing has been improved, and it’s easy to accept claims like this as fact, but it’s also good to check them now and again to see just how much significance they actually have.
Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensors have been giving RAW processing software problems for a little while. Most sensors use colour filter arrays with a ‘Bayer’ pattern that’s widely understood and easily processed. X-Trans sensors use a more irregular array that is reckoned by Fujifilm to be technically superior, but can end up looking worse in software not designed to deal with it.
Adobe has invented its new Enhance Details process to try to make X-Trans images look better, and DxO PhotoLab doesn’t attempt to process X-Trans files at all.
But Phase One is Fujifilm’s friend, and the RAW processing engine in Capture One already did a great job with X-Trans files – Capture One now supports Fujifilm Film Simulations directly too, and even offers a reduced cost Capture One 12 Fujifilm edition for owners of these cameras. So an improvement to the X-Trans processing will be big news in the Fujifilm community.
Well… the bottom line with the new Capture One 12.1 X-Trans processing is that it does make a difference, but it’s extremely difficult to see with the naked eye and you have to resort to some rather technical image comparisons to even know where to look.
Step 1: Sample images
I took the precaution of processing a number of X-Trans files from the ‘old’ Capture One 12 as ‘before’ shots for this experiment. Then I installed Capture One 12.1 and re-processed the same images with the same settings to produce comparison shots. I used RAW X-Trans files from a Fujifilm X-T3, but I’ve since repeated these experiments with X-Trans files from an X30 and achieved the same outcome.
Step 2: Visual comparisons
Viewing images side by side doesn’t really work because you have to move your eyes, so I devised a ‘flicker’ test, adding the ’12’ and ’12.1’ versions as layers in Photoshop, then clicking the ’12.1’ layer on and off to check for visual differences at 100% on-screen magnification. I couldn’t see any.
Step 3: Is there actually a difference?
The way to check this was to swap the blend mode of the top ’12.1’ layer to Difference. In theory, this would show differences between the two layers. The image, however, was completely black, suggesting no differences at all. A check of the histogram, however, revealed some data right at the dark end of the scale, so I adjusted the Levels to bring this out to see where the differences were.
Step 4: Knowing where to look
So with this exaggerated ‘Difference’ image I did at least know where to look. On some images, the differences were so faint they were impossible to see visually, but on this one of three singers it is possible to see changes in the patterns and text on the middle singer’s dress.
So what does the Capture One 12.1 X-Trans processing change actually achieve?
From my tests, it’d say visually it achieves almost nothing. The only way I could see any differences visually was with certain kinds of image detail, zoomed right in to 400% and by knowing exactly where to look.
It does appear that the new 12.1 X-Trans processing is better at demosaicing very fine, high-contrast detail. In the old ’12’ image, certain very small text shapes and pattern elements were filled in, elongated or otherwise distorted, while the new ’12.1’ processing appeared to render them more accurately. The ’12.1’ version also showed fewer processing artefacts (which would appear as faint noise) in white areas of the dress.
Phase One’s claim that X-Trans processing has been improved in Capture One 12.1 certainly appears to be true from a technical standpoint, but while the improvement can be shown, it’s very hard to make out visually unless you go to some length to find out where to look – and if you make any changes to the sharpening settings, any difference the X-Trans processing will immediately be swallowed up.
So the new X-Trans processing in Capture One 12 certainly makes a difference. It’s definitely worth having, but just don’t expect to be able to see it with the naked eye.