If you own a camera that shoots RAW, you owe it to yourself to try out Iridient Digital’s RAW Developer. While I prefer lightroom for photo management, and other RAW processing features, neither it or Photoshop can compare to RAW Developer in detail extracted from Raw Files.
Here is an example. Lightroom on the top and RAW Developer on the bottom.
Actually, I cheated a little bit. Lightroom sharpening is just terrible on this image. So I do no sharpening, opened in Photoshop and used smart sharpen at 150% at .4 radius. This looks much better than the sharpening offered by Lightroom.
The RAW Developer version is using the R-L Deconvolution sharpening at .6 radius with 30 iterations.
You can see that the lightroom version looks “smeary”, killing all fine detail in the sand and rock. The RAW Developer version looks more film-like and certainly seems to be pulling out a lot more detail.
As far as I can tell, and from a short correspondence with Brian Griffith of Iridient, much of the difference you see is because Lightroom is being more aggressive about noise reduction in its demosaicing algorithm, even with all noise reduction turned off.
To test this, I processed a file with RAW Developer, and turned off sharpening. I then sharpened with both smart sharpen in PS and R-L deconvolution in RD. Both looked virtually identical.
There is some noise in the skies with the RAW Developer file, but nothing that lightroom masking can’t take care of. I really hope that the Lightroom team will make some effort to bring this level of detail into the lightroom engine and offer the ability to increase the noise reduction if necessary.
Update: Lightroom 3 Beta has made changes to the RAW processing image that give results virtually identical to Raw Developer. Good job Lightroom team!