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I have always used Picasa as I was with point and shot camera. Now, I want to learn photography and have brought a Canon DSLR with which I got Canon Utilities to manage the pictures and video. On internet and from friends, got to know about RAW files, conversion and some of the software for it. On internet, many people claimed that Abobe LightRoom should be used for for RAW conversion.

My question is, should I used Canon Utilities or LightRoom for RAW conversion? From both, which one gives best result for the conversion? My camera, Canon 600D/T3i offers 14 bit RAW. Also, can I use Picasa for the conversion?

Thanks in advance!

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It all depends on the workflow you adapt too. For me Canon DPP is the unused installation and everything i do is completely in Lightroom. –  RDX TFC Jul 22 '12 at 19:24
    
@RDX TFC: Your answer is not what I have asked. It is specific to the RAW conversion difference in Lightroom and Canon DPP. –  Nitin Kumar Jul 23 '12 at 0:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is kind of a tough question, as there are various different aspects of Canon DPP and Lightroom/ACR that offer both pros and cons for each tool. Both DPP and LR/ACR will produce better results than Picasa, which while it does support RAW conversion, is not a top of the line tool explicitly designed for converting RAW files (it's more of a photo management tool than anything.)

Canon Digital Photo Professional

When it comes to Canon DPP, you'll probably find that it offers a lit better control over the shadows, and in some cases better noise reduction. DPP is straight from Canon, the designers of the CR2 raw format, and they maximize the dynamic range potential and electronic noise removal potential in their own tool. If you must extract the most dynamic range possible from your files, or tend to have problems with fixed pattern noise, DPP will generally do a slightly better job than ACR. DPP has also offered color curve editing for a while, a feature that has only recently made its way into Lightroom, albeit in a minimalistic way. In the past, the difference was significant enough that many Canon photographers would use DPP despite hating its UI, however with Lightroom 4.x and ACR 7.x, things are improving for Canon in those tools.

There are a few drawbacks to using Canon DPP. First and foremost, its not the greatest tool from a workflow or UI layout standpoint. It can at times be quite frustrating to work with. Another issue with DPP is its demosaicing algorithm. While it tends to handle dynamic range and noise well, it is not as good as LR/ACR at avoiding color moire in some cases, and for fine detail such as hair, dimples, pine needles, etc. it tends to produce semi-aliased edges. If you only have Photoshop+ACR 6 or Lightroom 3.x or older, then DPP does have quite a bit to offer...however it definitely comes with trade-offs.

Photoshop w/ Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom

While Canon DPP has a few key things to offer, such as better DR when editing CR2 files, it lacks a lot compared to Photoshop+ACR or Lightroom. Both Photoshop and Lightroom have better UIs, and offer far more extensive tool sets with which to process your photos. Lightroom offers a very significant advantage in terms of workflow and library management. With the latest Lightroom 4.x releases, Lightroom brings several new features that are not present in DPP, such as print soft-proofing. Lightroom's newest raw processing engine, used in ACR 7.x and Lightroom 4.x, greatly enhances control over the full tonal range present in a RAW file. Particularly in the highlights, but also in the shadows. This closed the gap between LR/ACR and DPP, however it has not yet given Adobe's products an edge when it comes to extracting the most out of the available dynamic range. An area where LR/ACR excel is their demosaicing algorithm. It is a very refined algorithm that is capable of eliminating most color moire, and it is capable of producing very clean, sharp edges especially along fine detail like hair.

From a cons standpoint, LR/ACR are not as capable at removing noise, particularly electronic noise contributions, from CR2 files. Canon DPP still does a better job in this area. I've also had a hard time determining whether the latest LR/ACR does a better or worse job removing noise than Lightroom 3.x...in some cases it seems slightly better, in other cases LR4.x and ACR 7.x seem to blur a lot of useful detail away when removing noise that LR 3.x did not. When it comes to dynamic range, and extracting detail from the deep shadows, LR does not seem to do the CR2 format justice. Despite considerable improvements in Adobe's latest raw processing engine, Canon RAW files still seem to suffer quite a bit on the low end of the dynamic range. They fare quite well in the highlights, and LR 4.1 is able to extract an astonishing amount of detail from what one would normally think were completely blown white highlights. Shadow pulling, however, seem to greatly enhance noise, and if you have any fixed pattern noise (FPN), it readily comes to the surface when working shadows. FPN is usually only a problem at the lowest ISO settings...beyond ISO 400 noise is mostly photon shot noise and very random. At ISO 100 and 200 can often exhibit FPN right into the lower mid-tones (something that doesn't occur that often in DPP.)

Choices

Personally, I use Lightroom for my post-processing work. Despite its drawbacks in terms of handling Canon CR2 files and extracting the most out of dynamic range, and its sometimes lackluster noise removal, it has so much more to offer that I'm willing to accept those two drawbacks. Since Lightroom handles highlight dr so well for CR2 files, you can often mitigate the problems with shadow dr by exposing to the right (adjust exposure so it bunches up more in the highlights than the shadows, without oversaturating as much as possible). You can easily pull down highlights and have more dynamic range in the shadows to work with. You'll never realize the same amount of DR as you could extract from a camera using a Sony Exmor sensor (like the Nikon D800), but you can improve your options. If dynamic range or FPN removal is of paramount importance, you might want to look into using DPP, at least in those cases where you need to perform a lot of shadow lifting. You might take a hit to fine detail edge quality (and you might find that fine detail in general becomes a little more blocky), but you should see better results in the areas where LR is weakest.

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Thanks for a very detailed answers. As I have only recently begin into DSLR photography, I will give both, a try. I have to understand the dynamic range and demosaicing. My first impression of Lightroom is, its GUI is so clumsy and confusing in comparison to Picasa. Maybe, I have to get used to it as it give much more advanced features as compared to Picasa. –  Nitin Kumar Jul 23 '12 at 0:47
    
Although it is an extra step in your work flow, you can process in DPP and export as a 16-bit TIFF Into LR if you need to take advantage of both program's strengths. As jrista has pointed out rather well it really varies from one image to the next which program will give you more of what you want to do with that particular image. –  Michael Clark Feb 15 '13 at 7:38
    
@jrista: Regarding noise reduction, and trying to compare which software (or version) does better with CR2 files: In my experience with images from my 7D, the results using DPP will often vary widely from one shot to the next (even when they are all the same ISO and basic exposure of the same basic scene). I don't get near the inconsistency shot to shot with either my 5DII or my 50D. For those two cameras the noise for a particular ISO and shooting condition stays much more consistent from one shot to the next. –  Michael Clark Feb 15 '13 at 8:28

If you're not going to modify the settings then you may as well not shoot in RAW at all. The idea of shooting in RAW is that you can modify the settings that will be applied in the conversion to JPEG or whatever.

As far as which one is best... I would hope Lightroom because I paid for it, though I could see the vendor's program might be best because it's made for that particular file type, but I imaging the best one will be the one you like using most; which one facilitates your workflow the best.

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I am a advocate of Lightroom and it's workflow far outweighs that of dpp so much so that I uninstalled dpp. But recently I have been processing files in Lightroom and strange diagonal lines were appearing in file from a recent safari trip. I have heard this could be caused by Lightroom not being able to convert the files if auto lighting optimiser is selected in camera, so today I am reinstalling dpp to hopefully see if this can be rectified and then importing again into Lightroom for further editing as either modified raw or tiff, will keep you posted.

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As it is now, your answer does not provide much value in answering the question. When you have done your test though, please edit your answer to include what you found out. –  Esa Paulasto Nov 9 '13 at 5:08

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