I am looking for my first (and possibly only one ever) raw photo editor for my Nikon D5100 gear. Naturally I started by looking at Capture NX2. I read two interesting articles about it:

http://www.nx101.com/dynamicrange.html: it says that after setting white balance and exposure, the actual effect editing only works on a basic 8-bit color space. http://www.nx101.com/colorandgamma.html: it says that pixel operations are not gamma aware. I followed up on the subject and I totally get it, basically, the average of a 0,0,0 black and a 255,255,255 white in sRGB is NOT the linear average 128,128,128 but rather 187,187,187. I read that Lightroom is one of the few software where they get it right.

Judging by the release history, NX2 is quite old, there have been only slight updates (adding new lenses, cameras, etc.), whereas Lightroom for example is very actively developed. NX2 has control points from the Nik plugin collection, Lightroom has its local adjustment brush, both seem pretty advanced to me, but Nik seems to have a better reputation.

Then there are several free alternatives as well. There are infinitely many ways to compare them, like the user interface, the price, the workflow, the toolset, etc. In this question I'm only focusing on this one aspect: what is the technically, scientifically most advanced raw photo editor? What is the state of the art, who has the best, fastest algorithms?

(I know that when choosing a software, I cannot judge solely on this, but this is an important aspect to me and I seem to find little information about this in reviews.)

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    This question seems to me to be verging on opinion - by "technically most advanced" do you mean noise reduction, sharpening, moire removal, Bayer or X-Trans, highlight recovery or something else? It's highly likely the answer is different for each of those.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 6 '14 at 16:17
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    That said, I think the comment from DPReview's group review from last year is probably relevant here: "the truth is that the [image quality] differences among Capture One Pro 7, DxO Optics Pro 8 and Lightroom 4 are relatively small".
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 6 '14 at 16:18
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    Saying you're looking for the only raw converter you'll ever need is dangerous, in that it would seem to assume that this one converter will do everything you want now and in the future, and that it will always be the best. I doubt both of those will prove true. Jan 6 '14 at 16:25

Technically most advanced is ambiguous, prone to opinion and, in fact, is unanswerable. There are different advantages to a variety of options. The first thing to realize about RAW is that it is a largely undocumented specification that is reverse engineered to work with. Thus, the first party RAW tools are generally the most accurate and can produce results identical or very similar to those that can be accomplished in camera. While the first party tools are often the best in terms of knowledge of the format and camera components, they are often not the most powerful in terms of usability or features.

This is why there is a market for third party tools like Lightroom, DarkTable and RawTherepee. While they have to work backwards to determine how to read the file and don't have access to all the same information as the camera manufacturers, they are able to provide more advanced processing once the files are open and are able to provide a more easy to use interface.

No one RAW editor is the best. It would be nice if the camera manufacturers made better RAW tools or if they would open up the documentation so that third party companies could make full use of the designs, but that isn't the state of the industry today. There is no "technically most advanced" or even any solid criteria for that term. There is only software with various strengths and weaknesses and the best choice depends on what you are looking to accomplish.

  • I doubt that any of the major 3rd party raw editors relies on reverse engineering. They most likely have documentation from the camera vendors under NDA. The camera vendors may not make their raw specification publicly available for various reasons, but it's in their own best interest to ensure that their cameras are well supported by the major players...
    – oefe
    Jan 7 '14 at 14:35
  • @oefe - a few may license it, if available, but many reverse engineer it. Generally speaking, standard patterns are used and since those general factors are known, trial and error can get you correct results pretty quickly and errors become pretty self-evident. The RAW formats themselves have been reverse engineered pretty effectively to understand what data is, so looking for new information and then experimentation can figure it out relatively easily.
    – AJ Henderson
    Jan 7 '14 at 14:54

For what it's worth I use Rawshooter, it's free to download and works for me. Been using it for years. I'm sure others will say use Lightroom but I understand you have to pay for that. Once I do the basic adjustments I want in Rawshooter I save as a TIFF and then make further adjustments to the TIFF in Photoshop.

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    Not worth much unfortunately. Unless you can give examples why this is the "most technically advanced" I don't see much value in this answer.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 7 '14 at 1:23
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    Clearly the latest software is going to be more technically advanced than Rawshooter which stopped being updated in 2006. However, I do believe there is such a thing as overkill and for me Rawshooter does everthing I need it to do.
    – user25107
    Jan 7 '14 at 1:42
  • "Rawshooter does everything I need it to do". Apart from the adjustments you make in the distinctly non-trivially price Photoshop, I assume?
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 7 '14 at 9:00

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