raw .DNG from Huawei P10 Plus, Kodak Ektra, Lumia 950 XL. And: Google Snapseed!

In my previous review/comparison of the Huawei P10 Plus, Kodak Ektra and Lumia 950 XL I wrote how I was surprised to suddenly find an update bringing the raw .DNG format to the Kodak Ektra as well. This - much shorter - post is about the RAW output of all three devices. And about Google Snapseed!

Let me get one thing out of the way right at the beginning of this post: I'm no expert in this field. Not until recently (about a year ago) I started to work with raw files in a free copy of Lightroom I got with my Samsung NX system camera. It's version 5.7 and I'm not planning to upgrade soon, since it suits my needs for now and I might be changing to other software alltogether later. All I do is a little editing in the sense of working on contrast, highlights etc. So I guess I'm going to need your help this time...

raw .DNG vs .JPG 
First, for those not familiar with the difference between RAW and the JPG you usually get and probably use from your smartphone (or other cameras): the raw .DNG file is what the sensor actually captures, the JPG is how the software in your devices "cooks" the raw .DNG into the smaller JPG format that's easier for you to share.

One more thing in general: generally with smartphones - and this goes for all three devices in this post - when you focus on the brightest part in your shot by tapping the screen, the sensor will adjust to that and the result will become quite dark. This is easy to fix in editing. If however you focus on the darkest part when tapping the screen, your shot will be much brighter in general, also "burning" as they say the brightest parts, which is much more difficult to fix, if not impossible (depending on exposure). 

Editing is most versatile when you use a raw editor like Lightroom, but there is much more software available - please share below if you are particularly happy about one program you work with. But I've noticed you can do some pretty good .JPG editing in Windows Photo as well (comes with Windows 10 if I'm not mistaken). You can even do a very effective job correcting highlights in this program - and it's free so try it out.  

Many raw formats
There are many raw formats and .DNG is one of them, most popular due to the fact it's by Adobe, market leader in digital processing (Photoshop is by Adobe as well). But it's not very hard to find people who don't like to use this format at all, preferring other editing software like  Capture One Pro

Moreover, there appears to be some kind of difference in the .DNG files anyway: I can actually see what's in the files coming from the Lumia 950 XL, whereas the .DNG files from the other two devices are just shown as symbols. I have no clue as to what's the difference in those files. 

Sizes (MB) and output (MP)
I'm only going to share a few things I noticed in general. First of all, the remarkable difference in file size (MB) and JPG output (MP) from Lightroom in Megapixels:
Huawei P10 Plus 23MB - exported to 3952x2960 = 11.7MP
Lumia 950 XL 26MB - exported to 4992x3744 = 18.7MP
Kodak Ektra 42MB (!) - exported to 5328x4000 = 21.3MP

Using the  Megapixel calculator to compare the output of the files, it looks like both the Huawei P10 Plus and Lumia 950 XL are using 8 bit color depth and the Kodak Ektra using 16 bit color depth. I'm not completely sure about this though. I found some interesting information on the difference and what it means  here.

Like in my previous post, the output of the Kodak Ektra is similar to that of the Lumia 950 XL in this respect. It's remarkable that the result coming from the Huawei P10 Plus raw file is a lot smaller compared to the output of the other two.

Now compare the numbers above to the output of the JPG engine on the device itself:
Huawei P10 Plus - 5120 x 3840 = 19.66MP (20MP) (much bigger)
Lumia 950 XL - 4922 x 3744 = 18.69MP (19MP) (same)
Kodak Ektra - 5312 x 3984 = 21.16MP (21MP) (bit smaller)

Looking at this, the raw .DNG output from the Huawei P10 Plus is actually a lot smaller than its own JPG engine produces. I get the impression the Huawei JPG engine is blowing up the raw .DNG file to a larger size, which would account for the results (artefacts) in my previous post. Please don't hesitate to react if I'm overlooking something here though!

Exporting raw .DNG files
I've been exporting the raw .DNG files to .JPG without any edit in Lightroom - only later I noticed that Lightroom will already do some interpretation of each .DNG file white balance when it's on "automatic".

That's fine in itself - you can change whatever you want anyway - but it makes it kind of hard to compare the raw results one on one, since Lightoom actually interpretes what it's given. You may do a comparison for yourself, I'm sharing my selection of four scenes in raw .DNG's from all three devices in a link on OneDrive (link below).

Here you'll see the respective, unedited output from the Huawei, Lumia and Kodak, resized to 12% so you can see how large the actual difference in size is - much larger difference than what the .JPG engine of all three produce (see previous post). Disclaimer: this only works well on a computer browser, not on a smartphone or tablet. Huawei, Kodak, Lumia, resized (12%)



Crops
Now with such different sizes, you'll get quite different crops of course. Here are are three 640x480 crops from the original output, still unedited. Especially in the output I get from the Huawei P10 Plus, you'll see it can't "zoom" as much - no wonder, with such a smaller size.



Watching this, first of all I'd say I wasn't very lucky when focussing the Huawei P10 Plus. Still, the lady statue is the sharpest part of the shot.

Crops and detail from Kodak Ektra and Lumia 950 XL are very similar, but I do tend to prefer what I see coming from the Kodak Ektra in this case. Again: a remarkable result for a newcomer in this field like Kodak!

Edit on "automatic"
Next I decided to let Lightroom figure out how to work on the files with contrast and highlights etc. I just hit the button "automatic", which should make for already much more similar results - and hit "export".

To show the results I got like this, I'll share those I got from another scene. Resized first (again 12%), than you'll see the three crops from the original output (640x480). Again: Huawei, Kodak, Lumia:



Compared to the original (unedited) output, Lightroom brought out a lot more detail in all shots on automatic (the ivy in the shade on the right side). Now let's have a look at the chairs where I focused when capturing this scene.



In this case, to me it looks like the Lumia 950 XL wins, but there are many things to be said for the Kodak Ektra as well. Mind you though, you may influence the final result in Lightroom yourself in a tremendous way, editing white balance, hightlights, contrast, sharpness, shadows, et cetera.

That's why for this post I'm keeping everything on "auto" as much as I can, to make this comparison as "objective" as possible (as far as I'm able to with the software I'm using). Editing is a personal thing moreover - it would be easy to "ruin" one shot and make another "perfect". That's why I'm sharing all the raw .DNG results I got for you to have a detailed look yourself in whatever progam you use (link below).

One more example of a scene from which I edited the raw .DNG results using "automatic" - and nothing else. It's a Mexican artefact I've been using more often in posts, representing the life cycle. Brought it from Mexico in 1998 (if I remember correctly) and it hasn't changed its colors since... At the time I was capturing it early this afternoon, it was hanging in the shade. Again: the 12% resized output from Huawei, Kodak and Lumia, followed by the 640x480 crops.



I'm quite sure which colors you prefer in this case, but remember colors are very easy to change using software. Personally, for this post I'm more interested in detail - and although you can argue you can still sharpen the end result, it's interesting to see what you get from the sensor to begin with. Huawei, Kodak, Lumia: 



In this case, I'd say it's a clear win for the Lumia 950 XL - but I'm still seriously impressed to see how close the Kodak Ektra actually appears to be able to perform! 

There's one more scene I could resize and crop for you - the outcome isn't much different though, so I'll leave it to you to compare the results with whatever software you are using. You'll find the 12 raw .DNG files (four scenes with the three devices)  here and I'd appreciate it if you would share the results with a link below (or on Facebook if that's easier (don't underestimate Facebook compression).

Google Snapseed
Since I haven't been working with raw on my smartphones all that much until recently - and I think I've already clearly shown the benefits of working with raw files! - unexpectedly I discovered that with Google Snapseed (on Android) you'll actually be able to work on your raw .DNG files on your device.

I was a bit startled by this, well aware of the sometimes enormous size of these files... But even on the Kodak Ektra (producing 42MB raw files!) it actually works! I got two screenhots to share of the menu it offers. First the one with all the important options you might already know from computer sofware:

And the specific possibilites for white balance:

It's extremely easy to handle (swipe away) and I noticed that on the Kodak Ektra I get the exact same size JPG output: 5328x4000 = 21.3MP. So that's the last scene that comes in handy after all, edited on the Kodak Ektra itself, resized to 12% to share here:

Conclusion so far
I already wrote one of the most important conclusions above: it looks like Huawei's JPG engine is actually blowing up what it gets in raw from the sensor. It would explain the mediocre details and artefacts I noticed in my previous post. Please do correct me if I'm overlooking something though, since this is all quite new to me.

The raw .DNG files coming from the P10 Plus appear to be on the small side, especially compared to the other two MegaPixel "monsters" in this comparison, the new Kodak Ektra and by now classic Lumia 950 XL.

The raw .DNG file from the Kodak Ektra is extremely heavy with 42MB per shot, due to the fact it has 16 bit color depth. The JPG output you get from it is the largest as well: 21MP. And that's important if you want to be able to crop details from your shot or make a nice print - for in a book or on the wall. 

I'm especially amazed to see how well the Kodak Ektra manages to perform against the latest (and unfortunately last) king of PureView imaging, the Lumia 950 XL. I'm quite sure many of you still prefer what it produces - its JPG engine is just about perfect as I've shown in my previous post, and now I've shown the sensor captures fantastic detail as well (no surprise there though). I do still wonder about the amount of saturation the Lumia 950 XL chooses, but that's a matter of taste though and: easy to fix, especially editing raw .DNG.  

The Lumia 950 XL however, has reached its "end of life cycle" by now. I'm happy to receive updates on my Lumia 950 XL now and again, but it's obvious that Windows 10 Mobile isn't going anywhere really, or nowhere at all compared to Android. I don't see any changes in Windows Camera either, and although you will find "Snapseed WP" in the Store, it's an entirely different program (ofter wonder why people are allowed to offer stuff like that under the same name anyway, causing confusion and frustration).

So like there is no future for the Nokia 808 PureView except for the time it'll manage not to die on me, I'm afraid the same goes for the latest PureView technology on the Lumia 950 XL, no matter how good it still proves to be! 

The Kodak Ektra however, is stil in development - I received two important updates since working with it, the second one bringing raw .DNG as you've read. It looks like the company producing this camera-centric smartphone hasn't quite finished developing it, and at this moment I can only hope for more improvements - and maybe a successor with a 1 inch sensor, and hopefully a faster CPU.

In my next post, I'll be writing more about the different settings and other possibilities the Kodak Ektra offers, like its Macro capacity and the remarkable Super 8 app. It's definitely fun to work with - and not just because it's the only smartphone out there that you can actually carry using a lanyard (included in the box) :-)

Again, you'll find the raw .DNG files from all three devices here: download and edit at will, I'd appreciate to read about your experience with them. I'd appreciate it even more if you'd manage to make a contribution to the club, since unfortunately it doesn't support itself. You'll find a donate button on this page and if you use it for a donation I'll add you to the list of sponsors! :-)