Part 2 is about the fine detail.
The following are 100% close-ups of the images in part 1, most important ones presented first as a group.
If you are reading this without having read part 1, you’ve missed the methodology, so I suggest reading that first to understand under what constraints these images were rendered.
If I had to rank them by sharpness, I’d say (1) Capture One Pro, (2) HDR Projects Professional, (3) Silkypix, (4) Cyberlink, (5) darktable, (6) macOS Preview, (6) Phocus (identical to Preview), (8) Iridient, (9) Aperture, (10) RPP, (11) On1 Photo RAW. It’s very close between those latter six. After that, it’s (12) Photo Ninja, (13) Photivo, and then I ran out of squinting energy, although I’m pretty sure that LightZone was left at the bottom of the pile.
Those using Affinity Photo should use a dedicated RAW converter for that purpose. Affinity is a great Photoshop replacement, but not as strong yet on the demosaicking side.
Hope this helps some people.
And now for the second group.
I need to give a small preamble before delving into the second group. Some programs automatically applied lens correction. Typically, center and edge sharpness suffer when lens corrections are applied, so before I go further, I should note that imo, Pentax DCU and Ashampoo Photo Commander performed lens correction.
Of the second group, Polarr and Photolemur can fairly be described as garbage. Do NOT use Polarr or Photolemur for RAW conversion. Really don’t. Luminar is also pretty awful.
Between Pentax, PhotoLine and digiKam, it was hard to decide. Pentax DCU looks oversharpened and is a clear step behind Silkypix, although supposedly powered by the same engine (I feel like I’ve just disproved that), and both programs seemed to perform lens correction, so the difference in sharpness isn’t because of that. PhotoLine has a certain matte look to it that I could see becoming someone’s signature style. DigiKam might have genuinely lost some fine detail, so I’d rate that lowest of the group. So I would rate digiKam bottom of the three.
Color Projects 6 Professional, the only upgraded version I included in the second group because the rendering had changed completely since version 5, performed clearly ahead of PhotoLine and probably just ahead of Pentax, although they might be neck-to-neck without Pentax’ lens correction. Realising that, I thought that perhaps Pentax is really ahead of PhotoLine, although that was difficult to see in direct comparison because of the air of oversharpening of the Pentax image. Aurora HDR is a teensy weensy bit ahead of PhotoLine.
Output from Pixelmator was identical to macOS Preview, so fairly good. Interestingly, although being a Windows program and so clearly not relying on the same engine, Zoner Photo Studio’s output was identical in sharpness – only tonality differed between those two (or three). Ashampoo had much the same detail, but looked oversharpened – presumably a consequence of attempting to compensate for the effects of lens correction. In my opinion, ACDSee looked crisper than Preview, making it the leader of the group. However, it’s still a far cry behind Capture One!
So, in conclusion, the second group rankings are (1) ACDSee, (joint 2nd) Zoner, (joint 2nd) Pixelmator, (close 4th) Ashampoo, (5) Color Projects 6, (6) Pentax DCU, (7) Aurora HDR, (8) PhotoLine, (9) digiKam, and the rest unworthy of mention.
Overall, though, ACDSee is close to, or slightly behind, darktable, and would only be rated 6th. Zoner and Pixelmator would be joint 7th with macOS Preview and Hasselblad Phocus, while Iridient and Ashampoo would be left vying for 10th place. So the original stand-out group of Capture One, HDR Projects Pro, Silkypix and Cyberlink is maintained in that order, and we sense that there was good reason that the second group was not part of the first version of the comparison, although I do like to include them in order to be as comprehensive as possible – Skylum products in particular, in spite of the hype the company is attempting to generate, do not seem to have a solid demosaicking engine behind them, and would in fact do better if they borrowed the one from macOS. (Basically, free is better than Skylum.)
The last question I’m sure some will ask is, how did DxO PhotoLab perform overall? In the first group, it did not make the ranking, and comparing it to the second, it’s very close to Aurora HDR. So in the bottom 15% if we include the programs I called garbage. As a saving grace, I should mention that there were two programs I found that were so bad that I did not include them in the review at all.