photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

revisiting RAW

Yet more options….

in Apple Aperture , Monday, October 31, 2011

Prompted by a series of posts by Mitch Alland, I decided it might be interesting to take another look at a RAW processor I’d not seriously considered in the past, Raw Photo Processor, or RPP.  RPP is not your usual run of the mill RAW processor.  It concerns itself only with the initial steps of translating the RAW file into a finished photo, and, unlike others (the author claims - I’m not 100% convinced), recalculates from the raw data for each applied edit.  It works a bit differently from a user interface perspective too, foregoing sliders for direct numeric input, and in most cases refreshing the preview only on demand. However, it isn’t as hard to use as it seems on first glimpse.

Mitch Alland reports that “it’s been a revelation because RPP does a much better job in raw development than Aperture: it simply produces better resolution and better color”. So it seems worth taking it for a spin.

Here’s a comparison of a file output from Aperture at default settings (above) and from RPP, with a contrast curve applied in Photoshop, below:

Snapz Pro XSnap001

As you can see, the white balance is significantly different. I’m not sure which is “right”. The RPP version is very neutral, but I couldn’t say for sure if the Aperture (actually, in camera) version is capturing an accurate cast. RPP white balance works well on Auto, or Custom, but In Camera is a bit strange.

As for detail, well, yes, I’d say that RPP visibly delivers a touch more, but it’s not going to be noticeable to the average audience.

RPP also delivers more image. On this Olympus E-P2 shot, Aperture outputs a 4032 by 2034 pixel image -which is to Olympus’s specifications. RPP recovers more, providing 4090 by 3078. I believe the “extra” pixels have something to do with calibration, but apparently they do contain usable image data.

The big difference between basic RPP and basic Aperture processing, disregarding white balance, is Aperture’s Boost slider. Basically, RPP delivers a file with Boost set to 0. According to Apple, Boost applies a camera-specific contrast curve directly after RAW demosaicing. It is actually remarkable what a difference it makes - this, effectively, is the “look” or magic sauce of a RAW converter. Of course it’s a subjective judgement as to whether this is a good thing or not.  RPP gives you the best shot it can at providing you with the basic ingredients, and it’s then up to you to make the most of these in subsequent post-processing, be it in Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, or whatever.

It’s difficult to make a quick judgment on the real-world merits of RPP, but using it gives you a clearer idea of what’s really going on behind the smoke and mirrors, and potentially it might just give you a quality edge.  In any case it’s a useful tool to have. And it’s free - although donations are appreciated.


color shift in Aperture ?

the owls are not what they seem

in Apple Aperture , Monday, October 18, 2010


For reasons that will become clear in a forthcoming post, I’ve been using Iridient RAW Developer quite a lot recently, which is always a pleasure.

Just now out of curiosity I decided to compare IRD’s interpretation of a RAW file with Aperture’s. I was actually more interested in sharpening (and IRD won, easily), but I ended up getting sidetracked by what looked like a pretty large colour shift introduced by levels in Aperture.

This is a crop of the photo I was playing around with (Olympus E-3 RAW, unadjusted):


It looks pretty much identical in both programs at default settings. Well actually if you look closely, IRD has slightly more detail, but that’s not the issue here.

Here’s the image with Level adjustments in the Luminance channel in Aperture:


And here’s the same thing in Raw Developer, or at least an approximation using a Lightness curve:


It looks to me that Raw Developer has nicely retained the color balance, but Aperture has introduced a pretty drastic magenta cast.  It may be that my assumption that Lightness=Luminance is wrong, but I tried the same thing in RGB and got pretty much the same result. And of course my curve is not a perfectly accurate match of Aperture’s levels settings, but still, we’re not talking minor details here. The colour shift is huge.

I guess it’s all down to taste, but even so, it is easier to adjust to taste when you’re starting from an unadulterated baseline…

Addendum: after a bit more investigation, I noticed two things: 1, Aperture doesn’t actually appear to offer level adjustment in the Luminance channel. The Luminance / RGB options just change the underlying histogram display. The fact that the edit points stay the same seems to confirm this, although I could well be talking rubbish. 2, I can replicate the RAW Developer result by sticking to the Exposure and Contrast slider in Aperture. The lesson seems to be to treat Levels with caution.


Aperture 3

Everybody’s got a opinion

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Has anybody noticed yet ? What’s that ? Oh. Right. I’m last.

Actually I got the tip off for Aperture 3’s release from the excellent and still improving RB Design blog run by Robert Boyer.  I highly recommend his site as well as his eBook series, without a doubt the best value for money technical writing you’re going to find on Aperture. It’s great to see an Aperture-related web site at least on a par with the best of the Lightroom community. Some of Robert’s tips will leave wondering why you never knew that ... and make Aperture really hum. AND he’s got a sense of humour and doesn’t shy clear of the odd rant, bit of invective or rude word. Highly entertaining.

I’m stuck with Aperture 2 since my photo workstation is a Mac G5, and the budget for a Mac Pro is in the realms of fantasy. But I’m not complaining - Aperture 2 does everything I need.

Aperture 3 looks like it has some outstanding new features, and although it isn’t really an issue, at least not for me, it seems to becoming a far more powerful tool than Lightroom. One thing that does disappoint me though is RAW support: although it doesn’t affect me, the lack of support for the Olympus m4/3 series is a let-down, and the no-show for the Leica M9 is really surprising (yes, I know it records DNG, but the Ricoh GRDII also records DNGs, and at default settings they look crap in Aperture). At least the Lumix LX-3 finally made it. But I predict that RAW support is going to provide some fuel for Ye Olde Forum Flame Wars.

Whatever. Welcome Aperture 3. We’ve been expecting you.


Nasty glitch in Aperture

A confidence-sapping experience

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A while ago I had a pretty unpleasant experience with Aperture. It was quite weird: I had a project open, showing the thumbnails. As I watched, these were systematically overwritten, one by one, by thumbnails of photos from a completely different set of projects. The originals were all from a set of projects for June 2008, and the “invaders” from projects for May and June 2004. As always, all files were managed as referenced files, not stored in the Aperture library. And the originals were safe. The version names stayed as initially set, taken from the 2008 filenames. There was no obvious correlation at all between the two sets of files.

Metadata was also preserved: edits applied to the 2008 images was applied to the 2004 “invaders”, obviously with strange results at times.  Digging into Aperture’s depths, I discovered that the XML files used to organise the projects referenced two files, the original and the replacement.

Trying to fix things by using Aperture’s “manage referenced files” tools was to no avail. Mirroring the company’s CEO’s dysfunctional personality, these tools are nothing if not opaque. Restoring backups from Time Machine also didn’t help - in fact, it just resulted in a repeat performance.

Posting the issue of the Apple discussion boards, and the near useless AUPN forums, was of no use. I get the impression that due to its very small user base, there are very, very few people who have any knowledge of Aperture much beyond superficial. Or if they are any, they’re not sharing.

So all that was left to was drastic surgery, which I put off for ages, but finally did tonight.  First, in order to break the references, I moved the folders containing the 2004 files to another volume.  I then deleted all the overwritten versions in the 2008 projects, and reimported the original 2008 files. Obviously I lost all metadata, including editing and cataloguing, for nearly 1 months’ photos - about 400 shots.  I then went to the 2004 projects, restored the 2004 folders, and rebuilt the references. In this case it was tedious and time consuming, and Aperture naturally went belly up a few times, but at least the metadata was preserved.

This has really shaken my confidence in Aperture. It needs to be rock-solid in this of all areas. I’m afraid that my impression of Aperture is that it was designed by the A-Team but implemented by the C-Team. Or possibly rushed to market by industry standard idiot marketing managers, and never recovered. But there’s little alternative. Lightroom is an awful mess and looks like getting worse. I’ve never seen such a case of collective denial as exists in the Lightroom user community. Aperture has a far better RAW conversion engine. The only, slightly, better alternative I know of is Iridient RAW Developer, but that doesn’t provide an end to end solution: a trip to Photoshop is almost always necessary, which introduces digital asset management issues, to which there is is no longer any real solution.

So, I’m left with two choices: 1, pray that Aperture doesn’t screw up again, that it is still under active development by Apple, and that a significantly enhanced version 3 will appear one day, or 2, revert to Lightroom, and waste endless hours on profiles, presets, and whatever else it takes to get away from the nasty RAW conversions it delivers by default.

I guess for now, it’s better the devil I know.


Managing film scans in Aperture

thus avoiding giving money to Microsoft

in Apple Aperture , Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In recent months I’ve found myself doing a lot more film photography, and this reopens the old issues of how best to manage film scans alongside digital camera files. Ultimately they’re all just photos, and I’d like to be able to manage them together. In the “old days”, I used iView Media Pro to manage all my scans, and built up a considerable number of catalogs, including a “reference” catalog for finished, best work.  These days I’ve got Aperture to do this for me for my digital camera files, and the iView stuff lives on if ever I want to go back to earlier work.  However, I’ve still been trying to use iView to manage my film scans. It really is a very powerful tool, but ever since it was taken over by Microsoft, and recast as “Expression Media”, it has stagnated. Two versions of Expression Media have been released, and apart from packaging and some very marginal new features, they offer nothing to justify the absurd upgrade price. And in fact, I can’t even buy an upgrade in Switzerland. Microsoft’s online store points me at the full version, with a ridiculous price, wherever I click from.  Why do I care if it offers nothing ? Well, there’s things in iView 3 which don’t work properly any more on Mac OS X 10.5 - I think OS X 10.3 was current when iView 3 was released. And if I’m committing work to it, it seemed a safer bet to be up to date.

But I couldn’t do it, so I was prompted to see what Aperture could do for me. One winning point Aperture scored over the competition from Day 1 was the ability to manage large files - and 16 bit 4800dpi scans from XPan film are large, over 170Mb. It doesn’t make much sense to process these files in Aperture - Photoshop is the right tool for that - but managing them, maybe.

Recently, and belatedly, I’ve started scanning linear 16bit “RAW” scans, and post-processing them away from the scanning software. This implies that I’m going to have various “versions” of the same “master”, and one flaw in iView was that it can’t easily handle this scenario. But Aperture can: it has stacks. Nice stacks too.

Snapz Pro XScreenSnapz001.jpg

Here, you can see the Aperture browser showing a few XPAn scans, all arranged into stacks, with the “RAW” file and the processed versions.

It works pretty well, although it doesn’t quite have the cataloging flexibility of iView. However, keeping to a consistent file naming scheme, and using Aperture’s list view, ordered by file name, it is simple enough to associate versions created outside of Aperture. Having decided to use this method, I can now in fact make it even simpler - drop the “_RAW” suffix I’ve been adding to the 16bit lineear scans, and let Aperture generate version filenames in the usual when, by launching Adobe Photoshop as an external editor.

I think this is a nice example of the flexibility of Aperture, and a justification of its philosophy to NOT impose a workflow, but rather to provide the environment in which you can roll your own.

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