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The grass is always greener

Yet another RAW converter showdown

in Apple Aperture , Thursday, May 14, 2009

I suppose I’m not alone in always wondering if there might be a better way of processing my digital images. There are several aspects to what we’ve been conditioned to call a “workflow”, but to me the most important of these are organisation (selecting, rating, keywording, arranging) and developing the RAW to a usable image. For a while now, I’ve been using Apple Aperture 2, and I’ve devoted more time than I care to think of moving older work into it. Originally I used iView Media Pro to catalog, and a variety of RAW convertors, including Capture One, Adobe Camera RAW, and Iridient RAW Developer. Of all of these, I liked Iridient best. It produces beautifully detailed, balanced output, and has more controls than most people will ever need - especially as often the default settings are just fine. But what Iridient (and Capture One) does not have, is any integrated way to organise an ever growing photo collection, and although there are workarounds, the benefits over switching to a “non destructive RAW workflow tool” like Aperture or Adobe Lightroom have to be pretty convincing. I find Aperture’s RAW conversion to be almost as good as Iridient’s in most cases, at lest for my Olympus E-1, E-3 and E-400 files. So I decided it was worth the switch.

However, the other day, prompted by something I read somewhere, I decided to take a closer look at Aperture’s conversions. I noticed that there was some faint but quite definite banding in a cloudy grey sky I was looking at. Firing up the same image in Iridient, I saw no such banding - and better handling of a patch of lurid dayglo orange which Aperture had toned down a bit.


Aperture’s rendition of the scene in question

Panic ensued. Did I now have to go back to Iridient, find a new cataloging tool (Atomic View, maybe, but, well ...) or pay the crazy fee Microsoft expects to “upgrade” from iView to Expression Media 2 ?

Well, I decided not to panic. I exported a version from Aperture and opened it in Photoshop - and guess what ? No banding. I imported the Iridient version into Aperture ... hello banding! So that part is clearly an Aperture display issue. But the colour issue remains, even if it is really quite trivial.

I was still a bit shaken, and combined with a period of screaming at Aperture to GET ON WITH IT several times today (it didn’t help much) I thought I might as well look at other options. So I tried Lightroom 2, especially as the gradient tool has always sounded intriguing, and I always like the targeted adjustments.

Well, in the GET ON WITH IT stakes, Lightroom 2 has little to envy Aperture. The gradient tool is horribly fiddly to use, and as slow as the slowest parts of Aperture. And after a few minutes I realised I could never go back to the dreadful Tonka Toy user interface that Lightroom forces on its users.

As for Capture One, well maybe, but since it is Intel only, and I’m using a PowerPC G5, I guess I’ll have to remain in the dark. In any case, if I want a conversion-only tool, I can’t imagine why Iridient would not satisfy me.

So, at the end of all this, I’m happily back in Aperture, secure in the knowledge that whatever the market share stats may indicate, it blows the doors off of Lightroom, and whenever I’ve got a tricky or deserving image I want to give special attention too, a quick roundtrip to Iridient and / or Photoshop is not, really, all that much of a hassle.