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Hell freezes over

in Product reviews , Sunday, August 30, 2015

I have spent a huge amount of time and effort over the years, not to mention a little money, trying to avoid using Adobe Lightroom. The various reasons for this include that I don’t much like the GUI (compared to Aperture, RIP), I don’t much like the library (compared to Aperture, RIP), and I’m uncomfortable with the Adobe subscription model. I also have a certain sense of antipathy towards the rather over the top, uncritical, fawning cheerleading which comes from so many on-line self-appointed gurus, all of whom have their book, or video, or workshop to sell, and all of whom have contributed, thanks to killer marketing skills from Adobe, to Lightroom’s supremacy. A successful symbiotic community, but not one which has done much service to the world of digital photography in general.

But is Lightroom itself actually all that bad? Well, no, it isn’t. It’s pretty good actually, but it is neither the Second Coming, nor is it without faults, nor is it as overwhelmingly superior as the shill wolf pack would have you believe. But looking at the combination of requirements that I have personally, I have to admit, finally, that avoiding it is like cutting off my nose to spite my face. So I’ve finally admitted that resistance is not only futile, but counterproductive as well.

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I certainly wasn’t expecting to be looking at this, a few weeks ago.

The quality of the output from the Develop module tends to get widely derided these days on the interwebs, especially compared with CaptureOne. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect there is more than a grain of anti-Adobe sentiment behind this. The difference in quality, measured as resolution and definition, between all Raw converters on the market, is generally minimal. To my eyes Iridient Developer has a slight edge, but that may be down to its superlative sharpening tools. Yes, there are differences in colour rendition, but if you drill down a bit to understand why, then generally you can pretty much neutralise them. If utmost, 200% pixel peeping brick wall cat’s whiskers photography is your thing, then probably Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw is not what you need. But otherwise, the combination of features and sheer completeness of Adobe’s offering is difficult to ignore.

The Lightroom user interface still looks to me like it has overall design philosophy. Different modules, even tools within modules, look like they were designed and integrated by different people with little communication between themselves. Indeed, the different Modules behave more like separate applications linked together through a common launcher than parts of the same application. The essential weakness of the cumbersome modal design is betrayed by the Develop Module leaking into the Library Module by way of the Quick Develop tools. It’s a pity that either stubbornness, not-invented-here syndrome, or, most likely, be-suited MBAs clutching their ROI and P&L spreadsheets is preventing a major UI overhaul. And, think of all the income from the new editions of books, videos, etc!

But on balance the experience is positive. Compared with CaptureOne, the only real advantage that I find there is that the image adjustment tools are more intuitive and faster to use, and certain features such as perspective correction (especially), highlight recovery, and clarity control, are better. On the other hand Lightroom has far better support for camera calibration, and the sharpening tools are better. I prefer CaptureOne’s layer approach to Lightroom’s edit points, and I preferred Aperture’s local edits approach to both of these, but in the end the functionality is much the same.

The killer features in Lightroom are the Library, and, surprisingly, Lightroom Mobile. The Library is almost as good as Aperture’s. It is fast, smooth, and there are plenty of well designed metadata tools. The implementation of Stacks is a half-baked copy of Aperture’s (and really, it is, just look at when it was released in Lightroom), albeit more powerful than CaptureOne’s Versions, and the Smart Collections are weak compare to Aperture’s Smart Albums, but on balance, it is - now - the best on the market. Overall, compared with CaptureOne’s improving, but incomplete and laggy Catalog, Lightoom’s Library is much easier to use. And the other major plus for me, at least, is full support for large Photoshop and TIFF files, which means I can catalogue my film scans together with my Raw files. Aperture let me do this as well - indeed, the fact that Lightroom 1 had serious file size limitations was one major factor leading me to switch - but Lightroom actually is smoother.  The only “orphan” files I have now are Sigma Merrill Raws, but nobody supports those. The workaround of cataloging a proxy JPEG and using that to launch the X3F in Iridient Developer works just as well in Lightroom as in Aperture, or indeed CaptureOne.

I think that the dependence on a physical file structure in the Library is pretty prehistoric, compared to Aperture’s fully virtual organisation, but the geek contingent could never live with the loss of explicit control that the virtual approach required, so we’re stuck in the past.  On a side note, recently I completely restructured my physical file organisation, to try to make it more convenient to PhotoSupreme’s needs.  Aperture didn’t skip a beat: together with MacOS, it noticed that the referenced files had moved, and just adjusted itself. CaptureOne, or Lightroom, would have just given up and died. But thanks to Apple shifting lock stock and barrel in to the luxury personal accessory market, we’ve lost all that innovation.

Ironically, my file structure is actually quite clumsy. This is due to an earlier period when I was using Lightroom 1, for about a year, until moving to Aperture 2.  I had to live with the file organisation imposed by Lightroom. Since this basically has never changed, re-importing into Lightroom CC was not a big deal. I did try the Aperture Importer: it’s not as good as CaptureOne’s by a long way, but not as bad as people say it is - it does actually work, albeit very, very slowly.  However, since all it really does is carry over some metadata, and that can just as easily be accomplished by writing metadata to original files or XMP sidecars, there’s little point in it. Takes forever and a day too, and the workflow is very badly designed.

I wasn’t expecting much from Lightroom Mobile, because it doesn’t do what I thought I wanted, i.e. remote editing and curation of the Library. It also gets a poor press, because it doesn’t do what a lot of people want, i.e. act as a front-end mobile file importer. What it actually does do is give you access to selected parts of your library which you have already created on the desktop, and, via “cloud” synchronisation, it then allows you to review and rate these, and to apply quite a high degree of image manipulation. On my new iPad Air 2, this works very well indeed, and actually, it turns out it is pretty close to what I wanted. Keywording would be nice to have, but what it does give me is enough to keep me constructively engaged during daily train commutes. Also, Lightroom Mobile supports importing and synchronisation of photos taken with iDevices. I haven’t tried that yet, but it is interesting. However, it does seem to conflict with a lot that Mylio provides. Mylio does do things that Lightroom Mobile does not, for example importing new files in the field and synchronising them with home and backup destinations, but several key things that it does do, and Lightroom does not, for example key wording, it does rather weakly.  I’m not really sure yet if Mylio is really needed in a Lightroom-centric workflow.

Finally, a CC subscription to Lightroom also brings Photoshop CC 2015, which has some useful additions for working with film scans, not the least being the Camera Raw plugin. I’d heard vaguely about this, but I didn’t really realise how useful it could be to be able to use ACR adjustments on a layer for film scans. Sure, there are other ways of doing everything in Photoshop, but the ACR toolset is specifically designed for photography, and makes everything much faster. And the fact that it swallows a 350Mb 16 bit XPan scan without a murmur is pretty impressive.

So, over the last months, I have invested a lot of time successively in PhotoSupreme, CaptureOne, and Mylio, and at this point pretty much discarded all of them in favour of Lightroom (maybe not Mylio, I may still have a use for that, but development seems to have slowed). It’s completely against current trends to switch FROM CaptureOne TO Lightroom, which, given my track record and general disposition, is probably as good a reason for doing it than any. Switching to Lightroom and writing a nice review about Jeff Schewe in the same month ? I must be going soft in the head.

 

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Sunday, August 30, 2015 at 08:26 PM

Down in the details

in Photography , Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back in June 2006, several geological eras ago in Internet years, I wrote a blog post which started out like this:

Following earlier posts about this, today I managed to find time to evaluate Iridient RAW Developer 1.5.1 against CaptureOne Pro 3.7.4, for Olympus E-1 RAWs. The results are clear: RAW Developer is extracting more detail and more neutral colour than CaptureOne

Now over 9 years later, I’m repeating the same loop. In recent months I unhappily emigrated from Aperture, and eventually settled on returning to CaptureOne as the best compromise. I painstakingly exported my Aperture library and watched CaptureOne painfully, sluggishly import it. It didn’t do too bad a job - better than Lightroom anyway - and I was more or less able to recreate my Aperture projects within the approximation of MediaPro which has been bludgeoned into CaptureOne. And I diligently set about getting back up to speed with C1, helped by the ample, free tutorial material on Phase One’s website.

I managed to convince myself I (still) quite liked the default “Film curve”, and I was and am impressed by the exposure controls and the layer adjustments, in particular to apply local white balance.  I am a lot less impressed by the total lack of luminosity, or indeed luminance curves/levels.  But I guess I can live with that with some help from the saturation sliders.

But more and more I started getting a feeling that things didn’t look quite right when taking a closer look. I’m no pixel peeper, but even so, once I’ve noticed something at 100% magnification I find it hard to ignore. I was seeing a disturbing “plastic” look in low frequency areas, and lack of definition in high frequency detail like foliage. First I thought it was just a limitation of the small sensor in the Olympus camera I mainly use, or maybe the less than top-level lenses. But then I started down the rocky road of comparing Raw developers. Yet again.

The following nondescript postcard shot from Norway provides a good example - shot with an Olympus E-P5 and 17mm f1.8 lens (actually quite a good lens) at f8.0 (which, yes, is a slightly suboptimal aperture if you’re a pixel peeper), handheld. So it’s hardly a technical masterpiece, or indeed an artistic one.

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Within this photo, I’ve compared two areas at 100%, one processed with Capture One 8.2, the other with Iridient Developer 3.0.3.  The differences, at least to me, are obvious.

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Left: Iridient - Right: Capture One

Iridient Developer

Left: Iridient - Right: Capture One

For the Iridient images, I have used default settings, including the Iridient Reveal sharpening mode and default noise reduction. On the Capture One side, I have used default settings, but with Pre-sharpening 2, and noise reduction disabled. Leaving camera default noise reduction on is a real disaster. I cannot for the life of me imagine why people say Capture One has good noise reduction. And I have tried very hard to fine tune it, I really wanted to be able live with it.  At the same time I briefly tried comparing with Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop CS6) and Aperture 3. Abobe Camera Raw gave pretty much identical results to Capture One. Aperture was marginally better. But Iridient is miles ahead.

Iridient has one other ace up it’s sleeve, the Lab mode curves. Being able to apply contrast with no colour shift using the luminance curve is very nice. It’s also very good for highlight recovery, which is just as well, as Iridient “Extreme Highlight Recovery” slider is not one of it’s strong points. The sharpening and noise reduction are industry-leading, and the general level of control is outstanding.  Of course, there are no layers, no local adjustments, none of that fancy stuff. But that’s what Photoshop is for.

All this really only holds for my personal experience with Olympus micro-four thirds cameras. I daresay Capture One might handle my Ricoh GR better, but that’s out of scope here. I’m sure it does an excellent job with digital backs and high-end DSLRs, but I really don’t think Phase One has much focus on us “little people” - although they’re happy to take our money.

Probably before long I’ll have changed my mind again, but for the time being I’m fully committed to an Iridient-centric workflow. 

 

Posted in category "Photography" on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 08:55 PM

Hotspot

in Product reviews , Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It’s pretty damned hot down here in Canton Ticino. For at least two weeks, afternoon temperatures have been well above 35C, and there hasn’t been a whisper of rain. People are getting tired and irritable - other people, that is, I’m always like that anyway. It’s hardly conducive to being out and about with a camera, but anyway, something prompted me to dig out my Sigma DP2 Merrill, and fortune favoured me with this grab shot.

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This leads me on to a further note on Mylio. I’ve now decided to become a paying customer, and to try to make Mylio work for me. It isn’t perfectly suited to my needs, but it’s closer than pretty much anything else out there.

Mylio, unsurprisingly, does not support Sigma RAW files. It would be totally unreasonable to expect otherwise.  But there is a workaround to this, if you happen to use Iridient Developer as your favoured processor for Sigma X3F files, as I do. Iridient has a neat feature which, when you send it a JPG or a TIFF, allows you to tell it to look for a corresponding RAW file. So, provided I first create JPGs of all my X3F files, which I can batch through Iridient (and it takes quite a while), then Mylio will catalog and display the JPG, and will allow me to send it to Iridient - which then opens the RAW. Problem solved.

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Sigma JPG previews cataloged in Mylio

Unfortunately, this particular image has a bad case of Sigma green/magenta cast disease, which in extreme cases Iridient can’t handle.  So I eventually processed in Sigma Photo Pro instead. And Sigma Photo Pro, which is clearly designed by a part-time high school intern with hostility issues, naturally can’t even open a file directly (you have to use it’s browser) never mind do the JPG-X3F association trick.

Of course, trying to handle Sigma RAW files in Mylio makes me something of an edge case on an edge case, but it is nice that a reasonable workaround exists.

I have now loaded all my RAW, scanned and processed images as far back as 2010 into Mylio, for a total of 40,700 files. It’s coping quite well with this load, so far.  In order to ease the process I’ve completely reorganised my file structures, and now have everything under year headings, as opposed to Original/Finished split across different devices as before. Mylio is happier with this, and it also makes it easier to archive. Actually, I think everything except Aperture, which doesn’t care either way, will be happier with this arrangement.

Unfortunately I’ve discovered that Mylio does not support the RAW format for the Olympus E-1 and E-400, which form the bulk go my pre-2010 work.  So I’ve had to impose a cutoff, and use MediaPro to catalog my earlier archives.

All this administrative work has been a complete pain, especially coming after I had already spent quite some time first trying to do the same thing for PhotoSupreme, and then for CaptureOne.  So I hope I haven’t made a strategic error in going with Mylio. Having finally got a coherent structure in place, with intact key wording, and a revised backup strategy up and running, I really hope I can get back to the actual objective here, enjoying photography.

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 05:53 PM

Replacing Aperture

in Product reviews , Thursday, March 12, 2015

The writing on the wall has gotten so large that even I can see it. It is crystal clear that Apple are never going to replace Aperture in any meaningful way. They are going to develop their “Photos” thing, which will let people look at thousands of photos on their watch (sorry, Watch). Well, fine. Whatever. I’m sure the shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Ten years ago, Apple made integrated hardware and software which provided a fantastic, frictionless way to manage and process digital photos. Now, they don’t. They make glitzy computers which look like dustbins or gold doorstops, which you can barely plug an external disk into. They make very, very dumbed down software, which ironically, is not even intuitive to use. And they run a chain of hugely successful luxury boutiques. They’re not heading down any road I want to go down.

So, time for a change. It hasn’t been an easy task to find a solution, but I think I’ve got there. I’ve discarded Adobe Lightroom, because it is so hideous it makes my eyes bleed. I’m skipping on Capture One because parts of it are just weird, it pitches too much at the high end, and the cataloging part is a bug -ridden, sluggish disaster area. But more important, I’m skipping both of these because I’ve learnt my lesson about relying on closed solutions.

The solution I’ve decided on is to use ID Imager PhotoSupreme as my cataloging tool, and Iridient Developer as my RAW Developer, with Adobe Photoshop CS6 for finishing, printing, and working on scanner-sourced files. PhotoSupreme is a cross-platform application built on top of an open-source SQL database. It acts both as an advanced cataloging tool, comparable to the venerable but obsolete MediaPro, and as a hub to other workflow applications. I’ve been running a trial for 30 days, and have just bought a license. There is some sign that PhaseOne has not given up on MediaPro, but I’ve given up waiting.

Photo Supreme window

A collection view in PhotoSupreme

PhotoSupreme takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve been using MediaPro for about 100 years, not to mention Aperture. Being old and stupid doesn’t help either. Neither does the rather patchy documentation (although an active and helpful user community where the developer participates is a big help). It has its own way of doing things, and newcomers need to take time to get in sync with it. Actually, I think I had a quick look at it a while back, and discarded it as lacking various features. Well, actually, there are very few features it lacks, but you need to work out where they are, and how they work. Once everything starts to click into place, it reveals itself as a very powerful application. I suppose the core difference between PhotoSupreme and MediaPro is that MediaPro encourages use of multiple catalogs, and PhotoSupreme doesn’t really, although it does support them. PhotoSupreme organisation metaphors are different to MediaPro’s but ultimately let you do the same things. But PhotoSupreme has one absolute killer feature, to me anyway: Version Sets.

Photo Supreme Version

Version Sets: the holy grail

PhotoSupreme’s Version Sets are like Aperture’s Stacks (and therefore Lightroom’s clumsy copy of the same). A Version Set collects various versions of the same image (or actually completely different images if you want). But it actually goes further than Aperture, and allows you to indicate the purpose of each version, through “placeholders”. So, you can have a master RAW (or a Silverfast HDR), a JPG for web, another JPG for Flickr, a PSD for printing. And you can add your own placeholders to the core set, pretty much ad-infinitum as far as I can see. The way in which Version Sets are displayed is a little confusing at first, but basically boils down to whether you have a physical (e.g folder) or logical (e.g collection) view open.

PhotoSupreme provides effective import tools for Aperture libraries and MediaPro catalogs, as well as other application formats. There is a single-user version which seems to work fine with several hundred thousand images (according to forum members - I’m nowhere near that prolific), but if that isn’t enough, there’s a heavy duty multi-user version.

All in all, this is a perfect front-end to Iridient Developer. ID has just hit version 3.0, and just keeps getting better. I won’t go into any detail about it here, I’ve written about Iridient a lot in the past. You can read a nice review of Version 3 here. ID can’t do any kind of local editing or pixel-based operations, so Photoshop remind on hand for that. And that’s fine, it’s what it’s good at.

The interesting thing about PhotoSupreme and Iridient Developer is that they’re both developed by one-man band operations, PS by Hert van Zwietering, and ID by Brian Griffith. And despite both inevitably having a few minor rough edges, they make the efforts of certain megaCorporations look pretty sad. And neither impose any kind of lock-in, either through software design, or through pay-or-lose-access rental schemes.

It’s still going to be a hell of a job transitioning from Aperture, but now I’m beginning to feel it will be an upgrade, not a downgrade.

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 07:45 PM

The Secret Sea

in Photography , Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Anybody who has more than glanced at these pages will have noticed that apart from a twisted devotion to snow and ice, I also suffer from a chronic obsession with Venice. There’s no cure for either, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It would be interesting to hear what a psychoanalyst would make of these recurrent themes.

So, more Venice. Back in June, sort of on a whim, I took part in an Olympus-funded photo workshop in Venice. Now, I don’t function well as a photographer in a group setting. I try to impress, or I try not to impress, I get distracted, I make terrible mistakes, and by and large terrible photos. But I enjoyed the vibe, a lot. Nevertheless, knowing that this would happen, I made sure I had some time beforehand to myself.  I had a number of pieces of the jigsaw to track down.

It was a hot, sunny day, quite busy, which in Venezia equates to “very crowded” for other cities. But as usual, away from the main attractions and routes between them, it was quiet, alternating between peaceful, and slightly eerie. In other words, perfect.

This selection of photos has been staring back at me for sometime, but with so many ideas and projects clamouring for attention, not to mention the rest of daily life, it’s taken a while for me to let them out. So here they are.

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The idea of presenting the first and last as diptychs, I must confess, is partly inspired by the wonderful work of Johnny Patience, which I’ve been devouring in the past few days.  However it’s also a nod in the direction of another idea which has been bouncing around my skull for a while. Maybe it will emerge.

All these photos taken with the Sigma DP3 Merrill and brought to life by Iridient Developer.

 

Posted in category "Photography" on Tuesday, September 02, 2014 at 09:00 PM

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