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.


m.zuiko 45mm f1.8

a bundle of fun

in Olympus E-System , Friday, October 28, 2011

One of my favourite-ever lenses was the Canon FD 135mm f2.0.  This fast telephoto would let me pluck a detail out a scene, beautifully sharp, with the fore- and background smoothly blending into a creamy smooth bokeh. And it had great contrast. And I gave it away, with most of my Canon FD gear, to the daughter of a friend who wanted to study photography but had no way of affording the gear. 

I never really found anything to compare to that lens, but now maybe I have: the Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, which has the added advantage of being almost absurdly low-priced.  Mine arrived today. And here’s a sample of what I’ve found it can do.

Drm 2011 10 28 A282560

Stray leaf. Olympus E-P2 with m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8, wide open

So far I’ve found that the E-P2 tends to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3rds of a stop with this lens compared to the 14-45mm. But that’s not much of a problem.

This is a fun lens to use, much more so in my opinion that the highly-rated Lumix 20mm. It is light, but well built, with a large, well damped focus ring. It looks gorgeous. And the results are pretty much guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. This is a must-have lens for and Micro Four Thirds camera owner. And an absolute bargain.  I’ll post some more examples soon.


Silverfast 8 - initial impressions

A look at SF 8 HDR Public Beta

in Product reviews , Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lasersoft Imaging released Silverfast 8 towards the end of August. Unfortunately, they don’t yet support my main scanner, although they do support my CanoScan 9000F, but they have just released a public Beta of Silverfast 8 HDR. Since most of my time with Silverfast 6.6 is spent using HDR, this was welcome news.

Since it has come during a bit of a lull in both photography and especially scanning, I haven’t really had much reason to try it, but yesterday evening I thought I’d give it a go. Note, this article is written under the influence of a combined throat infection and heavy cold.

The big thing about Silverfast 8 is the user interface redesign, but that’s not the only point. However, it really dominates the update, so here it is.

SilverFast 8 HDR Studio BetaSnap002

The Silverfast 8 HDR Studio user interface

and here it was:

Sf hdr 6

The Silverfast 6 HDR Studio user interface

Silverfast 8 introduces a modern, compact, unified user interface which, although remaining a little idiosyncratic, is a huge improvement.

I haven’t run anything approaching a full session, so I’ll just list a few early impressions. These are taken from running on MacOS X 10.6.8.


- hugely improved UI. Massive step forward
- installs and runs following normal guidelines, including access to preference panels, etc. Uses standard OS toolbar.
- detachable tool panel, so you can “roll your own” UI to some extent
- ability to turn various edits on and off in preview (like Aperture or Lightroom)
- ability to run Silverfast 8 and Silverfast 8 HDR concurrently - I think. I’m not 100% sure as my trial of Silverfast 8 for CanoScan 9000F has expired, but I can open both launch screens at the same time. I can also run SF 8 HDR and SF 6 HDR (or AI Studio) at the same time.

Negatives (remembering that this is a Beta):

- allows quit without warning to save edited images
- the colour cast slider seems to have vanished. Now the level is set in Preferences only


- the image manager, Silverfast VLT, which works as a front end to Silverfast HDR 6.6, is gone.  This is not necessarily a bad thing as it is somewhat buggy and has some very poor design choices. However as a way of building up Job Manager lists is was pretty good. Maybe it will return.
- seems stable. No crashes so far.

Generally all the tools remain the same, including the superlative colour correction tools, but they’re easier to use and understand.

All in all it looks encouraging. Let’s just hope Lasersoft come up with a pricelist which takes into account that it’s not 2001 anymore, otherwise selling a product like this into a dwindling market is going to be pretty challenging.


New Medium Format film scanner

Reflecta throws out a lifebelt

in Film , Thursday, June 30, 2011

For those of us still in the Stone Age of film, and slide film at that, there’s a lot to worry about. Dwindling film supplies and variety, processing labs dropping like flies, and especially that day when the film scanner goes bleeeeeep-kerTHUNK. And then it’s Game Over, unless of course you’re willing to sell your soul to Hasselblad for a Flextight. The last (and first, really) wave of affordable, high quality medium format scanners from Nikon, Minolta, Polaroid and Microtek are fast approaching Lights Out. But remarkably, a potential saviour has arisen in the shape of Germany’s Reflecta. Although they’re probably not well known outside of Central Europe, Reflecta is a company with a long history. Typically they’ve made various low to mid-range accessories and devices, including slide projectors (I believe some Leica slide projectors were rebadged Reflectas) and cheap and cheerful 35mm film scanners. However, as the mid to semi-pro market collapsed, Reflecta has been cautiously and quietly edging upwards, acquiring a credibility-enhancing partnership with Silverfast on the way, as well as some encouraging reviews. Although the fact that they have practically no credible competiton must help. And now, well they’ve taken the major step of announcing their first medium format scanner.

And note, unlike any of it’s comparable predecessors it goes up to 6x12. It doesn’t appear to have a dedicated 35mm panoramic holder, but I guess one can be cobbled together.

On paper the specifications look modest. A DMax of 3.6 (I wonder how many people remember what that means) and an optical resolution of 3200dpi. Probably enough, and actually probably closer to the truth than claims of 4800dpi and similar, but not terribly exciting for the marketing men. But then it doesn’t need to be. It has no competition whatsoever, if you discount worn out overpriced eBay fodder.

From pre-release photos it appears to have a mechanism and construction similar to the Microtek / Polaroid 120 scanner, with a moving holder and fixed sensor, which is a pity. Moving sensor systems generally provide a much better platform for multisampling.

It is due to be available in July, but so far no pricing has been announced. I would expect something in the range of €1000, but I suppose it could be higher.

And will it be any good? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. But with the alternative being Nothing, I suppose the bar’s not set too high.


Colorburst RIP


in Product reviews , Sunday, May 29, 2011

Intrigued by a blog post by Bruce Percy about Colorburst RIP, which triggered quite a discussion, I decided to give it a try, since a fully featured 15 day demo is available.

I used to be a happy user of ColorByte’s Imageprint RIP - and what qualifies to be called a “RIP” or not, quite honestly I couldn’t care less. Imageprint basically gives you high quality print output, with minimal fuss (albeit with a somewhat clunky UI), and no wasted time or materials. It is fairly expensive, on the face of it, but when you consider the cost of the alternative DIY profiling route, it’s a bargain. Even for hobbyists. However, at present I don’t use it. I use the much improved Epson driver, with my own profiles built using XRite’s ColorMunki. Also, I have ImagePrint 6 licensed for the Epson 2100, and these days I use an Epson 3800. As and when I can afford to upgrade, I still might, but since I’m pretty settled on a couple of paper types, and having tried the demo I couldn’t see a huge benefit over the modern Epson driver, it’s not a priority.

Back to Colorburst. So, I downloaded it and installed it. First off, it’s quite a different beast to ImagePrint. There’s no layout facility, but the UI is a little more polished. However, Colorburst’s UI offers little more than ImagePrint’s Job Manager. Colorburst provides packaged “environments” for printer / paper / ink combinations. They offer a fairly wide range, but significantly smaller, and much less up to date, than ImagePrint’s. For example, my favorite paper, Hahnemuehle Photo Rag Baryta, didn’t make the cut. However I did have a few sheets of Epson Traditional Photo Paper (aka Exhibition Fibre) lying around, so I tried that.

And I got exactly what I expected: a relatively desaturated print representing a CMYK press proof, which as I understand is what Colorburst RIP is supposed to do - but it does seem that it’s being represented as a full gamut inkjet replacement driver for photographic final prints. Well, maybe there are some settings somewhere, or environments, or other proprietary stuff you can twiddle to fix that, but then one has to ask what the point is ? You may as well invest the time in learning mainstream color management. And it isn’t all the difficult.

Colorburst offers no preview, so for example you can’t know that the option you selected to “auto rotate” doesn’t always work - so you’re wasting paper.

As far as I can tell, Colorburst RIP is a great tool for DTP specialists need to get accurate, contract-rated offset proofs. If you’re working with a printing house on publishing a book, it’s fantastic. And back in the day I used to do that sort of work, I wish I’d had it. But it is absolutely not going to deliver anything approaching the best Adobe RGB color space screen to paper output you can get. And neither is it supposed to.


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