3.26.2013

I finally took Andy's advice and tried a file conversion in Aperture.

Shot with LED Light Panels for Zachary Scott Theatre.
Camera: Sony a99 with 70-200mm 2.8 G lens.

I don't want to start a war about which RAW converter is best. God knows, there are more than enough religions out there already, but I wanted to share that some files work better in RAW converters we might not have been using in our own workflows. Since I switched to Sony cameras I've felt that Lightroom 4.4 was just about as good as anything out there for conversions so I didn't look around much. I mean, Adobe Camera Raw is considered by most image workers as the standard of the industry.

But recently I picked up a Sony a850 camera (more about that whole deal on another day) and I shot a bunch of portraits with it. The images looked great on the LCD screen on the back of the camera and there wasn't anything really challenging about the lighting or the subjects, but once I pulled the raw files into Lightroom my stomach kind of tightened up. The images were contrasty and for some reason LR wanted to add 12 to 15 points of magenta to the faces in my portraits. Well actually the default seemed to be, "the more magenta everywhere, the better!"

I worked and worked on the files but I was not happy. So I opened Capture One and messed around with 7.0. Better but still not in the "happy camper" ballpark. A quick and disastrous detour through Sony's primitive program didn't help my mood at all. Frankly, I was ready to go back to film and throw the whole mess at a lab. Right....

Then I remembered that my friend, Andy, swears by Apple's Aperture. And his images always look great to me. Great contrast, believable sharpness and great color. And he swears he uses nothing but Aperture. For $79 bucks and a quick download I'll bite.

I re-learned (I'd tried the 1.0 demo a few years back) everything I needed to do the job at hand in about an hour. I tweaked the images and they fell into place without the slightest glitch, color cast or posterization in the shadows. The sharpening worked better and the color controls made the flesh tones....perfect. I batched them and they're spitting into a folder as I write this.

But then I started wondering about the image above. I posted a version earlier that started life in LR and I wasn't totally happy with the contrast and the overall look of the image. Since Aperture is a multi-thread application I tossed this image file into the program and started playing with it. To my eye it's a totally different image now. I could see a big difference in the way the program made the initial conversion and how well it works with Sony files.

I'm not saying that your Nikon or Canon or Olympus camera will necessarily see the same kinds of improvements that I saw in the files from two different full frame Sony cameras but if you are using an Apple machine it may be worth your while. Particularly if you feel less than thrilled with the stuff that's coming out of your current workflow.  Just a thought.

ed note: look what popped up this morning over at DP Review: review.com/articles/8219582047/raw-converter-showdown-capture-one-pro-7-dxo-optics-pro-8-and-lightroom-4

23 comments:

Michael said...

As someone who's used Aperture for years, I would not recommend it for one simple reason - no output sharpening which means every image needs to be resized and sharpened individually in Photoshop. Very frustrating. Now I want to switch to Lightroom and I'm overwhelmed by the process, which looks very painful.

Craig Yuill said...

I started using Aperture 3 about two years ago. At the time its $79 price was about 1/3 what it cost to buy Lightroom. I was happy with the interface and results I got from using the trial version, so I bought the full version. I haven't felt the need to use competing products since then.

I really like the effects/repair brushes, which can detect edges. For RAW conversions, I typically reduce the Image Boost and Hue Boost from 100% down to anywhere from 75% to 50%; otherwise the images seem to be either a bit washed out or garish. (I use Nikons.)

I am, however, disappointed that I cannot update Aperture any more unless I update my iMac's OS version, Snow Leopard. Alas, the CPU is too old for the current OS version, Mountain Lion. I guess it's getting time to upgrade my computer.

Have fun with your new software.

Anonymous said...

Is Aperture 3 playing well (or at all) with Fuji raw?

-salty

Craig Yuill said...

Michael, one can do sharpening (regular and edge sharpening) inside Aperture. One can also set sharpening for RAW conversions. Would there still be a need for doing output sharpening? I have had no problems resizing images to desired output sizes with oodles of sharpness. I am puzzled about why you would need resize and sharpen all of your images in Photoshop.

billstormont said...

RAW converters as religions...I like that. I don't know which denomination it falls into, but one of your Austin neighbors has produced Photo Ninja and you might take a look at it while you're comparing converters. It's not quite as advanced with bells and whistles (yet), but the output is wonderful. I had to say that, being a believer and all...

Craig said...

I started using Aperture when I switched to the Mac not long ago. At first I was fairly happy with it, but then I realized one day that something was missing -- no ability to correct for lens distortion. It's just not there. You can buy separate third-party plugins to do it, but it just seems wrong not to provide such a basic feature, especially these days when so many lens designers for digital systems seem to have the attitude that geometric distortion is unimportant because you can just fix it in software. So I started a free 30 day trial of Lightroom and it just seems like a more robust, complete, and professional tool altogether. I'm sure there are particular examples, such as your Sony a850, where one program does a better job of interpreting raw files than the other, but in general, as a tool for serious work, Lightroom seems better to me.

Kirk Tuck said...

I currently have five RAW conversion processors in my applications folder.... Jeez.

Robert said...

I just read a little bit about film to sensor analogies. It just makes you realize the camera, raw conversion, post formula can be just a magical as processing your favorite film in 3 1/2 day old coffee and holding your tongue just right.

atmtx said...

Very interesting.

atmtx said...

There seems to be a crispness to this version, which I like.

Ellis Vener said...

"Would there still be a need for doing output sharpening?"

Why yes there definitely is. Sharpening should ideally, optimally done as at least a two stage process. There is initial , gentle raw processing stage sharpening which serves to remove the effects of the image capture process. This is base o nthe camera technology and the subject matter.

If you can think of a photograph as taking a journey that starts at when it leaves the camera sensor (home) , output sharpening could also be called 'destination sharpening." where it ends up matters.


In all cases output sharpening is based on the characteristics of the reproduction method used, the resolution it will be printed or displayed at, and the size it will be reproduced. If you are doing inkjet printing for example
rougher matte or canvas surfaces have less ability to resolve fine detail - the ink droplets tend to spread as they are absorbed - than semi-gloss and gloss surfaces do where the ink droplets remain more tightly defined as they dry.

Ellis Vener said...

Craig you might also be interested in this article as well: http://www.digitalphotopro.com/technique/workflow/the-right-resolution.html

Gregg Mack said...

Comparing the two versions as large as I can on this 24" EIZO monitor, the Aperture version is definitely brighter, and her lips are more vibrant. The skin tone, however, is not as pleasing to me personally - it has lost some color. It is a more "pasty white" than the Lightroom version (to me).

Gregg Mack said...

Looking even more closely, the Aperture version appears much sharper in here eye brows and the flakes of make-up around her left nostril. Those make-up flakes aren't really noticeable in the Lightroom version.

Anonymous said...

Hey. This image isn't green. Aren't all images made with LED lights supposed to turn green? Are you sure it wasn't flash?

Kirk Tuck said...

I like the lower saturation on the skin tones. Seems more like real skin to me.

Daryl Davis said...

True that.

Daryl Davis said...

Last month I attended a 2-hour class on the OM-D, conducted by Olympus technical rep Ray Acevedo. During the class, Ray spoke in passing about using Lightroom for image processing.

After the session, I asked Ray why I got better results, including better resolution of fine detail, from Olympus Viewer 2 than I did from Lightroom 4: being still new to digital (I'm running a 30-day trial of LR4), I thought I might be doing something wrong, though I had noticed the two programs are 180 degrees apart in some of their defaults. Ray told me Olympus deliberately hold back some of the sensor code from software developers. Bummer, since OV2 is primitive, clunky, poorly documented, and slow, but I can convert to 16-bit TIFF in OV2 and apply final tweaks in LR, PS, etc.

Last week I wandered, almost by accident, into the local Phase One dealer (Bear Images Photographic). They suggested I try Capture One 7: "We think you'll find it much better than LR." Limited testing seems to bear that out, though I have one, grab-shot, indoor portrait I made earlier that day, for which I so far can't get a satisfactory white balance except in OV2. It's early yet, so I probably am doing something wrong.

As an aside, I highly recommend the very gracious folks at Bear Images Photographic (Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seattle). Jim and Carla in the Palo Alto store were very gracious and informative.

Dick -Photographer said...

NIK has had their price really reduced by Google. Fantastic stuff. Their output sharpening is very good and is really usable with Aperture.

Craig Yuill said...

Ellis, Dick: thanks for the above info.

Peter Rees said...

To me, the new version appears nerve-janglingly oversharp, especially around the lips, eyes and hair. Skin colour appears very natural, however. Oh, and she is very lovely.

Kirk Tuck said...

Science?

Jake said...

Hi Kirk,

Each time I try to comment on VSL, it doesn't post, so here goes.

I moved away from Aperture 3 because it seems Apple is no longer interested in developing it or releasing a v4, instead focusing on iOS lately. Also, there is no auto lens correction without exporting the image to PTLens or a proper integrated noise reduction feature (I hate using Denoise or similar). With that said, I still believe Apple's RAW interpretation is superior to LR4 at least in terms of straight out of the box color accuracy and less image noise, though it was slower to render on my old Mac and has serious memory leak issues.

While using LR4 with the a99, rx100, and a55, I found the following very useful. In my eyes, the magenta and color tone problems are gone. I can especially see a dramatic difference with indoor bounced flash on skin tones- now looks natural compared to Adobe Standard or "Camera Standard". It also has a profile for the a850 listed. Using these, you may be able to get very similar output from your a99 and a850 all in LR4.


www.piraccini.net/2011/02/profili-colore-sony-a900-per-adobe-lr.html

I use the Standard profile and have that set to default settings so it uses that profile for each new imported RAW on all my cameras (I love automation). I have applied the profile across the board on every single photo I've taken on LR4 and old pictures look better. Give it a try.

Jake