Sunday, March 04, 2007

Comparing Raw PEF and DNG Converters for Pentax Files, Spring 2007, Part 1

Part 1: Trying New Things | Part 2 | Part 3

One of the great things about working in Raw is the variety of methods you have for preparing your photo for the web or for print. Since my last look at Raw converters almost a year ago (2006's Raw Converter Roundup), I had personally settled on Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop for when I process my PEF files. This decision was in no small part based on the reading I did on workflows, much of which you can find written for Adobe apps (like here). However, since then, there have been a lot of great updates to popular software, not the least of which is Pentax Photo Lab 3. RawShooter is gone since Adobe bought it for Lightroom, and others I'm less interested except for specialized batches (like Lightzone). And there are dozens of specialty plug-ins that are making sharpening and color correction easier and easier. I've been anxious to see how the a few of these things compare now that I have a bit more experience.

My test shot, PEF developed with ACR 3.7 and Photoshop

So, I decided to re-evaluate some of the more popular programs and see how they fit my humble needs. I decided on some simple criteria that I require and then I compared the software based on what I can already do in ACR and Photoshop, which is my control image in this little experiment.

Here are 6 programs that currently support Pentax cameras (most, if not all models) and which I've chosen to play with (that have free demos and are Mac compatible).

The contenders:

1. Lightroom 1.0 (with ACR 3.7) - Mac/PC, $199 introduction, $299 afterwards
2. Pentax Photo Lab 3.10 - Mac/PC, free upgrade for previous editions
3. Silkypix Dev Studio 3.0.5.1 - Mac/PC, $125 US
4. Bibble Lite/Pro 4.9.5 - Mac/PC, $69.95/$129.95
5. Aperture 1.5.2 - Mac only, limited Pentax support, $299
6. RAW Developer 1.6.2 - Mac only, $99.95

Criteria I'm looking for in a Raw converter application:

1. For rating photos and adding keywords, I would like to be able to write metadata for photos that can be read by popular image browsing software, like Adobe Bridge.
2. I'd like to be able to convert to 16-bit Tiff and export to JPEG.
3. It must support ProPhoto RGB or Adobe RGB for TIFF, and sRGB 2.1 for JPEG.
4. It must have options for cropping, adjusting WB, exposure, tone curve, color, noise reduction, and sharpness. Preferably, fill light and highlight recovery will also be available.
5. I need to do batch developing and (if possible) metadata editing.
6. I appreciate exporting various sizes and resolutions, and any special printing features.

When it comes to comparing the results, I thought I'd set up a photo and make some pretty standard adjustments that are easy to reproduce in all the software, so that anyone could reproduce the same results with their own pictures. I set up a garish composition of a handpainted wooden elephant on a red background that is fairly rich in color (see the above picture). I took the photo with my *ist DS, in PEF with "natural color." If you really need to know, I used an SMC-M 100mm lens at F/11 for 1/180s, because I used a TTL flash to control the lighting for WB issues. The camera was mounted on a tripod and I used a remote.

Now, I just want to say that I don't think sharpening is appropriate to do until you know what your output resolution will be for either a printer or a web image. So when I look at sharpness qualities here, I'm mostly looking to see if the software is introducing any ugly contrast or detail issues. Also, to look at noise reduction properly, you need to have a bit of noise, so that's why my test image is shot at ASA 400. And although I shot with a flash so that the WB correction should be easy, I underexposed the TTL flash by 1 stop so that I could get the software to make an exposure adjustment, too.

Adjustment recipe for comparison:

1. Use Flash WB setting (about 5500K)
2. Medium contrast tone curve, with +10 black and +15 saturation
3. +1 Exposure correction
4. 15% fill light and 15% highlight recovery (if possible)
5. 50% sharpening and 50% noise reduction (both color and luminance)
6. Add copyright, rating, and keyword metadata (if possible)
7. Export to 16-Bit Tiff and JPEG.

Next up, comparing results...

5 comments:

John said...

Have you thought about including Gimp or Gimpshop (www.gimpshop.net) with UFRaw (ufraw.sourceforge.net) in your analysis. These are opensource software. Just FYI.

OK-1K said...

You know, Gimp is a great free option, and it does work in OS X. But getting a build of UFRaw to run natively as an OS X application is a bit out of my league, so I didn't want to include it in my comparison. However, when I update the list of applications there are out there to use, I will definitely include it.

John said...

Thanks OK-1K. I did not know you used OS-X. I am a Linux primary and WinXP secondary user.

Anonymous said...

It would be good to consider also "Capture One" programme as they were added to Sandisk flash cards and many people got them in that way.

buy steroids said...

GIMP is very advantageous option. I am advanced user.

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