Choosing a New Raw Processor

My photographic workflow has some kinks and splits.  The main one is between the handling of proofs, event photos, and snapshots, on the one hand, and the treatment given to final versions of important pictures (whether they’re art, restorations, portraits, or whatever).  Since I’m an imperfectly fossilized dinosaur, I think of the two as “machine prints” and “custom prints”, the two categories you could get from a pro lab in the 1970s.

Custom prints require the full power of Photoshop for me.  Since Adobe, in their death throes, has shot off their right foot (that being Photoshop), I’ll be continuing to use CS6 for the foreseeable future.  I can use the other fork of my workflow to produce 16-bit raw conversions as the input to CS6 (so I can continue to use it far beyond where ACR supports my camera bodies).

The “machine print” side has long run through Bibble Pro (and more recently Aftershot Pro, which is what Corel called it after they bought Bibble). This side works by making fairly quick adjustments by eye to groups of photos; often I’ll start with settings for an entire session, and then make additional adjustments to photos from different parts of the session, and then sometimes all the way down to individual series of shots. This is much faster than doing full custom printing on each shot!  But it’s also much better than just using the jpegs that come out of the camera. This is attempting to make “good” machine prints, like the video-analyzed prints from a pro lab, where a person looked at the print and actually maybe turned dials while watching a video screen.  For maybe a full second.

Since Bibble Labs sold themselves to Corel, and then Picturecode wouldn’t renew the agreement about integrating Noise Ninja, Aftershot Pro is no longer a great candidate for my raw processing, and I’ve been wondering where to go next. The obvious place to go was Adobe’s Lightroom—except that even before the “Creative Cloud” disaster I was unhappy with their upgrade policies and their policy of not supporting old versions with new cameras. While I’m not pissed enough, I think, to actually cut off my nose, I’d at least strongly prefer not to give Adobe my money if I can reasonably avoid it.

Having no other pressing business to entertain me, I decided to go through and make an attempt to evaluate what I saw as the interesting candidates for my new raw processor.

ProductVersion Evaluated
Price (June 2013)Supported OSs
Aftershot Pro1.1.0.30$50Windows
Bibble Pro5.2.3Not availableWindows, Linux
Dark TableFreeLinux, OS X, Solaris
Photo Ninja1.0.5$130Windows, OS X
Capture One Pro7.1.2 build 67846$300Windows, OS X
LightZone4.0Free (BSD license)Windows, OS X, Linux
Lightoom5.0$150 (but frequently on sale for less)Windows, OS X

This is far from an exhaustive list. In particular there are a number of free-software packages available, many of which don’t support Windows.

Capture One Pro is the “big gorilla” here, to my eye. It’s what supports most of the expensive medium-format digital cameras and backs, and it’s apparently what was nearly universally used in digital production environments (catalog shooters and such, who went digital very early because their high volumes justified the high price).

My evaluation methodology is going to be very casual. I’ve chosen a few pictures that I’m going to go through and process with each processor. I’ll no doubt acquire opinions along the way, which I will publish, and I’ll show the results and discuss what I see in them some. This is not either a deep or an especially scientific analysis, and is very me-centric.

I’ll be posting an article every few days on this for a while; first a series of articles about one raw processor I evaluated, and eventually the big conclusion article.  Hope this is all of use to somebody!

5 thoughts on “Choosing a New Raw Processor”

  1. What about DxO Optics Pro? It autocorrects lens aberrations (if DxO have tested your lens/body combination and you’ve installed the appropriate module) and does an incredible job of sucking information out of your raw file (e.g., it carries out noise reduction *before* demosaicing). It’s worth using DxO as your raw converter, generating 16 bit TIFFs, then working on the TIFFs in your general editing software. (Windows, OS X.)

    Also, you’ve omitted Apple’s Aperture (OS X only).

  2. This list is not intended to be complete! There are probably a dozen others.

    The lens aberration correction is by no means unique to them; they may be better at it, but most of the products have something in that area.

    Since I’m evaluating these for my own use, Aperture isn’t in consideration; I don’t run OS X.

  3. My problem with ACR began when I purchased a new camera. Currently, I am using Photoshop CS5, and the ACR plugin associated with that version does not support the camera. Neither does Aftershot Pro, by the way. And the upgrade to CS6 is just too expensive for me, and also not really necessary.

    This led me to downloading trial versions of practically any raw converter I could find. Some were free while others were modestly priced. I wanted something which was reasonably responsive, do file sorting without slowing the computer too drastically, do some image correction, and integrate well with Photoshop. Oh yes, and didn’t cost a fortune

    I did not want to build catalogs which eliminated many of the trials, because the rendering time was really too long. For some trials, I had to go through a ridiculous routine to load an image into Photoshop.

    Finally, I settled with ACDSee Pro. It seems to do what I want from a raw processor. It does have one drawback in that is takes some time for it to render the completed image. Then again I probably need more ram in my computer. I’m using a Mac Pro.

    I should mention I have no association with ACDSee.

  4. You know about the free Adobe DNG converter, right? It will convert raw files to DNG files, which the Adobe products will then accept.

    (Unfortunately I find that a lot of other products, notably including Bibble and also some of the more modern ones, make a point of rejecting DNG files converted from other raw formats.)

  5. Adobe DNG is a workable and free processor.

    However, the workflow with DNG is rather awkward. The raw files folder must be opened, the DNG conversion applied, and the converted files placed back in the folder, or a different folder.

    All this must be done before going into Photoshop to open the image.

    It was this type of workflow which caused me to reject DNG, and a number of other converters. Also, after the recent actions of Adobe, I have become a little paranoid about using Adobe products.

    The conversion program I prefer has direct access to Photoshop under either the File or View menus. The one hitch here is that the image must be saved first. With large image files this process is really slow

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