I have been trying to find a viable RAW converter substitute for Lightroom for quite a long time. What irritates me in LR is that it seems they are ignoring the standalone version and all people should take the whole web-based CC package. I would prefer the standalone version which I have had for many, many years. I do not need Photoshop at all, LR is fine for me. But it seems that standalone LR is not even having to whole feature set the CC has.
I have tested many RAW converters during my digital photography years. I am not going to mention them here but just say that there are some good (and expensive) ones and some quite bad ones. Seems to be quite tricky job to find a good one with a reasonable price. And I want to have a program which has also digital asset management in addition to a RAW converter. I want to have one program to do all.
LR has many things done right. That is why it is not easy to find a replacement.
Corel announced recently a new version of their AfterShot RAW converter – AfterShot Pro 3. I have tested it for few days. It seems to be quite nice RAW converter which has digital asset management properties. They claim that it should be fast converter. And it really is. Huge difference when compared to LR. Import and export both are much faster, maybe also some of the adjustments too. Results are good if you have quite nicely exposed RAW file to start with. Corel says that AfterShot Pro 3 has a new improved highlight recovery system. It is quite effective but it adds a nasty magenta tone to the white areas if you have to make heavy corrections with it. I was quite disappointed actually. If you have to open up the shadow areas you have to use the fill light slider which unfortunately adds some haze-like fill light. It really can’t beat LR’s shadow adjustment.
AfterShot Pro 3 seems to have reasonably effective noise reduction with moderate ISO but when you apply it more with higher ISO (say in ISO 3200-6400 range and above) the noise reduction introduces a mushy appearance in noisy out of focus areas. Not good as I need to shoot with high ISO during winter time when shooting indoors.
Above things are big things against AfterShot Pro 3 as compared to LR. But there is one more which really annoys me even more. The lack of proper Before/After button or hotkey. They have introduced History module (you can go backwards in adjustments nicely with it) but no Before/After! Should not be that tricky to implement.
Summa summarum, it seems that I will stay in LR camp. Sigh.
A JPEG shot adjusted with Corel AfterShot Pro 3.
I have been trying to make my own color and B&W presets for Lightroom lately. I have used VSCO presets (namely Fuji 160C for color and Ilford HP5 for B&W) as starting points and tweaked them to my liking. I have some kind of a B&W period going on now and finding a nice preset for B&W is a very important thing to me. The two presets I have now made are just starting points to me but I am able to get close to a final presentation with a one click using them. Usually I make minor adjustments after applying my presets though.
My color preset
My B&W preset
I upgraded my LR 4.4 to Lightroom 5 yesterday. I do not see transition from version 4 to version 5 to be any dramatic change but there is one fantastic tool included in the newest version. This tool is Radial Gradient Tool. With it you can easily select round or oval area which you mask (protect) from or select for the adjustments. You have all the adjustment palette you are used to have e.g. for Adjustment Brush. This new tool is so much easier and faster to use in many instances as compared to Adjustment Brush or standard Gradient Filter. It is possible to invert your selection so that the adjustments are affecting the background area or the selected area. You can for example very easily protect the area you want and decrease the exposure in the background to emphasize your main subject. As an improvement of its present status I would like to see a possibility to “copy” the selected area and after that invert the selection for that same area. Then it would be possible to do fast adjustments both to the background and the selected area without making the selection again.
In the shot below is a rusty chain. I selected the chain by making an oval selection with Radial Gradient Tool. After the selection I inverted the mask so that my adjustments will affect the chain, not the background. I did only few subtle adjustments. First of all I made the chain more “warm” by adjusting WB just a little bit. Then I increased exposure, clarity, and sharpness very moderately. I feel subtle changes are the key here. In that way you will emphasize your main subject nicely without ruining your shot.
Have you ever tried to create a signature look for your photos? I certainly have tried. I am pleased to my achievements for a certain time after which I will change my mind. Usually I am going back to more natural look. For that “natural” look it is very important how the camera renders the image I am going to see in my computer monitor.
For color shots I have tried out desaturated look. I think I have found quite good adjustments for that in Lightroom. But using the desaturated look for a while I am not happy anymore. I am craving colors back. Here are some examples of my desaturated look.
There are times when I am very much into B&Ws. I have made my own B&W preset in Lightroom and many times I really like the results. Here are some B&Ws processed by using my own preset.
In addition to my own B&W preset I use VSCO Film presets for post-processing. I really love those presets because they are not made through any plug-in which always generate those huge TIFF files.
So it seems to be a long road to a signature look.
I have tried to process X-Pro1 RAW files with Lightroom and have not been very happy with the results. This is especially true with high ISO shots. ISO 1600 is totally okay but I will need ISO 3200 and even 6400 often. With that high values I am getting quite mediocre results.
When shooting JPEGs even ISO 6400 is quite clean of noise. Below is a shot taken with ISO 6400 and I even added some grain by using a VSCO Film preset. And I feel very comfortable with that shot and result. You can see evolution in that shot. I really hope Lightroom’s RAW converter will have same kind of a evolution – from dinosaurs to elephants.
I haven't had much time for photography lately, so here are just few photos processed from X-Pro1 RAW files. I am quite pleased but I have to learn more about the balance of sharpening and noise removal when processing with Lightroom.
Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 R, 1/125, F1.4, ISO 500. I like the result here.
Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 R, 1/125, F4, ISO 1600. This is also quite good. So, no big problems through ISO 1600.
Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 R, 1/250, F1.6, ISO 6400. Here you can see quite much noise on his face. This is ISO 6400 which would be nice to use in indoor shooting. That's why I have to learn more about sharpening vs. noise reduction. I will post some ISO 3200 examples later on.
Now that I have tested Aperture 3 for my workflow for two weeks I decided to go back to use Lightroom again. Here are few reasons for this:
1. Lightroom is working much faster and smoother in my computers (see the specs in the post below). This is quite big thing after all. First I thought I could live with slower processing but it is not so. Sometimes Aperture will slow down too much especially when working with 100% magnification.
2. I really missed History panel from Lightroom. I want to quickly check which kind of tweaks I have done and History panel is very handy for that. And it allows you to go back in the tweaks very nicely. In Aperture I am somehow “lost” what I have done.
3. Lightroom’s Graduated filter is important tool for me. It is missing from Aperture.
4. Adjustment brushes work much smoother in Lightroom. They are very nice in Aperture too but not with my computers.
5. I like Keywording more in Lightroom. Espoecially Keyword suggestion feauture is nice in Lightroom. I am able to add keywords faster.
So, those are the main reasons I am back with Lightroom. I like how Aperture renders images but I am not always sure how I got that nice result. And that is not a good thing of course. I have a full version of Aperture 3 and I will update it in the future to see if there will be some improvements in the above areas. And of course LR 3 is coming out quite soon.
Or actually I am trying Aperture 3 out and see how it will do in my work flow. I like the results a lot (as the above pic) but I am not always sure what tweaking I have been doing because Aperture lacks edit history kind of thing. I think that annoys me most at the moment. Also some editing tools are quite slow but still they are usable.
This is going to be a big step for me if I am going for Aperture because I have been using LightRoom for years.