9. Additional Features
As we turn to an examination of the additional features offered by each application I shall preface this section by saying that in my original plans for this RAW Converters Comparison I planned to do comparisons of both lens correction abilities and colour.
On the first question I realised fairly quickly when generating the image files that the RAW converters either do or don’t do lens correction, and if they d do it then the results are virtually identical. On the second question, there are too many variables to accurately assess colour reproduction; if, instead, the question is about which colours are preferable then this is just too subjective.
Judging these two questions is as much about the lens, the camera, and the shooting conditions as the RAW converter and unless I shoot brick walls and colour checkers we’re not going to learn very much by comparing the output files. Having said that, as we turn to a brief survey of what each RAW converter has to offer the landscape photographer, we will mention the tools that are available to assist with lens and colour correction.
Lightroom offers a fairly complete set of adjustments including full HSL correction on eight colour channels, tone curves, tweakable camera profiling, manual and automatic lens corrections (with full keystoning capabilities) and sophisticated monochrome conversion tools. Its big selling point, in terms of RAW conversions, is localised adjustments, with brush tools, masking and gradients. It also provides an API which just about every major plugin manufacturer takes advantage of (though this, of course, involves baking the RAW adjustments into the files). It offers the possibility of a completely non destructive workflow with Photoshop via Smart Objects. Powerful stuff and it is little surprise that most photographers use it, especially because it also the most complete DAM on the market.
Aperture’s feature set has changed little now since 2010 and it is increasingly hard to believe that Apple is fully committed to the future of the application, which is a pity given its powerful DAM capabilities. It has good options for viewing files and the loupe is a terrific feature. Whilst its image adjustment tools are fairly comprehensive, with the very notable exception of lens corrections, there is nothing that stands out as particularly unique or innovative. It has no localised adjustment tools but does have a plugin API that many manufacturers support.
Capture One Pro
Capture One Pro’s tools, it has to be said, are a joy to use. Whilst they are split across multiple tabs (like Adobe Camera RAW), custom tabs can be added to collect together favourite tools, and beyond this complete workspaces can be created. A full set of tools are offered, including local adjustments and lens correction (not a vast database though), and there are a couple of standout features. The levels tool allows the setting of white, mid and blackpoints directly on each RGB channel, accurately on a histogram; a better tool for low dynamic range images, or for cutting through haze, could hardly be imagined. The colour editor is also superb and is a competitor with Viveza, with which it shares similarities, in providing virtually limitless opportunities for global and local colour correction. It appears also to be absorbing the capabilities of Media One, Phase One’s DAM; this feature appears a little flakey at the moment, as it is very slow to import files, but it would seem that Phase One has Lightroom and Aperture in its sights for the future.
AfterShot adds some finesse to its tools that is missing in other RAW converters. Its Shadow and Highlight Recovery tools have a range setting; its microcontrast tool has a radius setting. These modulators work very well. It also has a very comprehensive database of lens correction settings. It’s all a bit sad really. The tools are there, but the image quality is not.
DXO Optics Pro
On the face of it, DXO should blow every RAW converter out of the water. If you want to microscopically and forensically tweak every aspect of tonality, noise, sharpness and lens anomalies then all the tools are there, with the very best in the business on anything to do with your lens. However, the colour tools leave something to be desired, with its multipoint colour balance tool a hideous fail in my book. It has great integration with its own Filmpack plugin (though I personally prefer Alien Skin Exposure) and in its latest incarnation it now features roundtrip editing with Lightroom, and whilst this does mean rendering the file to TIFF or Linear DNG, this is a very useful feature if you use Lightroom as your DAM.
Irident Developer is a very complex piece of software. It’s ingestion page provides buttons that open further tools for the micro tweaking of camera profiles and curves (all this goes way over my head, and over the head of most users I imagine). It can load Adobe’s lens correction profiles and provides a full set of tools. It provides eight curves for colour correction (RGB,R,G,B,L,AB,A,B) so if you possess the dying skillset of being able ‘to do everything’ with curves then you will be in heaven. It offers four different sharpening algorithms and sophisticated noise reduction tools. If you’re prepared to put the time and effort in to learn this software then its feature set is undoubtably the most powerful available.
Photo Ninja is another very sophisticated application allowing early stage access into the RAW conversion process, including a choice of desmosaicing algorithms, a choice of base colour correction profiles and clever colour enhancement tools. Whilst it provides a full set of lens correction tools it does not supply profiles, preferring that the user create them themselves from the correction of images taken for the purpose and according to a user’s individual lens and choice of focal lengths. Whilst this may yield very good results it is an extra step, and whilst I am given to understand that it is not onerous it does rely on the user having the lens in question. If you’ve moved on and sold your lens then you’re out of luck.
RAW Photo Processor
RAW Photo Processor really doesn’t have anything to offer the landscape photographer beyond offering very high quality files for further processing. It does offer very low level tweaking of tonal data for the technically minded and it does this through a somewhat cryptic and technical interface. This is software by engineers and for engineers. There is a plugin available for Lightroom.
This brings to an end our review of the features and performance of the various applications, so we will turn now to the conclusion of our RAW Converters Comparison.