DxO v5 sadness and alternatives

I’ve loved DxO for a while because it handles distortion correctly. Sadly the move to “5.0”:http://luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=26493 has gone poorly with lots of crashes and even with 5.2, people are still complaining about poor conversion and so forth. It’s not the only example of software taking giant steps backwards. Kind of sad. I have noticed that Canon’s own software does distortion correction and vignette correction, but in the meantime I’ll stick with DxO 4.5. But this version doesn’t have the latest cameras, so at some point, I’ll probably pray DxO gets better or go back to the manufacturer’s utilities for this all important camera-specific and lense-specific correction of optical distortion and vignetting.

When DxO 5 isn’t “crashing”:http://blog.richnetapps.com/index.php/raw_lightroom_dxo_capture_one, it fairs quite well against competitors like Adobe Lightroom and Capture One. While DxO’s main strength is geometry correction, it does general image correction with everything from smart vibrancy (kind of a intelligent version of turning up saturation). It can overboard with tings like Shadow Recovery which in its default makes pictures too bright (I normally don’t use it).

Where DxO’s new engine seems to have the most trouble is in color artifacts and isn’t very sharp. Lightroom is pretty good at this kind of RAW conversion. And of course, it has terrible stability problems, crashing 80% of the time at least in one review.

The other reason the right tool is important is for something called “demosaicing”, this is how the RAW image which is what comes out the imager (well, raw, 🙂 is turned into a usable picture. Apparently, Canon’s own DPP is very good at this, but its “sharpening”:http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/595717 is primitive. So there is much debate about the best sharpening tool, is it Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) which is a RAW convertor or is it a third party too like Capture One or more exotic tools like

Using Raw, DxO and Photomatix together

Well, as I’ve been using various programs, it is pretty clear that you have to be pretty careful about using the different programs. Some things you want to do earlier and some later. For instance, you probably want to sharpen last as this really changes the bits. “Larry Gerbrandt”:http://photos.larrygerbrandt.com/2007/07/24/hello-world/ has some recommendations on workflow that are in short:

# Shoot in RAW and JPG. This produces NEF for Nikon or CR2 for Canon. It usually contains one stop more information. I actually typically shoot both since many times I just need a photo quick and don’t have time to process it. Technically speaking, with JPEG you have 8-bits of information per color (24 bits total), while with RAW in most cameras you ahve 12-bits or with later cameras even 14-bits of information. That’s way more.
# Use DxO first on the raw image. This correct distortion and vignetting, so it should be the same across a group of images. Don’t use this program for sharpening and so forth. It produces TIFF and DNR files which are Adobe device-independent raw files.
# Photomatix. This takes multiple bracketed images (usually these should be at least +2 and -2EV, but correctly done, should be bracketed so the brightest shot is all the way to the right, really overexposed and the darkest shot is all the way to the left in the histogram all taken aperture priority to ensure the same focus). This produces .EXR files which are the raw high dynamic range and also .TIF files. You have to do it in this order because for some reason TIF files Photomatix produces, doesn’t have enough information for DxO to match the lense with it
# Noise Ninja. This is the last thing you use, it should be done in Photoshop because Noise Ninja standalone only read uncompressed TIF and TIFs are big enough.

Which RAW converter to use? DxO 5.1?

I’ve been using DxO v4.5 with good results but the problem is that DxO 5.0 remains quite unstable. In a side-by-side comparison, Lightroom came off as the most decent, but it doesn’t have distortion correction. Almost means I have to stick with Canon’s own DPP which has distortion correction.

Apparently DxO 5.1 is now out and at least “Misiriou”:http://luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=25760 reports it seems a little faster althought it still has bugs. And at least some are finding it easier because it is a more dedicated tool that Lightroom plus Photoshop CS3. I had lots of issues with 5.0, so maybe it is time to give 5.1 a chance.

RAW Heavyweights Review: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, DxO Optics Pro and Capture One | RichNetApps Developers’ blog

Adobe Lightroom is the most consistent. It has a nice set of tools and features, solid results and few weaknesses. It’s integrated features allow the photographer to do all their work, from start to finish, in one program, in many cases with no need for Photoshop or other tools.

DXO is a mixed bag. It produces great colors, especially for nature and its geometry correction tools are a real life saver. On the other hand, it’s very slow, rather very unstable and just not great in terms of processing details. [Edit: I’ve thought initially that there must be something wrong with my computer but then I’ve found out on forums that many people complain about DXO 5 stability issues; for me, it crashes 80% of the time, when doing simple things like zooming in or applying sharpness.]

Capture One seems like a very nice “quick” tool. Even though it’s a beta, it’s fast in all areas (UI, workflow and processing), polished and stable. The pricing is also very attractive – just $130 compared to about $300 for the competition

Mac Scanning

OK, now I’m going to retire our old ASUS laptop I use for scanning images with an old Minolta DiImage 5400 (now discontinued, but still very functional as a 5400 dpi slide and film scanner). Fortunately, the really great “VueScan”:http://www.hamerick.com is available in a Macintosh version, so I don’t lose anything going to a MacBook Pro to do this.

Raw Workflow: DXO to Noise Ninja to Miranda Sharpening

OK, with my handy new Canon Rebel XT, here is the workflow I use. It is a best tool for the job procedure:

# Colorvision Spyder2Pro. This is the color calibration tool to make sure my LCD looks like the photo looks like the printer. Most LCD monitors are way too blue, so it is really necessary. It is expensive at $200 for the calibrator, but really worth it. Also make sure to keep the room dim but not dark.
# Adobe Photoshop CS2. I haven’t tried CS3 yet, but I think the instructions are the same. Start Adobe, but don’t use Adobe Bridge, instead start with DxO directly. Most important thing is to make sure Edit/Preferences/Advanced is set, so you can choose working color space as PhotoPro RGB, this is the widest possible 16-bit space so you won’t lose any color. CR2 is a format that gives you a full 16-bit color space, so you don’t want to lose anything. (this is one of the big reasons to use RAW, JPEG is limited to 8-bit color).
# DxO Optics. You can get to the plugin with File/Import/DxO. This is a standalone tool that is a nice browser like Adobe Bridge, but it is specially tuned so that it corrects the lense and camera distortions. Very clever program that ensures that the photos is absolutely without distortion. Beware that the default also does correction and so forth, I disable all the modules except for the optical distortion correction and then produce a .DNG file from the .CR2 file that is optical correct. Also make sure that when using the fisheye lenses like my 10-22mm that you click on max image so it doesn’t crop away things. Net, net, leave the DxO Optics on and make sure Max Image is clicked, but turn off everything else including Sharpening, DxO Noise, DxO Lighting (especially this one!). When you choose output make sure you unclick JPEG and click instead DNG. This is the Adobe version of RAW.
# Noise Ninja. This is also a camera specific tool that gets rid of the noise in the images. It has different profiles for each camera. By the way, with the Fuji FinePix F10 and F11, it actually has a module for these as well as the Canon Rebel XT I use.
#

As a note, I tried to use Adobe Camera Raw. You now have to get this into Photoshop CS2. The only trick here is the best settings for the RAW conversion. Again that program has defaults that do too much, like sharpening, so you want a straight conversion. The problem is that Adobe Camera Raw “ignores”:http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/adobe-camera-raw-settings.html most of the relevant settings that are stored inside the .CR2 files. There is a database that Adobe uses that overrides the defaults. Actually ACR takes the exposure and white balance but ignores the rest. As an aside “ACR”:http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1171989187.html is a free utility. The essential settings are to use Adobe RGB 1998 color space and 16-bit color space. The net is that I gave up and just used Canon’s utility because it didn’t do so many auto conversions for me.

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Best Workflow for Raw images uses DXO, CS Pro and Noise Ninja

With all these plugins around for photos that do the same thing, it is a little confusing what to use. Here is one fellows view on what to do

Bluejake: Westside, Looking Northeast from 31st and 10th

I use DxO Optics Pro to correct lens distortion (but I don’t use
the other features). This fixes all my lenses’ barreling and pincushioning really well. I save files in DxO as .dng files.

From there, I bring them into Photoshop, using Photoshop’s RAW importer. I really like PS’s RAW tools, for white balance. I use it to set shadow
and highlight points, add contrast, etc.

I do the rest in the main part of Photoshop. In PS I make a lot of use of Fred Miranda’s plug-ins, especially his CS Pro (for sharpening), WP
Pro (to shrink to Web size), and BW Workflow Pro (for really flexible conversion to black and white). That sharpening plug-in is better than
the high-end tools I’ve tried, and I compared side-by-side. “Fred Miranda”:http://www.fredmiranda.com/shopping/350DCSpro actually does special tools for different cameras, that makes snes since there are differences. It only costs $20

For noise reduction, I use Noise Ninja Pro. “PictureCode”:http://www.picturecode.com/ makes Noise Ninja and it is $80 for a Pro bundle of the standalone and the Photoshop plugin. The Pro bundle aloows 16-bit support for scanned imageds and multiprocessing support.

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Microsoft EXIF and RAW Image Thumbnailer

“The-Digital-Pictures”:http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Canon-News/ is a great Canon site, but also has two great tips for XP users, first is to download the “Microsoft Photo Info”:http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/prophoto/photoinfo.mspx which allows EXIF information editing and second is “Microsoft RAW Image Thumbnailer”:http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=d48e808e-b10d-4ce4-a141-5866fd4a3286&DisplayLang=en that lets you see RAW images from Canon and Nikon.

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Canon Digital Workflow

I now see why folks are building tools like Aperture. Actually processing a digital image really well is very complicated. The workflow for 35mm negatives to digital I kind of get now (Vuescan to Photoshop), but there is a whole new world if really want the highest quality output. The main thing is that if you shoot RAW, there is no in-camera processing of images, so you can tweak to your hearts content. As usual, you can either just use the Photoshop suite, or you can roll your own with different pieces. There is an amazing amount written about how to do flows. As usual, google:”canon raw processing” is a good way to start:

h3. “MKWPhotography”:http://www.mkwphotography.com/workflow.htm.

Wow, this is an amazing well written summary of doing a Canon workflow. To summarize, here is how he does it:

# “Breezebrowser”:http://breezebrowser.com to copy the images from the camera to the computer. Personally, with a 4GB (heh, heh) card that stores 300 images in Large+RAW mode in the Digital Rebel, just taking it out is simple and Windows has decent tools for previewing. The main thing the third party tool allows is automatic renaming of the images to prevent duplication. You then delete and create a nice hierarchy like _e:\pictures\$tif\2006\2006-06\2006-06-01\_. One habit I personally picked up is duplicating dates like this. That way if you accidentally copy one directory into another you don’t have terrible collision of filenames and directories.
# “Capture One”:http://www.phaseone.com/. This is supposed to be an expensive but high control tool for converting the Canon specific .CR1 files into .TIF files. These guys have a zillion different versions but the LE is the low end and Pro is the expensive high end. It lets you set white balance and also you tie the camera’s color profile in as well. LE is $99 whereas Pro is an astounding $500.
# “Photoshop”:http://adobe.com. Then there is the very expensive Photoshop CS 2 or Photoshop Elements 3.0 if you’ve a lack of dough where you apply the rest of the tools
## “Neat Image”:http://neatimage.com. This is a plug in for Photoshop that is camera specific and takes the noise out of shots. Very useful at ISO 400 and above. This is quite reasonable at $30 Home or $75 Pro versions. You really want the Pro because it has 16-bit image processing.
## “DxO”:http://dxo.com. Finally, there is the very cool DxO filter that automatically removes the optical distortion from lenses. There is a Starter (non DSLRs), Pro Standard and Pro Elite (what is with this naming!). The pricing depends on the cost of the cameras that they support. So the Digital Rebel only needs the $149 standard, while a 5D needs the $300 Elite.
## Unsharp Mask. This is the useful sharpening tool. He recommends using 100-150%, 0.6-1.0 radius and 3-6 threshold, although he usually starts with 100%/0.6/3 as a starting point.

h3. Photography on the Net

Wow, there are lots of “raw converters”:http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=80337 out there. Apparently one that is free is something called RawShooterEssentials. “Outbackphoto”:http://www.outbackphoto.com/artofraw/raw_18/essay.html reviewed it and says that its a very good free for now utility. There is also a list of the really great ones:

* Adobe Camera RAW. Part of Photoshop CS 2 (a stunning “$460”:http://www.pricegrabber.com/p__Adobe_Photoshop_CS2,__8097741/sort_type=bottomline and Photoshop Elements 3.0 and 4.0 (although many “folks”:http://www.pricegrabber.com/rating_getprodrev.php/masterid=12128413/id_type=masterid like 3.0 better because Adobe got rid of the very useful file browser). N.B. The “academic”:http://www.pricegrabber.com/p__Adobe_Creative_Suite_2_Premium_Edition,__11660815/sort_type=bottomline versions are quite reasonable if you are a student or educator.
* Capture One. The first and the best of the independents
* Camera Raw, Canon DPP and Bibble are getting close.

h3. Rawworkflow

There is whole site that is dedicated to nothing else other than “RAW”:http://www.rawworkflow.com/index.html processing.

Photo Histogram

!>http://www.livingroom.org.au/photolog/images/thumbnails/histogram.gif! “Photoblog”:http://www.livingroom.org.au/photolog/tips/histogram_tips.php. These things appear everywhere, but what are they exactly. Photoblog has a good definition cribbed Photoxels:

bq. The histogram is simply a graph that allows you to judge the brightness of an image. You can think of the area under the graph as comprising all the pixels in your captured digital image. The left side of the histogram depicts how many “dark” pixels you have captured; the right side, how many “bright” pixels you have captured.’

“Outbackphoto”:http://www.outbackphoto.com/workflow/wf_41/essay.html has a good overall description of what you are trying to do with the histogram. In short, you don’t want it to pile up to the right (over-exposure) nor to the left (under-exposure). The shape doesn’t matter as long as it is mainly in the middle.

You also want to check each individual color as you could get one color blown out. In this histogram, everything looks fine, but the blue is way to the right (overexposed) because the photo was of a blue flower. Not that in the average histogram of all colors (red, green and blue), green gets valued the highest, so even if the overall histogram looks good, it could be that red or blue or overexposed. The traditional histogram is also called the luminanc histogram FWIW.

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