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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Shooting RAW with 2nd-tier software
I've been struggling with a problem with my image processing apps, and it's the reason I abandoned ACDSee Pro 2 after a long period of loving it, but being frustrated by it.  Basically, it makes me do everything twice.

When you shoot RAW with a Nikon, it captures not just the sensor's output, but it stores in the file the camera setting like active focus point, colour settings, selected white balance, etc.  The end result of all this configuration is stored as data in the RAW, and used to create a small JPG file which is embedded in the RAW file.

The camera uses this JPG for reviewing the photo you've taken in-camera 'cause it's much faster to work with than the actual RAW file.  The problem is, it's a bit of a lie, since you're being shown the adjusted, calibrated and tweaked version, and when you get home and dump all your images, you are shown this version only for a moment, while the larger, more complex RAW file is decoded and displayed.

The end result of all this is the image you're left with at the end is undersaturated and unattractive more often than not.  After loading this file into my favourite image apps, I've got to go through a fair amount of effort to make it look as good as it did when I took the shot.  It's a massive time sink, and I view it as a complete waste of time.

[Image: http://nfgworld.com/grafx/photos/NFG-preview.jpg]

I work hard to create an image, I take the shot, I review it on the camera.  I like what I see, I move on and take the next shot.

Now ACDSee Pro 3 is out, and I just love its speed and elegance, but it still makes me do everything a second time.  It seems that, for reasons of time or cost-cutting or ignorance or inability or disinterest (or perhaps any combination thereof) ACDSee is not able to give me software that reads the adjustment data included in the file and make use of it.  Instead, they present their interpretation of the file, which basically looks less like my photo than I'd prefer.

I hear other apps like Lightroom, and Nikon's own overpriced Capture NX, DO show you the RAW file adjusted as you shot it. 

But I don't like Lightroom and I think Capture NX should come with the bloody camera, FFS.  I paid enough for it, didn't I?

Frustrating.
BLEARGH
Author name #2
Member since Jan 2010 · 10 posts · Location: Melbourne
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There could be multiple reasons for what you're explaining.

Shooting on location means your eyes are adjusting to the conditions and you will be seeing what on the camera's LCD differently to what you'd adjust to indoors.

Are your camera's LCD and computer monitor(s) calibrated in synch?

Are you simply relying too much on the camera's LCD to give you the final image's appearance? What I mean is, most if not all images will need some level of tweaking in post-processing, just as an image shot on old-school film would need some darkroom adjustment to bring out its best.

Do you shoot with sunglasses outdoors?

I shoot RAW 100% of the time with my Canon 40D and find what you're describing too, but I'm not so set on what the final result will be like given its appearance on the LCD. As long as I'm happy with the composition, and that it is as sharp or motion blurred as I had aimed for, and overall exposure appears OK, then I'll move on and keep shooting.

Colours, saturation etc can be adjusted to your liking 90% of the time IMO. My advice would be to just concentrate on the basics (composition, exposure, sharpness) and don't fixate on things that can be altered later. It'll make your shooting experience much more enjoyable, and that's what it's all about :)
Author name (Administrator) #3
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Depending on the software used, the difference can be far more than subtle.  Sometimes it's absolutely extreme, resulting in a flat, undersaturated and lacking contrast.  The thing is, you get a flash of the embedded JPG to start, and go "That's what I want."  Then you get the other version, and it's just not right.

Here's what I'm talking about: screenshots from two different apps displaying the same picture.  The top one is what I get in Bibble 5 after it's rendered the RAW.  The bottom one is FastStone viewer, displaying the internal JPG:

[Image: http://nfgworld.com/grafx/photos/RAWvsJPG.jpg]

It's not calibration or a difference in monitors, it's one app steadfastly refusing to show me the image I made, but instead showing me the RAW data without all the changes I've already applied.  I get that this might be more accurate or whatever, but I want my starting point to be the same point where I finished off last time.  Doing everything twice sucks.   

The worst part is there's no magic formula or saved settings that I can apply to a whole shoot.  If I could do that, I'd be happy.  Instead, I can get close: up the saturation, but get too much colour where I don't want it (orange skin, for example).  I can up the contrast but blow out the highlights or lose too much shadow detail.  If there's a magic combination that'll show me what I expect, I haven't yet worked it out.
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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I've run up against this frustration again today.  We were shooting in several places, and I'm incredibly frustrated by the white balance problems I had.  Bibble, my preferred app, can't read most of Nikon's settings 'cause the latter - in their corporate wisdom - locked down the RAW details behind patent walls.  Or something, whatever.  Bottom line is no RAW software can read exactly what the camera wrote.

Compare these two shots: the one on the left is from Bibble, the one on the right is from Capture NX 2, Nikon's frustrating, limited and non-standard software:

[Image: http://nfgworld.com/grafx/photos/rawfrustration.jpg]

Try as I might, I cannot get Bibble to mimic the Capture NX results.  It's beyond frustrating.  I can spend 20 minutes tweaking one image to make it look like it should, but the instant the light changes from shadow to sunlight, or the white balance shifts, everything has to be done again.  Today we shot in a park, and if the grass looks right her face doesn't, if she looks right and the grass is close then the sky is orange or some shit. 

Grr.
BLEARGH
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Member since Jan 2010 · 10 posts · Location: Melbourne
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ah, just noticed this latest instalment. OK, I see what you mean now... does Nikon do a standalone program that is more in line with what you need? I realise that it should be something already available in the camera's box of tricks, but some manufacturers will do their best to skim every last cent from you for the smallest of things!

Other thing that might be a contributing factor is the colour space used. I sometimes find that tones do change subtly when I export to Photoshop via Canon's software, but not as extreme as what you're experiencing.
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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I've sort of got my problems sorted.  Nikon, it seems, encrypts or otherwise obfuscates parts of the metadata.  According to some commenters on the Bibble forums, only Nikon's own software can read anything beyond the white balance info (whether for legal or technical reasons I do not know).  The upshot is that there's a lot of shit you gotta do to make your images look even close to 'right'.

Currently I'm working in a Pro Photo colourspace, converting to sRGB when saving the file.  The default process includes some tweaks to the curves and a saturation boost.  It's almost solid, and if I don't do any directo comparisons, I forget that I might be settling for less on occasion.
BLEARGH
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