Why Luminar Neptune may be (soon) for me.

After giving Picktorial 3 a go, I downloaded Luminar Neptune a raw processor for Mac (a windows version is coming, the beta is out). Lightroom is an excellent tool to maintain my photo library and to export files to a disk and to various online services. The raw conversion is good and it boasts many tools in the develop module. It is not and has never tried to be a fully fledged image processing program : photoshop is the real deal.

I have been using Lightroom for a long while now, I also use photoshop and the Nik software (now google) plugins like colour Efex pro 4 and silver Efex pro 2. In truth though, I am not very good at retouching. I use photoshop to have all my transformations in a single tiff file. For example, I’ll do some basic edits in Lightroom, send the file to photoshop in which I’ll use Color Efex or Silver Efex on one layer, some dodging & burning on another layer and maybe a bit of saturation or a color lookup table. In recent times, I have been doing my black and white conversions with the fuji film simulations in Lightroom so I only use Color Efex and some dodging and burning. If I could do everything in one piece of software I would save time. Google has buried the Nik Collection so I’m looking at Luminar to give me a workflow that does not involve photoshop. The ultimate goal is to have a complete non destructive workflow.

Luminar is free to try for 15 days. It installed easily and installed the plugins for Lightroom and photoshop with the click of a button. You can send a tiff file with Lightroom edits or ask Luminar to process the raw file by right clicking on the file.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 15.34.05

Luminar also works as a standalone program, so a photo can be loaded (raw or otherwise) into the program.

The first negative comes here : the loading time for a raw file (from a fuji x-pro 2) is extremely long. It is variable from one case to another but takes between 30s to 50s. This is an eternity! Loading a tiff file from Lightroom is very fast though.

The workspace in Luminar is clean, Underneath the photo are the presets and to the right you can find the sliders and layer options organised in what they call workspaces (which are presets for the presence or absence of all the adjustments and filters).

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I opened up the “Essentials” workspace and tweaked the highlights/shadows and the structure (which I’m glad is there, so much more useful to me than clarity!). Pleased with what I had, I changed the workspace to “Street” and whoosh, all my edits disappeared! The behaviour of workspaces needs getting used to. I should have added a layer so save my edits before changing. Live and learn!

Luminar relies heavily on presets and the ability to restrict the effect to a part of the image through layer masks. It has many filters, easily matching Nik Collections Color Efex Pro 4. Although Silver Efex is more refined in the way it uses film simulations, I could get by without it. The u-point technology is way better in my opinion to mask an effect than painting with a brush. Especially as the brush in Luminar does not have edge detection. Lightroom and Picktorial do. Layers have a global opacity slider and a blending mode just as in photoshop.

So all in all, Luminar is very impressive as a plugin. Here are two processed versions of the same photo.
The first in Lightroom : general adjustments for exposure and some local adjustments for colour on the mossy stones. Note that it is the same photo as the one I edited on my short article about Picktorial 3.

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-17h59min22s

This one in Luminar. I used several filters locally : colour contrast on the moss, some subtle Orton effect on the background fir trees and some polarising on the water. Notice how the blown out highlights on the water have come back delicately. This is one of the points where Picktorial 3 fell apart for me.

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-17h59min22s_Luminar-edit_0

This article is not aimed to be a complete review of everything Luminar Neptune can do. There are some tutorial videos on the Luminar website, and many also on you tube. As a plugin program for quick image editing for the amateur that I am, it is very satisfactory.

Here is another comparison, a raw file transformed to black and white.
Lightroom version :

www.nwinspeare.com

 

Luminar version :

www.nwinspeare.com
The thing to watch out for in Luminar is not to overcook the photos by using too many filters. It is easily done as there are many to choose from and the manipulation of layers is fast and easy. The brush is so much faster than in Lightroom!

The reasons I could use Luminar Neptune and be very pleased :

  • It works quite fast. A filter can take a couple of seconds to calculate the effect. Sliders are pretty much instantaneous.
  • There are a lot of presets available in the program and some more to download on the Luminar website. Installing is automatic. A double click on the downloaded file is all that is needed.
  • Layers work just as well for me as in photoshop, with opacity, masks and blending mode.
  • Each layer can contain any amount of adjustments and filters. Just click on “add filter” to mix and match the effects.
  • The adjustments are noise free unlike many of the Nik software filters that have a tendency to add a lot of noise or grain to the image.

The reasons I’m holding back:

  • When the image is ready, the file is sent back to Lightroom through the “apply” button. Luminar then closes automatically. All layers are all lost and if you want to tweak an image again, well you can’t. If you send the same tiff file from Lightroom back to Luminar, all edits are lost. At least in photoshop, you get to keep the layers and through the use of smart filters, everything is editable.
  • To be fair, Luminar does have proprietary file format in which you can save your file for re-editing but it is not compatible with Lightroom.
  • There are no options for camera profiles and film simulations and I would miss not having Acros and Classic Chrome

Some small niggles :

  • In lightroom, if you hold down the option key white moving the white or black point a mask appears to help. I didn’t find this very useful option in Luminar.
  • Same thing for the sharpening mask.
  • The sharpening looks pretty bad, fine sharpening is ok but very different to Lightroom. I actually prefer the details viewed at 100% in Lightroom which has been critisized for its treatment of Raf files over the years.
  • Loading a raw file is painfully slow.
  • I didn’t find and easy way to dodge and burn (I use a neutral gray layer in photoshop and paint in black or white). I’m sure there is one somewhere!

Luminar Neptune does not work as non destructive raw file workflow with Lightroom but as a photoshop/filter plug-in it works very well. If (or when) the re-editing of a file is possible then I think I would be very interested. I contacted the team at Luminar to ask them about this issue, I received an answer within 24h stating that this was “normal” behaviour. That new DAM software needs to come quickly!

 

 

Why Picktorial 3 is not (yet) for me.

I have read some interesting comments about the new raw processing software Picktorial 3. Well, it’s not really brand new but this third version came out in April 2017 and I read that there is a plugin that would give me the film simulations I love so much when I use my fujifilm cameras. This post is not a full review but a first look or rather my first steps using the software and the comments I made to myself on the way.

So what is Picktorial ?

It is advertised as being a raw converter that gives you a non destructive workflow in an all-in-one package. It enables global and local adjustments from a catalog-free library. It has an export menu that enables to write a jpg or tiff file to disk or a small list of other options for export (mail, messages, twitter, Facebook…).

Note that it is Mac only. It is not a digital asset management program, so it will not enable tagging, keywording, colour tags etc… It does not allow collections or searches. The only asset management I found was the classic 1 to 5 star. The “catalog-free” library just means that Picktorial can load a photo from your hard drive if you can find it in the right folder (and that means a good organisation of the thousands of raw files you have!). The list of feature from there website is here.

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SOOOOO…. what is the appeal ?

Well, there have been quite a few raw converters coming out in the last couple of years to take a slice of the market of Lightroom, most of them boasting lightning fast editing and more advanced functions than Lightroom. The all-in-one package is the USP. To be fair to Lightroom, its strength an main reason of existence is its calalog and digital asset management functions. The raw conversion and editing is enabled by the integration of Camera Raw. The versions that have come out over the last couple of years have greatly improved on the editing side and have sparked the idea that an all-in-one program is possible. Why not ? I’m not a pro but I still go into photoshop from time to time. The more I can do in Lightroom, the better. It saves me from having an intermediary tiff file next to my raw files.

Picktorial has some fantastic appeals on the local adjustment side of things so I downloaded the 14 day trial and gave it a go, comparing it to what I can do in Lightroom.

The first photo I tried is a 1/3s exposure of a river taken on a mini tripod. The exposure is ok but the highlights in the water were badly lacking in detail. I just cranked down the highlights to -100 in Lightroom and adjusted the greens a little with the HSL sliders and here is what I got.

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-17h59min22s

I then opened up the photo in Picktorial, the interface is easy to use and clean by the way.   I found the how to do the same thing quickly but although the colours are very pleasing, the highlights stay very overexposed.

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-17h59min22s_pktI can get them down a bit if I underexpose the whole picture by one stop.

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-17h59min22s_pkt2I honestly tried bringing down the highlights on the water with the local adjustment tools, trying the very promising luminosity masking, but to no avail. Keep in mind that I’m trying to recreate what I did in Lightroom in one step and I have neither the skill nor the patience to create complicated local adjustments to get better highlight management.

To give Picktorial its due, the luminosity masking is easy to do, it would take me much longer in photoshop to get similar results. Picktorial also boasts colour masking, radial and gradient masking with adjustable edge detection. The sophistication is there!

I tried a second picture which was taken at ISO 8000 to look at the highlight and shadow recovery there. The photo has a very strong contrasts betweens the light parts and the dark parts. Lightroom does a good job but there is some chromatic aberration where the rock meets the sky.

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-16h23min03s

Here is a crop at 100% of the area with the sky.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 17.57.01

You can clearly see the purple aberration at the water-colour rendering of the details. The photo was taken at f/1.4 so there is no expectation of sharpness here. There is some global sharpening and noise reduction done.

Here is the equivalent photo in Picktorial 3:

fuji-X-T2-2017-08-01-16h23min03s_pkt

You can see that the highlight recovery suffers in comparison but so does the noise reduction. I set the luminance slider to 20 in Lightroom and the luma slider to 30 in Picktorial. Anything more and the details start going really mushy. Here is the 100% crop.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 18.03.37

It looks seriously worse to me… The lack of recovery in the highlights annihilate all the details that Lightroom can show, albeit in a bit of a painterly way.

Conclusion:

Picktorial 3 looks very promising, it has very advanced local adjustments, has a slick interface and tools that Lightroom does not. It is not in my opinion a standalone program as you will need some kind of asset management program. Maybe Photomechanics or something similar.

I don’t really know why I had a look, I think everyone is tempted from time to time to have a look around to see if there is anything better out there. I have done this several times, trying Capture One for example. Every time I come back to Lightroom because nothing can beat having a good digital assets management program and also because the raw processing and editing powers are better than good. Lightroom may be sloooooowwww but I have used it for years and it is seriously in my opinion the best program out there for getting photos off a card at to start working.

Picktorial has all kinds of bells and whistles on the editing side that push the boundaries of what a raw processor can do but if the raw engine is not up to standard I cannot use it.

I’m hoping the team at Picktorial will appreciate the positive comments made here and address these issues. I’m sure we will hear about Picktorial again!

Have a look at their website here and give it a try.

Post-processing a colour portrait

This is a quick walkthrough of my method to post-process a portrait taken with my fuji x-pro2 and 90mm lens. The method works essentially with any camera/lens combination. I use lightroom only.

The portrait I am using is from my collection of portraits from Thaialnd (see here). Here is the original imported raw file:

portrait_import

As you can see, I have not cropped or straightened the photo, the exposure is pretty good too. I used aperture mode with a minimum shutter speed of 1/125s (that I need to change to 1/250s with the 90mm lens to avoid blur). I also use auto-iso set from 200 to 12800 which is the whole range.

The first thing I do in the Develop module is to scroll right down to camera calibration and choose a profile. I hear a lot about classic chrome but personally, I use Camera Pro Neg Hi a lot more. I like the contrast and the muted colours.

calibration

portrait_1

The thing I like about the recent fuji cameras is the ability to change film simulation in Lightroom. You can do this with all cameras in lightroom but the choice will depend on the make of the camera. The list with fuji is impressive and interesting in the different outputs you get. With a Leica M10, you just get one choice : “Leica M10” and with the M240, just the “embedded” option. A bit poor in my view.

The next step in too do a few global ajustments :
Shadows +3
Highlights +12
Clarity +5 (I prefer this to ajusting the sharpness because fuji files don’t sharpen well in lightroom)

As the Pro Neg Hi gives a desaturated colour to the skintones, I go to the HSL tab, click on the button circled in red below and then click and drag upwards on a part of the face where the colours are too muted. This saturates the colours a little while keeping a natural look to the photo.

untitled-2
Here is what I get :
portrait_2

Each step is subtle but it all adds up…
Time for some local ajustment on the face. I always brighten up the face a tad and I rarely touch anything else. After all, in a portrait that is what I want you to see. With the local Ajustemnt Brush, I paint over the face and increase the exposure, clarity and saturation. This is to taste and I can change my ajustments quite a lot from one photo to another. Lately I have taken to drawing a T shape across the eyes and down through the nose and mouth instead of covering the whole face.

portrait_brush

I then add a bit of a post-crop vignette (-17 here) et voilà!!

fuji-x-t2-2016-10-26-09h19min54s