Why ON1 Photo Raw may be for me.

In the list of photo management and editors, ON1 Photo Raw has been under my radar for a while. Although I disregarded it for years when it was still called Perfect photo suite because it lacked any kind of photo management (DAM) and raw processing, in 2017 the company released its first version of the Photo Raw software. There has been (and still is) a lot of publicity around the software, many reviewers criticised the bugs, the slow speed and the lack of features that left it clearly behind the industries standard editor which is Lightroom.

Fast forward a year and a half, I read that the Photo Raw 2018.5 was a usable piece of software so I gave it a try.

Testing these new programs has enabled me to think about was I need and expect from my photo editor. I have used Lightroom/Photoshop for years and have a nice workflow in place. I still can’t use photoshop very well, and to be honest I have very few ideas on what to do to transform my photos. I watch videos on youtube from time to time to learn and I see people take a drab landscape to a 500px winner in what seems to be a lot of time and a lot of steps… I couldn’t do that, I lack the imagination I think and anyway, all the landscapes on 500px look the same…

So what photography do I do and what do I need? I encourage you to think about this as well, it can help to simplify and streamline the processing and save time as well.

  •  I take street photography mainly but on my memory card I will also have some family photos and some other genres depending on my mood and the places I go to (architecture, macro, travel photography…). I want to import all my raw files and keep them together but export my family photos in a separate place from my personal photography.
  • My street photography is in black and white. The software I use needs to do that properly : I want to modify the colour response and contrast globally, manage the structure, dodge and burn locally, add a vignette and odd little things.
  • I need little for my family photos, some quick adjustments, straighten and crop.
  • I used the Nik Software/Google plugins from photoshop for a long period and that covered anything I needed for my landscapes, portraits and architecture : some precise contrast adjustments, adjusting colour contrast is fabulous etc… I never really learned how to do this in photoshop without plugins so I need to have some kind of equivalent if I want to replace photoshop/lightroom.
  • My street photos go on Flickr, Instagram and google+, I sometime publish to 500px as well.

That is it .
I don’t need much from my software then.
Lightroom/Photoshop with plugins cover my needs.
Photo raw 2018.5 is the first piece of software that can do this on its own.

Let’s edit a photo and I’ll make a few comments on my workflow, the things I like and the things that are missing in Photo Raw. All the images here are screenshots so the definition will not be that of the real files.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.19.11

The importing is simple enough and I can do the same as in Lightroom : I put all my photos in subfolders classed by year/month/date. I rename the files starting by the name of the camera then the capture date and time. Lightroom uses a more flexible editor and I can get a name like : Sony-A7r3-2018-08-16-10h01min51s.arw
The same file in ON1 will look like Sony-A7R3-20180816-100151.arw
The extra hyphens, min, h, s are missing and I don’t see that I can add them in.

Once the photos are imported, you can get to work pretty fast. Here is the original file I’m working on. The raw conversion is very good. Highlight and shadow recovery work very well.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.21.44

The picture was taken quickly as I was walking past, it is not straight. Lightroom will have an auto correct that works really well. In the develop module of Photo Raw, there is a transform module. I used the keystone feature.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.24.44

I clicked apply and cropped the result a little.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.30.02The result is pretty convincing. The niggle I have is on the crop tool. By default it is in “Freeform” but I like to keep a 3:2 ratio for 99% of my pictures. You have to select the “original” mode to keep the crop aspect.

In the develop panel there is lens correction module that recognises my FE 35mm f/2.8 lens (one of the first lenses ever created for the sony a7 line) but it does not have a profile to correct for the vignette, distortion and aberrations.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.43.01

How bizarre… lets carry on then. I did very little in the develop module : a slight boost in exposure, a small adjustment in the white/black points and a bit of sharpening.
The adjustments in the black and white points in Lightroom are great. Stay pressed on the option/alt key and the screen goes black to let you adjust with precision. In Photo Raw, you press option/alt J to see the underexposed pixels in blue and the overexposed pixels in red. Not fancy but it works.

The magic happens in the Effects panel, which for me replaces the round trip to Photoshop and its plugins.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.57.31

The black and white conversion tool is very good, you can control the colour response, add grain, control the overall exposure, shadows, highlights and contrast without going back to the develop module. You can also do split toning to change to sepia, cyanotype…

I added a vignette and a bit of contrast with the dynamic contrast tool.

There are local adjustments possible too like in Lightroom with very good masking tools and what they call a “perfect brush” which is the same as edge detection in LR. You can make gradients, ovals, and a luminosity mask.
In this photo, I just added a bit of exposure to the faces. It was quickly done.

The last thing to do is to export. I make a jpg copy of my edited pictures in the same folder as the raw files and a copy to another drive. There are lots of options for the export (file type,size, location, sharpening…) which you can save into a preset like LR.
I’d like to export quickly using the right mouse button but it doesn’t work.  Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.05.40

I can export to Flickr from Photo Raw which is cool but there is nothing for google+, 500px or Instagram. I now use the ifttt.com website (If this then that) to publish from flickr to 500px and Googe photos but I need to upload to instagram manually.
LR manages the publishing better because you can see all the photos you have already uploaded and you can put them in the appropriate service but publish them later.

The effects panel has quite a few additions. I haven’t used them all yet. To each his own!

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.11.01

There is one last Panel I’d like to mention. There is a layers panel where you can add layers that have different processing and merge them with masks. You can also merge different photos (like sky replacement). If my understanding is correct though the process is done in a tiff or psd format and you lose the non-destructive workflow. I think I need to watch a few tutorials before I try.

Conclusion : likes and niggles.

I could use this software!

  • It is fast enough (comparable to editing in Lightroom).
  • It is being improved regularly so features are being added and niggles are being improved.
  • The image quality is very good.
  • Using a single application is very comfortable and the effects added to the photos are in the non-destructive workflow. This is a big improvement on using photoshop plugins. No more tiff files hanging around!
  • I’d like a better import module that gives more flexible file renaming.
  • I’d like a better export module that gives a one-click export using several recipes (like in Capture one) and that keeps track of what photo I have uploaded to what service… and I need more social media services.
  • The masking features are very good, and complex enough to make me want to learn more to use them better.
  • There are blending options like in Photoshop for each effect and local adjustment. I feel I can learn how to use this software whereas photoshop seems too complex.
  • I don’t understand the pricing. I have seen offers at 49.99€ up to 129.99€ for a pro plus plan with free updates. On the site, they say it is a non subscription program but it is only written “perpetual licence” on the the pro plus plan. Yearly updates seem to cost about 70€. Adobe LR/Photoshop costs 11.48€ per month that is 137.76€ per year.
  • I have had a few crashes, it is annoying. LR has not crashed on me for a very long time.
  • I don’t understand the advantage of cataloging a folder under photo raw. I used the browser to edit my first photos then I catalogued my raw files folder. I can’t see the difference. If I take a photo in b&w on the camera, the embedded jpg is b&w. It therefore appears in b&w in Photo Raw. When I open the develop module, it turns into colour because it is reading the raw file. This takes about 5-10s (quite long then). I’d like an option to render my raw files when catalogued for them to open faster in the develop module. I could launch this at night maybe if it need to take a long time.

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).

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 15.45.28.png

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!

 

 

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