Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What I use - Part II: Software

Previously I had mentioned the equipment that I use when photographing. This time I'll talk about the software that I use to process my photographs.

I predominately shoot in RAW format. As RAW is the digital eqivalent to a negative, I need to process the photographs to get a final image. These are the software tools that I currently use.

Nikon View NX: This is the viewer that I use to preview and sort my shots. I will rate on a 3 point scale with "1" being select keepers, "2" being possible keepers, and "3" being duds/stinkers. It is a fluid scale as I make several passes through the images to refine what I think are the best shots of a given batch. Eventually, all of the images that I process out to final JPEGs get rated as a "1" to ease searching for them later in View NX.

Nikon Capture NX: I am currently using version 1.3.3. This is the RAW converter software that I use. I have had the best results with it and feel that it handles Nikon's NEF format the best of the converters that I have available to me. I particularly like the color control points as it greatly simplifies local color/exposure corrections. However, Capture NX is a bit of a system resource hog and tends to slow down after prolonged use. Plus, the interface isn't the most intuitive around. Still, I am happy with the results that I get from it.

As I don't usually do a lot of post processing beyond exposure/color correction and sharpening, I will generally save a photograph to JPEG format as a final step. However, there are times that I need to do more extensive corrections, or want to do things that Capture NX doesn't have the tools to perform. In those cases I will use one of the following applications.

Adobe Photoshot Elements version 5: This is my image/pixel editor. It also has a cataloging feature, but I tend not to use it much at the moment. I probably should use it more than I do, but oh well. PSE5 is what I use if I need to clone out dust spots or other objects. It is also where I will do major distortions such as Amazing Circles. Capture NX doesn't have the tools to do those sorts of functions.

Gimp: The Gimp is a freeware image editor that is sort of between PSE5 and the full Photoshop package. Its' interface is not intuitive at all, but you can get good results if you know how to use it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to use it well and tend to use PSE5 instead. Still, sometimes I will use Gimp to try out different techniques that PSE5 isn't capable of itself.

Paint.Net: This is another freeware image editor. It started as a graduate research project in conjunction with Microsoft to develop a more robust image editor to replace the Paint accessory in Windows. Microsoft ended up not incorporating it into Windows, but the original graduate students have taken it and improved it throughout the years. It is a very good image editor that is easier to use than the Gimp. However, it doesn't have quite a many features as the Gimp. If you have a Windows computer and want something a bit more powerful than Paint, but don't want to spend alot of money, then Paint.Net is a good choice.

The Future:

Photoshop: Eventually, I will upgrade to the full version of Photoshop. It is still a bit more than I really need, but I think I'm getting close to the point where PSE5 won't be able to do the things I want to do with an image.

Lightroom version 2: Lightroom is Adobe's application to help photographer develop, organize and output their images. It is a combination library and digital darkroom. Version 2, which is in beta, adds some new features most notably localized corrections. Instead of using control points like Capture NX does to generate a mask, Lightroom 2 lets you "paint" corrections onto an area and automatically generates a mask of the area you painted. It is a different way of doing the same sort of function. I've played around with the Lightroom 2 beta and liked what I saw. I don't know if I'll get it or not, but it is a possiblity.

Capture NX 2: Nikon just announced the next version of Capture NX today and there are a couple of previews/reviews out already. Supposedly it has a much improved interface and runs better than the version I currently use. Plus, it adds additional features such as a cloning capability for small items, and new "selection control points" that allow you to use the control point functionality to general masks for localized corrects of features such as noise reduction, sharpening, levels and curves, etc. It is expensive for an upgrade though, $109 USD for an upgrade, and $170 USD for the full version. It may make more sense for me to go with Lightroom 2 and replace both View NX and Capture NX. It would simplify my application workflow, but would be more expensive upfront. Decisions, decisions.

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