Changing an old habit
I'm a keen amateur photographer and have been since I was at school. Of course back then it involved smelly chemicals, strange lights and dark rooms. The expense and hassle of film eventually did it in for me and in 2000 I bought my first digital camera. After a series of increasingly sophisticated devices, back in 2007 I bought a Nikon D80 and soon thereafter I discovered that you can do things with raw camera files that have some analogies to the darkroom processing of my youth.
For most of the time since then I've used UFraw for processing my raw images, combined with increasingly sophisticated batch files to harass it into shape. It has increasingly frustrated me that UFraw doesn't do several things that are essential to processing most files, since once the image leaves that programming it usually ends up in an 8-bpp processing path. It seems to me that the saving the processed image into an 8bpp format like jpeg is the last step before leaving the image alone.
Of course this can't always be the case since sometimes a judicious use of the 'Resynthesizer' plugin can make some unsightly elements just disappear, or one needs to carefully apply some censorship to the 14 year old in the background so that the 7 year-old's parents can put the photo on the mantelpiece without worrying about what Granny will say about how much better children's manners were in her day.
I'm hoping too, that when I have grandchildren I'll be able to tell them that 'in my day we only had 8 bits per pixel, and we were lucky', but The Gimp isn't there yet, no matter how much promise Gegl seems to offer.
The thing that has particularly annoyed me is sharpening. UFraw doesn't, and as a result my workflow has either involved applying some blanket sharpening, much like the camera does, or moving the image into a second tool just to apply some sharpening.
This week has been particularly demanding, as the school asked me to 'take some photographs of the production'. So of course that's a thousand-odd photos that I want to do a cull down to a hundred or so, and then I want to quickly do justice to the good ones so I can move on to other stuff.
Well this time my frustration with UFraw hit that ceiling that got me to try something else. I've done this in the past, and found myself going full circle and ending up right back at UFraw with a few extra lines added to my script, but this time I tried rawstudio and in processing the 'can you do the class shots overnight please' test it produced much nicer results in much less time than I have ever been able to with UFraw.
So I've switched, and the more I use it the more convinced I am that UFraw will be getting uninstalled pretty soon.
That's not to say that rawstudio is perfect: it isn't. In particular it has some user interface failures that are kind of annoying to me, but they aren't enough to stop me using it. In fact I liked it so much that I immediately had to pull the nightly repository and build that, just to get the new saturation handling.
The user-interface niggles that do get to me are:
- The keyboard key to switch between zoom 1:1 and zoom to fit is '*', which I have to access with 'shift' down since I'm on a laptop. This was less bad when I discovered I could right-click, but it's still annoying. 'z' would be a much better choice for right-handers, or '/' for left-handers. Or perhaps they could both be made to work. When working on an image I often want to switch between some particular area and the whole image when checking colour balance, sharpening, noise, etc, so this is one of the most used keyboard functions.
- Using the mouse wheel to adjust sliders varies greatly in it's effect. A single detent for contrast or saturation often overshoots the useful range, so I have to drag the fiddly slider a fiddly pixel-and-a-half to go from a contrast of 1.00 to 1.03.
- Not all modifications to an image show in the UI. When I crop or align an image RawStudio remembers the settings for these things (which is fantastic) but if I come back three months later I might not realise I'm looking at a cropped image. I can see all of the hue, saturation, sharpening and so forth, but there should be something in the UI to indicate that the crop and alignment have happened also.
- It confuses me what settings get applied to a fresh image. I seem to get some kind of random selection of which DCP profile is being applied, and there's no way to set a default sharpening or noise reduction. Of course some of this is hard: noise reduction defaults really need to change depending on camera & ISO, and sharpening defaults probably should vary by lense and aperture too, to some extent.
- The icon view runs across the top, taking up important screen real-estate. On my widescreen laptop I'd like the option to run it vertically where otherwise there's wasted space.
Things that I immediately love, over what UFraw gave me:
- Straightening images.
- Cropping images (in some versions of UFraw this works, and in some it's broken, but the UI is useless in all of versions I've seen).
- Colour profiles.
- Lens corrections.
Things that I immediately miss from UFraw:
- White balance presets.
- Wavelet noise reduction.
There are a bunch of things that RawStudio also does that I haven't particularly found a use for yet, but which I suspect I will quite like when I do. The image classification and stuff seems likely to be useful, for sure.
In choosing to switch RawStudio I also looked at RawTherapee, which has recently relicensed under the GPL, but I chose RawStudio because it has vastly better performance on my laptop, and because I found the interface much more immediately accessible. RawTherapee also exceeds what UFraw can do in many ways, and looks like it might be useful for the really difficult cases, but learning to drive it with any facility could take some time. Especially if you only have an i7 740QM with 6G RAM, it would seem.