Following on from my hurried post at lunchtime... the story so far; a friend ask me for some DSLR raw files so he can run a test with them on upcoming software. He can't tell me any more than that and would prefer some shots from a variety of cameras, preferably pictures that are challenging in some respect.
Fast forward to this morning when Drew Gardner posted several examples of pictures, some of which I took, processed with Adobe's Lightroom 4 and also the newly launched Capture One 7. It was an "out of the box" test which aimed to garner an impression of the differences between the two software offerings rather than a serious exploration of the full capabilities of each.
He has since sent me a couple of the processed frames so that I might make my own observations on them. Firstly we have these two shots from an ambush in Afghanistan in 2006. The light was fading fast and I was crashing upwards through the iso of my 5D mkI as we fought for our lives in a total encirclement whilst on patrol with the soldiers of 16 Air Assault (3rd Parachute regiment and Royal Irish).
Here is Lightroom's version, with no changes or adjustments.
And here is the version from Capture One - 7
The first thing to note is that they both look way better than the in-camera JPEG that I used at the time (I always shoot RAW +JPEG although often, on deadline, it's the in-camera JPEG that I have to send to publications due to time constraints). Lightroom has produced a more saturated, slightly yellow/cyan shift which whilst not faithful to the original, does look good. At first, the area to the lower right of the picture, where an Afghan National Army soldier was crouching, appears more clearly. But on closer inspection it has markedly less detail than the C1 interpretation although it does a better job of holding the green colour in the undergrowth.
The default noise reduction in LR4 seems just a bit too aggressive and it seemed to be glossing over details in favour of smoothness. But the foreground figure of the running soldier has lost all detail n his left arm in the LR4 version and consequently much of the urgency of the picture is gone.
On Drew's blog there are several examples that I have not yet got from him. So this one-shot comparison is not altogether conclusive. But his piece makes the very valid point that details do seem to be getting lost in LR4 and the balance between sharpness and smoothness seems to be out of kilter.
Whilst it is almost impossible to do a like for like comparison I would point out a few strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches.
LR4 has very good highlight detail retention, markedly better than the samples from CO7 so if you habitually over expose your pictures and need to recover, that is something worth bearing in mind. Colour faithfulness and overall crispness cuts the other way; with CO7 the clear winner in Drew's test by such a huge margin as to be a little disturbing.
However, there is the NIK question. Many photographers I know have come to rely on the NIK plug-ins for many of the fine colour adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and localised retouching that would otherwise be done in photoshop. These tools are a godsend and reduce further work in photoshop and overall post processing time. Capture One has never been compatible with these plug-ins (which are available for Aperture, Lightroom, Photoshop) and while they are not cheap, the fact that CO7 cannot use these tool in pre-acquire is likely to be a factor for many who are looking for a one-stop solution.
Still, I'll say it again, the amazing level of detail and colour accuracy means that all my high-end output will be routed through Capture One 7 for the foreseeable future.
Digital photography presents as many difficulties as advantages sometimes. Chief amongst them if you have dedicated yourself to a good raw-file work flow is how to process the raw images.
At various times over the last few years I have used many or maybe most of the available options including Bridge, DXO, Capture One (in various incarnations) and more recently, the all-conquering Lightroom.
The advantages of Lightroom are obvious; a powerful feature set allied to nimble processing speed, excellent support for new camera file formats and the knock-out punch of a seemingly unbelievable price-point. Combine that with the Nik software plug-ins for pre-acquire and it made it a mighty tool for photographers to get the best from their files.
However, various versions of Capture One had always delivered the best colour of all of them (I confess never to have seriously used Aperture) and for all serious high-end output projects I have tackled over the past decade or so, it has been my favourite software.
A few days ago and somewhat cryptically, my friend and colleague Drew Gardner asked me if I had any examples of Raw files from a few different cameras that I could give him in readiness for a new C1 launch at an unspecified future date. He explained that he could say no more than that and asked my understanding. His idea was to try a real world test on a broad range of subjects and light-levels, over different cameras. He wanted to have these ready for release day so that he could get the first results out onto the net.
Naturally I said yes and waited for some kind of announcement from him. But just to make his job as tricky as possible I sent him some low-light shots from a Canon 5D mkI and a 1D mkI, both of which had presented me with problems due to noise at high ISO shooting, as well as a few pictures from a recent sailing event I shot in the summer where the sails, water and spray all provide lots of fiddly details to be rendered.
This morning, as I started setting up for a shoot, he called briefly and said that I should check his latest post on "the Dark Art" and that I would most likely be surprised by the results.
Now, I haven't had enough time to fully digest these and I'll write a detailed post later today but the initial results are not just surprising, they are nigh-on unbelievable.
I suggest you read Drew's comprehensive post (here) and then check back in a few hours time for another take on this issue.
Although, it must be said that both he and I are very taken-aback at the sheer chasm between the two in terms of fidelity and colour accuracy.
It means that the new C1 version 7 will be an absolute must-have for all my high-output assignments. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of it.