Category Archives: equipment

DxO PureRAW Testing

Whenever you suddenly see a bunch of YouTube videos on a similar topic, you wonder whether a company has been sending out copies of its product to people to get them talking about it.  I think this must be the case with DxO Mark since I have come across a lot of videos about their new raw convertor, PureRAW.  Having watched a couple of the videos – the technique clearly works – I was curious about the capabilities of the product.  Since they provide a 30 day free trial, I decided to give it a go.

One of the topics which seems to get people really worked up if they are too focused on the products and less on the photos you take with them is Raw conversions.  You can shoot JPEGs in camera but, if you shoot Raw, you tend to have a lot more flexibility with post processing.  (For those not in to this stuff – and I am amazed you are still reading this if that is the case – a Raw file is the data that comes off the sensor with very little processing applied.). Software developers come up with their own ways of converting this data into an image.  Camera manufacturers provide their own raw converters but they don’t share the detailed understanding with the software manufacturers so they have to create their own.

The most widespread software provider is Adobe with their Camera Raw convertor built in to Photoshop and Lightroom.  There are others with their own software and you can come across some quite heated discussions online about which is the best.  Hyperbole abounds in these discussions with anyone getting in to the debate almost always dismissing Camera Raw as terrible.  It’s clearly not terrible but it might have its limitations.

PureRAW is a convertor which doesn’t really give you much control.  Instead, it takes the Raw file, does its magic and then creates a new DNG raw file which you can them import direct in to Lightroom (if you choose – which I do) to continue to edit in much the same way you would have previously.  Watching the reviews, they seemed to suggest that for normal shots at normal ISO settings, there was not much in it.  However, for high ISO images, they showed significant differences with reduced noise, sharper images and clearer detail.  Some reviewers thought it might even be a bit oversharpened.

I figured I would try out my own experimentation with some really high ISO images.  I have some shots at ridiculously high ISO settings that I took at night or in poorly lit environments.  These seemed like a good place to start.  The workflow is not ideal – this would not be something I do for all images but only for some that seemed like they would need it – because I have to select the shot from Windows Explorer (getting there by right clicking on the image in Lightroom) and then drag in to PureRAW.  I can drag a whole bunch of shots over there before having to do anything to them.

The program will download profiles for the camera and lens combinations if it doesn’t already have them and you have to agree to this.  Not sure why it doesn’t do it automatically to be honest but I guess there is a reason.  When you have all of the shots of interest selected, you click Process and off it goes.  It isn’t terribly fast but I wasn’t dealing with a huge number of shots.  Interestingly, I took a look at Task Manager to see how much resource it was using and the processor was barely ticking over so it wasn’t stressing the machine at all.  At a later stage, for reasons I shall explain in a while, I did deactivate the use of the graphics card and things got considerably slower.

When the processing is finished, you have the option to export them to Lightroom.  It saves them in a sub folder for the original folder and they all import together.  Since I have Lightroom sort by capture time, the new files arrive alongside the original which makes comparing them pretty simple.  For the 204,000 ISO shot (an extended range ISO for that camera), things were slightly better but still really noisy.  For the 51,000 ISO shots, things actually did appear to be pretty impressive.  I have a normal profile for the camera that I use for the raw conversion and a preset for high ISO conversions and the comparison is not dramatic but it is definitely a sharper, more detailed and slightly cleaner result.

I have put pairs of shots in the post with crops in on each image to give a comparison of the output so you can judge for yourself.  Will I buy the software?  I don’t know.  It is currently $90.  That is quite a bit for software that does one thing only.  The interface with my workflow is a bit clunky and it has benefit in a relatively limited set of circumstances from what I have seen so far.

Now for some further feedback as my experimentation has progressed.  I did try the tool out on some more normal shots.  There are some minor differences from a conversion of the raw within Lightroom but they don’t seem to be significant enough to justify the investment.  I played with some shots that had very contrasty scenes and it was slightly less noisy but, again, not that big a deal.  They also felt over sharpened.

I have had some problems with the program.  After a while, I got conversions where the new DNG file was just black.  This happened on a few occasions.  I found switching to CPU only solved the issue but only after I deleted the DNGs that had been created.  Interestingly, once I went back to Auto mode, it continued to work.  A weird bug and not one unique to me apparently.  I have also had erratic results when it exports to Lightroom with it failing to do so on a number of occasions.  This is really laborious to deal with and, combined with the fact that the drag from Lightroom to PrimeRAW only works on a Mac and not on Windows, the lack of integration is really enough to put me off.

So far, I will let the trial expire.  It is a tool that is capable of some interesting improvements in more extreme situations but the integration is poor and the benefits are limited for me so, with that in mind, it just isn’t worth the expenditure.  If it made more of a difference to normal shots, I might consider it but it currently doesn’t offer enough to justify the cost or the process slowdown.

Polarizing the Overfliers

I was in a location where a couple of the departures from SEA were overflying me.  I happened to have the camera to hand (of course I did) and I had the polarizer on there at the time.  I had an Alaska Airlines 737 (what a shock from SEA) and a Hawaiian Airlines A330.  I grabbed a few shots.  The thing I like about the polarizer is cutting down on the glare from the white fuselages but they were still pretty bright.  The rest of the sky was darkened considerably and, when editing to address the white fuselages, even more dark.  I quite like the deep and moody look it gives to the shots with very little editing involved.  Both jets pulled some vapor as they came through the same area so clearly there was extra moisture in that one spot.  Maybe it was a thermal?

Super Resolution

The most recent update for Adobe Photoshop includes a function called Super Resolution.  Many of the third party plugins and stand alone image processing tools come with tools to increase the resolution of images.  In Photoshop you used to have a basic way to increase resolution but it wasn’t that clever and could introduce odd artifacts.  I had been advised to use it in small increments rather than one big increase to reduce the problems but I hardly ever used it.

The new addition to Photoshop is apparently based from machine learning.  If the PR is to be believed, they took loads of high res images and low res versions of the same image and the machine learning came to recognize what might be there in the small shot from what it knew was in the large shot.  I don’t know what the other packages aim to achieve but this new tool in Photoshop has been doubling the resolution of the shots I have played with.  You end up with a file four times the size as a result of this doubling of dimensions.

I have tried it out on a couple of different shots where the resolution was okay but not terribly large and where a higher res shot might prove useful.  So far the tool is available through Camera Raw in Photoshop – not Lightroom.  You need to update Lightroom in order to import the DNG files it produces.  There is a suggestion that Lightroom will get this capability in time which would be more user friendly from my perspective.

My computer is not cutting edge so it takes a little while to process the images.  It forecasts five minutes but seemed to complete the task way faster than that.  In the examples here, I attach a 200% version of the original shot and a 100% version of the new file.  There seems to be a definite benefit to the output file.  I wouldn’t describe this as earth shattering but it is useful if the original file is sharp enough and I might have a need for this for a few items over time.

You Forget How Slow Old Cards Are!

My main cameras have two card slots.  One is a CFast and the other is Compact Flash.  I use the CFast all the time but the Compact Flash is a handy backup.  Occasionally, if I have the camera on with the CFast out of the slot, the camera reverts to the second slot and, if I don’t notice, it continues to use it when I next shoot.  This isn’t a particular problem except when it comes to downloading.  I have USB3 card readers for both CFast and Compact Flash.  However, the speed of card technology has moved on dramatically.  When I download the Compact Flash cards and import to Lightroom, I am reminded of just how slow they are.  I used to do this all the time but, once I started using CFast, I got used to the better speed and now, when I revert to the old tech, it feels positively glacial!

When You are Locked Down, It’s Got to be Macro Time

Not being able to go anywhere means you can only photograph things close to home.  Why not dig out the macro lens.  I have no doubt that many photographers have been doing the same thing when stuck at home too.  I initially didn’t have any obvious plan for this.  I just decided to photograph anything around me to see what it looked like when seen up very close.  Textures on the surface become apparent in a way that aren’t normally.  I also discovered just how much dust on on somethings that I never noticed until looking at the images.

Lightroom Craps Out With Videos

This is a tale of a problem I got in to with Lightroom.  I Googled solutions for this and got a bunch of suggestions but none of them worked.  In the end, Adobe sorted out the issue but I wanted to share what happened in case anyone else experiences the same issue and ends up Googling like I did.  Maybe this post will help someone out.  The source of the problem was an MP4 video file that apparently had some corruption within it.  This screwed up stuff within Lightroom that needed some detailed work to fix.  First, I shall tell you what the main error was.  This might be what someone is searching for.

Dynamic Link Media Server Failed to Launch

The result is that video files don’t import and then you seem to struggle to preview videos at all.  When you are in the Import dialog, the video preview doesn’t show and an icon of a camera comes up instead.  Some of the recommendations online were to delete the Dynamic Link Media folders in the App Data section of Windows and restart but that didn’t help.  I also tried that and deleting the media cache but no luck.  Next was to delete the Preferences folder for Lightroom which can often be a solution for unexplained problems but that didn’t work either.  That is when I got Adobe involved.

The support engineer tried a bunch of things.  Eventually, he created a new user on the machine and opened up Lightroom in there.  We tried importing a new video file from the same camera and that worked.  He then set about deleting the Lightroom related app data in my user profile and replacing it with the data from the new User.  We then tried importing the new file and it worked fine.  Next was the previous file and that caused the same problem as before.  Now we knew the file was the problem we could isolate that from everything we did afterwards.

Of course, I had damaged Lightroom again but now we knew what was required, it was a simple task to copy the folders across again.  The only downside to this was that all of my presets and information got deleted.  However, I had copied the old Lightroom folders before starting all of this.  It wasn’t too tricky to replace my camera profiles, develop presets and plugins.  At first I thought I had lost some functionality that I really like.  I have a plugin called LRInstagram which allows me to post from Lightroom to Instagram directly.  Facebook has turned off the ability to do this so, if you install the plugin now, it won’t work.  However, something about my legacy setup meant I had still been using it.  When I tried to set this up again, it failed to work.  However, my old Lightroom folder had a sub folder for the plugin which contained something like a cookie and, when I copied this across, I was back up and running!

All of this is to say, if you have a similar problem to me, there is a solution.  I won’t lay out the files that are involved because it is a bit tedious and there are some other things to bear in mind but, if this happens to you, get in touch and I will talk you through what we did.

Negative Lab Pro 2.0 Update

A while back, I bought the Lightroom plugin, Negative Lab Pro.  This is a plugin that converts digital images of negatives to a positive image.  I wrote about it in this post.  A short time ago, the developer brought out a version 2.0 upgrade to the plugin.  It turns out, the upgrade was free for those of us that had bought the original plugin.  I installed the upgrade to see how things have been improved. 

Initially, I was very disappointed.  The conversion process after the update seemed to be awful.  Things looked dark and blotchy and efforts to unconvert and reconvert the images didn’t help.  I was perplexed by this since a number of users had already exclaimed how happy they were with the update.  If in doubt, follow the old approach of closing stuff and restarting it.  I closed Lightroom and reopened it and whatever was wrong before was now fixed.  The conversion worked very well.  The controls have been expanded to give you a bit more to play with.  The main benefit I am seeing so far is in the color balancing.  Shots seem to have a more natural look to them without me having to work too hard on the color in the first place.  Shots like those with a lot of sky and an odd colored aircraft will still test the algorithm a lot but otherwise it seems to have a good handle on things.  It is also now able to handle frame edges without getting confused.  You can tell it how much of the edge to ignore which is a useful feature although I have got into the habit of cropping carefully already.

All in all, the upgrade seems to be a good one.  Since it hasn’t cost me anything, that is a nice thing to have.  It is also good to know that the developer is continuing to work on the product which holds out the hope of further upgrades to come.  I continue to recommend this to anyone that has been scanning their old negatives with a digital camera.

Recovering a Crashed Card

I was downloading shots from two cards into Lightroom when one of the downloads seemed to hang.  I have seen this before and on those occasions, removing the card and starting again did the trick.  This time it didn’t and, when I reinserted the card, the computer said I needed to reformat it.  I thought I would try it back in the camera to see if that was okay but no joy.  Time for RescuePro Deluxe again.  I wrote about using this previously.  I had an issue with it one time when I tried a recovery and the same thing happened this time.  The card drive letter doesn’t show up (nor do any of the others).

There is a simple fix to see them all which is to press the H key.  However, I hadn’t made a note of that previously and couldn’t remember.  Fortunately, their help desk gave me the code and the pictures were all swiftly recovered.  (I jest.  The program works well but recovering everything it can find on a 64Gb card and then working through that to find the files you really want rather than something from months previously is a bit of a slow process.  Still, it is a lot better than the alternative of having no shots!)

Negative Lab Pro

In previous posts I have described my efforts at scanning old negatives using a digital camera, macro lens and a light table.  I have had mixed success with the process for converting the negatives into positives with some films responding better than others.  I was okay with the output but thought things could be better.  A YouTube video showed up on my page that was about scanning negatives with a digital camera and I decided to watch to see if they did anything different to me.  The technique for shooting the negatives was similar enough but they introduced me to a Lightroom plugin called Negative Lab Pro.

I downloaded a trial of the software and gave it a go.  I was sufficiently impressed with the output that I stumped up the cash for the full version.  It isn’t cheap but, given that I can now use it on several thousand images, I figured it was worth the investment.  The plugin requires a small amount of effort.  I revert the images back to a normal San without any of my previous edits and conversions.  The first thing to do after that is to take a white balance reading from some of the visible edge of the film to neutralize any color shift.  Then you crop in on the image.  Apparently, it is important to avoid getting any unexposed edges in shot as this messes with the algorithm.

Then you open up the dialog box.  It analyses the image and does a conversion.  You then get some basic sliders to tweak the settings such as exposure and color balance.  There are some auto setting check boxes but I haven’t found them to be too helpful so far.  Then you click okay and the image is ready to do further editing in Lightroom.  You can also do batch conversions of images if you want although I think it is probably better to focus on individual processing.  I have been playing with this on a range of images so far and I like the results.  My old negatives are not that great and this is not going to suddenly make them amazing but I am impressed how much more I can get out of some of the scans using this software.