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Published July 20th 2006

RAW-converters

I always shoot RAW. Because of this I have been introduced to the concept of digital workflow.

Mast and ropes
[Dynax 7D, Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye]

RAW-conversion has become an important part of my digital workflow, and I have tried quite a few RAW-converters for both Minolta MRW's and Nikon NEF's. I have settled for Rawshooter Essential combined with my Photoshop 7 workhorse, and that works fine for me.

My digital workflow is approximately like this:

  1. I shoot an average of about 30-40 pictures a day -- not every single day, but as an average of 365 days. Some days I shoot none, some days a few hundred
  2. I shoot in RAW only or RAW+low rez JPG (lately I have started shooting RAW+high quality JPG)
  3. I copy all files to my laptop and a directory on a separate drive on my network. The drive is divided into months, and each month has folders named after each shoot
  4. I extract the JPG's from Nikon's NEF's using Preview Extractor if I haven't got them from the camera
  5. I open the folder and asses the images via their thumbprints
  6. The interesting ones are brought into Photoshop for closer examination
  7. For web use I just crop, edit, scale and save as in Photoshop
  8. If I later need high-rez, high quality pictures for print I open the folder in Rawshooter Essentials and convert the images I need from RAW to JPG and work on with them in Photoshop
  9. Sometimes I find myself going directly for Rawshooter and running through the pictures in that program's slide view, select a few and convert them directly to low-rez JPG's for the web.
  10. I backup my images to external 500 Gb drives. When one is full, I buy a new one. They are very inexpensive.

I rarely convert more than 3-5 images of 100, so my need for automation in this respect is limited.
I often spend quite a lot of time with the individual image in Photoshop using masks, Levels, Curves and other adjustments, but some of the latest RAW-converters seem to have some neat facilites, which I can use for many of those routines.

My experience with RAW-converters - very brief

I have now tried a host of RAW-converters, but only Rawshooter stuck.
  • Bibble never got to me. I saw it demonstrated on a Mac, and it looked OK, but with the usual confusing interface
  • Phase1 is fairly complex and never stuck either, and it annoys me that the user-interface has to be so different from everything else
  • Nikon NX may have something, but from what I have seen it does a lot of the things that I do in Photoshhop now
  • NikonView just didn't work for me. Never liked it much and it seems a little too much like my old Nikon scanner program
  • Nikon's NEF file plugin for Photoshop is a scandal. Primitive and painstakingly slow.
  • Adobe Lightroom is slow and confusing from what I could see in the beta. The slowness could be tuned, but the interface. Yikes! Another set of strange and confusing ways of doing things.
  • Minolta DiMAGE Viewer is not fit for professional work in my eyes, and much too mediocre to come with a pro grade camera such as the 7D
  • MRWformat I like. I still use it for individual Minolta RAW's. It's a powerful plugin for Photoshop and has many controls and a standard-complying interface
  • Rawshooter Essentials does 90% of what I need. I still detest its homebrew user interface, but since I mostly do quick&dirty conversions, I rarely bump into it. But guys, why no menus? Only those secret icons that no one knows what do. It's very bad usability
  • Rawshooter Premium has more facilities, but none that I really seem to need

None of the big ones ever convinced me of their virtues, and I wound up with the inexpensive and the free stuff.
I never tried Photoshop Camera Raw. I'm not a Photoshop CS man, and that rules out that particular option. Same goes for Apple Aperture. Mac-software does not run on my pc. Adobe Lightroom is available for my pc, but beyond my wallet.

I hate non-standard!

I don't know why, but for some reason image software is almost always coded in non-standard ways and the user interface does no look like all my other programs. I work on Windows, but this goes for Mac OS as well.
The RAW converters I have on my laptop right now are Rawshooter Essentials and a demo of the latest Capture One 4. Both have their own interface -- very different from each other, very different from other converters and very, very different from my standard Windows applications.
I always wonder why that is the case...
An example: In the new Capture One you can slide the left side tools up and down using a standard software gizmo called a scroll bar. Most software has scroll bars -- most likely also the program you are using right now. They are sliders that indicate where you are in something that does not fit on your screen, and by sliding them you can move up and down in the content of a window.
Capture One has scroll bars -- of course -- but Phase One's own breed of them. They look different and behave differently. Why? It is painstakingly slow when I use the arrows in the top and in the bottom of these bars and does not adhere to the centrally set speeds for the behavior of such things.

Capture One non-standard scroll bars. But the menus are (almost) standard...apart from the color... and the font... and the size...
Rawshooter Essentials missing menu - replaced by confusing icons. But the scroll bars are standard...


Software developers: There is a reason why the manufacturers of graphical user interfaces (GUI's) do what they do, and a reason why they publish large GUI-guides, handbooks that tell you how to produce programs that adhere to their standards. That's because you are supposed to follow these standards! Do it!
And if you don't then at least let me change my settings so that I can have a consistent interface in my programs, have all text, menus and icons the same size, same color and even the same font! That's why they put the controls in there in the first place. And menus, scroll bars, buttons, window handling and file dialogs... please don't make your own... please!

I'm now a Lightroom user

The Lightroom interface

I embraced Adobe's Lightroom a couple of years ago, and have followed its progression from version 3 to 4 and now to 5. It's an excellent and quite inexpensive program, which has most of the hallmarks of a good piece of software aimed at professionals.

Like Photoshop it makes extensive use of shortcut keys, and can essentially be used with the keyboard for 90% of its operations, which is what many pros working daily on images like. It's also fast and has good bulk operation facilities. It works easily with dozens of thousands of files, even hundreds of thousands (I know, because I do so almost daily when I browse my image catalogs). I supports two monitors in a very sensible way and altogether has lots of facilities that makes it a very good everyday tool.

It does of course break with a ton of good GUI conventions, has its own buttons, sliders and scroll bars, but at least maintains the menu structure, behavior and color of the operating system. In spite of its oddities, I love Lightroom and use it for all my RAW conversion of both new and old pictures. I have all my images from back when I scanned slides plus of course my full archive of close to a couple of hundred thousand digital images, shot in RAW whenever possible. I can now use all the latest and the greatest techniques, the best tool and more than a decade of experience in working with digital images.