#601. Once upon a post processor

By Paul Perton | Opinion

May 31



If you were half as angry with Apple abandoning Aperture as I was, then any kind of rant about the subject is likely to still be quite acceptable. So, there we all were, Aperture users as one, looking for an alternative. Something friendly, useful, predictable, understandable and most of all, not still in beta.


This post is not a review of post processing packages. It’s a quick overview. I’d meant to write lots, review good points, better points and the great, but you know what? I’ve yet to find enough great to encourage me to set aside the several days it would take to write, that I could better use for something useful, more liberating. To be honest, I’m disappointed. There’s not really any “wow” on offer, so what I’m seeing is safe, likely to repay investors and shareholders, but not much else. Not for the first time, the end user is getting less than optimal value.


Much against my better judgement, following Aperture’s demise, I’d opted for Adobe’s Lightroom. I’d tried to use several earlier versions and abandoned the effort on every occasion. It was unstable, clunky, hard to master and visually, a mess. But with little or no option, Lightroom it was and while I was happy to see that it was by now much more stable, visually it continued to look like a committee-designed product and was dog slow on pretty much every task.


A couple of years and several updates later, it’s still a resource hog, can spin up the fans on my MacBook Pro in a heartbeat and still looks like the product from hell.


Late last year, On1 pre-announced a new RAW processor and pretty much on time, shipped On1 RAW, complete with a full-on file browser. It’s very modern, quite edgy in it’s approach, but has an interface that is so bizarre, it could only have been a Lightroom reject.


Soon after, Luminar appeared. A Mac-only RAW processor, Luminar lacked (and still does) a browser, but attempted to make up for this glaring deficiency by promising impressive performance.


Picktorial followed in the middle of the first quarter of 2017 and like Luminar, promised high performance and a sort-of file browser.




Fleshing out the RAW converters are RAW Power, a late entrant from a small team called Gentlemen Coders, led by one of the former lead developers on Aperture, now turned independent and Capture 1. RAW Power is achingly familiar to Aperture users and works pretty well on most RAW files, including those from Fuji’s X-Trans sensor. The latter is beyond me. I have tried to befriend Capture 1 on several occasions and to date, it’s resisted my advances.


In use, I’m looking for a RAW converter and image editor that will allow me to set up the processing controls on my Retina screened notebook and view the output on a 27” Dell, bought for that express purpose.


Aperture did. Lightroom does (sort of, but it’s very flaky), I think Capture 1 does, but none of the others.


RAW conversions seem to vary across all of the packages on offer, with Iridient Developer offering yet another conversion option, one possibly better than all the others, but of course, it also brings the by now usual file bloat – anything up to 150/200mb per image.




Many years ago, I had a girlfriend who had an idea that make-up should be applied as a single operation, a bit like a pie-in-the-face joke, with some kind of face-fitting applicator providing the colour, shadow, blusher and so on. The applicator would then be applied to the face and splat! Job done.


Well, she went and her idea along with it. In fact, it has been many decades since I’d even thought of her, until I saw the first of this new generation of programmes – and there it was; pre-prepped post processing, just waiting for the photographer to come along and plop! Instant chocolate box photography.


On1 RAW’s methodology is an embarrassment of options, looks, tints, shadows and lines, just like whateverhernamewas’ make up idea all those years ago. Luminar’s presets are similarly rich and offer a bewildering array of look(s) for pretty much any photograph you, me or anyone is ever likely to take.


Picktorial is a little sparse in this area, preferring to leave much of the post processing options to the photographer, but with a similar array of presets to choose from should one’s imagination prove inadequate.


Like Iridient Developer, RAW Power is just that. No bells and whistles, just competent and straightforward RAW conversion.


In use, Picktorial is probably the speediest across the board. It’s edits are rendered in almost real time, sliders and presets effective and predictable as to their intention/outcome.


Despite its billing, Luminar is a slug. Almost everything invokes a spinning beach ball, while the simplest of edits can take 3, 4, 5 and more seconds to appear on screen.


RAW Power loads achingly slowly, but once the app has an image in memory, it’s very fast to render and draws edits in (almost) real time.




Which leaves us where?


If you’re an Apple user, Luminar, Picktorial, On1 Raw, RAW Power and Iridient work as stand-alone applications and also as processing plug-ins with Photos, although their processing speed is limited by the clunky round tripping these operations require. Additionally, every operation requires a file duplication, which in most cases is omni-directional, prohibiting a return to the file generated by plug-in app for additional fine tuning. In this case, a new roundtrip session and a fresh start is required.


Using Photos is an appealing option, but performance, a missing sort and star rating system renders the package pretty much useless for anything approaching serious post processing and workflow. This despite Apple’s promise to make this the hub of their photographic universe.


Changing tack, NIK’s indispensable suite of plug-ins seem to work with most of these apps – a saving grace as the developers just about wrote the how-to book on post processing. Taken over by Google, the suite now languishes, in serious need of updating and assurance that it will continue to work with today’s newer RAW processing solutions as they appear.


Another irritation is the feature-incomplete set of most packages. Pascal has a specific want/need/desire for keystone correction, which is unavailable in post post processors and for him, rules out anything but the mainstream solutions. I’ve already mentioned Photos significant shortfalls and it would take another thousand words to describe how feature-incomplete all of these post processing systems are.




In defence of the newer apps, they have long lists of promised features and upgrades. Many have already been delivered and more are anticipated through the year.


At this point, I’m going to include some additional input from Pascal, who like me, is on a quest for a workable solution:


“I think this state of affairs is a sad reflection of the state of the “old” digital photography market as a whole. There’s no longer any drive because the market seems to be dying (not so) slowly. So the world is now dvidied into an app that started off beautifully and has been tarted up badly during the years (and whose owners showed utter lack of respect for their customers), Lightroom; a pro app that refuses to acknowledge that pros make up a zillionth of the remaining market and that such a thing as UX exists (C1) and a host of wannabes which, instead of thinking about how they can be a useful complement to the existing scene all try to reinvent the wheel and leave huge gaps in the process. Panoramas? Of all the apps I’ve bought, only Affinity handles them. Super badly. Keystoning? None. None whatsoever. Does that mean neither Luminar, On1 RAW, nor anyone in the bunch expects to sell to photographers interested in buildings? Unbelievable. Chroma and other aberrations? Forget it … In a hub (Photos) and spoke configuration, they could have been utterly brilliant, each corresponding to a specific need. Instead, we have a mess of half finished things that can’t even speak the same language.


Sad really. Luminar showed real promise with a lovely interface, the power of layers, an interesting workspace feature … but it’s worse than slow, requiring almost 20 seconds to open a file from Photos on a top of the range late 2016 MBP. Forget it.


There’s a saying in France: never bite the hand that feeds you. One of these brands tried to bite me and I’m not feeding it ever again.


Which leaves me with Capture One. Irritatingly put together Capture One. Designed by engineers for engineers. After hours of use I still don’t know how to clone out dust spots! The simplest operations feel like flying a spacehsip. But it’s RAW management is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve tried. And the feature set is complete. So Capture One it is. I’m sure familiarity will breed content.


For the real emerging photo market (read smartphones) my guess is apps are going to be a lot better and simpler and more intuitive and cheaper and faster and loaded with features and better integrated and …”


Meanwhile, Lightroom’s tools remain unloved by their developer – inter alia, the clone and healing tool remain archaic, hard to master and therefore close to useless – requiring a Photoshop round trip to really de-spot and clone out unwanted specks.


Curiously, despite Apple’s warnings about obsolescence and failure to work with newer OS releases, Aperture continues to work and on the odd occasion I open a library, I immediately understand why it remains such a favourite.




And, there it is for now. Most of us have used Lightroom and know it’s abilities. It remains the benchmark and sadly, looks like it will continue to be so for some time to come.


The images accompanying this post have been shot in recent weeks, close to my home in the Cape. And, I need hardly mention that each and every one scored a clear 0.9999 on the memorability scale. Win!


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  • Bernardino says:

    And what about Affinity Photo? Have you tried it?

    • paulperton says:

      To the best of my knowledge, Affinity Photo is a Photoshop stand-in (like Pixelmator) and that’s another whole can of worms.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I have tried Affinity Photo. It’s complex and not very pleasant as a photo editor. But I use it as a replacement for Photoshop for web graphics and it’s a steal at its asking price.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    And this morning I received two emails telling me Google is withdrawing its support for Nik. Or rather – for the moment, they are announcing that they will no longer provide any further updates, or add features.

    None of what you say is new to me, Paul. Like practically anyone else I know, I’ve tried heaps of these programs. I’ve come to a couple of conclusions, now, for much the same reasons as the comments you make.

    1 – get a decent monitor – computer screens are pretty damn useless for post processing

    2 – up your game – the better the shot is, in cam, the less post processing it’ll need

    3 – even if you use Epson paper in an Epson printer, the custom printer profiles are “off” – I think most manufacturers last updated them about 8-10 years ago, and they’re showing wrinkles & grey hair – the world moved on but they didn’t – so it’s worth while paying a decent consultant to produce you a better profile

    Unfortunately that comes at a price – I paid nearly AUD$400 for mine, and got two profiles for the money. I wouldn’t describe the change as “fundamental”, but it’s certainly “noticeable” and makes completing the post processing process easier & faster – used in conjunction with a proper photographic monitor, what you see on the screen is pretty damn close to exactly what comes out of the printer.

    Be VERY careful about fooling around with sharpening – it can and does create its own form of digital noise. Adobe’s camera shake removal function does too (not that I have much use for it – but I did try it on someone else’s photos and frankly, the result shocked me). If you have noise you face a choice between noise reduction and sharpening, but I don’t think you can have both – and if you have noise and DO use sharpening, it’ll probably end up worse than when you started. (Before anyone says it – I do face this one fairly often, because I love taking low light photos, and frequently have to kick the ISO level up – and you don’t get far past 1000 before it’s an issue).

    I HATE Lightroom’s cataloguing system and their perpetual bleating about saving my work to their Cloud. I hand over my stuff to nobody – the Devil will arrive at work on ice skates, before I store my files on ANYBODY’S Cloud!!!! And their cataloguing system drives me nuts.

    DxO make an excellent program for fixing things like chromatic aberration, perspective, verticals etc. DxO ViewPoint.

    If you want Capture One and you aren’t running Sony, it comes at one hell of a price.

    Strangely, Luminar has rescued two of my “trouble” photos, and since it costs peanuts, I have developed a soft spot for Luminar.

    SilkyPix has a fan club, but I can’t wrap my head around it. And perhaps that’s as much because I looked at it while my head was swimming, examining several of the other programs at the same time.

    After reading your comments, I think I might give Raw Power a try – it’s so cheap that cost is scarcely a consideration and maybe it WILL do things the unnamed subscription package doesn’t. Not that my copy of the unnamed one is the subscription version 🙂

    BTW Paul – I love your shot just below the paragraph starting “Picktorial followed in the middle of the first quarter of 2017 and …”

    • paulperton says:

      Thanks Pete. Photo shot with my X-Pro2 and the fab 56mm f1.2 @ f1.2.

      • Adrian says:

        I thought the landscape with the sky, clouds and reflections on the water was stunning – and I don’t even like landscape photographs!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Luminar holds a lot of promise. They just need to understand that Apple Photos is lovely but seriously lacking in some vital elements such as perspective correction, and that speed is important. Once MacPhun address these two problems, Luminar will be an absolute gem.

  • Benoit says:

    Hi all,

    Just a quick note: As pf yesterday, Google has officially stopped any further development of the Nik Collection.

    And while I agree with your assessment of its quirks and shortcomings, Capture One has become my go-to Raw software.

  • James Moule says:

    You have not mentioned the approach of using Photo Mechanic for importing and cataloging plus Adobe Camera Raw for processing. Quite a few professionals use this. It imports much faster than Lightroom and avoids Lightroom’s silly approach to cataloging.

    • paulperton says:

      Tried it but I really didn’t want yet another step in my post processing. I know several people who swear by Photo Mechanic – it’s doubtless great, but not for me.

  • Steve says:

    Seems to me that none of these recent arrivals have a very clear idea of what they are about or who they are addressing. Or maybe we’re just a minor sub-set of raging nutters that want more than stylised pre-sets. Like Paul, I’m an Aperture refugee (and now I can add the much-loved Nik suite to the junk pile) and have tried all the options and can’t disagree with anything in the above rant. I wonder who are the folk designing all this software and who they consult when agreeing a feauture set. The no-brainer for me would have been to take Aperture as the starting point and enhance and enrich. But wtf do I know, I only spent 20+ years selling software and feeding back to developers what users actually wanted….

  • Henry says:

    As another Aperture refugee, I landed in the Capture One camp and have become very comfortable with most aspects. Color control is excellent; masking and local adjustments are very easy to accomplish and quite versatile. I still do my BW conversions in Silver Efex Pro (hate to hear that it is dying a slow death as well). I do miss the amazingly sensible file management of Aperture, its cloning function, and most of all its skin-tone color balance. Aperture always seemed to nail the skin-tones when needed. C1 is OK but just OK and always seems to take a great deal of tweaking. I want spectacular! The presets in C1 for skin-tone are totally useless, unless someone can tell me what I am doing wrong. Thank you, Paul, for the rant and please know that many Aperture users are still searching for the Holy Grail.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Henry, I have had a look at presets, from time to time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they are an even worse evil than selfie sticks.

    • Adrian says:

      The skin tone wb dropper seemed heavily influenced by the present skin tone you select before using the dropper on your photo. Choose “rose” when the subject is more beige and it all goes horribly wrong. SilkyPix has a skin wb dropper with no options that can be ok when combined with the right choice of colour simulation. I prefer something that looks nice for the image rather than 100% accurate so your preference may differ.

  • The anonymous Grunter says:

    C1: dust spot removal is in the loupe menue (last point, low down). The only thing that bugs me is that I have to import files in C1 even when using sessions, slowing down my workflow on quick & dirty jobs, e.g. for webhop photos.

    Therefore I mainly use Zoner Photo Studio with the adobe camera raw plugin and reserve special jobs for C1.

    • Adrian says:

      The C1 catalo system and sessions are horrible. I’ve worked in IT all my life, therefore am perfectly computer literate, yet the C1 catalog system (and Adobes to some extent) are completely beyond my comprehension, and therefor totally frustrating. C1s noise reduction isn’t very good and leaves a mottled bruised look for very high iso images. Why does it have no output sharpening options (or are the sharpening sliders for output not input? Who knows? It’s not documented in their “help”). For some images with mixed light the results could be stunning, but often seemed flat and lifeless.. The output export options drove me crazy as they were also completely unfathomable. It seemed like a nice raw development engine ruined by the hideous package it was put inside. For Sony users at least it’s free for the “express” version and heavily discounted for the full version – but I still don’t feel I want to use it mostly because of its catalogue and export controls.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks TAG. I can find the dust spot but don’t understand how it works. It doesn’t seem to follow any of the usual processes found in Lightroom, Photos, Photoshop …

      Thanks for pointing out Zone Photo Studio. This is new to me.

  • Georg says:

    Hello. I agree with many of the comments above. Really find the Lightroom’s cataloging annoying. I download my images into date/body folders on my harddrive. Then review them in DXO and select the best ones. Some RAW files I open in DXO, adjust and then further process in Photoshop. Some I open in ACR, make appropriate adjustments and then move to Photoshop. I shoot 50/50, normal body vs Full Spectrum/IR converted bodies (A7ii/A7R/A7Rii). For IR I select from images made with one of 20 filters. Some are very challenging images in PP. I “push” some images using Topaz filters or NIK Silver Efex for B&W. The biggest challenge is to find the right balances in contrast and micro-contrast. On some images it’s necessary to fight off CA that comes with using Dual Band filtration.
    Don’t give up on NIK for landscape work. To my knowledge Google has not enhanced NIK since Nikon threw in the towel. It is still a very useful filter.
    IMHO, learning how to use Photoshop (as a standalone) may very challenging and yet rewarding venture. For me ACR/PS works just fine for normal images. It is the Dual Band (vis/IR) image that leads to a lot tougher challenges, in ways similar to those back in the day of the wet darkroom. One has to learn how to “tease” the RAW file to find its essence”.
    BTW, Capture One (Sony) works well, but the full program would be better. Waiting for the sale in September. hope they have it this year.

  • Per Kylberg says:

    Glad to hear I am not the only one who have tried to fall in love with Capture One a few times – all a failure!
    Lightroom plus Photoshop is industry standard for several reasons: The first one, the complete package, what professionals need. Not because the beauty of imported RAW, not because of performance, not as database, not because of intuitive user interface. Like Toyota is the world’s no 1 in sales – but not really the best car in any other aspect.
    And of course nobody else has been able to put together a better package of features, nor has better update frequency covering cameras and lenses. Adobe also does DNG. Apple tried to compete – but gave up the race.
    I have to say though that in the posting and the comments there are complaints about functionality and performance that I do not recognize. That concerns the complete process, system and hardware from RAW to print. All has to be set up to co-exist, be maintained – and be used the right way.
    I rarely if ever have performance problems in Lightroom/PS. My PC is not top notch but “enough”. My screen Benq 27″ is great and I calibrate it monthly. My prints (Epson 3880) look as on screen only a bit better. I have profiles for numerous papers that work excellently compared to my own measured created profiles. (Epson Cold Press Bright is super for large prints)
    My advice: Do as me: Learn from my own mistakes. If you do not like the result: change the process to get the results you want. Today about any ILC and good lens can ENABLE beautiful images. The same goes for systems and hardware in the post process.

  • Adrian says:

    As I have unfortunately said before whenever the subject of raw file development is discussed here, I prefer Ichikawa Software’s SilkyPix. The latest version, Pro V8, is excellent in many ways. No horrible catalogue system. Moderately intuitive development tools. Some sophistication that Adobe lacks. Keystone corrections. Lens aberration corrections automatically. Portrait air brushing. Sporting tools. Local adjustments. Just aboit the most comprehensive set of controls over highlight rendering and demosaicing and input sharpening. It’s not very fast unfortunately, but acceptable on modern specification Windows machines. It’s processor intensive like most raw development tools, so it ruins your battery performance. The UI is a bit of a mess in some.areas, though better in the latest version. It doesn’t integrate with other editors or plug-ins, so you just have to export a tif or jpeg and open it yourself for editing in your preferred editor. It’s quite expensive, but can be purchased with generous discounts, and the license is for 3 installations. I have previously promised Pascal I would try to write a short “how to” article about it, as it’s not well understood and therefore often not liked, but the results are in my opinion often excellent and a little “filmic” in look.

  • Tarmo says:

    Surprisingly little-known fact: Adobe Camera Raw has exactly the same controls and engine as Lightroom, but with a very different interface. It’s faster and saves everything to sidecar files instead of a bloating catalogue. That allows moving the files around freely without losing changes OR changing the original files. Same goes for Adobe Bridge, which acts as the browser counterpart with filters, ratings, labels etc.

    Of course, both are still subject to montly fees, but a single Otus will cost the same as 30 years of usage.

  • Tim Ball says:

    With age against me, and slow at learning new skills, your comment about: “Designed by engineers for engineers. After hours of use I still don’t know how to clone out dust spots! The simplest operations feel like flying a spaceship”, rings true with me! It has certainly been my own experience, when I tried C1 about 2 years ago, after reading philber’s comparison.
    I retreated back to Lr, which I found easy and intuitive from day one. (I also gave up when I tried Aperture…crazy symbols!), but I’m still “looking” at C1, and taking in what you guys at DS are saying.
    In most comparisons I find a “clarity” with C1 that Lr lacks. Maybe that’s what pascal means by “more natural looking”?

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