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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