Monday, July 11, 2005

Evaluating RawShooter Essentials 2005

I've been a devoted fan of the C1 raw converter software from Phase One for a little over a year now. My love for it is primarily for it's more convenient workflow when processing dozens of Raw Files at once. Compared to Photoshop, where you can only deal with converting one raw file at a time, C1 is a godsend.

A couple months back, when I heard about a new Raw converter called RawShooter Essentials 2005 (hereafter referred to as RSE), is was only mildly interested. When I found out it was free, I took note. When I heard it was written by some former people from Phase One, I decided to give it a download. I took a quick look at it, and it seemed nice, but not a whole lot different than C1. I never really got around to giving it a thorough test. However, this week I had about 600 photos from my Copper Harbor trip to sort through and convert. This seemed like a decent test, so I went and downloaded the latest version (1.1.3) and got to work.

The good:
The workflow in RSE is very nice. Much like C1, you can scan through an entire folder of raw files very quickly...view the thumbnails and then click each one to get a close up view. However, I quickly discovered some really nice advantages to working with RSE.

1) Perhaps my favorite feature is the priority grouping. In C1, you have an option to tag an image and then later view only those images that are tagged. Thats handy for narrowing down a long list of raw files to select only your very best. However, RSE takes this feature a step further by including three priority groups in addition to tagging/flagging. You can optionally assign each image to a priority group and use that however you want. One way is to categorize your images into "convert now", "convert later" and "convert if I get around to it" groups. Another way is to recursively narrow down you images by marking all your favorites as priority 1, then going through priority 1 and moving your favorites to priority 2, then repeat moving from priority 2 to priority 3. When you are done, you should have your favorite of your favorites in priority 3. However you decide to go back and recheck the images you included in the first or second priority group, but eliminated before getting to the 3rd, you can do that too. However you decide to use it, it is a very handy feature.

2)Another very nice workflow feature in RSE is the setting snapshot. In C1, I often find myself wondering what an image would look like with 2 different settings. If it's just a single contrast or saturation slider, it's easy enough to slide it back and forth to compare. However, if you want to compare between 2 totally different groups of settings, it's not very realistic. In RSE, that problem is nicely overcome. Simply press the snapshot button and a new tab bar pops up with a tab for each settings snapshot. You can jump back and forth to each snapshot, further refine it, and even create additional snapshots. Very nice for experimentation.

3)RSE is fast. Very fast. I compared conversion speeds on my Pentium 4 3.4GHz machine using a batch of 15 files, converting them to 16 bit TIFF files. C1 converted the batch in 3 minutes 17 seconds (~13.1 seconds/image). RSE converted the exact same batch in just 1 minute, 40 seconds (~6.7 seconds/image). That makes RSE almost twice as fast as C1. I thought it might be an issue of was applying sharpening and the other wasn't, or some similar issue. However, after going through the different settings, that didn't appear to be the case. No matter how I configured it, RSE came out almost twice as fast as C1.

4)RSE has a simple and convenient EXIF display. C1 originally had a nice EXIF display on the Capture tab. It was a simple docked panel that displayed a subset of the image's EXIF data. The downsides of this panel are that it contains more than just the most common info (though it's more concise than the entire EXIF block) and that it's only visible on the Capture tab. Newer versions of C1 have made the EXIF data visible on a floating tool window, which resolves the last problem, but lets the EXIF data window always get in the way (no way to dock it). With RSE, there is a simple little panel at the bottom that contains only the basics (but most commonly used) bits of the EXIF block: camera model, aperture, shutter speed, focal length, and ISO. It's in a format very easy to read (easier than in C1) and it's alway visible without it getting in the way.

5)RSE has some better viewing options. There are sliders to adjust the size of the thumbnail images. More convenient slider for adjusting the main image zoom...the zoom slider and the 100% zoom button are right on the toolbar rather than being located inside of another button like C1, making them easier to access. The fit to screen button is right next to the zoom button/slider, rather than at the opposite end of the toolbar (like in C1)

6)RSE has a nicer set of adjustment controls. The contrast slider in C1 has been outdone by 2 sliders in RSE: shadow contrast and highlight contrast. There is an edge sharpening option added to RSE. There are 2 sliders for noise/color-noise suppression. The controls for white balance, image adjustment, and sharpening all appear on the same tab in RSE rather than on 3 different tabs as they do in C1. And finally, simply pressing the Ctrl button show you which parts of the image are clipped (I find this more convenient than the using the F5 key as your would in C1 simply due to it's position on the keyboard and the fact that it works off a simple press and release rather than press once to turn on, press again to turn off).

The bad:
1) Even though RSE gives some more options for adjustment, it loses a few at the same time. First, there is no curves adjustment in RSE. Second, even though there is an edge sharpening option added to RSE, the regular sharping option is simplified from the one present in C1...just a single slider for amount (compared to C1's separate sliders for amount and threshold, plus a selection box for normal or soft sharpening)

2) Although this is very subjective, I tend to like the default appearance of images from C1 slightly better. With a bit of work, though, I can get very similar results from RSE. Also, making the adjustments in C1 to get to the best results is quicker than in RSE, though I will admit that may be due to my extra experience working with C1.

3)In RSE, there is no cropping tool, no split screen view to work on 2 images at once, and no black and white button (you need turn the saturation down on individual images...not as convenient when trying to look at an entire gallery in B&W mode)

4)Instead of using a standard Windows menu bar, RSE uses a bar full of buttons that generate drop down menus. While this may be personal opinion, I think that was a bad choice. It's a little more confusing than having simple text for the menu trigger instead of buttons.

5)After going through my entire 600+ images from Copper Harbor, picking out my favorites, adjusting them, converting them to TIFFs, further processing them in Photoshop, converting them to web format, uploading them to my website, and arranging my entire online gallery, I made one very annoying discovery: THE EXIF DATA IS MISSING. Even though I had the "Meta Data" box in the convert tab set to EXIF, there was no EXIF data in the resulting TIFF to indicate any of my camera settings. I now have an entire gallery of images online with no EXIF info, and all the options available for adding that info back in are quite time consuming.

After digging around online, I discovered that the problem was due to me not having the THM (thumbnail) files in the same location as the CRW (raw) files. The CRW files only contain a subset of the EXIF data, while the THM files contain the complete EXIF data. On the one hand, I think that is somewhat a failure on Canon's part...there's no reason the CRW shouldn't contain all the info on it's own. On the other hand, the CRW does at least contain the most important settings (ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focal length), so why couldn't RSE at least include that data in the output file? It has no problem reading that data and displaying it on screen while you are working on the image, so it should at least continue to use it. C1 has no problems doing this...if the THM is not present, it includes as much EXIF as is available in the CRW file.

The ugly:
Nothing. At first, I thought the EXIF problem above (bad #5) was ugly, but after figuring out the problem was caused by a missing THM file, I upgraded the problem to only bad.

In conclusion, I was quite happy with the workflow features of RSE. Keeping in mind the EXIF issue (which will hopefully get fixed...and until then, I'll be sure to keep the THMs and CRWs together), and being a bit forgiving of the slower image adjustment process (which will hopefully go away once I become accustomed to working in RSE), I am very happy with the results I got out of RawShooter Essentials. For now, I may continue to bounce between the C1 and RSE as I compare them in more detail, but at the moment I'm leaning a little towards moving to RSE for all of my raw conversions.

1 comment:

Another Bozo on the bus said...

A nicely written evaluation, I hope you don't mind if I link to you.