Raw Processing Appetizers

by Steve Simon

At the recent PhotoPlus Expo show in New York City, one of the many seminars was something a little different. Entitled: Iron Chef Raw Processing—the format was similar to the popular cooking show.

Moderated by Photoshop/Lightroom guy Andrew Rodney, it was a competition that gave the audience a chance to see four RAW processors in action: Aperture, Capture One, Bibble and Lightroom, all in real time.

Dennis Reggie and Vincent Laforet supplied the RAW files and “a representative of each RAW converter manufacturer will have 15 minutes to process the images, with feedback from the photographers.”


As it turned out, 15 minutes was more than enough time for each of the programs to do their magic, and though I had my biases, I kept an open mind and was really looking forward to seeing the others process RAW files.

went first, together Vince Laforet and Apple’s Martin Gisborne took the audience through the process of finessing Vincent’s aerial shot of the New York Chrysler Building photographed from a helicopter at sunset.

Martin showed off the Exposure Slider first but ended up using the Highlight-Shadow Sliders to do most of the work, making more subtle changes with the Advanced Tab activated and the Radius Slider lightening and darkening the mid-tones.

Then, dealing with color, the blues were massaged using all four Blue Color Sliders, partly to demonstrate their effect to the audience, which was made up of serious shooters paying more than 100 bucks to see the differences in the programs and make up their own minds.

Finally, a little Edge Sharpening for this very angular image and a new version of the master image was made and the before and after were then displayed in full screen glory.

As an Aperture loyalist, I took pride in the fact that however you sliced it, all the things that attracted me to Aperture were reinforced in the demo. Aperture would set the bar at a height that would be tough to come close to particularly in ease of use and elegance of interface.

When Dennis Reggie who was not an Aperture user brought his images up to the table, he was genuinlly surprised in how fast and how good the challenging wedding image he had chosen (mixed lighting, white dress and overall high contrast) looked, after it was imported into Aperture and came up on screen --even before a few minor adjustments were made.

When I chose Aperture, I stopped looking at the other guys, so I was looking forward to seeing other processors in a real workflow situation. I had heard a lot of good things about Capture One, with regards to image quality, though in this competition it was not as impressive. Its interface was dated, though the new interface of version 4.0 which is available as a free beta download looks strikingly familiar to regular viewers of this blog.

Bibble turned out to be the big surprise in the competion. I have heard of it of course but I never really looked further. Turns out it has some very innovative features that impressed the photographers on stage and the audience as well. The interface is not so pretty, but it has Noise Ninja built right in as it’s noise reduction tool, a very cool black and white conversion tool that simulates 20 film and paper combos of old, a feature named Gina, that is directed purely toward fixing skin tones and a kind of auto levels control called Perfectly Clear, which seemed to do miracles on a file with one click of the mouse.

The wow factor was obvious as both Vincent and Dennis seemed to be looking at this software for the first time as were many. It was nice to see a relatively small company step up to the table with such impressive features.

Lightroom went last with sliders like Clarity and Vibrance and Fill Light (which is similar to Shadow/Highlight in Aperture) and a great black and white conversion tool, all of which is also available in Photoshop and Camera Raw 4.

As an Aperture user I felt really good leaving the room. It reaffirmed my decision to choose Aperture and get on with my photographic life. The final prints were kicked out of an Epson Printer from Photoshop and they all looked good, but again, Aperture was at or near the top in my unscientific sampling of popular opinion.

In the end, it was stated that there is no perfect raw converter for every person or every file and like lenses in your bag, for professionals whose living is made with their images, they might want to have different Raw Converters to process different images.

When you have a special image sold for advertising and thousands of dollars are on the line, playing around with different converters is worth the investment in time and money.


David Medina
2007-10-25 08:04:08
I do love Aperture, but unfortunetaly I have been forced to use Lightroom for my RAW conversion. Not because Lightroom is ant better, as far as I am concerned they both do great job, but because Lightroom wins in the speed department. Aperture, even in my new MACPRO (which I bought specifically to run Aperture) moves very sluggish. The crop tool is worthless. Because of that my Aperture experience is sort of frustrating.

So, I am currently using LR to edit and convert my RAW files but use Aperture when I do my album design because of the Light Table.

Ellen Anon
2007-10-25 08:39:22
David, if you are finding Aperture to run sluggishly, is it possible that you're trying to optimize images while Aperture is trying to generate previews in the background? If you turn off the option to automatically create previews in the Prefs, I think you'll find Aperture running much faster.
Juergen Bosch
2007-10-25 10:50:55

I assume you are not running low on RAM ? 4GB is what I've been using and I'm not at all a professional photographer. On my MacBookPro with only 2 GB it's a bit slower than on my desktop.

2007-10-27 09:39:22
Pity DxO's Optics Pro wasn't included in the shoot-out. I've been using it (lightly) for a while and would be interested to see how it fares against some of the "competition".
2007-10-29 04:58:30
I've owned Bibble for the entire ver 4. as much as it has its fans, I simply cannot wrap my head around that GUI. As much as I want to like Bibble I find it slows me down trying to get the GUI out of my way to let me do my tweaks.

Aperture has all that Apple design GUI which makes it so much easier to get things done. I only wish it would run as fast as I can recall the keyboard shortcuts.