Friday, 26 October 2012

Details! Details! - part two

Following on from my hurried post at lunchtime... the story so far; a friend ask me for some DSLR raw files so he can run a test with them on upcoming software. He can't tell me any more than that and would prefer some shots from a variety of cameras, preferably pictures that are challenging in some respect.

Fast forward to this morning when Drew Gardner posted several examples of pictures, some of which I took, processed with Adobe's Lightroom 4 and also the newly launched Capture One 7. It was an "out of the box" test which aimed to garner an impression of the differences between the two software offerings rather than a serious exploration of the full capabilities of each.

He has since sent me a couple of the processed frames so that I might make my own observations on them. Firstly we have these two shots from an ambush in Afghanistan in 2006. The light was fading fast and I was crashing upwards through the iso of my 5D mkI as we fought for our lives in a total encirclement whilst on patrol with the soldiers of 16 Air Assault (3rd Parachute regiment and Royal Irish).

Here is Lightroom's version, with no changes or adjustments.

And here is the version from Capture One - 7

The first thing to note is that they both look way better than the in-camera JPEG that I used at the time (I always shoot RAW +JPEG although often, on deadline, it's the in-camera JPEG that I have to send to publications due to time constraints). Lightroom has produced a more saturated, slightly yellow/cyan shift which whilst not faithful to the original, does look good. At first, the area to the lower right of the picture, where an Afghan National Army soldier was crouching, appears more clearly. But on closer inspection it has markedly less detail than the C1 interpretation although it does a better job of holding the green colour in the undergrowth.

The default noise reduction in LR4 seems just a bit too aggressive and it seemed to be glossing over details in favour of smoothness. But the foreground figure of the running soldier has lost all detail n his left arm in the LR4 version and consequently much of the urgency of the picture is gone.

On Drew's blog there are several examples that I have not yet got from him. So this one-shot comparison is not altogether conclusive. But his piece makes the very valid point that details do seem to be getting lost in LR4 and the balance between sharpness and smoothness seems to be out of kilter.

Whilst it is almost impossible to do a like for like comparison I would point out a few strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches.

LR4 has very good highlight detail retention, markedly better than the samples from CO7 so if you habitually over expose your pictures and need to recover, that is something worth bearing in mind. Colour faithfulness and overall crispness cuts the other way; with CO7 the clear winner in Drew's test by such a huge margin as to be a little disturbing.

However, there is the NIK question. Many photographers I know have come to rely on the NIK plug-ins for many of the fine colour adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and localised retouching that would otherwise be done in photoshop. These tools are a godsend and reduce further work in photoshop and overall post processing time. Capture One has never been compatible with these plug-ins (which are available for Aperture, Lightroom, Photoshop) and while they are not cheap, the fact that  CO7 cannot use these tool in pre-acquire is likely to be a factor for many who are looking for a one-stop solution.

Still, I'll say it again, the amazing level of detail and colour accuracy means that all my high-end output will be routed through Capture One 7 for the foreseeable future.