Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

 

The Art of Raw Conversion #012

 

Adobe Camera Raw 2.0 (part of Photoshop CS)

review by Uwe Steinmueller (11/05/2003)

 

 
 

In February 2003 Adobe released it's first raw converter "Camera Raw 1.0" as a Photoshop 7 plug-in. They announced at that time that the next version of Camera Raw will be part of the next Photoshop. Photoshop CS (aka 8) is now shipping and it is time to review the new Camera Raw 2.0.

Even if there are many changes and improvements we do not want to repeat what we said about the Camera Raw 1.0. Please read that detailed review to understand the basics of Camera Raw (ARC) as we will concentrate on the new features and the few changes.

We were part of the Adobe Photoshop CS preview team and use ARC 2.0 for some time now.

ARC 2.0 supports all the cameras that could be used with ARC 1.0 and some new popular ones too:

  • Canon 10D, 300D
  • Kodak 14n (support works fine although not official)

to name a few. As far as we understand Adobe will keep the support for new cameras current by providing updated versions of ARC 2.0 for free. This should not be a big deal as ARC 2.0 is still technically a CS plugin (don't expect it to work with older versions of Photoshop).

The layout of ARC has changed a bit. Mainly the histogram is now on the right side of the user interface (UI).

There are now two modes:

  • basic
  • advanced

We will only cover the advanced mode. We probably could live with basic mode most of the time but also don't get confused by the more options of the advanced mode.

The advanced mode offers 4 tabs with controls:

  • Adjust
  • Detail
  • Lens
  • Calibrate

We will discuss these tabs in more detail.

Adjust

This tab contains the most essential controls and they are very much like the ones in ARC 1.0. Please check our 1.0 review for the details.

The key operations of any raw converter are correction of white balance (WB) and exposure (EV). ARC 2.0 provides all the support you need for EV and WB.

Detail

This tab includes operations for sharpening and noise reduction. In difference to ARC 1.0 is that the noise reduction can be controlled by Luminance noise and color noise.

You also can set an option "Preview images only"

to prevent the converted files to be sharpened but still simulate sharpening in the ARC preview. This makes it easier to judge the image while using more sophisticated sharpening techniques later in Photoshop.

We actually have these settings all to zero as we sharpen later in PS (or select sharpen for preview only). We also leave noise reduction to more dedicated actions and tools.

Lens

This tab provides very unique tools:

  • Chromatic Aberration Removal
  • Vignetting

Some lower quality lenses but also prime lenses used with full frame sensors show mostly in the corners so called chromatic aberration (CA).

           

It shows at high contrast edges. One side will be green and the other side purple. ARC helps to remove (at least minimize) the effect with ease as the tool works in real time. The Panorama Tools also contain a CA filter but it is very slow and you have to manually try to find the right values. ARC 2.0 CA removal is simply first class and worth the price of the upgrade of CS alone if you get a lot of CA in your images.

We did not feel the need to use the Vignetting filter yet.

Calibrate

This is a tool that some will love and others may hate. Some raw converters control the colors for the different cameras by using standard camera profiles and even allow the users to replace the profiles (example Bibble and Capture One DSLR). This is a very powerful solution if you are able to get "good" (subjective) profiles. Creating your own profiles is not that easy and in our opinion better left to experts. But there are already third party profiles for tools like Capture One DSLR on the market.

ARC has hard coded the profiling done for all the cameras. The "Calibrate" sliders now allow to tweak the profiles defined by ARC. This is very powerful but you better know what you do. We will leave the settings mainly to the default (all 0) but also expect that some photographers will come up with useful settings for the different cameras. We would be pleased to share these settings with our readers.

File Browser Integration

The file browser integration of ARC 1.0 in PS 7 was very limited while the new file browser is optimized for ARC 2.0. This means that the FB will use ARC 2.0 to create thumbnails and preview images that use image specific settings and are processed by ARC 2.0 for all supported raw file formats (many).

To keep track of the settings in ARC 2.0 on a per image basis you have two options:

  • Use a small ARC database
  • have a XMP sidecar file per image

First we liked the database solutions better as it does not clutter the image directories with extra files. But this solution has one downside that you cannot have the same raw image in two different locations and maintain different settings for both of them. Why would you ever want to do that? Well, we tried to process one in B&W and the other in color. From now on we only use the sidecar file solution.

In the new file browser you can also apply raw settings from one file to other selected files:

You can either copy all settings or only selected properties (most important the WB).

You then can select the source for the setting that should be copied. Then all the settings will be applied to the selected files and the file browser will later reflect them in the new thumbnails and preview images.

This is a big workflow improvement. We would like to see an even tighter FB/ARC integration as we can find in Capture One DSLR.

What about Image Quality?

Color

We always liked the colors that we got from even ARC 1.0. Some complained that the images were soft if they used the default settings. We actually like that a raw converter produces slightly soft (not too contrasty) images as we then have some latitude to tune the contrast in PS (actually one of the best tools in CS is Shadow/Highlight with it's midtone contrast control). Again we like the the colors we get from the default hard coded profiles. But we are more into subjective pleasing colors than "true" colors.

Note: Please do not quote us on "skin tone" color as we hardly ever photograph people for our real work. Like the old Velvia was used by many landscape photographers but not for people photography.

Detail

We are not too much into finest details in our images and leave this judgment to other reviewers. ARC works very well for us.

Conclusion

Camera Raw has come a long way to become one of the dominating raw converters in the market. That it comes free with CS makes it hard to compete for other solutions as many serious photographers will upgrade to CS anyway. In terms of workflow we think that Capture One DSLR has still an edge for our personal work. But overall we are very pleased with ARC 2.0

Highly Recommended

 

 
 
 
 
   

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