Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

The Art of Raw Conversion #018

 

Pixmantec "RawShooter essentials"

(Windows only as of now)

review by Uwe Steinmueller

 
 

In German/Deutsch (translated by Martin Ziaja)

Index

 
 
 

In November 2002 we had the very first review of Capture One and time has proven that Capture One was a very influential raw converter as all the other converters played catch up. As of now Capture One is still a very fine raw converter but Camera Raw, Canon DPP and Bibble are getting close.

Today we introduce the first version of a completely new raw converter: the Pixmantec RawShooter essentials (RSE)". We think that this will also mark a new milestone for raw converters. You have probably never heard of Pixmantec and be skeptical how they will be able to challenge the current well established raw converters. There is one very strong indicator: the same developer who originally created Capture One (Michael Jonsson) is one of the founders of Pixmantec and architect of RSE. RSE is based on a completely new architecture/design to build tools for photographers. RSE is the first step to create new photographer's tools by Pixmantec.

If you work with RSE you will realize that the design goals were:

  • World class raw conversion
  • Simplicity
  • Easy workflow
  • Photographer centric (means intuitive use for photographers)

We personally regret that there is currently no Mac version available. These are business decisions which we do not plan to comment. We still hope for all Mac users that there maybe a version with this technology in the future.

Disclosure: We work as beta testers for Pixmantec.


RawShooter essentials


RawShooter essentials

RSE looks like a very basic and simple application. Don't get fooled as simplicity is a priority design goal and way harder to make than bloated applications.

RSE will be for a limited period of time available for free. The only thing you need to do is to register your application. Sounds like a strange business model, right? The idea behind this is that as many as possible users give RSE a try and then decide to buy the next version that will add more workflow and imaging features. For the record, we start now using RSE as our main raw converter. This means that RSE indeed contains most "essential" features that we would expect from any good raw converter.

Camera raw formats used in our preview:

  • Canon D30, D60, 10D, 20D, 300D, 1D, 1D Mk. II, 1Ds, 1Ds Mk. II, Pro 1
  • Nikon D100, D70, D2h, Coolpix 8700
  • Olympus E1, E300
  • Konica Minolta A2, 7D
  • Adobe DNG

Note: The Pixmantec data sheet mentions some cameras that are right now not supported (e.g. Fuji and Kodak). Maybe in future releases.

Note: We used the RSE on a couple of thousand raw files from many different cameras.


Getting Started (setup)

Note: Even if we cover a lot of details this is not a manual or tutorial. Although most users of other raw converters should find their way after reading this article.

 

After the installation you have to register and RSE is ready to go. There is not a lot to setup but we did the following:

 

  • Select the "Batch convert" tab.
  • RGB Working space: We use either 8bit Adobe RGB or 16 bit ProPhoto RGB
    • All as shown on the screen shot
    • This is the first raw converter that we use with sharpening "on". Later we may only add some minor sharpening with EasyS
    • You can also open the converted files directly into Photoshop. We don't use it most of the time as we have a different browser watching the folder with the converted files
    • You can also use own camera profiles. We think the internal profiles are quite good. This article will not feature how to use own profiles but RSE fully supports such profiles and their creation process (see preferences).
Note: Select the the .EXE file and not the shortcut: e.g. Photoshop.exe from the Photoshop folder.
  • Open the "Naming and output location dialog"

  • We have a special folder for all converted files

The RAW File Browser

Note: As the name says this is a browser for raw files only.

The raw file browser supports quite a few features. First you can select from 5 layouts that you can switch on the fl. We use option #5 in film strip mode:

Our main layout looks like this:


Viewing option #5 with film strip mode

On the left you find the folder browser and the favorites list:

At any time you can add a folder to the list of favorites (either right context menu or via drag/drop). Favorites are crucial to get fast to your last projects.

Once you select a folder RSE will start to create previews and thumbnails. RSE is probably very fast but still using folders with many large raw files will take some time. There are two indicators in RSE that the preview building is still in progress:


Busy wheels


Window top border shows how many previews are still to be created

Once the previews have been created the workflow is pretty fast. The film strip area allows to organize your images in different priorities:


Film strip

There are 8 tabs on top:

  • All images in the folder
  • All flagged images in the folder
  • All images that have no priority and are not marked for deletion
  • Images of priority 1, 2 or 3 (you can easily tag all files)
  • Recently processed images
  • Images marked for deletion (if you then finally delete them they are gone for good)

The film strip toolbar allows to control the appearance:

  • Size of the thumbnails
  • Sorting order (name or date)

  • Finally delete the images marked for deletion

For any single image you can perform the following operations on the thumbnails:

  • Flag image
  • Set priority 1, 2 or 3
  • Mark for deletion
  • rotate by 90 degrees left or right

Once we have selected a folder and want to work on a single image we use the full image view (TAB toggles between both views):


Work view

You can scale the image up to 800%. 100-400% are pre defined settings:

RSE allows to conveniently toggle between "fit View" and the last selected zoom level by using "Shift + TAB".

If you work with zoom levels the navigator panel helps to find the right spots:

Here are the controls for the main view:

  • Zoom level
  • Fit to screen
  • Zoom presets
  • Hand tool (better use the space bar)
  • Show under/overexposure warning colors (can also be activated on demand using the Ctrl key)

Preview Size

Unlike Capture One RSE provides full sized previews for all cameras. Working with 100% views or larger is also much more convenient than in Capture One (check out the slide show - see below).

Deletion Workflow

Deleting files is a much needed and critical process. In RSE you can mark files for deletion on a folder by folder basis. Once you have marked all files that you want to delete for a certain folder you can revisit all these files in the "marked for deletion" tab (e.g. present them in a slide show - see below). To undelete a file just uncheck the deletion mark on the thumbnail pane. Once you are certain that you want to delete the files click on the waste basket icon and remove the images for good (they won't show up in your system waste basket).

Important Keyboard Shortcuts

  • TAB: toggle browser to image view
  • Ctrl: show overexposure indicator colors
  • Ctrl+TAB: toggle between zoom and fit size view
  • Alt+E: Auto exposure (good start)

Image Corrections

All the correction tools are on one "Correct" tab:

All essential image corrections fall into the following categories:

  • White Balance (WB)
  • Exposure and Tonality
  • Color tuning
  • Sharpness and detail
  • Noise handling

Future versions of RS (RawShooter) will most likely feature also:

  • Moire removal
  • Chromatic Aberration (CA) handling
  • .......

The "Correct" toolbar:

From left to right:

  • Apply settings to other selected images
  • Activate WB gray balance tool (we just use shift+click instead)
  • Set WB to "as shot" in camera"
  • Auto WB and auto exposure. Auto exposure often provides a good starting point (Alt+E)

  • Back to last settings
  • Forward to last active settings

Because we are here at some undo/redo feature it is a good place to show a very powerful RSE tool: Snapshots


You can create as many snap shots as you like and all these snapshot settings are stored for later use.

Note: RSE stores all image settings in a sub folder with the name: ".RWSettings" and all settings files have the file name with the suffix "*.rws".

Note: We only use appearance "Flat look" as we think this provides us the most control. Don't worry RSE allows you easily to bring a "flat" image to life.


Setting White Balance (WB)


WB by Colder/Warmer


WB by color temperature

White balance works as usual. The key correction methods are via color temperature or clicking on a light neutral gray object (don't use overexposed white areas). The color temperature is by default set to make the colors colder/warmer. You can change this method in the preferences to sliders using absolute color temperature. We actually like the default colder/warmer method because we think that WB is in most cases a very subjective decision.

We found that "as shot" WB is often very good. We also like to photograph a gray card or Color Checker and use the gray balancing eye dropper. We are just missing some predefined and user WB presets.

Note: The navigator pane will show how the image would look like if you would click the WB eye dropper at the current position.


Exposure and tonality

Besides WB that you need for good colors exposure and tonality controls are key to get a good photographic look in your images. RSE has different controls and we first had to learn hot to use them. Most raw converters support controls that are in principle a variant of levels and curves. Here RSE works differently. They actually operate adaptive (pixels are evaluated in their scene context, more like the Photoshop Shadow/Highlight tool). It seems actually more complicated to describe than to experience yourself.

To get the best out of your image you have to find the best setting for all four sliders:

  • Exposure compensation
  • Fill Light
  • Shadow contrast
  • Highlight contrast

Keep in mind that it is best to make use of all 4 sliders and to avoid the extremes. You should mainly do a visual correction but RSE also show supporting histograms (3 types, click to change the display type):

We like to use the version #1. On the top you also find three indicators for the highlights and shadows. They signal whether a certain channel is clipped. In our sample about the blue channel is clipped in the highlights.

The best way to learn using the controls is to play with your own images. We have seen stunning improvements. The only attribute that we find to describe the results is: "more 3D like look"

Here some first guidelines:

Note: All values can be entered numerically. If you click the cursor in one of the fields you can use the mouse scroll wheel for fine adjustments.

  • Exposure compensation: Is your image to bright then tone down the EV. If it is to dark try first Fill Light to brighten the image
  • Fill Light: For most images it is a good idea to stay below a value of 50. Consider sometimes to lower EV and then to turn Fill Light up. Fill light will also help to open up your shadows.

    Note: For low contrast images we leave the slider to 0.
  • Shadow contrast: More likely to tune up to get more depth and contrast (punch).
  • Highlight contrast: Here you can tone down aggressive highlights

Again these four sliders work hand in hand. You should always work with all of them.


Sample 1


Dull overcast shot (Canon 1D Mk. II)


RSE settings


Result

The Fill Light feature is a key tool for working on your images.


Sample 2


Typical shot with deep shadows (Canon 1Ds Mk. II)


Corrections


Corrected

We spent before a lot of time getting the right tonality for this image (both in the raw converter and then masking in Photoshop). Took about 30 seconds in RSE (no kidding).


Sample 3


Overexposed Canon 1D Mk II shot


Corrections


Corrected

We hope the corrected photo shows why we wanted to take the picture in the first place.


Saturation and Hue

Here you can do minor saturation and hue tweaking. We have both sliders most of the time set to zero.


Sharpness and detail

Hard to say how RSE reaches its level of very natural sharpness. Both top of the class debayering and normal sharpening are involved.

  • Sharpening: We normally leave it to 0. Zero does not mean that RSE does not sharpen but this level is considered to get a very natural sharpness with low sharpening artifacts. We use RSE at this level 0 and the do final minor sharpening in EasyS.
  • Detail extraction: This allows the user to set the RSE bias for fine detail or noise. The finer detail you want the more also fine noise will be undetected and vice versa.

Here is a sample comparison to our previous favorite for detail rendering Capture One:


Full 1Ds image 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, tripod, mirror lockup


100% magnification with C1 + strong EasyS sharpening


100% magnification with RSE + very light EasyS sharpening

It is amazing how images look if they come directly from RSE with sharpening level at 0 (remember this does not mean there was no sharpening). Images have some sort of more 3D natural look.

Note: The goal of RSE is not that you would not be able to get nearly the same results with other raw converters and sophisticated work in Photoshop. The key point is that it is easy, fast and good from just RSE.


Noise reduction

Actually removing noise is easy. We hear you yelling :-). But removing noise and keeping detail is the real challenge. Even more difficult is to also do noise removal in near real time.

Honestly we have not played enough with RSE for a final judgment and also do not use that many high ISO shots. But RSE maybe the first raw converter that will be good enough for most of our photos without third party noise removal tools.

The developer of RSE had to invest a lot of work into noise removal as the tonality feature allows to brighten shadows a lot. This operation is also pulling out the noise which is mostly in the shadows. Opening up shadows needs good noise removal. The two sliders deal with the two most common types of noise:

  • Luminance noise
  • Shadow noise

We will use the noise removal too in our sample session below.


Batch Processing

Once you have set all parameters you can add this image to the batch queue. The processing is then done in the background while you work on the next image.

At any time you can watch the batch queue and add, stop or remove batch jobs.

Sample session

This is a sample shot and really of any artistic value:


1Ds at ISO 160

We find the shadows a bit too dark and used the RSE tonality sliders to open them up.


Opened shadows

But open shadows also means more noise:


200% magnification

This called for some RSE noise reduction:


Reduced noise

This sample was only intended to get you started with your own images. Don't overdo the noise reduction.

Slide Show

There is also another nice feature: a slide show. The slide show is useful for two purposes:

  • View your pictures
  • Set priorities and tag files for deletion


Slide show


Controls


Timing and transitions

The slide show maybe the best way for an initial preview of your images.

Note: Best you wait till all previews for that folder are generated as otherwise the slide show can be slow.


Some items on our wish list

  • Tool to remove Chromatic Aberrations (CA) and purple fringing. RSE reduces it already to some degree
  • Default settings per camera and even ISO
  • 100% desaturate for easy B/W mode
  • Use of different profiles per snapshot
  • Copy/Paste of settings via clipboard

Remember this is the first introductory offering of RawShooter. We hopefully see many future evolutions with even richer feature sets.


Conclusion

We think that the new Pixmantec raw converters are a very welcome development. RSE shows how a state of the art raw converter should function. We go so far to say that this is the raw converter to beat if it comes to image quality and workflow. We also like the speed and ease of use.

RSE will hopefully also help photographers in their transition to RAW.

Highly Recommended (*)

(*) Of course not only because RSE is free right now.

 

You can download RawShooter essentials from here.

 


3/18/2005 RawShooter essentials 1.1.1 released


4/7/2005 RawShooter essentials 1.1.2 released

The version 1.1.2 is ready for free download from Pixmantec.

Check which problems are fixed and which cameras are supported from readme file.

Read our original preview.

 


5/27/2005 RawShooter essentials 1.1.3 released

The version 1.1.3 is ready for free download from Pixmantec.

The main new features are improved copying of settings (via Ctrl+c/v) and a preview cache that allows faster comparison of 2-4 images (depends on the preference settings). The speed of preview generation was improved as well as bug fixes and other improvements.

Check which problems are fixed and which cameras are supported from readme file.

Read our original preview.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
   

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