Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Image processing options

That I love photography is pretty much obvious to me and my sometimes exasperated family. I can spend hours taking pictures and an even longer time processing them as I am a firm believer in the need and usefulness of shooting in RAW format. An in-camera JPEG image is good enough if you have a good camera and have passing interest in the way the picture can be improved upon. As I am never happy with the camera's way of interpreting things, I require more control and hence require the image to be in its native state. That being said, the most I do is to correct curves, increase brightness and play around with contrast. There are very few occasions when I apply 'creative filters'.

The most popular image processing software by far is Adobe's Photoshop and Lightroom. These are paid software and even if I decided to buy them, they do not come packaged for the Operating System on my personal laptop - Linux. I use Linux not only because I feel it is a good enough operating system, but mainly because it is free and because I do not have to bother about viruses being downloaded into my system. My official laptop is loaded with the quintessential workhorse Windows XP.

Hence for post processing of my RAW files I use GIMP.

Which is also free.

Whether you use it on Windows or Linux.

I use a Nikon D90 and also use Nikon's own ViewNX software which is very efficient in extracting images from the camera and subsequently processing them. As the software is made by Nikon for Nikon cameras, the results of processing are very good. At least, that is my opinion. And ViewNX is free as well. However, ViewNX is a Windows only software. No, not even MacOS is supported.

I therefore have at least two ways in which I can process my RAW files, but have struggled with and continue struggling with the following questions:

  1. Which software should I freeze on?
  2. Which software gives the best results?
  3. If I decide on Windows, should I change over to a Windows OS for my personal laptop?

While I do not have an answer to all, I can illustrate why with the following example. The image in question is that of a Tawny Coaster (Acraea Terpiscore), a Nymphalid butterfly and pretty common in the place where I stay. The image is one that I have discussed in the previous post on this blog and was processed in ViewNX. This is the image

Today I tried to re-create the magic with GIMP. And I was pretty disappointed. Have a look below.

Before the image comes into the GIMP space, it is processed using a separate engine called UFRaw. UFRaw is another open source software that enables RAW files from a number of camera brands to be processed. I then tried the process by using what is called a colour profile. I obtained the D90 colour profile and ran the processing again. What I got subsequently is given below.

Much better is what I thought, but I found processing using ViewNX to be more intuitive and faster. The lower part of the image is looking overexposed (with reference to the first image of course). With a little practice I do not rule out GIMP giving better or much better results than ViewNX can.

Maybe I am used to ViewNX now. Maybe, Nikon knows best. Maybe, Open Source developers have to keep refining their tools. Coming back to my questions, I do have one answer. And that is, that by diligent practice and with a lot of patience GIMP gives good results if one has the colour profile for the camera being used. Of course, I do not have access to or the skills to use Photoshop and I am quite sure that a good Photoshop user will be able to work wonders with my image.

But whether I will stick to Windows or Linux and whether GIMP or ViewNX is the software I will stick too, I still do not have an answer.
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