Alternative Workflows: Working with Your Camera’s Own Software
While there’s no doubt that working with photo workflow software such as Lightroom or Capture One has changed the way most people work with photos, there are still people who prefer the old fashioned way of doing most of their processing in Photoshop. For some, the Bridge/Photoshop workflow is still their preferred method of work. Another method that is sometimes used is to work with the software supplied with your camera as a starting point, and then finish in Photoshop. For those used to working in Lightroom, this approach may appear clunky, but it does have some advantages. Lately I’ve been giving this workflow a try, and here are my thoughts.
What got me interested in trying this approach was some commentary that I was reading about the latest version of Nikon’s Capture NX-D. A few people that I follow on twitter had been saying positive things about it, so I thought I might give it a try. I had tried early versions of this application and I wasn’t impressed, so I didn’t have high expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.
This led me to think to myself: “why not try Canon’s software too?” I have lots of files from both a Canon 5D and 5D Mark II on my computer, so I thought that it would be interesting to see if there was any difference. Canon’s software, called “Digital Photo Professional”, currently in version 4 has some fans too, but to be honest, I’ve never really used it, so I was keen to give it a try.
As for Fuji’s software, “Raw File Converter EX”, I already have that installed, but on my computer it’s borderline unusable as it crashes constantly, so I won’t be talking about that here. Incidentally, both Fuji’s software and Nikon’s is made by Silkypix and both are quite similar in some respects, but the Nikon software seems far faster and more stable on my computer for whatever reason. It may well just be some kind of incompatibility with my ageing Mac Pro though, so you may have a different experience. As for Sony’s software, I haven’t tried it yet.
The Advantages & Disadvantages
I’ll get the disadvantages out of the way first! Both of these applications wouldn’t win any awards for their user interface design. They’re not exactly user friendly, and look like something you would have seen maybe 15 years ago in terms of application design. They are also not as fully featured as applications like Lightroom, and you are expected to export your photo as a tiff, jpeg or send to Photoshop. Overall, working with these applications is definitely slower than using a full featured workflow application.
I’ve also noticed that both of these applications are not as good as Lightroom or ACR when recovering highlights. The Canon software seems a little better, but Nikon’s isn’t very good. In order to properly recover highlights with Capture NX-D the best way seems to be to reduce the exposure and increase the shadow protection, as the highlight protection slider only seems to work with already visible data and gives a very poor result.
So why would you even consider using either of these then?
Well, it comes down to one thing in my opinion: Colour.
Even with the colour profiles in Lightroom (and Camera Raw) there is still a difference between Adobe’s interpretation of what a camera’s RAW files should look like and the manufacturers. By using the camera company’s own software, you will get the exact same results as you will from using the camera’s picture profiles. They use the same algorithms and so they will give you the same results.
I have found that the quality of Lightroom’s camera matching profiles varies wildly from camera to camera and brand to brand. Based on the camera’s I’ve used, Canon files are reasonably accurate, and Nikon images less so. Older cameras like my D700 are also more likely to be off than newer models, but it varies from model to model. Sony raw files are way off.
If you have ever found it frustrating that your images look different in terms of colour from what you saw on the camera, then this is a way of making sure you get the same results.
There are other advantages too. You will generally get any camera specific feature mimicked in the software, and they also offer manufacturer approved lens corrections and profiling. Of course the down side to this is that third party lenses won’t be supported. For example, in Nikon’s Capture NX-D, you have access to Nikon’s Active-D lighting control, the various picture controls and so on.
Canon’s DPP also lets you choose the various Canon picture profiles, including the customisation options. They both offer lens corrections and chromatic aberration correction that is flawless as far as I can see. They also offer the obvious things like white balance adjustment, curves and so on.
In terms of image quality such as sharpness, detail and so on, its hard to say if there is a massive difference, and it will depend on the camera. I found that images from my Nikon D700 processed in Capture NX-D were broadly similar to those I would get with camera raw or Lightroom. With files from my Canon 5D Mark II processed in DPP I think they were actually better than what I was getting in the Adobe converters. They seem cleaner and less noisy, and they definitely have less colour noise compared to the default ACR settings. As I said, one of the biggest issues with Adobe is the variation in quality of conversions from camera to camera.
Both applications also offer a kind of automated dust removal, based on capturing “dust off” data in the camera. I haven’t actually tried this mind you.
In terms of workflow, what Ive been doing is basically using the camera software to do the initial conversions, and then sending the image to Photoshop for additional processing. Both Nikon and Canon’s software offers a simple menu item or keyboard shortcut for sending the image you’re working on to Photoshop, and the process is quick and painless.
You can decide what to do in the Raw software and what to do in Photoshop, but generally, I do any base sharpening and noise reduction in the software, along with any exposure correction that you may want to do. I will also enable lens corrections, and if I want to experiment with different picture modes I will do that too.
Once in Photoshop, you have the full arsenal of Photoshop’s tools at your disposal. For some of the images I’ve used here, I duplicated the base layer, and then did some additional editing using Luminar as a plug-in in Photoshop. You can also use camera raw for additional processing too, by using camera raw as a filter. With this you can use creative profiles, or even apply grain or a vignette. You can also use it for things like upright and so on. Of course you can still use Lightroom with processed tiffs from either of these applications also.
Once I finished editing, I then saved these as a layered tiff, so that I have both versions. Basically, I’m using the manufacturer software as a replacement for Bridge/Camera Raw and then finishing in Photoshop.
Conclusion. Is it worth it?
So is this workflow worth it? Well, it really depends on your personal preferences. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone as a general purpose way of editing if you’re already using Lightroom. You can batch process with these, but if you want to do a lot of quick edits, it’s not nearly as fast as working with Lightroom or Capture One. It is considerably slower to process lots of images this way. I’m certainly not going to claim that you will get drastically better results than you would with Lightroom, Photoshop or Capture One for the most part either.
So why bother at all?
Well, you can get better results from time to time, but more importantly, you can get different results. So in my opinion, it is worth trying, especially if you are having trouble getting the colours just right in Lightroom or other software.
There’s one other benefit to these applications that I forgot to mention. They’re both free. (Although for Canon DPP you’ll need a Canon camera to enter the serial number from).
It’s easy to get blinkered into one way of working and not going outside the box, but there are always advantages to being flexible and trying different things. I have found that I have a lot of bad habits when I work with Lightroom, and I often end up processing in a certain way, or over-processing. This was another reason that I was keen to try these applications, because it was a way to take a step back and approach the editing process a little differently.
I always advocate trying lots of different things and finding what works for you, and having lots of tools in your creative toolbox is always a good thing as it allows you to approach a creative task from multiple angles.
And again, they’re free!
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