Suggested Software Followup

I had a lot of response to my recent Suggested Software article, enough so that some further comments are warranted.

First, some interpreted my four basic operations (ingest, catalog, convert, plug-ins) as a workflow. No, that’s not what I intended. Workflow still goes more like this:

  1. Plan
  2. Shoot
  3. Ingest
  4. Cull
  5. Convert
  6. Edit/Retouch
  7. Save
  8. Output (share, print, etc.)

Some products such as Lightroom cover multiple workflow steps, which is another reason why many people prefer the more all-in-one approach pioneered by Lightroom and Aperture. 

I use basically two software products in my workflow (more if you count plug-ins). You might use one or two or even three. The tricky part is finding the products that do the things you need doing the way you want to do them. No single product quite reaches that level. But Lightroom comes the closest, which is why it is still my Gold Standard suggestion.

Quite a few response were about DxO PhotoLab, and all positive. I’d agree. It’s one of three converters installed on all my computers (Adobe and CaptureOne are the others). DxO is a better choice than the others in two circumstances: you need more precise lens corrections, or you need better noise reduction (though note that DxO’s Prime noise reduction is slow).

One reader pointed out two asset management programs (cataloging/browsing) that are good if you’re not using Lightroom or another option: imatch (ironically, Windows only), and Photo Supreme (Windows and macOS). Both are better choices than Adobe Bridge, for sure, and may be all you need. Photo Supreme can even import Lightroom data (though there are some manual steps involved with this). 

Another reader pointed out that there are “easy” and “tough” conversions, and that one converter may be better than another depending upon the raw data being given it. I agree, totally. Adobe’s converters are generally better for the easier images, but once you find yourself getting near slidercide—moving some or many sliders great distances from their midpoint—there’s probably a converter that will do a better job. 

In particular, Adobe’s HSL sliders can be problematic, which means subtly adjusting color or dealing with a wild color can get tricky. It’s very easy in the Adobe converters to promote visible banding in a transitional area if you’re not aware of that (tip: one thing you can do is make sure adjacent sliders in the HSL panel are not way different; if you’re going to change an Aqua slider towards maximum, make sure the adjacent Green and Blue sliders are at least half way to that same point). Capture One does a far better job in dealing with subtle, but important color movements, in my opinion. 

Another point that comes up is layers. I long ago learned to work with layers and masking. Lightroom has brushes, but that’s a crude way of doing the same thing I do with layers and masks. This is similar to the “easy” and “tough” comment, above: if you just have an easy, single adjustment to make, brushes tend to work fine, as long as you know how to use all the tricks of the brush (even Lightroom now has a lot of control for this). It’s when you get into complex and multiple manipulations that layers come into play. DxO PhotoLab is a bit like the old Nikon Capture, where your best tool is the old U-point technology, which a lot of users like.

Photoshop is the granddad of layering. Affinity Photo has a pretty good imitation of that. Capture One has some useful layering. But I’ll be the first one to admit that using layers is sort of like learning calculus: a very advanced technique that takes time to wrap your brain around and master. If I’m doing an advanced, high-priced image for a client or going to print an image large, I spend the time to do the layering right. If I’m just doing things for more casual use—like on this Web site—I take lots of shortcuts and use a simpler approach. Most of you reading this don’t need layering, and most of the rest of you don’t need to truly master it. 

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