Thursday, March 27, 2008

Review: RawShooter Premium (a.k.a. Professional)

I'll admit it, I'm starting to outgrow RawShooter Essentials. The biggest problem is it convolutes my workflow. If you don't know the term, photographic workflow is the process you use to get images from the camera to whatever final published state you desire. In a perfect world, your workflow will be efficient and yield high quality results every time. In reality, establishing an efficient workflow is difficult and a huge hassle.

Here is my current workflow which I've been using for the last six months:

  1. Take the memory card out of my camera and plug it into the reader on my computer. I can plug the camera into the USB port, but RAW files can't be imported with Picasa over USB.
  2. Use Picasa 2 to import the files. I've got it set up so all I need to do is type in a name and it automatically creates a folder based on the date in my Negatives folder along with a corresponding subfolder in my Processed folder. Picasa has great file organization and browsing abilities, but it hides a lot of functionality from you. For instance, if you import RAW files, it automatically runs an automatic exposure adjustment on it. The tools for RAW conversion, adjusting saturation, sharpening, etc leave a lot to be desired. And you can't apply a sharpening pass after you downsize. So I only use Picasa for managing my image folders now. It also uses a lot of memory so I hate having it open if I can avoid it.
  3. Fire up RawShooter Essentials (RSE) to make a first pass on the images. I delete the ones that didn't come out, mark the ones I like, experiment with RAW conversion adjustments to see if I can get the quality I want, etc. RSE is great for browsing images because it is super fast and responsive. You can also easily check the image sharpness at 100% pixels.
  4. Finish first pass of adjustments in RSE and convert. RSE has pretty good control over RAW conversion and it exports to 16 bit TIFFs if needed. I'll usually set exposure, white balance, add fill light, etc and apply a little saturation enhancement and noise reduction. Then I'll export the image into my processed folder at full resolution.
  5. Fire up Paint Show Pro XI to finish the adjustments. Usually rotation (if needed), cropping, noise reduction, clone/heal out dust spots, curves, saturation, resize, and sharpen, in that order. The really annoying thing is I can't crop or resize in RSE, so even for the quick snapshots which don't need much processing, I have to start up PSP XI (a pretty big program) to finish them.
  6. Save the finished images to my processed folder.

As you can see, this isn't the most streamlined process, and I've gotten to the point where I usually view the images in RSE then put off the rest of the workflow because it's so annoying. A side issue (which I'm not addressing right now) is I need a slightly better method of storing high-res edited images without cluttering my hard disk.

In a perfect world, I could combine steps 2-5 in the same piece of software. RSE is pretty efficient, but Picasa and PSP XI are pretty large and unwieldy. So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to check out the alternatives.

The obvious one (and the successor to RawShooter since Pixmantec was acquired by Adobe) is Lightroom, but it's really expensive ($300). Canon is providing Digital Photo Professional for free now (you'll need your old software to upgrade though) and I tried out v3.2 but the interface was very difficult and annoying to use, plus it is much slower than RSE. Another one that is really well regarded is Bibble. Bibble seems really good to me, but I'm going to wait a little bit and then give it a full 30 day trial to see if I want to pay the $70 for it.

And then there's RawShooter Premium (RSP). RSP is the pay version of RSE which adds a number of notable features (I'll get to those in a second) and is generally seen as one of the best RAW converters out there because of its interface (which is nearly identical to RSE). The problem is, Adobe bought Pixmantec and RSP went *poof* -- you can't get it any more, even though it used to be available for under $100. It has had some great reviews in the short time it was available though. There's also an optional Color Engine for RSP, but as far as I can tell, the CE is just some color presets and good luck getting it anyway! Note: the cracked version of RawShooter Premium had a trojan horse in it -- I don't recommend downloading it!

Oh, and did I mention, I managed to acquire a copy of RSP quasi-legally?

Before I get to that, let me mention a little tidbit about RSE. A lot of people get frustrated with the splash screen/"register me" dialogs that pop up when you run it. Well, turns out there's a solution to that, found in this thread, downloadable here. Just fire up that little program, and you'll never see that annoying thing again.

Back to RSP. I love RSE, so I hard to find a way to get RSP. Adobe has pretty much abandoned RawShooter in general, so you can't find any downloads or demos around. Since it is a dead piece of software, I didn't feel too bad about finding a "crack" for it. I'd never do that for a live piece of software like Photoshop, but I felt like I couldn't get RSP functionality anywhere else. I'm not going to give a link, but if you want to find it, Google "rawshooter premium crack" and look around. I found a version by ICU but the link appears to be gone now with others replacing it. Whatever you do, use an up-to-date virus scanner on the file before you open it! You don't really need much beyond the program, since the executable will create the necessary support directories and files (except the documentation).

And, I gotta say, damn it's good!

RSP adds the following functionality to RSE:
  • Importing files from memory cards. It includes support for automatic directory and file naming too.
  • Rotation and cropping. Finally. This is what I wanted most of all. A lot of times when I'm in the keep/not keep phase, I like to look at some possible crops of the image before I decide. Plus, I'll often forget how I want to crop the image between when I first look through the images and when I get to process them.
  • Levels and curves. Another huge one, because I like me a little bit of curves on most images.
  • Vibrance slider. This thing is really cool -- it immediately boosts the saturation appropriately, like a good slide film.
  • Compare images. Can't tell which shot is slightly better? Now you can put them side to side and compare them!
  • Resizing. Now I can set it to save JPEGs at the right resolution to immediately post on the blog!
I can now simplify my workflow in a huge way. The only downsides of RSP are that I can't do any cloning and the output isn't quite sharp enough for my web aesthetics (I think it applies the sharpen before the resize?). So most of my photos will still get a quick pass in PSP XI, but there's a big difference between what I was doing before and the simple sharpen and save process now.

Granted, for heavy editing, I still can't get away from PSP XI. Like isolating colors for saturation adjustment, spot editing, or high quality noise reduction. But I'm really happy with RSP because I'm already used to RSE and it adds a bunch of features that make my life easier.

There's other big problem though: RSP doesn't support any newer cameras like the 40D or 450D. So if I get a new camera, I'm completely out of luck. I think of RSP as a temporary measure, and soon I'm going to do a trial of Bibble to see if it will work for me. One thing about Bibble I'm really excited about is the built-in heal/clone tool. Bibble might allow me to avoid PSP XI for most images, which would be a great time-saver.


Anonymous said...
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hithesh said...

My work flow is exactly same as yours. But I am out of luck now since I switched to a 40D. At the same time, my RSP stopped working. Probably coz my anti virus found the trojan virus.
I don't like lightroom at all. I am gonna try Raw Therapee. Any other recommendations?

Sean said...

I recommend Bibble Pro.

I've been using it for a while, and once you figure it out, it is way more powerful than RSP.