Saturday, April 19, 2008

Review: Bibble 4.9 Pro

I've been evaluating Bibble 4.9 Pro for a little over a week (ever since I found a trojan in RawShooter) and I'm ready to provide a mini-review for those of you considering the switch. Honestly, I like it a lot, although it has a pretty nasty learning curve and I found it necessary to watch the Advanced Workflow video to figure out how things work. Now that I've gotten used to it, I find it more powerful than RawShooter Premium but slower and less intuitive.

In particular, it isn't nearly as easy to figure out as RawShooter. Even now, after I feel like I know how to use it (and I've run a few image sets through it), I still don't fully understand how it switches between the various layout modes using F6-F9. I almost feel like the interface has some bugs in it, but it may be I just don't understand the modality of the UI. On the bright side, the user interface is highly customizable with tons of hot keys so once you learn it, it can be quite efficient.

The other major annoyance is the speed. RawShooter is optimized to let you zoom through images near-instantly no matter what you are doing in the background. When I first switched to Bibble, I noticed a huge difference in speed. Getting the extra 2GB of RAM helped a ton by eliminating the thrashing I was experiencing with 1GB. After all, Bibble was using half of the available memory! I wouldn't recommend running Bibble with 1GB of RAM unless you are able to close all other programs while you work. With the extra RAM, I find Bibble only marginally slower than RawShooter.

There's a bunch of little things in Bibble that really make the upgrade worth it to me. The lens correction tab (pictured above) includes chromatic aberration support and a vignette tool, letting you apply a vignette without leaving Bibble! It also has better noise reduction, highlight recovery (which I haven't spent a lot of time with, but like the idea in theory), spot healing (which I've had very little need for but it should be great for getting rid of sensor spots), and a ton of special effect plug-ins which I haven't even touched yet.

In particular, the features I like the most are Work Queues and Batch Queues.

Work Queues are image grouping constructs that let you create arbitrary lists of images from anywhere on your disk. This is the same idea as albums in Picasa, but with a more powerful image editing backbone. I can create a queue (for instance: the images for my son's baseball team), add to it as I get more images, then easily find the whole group later on if I need to convert them. Work queues also give me a method of binning and organizing my processing stream, which is great because I often get interrupted/distracted while post-processing.

Sadly, work queues are only available in the Bibble Pro version ($130). But the extra $60 would be well worth it to me. The pro version also includes tethered shooting (not very useful), advanced Noise Ninja support (if you purchase Noise Ninja for $35+), IPTC editing (could be useful), and multi-core processor support (useful to me).

Batch Queues are the second, really great thing about Bibble. Batch queues are like streams in C++ -- you throw data in (images) and the batch queue takes care of all the output processing automatically based on your configuration. For instance, there are batch processes for full size images, proofs, downloading images from your memory card, and even automatic creation of a web gallery. So, say I'm working with the pictures for my son's baseball team: once I've created the work queue and applied quick edits and crops to all images, I can drag all the images to the web gallery batch queue to automatically generate a web page gallery! A week later, if the coach asks me for a CD with the full size images on them, I just drag the images to the JPEG full size queue and burn the resulting images to disk.

Batch queues are highly customizable and I've already created a queue for blog images. Let me tell you, it is so much easier to let Bibble resize, saturate, reduce noise, etc. all in one step instead of my previous workflow. It makes blogging images almost painless!

Finally, I should mention the improved noise reduction. By it's nature, noise reduction should be applied before any curves/exposure adjustment to allow the software to analyze the true sensor noise. Normally, this would take an export to the noise software then an import back into the image manipulation software, but with Noise Ninja built in, Bibble can do it all at once. Although I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, the default noise algorithm in Bibble does a better job than that in RawShooter or PSP XI. And registered Noise Ninja support allows me to take noise processing a step farther if I want to.

My one major complaint about Bibble is that there is no support for a final sharpening pass after images are resized. Maybe I just haven't found it yet though.

When I post an image on my blog, I like another hit of USM independent of RAW conversion sharpening. For now, I have Bibble automatically push the images to PSP XI where I can apply that sharpening. It doesn't take very long, and with the new memory, running PSP isn't that bad. But it'd still be nice if one of these programs gave an option for a second pass of sharpening at the output resolution.

Aside from that, I'm really leaning toward purchasing Bibble Pro. And, if I buy it now, I'll get a free upgrade to 5.0! But before I buy, I need to evaluate Lightroom, so I'll probably wait until Bibble's trial runs out and then give Lightroom a solid try before I purchase.

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