Friday, 24 January 2014

My Workflow for X-Trans RAW Processing

I was using Lightroom since its first iteration and it worked well with all my cameras and files. Until I acquired Fujifilm X-Pro1. I quickly realized that ACR demosaicing (Lightroom's raw de-coding engine, same as in CS/Photoshop) is not the best choice for x-trans raw files.
There are much better raw converters on the market, but Lightroom is still, arguably, the best digital asset management system. I was asking myself, how can I combine the power of LR asset management with the best demosaicing algorithms? After spending hours of testing of various configurations I finally came up with the workflow that works well for me and my x-trans raw files. I am using it for 4 months now and feel comfortable to share with you.

All logos are property of their respective owners.

I will illustrate my workflow using LR+Iridient Developer integration, albeit the same integration works well with Capture One Express,  Aperture or Photo Ninja. As the matter of fact I have all of them and they all are integrated into the same workflow.
Here is my setup and step by step instructions.
My workflow always starts and ends in Adobe Lightroom.

So why Lightroom? I chose this particular product as my main Digital Asset Management system for many reasons but mostly because the combination of:
  1. Excellent raw support. LR is the only one DAM system that reads all my raw files even as old as 1993 Kodak DSLR (one exception is Foveon)
  2. Excellent cataloguing tools (key wording, tags, flags, collections, etc) and super fast search  
  3. Platform independency (well at least it works on PC and Mac) 
  4. Excellent integration with CS, 3rd party filters and plugins (NIK, Topaz, DxO, etc)
  5. Excellent adjustments tools (H/S recovery is probably the best) and tons of presets available
Before we go further I should mention my file structure. I have main folder called "Photography" which contains everything that is related to photography - all my photo files, catalogues, software version, presets, plug-ins, etc. Everything I need is in one place and easy to back up. If my main computer fail I can attach the back up copy to any other computer (PC or Mac) and my studio will be up and running in minutes.


All my raw files (including scans) are stored on the hard drive simply in date folders (I will explain the purpose of Auto Import folder later). I don't create any special file names or special folders for events, locations or people. Once the original file is imported from camera/card to the hard drive I never touch it again in Finder (Explorer) and do the rest in LR. The search is based on key wording, tagging and rating and images are grouped in Collections by locations, events or projects. Even if I need to delete the file I use Lightroom.

OK, back to my workflow. Here is high level logical flow chart:




As I mentioned the process always starts and ends in the Lightroom. Most of the time I am OK with ACR demosaicing results but sometimes I prefer other raw converters, especially for Fujifilm X-Trans raw files.

In order to integrate Lightroom with external raw converter(s) I had to make two small modifications.

1. Lightroom doesn't export raw files directly to another program. There are several ways how you can deal with this issue but I decided to go with the product called OpenDirectly. This is an LR plugin that can send any file including raw directly from LR Library to another external program of your choice.

2. I turned Auto Import option on and set up a receiving folder for files coming back from  my external program(s)


Now lets see how it works in real life.

Let's say I just imported _DSF8879. raf file and after close inspection I decided to process it with Iridient Developer. Why? Because I believe that any x-trans image with tons of small details and leaves can only benefit from processing outside of ACR :)

Go to Library->Plugin Extras -> Open Directly and choose Iridient Developer. As you see I can send selected raw file to my other favourite external programs. OpenDirectly is very easy to configure.



OpenDirectly not just passes the file to external program but also opens program's main interface.

Every modern raw converter comes with  comprehensive set of tools. You can do H/S recovery, WB adjustments, sharpening, etc. Lots of tools but not everything that I need. For example, none of my converters have perspective control. So usually I do only basic "developing" leaving final adjustments for Lightroom.

In this particular case not much tweaking is required so I can simply apply My_Standard preset. You can download it from here. This preset pulls shadows and adds some sharpening.


Now I just need to save the output file (always as 16 bit TIFF) in Auto Import folder and close Iridient Developer.

But what if you have more than one external raw converter?

I am always saving output files from various converters in the same Auto Import folder but using different file names. The above file would be saved as

_DSF8879_Aperture.tiff if created in Apple Aperture
or
_DSF8879_C1.tif if created in Capture One Express

It is easy to define a default custom name in Aperture and Capture One but it is a bit tricky with Iridient.

You have to go to the Batch Window



set your custom file name, I chose _ID


set your default save folder


and from now on you just need to click on "Batch Process Selected Image(s)" when you are ready to save the file. The processed file will appear in Auto Import folder as _DSF8879_ID.tif




Now I can go back to LR, Develop module and make final adjustments (apply filters, crop, correct perspective etc.)



My last step is Publishing. I am using tiff file only for printing purposes and creating a variety of smaller jpegs to publish photo on the web or to send emails. Well actually the last step is a backup :)

I tested this workflow on PC and everything works fine. Obviously you will not have Iridient Developer or Aperture but you can use Capture One Express or Photo Ninja and they will do the trick with excellent demosaicing.

* Capture One (Express and Pro) can also import your existing LR catalogue. I think this is very important considering how aggressively Adobe is moving its services into the cloud subscription*

My workflow might not be perfect but it works well for me.

That's all for today and thanks for dropping by,

vkphoto






11 comments:

  1. Do you move finished images from the Auto Import folder back to the original folder before working on them?

    Thanks,
    Gil

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I keep all of them in the same Auto Import folder :) As I mentioned, all management is done in LR via collections. It took me a while to change the mindset.

      Delete
    2. And what if, after several years, the LR will not continue and you will have to use another software? It has already happened in the history. Then you will have one folder with million photos?

      Delete
    3. Auto Import folder is created for each year, for 2013 I have ~350 files.
      If Adobe move LR to the cloud, I will export my LR catalogue to Capture One and keep the same file/folder structure.

      Delete
    4. If you first import your raw file into LR won't adobe camera raw process the file poorly and transfer this into C1?

      Delete
  2. Thanks! This is a really neat post -- I have Iridient for my fuji X stuff but it always was a pain to use -- but OpenDirectly works like a charm!

    ReplyDelete
  3. If you first import your raw file into LR won't adobe camera raw process the file poorly and transfer this into C1

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You passing the actual RAW file with no LR/ACR processing.

      Delete
    2. I didn't know LR 5 could do that. I thought it had to process the .raf file at the time it imported it.

      Wouldn't it be simpler to import the .raf file from the computer to C1, have C1 process it and then transfer it as a .tiff to LR 5?

      Delete
    3. Well, I am not processing all .raf files in external converters (C1, ID, etc). Sometimes LR demosaicing results are just fine.

      Delete