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July 17, 2007 meeting notes:
In July, we took a gander at the free program that comes with all Canon cameras that have raw files as an optional output. Its called Canon Digital Photo Professional. From what I'd read about it, I had hoped for more power than I found. The advantage to using any raw converter like this is that any adjustments made to a raw file will not damage the output. The original raw data always stay in-tact. Your adjustments can and should be saved as a .vrd "recipe" file. To do this you have to go to the Edit menu dropdown, not the usual File menu. Raw Shooter Essentials and Adobe Camera Raw also have separate files that cling somehow to your actual photo files so it can remember and thumbnail display your adjustments.
The first thing that pops up when you open the program is the thumbnail view of the last folder you worked on. If it was on flash card since removed, then it defaults to your Desktop folder. The raw thumbnails are sharp, their jpeg equivalents, if you shoot both at once, are quite fuzzy and appear ruined. Reminds me of Corel's famous Snapfire thumbnails. Clicking on a raw file brings up not only a window containing the photo, but a tool palette containing three tabs. One is the Raw Image Adjustment for raw files only. The other two are the RGB Image Adjustment and Noise Reduction tabs which can work with raw, tiff, and jpeg files.
At the top of the Raw tab is a Brightness slider. It allows adjustment from minus 2 f-stops to plus 2 f-stops. This is usually enough for me, but sometimes I need all 4 f-stops Photoshop gives me in either direction from its Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) converter. Next is a series of several clunky adjustments that-- if you hadn't used another converter with finer adjustments, you wouldn't know what you were missing. The White Balance works fine as a tool if you have a great sense of on-screen color and memorization from one picture to the next. I like to know what Kelvin (a color temperature number for different light sources) I am sliding toward and whether I need to click my white point elsewhere again. After screen-staring for awhile, the color could be fooling my eyes. A number can't fool me as much if I know the light source should be in a certain range. This is especially true if I am doing a series of photos and want to match those Kelvin color temperature numbers instead of hoping the saved folder of conversions all match by chance when I'm done. There is also a drop-down list of presets for different light situations like in ACR, such as Fluorescent, As Shot, Daylight, Flash, etc. Since the Kelvin no. is still not given, they could be different from what you expect after sending to a printer or the web.
Next on the Raw tab is Canon's exclusive Picture Styles drop down list. This is also included as a setting on recent cameras. The list contains Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful and Monochrome. It respects your previous white balance choice and adjusts minimally according to your taste. If you have created a different preset Picture Style, you can browse for it with the Browse button.
Next down is the histogram. It operates by sliding the left side dark areas to the right and vice versa. You can adjust gamma with its slider and see the graph and photo both change contrast. This is a better, non-destructive way to handle contrast than using a conventional contrast slider for a jpeg. I did not explore this tool to any great depth this go-round. Lastly on the Raw tab are Color tone, Color saturation, and Sharpness sliders. All three are what Bruce Fraser would call "blunt instruments" as they are minimally effective for fine adjusting.
The RGB tab we also did not explore other than to see it has another histogram with all three primary colors represented witht eh choice of working with an one at a time. You can place numerous points on the diagonal to manipulate in fine detail your color adjustments to the entire photo. You can also use the eyedropper button to adjust white balance, with immediate results displayed graphically. If we are working in a raw file, the Brightness, Contrast, Hue, Saturation, and Sharpness sliders all work indestructively. If we apply thse to our jpegs, they will adjust as in any other photo adjustment software. But this program allows you to see immediate histogram results. Watching the histograms allows you to not go overboard by bunching up tones on the graph to one end or the otehr. That would affect shadow and highlight detail, something we strive to keep normally.
Now to the new Noise Reduction tab. One thing I like to do when judging how much noise to remove is to enlarge the picture by 300- or 400%. Even the latest free download update, DPP 3.1, still only enlarges to 200% and a photo we viewed shot at ISO 3200, a definite noise-containing image, did not show noticeable noise. This nice, new-to-version-3 feature was difficult for me to utilize. Its another blunt unstrument. There are only two Luminance (noise in the form of graininess) and Chrominance (noise in the form of colors only) adjustments like a cheap fan blower: Low and High! Without being able to see enlarged, you will have to guess by knowing your camera's performance at different ISO's. I would opt for High when using ISO 3200 and 1600 and Low for 800 and maybe 400, then none at all for ISO 100 and 200. When shooting jpeg or tiff, the raw section grays out and the interface in turn allows for a Chrominance slider only. Its better than nothing, but in jpeg, I'd rather use a more powerful application and leave DPP 3.1 for the raw files it was intended to adjust.
The program that comes with your camera is essential if you don't use Raw Shooter Essentials. You can often save an over- or underexposed photo if it was shot in raw. From here, you can take it into Paint Shop Pro for further enhancements as a raw or jpeg, but PSP will immediately convert your AdobeRGB to sRGB and so lose a little color. We ran out of time to look at Painter X. So it will come at a later date. Patty is considering showing us some things in August, so come out to the La Retama room at the Central Library on August 20 at 7pm for our graphical exploits.
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