Whilst in Namibia on my last visit, I travelled for a couple of days in the Etosha area. Being in the park itself is quite different to being on a private reserve, since there is no off-road driving allowed, but there was still a lot of great game viewing when driving around the park.
We were fortunate to come across a group of 3 young lion brothers, likely ejected from their pride within the past few months, as they had gotten to the age where they needed to be on their own. They still had the energy and playfulness of cubs though, chasing each other around a water hole. We were even more fortunate to be the only vehicle to being viewing these lions for the majority of the time that we spent with them, allowing us to get in a great position to watch them going about their day.
After my dive into Luminar in August and Topaz Studio in September, I decided for October I would look at the three editing programs that I use, and see the results in different situations. Throughout the month of October, I want to explore which is the best tool for the job in different conditions.
Before I forget through, I won’t have a post next Sunday, as I am off attending a photography workshop, but will resume the Sunday series on October 21.
The first scenario I decided to tackle was low light images. This is something that I encounter a lot when out on safari (or even when photographing the local nature during my morning walks with Spencer). There are a lot of interesting sightings and situations that happen before the sun comes up, after the sun has set, or in deep shade. When these scenes require a fairly fast shutter speed, it can result in the ISO getting cranked up to try to get a correct-ish exposure. I say correct-ish, because what is correct is to the eyes of the photographer, and two people viewing the same scene may have drastically different interpretations of how they want it to look.
I have chosen three series of images to work with. Each of the different scenes were shot at the same time, under the same (or very similar) lighting and atmospheric conditions. I’ve not attempted to process each image exactly the same using different software, but rather try to bring out the very best in the image using the tool available to me in the different programs. Here we go!
The first image series was from a sighting of lion cubs on Londolozi in the early evening. The cubs were very young, and likely this was the first time their Mom would have brought them to a kill. They were deep in a thicket, so with both the shade and approaching night, there was not a lot of light to work with.
All of these images were shot on my Nikon D610 at 1/640 sec, f5.6, ISO 6400. All of the images had some strange colour casts from the deep shade and a lot of noise from the high ISO. After the fact of course, I wish I would have lowered the shutter speed a little to bring in a bit more light, but the cubs had been all over the place playing, and I’d made my choices based on that. Live and learn.
I tried editing the On1 version twice, and this was the best result that I could get. I find the tone to be fine, but I don’t think that the software did a great job of dealing with the noise, especially in relation to retaining detail. I’m going to say a good chunk of that is likely down to my use of the program, and I should probably educate myself on the noise reductions features a little more to see if I can extract better results in the future.
I think the Topaz Studio option is the most successful image of the series. I took advantage of the tools I had available to me, and opened the Denoise 6 plugin from Topaz Studio to work on the noise. I find that plugin very effective at really high ISO levels, such as 6400 or 12800. The colours appears the most true to life to how I remember the scene, and there is a good balance between removing the noise, and retaining the detail.
I think the Luminar version is the least successful. I don’t feel I did the best job in correcting the colour cast using the software (even with so many options available to do so) and the colours appear a bit over-saturated compared to the other two options. There is still a fair amount of noise in the background and the foliage, as removing any more of it rendered the image too soft and almost cartoonish.
My second series of images are of a cheetah family found during a wind storm in the late afternoon on Phinda Game Reserve. It was overcast with rain on the way, and the group was huddled together, and rather nervous with not being able to properly hear the potential of other predators in the area. These images were all shot at 1/400sec, f5.6, ISO 4000, on a Nikon D610, and were shot an hour earlier in the afternoon than the lion images about. They are definitely easier images to work with.
In this case, I think the On1 version is my favourite. I find the colours have come out very close to my memory of the scene, and there is great balance between being able to reduce the noise in the background foliage, and retain excellent detail in the fur.
I find this version to be great in terms of noise, detail and contrast, but the colour cast is both too cool and too magenta.
The Luminar version again looks a bit over-saturated when compared to the other two versions, but I believe I did mention during my Luminar review that the sliders are very sensitive, and you can go overboard with things very quickly. The interesting thing is, both the Topaz Studio and Luminar versions are fine on their own, and if I posted a single image, there would probably not be a comment regarding colour casts or of the saturation. It’s only when viewing them all together that these issues become apparent.
The last set of images is from my last morning on safari, which I got to spend watching a beautiful leopard and her two tiny cubs. I’ve written about the sighting at length, so I won’t go on and on about it, but if you missed it the first time around, you can check out a post here. In the linked post, there’s also a bit more information on the lion cub sighting shown above.
All of these leopard images were shot at 1/640 sec, f7.1, ISO 6400.
I’m really pleased at the job that Luminar did on this image. I actually went in and desaturated some of the green tones a little, since they were looking a bit radioactive. The noise inside the hollowed out log cleaned up nicely, and there is good detail in the mother leopard.
While the noise and the detail look good in this version I did with On1 Photo raw, I’m not as happy with the way that the colours turned out. I just couldn’t seem to get it quite right. The tree trunk has a very blue cast to it, and the greens are perhaps a little too punchy.
The version I edited in Topaz was the most challenging, given the focus within the darkest (and noisiest) part of the image. I again used the Denoise 6 plugin, and found it did an excellent job of removing noise and retaining detail.
The leopard images aren’t perhaps the fairest of comparisons, since they are all zoomed in to the scene at different amounts, but I didn’t want to edit three nearly identical images, since that gets a little boring.
For my purposes, I am finding that for lower ISO ranges, all the software performs admirably, and I can get good results from any of the software options I have available to me. Once I climb into the ISO 6400+ range though, I think Topaz is the clear winner, specifically when using the Denoise 6 plugin. Of course that could be camera dependant as well. All the images in this post were shot with my Nikon D610, which I don’t even own any longer. I’ll have to work on this experiment again when I have some high ISO images from my Fuji XT-2, and see if the results are the same, or different.
I am continuing to enjoy working in Topaz Studio, and now that I am getting more comfortable with the interface, I am starting to notice some differences that may affect how I use the program for future images.
First off, I have noticed that there can be a dramatic difference in how Topaz renders the raw file prior to having any processing done, and it seems to be very dependant on which camera I was using. This lion image was shot with my old Nikon D610 (which I traded in late last year for a Fuji XT-2).
As you can see, with this image there are fairly dramatic differences in the colour rendering, the amount of contrast and detail in the image, and how bright the image is. The raw file appears to have a significant magenta cast in the Topaz file, compared to a more neutral tone in the On1 raw file. I have been finding colour correction a bit tricky with Topaz so far. I think of all the tools I have available to me, Luminar does the best job at correcting colour and especially removing colour casts.
But, even though I started from a different spot editing the raw file in Topaz than I would have from On1, I am happy with the results I was able to get with the image.
With this next image, the difference in colour rendering was far less between On1 and Topaz Studio, so as with all photo editing, images do need to be looked at on a case by case basis. The landscape image below was shot with my Panasonic FZ1000.
In contrast to the lion image, the raw file in Topaz Studio looks better to me than through On1, a little bit brighter and with a bit more detail.
Here is an image from this summer, shot with my Fuji XT-2. I sure miss sitting outside watching the hummingbirds zip around the yard.
The difference in rendering on the Fuji files is far less dramatic. The one out of Topaz looks flatter, but that’s what the editing process is for.
Here is the edited image:
After doing a few of these image comparisons, I am finding that there is a consistent, dramatic difference in the way On1 and Topaz render files from my old Nikon camera, with the files being significantly more “true to life” in the On1 rendering. Since I don’t have the Nikon anymore, this isn’t an issue that will plague me beyond finishing up the backlog of images I have that I would like to edit, so I can make smart choices about what software to use when. The differences between the raw rendering with files from my Panasonic or Fuji cameras is not so dramatic, and if I am using Topaz Studio, I have a better starting point with files from those cameras than I do with the Nikon files.
Today I felt inspired to share a few images from my last morning game drive before heading home from safari last May. It was a rather epic morning, featuring elephants, leopards and this pair of lions (basically an entire safari’s worth of sightings in one morning). After listening to lion calls whilst having our morning coffee and rusk stop, we found this pair a short distance away. They would walk together for a short distance along the road, stop and survey the area or lay down for a few minutes, and then carry on.
I hope you enjoy my selections; wishing you a wonderful week ahead.
I was inspired this week to explore images from Namibia with my painterly effects project for the month. In the brief time I have spent there, I have found it to be a magical place. The light is beautiful and the landscapes are at times surreal. From the air, the vast open spaces seem lifeless, but on the ground, it is a completely different story.