2018-10-21: Comparing software for landscape images

I’m back from a very restful holiday to Southern California and a night sky photography workshop at Joshua Tree National Park last weekend.  I’ll have some photos and stories to share from that in the coming weeks, but for now I wanted to get back to my topic of the month, reviewing how On1 Photo Raw, Luminar and Topaz Studio compare in editing images with different issues.  The last post focused on high ISO, noisy images, and today I wanted to look at landscape images, and see how the different programs deal with removing sensor spots and other distractions.

I’m using images from my last trip to Southern Africa, as I was using the Nikon D610 on that trip, and that camera collected sensor dust very quickly.  I had the sensor professionally cleaned prior to my trip, and without ever changing the lens, by the end of 4 weeks, I was having spots show up at f8.  The images can be a bit frustrating to edit with so much gunk to remove, but they are great for putting different software to the test.

The first image was edited using Topaz Studio.  There were only a few spots to deal with, since this was shot at 1/250sec, f5.6, ISO 2000.  My camera really wasn’t set for shooting landscapes; I had been taking photos of animals prior and saw this scene and quickly composed and shot on the go (I don’t think the vehicle even stopped for this).

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It was a chilly, misty morning when I shot this on the last day of my South African trip last year.  I am happy with the spot removal from Topaz, and really like that the pockets of fog in the distant hills show up very much as I remember the morning.

Next up was Luminar, and I anticipated issues based on my previous use of the erase function.

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This is the unedited image; I didn’t hold back and sent one of the worst (for sensor spots) sunrise images I had over to Luminar to see how it would manage.
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I first tried using the erase function, and it left larger, yet fainter circles everywhere I clicked trying to remove the sensor spots.  It’s a bit tough to see at this size, but the results are very disappointing (note no other edits were done to this version, other than the attempt at spot removal).

Thankfully, the Luminar clone and stamp tool works very well; so if I had one bit of advice to give, don’t waste your time trying to use the eraser tool, and go straight to clone and stamp for any spots or distractions in your images.

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Using the clone and stamp tool effectively cleaned up all the sensor spots and the software was great for bringing out the beautiful tones to this sunrise image, without it ending up looking oversaturated.

Last, but not least, is an image edited using On1.  I shot this image in the early morning on Ngala Private Game Reserve, just after a storm passed by.  We had a beautiful sunrise, huge cloud banks, a couple of rainbows… I didn’t really know where to point my camera!  I’m really happy with the way On1 dealt with the sensor spots; there was a little bit of noise / graininess in the clouds that I also worked to balance out.

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1/250 sec, f8, ISO 500.

I’m going to call it a draw on this one.  Each program dealt effectively with the limited amounts of noise in the images, and was able to deal with sensor spots and other distractions effectively.  I was able to get results in On1 the fastest, but even with the huge number of spots to deal with in the Luminar image, I didn’t spend more than 5 minutes start to finish editing any of these images.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections for the day; check back next week as I look at editing images of our feathered friends.

Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead!

2018-10-07: Topic of the month – Comparing results from different software

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.

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On1 Photo Raw version.

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.

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Edited with Topaz Studio.

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.

low light lions_luminar version
Edited with Luminar.

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.

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The On1 Photo Raw version.

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.

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The Topaz Studio version.

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.

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The Luminar version.

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.

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Edited in Luminar.

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.

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Edited in On1 Photo Raw.

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.

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Edited in Topaz Studio

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.

 

 

2018-09-30: Topaz Studio Week 4

My month of Topaz Studio is coming to a close.  As with my month of Luminar, taking this time to dive into the program has left me feeling a lot more confident using it, and now it is another tool in my photo editing toolbox that I can use to bring out my vision in the images I have created.

Rather than focus on one specific thing for this post, I wanted to share some of my favourite things about the program.

Bringing out amazing contrast and detail

Back when I used Lightroom and Photoshop, Topaz Detail and Clarity were plugins that I would use when I wanted to highlight texture, especially in feathers and fur.  The precision contrast and precision detail adjustments are the same tools found in detail and clarity, though they are still available as the plug in versions or as clarity and detail in studio, which give access to all the fabulous presets that those programs had.  On this cheetah image below, I decided to use the precision contrast and detail rather than the in studio version of detail and clarity.  Since these are sized for the web, some of the fantastic texture of the fur may be a bit lost, but it is definitely there.

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Prior to editing, this cheetah doesn’t look bad, but not great.  Keep in mind that this is a raw image and no matter what, it needs some editing to look its best.
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Using Topaz Studio, I was able to use precision detail and contrast to really highlight the beautiful texture of fur on this cheetah.  Cropped for composition and the usual colour correction adjustments completed as well.

Creating my artistic impression images

I’ve always enjoyed the Topaz Impression and Simplify plug-ins, allowing me to create painterly and whimsical effects to my images.  Sometimes over to the top, sometimes subdued, those programs allow me to create something different with my images, and I love the flexibility they give me.

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A bull elephant crossing the Boteti River to join other members of the bachelor herd that had congregated on the other side earlier in the day.   This version was created in Topaz Studio using some of the adjustments, and then working in Impression in Studio until I had the dreamy feel I was looking for.

Quickly reviving lost detail

I think my favourite discovery in the Topaz Studio program has been the AI Clear adjustment, and it is one I am absolutely going to purchase to make sure I have it available to me.  Many times I find myself out and about with a great scene in front of me, or a moment I want to remember, but the light is fading or there are deep shadows or perhaps fog (sometimes all of the above).  I have found that the AI Clear adjustment can really get images like these back from looking grainy and soft, to full of detail and life.  It’s just one step in the editing process, but it certainly is a powerful tool.

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The unedited version of Wild Dogs in the Okavango Delta.  This group was far enough from the vehicle that I was shooting at 300mm.  Knowing how quickly the dogs move about, I shot at f11 and 1/800 sec to try and keep as much of the group in focus as possible, and freeze the motion.  These choices meant I was at ISO 6400, leaving a lot of noise in the image.
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Cropped for composition purposes, and then edited in Topaz Studio.  I used quite a few adjustments, but I still had the image finished to my liking in only a couple of minutes.  AI Clear did a good portion of the work at the start of the editing process, tidying up the noise and bring back detail to the eyes and the fur, especially to the alpha pair that are on the far left.

I have really been loving the ease of adding my watermark to my images; it is certainly less cumbersome than that current way I have to do so in On1.  One of the drawbacks I have found with Topaz Studio is not being able to resize and export directly from the program.  It means that for images being posted to the blog or my Instagram page, they always need a round trip back to On1 in order to be resized and exported.  Not a deal breaker at all, but just adding an extra step to the process.

If you don’t have it already, I would absolutely recommend downloading Studio and trying it out.  Given that the program is free to use with several adjustments, and there are 30 day trials for all the others, there really is nothing to lose (except maybe a little space on your hard drive) to give it a go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on the program.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!

2018-09-16: Topaz Week 2

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).

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This is the unedited image, exported from ON1 Photo Raw.
Unedited Topaz Raw File.jpg
This is the unedited image from Topaz Studio.
Luminar Raw file.jpeg
For comparison purposes, this is the raw file out of Luminar.  The results are quite similar to the On1 version, especially in terms of the colour rendering.

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.

Edited image.jpg
Here is the finished image.  I spent time with this gorgeous lion early one more whilst on Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa.  May, 2017.

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.

On1 unedited
The unedited raw image from On1 Photo Raw.
Topaz unedited
The unedited image from Topaz Studio.

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.

Topaz edited.jpg
Here is my final edit of this image through Topaz Studio.  I was able to bring out depth of colour and detail in the image, without completely removing the grainy haze from the sand storm that was kicking up in the distance.  Taken at Hoanib Camp in Namibia, April 2017. 

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.

On1 unedited hummers.jpg
Unedited from On1 Photo Raw.
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Unedited from Topaz Studio.

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:

topaz edit hummer.jpg
Edited through Topaz to bring out the detail, and get rid of the distracting elements of the background (in this case by cropping them out).  On second glance I could have made the image a bit brighter, but since the purpose of this exercise was to look for differences in how the raw image looked, I’ll leave it as is.

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.

 

 

 

2018-09-03: Monochrome Monday

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!

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A zebra appearing shy while having its photo taken in Etosha.  namibia, April 2017.
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A glance over the shoulder by this gorgeous leopard, seen in the Okavango Delta. May 2017.
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A large male lion giving us a bit of a dirty look as we followed him down a roadway.  Londolozi, May 2017.

2018-09-02: Leopards in Luminar

I mentioned in my post last week that I would concentrate on using Luminar in Windows for the balance of the month.  I missed getting this posted before the end of the month, but still wanted to share the images and my thoughts on Luminar in Windows.

First off, thankfully the clone and stamp issue that I found the first time I opened my version of Luminar in Windows had been corrected once I updated the software.  Basically what was happening is the clone and stamp layer would appear to work normally, but then would disappear once you clicked done on the clone and stamp module.  A bit frustrating, so I am glad that is no longer an issue.

I had read in a few blogs that there were a couple fewer filters on the Windows version; I didn’t count them myself and never found I was missing a tool I wanted to use, so that’s definitely not a concern for me.  The one thing I really enjoyed was using the touchscreen for creating masks; my Windows machine is a Microsoft Surface complete with the Surface Stylus.  What a huge difference using that made in terms of accuracy.  I never transferred my logo file to my Windows machine, so I had to open up the edited files on my Mac to add a logo and then export.  I didn’t have any issues with using the files on different systems, which is a good thing as I don’t see leaving my Mac as my main editing machine any time soon, but it does mean that I can work on the road and transition to home in a fairly seamless way.

I’m going to say for my editing purposes, there really isn’t any difference between Mac and Windows for using Luminar.  Others may have a different experience, but I didn’t have any issues.

I decided on leopard images as I knew I had some that had some with contrast issues,  some wonky colours to deal with and an images where I would need to test the clone and stamp.  And Leopards in Luminar just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

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A leopard cub explores the bottom of a ravine.  This image had some serious contrast issues due to the deep shadows and very bright mid morning sun.  I am happy with the way this turned out.
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A mama leopard carrying her cub to a new den site.  This image had some strange colour casts, and despite being able to correct it in Luminar, I tried a black and white filter and much preferred the result.
snarl
This is definitely not the look you want a leopard to be giving you. This mama heard another leopard calling nearby, and was not at all pleased.  There weren’t too many issues with this image but it did need detail enhancement to be applied carefully so as not to accentuate the noise in this early morning, shady, high ISO shot.
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A leopard perched in a tree at sunset in the Okavango Delta.  This image had some need of the clone and stamp tool; I don’t know if it was a sensor spot or a bug, but there was something that was very distracting in the blue sky that I had to get rid of.

2018-08-12: World Elephant Day

As you all know, I am just a bit partial to elephants, so I wouldn’t mind if every day were elephant day.  But today is officially World Elephant Day, so it’s a great opportunity to share some images of my favourite animal.

I won’t get into a discussion on elephant population numbers, conservation challenges and the like.  There are many people and groups far more informed than I that are providing that type of information.  I’ll simply say that my opinion is that no one needs ivory except an elephant, and the poaching of these magnificent animals is an absolute tragedy that needs to be stopped.

I’m sure I have said this many times before, but if there was only one animal I could spend time with on an African safari, it would be the elephant.

I’ve kept with my theme for the month of August, and have continued to learn and explore the Luminar editing program and all of these images have been processed using the software.  Two things I have noticed over the past week:

1) I find the spot removal tool does not work very well for larger dust spots on blue sky; it leaves behind visible traces of the spot removal that are almost more noticeable than the initial spot.  I have found though that the clone stamp tool does an effective job on the larger sensor spot removal.  The majority of these images were shot on my old Nikon D610, which had enormous issues with sensor spots, so this is a feature I rely on quite heavily for working on older images.

2) The luminosity mask function is quite limited on the current software version, offering no opportunity for adjusting the luminance values to dial in the mask.  I use the luminosity masking function a lot when editing with On1 Photo Raw, especially as an effective way to isolate the sky to perform specific adjustments.  The standard masking options also feel a bit more basic than the ones that I use with Photo Raw.  For images that need that type of adjustment, I don’t think Luminar would be my first choice as a raw editor.

I’m finding that most of the editing is start to feel natural using this program, now that I have gotten a feel for what the various filters do.  But coming from Lightroom and On1 Photo Raw, I’m really used to the automatic lens profile corrections, and having to manually enable and adjust that is something I haven’t yet gotten used to doing as part of my workflow.  Generally speaking though, I am finding it an enjoyable program to use.

On to the images 🙂

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Desert adapted elephants in the Hoanib River bed in Namibia.  April 2017.
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A pair of bull elephants play fighting in the shallows of the Boteti River.  Leroo La Tau Camp, Botswana, May 2017.
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A bull elephant giving himself a mud bath in Nxai Pans National Park.  Botswana, May 2017.
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An elephant climbing out of the dry Timbavatio Riverbed in front of the Ngala Tented camp.  South Africa, May 2017.
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A curious elephant calf that kept approaching the vehicle, checking me out.  One of my all time favourite elephant moments.  Londolzi, May 2017.