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.

 

 

2018-09-17: Monochrome Monday

I flagged this image as I was going to work on it over the weekend for my raw conversion comparison that I was doing, but 3 images repeated a few times seemed to be enough so I saved it for a monochrome treatment instead.

I’m glad I did!  Doesn’t this guy look striking in back and white?  He was so close to our vehicle, I had to crop out bits of the Land Rover that had made it into the frame.

Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead.

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The Piva male leopard seen on Londolozi, May 2017. 

2018-09-09: Topic for the Month – Topaz Studio

As I mentioned in my August in Review post, I am going to spend the month of September diving into the Topaz Studio system.  I had the full suite of Topaz plugins that I used to use with Photoshop, but the primary resources I used were the Impression and Remask plugins, and I never really spent the time learning the ins and outs of the others.  I could utilize them, but I was never familiar enough to be sure which one I needed or to be able to use them to their full potential.

I spent some time this week watching a few tutorials to get a feel for properly using the Studio interface.  I had found a few things were not intuitive for me, and watching the tutorials definitely helped.  Studio comes with 10 free basic adjustments, and several of the Pro adjustments are included if you previously owned other Topaz products.  They also have an option to try Pro adjustments for 30 days before you buy them, so I am going to trial a few additional adjustments that I have seen on the tutorials I have been watching.  I have a feeling that may be a bit costly for me, as I have watched and now tried the AI Clear adjustment (which is pretty amazing), but we’ll see how things go once we get to the end of the month.

Below are links to tutorials I have watched so far.  The Topaz Labs page on Youtube seems to have a lot of information and taped webinars, so I’m sure I’ll have more to share as the month goes on.

 

Topaz Studio can do a lot of things, including edit Raw files and save in multiple formats. But there isn’t an option for exporting and resizing for web, so while I am going to try and do all my adjustments through Topaz, I still have to take the files back into On1 to export at the proper size for uploading to the blog or to my Instagram page.

A few other differences to On1 Photo Raw and Luminar that I have noticed are the colour temperature under the basic adjustment is a simple temperature and tint slider, rather than having to opportunity to quickly try different colour temperature presets (daylight, shade etc).

I’ve not had a chance to edit as many photos as I would like this week, but I am impressed with the results of what I’ve had the chance to work on.  I’m posting 3 before and after images for reference; if anyone is interest in the adjustments I used to create the final images, please let me know and I will post screen shots.

Here is a steenbok spotted near the Hoanib Camp in Namibia:

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Before editing in Topaz Studio.
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After editing in Topaz Studio.

An oryx, also spotted near Hoanib Camp:

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Before editing with Topaz Studio.
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After editing with Topaz Studio.

A springbok spotted while on a game drive in Etosha National Park:

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Before editing with Topaz Studio.
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After editing with Topaz Studio.

The springbok image is the only one that I tried using some presets with.  Topaz products such as clarity have the presets for the plugin available for the app.  Using a preset, and then carrying on with other adjustments, was something that I had struggled with on my first pass with the program, but the key is to hit the apply button after working with one preset before moving on to the next.  If there are any other Topaz Studio users that are struggling with that, I can post a couple of screen shots, but I found the answer while watching the Youtube presentation linked above featuring Hazel Meredith.

Well, that’s all for this week.  I am hoping by next week to have had lots more options to put studio to the test and see what I can come up with.

Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead.

 

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.