Workflow; to LR/ACR or not to LR/ACR

Discussion in 'Image Processing' started by pniev, Jan 18, 2016.

  1. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    May 13, 2013
    I've been using Lightroom since its early (beta) stages. The pros have always outweighed the cons for me. The combination of raw conversion, photo management, the availability of plugins (I use NIK, McPhun, Topaz, VSCO, and now also Perfectly Clear), and the presets for uploading has worked well. LR's ACR does not do well in all areas (especially foliage) but, as said, that was not enough to switch. ACR does a pretty good job with RAF files too.

    Adobe’s current product and pricing strategy has made me rethink my Adobe lock-in. So I tried (or tried again) some other software solutions.

    For raw conversion I tried PhotoNinja, C1, Iridient, ACR, Silkypix on various types of files. PN did the best job in handling highlights and processing details. I got blue skies with clouds with PN "out of the box" and basically grey-ish skies with most others. There are just enough sliders and presets for what you need. I need to do further testing with RAF portrait files. The color seem to be rather red-ish.

    C1 seems to be - relatively speaking - focused on fashion, portraits, and studio. To me C1 does not have an advantage

    My current Lightroom CC-based workflow was as follows:
    1. Copy files from card to harddisk (after determining and adding folder in LR).
    2. Import raw files with preset (e.g. Nikon Standard or Fuji Astia) in LR CC.
    3. Select keepers. Add keywords and/or rename files.
    4. If necessary, image refinement with VSCO-preset, one my camera-specific presets (like tone curve, sharpening) or trigger a plugin from NIK, Topaz, McPhun and Perfectly Clear (an amazingly effective product that speeds up the process, especially portrait retouching).
    5. Upload and/or print using plugin (printing from PS)

    I tested the following alternative process:
    1. Use Photo Mechanic (PM) for groundwork: photo selection, copying and renaming selected photos to Photo folder in Dropbox. Initially I was skeptical if I could save time by using PM. But it actually does save time! Especially when you have a lot of files. PM is extremely fast and is able to show the content of your SD/CF/whatever-cards. I used the following renaming convention: category-subcategory-date-seqnr. I keep all raw files in a separate folder structure.
    2. Raw-conversion directly in Photo Ninja. Cropping, straightening, distortion correction when needed. The basic editing functions (including color channels) are all available and work intuitively and fast. As said, PN renders details better than LR out-of-the-box.
    3. Render files to tiff format, uncompressed, 16-bit if I want to do further processing later. Render files as jpegs in required size when I like the result. The appropriate library folder is chosen as destination folder (other than raw files folder).
    4. Back in Photo Mechanic: Add keywords and/or rename files.
    5. If necessary, image refinement with external editors that can be triggered from PM: NIK, Topaz, McPhun and Perfectly Clear. PS is also possible (I do have CS6).
    6. Uploading from PM (has builtin upload features). I haven’t tested printing.
    Although I like PM and PN very much, there are a couple of things holding me back from applying this workflow for all work:
    • the auto correction features of LR are much easier to use.
    • LR has built-in auto lens correction filters that straighten lines better than PN’s out of the box lens profiles. I probably need to do further research how to adapt lens profiles but I haven’t done so yet.
    • I cannot use my VSCO presets.
    • I find LR a bit easier to use due the variety of sliders available in one screen.
    So I decided to compare output from LR/ACR and PN into more detail. These are my findings:
    1. PN is especially better for landscapes with skies: more detail, especially in highlights and much less smearing in foliage compared to LR (out-of-the-box). Works well when you first convert or when you trigger from LR. Using the preset (neutral, 3 Scenic variations, portrait, mono) with adjustments in detail and highlights as needed. Better tone mapping too.
    2. Less so for portraits shot with Fuji X. Faces have too much reds. You can correct that but that takes away the convenience of presets.
    3. LR and PN do interpret lens profiles differently. In 80% of the cases that does not really matter so I haven’t paid further attention to this.
    4. Export to TIFF 300dpi 16bit and JPEG 240dpi 8bit —> no visible differences on screen. TIFF size 90-120MB, JPEG 3-5MB. I did see banding in some jpegs).
    5. Perfectly Clear works well on all files. Especially in adding detail in foliage. PC works very well on RAF files and NEF in LR. Less so on jpeg/tiff from PN-converted RAF-files, probably because of the reds overcast. Tint correction helps.
    6. VSCO works well on all files (use Standard for jpegs)

    Herewith some results of one shot I took with the Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm Art lens. All converted to jpeg but I thought that would not really matter because output is often displayed via jpeg on screen.

    ACR-processed NEF file with camera vivid “camera calibration”: a flat looking image

    Raw conversion from PhotoNinja:

    To achieve something similar, highlights, shadows, tone curve, clarity and vibrance need to be tweaked in LR. But it is still (much) less detailed than the PN-file. Toning is less smooth too.
    ACR-processed and LR-adjustedNEF file:

    Applying the landscape preset from Perfectly Clear on the ACR-converted file:

    Better: Applying the landscape preset from Perfectly Clear on the ACR-converted LR-adjusted file:

    Applying the landscape preset from Perfectly Clear on the PN-converted file. More detail and better tone-mapping (when you zoom in; although partly removed in the jpeg conversion):

    The results have made me conclude to stick to keep LR in the workflow for now (after preselecting and renaming in PM) and trigger PN from LR if needed. However, I will use LR 5.7 instead of CC. I honestly do not see differences in raw processing and the 5.7 functionality suffices for me. So I will probably cancel my CC subscription.

    Please do not hesitate to share your comments/suggestions/questions and views on the workflow that works best for you! I am curious if you are/were facing similar questions related to Adobe's suite and pricing policy.
  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Thanks for sharing your experiences here. I always enjoy reading about different workflows and seeing how people use the different software available to get the desired end result.
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 1
  3. Gubrz

    Gubrz O.* Gonzo's & Bentley's Dad

    Jun 5, 2012
    Austin, TX
    i kinda think the ninja shot is harsh feeling with so much detail being so punchy?
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    May 13, 2013
    I agree. I may have to turn down the detail slider when I use the Art lens. Thanks for reminding me.
  5. Gubrz

    Gubrz O.* Gonzo's & Bentley's Dad

    Jun 5, 2012
    Austin, TX
    i really like the 3rd shot you posted! it felt like a good mix
  6. pniev

    pniev Student for life

    May 13, 2013
    Thanks. I guess here's where jpeg conversion comes in because the PN file looks better (tones, detail) on my screen. But LR definitely is capable of doing a good job with NEF files. Same for RAF.
  7. dk_photos

    dk_photos New Member

    Jan 18, 2012
    Wolli Creek Sydney Australia
    Hi I just re-read your post from 2016, re your workflow LR/ACR etc. are you still using that workflow, reason I ask is that I am looking at doing a similar thing as Adobe has just notified me that the price for the CC Photographers subscription will go up to A$ 14.29 monthly from June 2017, which is getting quite expensive now, and since I don't use Photoshop often and do most of my work in LR and Bridge, plus other programs like ON1 effects, Nik collection. I own LR 5.7 and would not have a problem going back to that for any Lightroom work needed.