Nikon - Aperture and War Against Bit-twiddling

DSC_0102_orig.jpgJust a quick follow-up post regarding a bunch of email conversations I have had regarding my last post about what me, me, me wants in the next version of Aperture. I have engaged in a number of interesting and not so interesting conversations regarding that post. I cannot begin to cover all of them at the moment but I had so many regarding my number one issue, NEF RAW processing, that I thought I would share a couple thoughts.

First I had about the same number of emails that agreed with my dissatisfaction as asked me what I was so upset about. Here is the bottom line for all of those out there asking what I am so upset about Aperture's continued NEF horribleness. One word - COLOR. A picture is worth a thousand words so here are a couple.

The image at the top of the post is every single relevant in camera image control of a so-so camera compared to the latest greatest, the D200, set at normal, normal, normal, etc. So this means that Capture NX2 does nothing to soup up the image - this as "normal" as it gets using the default NX2 RAW conversion. Other shooting details Auto WB, ISO 1600, first thing that caught my eye hand held not even steady about 5 minutes ago.

Here is the default Aperture RAW conversion

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Here is the NX2 conversion with one thing changed - a Nikon Picture Control set to vivid.

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If you are asking what's the big deal? Download the images and look at them side by side. Most of you can probably see the huge difference in the thumbnails. Which one is the crappiest? The Aperture default conversion. Why is it a big deal that it is crappy? My most succinct answers are as follows:

  1. A lot of this is caused by a huge difference in WB and there is no easy way to make a universal correction to any one camera let alone a universal correction across a couple of different NEF files produced by different camera models. Every different lighting temperature takes a completely different set of adjustments. Even if there was a good way to set this as an incremental set of change the WB by X amount for a single NEF file type it wouldn't matter because Aperture seems to "guess" differently on every image seeming to ignore WB settings. This really sucks for both Auto WB people that shoot in lighting that is all over the map as well as preset WB people that use a specific camera setting under multiple different controlled lighting conditions. I swear figuring this out is way worse to get good predictable color than when I shot film and had to figure out filtration/lights/gels for a new film. Or it's about the same if you want consistent results without bit twiddling to get there.
  2. Even with WB set dead neutral on the same target and the same lighting color is way way way off in ways so strange that it is extremely difficult to correct with one set of preset color adjustments - no it isn't just different - it is wrong. Tie this in with the WB situation and you have to fool around a lot to get good color. Not brighter, not more saturated, good color. Apple - get the freaking WB and color right for NEF's or I am definitely outta here.

The other thing that I continue to whine about is picture control. Now I cannot take full advantage of Nikon picture control without using NX2 but I can get real close using ACR in it's present incarnation. I think I have explained this before but I will do it again briefly for those that are not familiar. Nikon picture control is way more than a couple of presets. They are profiles that are applied either in-camera to the JPG's and are recored as metadata in the RAW file that gets interpreted and applied in NX2 but it does not end there. Picture control settings match across bodies. Yep if I take my old D2 series cameras and apply a Nikon picture control to the NEF files the color and contrast are virtually identical to my brand new D3 with the same picture control. Great concept. If you don't care for the built in picture controls you can make your own, upload them to newer cameras if you want (you don't have to if you shoot RAW) and voila your own color/tone curves that are completely reproducable across all NEF's, very very cool. If you have a newer camera they will even be applied in-camera to the JPG's.

Adobe thought this was cool to so now ACR has camera profiles. You can't upload them to the camera but they work in concept the same way. To prove that they work they give you the exact same "camera profiles" for NEF files that Nikon supplies as "picture controls" and they match unbelievably closely. Yep they match across Nikon camera bodies as well. Theoretically you could actually create a custom camera profile across different brands as well. It is way more work than creating a picture control because you have to do all the work but it is possible.

If Adobe can do it then so can Apple or at least match the freaking WB and default color response. As a Nikon shooter this is getting really really old. Maybe some more regarding some other conversations that were generated by that post as well as my current existential crisis tomorrow.

Any questions?

RB

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