One of the things I like about shooting in RAW is that I have the ability to override my in-camera settings during post-processing. The RAW safety net is tremendously useful, even if you get most things “right” on a shoot. One thing I don’t like, however, is using software that automatically throws away my in-camera settings because it thinks it is smarter than me. When I preview my images, I want to see what I had shot in-camera, even if I got it “wrong” (I like to learn from my mistakes).
I’m mostly talking about image browsers, here. All these products that are “RAW saavy.” That’s really just code for “built-in RAW converter” that will ignore all your in-camera settings. The problem with multiple RAW converters is that each one works with its own set of instructions. If you use Browser “A” to view your files, then process them in Application “B”, when you go back to Browser “A,” you won’t see any changes in your image previews. This conundrum is why we’re seeing a big push towards “soup to-nuts” products like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture.
Take for instance, the scenario where you shoot NEFs using different Nikon Picture Controls. By default, you can make four different core settings in your camera:
When you look at the LCD preview on your camera, you can tell the difference between the images. Neutral is low-contrast and low-saturation, while vivid is high-contrast and high-saturation. And monochrome, well it’s black and white.
Now consider what happens when you download those same four images and preview them in a browser that has its own RAW engine:
Click to see more…
Here’s what you’d see with those four different NEFs if you previewed them in Bridge (click to enlarge):
Here are the same four NEFs as rendered by Photo Mechanic (click to enlarge):
Notice the difference? Of course, you could rightly argue that your front-end view (before editing) doesn’t matter; in fact, you could easily set up a preset to render your NEFs with a reasonable “basic” look when you preview them after image transfer. The problem, though, lies on the back-end of the workflow– after editing the NEFs. Unless I make changes to the NEFs using the same rendering engine as my browser (ACR in the case of Adobe Bridge), then I’m stuck having to create a JPEG or TIFF version of my edited NEF file so that it will be viewed properly after editing. Which brings me back to my workflow conundrum– I like using Capture NX2 as my image editor and saving my NEFs as 20Mb NEFs rather than 70+Mb TIFFs.
To solve this challenge, I’ve adopted Photo Mechanic as my browser. What Photo Mechanic does that the other browsers don’t is display your NEFs (and DNGs, if applicable) using their embedded JPEG previews. Yes, every NEF contains a JPEG (it’s what you see on the back of your camera when chimping) that can be used if your viewer supports it. Most browsers ignore this file and instead re-render the NEF using their own conversion tools. Photo Mechanic doesn’t do that. Moreover, because Capture NX2 updates the preview JPEGs in my NEFs during file save (one reason why NX2 takes longer to save than other programs), I can properly view these changes in Photo Mechanic after I edit the files.
Sure, I could just adopt other editing software, but I really have grown to like the simplicity of using Control Points non-destructively in my NEF editing without having to create PSD or TIFF files. I’ve spent the last four years slowly refining a workflow system that allows me to use Capture NX2 almost exclusively as my image editor. If you are interested in finding out more, consider taking my “NEF-centric” workflow online course, where I’ll share my technique for a streamlined NEF workflow.