Tone Curves And Other Tales

Someone referenced one or another of the posts here on twitter regarding the XT-1 and black and white tonality.Specifically the tweet lamented not shooting enough black and white with his XT-1. That prompted a thought regarding my own personal quest for finding home. Consider this part of that finding home series and specifically a note to myself of where I am in terms of processing images at this point in the Black/White project. I'll keep this short as about 70% of you are looking at it on your phone from what google analytics tells me.

Aperture 3 used to be home. I was lucky in a way. Aperture 1.0 came out immediately after I started using digital cameras; Yes I was late in adopting digital capture but that was because the cameras were absolute shite more than it was some irrational attachments. I was early to the RAW party though, a few months of experience with the alternative RAW work-flows prior to Aperture were enough to show me how amazing Aperture 1.0 really was. I was all over it. Maybe one of the very first users.

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It was the way things should be and in many ways still is. There's nothing that remotely compares to how it just gets out of my way. As you can see it still works fine. Heck it not only does a great job on Fuji RAW/RAF files but it also applies all the built-in lens corrections as well. Contrary to popular belief Aperture has almost always had lens corrections but only if they were built in to the RAW file like the micro 4/3 spec or Fuji. In many ways I was at home because it was a digital version of the way I was used to working with piles of prints laying around, free form organization, speed, and fluidity — only better.

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The writings on the wall though. Aperture 3 is getting quirkier and quirkier as MacOS moves along. Mostly display bugs but sooner or later it just will not work. Luckily I am pretty agnostic and simple in my absolute needs. Give me basic exposure, a reasonable curves control, decent B/W conversion and I'm pretty happy. Of course local adjustments are good but not intricate ones. Just a big sloppy dodge/burn brush and maybe a gradient for the same. I also have the blessing of knowing most of the RAW crap out there via teaching workshops, or other things like my obsession with film grain emulation tools.

So that brings us to what now? Lightroom you say? Well that has always been a hunk-o-shit. Sure it works. Sure it has always had more "features" in it's RAW processing — who cares.

  • It's ugly and clunky.
  • Six versions or so in and it's more like Lightroom 1.5 you still can't do anthing like look at two different images side by side and adjust one of them.
  • I hate the rental model but that's where Adobe is forcing you. Just my human nature theory on how lazy companies get when they can just charge you more to increase "growth" vs. having you to make hard decisions about a new purchase.
  • It's RAW decode is not really that great.
  • It's slow, especially at import. Always has been. Now it's worse.

How about Capture One? That's super great right?

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  • Ugly and clunky as well.
  • Truly bizarre-o UI typical cross-platform app. Not at all slick.
  • RAW decode is good. New grain simulation is great.

I could live here if I have to but it's really not nearly as simple as I would like and not nearly as fluid as Aperture is/was.

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What else is there? The new Photos.app. Yep I've used that. I see where it's going but it has some fatal flaws that really just put me off. Simple yes but why oh why can't you make it behave somewhat similar to Aperture.

  • Too big a pain in the ass right now. Why can't you do things to more than one image at a time?
  • Why do you have to be in "edit" to adjust images? A big deal for why I like Aperture, gone.
  • How about real IPTC?
  • No settings or sticky-ness to behavior like the crop tool which you have to set from freeform to specific aspect ratio every time. Stuff like that.

Honestly I hope Photos gets slicker and more fluid like Aperture was. Who knows. At least it's fast. Then there are the sorta tools that are not as general but can serve as RAW tools. Like Exposure from Alien Skin.

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  • It's simple.
  • Got the ability to browse images and some stuff like that in version 7. That "stand-alone" browser/RAW processor thing is supposedly going to go from barely usable to full-scale in the next version. We'll see.
  • No proper WB tool
  • No local adjustments.
  • What? No histograms?
  • An image browser that can't do any metadata???

Then there are the super simple ones that have some potential like MacPhun Tonality Pro. A lot of similar criticisms as above but may get there. But there's an ace in the hole if Photos gets better as it's the first company to really embrace the Photos extension thing. Too bad they have a few bugs like somehow not using the built-in OS-X lens corrections embedded in Fuji RAW files. What? How do you do that even on purpose???

As you can see I've not found home yet in terms of processing. In fact all of the images on this project site so far have been somewhat random in terms of where they were imported and processed. In fact it's purely random depending what post you look at as to which tool was used. I don't even know at this point. That doesn't mean they don't have a similar "feel". They all have a response curve slapped on them that is reminiscent of the way Kodak BW400CN processed on your garden variety Noritsu looked.

If there's no fake grain then that was Aperture 3 or Photos.app strait up. If there's fake grain then it could be LR, Exposure, Capture One, or Tonality via Photos. Who cares about "adjustments" give me something simple and fast and pretty that just gets out of my way and I'm happy. A few really simple adjustments are all I really need as long as they work well. Same as way back when I souped film in the darkroom.

Sorry for the super long rant cell phone surfers. Will try to restrain myself in the future.