There's such a choice of good raw processing applications on the market now that, for the most part, choosing which one you use is down to personal preference. I've been using Bibble Pro for around five years, although I still haven't got round to upgrading to version 5. I don't need 5's DAM features because I already use the excellent Photo Mechanic for ingesting, tagging and sorting my pics. Although upgrading to 5 may allow me to simplify my workflow, the time involved in getting to grips with a whole new software package has been enough of a disincentive. I went with Bibble because of its simplicity, speed and decent output quality... and did I mention the speed? It's fast. FAST.
Even so, it does have its downsides. Although Bibble turns out decent jpegs from all my digital files (D100, D2X, D40X, D200, D300 and D3), every once in a while I struggle with some aspect of the raw output and have to fall back on Nikon's slow, clunky but very accurate NX software.
Here's a good example, which I discovered yesterday as I was sorting through some old files for a project I'm working on. This is the full image, processed in NX:
I turned to NX in this case because Bibble was struggling to render the sunlit grass ahead of the rider. Clipped channels occasionally present Bibble with problems in spite of its otherwise excellent - and very useful - highlight recovery feature. I couldn't rid the grass of a nasty yellowy green cast. Here's a crop from the Bibble conversion:
Highlight recovery improved the situation, but this bright and prominent area of the image still looked awful. What you can't see from this close crop is that Bibble handled the rest of the file absolutely fine - the cast is confined to the clipped highlights.
This is what the same area of the NX conversion looks like:
There's more retained detail, a smooth shoulder into 255, 255, 255 and no nasty cast in the highlights. It's as it should look.
There are three lessons here:
- First, the camera manufacturer's raw processing software will almost always produce the best result.
- Second, it's important not to rely on just one raw processing package. Always have at least two that you can comfortably use, for those cases where your preferred software just can't cope.
- And third, hard-to-process raw files may be hard to process just because of the software, not because you're doing anything wrong. If you're struggling with tricky highlight or shadow areas or a localised colour cast that you just can't get rid of - and you've ruled out all the other obvious possibilities - it's always worth trying another raw processor. You never know, you might just rescue the shot.