Since some time in May 2009, I have been using LightZone as my usual first step in working with the captures on my memory card.
This is the browser interface of LightZone. It adopts the fashionable dark moody theme so as to not distract the eye in the editing process.
I use an Olympus e510, and I was very tired of having to feed all the raw images (.ORF files) though Adobe DNG converter in order to see the RAW pictures at all (I was not crazy about Olympus Studio). That left me looking at huge sets of ORF file, DNG files, and maybe even TIF files, each over 10 megs, not to mention all the matching JPG files as I was shooting RAW+jpg. It also made life a nightmare when it came to batch renaming of files because I would have at least a JPG and ORF pair of files to manage, even before conversion to DNG. I might have a sequnce named _M050146.ORF, _M050147.ORF, and _M050148.ORF, and the correspondingly named JPG files. The desire was to rename the sequence to “Cat Sat On the Mat1.ORF“, “Cat Sat On the Mat2.ORF“, and “Cat Sat On the Mat3.ORF“, and also rename the JPG files as “Cat Sat On the Mat1.JPG“,”Cat Sat On the Mat2.JPG“,and “Cat Sat On the Mat3.JPG“. I know of no file manager SW that will do that in one step. They all make you first select the set of ORF files and rename them, and then select the JPG versions and rename those in batch mode too, but the selection of the second sent of images can be tricky. It was madness. It had to stop.
The first aid I came up with in my plight was FastStone Image Viewer which can handle a huge range of image formats including ORF, so at last I could just shoot RAW and dispense with JPG in the camera altogether. The viewer also does a nice job of batch renaming, which is huge to me. But the raw conversion the program does left me wanting more. One can adjust the conversions considerably, but there is little there that exploits the additional bits in RAW images.
Enter LightZone (let’s call it LZ from now on). Like FastStone, it understands my camera’s raw format out of the box, which is great for me, but has some twists unlike most other stills editing software.
- LZ does non-destructive editing on the files you feed it. On opening an image for editing I have a variety of tools I can use, but when I ’save’ the edits, what happens is a small JPG file is created, named after the source file. The JPG exhibits all the effect of the edits, but the original file is not changed at all. The JPG looks just like a regular file to any other editor, but embedded in it are instructions to LZ on how to recreate the edits when the original file is loaded up again. The JPG is just a preview, and just a few kilobytes in size. I think perhaps the edit data is stored in JPG comment fields. Once you are happy with the edits made to the raw file, the JPG is selected and you the save instructions are used to convert the original RAW file to the final output type you want, within selectable size constrains, up to the full original resolution with all the changes frozen in. The choices are JPG or TIFF, and the TIFF files can be 8 or 16 bit. And don’t forget, the source file is unchanged.
- The second great feature of LZ is the set of tools it gives you to work with. As its name implies, these are heavily geared towards tonal adjustments to images, but it also sports some very nice sharpening tools, noise reduction, blurring, etc. with color selective masking, and all kinds of bells and whistles. One of which is regions. Regions are selections like in any other graphics tool. It just works really nicely. More on this later.*
So what can LZ do? Quite a lot with surprisingly few mouse clicks or keystrokes.
Here for example is a picture taken very late in the day on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I was exposing for the sky as it was spectacular, but of course it resulted in too deep, detail devoid shadows. There is alsmost no foreground detail at all.
This version has the foreground levels boosted considerably using the LightZone Relight tool. Basically a few slider adjustments and your done. In this case I made no RAW adjustments (to exposure or color temperature etc). But a region was needed to make is possible.
|In the process, the sky was totally burned out. To prevent this all I needed was to select a region, the sky. That was easy as the horizon is clear, and I just needed to exclude the silhouetted landmasses in the background. Then a single click inverts the regions and using the Relight tool I brought up the shadow detail as much as I though I could go and added a little noise reduction to the same region. Then I inverted the region to select the sky and tweeked it a little. All of this with full screen real time viewing of the edit effects.
* The region selection method is the best I’ve ever user. The default method is like the usual polygonal region selector: click, move mouse, click, keep going, etc.. The radical difference is that after completing a region with a double click each click point remains active. You can move it by simply dragging it. You can also add another point by simply clicking on the region line. This is great because you can do a fast region selection at low resolution, and then zoom in and start fine tuning the positions of each click point, adding more points where needed to take care of the finer details of the region. I find it much easier than other selection tools I’ve used before.
The other great feature about regions is how they manage feathering. Feathering, applying a gradient to the edges of a region, is very useful in avoiding visible transitions in the final image. In LZ the feathered area is indicated by a second line that you can drag and so get a visible indicator of how much feathering there is. (more…)