2010

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Bibble 5 Pro

Bibble 5 Pro—one of the first applications to marry sophisticated raw editing with robust workflow management—has a loyal following among professional shooters. Earlier versions were criticized for an overly busy and inconsistent user interface, but version 5 has cleaned up most of those issues.

While its pure image-editing tools aren’t as extensive as Photoshop’s, Bibble 5 Pro does have most of the basic cropping, selection, and layering tools you’d need for digital photo editing—it’s a photographer’s tool, not a general image editor. On the raw side of life, Bibble 5 gives you meticulous control over exposure, color correction, vignette correction, and a host of other parameters, allowing you to fine-tune a photo’s final look. As with Lightroom, Bibble 5 Pro is nondestructive, so if you get lost and don’t like what you’ve done, reverting back to the original is easy.

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Adobe Lightroom

Adobe’s stand-alone raw app gives you all the granular photo-hacking horsepower of ACR, plus even more sophisticated photographic adjustments tools and a powerful database tool for managing your collection. And like any good raw app, Lightroom is a nondestructive editor, saving changes to metadata settings, rather than changing the pixels themselves, as Photoshop does.

If you’re only familiar with image editors like Photoshop, Lightroom takes some adjustment. For one thing, there’s no “save” function; if you want to save to another format, like a JPEG or TIFF file, you’ll need to use export. The version we tested, 2.6, is fully 64-bit and robustly supports dual displays.

Version 2 of Lightroom is more tightly integrated with Photoshop, but we recommend that you do as much work in Lightroom as possible. All Lightroom edits are nondestructive, but once you load an image into Photoshop, it’s loaded as a 16-bit-per-pixel TIFF file. Any edits in Photoshop are baked into the pixels, and when you save and exit, the TIFF file shows up in Lightroom with the Photoshop changes. The original raw file is still present, but doesn’t have any of the changes made in Photoshop itself.

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Adobe Camera Raw

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) isn’t a stand-alone app, but rather an add-on built into Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. Despite its add-on status, ACR offers a rich set of features for tweaking raw files. You can easily adjust exposure, make lens corrections, fix white balance, and do some basic image editing. When you click “done,” Camera Raw creates an XMP file (also known as a “sidecar file”) that reflects the changes you made nondestructively; the actual raw file hasn’t been altered. However, once loaded into Photoshop, any changes made are destructive, and you can’t save the file as a raw file—not even a DNG-variant raw file.

While ACR offers settings for both luminance and color-noise reduction, their overall impact can be hard to discern. ACR’s noise reduction certainly isn’t in the same class as Bibble’s Noise Ninja. And since ACR is itself an add-on, it doesn’t have its own set of aftermarket filters. Indeed, at its heart, ACR is really just a one-dimensional app for modifying the specific properties intrinsic to raw files. It’s got some limited image-editing tools—like crop and straighten—but its real strength lies in easily adjusting basic photographic attributes, like exposure and white balance. Its feature set is limited.

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Nikon Capture NX2

Unlike Canon’s bundled-in editor, Capture NX2 is an added-cost option, though Nikon will occasionally include it as a freebie with DSLRs during sales promos. The pricing might be justified for members of the Nikon nation, as Capture NX2 offers considerable sophistication when editing Nikon-sourced raw files.

The original Capture NX had an obtuse user interface, but the latest version cleans up many of the UI issues. How you go about editing images still takes some effort to learn, but once mastered, certain types of edits are much quicker to make than in a traditional app, like Photoshop.

The number of options can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to wander into the weeds and get completely lost. However, Capture NX2 is a nondestructive editor, making it easy to revert to earlier versions. Every setting has an undo button, and if you load up a saved file, there’s even a way to revert to the original. Capture NX2 saves all the changed data in the main NEF file (Nikon’s raw-image file format), so the saved file is larger than the original raw file shot by the camera.

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Canon Digital Photo Professional

Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) ships with every Canon DSLR. It’s a simple, straightforward editing tool that pretty much supports just the basics: adjusting color temperature, batch conversions to other file formats, and simple noise reduction. It lacks the sophistication of its competitors, but since it comes free with every Canon DSLR, it’s tough to be too harsh.

The main interface is simple and uncluttered—arguably too uncluttered, as DDP hides much of its functionality under the menus. Want to crop? Pull down the tool menu and launch the trimming tool. Need spot repairs to remove dust specks? Fire up the stamp tool. Once in a tool, you can’t do anything else until you finish, then close the tool.

The main photographic touch-up capabilities are available when you begin editing an image. You can easily adjust white balance, brightness, contrast saturation, and tone curves in a tabbed panel alongside the image being edited. It’s easy to pop up a window that compares the original to the edited image, so you don’t have to always eyeball the changes from memory.

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