Last week I blogged to explain why I was reluctant to make image submissions from the Fuji X-T2. Then after some internal debate with myself, I made a few submissions. The results are back, and the submitted files passed QA. What I now need to confess to is that I didn’t process the files in Lightroom, I used Iridient Developer.
Lightroom is a key part of my workflow and has been for a long time. I use it for cataloguing, keywording, searching and printing as well as developing images from RAW files. When one aspect of this doesn’t work well, it’s not a simple as dumping it for something else. Unfortunately, despite recent improvements in the Fuji RAW file processing, Lightroom just isn’t as good as Iridient Developer. This is more noticeable with the images shot using my 18-135mm lens than the 16-55mm or 50-140mm.
In terms of using Lightroom with Iridient Developer, the process is easy, but it isn’t entirely seamless. I have Iridient configured so that I can send it a TIFF file from Lightroom. When this happens, it goes off to find the RAW file with the same name and opens that for processing. Once the adjustments are made the resulting image overwrites the TIFF that Lightroom produced. This all works well but I do miss some of Lightroom’s tools such as the Gradient adjustment and Brush tool.
Now if you look back to the original blog post you will see that one reader suggested Iridient X-Transformer and I have a further confession. I tried this software when it was back in its Beta test phase and thought it was fine but couldn’t see the point. Now I have realised, if I can convert the Fuji RAF files to DNG files I could then use all my favourite Lightroom tools. And if the DNG conversion was anywhere nearing the quality of Iridient Developer it would be wonderful.
To cut a long story short, the DNG converted files from X-Transformer are superb. It also integrates into Lightroom as a plugin which means I can select and keyword my files. I then convert to DNG files in batches before processing the DNG files to work on. The resulting images are brilliant and every bit as good as using Iridient Developer. Best of all the software cost me £35 including taxes.
I was recently asked to do a product review for Sleeklens. If you’re not familiar with Sleeklens, they produce a range of photography books as well as tools for Photoshop and Lightroom. In this instance, I was asked to review their Lightroom presets for Landscape Photographers. Their presets are also described as “workflows” for reasons that will become apparent. In addition to various products they have a comprehensive set of tutorials on their website (https://sleeklens.com/lightroom-tutorials/) which is well worth a visit. For those of you who prefer social media have a look at their Pinterest posts (https://uk.pinterest.com/sleeklens/lightroom-presets/).
Ordinarily, this isn’t something I would do; after all I have my own range of Lightroom presets. Despite this, after looking at the excellent customer reviews on their website and interacting with their team, I became interested in trying their products. I also think many of you reading this might also be interested. I’m therefore going to give you as honest and impartial a view as possible.
The workflow I have available to review is called “Through the Woods”. It provides “80 presets and 42 brushes for landscape editing” for Lightroom. My intention is to put these to work on two of my images that are difficult to process images, to evaluate their effectiveness.
Moving onto the installation guides, there were two. One covering the installation of the Presets and the other the Brushes. I started with the Preset installation guide which when opened provides a link to YouTube together with details of the Sleeklens Facebook page. I watched the Sleeklens You Tube video and this clearly explains one of the ways to install Lightroom Presets.
One minor point is that if you don’t understand the difference between a brush file and a preset file, you might try to import both to Lightroom. Doing this won’t cause any problems but it will give a warning message which less experienced users might worry about. It would be helpful if the video made the distinction clearer.
On completion, I could see the Sleeklens presets grouped on the left of the Develop interface, as indicated in the screenshot below.
Next, I turned to installing the Lightroom Brushes. This time the PDF described the process, step by step for both Windows and Mac. But there wasn’t a video Personally, I would like to see a You Tube video as was provided for the Presets. Despite this the PDF document was clear and allowed me to install the brushes without problem.
Using the Presets
With the presets imported to the Develop module I started to experiment with the first sample image, which can be seen in the previous screenshot. Examining the presets, I could see that Sleeklens has adopted an interesting approach (and one I use with my own presets). Two approaches can be used when applying presets in Lightroom:
When you apply a ready-made preset you click the preset and all the adjustments are applied to the image. This is the most common approach taken by many preset providers. It’s quick and easy to do but it can become confusing if you want to then switch to using another preset. Most people forget to reset the image when changing to another preset. This causes each new preset to change some but not all the previous settings. Ultimately you can find yourself wondering how you achieved a certain look and being unable to repeat it
Alternatively you can build up your own preset by layering several presets together. To do this, the presets need to be designed to allow the user to work through categories in order. Each category will build on the previous until you have built up the finished look, hence the term workflow. This is very flexible and gives the user many more variations they can achieve. The downside is that it takes more time.
I’m very pleased to say that Sleeklens has included presets using both approaches in the Workflow set. You receive a range of “single click” presets as well as the presets in the workflow named so they arranged into the different categories.
I started by testing the single click presets with my test image. Not all the presets looked good but there were some interesting effects covering a range of looks. In the following screenshot, you can see the original test image on the left and the resulting image on the right for the preset I liked most.
Personally, I feel the preset has made a good job of adjusting the image and I like the result. This is pretty much how I would have adjusted the image had I been applying changes manually. Next I decided to build a new preset from the workflows.
Building a Preset
Next, I decided to switch images and to build up my own preset using the workflow presets. Whilst it takes a few more clicks, it does give much greater flexibility. The Sleeklens approach of offering both styles of preset in the same package is to be commended.
In the following screenshot, you can see my starting image prior to any adjustments. This is a RAW file, taken straight out of camera.
The image was captured using a Nikon D800 and a 0.6 (2 stop) ND grad filter was used to control the exposure of the sky. As you can see, this is a rather drab scene with rocks and seaweed that are too dark, whilst the sea is a little under exposed despite my using the graduated filter. The colour has also been largely removed by the cameras auto white balance setting but this has produce a blue colour cast where the scene was a warmer sunset.
When you start to use the Sleeklens presets you will notice they are organised into categories. This is achieved by prefixing the preset name with a number for example, all the presents in the base adjustment are prefixed by “1-Base”. This allows you to select one of the presets from each of the categories to build up your complete workflow. For this example, I selected the base preset “Extend Dynamic Range”. This offers an immediate improvement as you can see below, although the highlights in the scene are now a little too bright.
To correct the highlights, I use the next category (2-Exposure). Here I select the “Less Highlights” preset which also works very well as you can see below.
Next in the list of categories in the list is Colour Correction. Here I want to tackle the blue colour cast which is starting to appear a little Cyan. To adjust this, I decide to try the “Reduce Blue” preset.
This is an improvement and I’m now feeling a little happier with the tones and colour balance. Despite this I’m still a little worried about the colour balance not being warm enough. The reason for my uncertainty is that the colours in the image are quite weak. To address this, I decide to use the next category (Tone/Tint) and select the “Color Pop” preset.
Having done this I can see clearly that the image is still looking a little too blue. I decide to try a second preset from the same category which is “Warm it up”. The image is now looking much better but I must admit that I didn’t expect this.
The reason I hadn’t expected the second preset to work well is that I expected presets from the same category to replace each other rather than build on each other. My expectation was for the “Color Popp” effect to be removed and replaced with “Warm it up”. In this instance, its worked well but that might not always be the case so this is worth watching out for.
Finally, I decide to use the “Add Clarity” preset from the Polish category to finish off.
I did consider using one of the Vignette presets as I’m a big fan of this technique. The reason I decided not to, was I didn’t find one I thought was suitable. I also feel a few more vignette options would benefit the collection. In the end, I added my own vignette effect manually.
At this point, I was relatively happy with the effect I had built up and so saved it as a new “All in One” preset for future use.
With all the global adjustments applied, it’s time to work selectively on the image, which is where the Brushes come in. The term Brushes may be a little misleading as these aren’t just used with the Brush tool, but any of the selective adjustments (Gradient, Brush and Radial filters). They work just like presets but apply to the sliders that are revealed when you select one of the tools. The plan is to use these to warm up the sky and then open-up the dark foreground rocks.
For these adjustments, I will use the Gradient tool selecting one of the Brushes from the collection. The first one I use is “Color Warmer” which I apply to the sky. Notice how the colour of the sky has improved but remains quite natural.
Next, I create a second Gradient selection but this time for the foreground. Having made the selection, I try different brush presets, deciding the “Brighten Shadows” is best to lighten the foreground rocks without affecting the surf on the water.
The image is looking more as I now imagined it to but I want to emphasise the movement in the water. To do this I use the Radial filter to select the centre of the image. I then apply the “Basic – Contrast & Clarity” Brush. You will notice that in the next screenshot the surf and waves are much better defined.
Finally, I make some selective adjustments using the Brush tool and the “Warmer” Brush adjustment. You can see the finished image below.
And here’s the image again as a side by side comparison with the starting position.
I’m sure you will agree this is an improvement on the starting position.
Are there any Downsides
I did find a couple of limitations whilst using the presets. The first is that some of the settings are being carried between the different brushes and presets where I didn’t expect them to be. It’s possible to select some of the coloured brushes and then have the colour carried over to another that doesn’t have a colour setting. This is possibly the most problematic issue but it doesn’t prevent the presets from working well and its even something you might want to happen. The only other niggle I have is that I would like some additional presets and brushes. At times, it felt as though there were a couple of tools missing. But then again, I’m quite fussy. To their credit, I have been in touch with Sleeklens to pass on this feedback which they appeared to be grateful for. They are a company which appears keen to improve their products.
This is a nice set of presets with a lot to commend them. I enjoyed using the settings and brushes. I’m particularly impressed that they have taken the layered or workflow approach, allowing you to build up new presets (which you can then save). I have certainly seen more limited presets sold for a lot more money. If you like your Lightroom presets this company is worth checking out.
Many of you will be aware of my frustration over the poor results when processing Fuji RAW files with Lightroom. This apparently is a well-known problem amongst Fuji users who want to shoot RAW (although it wasn’t well known to me when I purchased my XT1). The problem seems to have spawned many different solutions among users, from trying to work with Lightroom using “quite extreme” settings to adopting other RAW converters. I personally have pursued and experimented with this last option myself, but it’s not ideal. Lightroom is a great tool and provides an excellent workflow.
Then, a few weeks back I reported here that following experimentation, I was now able to achieve improved sharpening results when using Lightroom. This involved minimising the use of the Detail and Threshold slider, then applying a subsequent Structure adjustment in Viveza. What I couldn’t rationalise though is why I was now experiencing such an improvement by holding back on the Detail slider when previously it had often been necessary to push this to 100%.
Then the penny has dropped.
I had been contacted by a couple of Fuji users who asked if I was aware of any improvements to Fuji sharpening in the latest release of Lightroom and Photoshop. Whilst I hadn’t seen anything, it made me realise that I had upgraded to the latest Adobe CC release, just before experiencing the improvement.
I have since processed a lot of XT2 RAW files and all are responding very well to a traditional sharpening and processing approach in Lightroom. In a recent comparison with my Sony A7r (with which I use with Canon L Series lenses), the resulting images are similar except the Sony has slightly larger dimensions and is slightly sharper at full magnification. Both images produce an excellent print where you can’t see any difference.
Here is an example comparison at 100% magnification. The image on the left was captured using the Sony A7r whilst the image on the right is the Fuji XT2.
I wondered if this was just an effect when sharpening the XT2 RAW files, so I returned to my XT1 files and tested some of these. The results are also much improved. Comparing the results from Lightroom to the same file processed using the Iridient RAW converter, the gap has narrowed. The Lightroom results now appear much closer to those from Iridient when applying just Capture Sharpening. The Lightroom results can then be improved by applying Selective Sharpening in Lightroom as well as Structure adjustment with the Nik Tools.
Due to the workflow in Lightroom and my use of other cameras (Olympus EM5 and Sony RX10 & A7r) I suspect I will be using Lightroom for most of my Fuji RAW conversion. I may have occasion to venture into Iridient or RAW Therapee but where I need to work fast I think Lightroom is now up to the task.
I’m interested to hear if others have any similar experiences to share.
It’s been a very busy weekend with the launch of my latest book “The Photographers Guide to Image Sharpening in Lightroom”. Although this is now my seventeenth book, each one brings a new set of challenges.
With this book, I wanted to include free access to a companion Video course I developed. I love books but I see video fast becoming an essential element of the learning process; this is why I recently established Lenscraft Training.
At present, there are only two courses available (but many more planned):
“Secrets of the Darkroom Masters” available free to anyone who registers.
“Sharpening Photos with Adobe Lightroom” available for US $20, but Lenscraft Members can currently use a 75% discount code.
You can find the book on Amazon for US $5.99/£4.99 or similar in other countries (allowing for variations in tax and exchange rates). I will continue to operate my Magazine Pricing Policy where I price my books on a par with popular photography magazines.
The books aimed at people who already know how to use the basics of the Lightroom Develop module but who want to achieve the highest quality results when Sharpening and applying Noise Reduction. It presents the three-stage sharpening methodology on which Lightroom is based, as well explaining how to use the various tools. There is plenty of advice on how to achieve the best results, together with full length worked examples you can follow. Supporting RAW files and sharpened example images are provided on my Lenscraft site. Inside the book, you will find a 100% discount code for the sharpening video course mentioned above.
If you’re interested in the book, here are the links to the UK and US amazon stores. For other Amazon sites, please search for “The Photographers Guide to Image Sharpening in Lightroom”.
If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can download a free Kindle Reader from Amazon using the link below. The reader is available for different popular platforms including Mac, Windows and Android computers, tablets and phones.
I have been asked if the new book examines the “special” treatment needed when sharpening Fuji XTrans RAW files. The short answer is no. My intention is to share some of my recent findings and recommendations via my You Tube Channel. I just need to clarify some points before publishing these.
Recently I posted a video on You Tube explaining why I like to use the Nik Plugin’s from Photoshop rather than Lightroom. This came about because in all my Nik videos I start with a RAW file in Lightroom This is then converted to an image that I edit in Photoshop. A couple of people asked why and so I recorded the video for You Tube.
The video has been very well received but given it’s only had a few hundred views. To ensure everyone has access to the information I decided to also post this blog. Whilst I am referring to the Nik Collection in the video, the same argument applies to most filters.
The problem I have when using a plug-in for Lightroom is that you can end up creating lots of new files. This can be hard to manage and quickly becomes messy. If you are working on a RAW file you have no option but to convert the RAW file to an image before editing it with (what Lightroom calls) an external editor. This creates a new file, duplicating the original RAW file with adjustments.
After you have edited your image, you may need to apply a second filter to the image. When this happens, you have the option to work on either another copy of the image file or apply the adjustments to the image you created previously. The first option creates yet more image files. The second provides no “back-out” in case you make a mistake; you would need to start again from the RAW file.
Photoshop is better option as each adjustment filter can be applied as a new layer. The Nik Collection even has a setting you can use to automatically.
Once you are working with layers in Photoshop, other options are available to you:
You can reduce the opacity of the layer if you find the effect you applied is too strong.
You can use layer masks to hide or reveal areas of adjustment in the image. For example, you might like the sky in the adjusted image but not the rest. You could use a layer mask to hide the adjustment but then paint back the adjusted sky. You can even create quite complex masks using luminosity and channel mask techniques.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is that you can convert layers in Photoshop to Smart Objects. When you apply a Nik filter to a Smart Object, all the settings you apply in Nik are saved, including control points. This means when you save your finished image as a PSD file, you can open and adjust the settings in your Nik filter, even moving control points.
If some of this doesn’t make sense, watch the video below. If you want to know more about the Nik workflow, look at my book “Nik Efex from Start to Finish”.
Have you ever wanted to tweak the camera profiles in Lightroom? Or perhaps you have wondered how Camera Profiles are created? Perhaps you don’t like the profiles that ship with your camera and want to create something better.
This short video introduces you to a great free tool from Adobe that allows you to generate new, bespoke camera profiles and install these to Lightroom. I demonstrate the process using RAW files from a Fuji X-T2 but you can apply this to any camera which shoots RAW. Just watch the video, download the software and in 5 minutes you will have created your own profile.
If I had to take a guess, I suspect 98% of you reading this will never have seen this technique before. Don’t miss out.
[This post includes an embedded video. If you are reading this as an email you will need to visit my blog]
If you have a You Tube account and want to subscribe to my channel you can access it with the link below. Just click on the subscribe button in the upper right of the screen.
or watch the video here (please note the video doesn’t show up in email, only on the blog).
If you’re a Lightroom user and aren’t familiar with changing your Camera Profile, be sure to watch this. There is a second part to this video which is coming soon and I doubt many people will have seen anything like it before.
The image you see above is the RAW file used in the video once it’s been fully processed.