Monday, January 11, 2016

Lightroom, Photomechanic and Capture One 9 Pro

Here's my promised review of workflow issues and effectiveness using one of the following combinations to import images from a camera and subsequently processing and exporting them:
  • Lightroom (for importing and processing).
  • Photomechanic (for importing) and Lightroom (for processing.
  • Capture One Pro 9 (for importing and processing).
(I'm deliberately ignoring the fact that, for some post-processing, Photoshop will still be indispensable. But that's not the subject of this article; here I'm interested in the functionality requirements outlined below.)

My main personal requirements on software are:
  • The app should be able to do tethered capture with my Nikon D610 and my backup Nikon D3200—or any other camera I decide to purchase in the future, near or far.
  • The import should be fast.
  • I want to be able to select the photos I want to import at import time (in case I have photos from more than one shoot on a memory card, or maybe a few photos that have nothing to do with a particular 'shoot' per se), or import all of them at once.
  • The app(s) used should provide the usual set of housekeeping functions for images. I don't need super-duper automation or scripty tweaking. Don't have the time for dicking around with that kind of thing. Been there; done that; decided that it really doesn't produce any real ultimate efficiency except for geeks.
  • RAW processing.
  • Exporting of images, from full-size (in TIFF and/or JPEG and/or PSD) to smaller sizes.
  • Ability to export with watermarks (text and/or images).
  • Ability to save processing presets or 'recipes' or whatever you want to call it.
  • Ability to stitch together panoramas, preferably from RAW images.
  • The app(s) used should have a consistent and well-designed interface.
  • The app(s) used should be bug-free and not crash or become 'unresponsive' (to use Mac terminology).
  • The app(s) used should start reasonably fast when using my current main processing tool and OS (Macbook Pro, 13", mid-2012, 2.9 GHz CPU, 8Gb RAM, Intel Graphics 4000 1536Mb, Mac OS 10.11).
 Not asking too much, I think.

As a subscriber to Adobe Creative Suite CC (and and very-long-term user of Adobe products prior to CC coming along) I have a close acquaintance with Lightroom. But it's a pachyderm of a memory hog; and Adobe—not to beat around the bush here—have long ago gotten lost in feature-itis at the expense of functionality.

Importing into Lightroom from a memory card is s-l-o-o-o-w and there's no guarantee that LR won't hang up, which it has done to me many times—to the point of having to do a hard reboot of my Macbook. And, yes, maybe on a machine with twice the memory and CPU power everything would work better and faster and more reliably. But I really don't care. I want it to work on my machine. Period.

I also want tethered capture to work on my cameras; and I really don't care which OS I'm working in. LR with my current OS just doesn't tether my Nikons, and I'm totally fed up with having to wait on Adobe to grace me with fixes to basic tools that should be working but aren't.

I tried to get around the importing-from-memory-card issue by using Photomechanic, which is much faster and more reliable for importing images; and I can see how someone with a certain type of workflow can love it; especially if they have lots of images on a card (and I mean 1000+). The problem with PM is that it's interface is totally...well, PM...and I don't have the mind-space for dealing with this and then switching mentally to LR for processing. It's not that I'm lazy or mentally impaired; I just want a pleasing and consistent interface that allows me to focus on my photos, without having to make mental UI/UX adjustments.

I came across Capture One 9 Pro when googling for tethered capture tools, as I was very keen to have something actually do the job for my recent art-exhibit shoot, where I wanted something better and more color-true to the images taken than the rear LCD of my camera (at the time of taking the pictures); mainly because of the very iffy lighting-temperature conditions in the exhibit space. I downloaded CO9P's full-feature trial version, tested the tethering on my cameras, found it to be working like a dream and proceeded to do the shoot and most of the processing without a hitch.

CO9P's UI/UX is similar (dictated by functionality requirements) and yet quite different from Adobe's, which meant that quite a bit of the functionality and terminology required more than guessing and looking up Phase One's online help. The help system is great—and I say this as an expert tech writer and instructional designer. During my playing around with the software I also accidentally screwed up some settings, which disabled exporting with watermarks and the ability to use Photoshop to stitch together panoramas. A query to Phase One's support system provided excellent and to-the-point assistance within the promised time frame.

I tried some comparisons with importing-from-memory-card between CO9P, LR and PM. Didn't clock them with a stop watch, but CO9P beats LR anytime (and it doesn't hang up!), though PM may be marginally faster. Not fast enough to suffer through the UI/UX issues though.

The one drawback of CO9P is its reliance on panorama-generation using Photoshop. That requires PS to be open, and is managed by a very basic AppleScript. But even though I do quite a lot of panoramas, I can live with that, given that I really can do everything else in CO9P itself.

The bottom line:

For me and my work, CO9P is an almost perfect tool. It may not be for someone else, of course. I also love that in many cases I don't even have to use Bridge anymore; though I will probably continue to use it when doing work (photographic, video, design) inside CC, for whatever reason. Apart from that I can do just about everything I need to in CO9P. Just need to do a bit more work at de-Adobe-UX-ing myself.

Note: I have no commercial interest in either of the companies producing the software discussed above.

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