Will RAW Image Processing Software ever replace Photoshop?

 

Will RAW Image Processing Software ever replace Photoshop?

In a typical working day I have a quantity of RAW files for image processing, normally carried out in Capture One Pro. Once the processing is finished I move on to any retouching that needs to be done. Typically this is in Photoshop, but may also involve other software for some tasks. I can therefore divide each job into two sections: Capture One/processing and Photoshop/post processing.

Image processing used to take up only a small percentage of the overall time for the complete job with a batch of thirty images taking maybe an hour to individually correct, crop and process depending on what was needed and the similarity between shots.

There has been a gradual increase in the complexity and features available in RAW image processing software over the past few years and I’m sure many exciting new features are still to come. Some tasks that used to fall into the Photoshop/post processing category are now carried out in Capture One as part of the RAW image processing. Now in a typical day I find myself spending longer in Capture One but taking less overall time to complete jobs.

The Capture One/Photoshop balance of work has significantly shifted over the past four or five years. This has led me to ask the question, “Will RAW image Processing Software ever replace Photoshop?” You could alternatively ask, “Will Photoshop’s basic image processing ever be able to use more of Photoshop’s retouching capabilities?”

In this post I will look at what can currently be done in Capture One that was once only possible in Photoshop. I will then look at which does a better job in terms of speed and quality. Colour and tonal adjustments to the whole image will not be discussed as these have always been the primary function of RAW file Processing software.

First up for comparison….

Spotting Specks of dust

These are spots of dust that fall on the sensor and generally show up as dark areas on the image. They are particularly visible in plain areas such as sky or ceiling. They tend to always be in the same area.

In Photoshop these are usually dealt with by the healing tool which blends in nicely giving a seamless result. Detailed areas may be better dealt with using the stamp or clone tool.

In Capture One these are dealt with by using the “Spot Removal” feature, which you use to mark up each speck of dust on one of the images. You can then apply this to all other images in the shoot saving huge amounts of time. There are a couple of things to watch out for:

First – the spots can sometimes shift meaning the marked up points appear next to dust specks rather than over them. I assume this is because the sensor has shifted a small amount during shooting:

Second – spotted areas over detailed parts of an image usually destroy that detail. The effect is not usually an obvious problem, but is worth looking for if there are a large number of spots or critical areas of fine detail.

I will usually spot images in Capture One and give them a quick check through in Photoshop.

Lens and keystone correction

Here’s a feature which is a lot quicker in Capture One. Lens correction can be used to get rid of barrel distortion and keystone correction to get rid of converging verticals with an option to also correct horizontal lines. There are a couple of points to look out for though. Keystone correction only corrects to 80% by default. If you want a 100% correction you need to manually set this on each image. Also on severe corrections it is difficult to correct to the same accuracy as is possible in Photoshop.

Here’s a link showing how to use this feature;

Link:How to use Keystone Correction

As with the spotting I attempt to do all lens corrections in Capture One, but sometimes need to use Photoshop to fine tune the few awkward cases.

A quick mention of Lightroom would be relevant here as this also has a Keystone correction facility, which is very quick and easy to use.

Adjustment Layers/Local Adjustments

Here’s where we get into a few more advanced options relatively new in RAW file processing software.

In Photoshop you can make colour and tonal changes to an image using adjustment layers. These have a mask which allows you to make adjustments in a selected area of the image if necessary.

In Capture One you brush over an area of the image and can make colour and tonal adjustments only to that area.

Here’s a link showing how to use this feature;

Link:How to use Local Adjustment Layers

These features are similar, but with some important differences. Firstly any corrections made in Capture One are corrections to the RAW file, which is a lot more flexible than a processed file. Where Photoshop has the advantage is in the range of possible adjustments. Also I find Photoshop a lot easier to make accurate selections in.

Which method I use depends largely on the image. It is possible to get the benefits of both by doing multiple processes of the same RAW file and comping them together in Photoshop if time allows.

Content Aware, Healing, Cloning and Local Adjustment Layers

Now we get to a very new concept in image processing software. This is new to Capture One Pro v8 and I haven’t heard of it being available in other software. It is now possible to remove objects from an image as part of the processing phase in the same way you may use Content aware, Cloning or healing in Photoshop. It is a new feature of the Local Adjustment Layers in Capture One and is very simple to use working in a similar way to using the Patch healing tool in Photoshop.

Here’s a link showing how to use this feature;

Link:How to use Repair Layers

Will RAW Image Processing Software ever Replace Photoshop?

To answer the original question I believe the answer is no. I can’t imagine working without either Photoshop or Capture One. Making adjustments to RAW files in image processing has a very clear advantage, but Photoshop’s range of functions are so comprehensive I can’t imagine them all being available in any image processing software. In addition to this Photoshop’s 3D and video editing functions fall outside the remit of image processing software and will always remain so.

The only case I can imagine, where a photographer may use only Capture One and not Photoshop, is if they only plan to use only basic functions in Photoshop. I think it more likely that the person in this category would opt for Photoshop Elements or even Gimp, which is free.

What does the future hold for RAW Image Processing software?

I’ve seen some fantastic and exciting developments in image processing software over the past few years. I remember wondering if it would ever be possible to retouch a RAW file, seeing the benefits this would have. This has now partly become a reality.

Here are a few ideas I have for future upgrades to Capture One Pro, so if you’re reading this Phase One, I would be interested to know what your thoughts are!

1. Having the ability to move all marked up spots to a new position to allow for cases where the sensor has moved.

2. Having a histogram for an adjustment layer and being able to make Levels and Curves adjustments to that layer.

3. Shadow and highlight recovery as an adjustment layer option.

4. The ability to blur marked up adjustment layers. When using the auto mask, edges have an over sharpened, un-natural looking edge. Currently it is suggested that two or more layers be used. Marking up the same area more than once is time consuming. The ability to soften the edge would be a time saver.

5. Adjustment layer’s currently have a linear gradient option. A radial gradient here would also be useful.

6. The heal and Clone option is a fantastic new addition. I can see large numbers of layers building up, so maybe a method of organising these by grouping them would be useful.

I hope this has been of interest to my readers. I would recommend Capture One Pro to anyone looking to buy image processing software. Adobe Lightroom is also a popular choice, but in my opinion Capture One Pro delivers higher quality results.

If you have any image processing jobs and would like to see the results of Capture One Pro for yourself please e-mail details to me. I can receive jobs of 2GB or more via WeTransfer and would be happy to help.

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