LX3 Optimal RAW Processing: High Resolution

Started May 23, 2013 | Discussions thread
fPrime
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LX3 Optimal RAW Processing: My ACR Settings
In reply to fPrime, May 24, 2013

Before I describe the workflow, I should describe the objective of my RAW approach.  The main thing about it is that although I want maximum image quality I don’t want to waste a lot of time getting there.  If I had to spend even 10 minutes optimizing each RAW file, for example, that would be a non-starter.  In my ideal world RAW processing would be fully automated and able to process images in batch mode.  Unfortunately the “best in class” processing tools I prefer aren’t quite up to that yet.  Currently I am resigned to a semi-automated approach that takes me roughly 2-3 minutes to run per image.  To get there I’ve setup a process that leverages as many automated, step-saving settings and programmed Photoshop actions as possible.

Basically I start from Adobe Bridge opening multiple RAW files of similar ISO values in Adobe Camera Raw v6.7.  This makes it easier to process images in bulk because I’ve configured ACR in its preferences to remember my customized processing defaults for each ISO setting on each camera.

Where not specified otherwise I use the standard ACR default values, but below are the specific changes I use to optimize development of  LX3 RAW files:

  1. Basic Tab
    1. Recovery:  I push the “Recovery” slider all the way out to the right to 100.  Since I deliberately expose my LX3 to the right to minimize sensor noise in the shadows (usually by +.66 stops), I then use ACR to pull back the overly bright highlights a bit.  If you don’t expose to the right, keep this at 0.  The LX3 has always had a tendency to under-expose and you wouldn’t want to add to that.
    2. Blacks:  I drag the “Blacks” slider all the way to the left to 0 by default.  This makes the image slightly less contrasty, but will give noise reduction software in Photoshop the  full range to see and correct for shadow noise.  Contrast will be added back to the image later in Photoshop.
    3. Output:  I personally set the file output of ACR to ProPhoto RGB at 16 bits to allow further editing in Photoshop within the widest color gamut and bit depth.
  1.  Detail Tab
    1. Sharpening:  By default I turn off all ACR sharpening tools, sliding each slider in this section to the extreme left.  I don’t believe in RAW pre-sharpening for two reasons.  First, the ACR sharpening tools themselves are relatively crude.  Second, applying them in RAW conversion means that they would precede noise reduction in Photoshop and thereby amplify any pre-existing image noise.
    2. Luminance Noise Reduction:  I always keep “Luminance” noise reduction in ACR set to off regardless of ISO.  My own tests suggest that ACR luma noise reduction is less capable of retaining image detail than the “best-in-class” Photoshop noise reduction plug-in’s.
    3. Color Noise Reduction:  I keep this off for low ISO images, but when it’s needed for higher ISO I’ve found no other plug-in beats ACR for color noise reduction, it’s truly best-in-class.  Setting the right reduction values, however, depends entirely on the chroma noise level of the camera being used and the ISO setting of the file.  For the LX3 my breakpoints are:

i.      IS0 80 – 250 = OFF.  At lower ISO’s very light chroma noise reduction is better handled with plugins in Photoshop.

ii.      ISO 320 – 800 = I move the “Color” slider to 13 and the “Color Detail” slider to 50.  ACR is particularly good at removing the nasty yellow and purple noise splotches that the LX3 creates at higher ISO’s, but the ACR default setting of 25 for color is excessive even for the LX3.

  1. Under the Lens Corrections Tab:
    1. Under the Profile Tab select “On” for “Remove Chromatic Aberration”.
    2. Under the Manual Tab select “Off” for the Defringe option.  Defringing has a strong color de-saturating effect in ACR.  If an image contains a lot of non-localized purple fringing or many false color artifacts due to moire or diagonal edges, setting ACR to defringe “All Edges” can help, but then be prepared to boost saturation by +15 in Photoshop to compensate for overall color loss and realize some fine color details will be lost forever.
  1. Under the Camera Calibration Tab:
    1. The general “Adobe Standard” camera profile in ACR is somewhat off in representing correct colors from LX3 RAW files.  As a result a number of people set out to calibrate a more accurate camera profile specifically for the LX3.  I have tried most of these including LX3 camera profiles from Huelight, John Bean, Doug Folkert, and Al Pacheco’s 686 recipe.  In the end I concluded that John Bean’s profile was probably the most accurate presuming the white balance was set correctly.
    2. To enter the John Bean LX3 camera profile into ACR make these changes to the color sliders:

Red Hue -4
Red Saturation +21
Green Hue -14
Green Saturation -20
Blue Hue +3
Blue Saturation -6

  1. You can save this camera profile as an preset by right clicking and choosing save settings, but the better option is to save the camera profile as part of your ACR default for each ISO.

Setting up ACR for each ISO value of the LX3 and saving each as default takes some time, but it is well worth it to getting the most out of your RAW files.  Once set and saved, the only thing you manually need to adjust in ACR is white balance.  The rest of RAW process is automated.  In the next section I’ll describe my Photoshop process.

 fPrime's gear list:fPrime's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Nikon D200 Nikon D700 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM +1 more
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