LX3 Optimal RAW Processing: High Resolution

Started May 23, 2013 | Discussions thread
fPrime
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LX3 Optimal RAW Processing: My Photoshop Tools And Process
In reply to fPrime, May 24, 2013

ACR gives me a relatively flat, neutral, color-correct image that opens directly in Photoshop.  From there I use a variety of “best in class” plugins to finish the process (in the order below).

Noise Reduction:  Even at base ISO the LX3 images coming out of ACR will contain some shadow noise.  A light amount of noise reduction in Photoshop is always warranted.  For higher ISO’s stronger tools are needed.  The important thing is to do noise reduction first before exposure or sharpening adjustments which amplify any noise present.

For ISO 80-125 apply light noise reduction with Boundary Noise Reduction v2.3.  BNR protects fine color detail better than ACR or Topaz on low ISO files.

  • ISO 80-125 – In BNR choose a noise level setting of 10, “Cleaner Smooth Areas” checked, all sharpening and detail sliders set to 0 except “Mix in original B&W detail” at 0.6 strength.

For ISO 160-250 apply modest noise reduction with Topaz DeNoise 5 instead.  With elevated luminance noise Topaz does a better job than ACR and BNR in preserving image detail.

  • ISO 160 – Choose “RAW – lightest” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “6”.
  • ISO 200 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “8” and considering “9” or “10” for smoother skin on portrait shots.
  • ISO 250 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “12” if not more depending upon the exposure level.

For ISO 320-800 apply noise reduction with Topaz DeNoise 5 at the settings below.  Remember that for ISO 320 and above ACR has already removed much, if not all, of the chroma noise.  By using this two-stage noised reduction approach you can run Topaz at lighter settings than would otherwise be required.  And that helps retain more luminance detail in the end.

  • ISO 320 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “7”.
  • ISO 400 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “9”.
  • ISO 500 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “10”.
  • ISO 640 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “11”.
  • ISO 800 – Choose “RAW – light” ensuring Overall Strength is at least “12” if not more depending upon the exposure level.

Sharpening:  I break a general post processing rule here by applying sharpening next.  Usually this is supposed to be the last thing you do.  In my situation I justify it here for two reasons.  First, I’ve applied no RAW pre-sharpening so my images can take a little sharpening earlier on.  Second, I like to see how much noise my sharpening brings back into the image.  If I see too much noise then most of the time I simply apply a little less sharpening.   But sometimes the better cure for noise is stepping back one further step to apply a little more noise reduction instead.

I don’t use Photoshop for sharpening.  USM and smart sharpen are less than intuitive to control and often produce sharpening halos around edges.  My favorite tool for sharpening at this stage is Focus Magic.  It uses a deconvolution sharpening method that has the benefit of revealing high detail without producing contrast halos (like Photoshop USM can do) or de-saturating fine detail color (like other sharpening plugins can do).

The amount of sharpening with Focus Magic depends on the ISO and graininess of the source image. For the LX3 the settings below produce incomparable levels of detail:

  • ISO 80-100 will tolerate “Forensic” as an image source along with a blur width of 2 units at 100% for maximum detail.
  • SO 125 needs “Grainy Image” as an image source along with a blur width of 2 units at 100% for a smoother effect.
  • ISO 160+ needs “Grainy Image” as an image source along with a blur width of 3 units at 100% strength produces a smoother output.

Lens Distortion Correction:  ACR is known to partially correct the strong barrel distortion of the LX3, but in order to completely remove it I use the PTLens plugin.  There’s not much to add to this recommendation other than to say that PTLens will automatically figure out the distortion correction based on the focal length in the EXIF file so it can be completely be automated.  It is the DxO equivalent lens specific correction for the LX3 missing from Photoshop.

Contrast Correction:  ACR generates flat, neutral images that are ideal for editing but they are extremely dull at this point and particularly so because I set the Blacks in ACR to 0.  I get pleasing, punchy contrast results from Photoshop’s “Auto-Contrast” tool.  If it by chance gives me something too strong or unexpected I simply switch to “Increase Contrast” or “Medium Contrast” in the Curves panel.

Exposure Correction:  I make sure exposure is correct before judging if the color needs tweaking.  If I have to make global adjustments my preferred method here is not to use Levels or the Exposure panel, but instead to create duplicate layers and either “screen” in brightness or “multiply” in a darker exposure.  This technique seems to avoid adding too much noise when brightening.  If I only need to make local exposure adjustments (or saturation, hue, contrast, etc. for that matter) then Viveza is a far easier tool than making masking and layer adjustments.

Color Correction:  Occasionally the white balance of an ACR image still has a minor color cast an needs a little tweaking to look optimal.  For this I use PhotoWiz’s ColorWasher.  Many times it’s automatic correction is spot-on but if not there are four other possible variations to choose from.  Generally I’ve found it’s best to get close to the right white balance in ACR because when you are close to the right range to begin with ColorWasher’s fine tuning gets even more accurate.

So that’s my Photoshop workflow for my old LX3 files.  Truth be told, it works well for any camera but the ISO breakpoints would obviously be differ to some degree.  Hope this was helpful to somebody out there getting started with RAW and certainly will be interested to hear from anyone who thinks they have an even better approach!

Cheers!

fPrime

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