Raw processing on Android devices with Photo Mate R2
1 UI & Features
Ever since the original iPad was launched in 2010 tablets have been the image viewing and presentation device of choice for many photographers. They tend to be sleeker than laptops and on the road provide the additional advantage of smaller dimensions and lower weight. With the right editing apps installed, tablets can be a good alternative to fully-fledged laptops for those who prefer to travel light.
However, until fairly recently tablets have not really been an option for those photographers who prefer to capture their images in Raw format. The development of Raw files offers you a lot more flexibility over image-parameters in post-processing than JPEG images but also requires more powerful hardware than early tablets could offer.
In addition until relatively recently there simply haven't been any apps available that would be able to read Raw files from DSLRs and enthusiast compact cameras. Both these constraints have now been lifted. With its quad-core processors the current generation of Android tablets is capable of dealing with the amount of data found in Raw files and with Photo Mate R2 an Android App is available that can deal with most common Raw formats.
Photo Mate R2 is available for US$9.49 in the Google Play Store. We installed the app on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. 2014 edition and spent some time converting Raw images. Read on to find out how the app works, what it can do and what the end results look like.
User Interface and Features
The first step to working with Photo Mate R2 is getting your images and Raw files onto your Android device. The best way of doing that will depend on your tablet. Many models, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition that I've been using for this article, come with a MicroSD card slot, a format that is unfortunately only used by very few cameras. Users of cameras with SD- or Compact Flash cards can purchase adapters to use Micro-SD cards in their cameras though.
If fiddling with minuscule MicroSD-cards is not your thing you can alternatively use a Micro-USB card reader for your Android device or, if you own a "connected" camera, transfer your images in wireless fashion. Another way of getting your images onto an Android device is a cloud service such as Dropbox but since you would have to upload them the cloud with a computer first and an Internet connection might not be readily available on the road this kind of defeats the purpose of using a tablet for Raw processing.
Once your images have been transferred to your Android tablet and you open the app you'll see that Photo Mate R2 has a comprehensive feature set and a user interface that is not too dissimilar to comparable desktop packages. The app opens in file browser mode from where you can start a slide-show, jump straight to development mode or simply open an image. In Quick View mode you can quickly browse through all images in a folder by swiping left and right, just like in most gallery apps. However, this option only displays the embedded low resolution preview JPEGs in a Raw file and is therefore not suitable for critical viewing.
A tap on the "Open Image" button opens the actual file and allows for viewing of images at 100% and larger magnifications. This works for both Raw and JPEG files. Depending on the file type you are viewing rendering and scrolling can be a little slow. The .ARW files from my Sony RX100II worked perfectly fine for example but the .DNGs from a Pentax K30 were occasionally displayed pixelated. Mostly they worked fine on a second try though. There's also a "Compare Image" mode for side-by-side comparisons of two images but, like Quick View, it only uses embedded low-resolution JPEGs.
100% viewing generally works fine and offers a real advantage over the low-resolution preview you get in most standard gallery apps. However, Photo Mate R2's unique selling proposition is its development module. You get there either from the browser by hitting the "Develop" button in the top bar or via the menu from image view.
In development mode you've got an impressive array of editing features at your disposal, not far off from what you'd find on desktop Raw converters such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One. Under the "Basics" tab alone you find options for digital exposure compensation, altering the white balance, adding fill-light, recovering highlights and modifying a range of other image parameters including brightness, contrast, hue and saturation.
The "Details" tab provides the tools you need to squeeze maximum detail out of your Raw images. Here you can adjust the sharpening amount and radius and control both luminance and color noise reduction. In the lens section you can correct distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations among other lens flaws but there are no pre-defined lens profiles available.
For the modification of only selected image areas you have gradient, circular, brush and lasso selection tools at your disposal. You can feather selections and change the opacity which allows for detailed area-specific editing. Personally I feel most comfortable making those type of selections with a mouse or some other type of pointing device rather than my meaty fingers on a tablet but . That said, the Galaxy Note 10.1 comes with a stylus that allows for very precise selections.
Photo Mate R2 also offers a range of options for batch processing of images. You can convert all images in a folder, select multiple images for processing or filter images for processing by keyword or rating. You can also select more than one image in development mode by "long-tapping" them in the thumbnail row on the left. Edits are then applied to all selected images.
Once all edits have been made, keywords have been added and and star ratings have been applied you can save your image in either JPEG, PNG or TIF formats and choose from a range of quality and size options. You can define file name pre- and suffixes and get the option to include a watermark and delete/keep the Exif-data for your file. The time for conversion and saving depends on the files and hardware you are using. On the Galaxy Note 10.1 it took approximately 25 seconds to convert one of the Sony RX100II's 20MP files.
The preview options are a nice touch, too. For previewing of your editing effects you can split the image view vertically or horizontally and see the original portion of the image side-by-side with the edited one.
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