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Real World Camera Raw: Camera Raw Process Versions

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Jeff Schewe explains the differences between Process 2003 and Process 2010.
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One of the biggest benefits that has come with Camera Raw 6 is a substantial improvement in image-quality potential from the raw processing pipeline. The baseline demosaicing in particular has been improved, in part by removing the noise-reduction component. Along with the improvement in demosaicing, additional fine-tuning was given to the Fill Light adjustment and subtle but important improvements in sharpening were made. But perhaps the most remarkable improvement is the noise-reduction capability.

The Camera Raw team didn’t want to force these changes down users’ throats—particularly if those users work with images with adjustment settings that had already been tuned. Forcing the new processing would change the way these images looked with Camera Raw 6. The team decided to draw a line in the sand. Older images that had any adjustments previously applied—meaning they use nondefault settings—would default to continue using the old process version of Camera Raw, which remains and was named Process 2003. The date indicates that the process does indeed date back to 2003 when Camera Raw was first released.

When you open an image in Camera Raw 6 that has previously had nondefault settings applied, you’ll get the old Process 2003. In order to alert you to the older process, Camera Raw displays the badge shown in Figure 4-4. This badge doubles as a button to allow you to update to the current Process 2010 (see Figure 4-4 for the tool tip indicating the update command).

Figure 4-4 Camera Raw’s Process 2003 badge.

There was quite a bit of debate about where the control over the process version would reside. The panel that has the greatest reliance on which process version is currently being deployed is the Detail panel shown in Figure 4-5. The most obvious differences show in the Noise Reduction portion of the Detail panel. When an image is in Process 2003, the only noise-reduction sliders are Luminance and Color Noise Reduction. Process 2010 adds Luminance Detail and Contrast as well as Color Detail. Noise reduction will be covered in depth later in this chapter starting with Figure 4-20.

Figure 4-5 Detail panel differences between Process 2003 and Process 2010.

You’ll also see that in Figure 4-5 there are different messages in the Detail panel depending on which process version is in use. Process 2003 has the old restrictions regarding the sharpening control’s previews. You still need to zoom into a 100% zoom ratio to see the sharpening applied to the preview. Process 2010 changes the rules a bit: You will see an approximate sharpening and noise-reduction preview even at less than a 100% screen zoom. The caution noted in the Detail panel indicates that a preview at less than 100% is not accurate. You should heed this warning: You can’t accurately determine the effects of sharpening and noise-reduction at a reduced screen zoom.

Also be aware that the Fit in View command in the Zoom tool will result in odd ratio zoom percentages that are even less accurate and therefore less useful. The 50% zoom is reasonably useful as long as you understand that the preview is a dithered approximation of the image detail and not an accurate preview.

You may be wondering where the Camera Raw team members decided to tuck the control over process versions since the Detail panel was too crowded. They decided to put it in the Camera Calibration panel. This does make a certain amount of sense. The Camera Calibration panel (as shown in Figure 4-6) has DNG Profiles and Camera Profiles going back to earlier versions of Camera Raw. So, adding the Process dropdown menu is a reasonable solution. The menu allows you to switch between the two versions. You’ll notice that Process 2010 has a (Current) after it. We can only presume if there is yet another process version added down the road, the new version will also get the “Current” designation.

Figure 4-6 Camera Calibration panel showing the Process dropdown menu.

In order to visually explain the main differences between Process 2003 and Process 2010, we have done close-up screen shots of the Camera Raw image previews at a zoom of 400% of the Default settings in each process as well as tweaked settings and a final adjustment. Figure 4-7 shows the full image with an indicator where the detail crops are from. These detail crops are shown in Figure 4-8.

Figure 4-7 Full image showing cropped portion.

Figure 4-8 Visual differences between Process 2003 and Process 2010.

As you can see, we’re engaging in what our good friend and colleague Michael Reichmann from the Web site calls pixel peeping, a practice of looking too close at an image. We feel in this case it’s warranted so you can see the differences in the process versions.

As you can see in Figure 4-8, at the normal Camera Raw Defaults, the Process 2010 version has more fine-grained noise while the Process 2003 version seems softer. This is the result of the noise-reduction component being removed from Process 2010 demosaicing. The Process 2003 tweaked settings include sharpening needed not only to overcome the built-in noise-reduction but also to improve the image sharpens. The Process 2010 tweaked settings—which were produced by simply taking the Process 2003 settings and changing the process version—seem a bit mis-sharpened. Because Process 2010 does not have to fight to overcome built-in noise-reduction, a good argument could be made to reduce the sharpening.

The final image detail does just that. We’ve reduced both the Amount and the Detail settings. Those are the primary settings that may need adjustment when you are working with images with settings that have been previously optimized for the older processing. Images that have never been opened in a previous version will come in at the Camera Raw Default and will pick up and use the new process version. The settings you may need to adjust will vary by camera and by ISO. Higher-ISO images will need far less Detail slider settings and will require some additional noise-reduction because the Luminance Noise Reduction is off by default.

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