Stephansdom & Lightroom

After some experiments with raw digital images, I now decided to rectify the one notable omission in this summer’s Passau gallery. That’s the famous Stephansdom, or St. Stephen’s cathedral. It had been undergoing renovation which is now finished. I also switched to Adobe Lightroom for post-processing, as described in the next section. Scroll down to see the gallery itself, and click on any image to enter a full-screen gallery view with descriptions and Exif data.

2017-03-04: Moved the gallery from Google Drive to my own host. Also, I much later discovered the reason for Lightroom’s strangely large JPEG sizes.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

I had used Sony’s own Image Data Converter to process my last set of photos, mostly because it’s free. While it works decently enough, you do get what you pay for: it’s infuriatingly slow, somewhat poor in features, and prone to crashing. So I snapped up Adobe’s well-regarded (Photoshop) Lightroom application when I saw it on sale. Unlike the full Photoshop, Lightroom specializes in managing, converting, and post-processing digital photos – i.e. anything other than manual drawing.

Lightroom differs starkly from Adobe’s usual overpriced bloatware with rental licenses. It’s cheap even at regular price, sold rather than rented, easy to use, completely stable, very powerful, and extremely fast to boot. All around Lightroom is far better than Sony’s IDC, and strongly recommended for anyone dealing with digital photos, especially though not exclusively in raw formats. Here’s my workflow so far:

  • Convert raw image data from my Sony NEX-7 into portable digital negative format for long-term storage. Lightroom supports Sony’s native format and can convert entire folders automatically, while also renaming each picture as desired.
  • Correct the substantial distortion of my Sony SEL-18200 ultrazoom lens in each photo. This is absolutely necessary when working on raw image data, and Lightroom happily includes the correct parameters for this and many other lenses.
  • Lightroom automatically applies a color profile that seems more natural than Sony’s own JPEG conversion. I also applied one or two default presets to each photo. “Punch” slightly heightens contrast in a way that I found always pleasant, and “Auto Tone” nicely fixed up my underexposed shots except for a few lost cases.
  • Lightroom also offers excellent noise reduction without losing too much detail. The NEX-7 sensor with its 24 megapixels tends to produce rather grainy raw images. I found that simply setting both Luminance & Detail to 100 in Lightroom’s “Noise Reduction” panel produces excellent results.

I used “Auto Tone” to lift the four interior shots of the cathedral from murky darkness to splendid colors. Naturally I couldn’t use a flash, and while I could have cranked the ISO higher I wanted to see what Lightroom could extract from a definitely underexposed picture. The results are very satisfying and only failed in extreme cases.

It’s worth noting that Lightroom edits pictures non-destructively. That is, until you explicitly export an image, all editing actions are procedurally recorded and reapplied to the unchanged original DNG file whenever you open it. You can jump back and forth in the editing history, and always reset to the original file. Remarkably, the application of even multiple edits is so fast (or Lightroom’s caching works so well) as to be virtually unnoticeable.

The generated JPEGs (at 85% quality) are a lot bigger than those output by Sony IDC or in-camera: 4-12 MB rather than 2-4 MB. This might indicate a less effective JPEG compressor but I like to think that Lightroom preserves some extra detail compared to my earlier processes. Without a direct comparison that’s impossible to say for sure, though. (Update: I now know why.)

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