A RAW Workflow (and alternatives)

This post is of interest to people who use cameras and process images. I originally wrote it for the Canberra Photographic Society.

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Intro

There is of course no ultimate workflow for processing RAW files. Everyone will have a different approach. So I’m not offering a recipe. However, there may be some ideas or information that you can adapt to your own unique processing style.

  • The first part deals with why you might want to assess images using FastRawViewer (the only way to see an accurate picture of a RAW file) and why you might want to consider bracketing files.
  • The second part shows a way to quickly process images in Lightroom using Autotone as a starting point.
  • The third part is a somewhat detailed survey of alternatives, including Fuji-specific issues, plug-ins, other RAW processors, Capture One and Luminosity masking.

There is something for everyone and it covers quite a lot of ground so some may prefer to come back multiple times for different sections.

The most important thing in Photography is to use your own vision to produce an image the way you visualise it, not what the camera or computer decides for you, or what fashions dictate. Post-processing is a very important part of that.

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Contents

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Otowa Bridge at dawn, Hokkaido. This is a stitched panorama with very little other processing. All images benefit from some processing, a few require very little.

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Part 1: Why?

Why RAW?

RAW files offer potentially greater quality for both tonality and colour than JPEGs though they do require processing. A JPEG file is a subset of a RAW file with limited capacity to make further changes. Some people choose to shoot JPEG so they don’t have to process the image but that only works well if your subject has a limited tonal range and you expose accurately.

For any exposure, it is better to “expose to the right”. This means that the histogram for an image in your camera should be as far as possible to the right side without there being a white line shooting up the border which indicates overexposure. There are partial exceptions to this where bright lights are part of your image such as concert lights, streetlights, the sun or specular highlights. Exposing to the right is important because there is much more information in highlight areas with detail than in shadow areas.

A histogram with a solid white line to the right, indicating overexposure

Your camera shows a histogram for a JPEG file, not a histogram for a RAW file. (Well, unless you have the rare and expensive Leica Monochrom). This makes exposing to the right straightforward if you are shooting JPEG but more mysterious if you are shooting RAW. Usually for RAW you will have about two-thirds of a stop extra highlight room from what the histogram shows (and shadow room) but that varies for different cameras, exposure situations and probably lenses. Your camera “blinkies” are also based on the JPEG histogram.

If parts of your image really are completely overexposed, those parts will have no detail and there is nothing to recover. Similarly with shadows that really are completely underexposed. But if your image is just generally underexposed (and not out the the left of the histogram), you may still be able to recover a viable image, perhaps with some increase in noise. Modern camera sensors have greater dynamic range (they can record a greater range of tones) so there’s more leeway than there used to be.

I shoot RAW because the dynamic range of a scene is often greater than a JPEG can capture. I often bracket when shooting landscape because the dynamic range is often greater than a RAW file can capture. I also shoot RAW because I am interested in the best image quality I can get. A JPEG is what the camera sees but I want more than that. For live music I want to express the music, for landscapes I want to create the feel of it or create something entirely new from it. Photography for me is about creating images, not capturing them, and the exposure is only part of that.

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Why Bracket?

There’s usually no point in bracketing when the subjects are moving, such as live music, wildlife, street photography and most portraits. It becomes useful in landscape and architectural photography. Sometimes, even when parts of your image are moving, you may be able to deal with that later and may want to bracket for the parts that are still.

There are three reasons for bracketing:

  1. Focus bracketing (For a greater depth of field than a single exposure)
  2. To accurately expose to the right
  3. Exposure bracketing (For a larger tonal range than a single exposure)

Focus bracketing is relevant in specific circumstances and I will briefly touch on this later.

Bracketing for accurate exposure to the right is a logical way to find the optimal exposure for a single exposure, bracketing upwards by say third stop intervals. I must admit it’s not something I’ve ever bothered to do.

Exposure bracketing is the most common reason. You bracket because the range of tones in a scene may be greater than the dynamic range of a camera. It’s often a good idea to bracket all your shots and work out afterwards which exposure or exposures to use. You may then end up with a more accurate exposure or you combine the exposures later in an HDR application or manually in Photoshop.

If you’re using a mirrorless camera, it’s easy to determine how many exposures you need because you can look at histogram and blinkies and manually change exposure to see the effect before you take the photos.

Further reading: When in Doubt, Bracket by Iliah Borg. Also: QAD HDR: Expose to the Left and Right by Thom Hogan
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Why FastRawViewer?

In order to determine which images you want to process, it is obviously important to determine which ones are correctly exposed.

We have already seen that your camera shows you a JPEG histogram (in the sRGB colour space), which is much smaller than the tonal range that your sensor can capture in a RAW file. Similarly, your monitor is sRGB or aRGB and printer somewhere around there so neither your monitor nor your print can show you the full range of a RAW file. So even though Lightroom uses ProfotoRGB as its working space, which is probably similar to your camera’s sensor, it cannot use that to display the image and therefore does not use it for the histogram. This also applies to any other RAW processor except for FastRawViewer.

Many people are using Photo Mechanic or ACDSee for image review as they have both been around a long time (since 1994 for ACDSee and since 1998 for Photo Mechanic; FastRawViewer came out in 2014). However, they don’t show you a RAW histogram and they are also much more expensive. They do have additional functionality but Lightroom has that functionality as well. FastRawViewer is the only way you can see an accurate picture of the exposure of your RAW file. It is also cheap, at $A32.

So I use it to help determine which images I may wish to process and I will show you how in due course.
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Why Lightroom?

Lightroom is a RAW processor that mainly makes overall changes to your files and includes image management and bulk processing capabilities. Photoshop is a pixel-level image editor that allows complex regional changes and generally processes one image at a time. If you’re getting into image editing, it’s usually better to start in Lightroom, which is much more accessible.

I should add that when I say Lightroom I mean Lightroom Classic CC 2019. If you’re using Lightroom 6, use of FastRawViewer will still apply but I’d stay away from the [Auto] button, and most of the more advanced features of Lightroom I touch on will not be available.

If you’re using Lightroom CC, it’s currently a cut-down version of Lightroom Classic CC and I don’t know how much will apply. Perhaps in time, all functionality will be there.

If you’re using Bridge CC and Adobe Camera RAW, most of this article will still apply but Camera Raw will not allow you to bulk process with the [Auto] button the way you can in Lightroom.

Lightroom and Photoshop are the industry standards and most people use one or the other or both. There are alternatives though. ON1 Photo Raw, Skylum Luminar, DxO PhotoLab and Capture One Pro are the main alternatives to Lightroom. Affinity Photo and Photoshop Elements are alternatives to Photoshop.

Capture One has been around longer than Lightroom (2002 vs 2007). Martin Evening does an interesting comparison of the two and finds that some people’s claims of better sharpness for Capture One are simply different initial settings that can be easily changed, they both have advantages over the other and they are more similar than most people think.

ON1 Photo Pro, Luminar and DxO PhotoLab are more recent competitors and many of their controls copy those of Lightroom. If you are using one of those then read on by all means though I suspect much of what I have to say on Lightroom for the [Auto] button and some recent changes may not apply.

Matt Kloskowski has some interesting articles on The state of post-processing and photo editing and Is there a Lightroom replacement?

I’ve been using Lightroom since Beta 1 and Photoshop since I think Version 5 and feel no need to switch. I think the Lightroom/ Photoshop subscription is good value and while I can understand that people with erratic incomes may prefer standalone applications, if you purchase all the upgrades, the cost may end up about the same. If you’re using one of the programs just mentioned, there’s probably no need to switch but if you’re using a free editor you will likely benefit from considering alternatives. This article refers to people processing RAW files on their computers and will probably not apply to most people using their phones (I don’t use a mobile phone myself).
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Why Auto Tone?

The Auto Tone (or just Auto) button in Lightroom is on the Basic panel of Develop. It used to be a waste of time but a recent update has introduced artificial intelligence based on a database of photographers’ processing. So the effect is customised for each image.

There are two advantages of this. One is that it allows to compare images without having to manually adjust many of them. In particular, images can look quite different at different levels of exposure and if you compare differently exposed images, you may select the wrong one. So if you are not using the [Auto] button, in order to determine which you want to prioritise, you will likely need to adjust images for at least exposure using the Quick Develop controls in the Library module.

The other is that it speeds up your subsequent workflow. The closer you start to your final intention, the easier the processing task. So I find it useful but I stress, only as a better starting point.

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Part 2 Process

Importing to Lightroom

Lightroom Import module

I import my files into Lightroom, assess them in RawFileViewer, then update the files in Lightroom. Others may prefer to copy the files to disk, assess them in FastRawViewer, then add them to Lightroom. Nothing wrong with that, but there are a couple of reasons I prefer to do it this way. First, I don’t delete any files that I identify using FastRawViewer, I mark them for deletion, so I’m still going to import them into Lightroom anyway. This is because that my “good” copy of an image may later prove to have something wrong with it and I may want to look at alternatives I earlier discarded. Also, I’m comfortable with the semi-automated interface of the Lightroom Import module and feel I’m less likely to make a mistake than doing it manually.

Top right of Import Dialogue

There are a few options I select when importing images.

I select Build Previews: 1:1. This creates a full-sized JPEG that Lightroom can use when you zoom into an image in the Library module, thus speeding up the process. There are a couple of other options. Standard previews are full-screen previews but not large enough to be used when you zoom in to 100%, for example to check sharpness. Embedded & Sidecar Previews are from your camera, so Lightroom doesn’t need to generate them. They are usually roughly equivalent to standard previews, except for Fuji and Olympus and maybe other mirrorless cameras, where they are smaller and not useful. They speed up import but Lightroom regenerates them to standard previews when it gets a chance, so they may slow down editing. None of these “normal” previews have any effect in Develop.

I also generate smart previews. They are very small RAW files that still retain detail and speed up operations in Develop, including zooming in to 100%. They have no effect in the Library Module. Both kinds of previews slow down the import process but speed up subsequent editing.

[Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates] is an obvious option to check. When I am travelling I will also check [Make a Second Copy To …] to create a backup to an external disk.

I have also selected a custom import preset that I previously created (The selection for Develop Settings). I have several of these, mainly depending on what camera I am using.

You may also choose to add keywords at this stage that are common to this batch of files.

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Creating an Import Preset

Workflow 3a

Presets Pane and New Develop Preset dialogue box.

I use import presets to speed up my process, to make by default the changes I want to make to all images. Otherwise, I might end up making the changes image by image or forget to make them.

To create an import preset, you start with an unedited image in the Develop module, make the changes you want to be your default. Then you click the [+] in the left pane to the right of Presets. This produces the dialogue as shown, so you can specify what you want to save and click [Create].

One of the things I include is a default sharpening setting, such as the presets Adobe provides (shown above). They don’t work so well for Fuji files though, which require a different kind of sharpening, so in this context, different presets.

I used to have a set of default values for the sliders at the top right of Develop (Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks) but I don’t any more since I’m using the [Auto] button. These came from Michael Clark’s A Professional Photographer’s Workflow.

I also make some choices for Lens Correction. I check [Remove Chromatic Aberration] because why wouldn’t you?. Conversely, you should probably leave [Enable Profile Corrections] unchecked unless you know your camera does not write profile corrections to RAW files for any of your lenses. In the screen capture above, you can see the note at the bottom Built-in lens profile applied. In other words, the camera has already written a profile into the RAW file. In the case of fisheye lenses, where you might want the image uncorrected, corrected or to use a different method of correction, but you can always change the checkbox later.

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Assessing Images in FastRawViewer

I now open FastRawViewer to assess images.

FastRawViewer screen, As with all images, you can click to see it larger, though for the screen fragments, there’s no point. They stay small.

Top right of FastRawViewer screen above, some of the key information.

FastRawViewer shows an actual RAW file histogram. The image above is a middle image in an exposure stack. The range of tones is too great for a single exposure so parts of the image are overexposed (with no highlight detail) and other parts underexposed (with no shadow detail). As well as the histogram, we can see as a percentage, how much of the red and blue channels are underexposed and how much of the green channel is overexposed.

Not all images should be discarded just because they have overexposed or underexposed regions. Live music, night shots and shots including the sun may have overexposed elements and some specular highlights may be fine as they are. Similarly, although it is usually desirable to have detail in the shadows, in some cases and in some places it may not matter. FastRawViewer gives you an accurate picture of highlights and shadows. Other applications could show an image as having both blown highlights and black shadows whereas neither may be true.

You will notice at the bottom of the above overall screen that I have assigned colour labels to images. Red ones are marked for deletion. By default, if you use the recommended FastRawViewer shortcut key for deletion, it moves the file to a subdirectory (and doesn’t assign a red flag). I don’t see the point of that because moving a file is slower than changing metadata so I use red as marked for deletion. I also use green as the first image in a stack (whether bracketed for exposure, focus, panorama or a combination), yellow as subsequent images in a stack and blue for information signs (in this kind of travelling anyway). I may also assign one star to an image identified for processing.

I mainly use FastRawViewer for assessing exposure and to a lesser extent for assessing sharpness. It can show edge highlights which I find of limited use although you can zoom in and out of 100% view very quickly. I generally prefer to assess sharpness on images with default sharpening in Lightroom. FastRawView also has other capabilities that I usually do not use.

FastRawViewer comes with a useful manual and pressing [F1] shows you a list of shortcut keys. Ones I use include [O] to show overexposed regions, [U] to show underexposed regions, [P] to show edge sharpness highlights, [Ctrl][1] to zoom to 100% on an image where you last clicked and [Ctrl][0] to zoom out.

Workflow 17

You can also define your own keyboard shortcuts with File/ Customise/ Keyboard Shortcuts. Consistent with Lightroom, I have defined 1 for one star, 6 for red label, 7 for yellow label, 8 for green label and 9 for blue label.

Once again, there are two main advantages of FastRawViewer for pruning and selecting images: it gives you a uniquely accurate view of a RAW file and it is faster than Lightroom.

FastRawViewer Review by Nasim Mansurov.

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Updating Images in Lightroom

Lightroom stores the changes you make in the catalogue and it can also store them as sidecar files. Most people use only the catalogue because saving changes to sidecar files slows things down. FastRawViewer, though, stores changes in sidecar files and does not update the Lightroom Catalogue, which means you have to update Lightroom for those changes.

(This applies only if the files are already in Lightroom. If you copy them to your hard drive, assign flags in FastRawViewer and next add them to Lightroom, then Lightroom will pick up those metadata changes when you add the files).

Updating metadata in Lightroom

To update the files in Lightroom, I then select them all in grid mode in the Library module and right-click to Metadata/ Read Metadata from Files. (Alternatively, there is the menu command Metadata/ Read Metadata from Files.)

Next, I select all the images with a red flag and press “x” to mark them for deletion.

That works fine with Lightroom. It probably works with ON1 Photo RAW and Luminar, since they copy many of Lightroom’s features. They should either read directly from the sidecar file or if they use a catalogue, there should be a way to update the catalogue.

Some people use Photoshop and Bridge. By default, star ratings came through alright from FastRawViewer to Bridge but the colour flags all came through as white. This is because FastRawViewer is using Lightroom’s labels for colour flags.

Workflow 12

Dialogue box defining labels for colour flags in Bridge.

If you want colour labels to come through from FastRawViewer to Bridge, you can select Edit/ Preferences/ Labels and change Bridge’s default colour labels from Select/ Second/ Approved/ Review/ To Do to Red/ Yellow/ Green/ Blue/ Purple. (If you don’t want to do that, Bridge shows the Red/ Yellow/ Green/ Blue/ Purple text values in the Labels panel at the left. You can select images with text values and use Bridge shortcut keys to assign the correct colour flags).

Marking files for deletion in Bridge is called rejecting them. You can select files with red flags and reject them by pressing [Alt][Del]. Then you hide them by unchecking View/ Show Reject Files.

I would think everything I refer to below for Lightroom will also apply to Camera Raw except that you can only process one image at a time.

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Auto Tone

In our Lightroom workflow we now apply Auto Tone. With all images still selected in Grid Mode of the Library Module, I select the Attributes Unflagged Photos Only and at the far right click the “Unlabelled” colour. This hides images marked for deletion and also the images with colour labels. I do not need to apply Auto Tone to bracketed images and I only need to be able to read the images of signs.

Next I go to the Develop tab. At the bottom of the right pane you will see buttons [Sync…] and [Reset]. To the left of [Sync] is the Autosync switch.

Click it up and the [Sync…] button changes to [AutoSync].

Now click the [Auto] or Autotone button in the basic panel. Each selected image is individually adjusted.

Workflow 16

After Auto Tone

To be specific, AutoTone adjusts most of the sliders in the basic panel including Tone sliders of Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows & Whites, and Presence sliders of Vibrance and Saturation. It does not adjust the White Balance sliders of Temp and Tint and it does not adjust the sliders of Clarity and Dehaze.

Workflow 10

Important! Immediately reset the Autosync switch back to show [Synch..] rather than [AutoSync]. If you do not do this, each time you edit an image in Develop when you have multiple images selected in Grid, you will be changing them as well. By the time you discover this, there might be quite a problem to untangle.

I stress again, this is not the end to editing. It just gets you to a better starting point. It does speed up your task but the most important advantage is that it gives you a much better basis for comparing images to assess which to proceed further with.

If you have a Bridge/ Photoshop workflow, you can also apply Auto Tone in Camera Raw, but only to one image at a time.

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Further Processing in Lightroom

As I said earlier, I’m not intending to get into detail about how to process in Lightroom and Photoshop because that would require a book or video series and there are lots of excellent ones around, for example: Julianne Kost on Lightroom and on Photoshop. However, I will make a few brief comments and also refer to a few capabilities some may not be aware of.

  • After AutoTone, I will usually make some adjustments to the Tone Curve and Basic Sliders.
  • I may also drag on an area of the histogram in Develop
  • I may increase clarity a little,
  • I may increase Dehaze a little if required and I may adjust Colour Balance.
  • I will straighten the image if it needs it.
  • I will crop as required.
    • I tend to use standard aspect ratios plus a few I’ve defined rather than a custom crop because I feel it helps you see alternatives, I can use standard mattes for prints, and I feel images often look better in precisely a standard aspect ratio (especially square).

I usually leave sharpening at standard and seldom feel the need for noise reduction, even live music shots at high ISOs. (Excessive noise is usually due to underexposure.) I prepare my images with printing to A3+ in mind, for printing a lot larger I might need to be more rigorous in sharpening and noise reduction.

The graduated filter, radial filter and adjustment brush at the top of the Basic panel are all useful for regional modifications. The screen capture shows the radial filter selected (the white circle at the top) with both the brush and the range mask enabled (controls at the bottom, below the main box of sliders).

In the image display, you can use the [O] key to show or hide what is selected. You can decrease or add to that by painting with the brush, and you can restrict the changes to specific colours or tones with the Range Mask. Also, that little down arrow at top right under the word Brush brings up a slider where you can increase or decrease the whole effect.

Those four little squares at top right of the basic panel bring up the Profile Browser. I don’t tend to use Presets (on the left hand side of the Develop Tab), except for specific purposes such as sharpening, because they are saved settings that will overwrite other changes you have made and because I prefer to decide for myself how I want an image to appear. However, I do use profiles for some images. They make an underlying change that doesn’t change any sliders you have already specified. Camera profiles, such as you have in your camera, can be useful, especially perhaps in the case of Fuji cameras. There are also artistic profiles, either as supplied by Adobe or purchased from third parties that I sometimes find useful. They have an aggregate slider so you can calibrate the effect. For me it’s not a case of going for the whole thing and getting a cliché, it’s identifying where an image may be a little deficient and using one to subtly adjust the image. I use camera profiles moderately often and artistic profiles occasionally.

I also print from Lightroom. Printing for me is the purpose of photography and a print has a quality and permanence that a digital image cannot attain. You can get better quality if you do it yourself and in any case, if you get someone else to do your printing it isn’t entirely your own work. Lightroom offers a powerful interface that allows you to save much of the complexity of the printing task in presets. Here are some articles on printing from this Blog:

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Launching to Photoshop

For many people, Lightroom may be all they need but Photoshop offers a depth of possibility for regional and pixel-level processing that Lightroom cannot. For some people, Lightroom offers quick processing while others may even spend days on a single image in Photoshop, finessing detail in processing with multiple layers.

Apart from when I use Photoshop for HDR, focus stacking or panoramas, one of my main uses of Photoshop is removing or modifying elements of a photograph in ways that are not available in Lightroom. One of these is content-aware fill and a more powerful new version of this has just been released. With a few images I may get into complex processing with layers and perhaps luminosity masks.

Many profound regional changes are possible are possible through layers in Photoshop. However, it is also a good thing to understand Lightroom or Camera Raw well enough to understand whether they may offer a quick and simpler alternative that may work as well for a specific task and image.

As an illustration of an approach focusing on Photoshop, here is an article from this Blog showing a Photoshop Workflow by Helen McFadden.

As an aside, for people using Photoshop: Have you ever been working with the brush tool and suddenly it turns to a cursor and you can’t use it? I’ve had that happen to me quite a few times over the years and I’ve only just discovered what causes it. It’s accidentally hitting the [Caps Lock] key. That’s some ancient shortcut for an obscure design process. So it just takes hitting the [Caps Lock] again to get the cursor back.

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Part 3: Alternatives

RAW Conversion of Fuji Files

There are a couple of issues that are specific to Fuji cameras with an X-Trans sensor.

Some people see artifacts (“worms”) in the fine details of Fuji images. X–Trans files require different sharpening settings than files from Bayer sensors and this problem is caused by inappropriate sharpening. Thomas Fitzgerald has some free Fuji sharpening presets and there is a link on that page to an inexpensive eBook on the issue.

Some people also claim the Lightroom does not demosaic these files well, particularly for landscape files, so they are lacking in fine detail in foliage. Some claim that Iridient Developer (Mac only) or Iridient X-Transformer or Capture One can give better results and others claim they see no practical difference. I can see no difference in most files and where there is a difference you may have to look at the files at 100% or more.

With Iridient X-Transformer, you can still use Lightroom and do a round trip with selected processed NEF files to incorporate the difference. The file comes back as a DNG and you then [Sync Settings …] from the NEF. If you’re interested, this video shows the process and Thomas Fitzgerald has a small e-book that shows you how to set minimal processing in X-Transformer and comes with some relevant sharpening presets. You can get X-Transformer as an indefinite trial that leaves watermarks.

I tried duplicating the output of X-Transformer and Capture One in Lightroom and found most of the difference is from increased clarity for the foliage. I found I could get similar effects by: (1) creating a gradient outside an image to create a mask for the whole image; (2) In Range Mask/ Colour, use the selector tool to select an appropriate green range; and (3) increase clarity considerably and sharpness a little for the selected foliage.

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The bright yellow-green is the area highlighted as being “in focus” by the “Focus Mask” in Capture One and is mainly foliage. Rather than the image being in focus at a particular distance, this shows that Capture One uses additional clarity/ sharpening for Fuji files.

However, as of 13 February 2018, there is a new feature in Lightroom that addresses this issue (right-click to “Enhance Details”).

  • If you encounter an error message “requires Windows 10 October 2018 or later”, this is because Microsoft aborted an update last year. In Windows, you need to go into Settings/ Update & Security/ Windows Update/ Check for Updates, select reboot when it finishes, and probably go back in there and select reboot again when your PC comes back up. This may take some time.

This creates a DNG beside the file in Lightroom, rather like Iridient Transformer. For the image above, I found a significant improvement with the new algorithm, better than Iridient Transformer and about as good as Capture One. I had to compare the differences at 100% but the differences were significant.

On my PC (which is fairly fast), it took 15 seconds for the dialogue box to load and it then predicted 15 seconds processing time but took 25. It will be slower on a standard or older PC. Most images will probably have little or no effect. It mainly applies to T-TRANS images where there is fine repetitive detail, particularly with foliage.

Like Iridient Transformer, to save time and space, you can run this on some of your final processed images,to get a new DNG version of your RAW file, and then copy the changes from the original file using [Synch Settings]. This might be most appropriate for an image you want to print large.

The file size changes (and implications for disk space are also significant). The original file is 22MB; the Iridient Transformer DNG is 56MB (2.5x); the Enhanced Details version is 104MB (4.75x); and the TIFF returning from Capture One is 137MB (6.3x), though all the changes are stored in Capture One, I can use JpegMini to reduce it to an 8MB JPEG (0.4x).

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Plug-Ins

Monochrome conversion in easy in Lightroom and Photoshop, and also there are many obscure and complex ways to do it in Photoshop, but I use Nik Silver Efex Pro, both easy to use and versatile. I usually create virtual copies of a set of images in Lightroom, do a quick b&w conversion, and decide from them which to process in Silver Efex Pro.

You can process for HDR (exposure stacking) and panoramas in Lightroom and Photoshop. You can also process for focus stacking in Photoshop. It’s a good idea to explore these if you subscribe before investigating third party alternatives.

For HDR, I also use an obscure Polish program called SNS-HDR and may do manual blending in Photoshop or luminosity masking in Photoshop. I also have Photomatix but I haven’t used it for some years because it used to favour a grungy look I had little sympathy for. The new version looks better so I may reassess that. The other alternative is Aurora. I downloaded a trial to check it out but couldn’t get it to work. Too many options. You don’t need them all.

Apart from using Photoshop to process focus stacking, the main options are Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus. I tend to favour Zerene Stacker because it has better correcting options. However, sometimes extensive manual adjustment in Photoshop is required and sometimes focus stacking just doesn’t work. Consider combining two images with a flower in front of a mountain. The flower is in focus in one and the mountain in the other, but in the image with mountain in focus, the out-of-focus flower will be larger than the in-focus flower in the other image. Consequently, you’ll get an out-of-focus area around the flower in the combined image that is not easy to correct.

There are many panorama software options apart from Lightroom and Photoshop including some free ones. I use Kolor Autopano Giga which is more powerful than Lightroom and Photoshop but is no longer available from Kolor (though still from B&H).

I also use JPEGmini, which intelligently downsizes JPEGs to a minimum size without loss of detail, and can be a Lightroom export preset.

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Alternative RAW Processors

The main reason people look for an alternative to Lightroom is to find a cheaper alternative that does not include a subscription. Personally I find the Lightroom / Photoshop subscription good value at $A170pa for the simplicity of the interface, the functionality it offers and the profusion of videos and books available. Of the alternatives, ON1 Photo Pro costs $A140 to purchase and $A112 to upgrade; Luminar costs $A99 or $219 with Aurora HDR (upgrade cost not specified) and DxO PhotoLab costs $A280 (Elite edition; upgrade cost not specified).

All of them are good RAW processors with some unique features though they all lack functionality compared to Lightroom so none is a true substitute for Lightroom or for Lightroom and Photoshop. This may change though. If you’re going this way to avoid a subscription, you may want to also purchase Affinity Photo as a Photoshop substitute which costs $A80 (no discount for upgrade). Luminar and DxO PhotoLab offer layers though, as a partial alternative to Photoshop and DxO PhotoLab offers Nik U-Point capability.

Another alternative is to use them as an addition to Lightroom because all of them allow round trips from Lightroom. The images must come back as TIFFs (or similar) which are about five times the size of a RAW file.

There are also free versions of Capture One for Sony and Fuji though they are fairly basic and don’t include spot removal.

Another alternative I’ve been ignoring is Lightroom CC, where you store your images on the Cloud, rather than Lightroom Classic CC, where you store images on your hard drive. It currently has less functionality but that will improve over time. The plan for this casts Photoshop aside and instead you have up to 1TB of Cloud storage space. The problem is that it loads all your images from your hard disk to the Cloud. That might be alright if you’re sure you’ll never have more than 1TB of images but if you do, storage space on the Cloud becomes very expensive. I suspect that for many people this is a financial trap.

If you cancel a subscription to Lightroom Classic CC, you lose access to Develop and Map tabs but everything else still works including Import, Export, Print and Quick Develop in Library. If you cancel a subscription to Lightroom CC, you’d lose web storage so you’d need to first ensure you have all images on your hard drive. If you cancel a subscription to Capture One, you can still use the free Sony or Fuji versions. You won’t be able to import files from other cameras but you’ll see all files already in the Capture One catalogue and can modifythem to some extent or export them but not print them.

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ON1 Photo Raw

ON1 Photo Raw is a well featured application that comes at a reasonable price. It works as a browser so you don’t need to import images and it has useful features including layers, HDR and panoramas. It also has a good capacity to import a catalogue from Lightroom, say 80% effective for the images.

The main obvious drawback is that many users find it slow but there are also other issues that may be of more concern. It stores all changes in a database in a hidden location on your C Drive. You should set it to save changes to sidecar files, otherwise if the database becomes corrupted you will lose all those changes. There is no capacity in ON1 to back up the database. If you need to uninstall ON1 and reinstall it, you may find it does not uninstall cleanly so you should save a system image before you install ON1 for the first time. Since it is a hidden system file, I would presume an ordinary backup programme won’t be of use to back up the database, you would need incremental system images. You may also need to use Acronis to restore a system image to dissimilar hardware if you upgrade your computer and want to transfer the database.

Another potential issue is the since the database is a hidden file sitting on your C Drive, it will get larger over time and may tend to fill up your C Drive, causing performance issues.

So it may be cheap but there are some potentially significant issues to consider and it becomes less cheap if you also need to purchase Acronis.

For more information, see this review by Spencer Cox. I will update for other applications as other reviews become available.

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Capture One

I said at the beginning of this paper that this was just my workflow at the time of writing and that it changes. It’s changing as a consequence of writing this because I’m seriously considering Capture One.

Capture One is a different prospect to the other choices to Lightroom. It’s not cheaper, it costs twice as much ($A480, upgrade $210 or $380pa for subscription paid monthly). And then if you need additional functionality of Lightroom or Photoshop, it costs three times as much.

Capture One was designed for professionals and was originally for use with Phase One medium format digital backs and for sessions in the studio. It has a highly customisable interface which is both a good and a bad thing. I don’t think it’s very suitable for a beginner. Lightroom has all controls displayed on set screens and it is fairly easy to work out most functionality just from a general understanding of how it works. Capture One takes quite a lot of initial study and while the onsite videos and user guide are very good, there is not the depth of videos and articles available for Lightroom and almost no books.

capone

The color editor is very powerful, much more so than HSL or the colour option in the range mask in Lightroom, more equivalent to Select Colour Range or Hue/ Saturation in Photoshop, but easier to use, probably more powerful and does not require conversion to TIFF or PSD. Skin tone controls are also very good and Capture One is also very capable for camera tethering.

Masking is very good in Capture One including fine tuning by using “Refine Mask”. It allows a degree of local adjustment not available in LR, especially in conjunction with the use of layers. There are also four kinds of clarity (and structure) can quickly give effects I don’t think are easily available in Lightroom or Photoshop. For some images I can extract more detail in Capture One.

Black and white conversion is also very good in Capture One. I’ve had some results I haven’t been able to get in Nik SilverEfex Pro.

There are also disadvantages. The Lightroom catalogue can probably be as large as you want but the Capture One catalogue slows down if it gets too large. I’ve read 35,000 and 50,000 but probably it varies. It doesn’t have a History, which is a significant disadvantage. It also doesn’t have Lightroom‘s Map, Book, Slideshow and Web modules, photo organisation is better in Lightroom and very few plug-ins are available. There is also no HDR, panorama or focus bracketing. You also can’t change an image’s Date/ Time if you’ve mis-set your camera when travelling.

Browsing and selection functionality is quite hidden in Capture One and requires significant research to work out how to set it up. Lightroom‘s interface is much easier to understand but Capture One is probably as powerful. (I’m still coming to terms with it). Similarly for searching and filtering.

The printing interface is much inferior to LR. You can’t do side-by-side before-and-after soft proofing, there are no gamut warnings and though you can define printing presets, they don’t include printer settings. I also much prefer Lightroom’s semi-automated output sharpening because you can’t see correct print sharpening on the screen and would otherwise have to work out a strategy for different papers by trial and error.

I expect to subscribe to Capture One. I will also continue subscribing to Lightroom and Photoshop because both have functionality not available in Capture One. It is likely to take several months to develop a new workflow partly or fully incorporating Capture One.

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Using Lightroom and Capture One

I am currently using Capture One in conjunction with Lightroom and Photoshop. Capture One is a powerful editor but there are many things Lightroom and Photoshop do that it cannot. Also, there is no point trying to transfer my images over from Lightroom, so I maintain my Lightroom catalogue which I don’t need to split up. I’ve only been using Capture One for three months and I’m still feeling my way but it seems better for rainforest, live music under stage lighting and more complex local edits, especially involving colours, whereas Lightroom seems better for straightforward outdoor shots involving people.

Currently I use FastRawViewer and Lightroom for culling and selection. I import and process some of the selected images in Capture One. I either use Ratings to select images for edit in Capture One, or I first move them to a subfolder in Lightroom.

To export images back to Lightroom, I use a standard directory, then move the files to where they need to go. I at first grabbed the files in Lightroom by right-clicking the standard folder and choosing Synchronise Folder…, but it’s easier to define the standard folder as a watched folder and then the exported files just pop up in a subfolder (/File/Auto Import/Auto Import Settings, then /File/Auto Import/Enable Auto Import). Usually those files are full-sized prophoto jpegs, minimised in size with JPEGmini. No point to have TIFFs or DNGs, which are much larger. If I need to work on them in Photoshop, they will be TIFFs. They may also be TIFFs if I need to print them, though JPEGs are probably good enough there as long as I don’t change them much.

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Luminosity Masking

Luminosity masking is making a selection in an image from the lightness or darkness of a tonal range and using that to make a range of changes to the image.

ON1 Photo Pro, Luminar, Lightroom and Capture One have all recently incorporated luminosity masks and it’s been in Photoshop since the digital Middle Ages. It’s in Lightroom in a basic form as the “Range Mask” and similar in ON1 Photo Pro. Capture One has a slightly more flexible form and in Luminar it’s very basic.

In Photoshop it’s very powerful and potentially mind-blowingly complex. You can do it manually but it’s easier to use an embedded application, which you pay for or use in a very simple way for free. David Kingham provides a review of them which includes a very informative but very long video. I have TK Actions, which is the most powerful but requires significant Photoshop experience. ADPpanel is probably more suitable for most and Lumenzia is another alternative. They require a fair level of dedication so don’t feel compelled to explore one. Probably you don’t need to.

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Switching RAW Processors

If you’re looking to switch to another RAW processor, your existing files may be a logistical issue. Each application processes files in a proprietary way and you may be able to export few changes to your RAW files unless you export a TIFF, at around five times the size of the RAW file. So if you have a lot of files, this may require more disk space than you have.

The best case is likely to be migrating from Lightroom to ON1 Photo Pro, which will import most Lightroom changes because it is designed as a Lightroom substitute with many of the same commands. Luminar is also working on a tool to migrate from Lightroom. Capture One imports only the most basic changes from Lightroom.

Except as TIFFs, I would think it’s most unlikely you’d be able to import any layer-based changes from ON1 Photo Pro, Luminar or Capture One to another RAW-processing application and obviously not where the functionality does not exist in the destination application.

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Application Mortality

Kolor Autopano Giga has recently gone bankrupt, is no longer available for purchase and will no longer be updated.

DxO Labs, which owns DxO PhotoLab and the Nik Collection, has declared bankruptcy but continues to trade and a new version of the Collection is due next year.

Aperture used to be the main alternative to Lightroom, but Apple abandoned it.

_dsc1170_s-hdr(6)-edit

The camera market is declining due to smart phones and the same pressures will apply to photographic software. Also at present, China’s and Europe’s economies are not doing well, the US has a boom financed by ballooning debt and Trump is threatening a trade war not seen since the Depression, so a World recession or depression is possible. This would not help.

You would think that Adobe would be pretty secure though Kodak demonstrates that even the mightiest can fall. Phase One (maker of Capture One) has been around for a long time so you’d think they’d be secure though Fujifilm is clearly undercutting their medium format cameras and backs. DxO PhotoLab may be the most vulnerable since DxO Labs is already bankrupt. ON1 Photo Pro and Luminar might also prove vulnerable.

If one of these companies goes under, it might get bought out and maybe nothing changes. Otherwise, you probably have a program that will never be updated and at some point an operating system change might stop it working. You’d have to consider the security of your files.

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Backing Up

Backing up is an essential part of every photographer’s workflow.

My data drive is a RAID 10 array which provides extra security but not an extra level of backup because the whole RAID array can fail. I use Acronis to backup to a Drobo and also have a set of backups on disconnected disks. I use CrashPlan for Small Business for my third level of backup, to the cloud (BackBlaze or IDrive is probably more suitable for most).

More on backing up for photographers in an article in this blog here.

There’s also an article in this Blog on Computers for Photography.

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Final Comments

The wake of a ketch. Some images require subtle processing.

We’ve looked in this article at a workflow for processing RAW files primarily with FastRawViewer and Lightroom: FastRawViewer is the only program that offers an accurate view of a RAW file; Lightroom is powerful and enables bulk processing.

If you’re starting off I recommend the Lightroom/ Photoshop subscription combo. It is likely to be more comprehensive than the alternatives and more training materials are readily available. I can’t say there’s anything wrong with the other choices I’ve mentioned above though.

I suggest starting with Lightroom and only feeling your way into Photoshop when you find a need for its features. You can quickly come to a basic understanding of Lightroom and do a lot with that. Gradually you may come to understand much of what Lightroom can do. Hardly anyone fully understands Photoshop though many people have sophisticated individual approaches.

Effectively processing a single image is most desirable and it’s also important to have an efficient workflow. Digital photography often involves taking lots of image so it is most useful to have an efficient method or assessing and processing those images en masse. That is the main subject of this article.

Just as buying lots of cameras and lenses is not a substitute for developing your individual vision and getting out there and taking photographs, so buying lots of processing applications is not really a substitute for understanding the ones you have.

I’ll repeat what I said in the beginning: The most important thing in Photography is to use your own vision to produce an image the way you visualise it, not what the camera or computer decides for you, or what fashions dictate. Post-processing is a very important part of that.

I’ve tried to write this concisely for everyone at all experience levels.

Feel free to make comments or ask questions.
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Gaoersi 6×17 Camera Review (2005)

This is a review of the 6×17 Gaoersi Camera that I published in Photo-i in 2005. I have sold the camera so I cannot bring it to a Society meeting.  This article is mainly of historical interest now, showing how much camera technologies have changed. It will also be of interest to people still using these cameras though, and those purchasing them either new or second-hand.

When I recently came to sell the camera, I realised that the article is no longer online so I retrieved a copy with the Internet Wayback Machine and reinserted images. Note that Photoshop and the software for scanning and printing will have changed unrecognisably since 2005.

The first 6×17 camera of this type was the Linhof Technorama, introduced in the late 1970s and used by people like Ken Duncan. The Fujifilm G617 was introduced in 1983. Both of these cameras were initially introduced with fixed lenses and later replace by interchangeable lens versions.

(p.s. No point clicking on the images. These are the original, very small images used for the internet of 2005).

Gaoersi 6×17 Camera
review by Murray Foote
Page 1

Introduction

Welcome to photo-i if you’ve just dropped in to read this review. I’m Murray Foote. I’m an amateur photographer with large-format experience and a frequent contributor to the photo-i forum. As far as I can tell, I’ve just become the first person outside China to purchase the new Gaoersi 6×17 panorama camera.

I purchased this camera for the quality of image that it offers and because I’m familiar with the processes it requires. I intend to use it with the new Fujichrome Velvia 100 which has very fine grain (and is not to be confused with Velvia 100F). I’m intending to scan the slides on a Canon 9950F using Silverfast AI Studio, use the Vignette filter in Photoshop CS2 as a substitute for a centre filter, correct for perspective where required using the Photoshop Lens Correction Filter and print to an Epson R1800 (A3+ roll). I’ll still have the film if I need a higher quality scan in the future.

A lot has been written in recent times about the death of film and the triumph of digital. For many the epitome of a high quality digital camera is the 16MP Canon 1Ds Mk2. Yet here is a film camera from China that can actually offer superior quality at a fraction of the cost. There are other 6×17 panorama cameras out there but the new price for this one is cheaper than the second-hand price for the others.

Sure, you can stitch panoramas together but it’s not a route that appeals to me for ultrawide images where objects may be moving and the apparent density of the sky may vary. To use even a Canon 1Ds Mk2 as a substitute for a direct image you have to throw away nearly half the image to achieve the aspect ratio which leaves you with a less than 9MP. Moreover the resolution of large format lenses will be much greater at this format that 35mm/ DSLR lenses.

Of course, the devil is in the detail. This is not a camera for everyone. This is a totally manual camera with no concessions to automation that is suitable only for experienced photographers who are also used to manual techniques. The camera comes as body only, including an adaptor and viewfinder for a lens that you specify and supply. It would help to have large format experience and it would be more economic to already have suitable large format lenses.

Large format? What’s that? Well just as digital sensors have different sizes, film comes in different sizes too. Nikon and many other film cameras use the 35mm film format (24x36mm), Hasselblad is an example of a medium format film camera (using 120 film at 6x6cm) and then there are the view cameras that look like they came straight out of the nineteenth century using sheet film with sizes of 9x12cm or 5×4 or larger. The Gaoersi uses 120 film but it is better thought of as a large format camera. This is because the 6x17mm film size is almost the same area as 9x12cm and because you need large format lenses to use it.

There’s really only one reason for buying this camera – and that’s if you want to have the capacity to print really big prints, because that’s ultimately where the advantage of a dedicated panorama camera lays.

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The Camera Arrives

Here it is, well packed, in the mail from China.

I ordered the camera with two lens adaptors (for my 75mm and 150mm large format lenses), two viewers to go with the lenses and an 8x focusing loupe. It also comes with a small piece of ground glass to calibrate the lens adaptors and a small metal device to lock the lenses in place.

The lens adaptors screw onto the camera using the large bolts on the front of the camera. There is a “dark slide” behind the lens adaptor so you can change lenses without exposing the film. You need to slide the dark slide out to take a picture.

Rear of camera with dark slide in place
Dark slide out (lens and adaptor also removed)

That hole in the back of the camera is the window where you read the numbers on the paper backing of the film. How this works is explained later under “Changing Formats on the Fly”.

Top view of camera
  • On the left of the picture is the Format knob. You can set the image size to 6×17, 6×15 or 6x12mm and this sets masks inside the camera.
  • Beside that is a spirit level
  • In the middle is a viewing scope that clips into a metal bracket.
  • The film wind-on knob is on the right of the picture
    • the film winds from right to left
      • this picture is upside-down from that point of view
  • There are also two lugs on top of the camera to attach a neck-strap.
  • There is also a hole at the handgrip in front of the format knob where you can put a cable release and screw it to the lens
Camera set to 6 x 17
Camera set to 6 x 12

The camera back comes right off by sliding up a couple of stiff clips. You need to have a spare spool to wind the 120 film onto because none is supplied. The back fits quite tightly and is very solidly made. The clips need a little bit of effort to lock in but this is a good thing because the back won’t come unlocked by accident. On the bottom of the camera are screw-thread fittings for tripods in two standard sizes

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What accessories does this camera require?

Many people think when they buy a digital camera with a built-in lens or a standard kit lens that they’re done with expenditure. Sadly though, if you want to produce really good quality output that’s just the beginning. This is even more the case with this camera.

To take photos you will also need :

  • Large format lens(s)
  • Cable release(s)
  • 120 Film
  • Hand-held meter (should be good quality)
  • Spot attachment or spot meter desirable
  • Tripod
  • Padded camera bag or pack
  • Neck strap
  • Analogue EXIF Data Recorder (i.e. pen and notebook)
  • A small torch to see what you’re doing when it gets dark
  • Biological Repository for Analysis, Inspiration and Nous
    • i.e. BRAIN – this is not a camera that will make any decisions for you

To print b&w in chemical darkroom you will need:

  • 5×7 Enlarger (rare and huge)
  • other darkroom equipment

To print in digital darkroom (colour or b&w) you will need:

  • Scanner
    • Canon 9950F + Silverfast AI Studio
    • Or Epson 4990 + Doug Fisher’s slide holder
  • PC with lots of RAM and Disk Space and good monitor(s)
  • Colorimeter for monitor
  • Editing software
    • eg Photoshop CS2
  • Printer – A3+ or larger (with roll paper)

eg – Epson R1800, R2400, R4800, HP 8750, DJ 90, Canon iP9950

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What to expect of this camera?

  • Lens calibrating should work
  • Viewfinders should be accurate
  • Film plane should be flat
  • Winding and frame spacing should work OK
  • Format switching should work OK
  • Build quality should be good including no light leaks

Lens and metering quality are not relevant here because the camera doesn’t’t come with lenses or a meter. I guess you could say that the camera should produce superb images with a high quality lens and appropriate metering.

Calibrating the Lenses

Calibrating the lens may come easily but it can also become something of a Chinese puzzle because the instructions are terse to the point of cryptic. It took me quite some time to work out the procedure. However, once you understand what to do, it becomes relatively simple again.

The camera comes with a small piece of ground glass so once you have removed both the camera back and the dark slide, you can check the focus through the back of the camera. I also purchased the 8x loupe, as shown below:

Checking the focus through the back of the camera

At the front of the camera, the Lens adaptor fits onto the camera body and the Lens fits onto the Lens adaptor.

  • The whole mechanism that attaches the Lens to the camera is the Lens Adaptor.

Each Lens Adaptor has a Focus Ring and a Lens Ring, as shown below:

Lens with Focus ring, Lens ring and Lens adaptor

When the lens adaptor is correctly set up, the infinity sign will be on top and the lens will be focusing to infinity (as shown above). Then as you turn the lens up to half a turn clockwise towards the minimum focusing distance, the end part of the lens mount (together with the lens) moves away from the Focus Ring and changes the focus.

Briefly, these are the steps you need to follow to calibrate a lens:

  • Turn Focus Ring to Infinity (lens fully retracted)
  • Loosen lens ring
  • Unscrew barrel between lens ring and Focus Ring and focus to infinity using ground glass screen and loupe
  • Tighten lens Ring
  • Align focus ring and ensure that it’s tight

To loosen the Lens Ring you first have to loosen the two adjustment rings on each side of it. One of them is shown below:

Fixing screw on Lens Ring
Adjustment screw inside Lens

Notwithstanding the instructions, the Lens Ring doesn’t change the focus; it’s just a locking ring. When you loosen it you can turn around the barrel of the adaptor between the Lens Ring and the Focus Ring. In this way you can screw the whole assembly out, thereby changing the focus.

The next task is to align the Lens so that when you are focused at infinity, the infinity sign is in the middle on top. There’s another issue associated with this. The Focus Ring should rotate between infinity and the minimum focus and stop at each end. Sometimes, though, it can just go round and round with no point of reference. This is because it is screwed into a separate small ring inside the barrel of the Lens Adaptor and it is possible for this to come undone – we will call this small ring the “Threading Ring”. You can use the little holes in the threading ring to screw it in but I found it difficult to get it tight enough. Then I found another trick for doing this. The Focus Ring can unscrew if you screw it too hard past infinity but provided the threading ring is still connected, you can also tighten it by screwing it past the minimum distance.

There are then two ways to align the Focus Ring. You can have it locked into in position but Infinity may not be on the top. By rotating the barrel of the Lens adaptor (i.e. everything outside the Lens ring) you may be able to get the Lens correctly aligned with the focus still correct. This may work because rotating the whole assembly causes very gradual changes in focus. However, a more accurate way is to get the focus you want by rotating the whole assembly and then adjust the alignment of the Focus Ring using the methods of the previous paragraph.

Though the instructions suggest focusing at infinity this is difficult because objects are so far away and very small for a wide-angle Lens However, if you carefully turn the Lens Ring around exactly half a turn and then calibrate the focusing on that distance it amounts to exactly the same thing. When you have the adaptor properly focused and aligned you should retighten the screws in the Lens Ring and align the Lens itself in the mount.

Then according to the instructions the last step is to tighten the two screws inside the Lens The white arrow in the picture above points to one of these screws. The screws just go up and down in a slot to restrict focusing to between infinity and the minimum distance. My guess is that the only purpose of tightening them is to make sure they don’t fall out. They didn’t’t seem to want to be tightened so I just left them well alone.(Above the white arrow in the diagram above you can also see one of the locking holes you can use to lock the Focus Ring against the “threading ring”, as discussed above).

The one significant problem I did encounter was with my 150mm lens. First the hole in the adaptor was too small to take the lens so I filed the adaptor hole out to size using a half-round file. But then I couldn’t get the lens to focus at all. At 6m the point of focus was about 16mm behind the film plane – far too much for any adjustment. The reason for this is that I was sent an adaptor for a current lens whereas my 150mm lens is 40 years old. No problem though. I was sent an additional spacer ring that screws in below the lens ring and now it’s correctly set up and focuses. Great service. I’m impressed.

One possible room for improvement is that it would be nice if the lens adaptors had a mark to align distances against and a depth of field scale. One of their illustrations on the Web does show this with what I think is a 90mm Super Angulon lens– perhaps this is only available with that lens Still, it might introduce another element of complication to the calibration process and I do not regard this as a big issue; depth-of-field tables are easy enough to come by on the Web.

Page 5

Viewfinders

I ordered two fixed viewfinders (for 75mm and 150mm) but since they were out of stock of the 150mm finder I received a zoom finder.

Fixed 75mm Viewing Scope on the left; 72mm – 150mm Zoom Scope on the right
Viewfinders, front and rear shots

The zoom viewing scope gives a very small window at 150mm, as you can see above, though it is useful for deciding which lens to use. The fixed viewing scope also has the 6×12 format is marked out in addition to the 6×17. In either case there is a fair amount of barrel distortion which won’t be present in the camera lens

The effectiveness of the scopes partly depends on their parallax and coverage. Parallax refers to the displacement of the view through the viewing scope as compared to the view through the lens Parallax will not be much of an issue when focusing at infinity but it will be for close objects. It’s easy enough to allow for, though, by viewing through the scope both above and alongside the camera.

Coverage is more of an issue. The 75mm viewfinder shows considerably more than the lens covers and is not very precise. This applies to 75mm on the zoom scope as well as to the 75mm fixed scope. You also have to be careful about the angle you are looking through the viewing scope. There is probably an inherent problem with such scopes though presumably the Linhof ones which cost $US600 instead of $US80 are more accurate. However, the zoom scope at 150mm seems quite accurate.

The Fotoman 6×17 camera offers an option for a ground glass screen in a magnetized holder. You can use this to compose under a dark cloth like a view camera provided that there is no film in the camera. This is more viable than it sounds since you only get four 6×17 exposures to a roll of film. It would be good if Gaoersi offered this as well. Since at present they don’t, I may look to getting one made.

Page 6

Changing formats on the Fly

There is a long round window on the back of the camera
When you open it you can see the numbers on the film

The black numbers and dots are on the paper backing of the film; the off-white numbers and lines are on the window of the camera. They’re probably easier to see if your film doesn’t have white paper backing.

You’ll see there are four “0” points across the top of the window. These are the indicators you use to wind on for your first exposure on a roll of film.

  • The first “0” is where you wind to if your first exposure is 6×12 and you wind on so the number “1” appears.
    • There’s a 6×12 indicator below the first “0”, obscured in this case by the lower black “6”
  • If your first exposure is 6×17 you wind on to the third “0” so that the number “2” appears there.
    • Underneath the 3rd “0” it says “617 (2)”
  • If your first exposure is 6×15 you wind on to the fourth “0” so that the number “2” appears there.
    • Underneath the 4th “0” it says “615 (2)”

Then, when you take further exposures, to see how many numbers on the film backing you wind on by, you can consult the Format Change knob:

Format Change knob

Obviously the Format Knob must be pointing to the correct format before you take the shot. It also tells you how much to wind on. If shooting in 6×12 format you wind on by 2 numbers on the film, for 6×15 it’s 2½ and for 6×17 it’s 3.

You can estimate fractions from the numbers and markings on the film. In the film number window (second-to-last picture), the position for 6½ is just to the right of the big dot.

If you’re changing formats mid-roll, you read the outer numbers on the top of the knob. Changing between 6×17 and 6×15 you advance 2¾ numbers, changing between 6×15 and 6×12 you advance 2¼ numbers and changing between 6×17 and 6×12 you advance 2½ numbers. It may sound a bit complex but it’s all quite simple really. You just have to bear in mind how much space you have left at the end of the film.

On a roll of 120 film you’ll get four exposures at 6×17, five at 6×15, six at 6×12 and then there are various combinations. Usually with 120 film it’s better to wind on after you take a shot to avoid the risk of double exposures. In this case it’s better to wind on when you take a shot because it’s only at that point you’ll know what format the shot will be (and therefore how much to wind on).

Build Quality

Build quality seems to me to be very good. The camera back for example fits so closely that you really need two hands to ease it off. Winding on of the film works well and just looking at the camera back I feel confident that it will hold the film flat.

Taking a Shot

Taking a shot involves a sequential ritual of a rather manual nature:

  1. Ensure that Format Change knob is pointing to the correct format
  2. Read how much to advance the film off the Format Change knob
  3. Advance film to correct position
  4. Ensure preview button on lens is not on (i.e. shutter is not open)
  5. Fire off shutter a couple of times to check operation
  6. Remove lens cap
  7. Remove darkslide
  8. Take exposure using a hand-held exposure meter
  9. Take the shot
  10. Replace dark slide
  11. Replace lens cap
  12. Do not wind the film on at this point

Hand holding is not generally viable at 6×17 because you will need to stop the lens down to something like f22 to cover the format – it may be more viable at 6×12, especially if you use 400 ISO film. Even so, it defeats the purpose of the camera somewhat – this is really a camera to use on a tripod.

Results

The next step is to look at some results from this camera. I’ve taken two rolls of film in my immediate environment using available lighting conditions. The first roll was mainly taken at the new building where I work. The second roll was taken over the back fence. As it happens, I live in an inner suburb of Australia’s National Capital and there’s 10,000 acres of native bush over my back fence.

I’ll cover what I do to scan these images, how I optimise them in Photoshop and what I do to print them out. I’ll be brief because there is lots of good documentation for both Silverfast and Photoshop. My scanner is calibrated (using Monaco EZColor and Wolf Faust targets) which is useful for slides but not essential. More importantly, my monitor is calibrated using a colorimeter (Monaco Optix).

Page 7

Choice of Scanner and Scanning Resolution

I am scanning the slides using a Canon 9950F scanner with Silverfast AI Studio software. Another option would be to use the Epson 4990 or 4870 together with Doug Fisher’s filmholder. I believe that the Canon is capable of producing better quality scans. It may be slightly sharper but that it not so important – the main thing is that it has a better DMax (density range) than the Epsons as reported in tests by a German magazine (3.8 as compared to 3.3). However, to produce good results with the 9950F it is essential to use Vuescan software or (my preference) Silverfast AI Studio. For more information on these scanners see Vincent’s Scanner Reviews on the 4870, the 4990, the 9950 and the Software Review on the 9950 when used with Silverfast.

The scanner has a nominal resolution of 4800dpi. When you scan you should use an even fraction of the nominal resolution (½, 1/3, ¼ etc) but so that the resulting resolution comes out as a whole number (e.g. ¼ of 4800 is 1200, a whole number). This way you are avoiding interpolation by the scanner and if you need to resize your scan it is better to do it later in Photoshop.

Normally I would scan slides at a resolution to produce the largest size I am likely to print, then later downsize the finished image in Photoshop when I need it for other purposes. This gives the following choices for scanning resolution:

  • 1600dpi (output resolution) would give an output size of 10×28” (25x71mm) for printing at 360dpi (print resolution) and produce a file size of 200MB
  • 2400dpi gives an output size of 15×42” (37x106cm) and a file size of 450MB. However, the file size is then getting a bit large for my PC so I would probably scale it back in Photoshop to 2,000 dpi which corresponds to printing on A3+ roll for an initial file size of only 320MB.

Normal slide film has a resolution of about 4,000 dpi but the new Velvia 100 probably has a resolution of 8,000 dpi or even more. To scan at this resolution you would need an Imacon or a drum scanner which would produce a file of about 5GB that you might be able to print to around 8×23’ (2×6 metres) at 180dpi.

However, for the purposes of this exercise, Vincent has told me that the maximum size for images to display on this page is 550 pixels (at 72dpi). This means that I only need to scan at 96dpi – but it’s easier if I scan a bit larger than that so I can see what I am doing in Photoshop more easily – so I’ll mostly scan at just 160dpi (as shown in the picture) and then downsize.

Scanning

To start scanning we turn on the scanner and the computer, open Photoshop and launch Silverfast.

Perhaps the first thing to do is to is to set up a 6×17 frame set. Silverfast doesn’t have automatic thumbnail recognition but you can drag out the location of two 6×17 frames on the main Preview screen, set your default scanning preferences and then save the frame set to use each time you scan.

When you save a new frame-set using the Save option on the Frame-Set dropdown on the General tab, the set you save adds to the menu (as shown in the picture). Saving a Frame-Set is also a good way to make sure that each time you scan you start off with a clean set of parameters.

The buttons towards the top of the frame provide Silverfast’s core functionality. From left to right you can:

  • zoom to expand the Preview Window to full screen;
  • auto-correct (you can specify the parameters this uses from the Options button at bottom right of the picture)
  • adjust histogram (overall or by channel; there is also a colour -caste removal slider)
  • adjust curves (overall or by channel; there are also sliders for midtones, highlights and shadows)
  • globally correct colour with a simple yet powerful interface
  • selectively correct specific colours.

(The last two buttons on the right are not covered here)

I generally zoom then auto-correct. This generally results in a small amount of clipping that I will correct using the Histogram. Sometimes I will make the histogram correction immediately or other times when I am adjusting colours I will do it just before the scan. It is important to retain your full shadow and highlight detail in the scanned file in Photoshop.

This is the Silverfast Preview window. You can zoom into the images from here and there are also a number of buttons down the left side that offer useful functions.

The Multiscan function helps eliminate noise by averaging several scans. Here it is set to 1 which is OK to scan only for Web. Usually I scan to print and operate it at 4 (as per Vincent’s finding)

The AACO button brightens up shadows without affecting highlights and midtones. I tried this in some of the example images that follow but found other methods more effective.

Job Manager allows you to send a batch of images to the scanner, including several versions of the same image.

The next picture is of the Job Manager dialogue box

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There are various scans displayed in its main window (white background), some of different images, some with different settings, some different parts of images.

The six small buttons below the main window allow you to import one or more images into Job Manager, delete images from Job Manager, edit parameters, copy parameters to other images in Job Manager and select all images in Job Manager. You can scan all at once or one at a time. It is important to make sure you save the job before you scan (Job menu at top left) in case you need to scan again.

There’s also one intermittent but nasty trap I’ve encountered in Silverfast. When you zoom into an image (whether from Job Manager or normally) you should click on the image before you do anything to it. Sometimes this changes the apparent exposure of the image and if you don’t do it you may end up with an overexposed scan.

Page 8

Lens Correction Filter in Photoshop CS2

Before we move on to some sample images I’ll show you a screen shot of one of the new features of Photoshop CS2 because it is one that is very relevant to processing 6×17 panoramic scans.

Photoshop CS2 Lens Correction Filter (Filter/ Distort/ Lens Correction)

This screen allows you to correct pincushion or barrel distortion and reduce chromatic aberration. Perhaps most important for our purposes is the Vignette filter which may allow us to manage the falloff inherent in ultra wide 6×17 images. You can select the amount of the correction (making the corners darker or lighter) and with the midpoint slider you can determine how much of the image the falloff refers to.

There is also the Transform box, where you can correct vertical or horizontal perspective if the camera had been at an angle to the subject.

Page 9

Images

Now for a few images. These are my first shots with the camera, shot in available lighting conditions. In some cases I may go back and try again later. For each image I’ll briefly say what the image is about, what settings I used to scan it and how I processed the image in Photoshop. This is my own approach as it happened; there are many ways of doing these things and no doubt better approaches as well. All were taken with my 75mm lens before I got the 150mm lens calibrated.

Note: There’s no point downloading and trying to blow up these images because they’re only prepared for viewing at this size on screen.

First is a picture taken at the new building where my workplace has just moved.

It was taken late in the afternoon on a cloudy day and it was actually composed a bit wider than this. At that time I didn’t realise the viewing scope might be inaccurate though I also had this composition in mind as a fallback.

I had a minor confrontation with a security guard just after taking this. He ordered me not to take a photograph of a public building for no valid legal reason that I could see. (I continued and took the exposure I was waiting for).

  • Silverfast operations
    • I used curves to bring up shadows and hold back highlights
      • I also tried the new AACO feature to bring out shadow detail but found curves to be more effective (in this case at least)
    • No sharpening in Silverfast
      • Silverfast sharpening works quite well but there’s no point if you’re going to be optimising the image in Photoshop
  • Photoshop operations
    • Three-phase sharpening using PK Sharpener
      • This included using Hi-Pass filter for dark contour only
    • Curves used to increase brightness without blowing highlights
    • Vignette filter – moderate amount (as shown in previous picture)
    • 85 Warming Filter (c. 80%)

Overall I was quite happy with this image and I think it demonstrates that the camera and lens can work quite effectively even without using a centre-weighted neutral density filter.

It’s sharp, too as the picture below shows:

This is a blow up of a small area from the window in the middle to the left. There is a reflection on the glass and a couple of bits of dust, a green fluoride light coming through the Venetians and the edge of a shading grille. There’s even a diagonal grid texture on the grey frame for the grille. As viewed under the loupe, the film appears tack-sharp from top to bottom.

It’s only scanned at 1x and there would no doubt be less noise with 4x multi scanning. There’s more detail on the slide too that a really expensive scanner could pull out but it does demonstrate that the Canon 9950F is a viable option with this camera and film.

The next one looks down the central stairwell in my new work building. This was actually my first exposure with the new camera. It poses a particular problem for scanning and processing. With slide film you have to expose to retain the highlights but here the lighting was brighter in the centre than at the sides. This in turn exacerbates the problem with lens falloff.

I also managed to overlap this one with the one before which meant I had to crop in to a different composition.

  • Silverfast
    • Auto-adjust
    • Adjust histogram highlight and use “remove colour caste” slider
  • Photoshop
    • Vignette (Amount +47; Midpoint +33)
    • Shadow Highlight, mainly to further bring out shadows
    • Crop
    • Hue/ Saturation
      • Use eyedropper to select the fire pole, which was a bit too magenta, change hue and increase saturation (just of the pole)
    • Gentle 2-stage sharpening using PK Sharpener

I tried getting more detail out of the shadow of the sides but I was fighting a losing battle, risking savage colour castes and some posterisation. That’s OK. I don’t mind it the way it is. But to get more shadow detail on the sides, given the bright centre lighting, a centre-weighted neutral density filter may have helped. The exposure would have been about two stops slower, though.

The next shot was taken in the “bush” (Australian term) beyond my back fence. The shadows of the surrounding trees posed a problem for composition. Imprecision of composition due to the inaccuracy of the 75mm viewing scope was a problem here too. I tried composing through the back of the camera using the little piece of ground glass supplied for focusing but it was just too hard.

  • Silverfast
    • Auto adjust
    • Preserve highlights in histogram
      • that’s all for this one
  • Photoshop
    • Gentle curves adjustment to lighten highlights and darken shadows
    • Cropped in by about 40%
    • Gentle sharpening with PK Sharpener

There were details in the deep shadows at the top left that I cropped away because I couldn’t pull them back. It’s almost OK but there’s a better shot waiting for me when I go back to try again with a bit more time….

Here we have some Wattle (Acacia Baileyana) glowing in the late afternoon sun of late winter/ early spring – and silhouettes of eucalypts in the background. Acacia Baileyana is an Australian native plant but also declared as a weed in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory).

  • Silverfast
    • Auto adjust and preserve highlights in histogram
  • Photoshop
    • Vignette filter
    • Bringing the highlights out with levels
      • Also tried curves but in this instance levels worked well
    • Cropped in by about one-third from the right
      • Note that this has to happen after scanning and after applying the vignette filter – otherwise the vignette filter will operate on the wrong part of the frame
    • Gentle sharpening with PK Sharpener

As it turns out I might as well have taken it as a 6×12.

The last one is a Eucalypt in the last seconds of the sun….

  • Silverfast
    • Auto adjust
    • Preserve highlights in histogram
      • that’s all for this one
  • Photoshop
    • Vignette filter (Amount +42, Midpoint +20) brightens it up considerably at the top and bottom
      • There is no doubt perspective distortion and I tried correcting for it but I decided that the image is better as it is.
    • Gentle curves adjustment to lighten highlights and darken shadows
    • Slight straightening because the slide wasn’t quite straight in the holder
    • Slight cropping in at the bottom
    • Gentle sharpening with PK Sharpener

Once again, looking at the slide under an 8x loupe, the bark on the tree is really quite sharp

Page 10

Printing

The last test is to actually generate a print and examine it. I haven’t worked out a method to get it to disgorge through your screen but I’m still going to describe it because printing is the objective of the whole process. The image I’m printing is the first one I showed you, the vertical one of the building. I scanned it at 2400dpi and I’ll try leaving it at that size and printing at something like 12×34” (30x86cm) at 440dpi. This is because it is preferable (from the point of view of output quality) to vary the dpi within reason rather than to resize the image. However, if it gets too much for my PC I’ll downsize to 2000dpi.

My PC is a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 with only 1GB of memory but I do have a RAID array of hard disks which helps to speed things up. Scratch disk and virtual memory are set up on separate defragged disks and I’m saving to PSB (large file format). Even so, it can get slow so I need something else to do at the same time such as writing this review.

One additional thing I’ll do on the large image that I didn’t bother with on the small one is to remove dust and scratches, going through screen by screen at 100% display. Because this is such a large image, even on my 22” monitor this comes to 64 screens(!). I’ll be using a combination of the Spot Healing Brush, the Healing Brush and the Clone tool. On an image with a lot of sky I might duplicate the image, apply Photoshop’s Dust & Scratches filter to the lower image and erase down to it with a large brush – not in this case, though.

I didn’t use FARE (Canon’s equivalent of ICE) because Silverfast doesn’t have it since Canon won’t license it. It does have software-based dust and scratch removal which can be useful for some images but which also takes a bit of time to get right. Mind you, hardware-based functionality for dust and scratch removal such as FARE and ICE seems to have something of a mixed reputation. Some people say it is wonderful, others say it degrades the image too much to be worthwhile. (There may be a case here for using a wet-mounting system such as ScanMax but that’s another issue for another time.)

I processed the image in Photoshop using essentially the same steps I described earlier except that this time, because of the larger file size, I flattened layers and saved the file after each significant operation. The various operations took about an hour and a half in total, including 15 minutes for capture sharpening, 35 minutes for cleaning dust and scratches and 20 minutes to apply the vignette filter.

The next step was soft proofing. Soft proofing is something you can do in Photoshop when you have a monitor that is calibrated with a colorimeter. It shows you what the image may look like when printed using a particular paper profile for your printer. The dialogue where you define soft-proofing parameters is shown below. There was little difference in rendering intent and I used Perceptual. I also made slight increases to the adjustments to Curves and Hue/ Saturation.

View/ Proof Setup/ Custom…

Since it’s a large print I’ll printed out a small test print first which worked out fine. When I turned the printer on, the flashing lights told me I needed to replace Matte Black and Red cartridges. I also replaced Cyan to minimise ink lost in cartridge recharge because it was quite low.

To produce the final print I first rescaled the image to final output size (in this case, changing the dpi without changing the overall size of the image). Then I flattened it, reduced it to 8-bit, output sharpened, flattened again and saved as PSD. This took about 22 minutes.

Then I printed using dialogue box settings as shown below:

  • Colour Management section of Print with Preview dialogue:

File/ Print with Preview…

  • Print Properties dialogue:

File/ Print/ Properties …

It took 25 minutes to print out – 11 minutes for Photoshop to think about it and 14 minutes for the R1800 to print it. (Print size 30×86 cm @ 440dpi).

The print looks stunning. Sharp from edge to edge no matter how close the viewing distance. It took some hours to generate and no doubt would have been quicker with a better specified computer, especially say 4GB of memory. It demonstrates two things:

  1. that the camera can deliver stunning results with appropriate lenses, other equipment and processes
that for most shots, Photoshop’s Vignette filter can effectively replace the traditional centre-weighted neutral density filter.
Page 11

Specifications

It’s a camera review, remember? Since you’re on photo-i we’re not merely covering the camera as a consumer commodity, we’re looking at it from a photographic point of view in the context of the processes of the digital darkroom so we can assess its ability to produce worthwhile images.

Gaoersi camera (big black thing) and a Canon PowerShot A75 (small silver thing)

Which of the two cameras above do you think might fit into your coat pocket? (And if you reply “Both of them” may I suggest you change tailors). Mind you, the difference in potential image quality is greater than the difference is size.

Size of body: 200mm x 112mm x 75mm (for the Gaoersi, just in case there’s any doubt)

Weight of body only: 0.8kg

Weight of body with adaptor, lens and viewing scope: 2.3 or 2.4kg

Actual image size on film: 56x162mm (6×17); 56x142mm (6×15); 56x122mm (6×12)

Diagonal of film size: 171mm (6×17), 153mm (6×15), 134mm (6×12)

Focal lengths of lenses: 72mm to 150mm

Link for Gaoersi store on E-Bay

Page 12

Conclusions

The Gaoersi 617 is a specialist camera for experienced photographers who are used to manual processes with film cameras. It requires a slow and deliberative approach to taking photos and is most suitable for those with large format or at least medium format experience.

All cameras provide only a small part of the process to generate worthwhile images which particularly applies to this kind of camera. However, provided you’re appropriately set up to do so, it offers an affordable route to generate large high quality prints through the digital darkroom.

Overall, for the right photographer, I think that it’s a great camera and great value.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Stunning image quality
  • Precise build quality for back and mechanism
  • Zoom Viewing Scope is accurate at 150mm
  • Takes a wide range of large format lenses
  • Works well coupled with the Canon 9950F scanner, Silverfast and Photoshop CS2, using a well-specified, fully colour-managed PC.
  • It’s a film camera

Cons

  • Zoom and Fixed Viewing Scopes not accurate at 75mm
  • Calibration instructions too terse (unless you’ve read this review)
  • Be nice to have a ground-glass option
  • It’s a film camera

Score out of 10? You’ve read the review – you can do that.

If you’d like to make some comments or ask some questions, please visit the new photo-i Film Camera forum. You may also find many other interesting threads in other photo–i forums covering topics including Colour Management, Scanning and Printing

Many thanks to Murray Foote for putting in all the hard work on this review. I know this is a rather specialist camera that may not appeal to the masses. However, I am sure there are people who will be interested in this camera.

Vincent

 

Backup for Photographers

  • Why backup
    • Hard disks will fail
    • System files can become corrupted
    • Working files can be deleted or corrupted
    • Viruses can hit (worst case: Ransomware)
  • What to backup
    • Create boot disk (or USB)
    • Create system image
    • Three levels of backup
      • Local backup
      • Backup to Disk
      • Remote backup
  • How to backup
    • Create boot disk
    • Create system image
    • Create local backups
    • Create remote backups to disk or Cloud
    • Backup while travelling

 

Analogue backup: Warehouses in Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan, during the Otaru Lantern Festival (and in heavy snow)

 

Why Backup

Often people only become convinced of the necessity for backup when they lose their hard drive and their computer stops working.  They may have lost all their data.  All hard drives fail.  Some may last for a long time, some may not.

Apart from the hard disk dying, system files may become corrupted so your PC doesn’t work any more and images or working files can become corrupted or be accidentally deleted.

Your computer might get a virus that could render it inoperable.  A good anti-virus program safeguards against that but it won’t catch everything.  In the worst case it might be a ransomware Trojan that encrypts all your files and demands money to recover them which then may still not happen.  Potentially, this could include connected backup files and other computers on your home network.

Macs are less susceptible to viruses than Windows PCs but can still get them so anti-virus software may be appropriate there too.

 

What to Backup

If you have not already done so, you should create a boot disk for your computer on a CD, DVD or USB stick.  Then if your operating system dies, you can most probably still start your computer by booting up from the boot disk.

You should save a system image for your PC.   This includes all the programs on your computer and all the hidden system files.  Then if you get a virus, your operating system becomes corrupt or you need a new C Drive, you can restore everything the way it was.

  • One partial alternative is to turn on System Restore.  This lets you undo recent changes to your computer’s image.  It saves to your C Drive and you have to restrict the disk space it uses. This means you may not be able to go back far enough to correct a problem.
  • Another partial alternative is to Reset your PC.  This reinstalls Windows but keeps your files (provided they are in standard Windows locations).  However,You have to reinstall all your software.  This is also a possible option if your computer performance slows right down

Of course, you should also backup your data files.  For a photographer that will include all your images, RAW, TIFF, PSD or jpeg.  In fact you should have three backup copies of your files because the hard disks you backup on may fail too.

  • Your first level backup might be directly attached to your computer as a hard disk or as a bunch of disks in a box that operate together (called a DAS or a NAS depending on direct or network access).
  • Your second level backup might be to hard drives not usually connected to your computer.
  • Your third level backup might be to hard drives stored at work or at a friend or relation’s house, or it might be to the cloud. If your house burns down you still have your images.

Some computers use a RAID which is a group of disks that operate together for greater speed, data duplication or both.  Note that a RAID is only one level of backup because the RAID can fail.

 

How to Backup

  • How to create a boot disk (or recovery drive):
  • How to save a system image
    • For Windows
    • For Mac
    • Note: At least for Windows, you can’t restore the system image to upgrade your system to different hardware (i.e. to a different kind of hard disk or from a hard disk to an SSD).  For that you need Acronis or another backup utility with this capability.
    • Another option is to clone your system disk to a spare one. Then, if you get a virus, you swap the spare disk in.  You can do it on the fly with Acronis; with other programs you would need to start your computer off a boot disk first.
    • Partial alternatives:
  • How to create local backups
    • Confusingly, Windows has two options for file backup
    • There are free backup programs that are likely to be better than the ones Windows provides.
    • If you are using a Norton antivirus product such as Norton 360 or Norton Security Premium, that will include a backup utility that is better than the one that comes with Windows.
    • Acronis provides a full-featured backup option with many other useful tools. The stand-alone version is likely to be better value than the subscription.  It is the market leader but there are also many other alternatives.
    • For Mac

 

How to create remote backups

  • You can create local backups to disk as above and take the disk to another location. The problem with this is that your backups are likely to be out of date.
  • Backing up to the cloud has become affordable and viable. Since photographers have lots of images, a cloud backup that allows unlimited backup is best.  You also need an ISP such as iiNet that allows unlimited uploads and downloads.  Initial upload is slow (months if you have many terabytes of data) but after that it works unnoticed.  Downloads are faster but may still take considerable time for large amounts of data.  So you still need local backups due to speed of recovery and because no backup is 100% secure.  There are three main options:
    • BackBlaze for about $A70 per year
      • Carbonite costs more, is slow and I don’t see any reason to prefer it to BackBlaze.
    • CrashPlan for Business for  about $A160 per year.
      • BackBlaze only stores deleted files and previous versions of files for 30 days whereas CrashPlan stores them indefinitely.
    • IDrive offers 2TB storage for about $A90 per year or 5TB storage for about $A130 per year (Discounts for first year including one from a hidden link).
      • Limited storage but multiple computers and devices for a household rather than just one computer as for BackBlaze and CrashPlan, so may be an option for families. Stores previous file versions for 30 days only.
    • For more information see the Blog article Cloud Backup for Photographers.

 

Backup while travelling

You should really have three copies of your images while travelling.  At least one should be stored separately, in a coat pocket for example, just in case.

  • A laptop and portable hard drives are an obvious option. Samsung T3 SSDs are very small, pocketable portable hard drives.  If using a tablet, it will need to have sufficient USB ports for importing and saving or backing up images.
  • A more compact option is a portable storage device. The Sanho Hyperdrive UDMA3, for example, allows you to synch with another hard drive for additional backup.
    • Another cheaper option is the RAVPower FileHub Plus where you can use your phone to backup an SD card to a portable hard drive.
    • A more recent option that looks very useful is the Gnarbox 2.
  • If you are going for an extended walk in the wilderness where there is no electricity, you may have no alternative but to take multiple CF or SD cards for storage and backup. However, if you’re not travelling too light there may be additional options such as Anker solar panels and batteries.

Back from Binna Burra

From Monday 24th July to Friday 28th July, a group of seven of us from the Canberra Photographic Society journeyed to Binna Burra, Lamington National Park, Southern Queensland:  Ulrike and Hugh, Alan, Luminita, Greg and Murray and Jools.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Gold Coast and Hinze Dam from Beechmont Rd by Greg Wei.

On our way to Binna Burra and the wilderness of Lamington National Park, we caught a glimpse of the distant Surface Paradise, spare and bizarre, like a distant giant petrified forest.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

View from Alcheringa, Monday evening by Murray Foote.

We stayed at the wonderful accommodation of Alcheringa, a house and associated cottage easy walking distance form the Binna Burra Lodge but not part of that complex.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

View from Alcheringa, early Thursday morning by Greg Wei.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

View from near Alcheringa, early Friday morning, by Luminita Quraishi.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Tree ferns and tree stump, Daves Creek Circuit by Alan Pomeroy.

On our first full day, we set off on the Dave’s Creek Circuit.  This is a 12km round trip but we made the mistake of walking to the car park, which added about another kilometre to the journey.  This passed though rainforest, eucalyptus forest and open heathland.  We all found that our fitness levels were not as good as we might have hoped, especially Hugh, whose bad back played up on him on the return journey.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Curious red flower (Drosera rotundifolia) beside track near Molongolee Cave, Daves Creek Circuit by Luminita Quraishi.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Xanthorrhea flower stalk and hakea branches, Daves Creek Circuit by Murray Foote.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Natural Bridge by Greg Wei.

After the exertions of the first full day, we decided on a quiet day for the second.  Ulrike and Hugh just relaxed at Alcheringa.  The rest of us went for a short walk on the Tallawallal Circuit (no images to show you here) and then for an afternoon drive to Natural Bridge at the edge of Springwood National Park.  We experienced subdued late afternoon light, which was fortunate for photographing the waterfall.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Natural Bridge and River by Murray Foote.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Huge tree left from river flood by Alan Pomeroy.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

On the Coomera Track by Luminita Quraishi.

On our last full day, Ulrike and Hugh went for a drive to Natural Bridge and Springwood National Park.  The rest of us undertook the 17.5km Coomera Circuit, with rainforest and many waterfalls along the Coomera River.  This was to be our most productive day.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Bahnamboola Falls, Coomera Circuit by Greg Wei.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Bahnamboola Falls, Coomera Circuit by Alan Pomeroy.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Below Bahnamboola Falls, Coomera Circuit by Luminita Quraishi.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Bahnamboola Falls, Coomera Circuit by Luminita Quraishi.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

At Moolgoolong Cascades by Greg Wei.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Below Moolgoolong Cascades by Alan Pomeroy.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Forest on the return track by Murray Foote.

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Binna Burra, Canberra Photographic Society, Landscape, Photography, Travel

Paragliders, North Tambourine, by Murray Foote.

On the last day we had to leave by 10am.  Ulrike and Hugh were driving their own car.  The rest of us were driving back to the airport in a hire car.  We had some extra time so we took some back roads and were fortunate enough to see these paragliders who had just taken off.

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Getting Lightroom to fly

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(Pipeline, Hawaii, 2015).

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Introduction

Previews enhance Lightroom’s performance.  They can also help free disk space and restore missing files. We will discuss:

  • What are previews?
  • Speeding processing with smart previews
  • Optimising performance in Lightroom and Photoshop
  • Saving disk space by trimming your Lightroom catalogue
  • Missing and excluded images
  • Regenerating missing images

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What are Previews?

Lightroom creates a variety of previews to speed up display and processing of images.

  • Standard previews let you quickly see the image full screen in the Library module.
  • 1:1 previews let you zoom into 100% in the Library module, for example to compare the sharpness of one image against another to determine what to delete or what to retain.  This doesn’t apply to viewing images in the Develop module or zooming in one-to-one in the Develop module because there you are accessing the actual RAW file.
  • Smart previews speed viewing images in the Develop module but don’t apply to zooming in 1:1 where you are directly looking at the RAW file.  Their original use was to still allow most processing of images stored on a disconnected drive and we will discuss them separately.

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You can see the settings defined for your previews in the Edit/Catalog Settings/File Handling dialogue.

  • Standard previews default to your monitor resolution.
  • The setting “Preview Quality:  High” relates to thumbnails.
  • You can set to discard your 1:1 previews after a day, a week, a month or never.

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Previews - Import File Handling 2

You can define previews when you import files, by specifying a value for “Build Previews” under File Handling in the top right corner of the Import dialogue. Here 1:1 previews are selected, as well as to build smart previews (covered below).

For Lightroom CC Classic (and probably Lightroom CC), under Build Previews you can also select Embedded & SidecarThis allows you to import the embedded jpeg files from your camera.For Nikon and Canon these are full-size, for Fuji, Olympus and Sony they are reduced size.  This may speed the import process but Lightroom will replace them with standard previews as you make changes to your files.

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Alternatively, you can select files in Lightroom and use the command Library/Previews/Build Standard Previews or Library/Previews/Build 1:1 Previews.

If you don’t have a problem with disk space you might as well retain 1:1 previews indefinitely and create them while importing files. This slows down import but makes Lightroom run faster in the Library module, especially when zooming in to 1:1 to check sharpness.  If you don’t define 1:1 previews, Lightroom will create them on the fly which may have a significant impact on performance.

 

Speeding processing with smart previews

Normal previews and  1:1 previews speed operations in the Library Module; smart previews speed processing in the Develop module.  They are actually miniature RAW files and save in a folder under your catalogue taking about 2% to 5% of the space of the photos themselves. They were introduced some years ago as a means to let you keep processing while disconnected from your data when travelling.  However, they are just as useful to greatly improve response time in normal editing.

First you need to generate the smart previews, which you can do on import, or by the command Library/ Previews/ Build Smart Previews (see second and third screen shots from the top of this article).

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In current versions of Lightroom (from CC2015.7 and 6.7), you can select a checkbox to use smart previews instead of originals for image editing.  (Edit/ Preferences/Performance).

Changes transfer instantly to the original RAW files, and stay there even if you discard the smart previews.  The only limitation is for sharpening and noise reduction; custom sharpening done on a smart preview will not transfer well to the original file.  However, if you zoom to 1:1, Lightroom is showing you the original file so it is safe to use smart previews with custom sharpening, as long as you do that at 1:1.

If you are using an earlier version of Lightroom, you need to trick it that your folder is offline.  If you close Lightroom, rename the folder say by adding ” xxx” at the end, then reopen Lightroom, you are working with your smart previews.  To transfer the changes to your RAW files, you will need to close Lightroom and rename the folder back.

You might retain smart previews indefinitely if you’re not short of disk space.  Still, you only use smart previews when you’re processing in Develop module so you may not need to keep them for long.  Unlike the 1:1 previews, discarding smart previews works OK.

Optimising performance in Lightroom and Photoshop

The specification of your PC is one of the main factors affecting the performance of Lightroom and Photoshop.  I wrote an article about that a while ago.  A new generation of chipsets and motherboards has come out but everything else should be pretty much unchanged:

Adobe also provides useful guides to optimising performance in Lightroom and Photoshop:

Saving disk space by trimming your Lightroom Catalogue

One of the ways you can improve the performance of Lightroom is to use an SSD as the hard disk for your catalogue.  Since the storage capacity may be small, the size of your Lightroom Catalogue may become a problem.   For example, when I put my catalogue on my new 500GB hard drive (an M.2 SSD), I found I was left with less than 10% free space, too little for reliable performance.  So I had to find a way to reduce it.

There are four elements associated with the catalogue

  • The Catalogue itself. Mine was 3.6GB.  I have seen people advocate clearing Develop versions in Lightroom but that seems to me a waste of time.  You lose functionality and only save a couple of gigabytes, which does not solve the problem.
  • Catalogue backups.  I had 22.7GB here and you can save some space by deleting old backups but this wasn’t enough to solve this problem.
  • The Cache. Many versions ago, Lightroom benefited from a huge cache but this is no longer required.  The default is 1GB and you can have more than that but 10GB will be plenty for most people.  Stored cache files may build up to a few GB and you can clear them with Edit/ Preferences/ File Handling/ [Purge Cache].
  • The Previews. This is where all the files were, 391.3GB in my case.  Reducing this is not as easy as one might think.

Catalogue backups offer some scope for space saving by changing the drive where you store the backups.  You can’t set this from inside Lightroom but you can change it in the dialogue that appears when Lightroom is about to make a backup.  It also makes sense from a security point of view to have the backups on a separate drive to the catalogue.

Previews is where all the action is though for saving space.  We saw above that you can discard 1:1 previews after a day, a week, a month or never.   I had mine set to Never but you’re supposed to be able to remove them with the command Library/Previews/Discard 1:1 Previews.  I decided to remove all 1:1 previews for images rated at less than 3 stars (85% of my images) but it only reduced the stored previews by 0.4%.  I then read on an Adobe performance guide that this only works where the standard preview size (2560px in my case) is less than half the resolution of images from your camera (4193px for the Nikon D3s).  So I reduced the standard preview size to a low number, reopened Lightroom and tried again.  That was better but not much.  I only reduced the stored previews by 5%.

So that left only one option – to delete the Previews file and start again.  In other words, I deleted the folder Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata under the folder for the Lightroom catalogue.

Whoompa!  Previews to zero!  Lightroom still works!

My next step was to create new 1:1 previews using the Lightroom command Library/Previews/Build 1:1 Previews (see previous image).  I decided to create them for all my images with 3 stars or more, plus current working folders.  That took a long time.  More than a day and a half for 23,000 images.  After that I had a previews folder 141.4GB in size, 64% smaller than it was.  That solved my disk space problem.  Lightroom also seemed to create standard previews for all images automatically, which I wasn’t expecting.

Missing and excluded images

Do you have missing images or images unintentionally excluded from your catalogue?
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On the left-hand side on the library module, right click on a folder and select “Synchronise folder…” .

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The Synchronise Folder dialogue appears.  It may show you have photos in that directory that have not been imported into Lightroom, or photos in the catalogue that are missing on your hard drive.

If [Import New Photos] shows images in that folder that are not in Lightroom, you can click [Synchronize] to import them and see what they are.  After the import, you can select them all under “Previous Import” at top left of the Library Module and then click on their folder (left pane in Lightroom) to compare the new selected images with the ones already there.  They may be images you want to have in your catalogue or they may be images you meant to delete from the disk but instead just removed from Lightroom.

Missing photos may simply have been moved in Windows Explorer (so Lightroom doesn’t know where they are).  If you have some, you can click [Show Missing Photos] to see what they are.  You can then click on the little exclamation mark that appears at the top right corner of an image to locate them.  Alternatively, the missing images may have been deleted or lost.

However, before you remove any previews, especially 1:1 previews, you should check that you don’t really need them.  As we shall soon see, you may soon be able to use the previews to recreate missing images.

Regenerating missing images

A few years ago, I had three hard drives fail within a week, two in my main data drive (a RAID array) and one in my Drobo backup (essentially another RAID array). When the smoke cleared (metaphorically), I realised I had holes in my backups.  Whole directories of files now showed in my Lightroom catalogue as missing.  Fortunately, I left them there and did not delete the previews.  Quite recently, I realised I could regenerate those missing images which were still in my catalogue, using Jeffery Friedel’s Preview Extraction Tool.  Because they were 1:1 previews I was able to recover them as full-sized jpegs, good enough to print from.

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You can have to copy the regenerated images to a different location, but you can copy them all into a single folder or preserve a whole folder structure.  You can also retain image metadata and Lightroom’s metadata including star ratings and colour labels.

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Summary

  • To increase Lightroom performance by running it on a small fast SSD, you may need to reduce the size of your Previews file
  • You may be able to recover deleted or lost images by regenerating files from the 1:1 previews
  • Standard and 1:1 previews speed Library module operations; smart previews speed Develop module operations

 

Cloud Backup for Photographers

Updated November 2017 after the withdrawal of CrashPlan for Home.

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(Cloud over Iceland farmhouse)

Introduction

This post gives detailed information on the options for backing up to the cloud. For an overview of the various options of backup and the reasons for using them, see my summary post Backup for Photographers.

 

Why cloud backup?

You should have an off-site backup as well as local ones. This can be taking hard drives to store in someone else’s house, but those backups are not likely to be very up to date. Cloud backup is now easy and affordable so is often a better alternative. You do need an unlimited data plan with your ISP though, such as iiNet provides in Canberra.

 

Why you still need local backup

It’s very slow to transfer large amounts of data to the cloud. Getting back a few files should not be a problem but retrieval of large amounts of files is also slow, though not as slow as the upload.

Also, as with any media choice, local or Cloud, there is some risk your file may be missing or corrupt when you come to recover it. Cloud companies have also been known to fold in the past (though hopefully not the ones we will mention).

 

Cloud storage vs cloud backup

Cloud backup is not to be confused with cloud storage. Companies like Dropbox offer cloud storage and you can copy files in and extract them or share them, but there is no interface for file backup. There are many options for free cloud storage but most of them don’t offer much space. The largest I have found is Mega (founded by the infamous Kim DotCom) which offers 50GB free.

The cheapest cloud storage for larger amounts appears to be Amazon Glacier or Backblaze B2 which cost 0.5 US cents per Gigabyte per month. That corresponds to $A8 per annum for 100GB, $40pa for 1TB and $200pa for 5TB. Glacier costs from 0.3 US cents per GB for a slow download (wait 5 to 12 hours before anything happens) to 3.6 cents/GB for a download with little delay. Backblaze B2 costs 2 cents/GB for a download with little delay.

Cloud backup options

For backup to the cloud you need backup software as well as a cloud storage repository. These are usually integrated but can come separately. There are many alternatives out there. Here are a few that I see as the most likely options.

If you have small amounts of data to back up – up to around 1TB, the cheapest option is Cloudberry. This is an interface for backing up to the cloud but does not include storage. There is a free version of Cloudberry, or one with encryption for a one-time cost of $A40. Then you need to add storage from Amazon Glacier or BackBlaze B2 at the costs outlined just above, or any number of more expensive alternatives. This may be a cheap option but is not an easy one. You need to negotiate the complexities of setting up both Cloudberry and the storage choice.

If you are already using Acronis suscription model for your local backups, extending to Cloud backups may be a viable option (It’s not available with the cheaper perpetual license). Acronis is fast, easy to use and extremely configurable. Additional cost per annum of backup to the Cloud is $A3 (50GB), $A14 (250GB), $A30 (500GB) and $A60 (1TB). Beyond that, other options are more cost-effective.

What used to be Lightroom CC is now Lightroom CC Classic. There is now a new cloud only program confusingly called Lightroom CC. This offers expensive web storage of images, at $US120pa for up to 1TB, $US240pa for up to 2TB or $US500pa for up to 5TB.  So this is not an option for cloud backup and since you have to commit to annual plans, noy an option for temporary storage while travelling.

The two most likely candidates are BackBlaze and CrashPlan for Business, both of which offer unlimited storage. I have eliminated IDrive, SpiderOakOne and SugarSynch (too expensive and too little storage) and SOS (too expensive). I also eliminated Carbonite which offers similar functionality to BackBlaze but costs more. The main difference between BackBlaze and CrashPlan for Business is in data retention. BackBlaze deketes deleted files and previous versions of files after 30 days whereas CrashPlan holds onto the indefinitely, according to your settings. BacvkBlaze costs $US50 per year whereas CrashPlan for Business costs $120.

CrashPlan had a product CrashPlan for Home that offered superiorfunctionality to BackBlaze at around the same cost but this was discontinued in mid 2017.

 

Why Unlimited Storage

Photographers are likely to have large amounts of files and unlimited storage is likely to work out cheaper, especially when including future requirements.

Also, you could be backing up specific directories locally using multiple backups with different criteria. This creates the possibility you may forget to define some backups for new projects so you end up with holes in your safety net. Having an unlimited Cloud backup means you can back up everything and solves that problem.

 

BackBlaze

Backblaze is cheap and simple. Basically you just set it going and it backs everything up. On the main screen you simply have options for [Backup Now], [Restore Options] and [Settings]. There is also a Help button at top right.

 

All you really have to do is click [Settings…] to select which drives to backup and let it do its thing. However, you might want to specify a drive other than C:\ as temporary data drive because Backblaze temporarily stores copies of large files there while uploading.

 

On the Performance tab you can let Backblaze automatically adjust the upload overhead, or adjust it manually in various ways. Here, I have unchecked [Automatic Throttle]. You can use the slider to increase backup times but if you take it too far, you may slow down your whole home network. You can also increase the number of backup threads and you should do it slowly, one day per increment, and observe results.

On the Schedule tab, scheduled upload is usually continuous but you can make it daily or on demand.
Backblaze does not back up system files and has a number of folders and file types it excludes by default. You can specify additional folders to exclude but you can’t do it the other way and define folders or files to include.
Restoring files is more complex than backing them up. You login to the web site to request the restored files. Then you can download your files as a zip file. Next you have to work out what to do with them. They come inside the zip archive in a folder structure corresponding to the directory structure. You have to manually work out where to copy them to from there – and you need enough space to have two sets of those files until you’re finished.

Alternatively, you can ask BackBlaze to send you a hard disk (up to 4TB; US178). You can get a full refund on the hard drive if you return it within 30 days and pay return postage only. After you make the request, it takes them 2 to 4 days per terabyte for them to post it plus 3 to 4 days in the post. So probably: 4 to 6 days for 500GB; 5 to 8 days for 1TB and 14 to 24 days for 5TB.

I read a review that said that if you tweak the Settings/ performance values, BackBlaze should run about the same speed as CrashPlan. If this is the case, and based on my download test for Crashplan (though my PC and network speed may be quite different from yours), direct download may be quicker than a disk for up to somewhere between 1TB and 2TB download. However, without tweaking those settings, my current download test is running 25 times slower than my last CrashPlan download test. In any case, a disk may be more practical if you’re short of disk space. If you do go for a disk, you can still be recovering your most important directories while waiting for it. Bear in mind that your whole download choice has to complete before you can access and copy any files.

Backblaze is cheap and simple but there are a few drawbacks that Crashplan does not have.

  • That restore process is a handicap for me though the hard disk option could be useful for large data restores.
    • You have to copy the files manually from the zip file to your final destination
    • You can’t access any files until the zip file has finished downloading
    • Restore seems extremely slow with default settings.
  • BackBlaze does not support backing up files from a NAS (i.e. a box of disks on your home network).
  • It allows backing up from external drives but deletes the files if the external disk is not connected for a month.
  • Though it claims continuous backups, it may take two or more hours to notice a new or changed file.
  • It lacks a History screen to allow you to accurately determine backup durations and speeds.
  • It allows only 6 versions of files and removes versions after 30 days.

 

CrashPlan

So that brings us to CrashPlan for Business, superior but much more expensive. You can see on the main screen that I have a backup running. It shows details of how that is progressing. You can also see the folders or directories involved in that backup.

How did I do that? Very simple. First time I opened the screen, there were no files defined. I clicked on [Change…] to define some files and away it went, backing up to the default location of CrashPlan Australia (i.e. the Cloud).

This is the Settings Tab for the backup.

  • Default is for backup to run always, but you can make it on specific days and between specific times
  • Verify selection is set by default to 3am every morning. This assumes your PC is left on and set never to sleep (Control Panel/ Power Options). Otherwise, you should change the time to when your computer will be on.
    • Increase the number of days before verifying to 30 during your initial upload will help it run faster.
  • [Frequency and versions]: See the next screen and comments….
  • [Filename exclusions] allows you to exclude file types as in BackBlaze. There is nothing specified by default here but your system files are excluded from backup anyway.
  • Leave [Advanced settings] alone. They’ll only decrease functionality.
  • [Enable] backup sets lets you define backup sets which are for different destinations. Apart from the Cloud, this can be other locations on your computer’s drives, other computers in your home network or friends’ computers.

On the Backup Frequency and Versioning Settings subscreen, the first slider sets the frequency of backups, varying from every minute, to every 15 minutes (the default), to every week.

The next four sliders determine how many versions of files to keep and how much to whittle them down as they age, ranging from keeping all versions to jettisoning them after a week.

The last slider is how often you remove deleted files. The default setting is never and alternatives range from every day to every year.

CrashPlan determines whether the computer is in use according to keyboard/ mouse activity. On the General Tab of the settings screen, you can define how long before CrashPlan thinks the computer is inactive, and what percent of CPU to use if you’re away and if you’re using it. You can see it defaults to 80%/ 20%. You could conceivably change that to 90%/ 10% if performance were an issue. Alternatively, you might try 100%/ 90% and then wind the in use setting back if the PC slows. Setting CPU% to zero though is not what you would think; it actually tells CrashPlan to use whatever it wants. Its default upload speeds are good, so there may not be any need to modify anything here.

You can define other computers to backup files to you (as we will see later). The [Configure…] button allows you to change their destination. (The default destination is a subdirectory of C:\ProgramData\).

 

Setup tips

What to back up? Not system files because they keep changing endlessly, so even though CrashPlan excludes many file types automatically, not your whole C Drive. On your C Drive, perhaps just your Users directory plus any directories you have created for your files. Most user settings are stored under C:\Users but one I can think of that isn’t is:

  • Printer profiles: C:\Windows\System32\spool\drivers\color

Also exclude Lightroom previews and cache files from the backup. Lightroom rebuilds them anyway and it slows the backup. You may have the Lightroom catalogue stored somewhere else but by default on Windows 10 and for Lightroom CC these are located at:

  • Lightroom previews cache: C:\Users\username\Pictures\Lightroom\Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata
  • Smart previews cache: C:\Users\username\Pictures\Lightroom\Lightroom Catalog Smart Previews.lrdata
  • Adobe Camera Raw cache: C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\Database

When setting a huge initial backup, you can define it in sections with your most important directories and folders first.

 

Restoring files

Restoring files is easy. You can select drives, folders or files and then restore them to their original location or another place such as the default of Desktop. It’s just going to take a long while if you have a huge mass of files, but you can restore your most important files first.

Here are some locations of important settings in C:\Users:

  • Lightroom User Print Presets: C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Print Templates\User Templates
  • Lightroom User Export Presets: C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Export Presets\User Presets
  • Lightroom User Develop Presets: C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Develop Presets\User Presets
  • Photoshop Actions (if you’ve saved them): C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop 2017\Presets\Actions
  • Photoshop Actions (otherwise): C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop 2017\Adobe Photoshop 2017 Settings\Actions Palette.psp

 

History

The history screen is very useful. It tells you when your tasks started and finished, and the speed that they run at.

 

Help and support

There is no Help button to click in the interface but there are help screens available online. Just search for the screen or the issue. Alternatively, here is the support site. You can send emails and there is a Chat Line. Both are quick and informative; only catch is that office hours are 12 midnight to 8am Canberra time.

 

Capabilities no longer offered

You used to be able to use even the free version of CrashPlan for Home to backup to a disk on another person’s computer. There also used to be a family version of CrashPlan for Home that allowed you do back up multiple devices, including a laptop while travelling. Unfortunately, these are no longer offered.

 

Backup and Restore Times

Upload to the Cloud depends mainly on your network speed (which can vary) and also on the specification of your PC and what else you are running or doing on it. So the speed I get on my PC may or may not be relevant to what you get on yours and a test I make at one time may give different results at another. Here is a link to test your upload and download speed.

I made a test to see how long it would take to backup a 54.1GB upload with speedup setting implemented (as below). That took 12 hours 37 minutes, corresponding to 23 hours for 100GB, 10 days for 1TB and 14 weeks for 5TB. Download is usually faster so I set a restore going. That took 5 hours 20 minutes, corresponding to 10 hours for 100GB, 4 days for 1TB and 6 weeks for 5TB.

 

Speeding up the backup

There are a number of things you can do to speed up the backup, especially for a large initial backup.

  • I have already mentioned leaving the computer on and setting sleep to never (Control Panel/ Power options)
  • In Settings/ General, increase CPU% to 90% both for when user is away and for when user is present.
    • Then reduce CPU% for when user is present if it noticeably slows computer down.
  • In Settings/ Backup/ Frequency and versions: [Configure…], reduce backup frequency from default every 15 minutes to say every 8 hours
    • This reduces the time the CrashPlan spends checking for new versions.
    • You could also verify selection of your backup less often.
  • You can return CPU % and Frequency settings to default values (or whatever you prefer) when your initial backup is finished.
    • However, CPU % when user is present should be at least 10%. If you reduce it to 0%, CrashPlan actually takes that to mean “Do whatever you want!”.
  • If you have two different backup programs operating simultaneously and you notice performance issues, it may help to schedule them to run at different times.

 

Managing Memory

CrashPlan recommends allocating 1GB of RAM for each 1TB of files stored in the Cloud. Default is 1GB. (Actually, it’s really 600MB per TB storage but they allow for expansion).

So far I haven’t encountered any performance problems, though I have only uploaded 380GB of a potential 5.7TB and my computer has 32GB of RAM. CrashPlan is in any case designed to run quietly in the background and not compete for resources. Presumably though, people with old slow PCs and lots of data to backup are more likely to encounter issues.

If you do encounter problems, here are a couple of further things that could help:

  • The most resource-intensive activity is file verification scans. Normal backup gets file change information from the operating system and it doesn’t need to scan. So make sure the verification scan only operates when you are not using the computer (Settings/ Backup/ Verify Selection)
  • You could set your backups to only run overnight (Settings/ Backup/ Backup will run…)
  • You could reduce the amount of data you store on the cloud. For example, you could create “3+” subfolders and move images with 3 or more stars to them in Lightroom, then back up only images in those folders.
  • You could have different backup sets for older files and current files with different settings. Different backup sets are usually for different destinations but you could have two for backing up to the cloud.
    • On the Settings/ Backup tab, you can set different [Frequency and Versions] settings for each backup set, but if you have two sets backing up to the cloud, only the settings from the highest priority set will apply. So that’s of no use here.
    • However, you can set Backup times and Verify times for two sets backing up to the cloud and they will apply.
      • So one set with your old files that change very infrequently would seldom backup while the set with your current files would backup often.
      • At the extreme, you could set your old backup set to back up for one minute on Sundays (i.e. not at all) and verify it very infrequently.
      • When you finish a project and want to transfer files from the current to the old backup set, define that folder in the new backup set, click Verify [Now] for that set, and delete them from the current backup set.
  • If necessary, you can also pause all backups for a specified period by right-clicking on the CrashPlan Tray at the right of you Menu Bar and choosing [Sleep…]

 

Recovering from a Ransomware Attack

Cloud backup can be a valuable way to protect against ransomware attacks. Typically you introduce the ransomware to your PC through clicking on an email attachment or a link. All your files may become encrypted and a message appear on your computer demanding a ransom. We have recently seen the explosion of the WannaCry ransomware. According to Wikipedia, over 230,000 computers in over 150 countries were infected within the first day.

Norton now protects against WannaCry and other known ransomware. Acronis also does this by preventing malicious changes to your Master Boot Record and to your backup files. Probably nothing can be 100% successful against new ransomware algorithms. It is also important to have your operating system up to date.

If you get hit by something like WannaCry, you’re probably going to need to reimage your PC. If it has spread to your home network, you may need to reimage all the PCs on your home network that were turned on since the attack began. Then you need to restore files from backup.
If you have an online local backup, your backups are probably encrypted too (not merely the files they contain). Offline backups to hard disks may be OK but are are more likely to be out of date than your Cloud backup.

The standard approach to Cloud backup with CrashPlan is that you back up data files (images, video, music, Word files, Excel files etc.) and not system files. So when you restore files from the Cloud after reimaging, the danger is not reintroducing the ransomware Trojan, it is reinstalling encrypted files. If you find this happens, you just need to restore files from a date earlier than when the attack started. CrashPlan will show you the files you have available to restore at a certain date in a directory structure, including the file names. So if you see encrypted file names, you need to go to an earlier backup and if you don’t, they should be all right. The same applies to BackBlaze but you can only go back 30 days, which might not be enough.

If the ransomware attack means you have lost your CrashPlan password and you have the standard security level, then CrashPlan support can help you reset it and you can access your backups. This also applies to BackBlaze. However, if you are using the higher Crashplan security archive key or custom key settings, you will need to know that password or you won’t get your files back. In any case, it may be as well to have your passwords on a USB stick, a disconnected hard drive or a piece of paper.

 

 

Options for families

BackBlaze and CrashPlan for Business don’t have a Family Plan; you just have to buy more single licenses.

Another alternative may be IDrive, a well-featured program including file synch, file sharing and also free offline backup with unlimited computers for $A93pa, but for only up to 1TB of data, which is probably not very much, especially including future expansion.

Cloudberry plus storage on Amazon Glacier or BackBlaze B2 would be cheaper up to about 4TB but the hassle factor would be much greater and the functionality more limited. If you happen to have a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Home ($A120pa), that comes with 1TB Cloud storage in OneDrive per computer for up to 5 computers. Cloudberry supports OneDrive so I presume you could connect from Cloudberry to your Office 365 OneDrive online storage.

 

(Sunset near Flinders Ranges, South Australia)

Summary

Photographers inevitably end up with lots of images and backups are essential. You should have at least two (preferably three) and one should be off-site.

These days it makes a lot of sense for your off-site backup to be the cloud. Your initial backup will be very slow but this is not a problem because it will run in background and you should have two local backups before you start this process anyway.

I have covered some other options above but for most people, Cloud backup will be a choice between BackBlaze and CrashPlan, both of which offer unlimited storage space. Backblaze will suit people who want a very simple choice, don’t mind slow performance if they don’t tweak the settings, and don’t mind a complex restore process. CrashPlan is a better system with unlimited versioning, but is much more expensive.

 

Links to more information

Free free to comment, and to offer or to request information….

News from the Ether Feb 17

Some recent articles that may be of interest…