Adobe, Enhance Details, DNG Files, and Film Simulations

Way back on episode 40 of the FujiLove podcast—which, if you are reading this site and you like podcasts, you should probably be subscribed to—Jens and Billy Luong of FujiGuy fame had Product Manager Sharad Mangalick from Adobe on to talk about updates to Lightroom and ACR, and specifically the new feature “Enhance Details”.

Enhance Details

For those who don’t yet know, Adobe’s own dialogue box says:

“Enhance Details uses machine learning1 to improve details and reduce artifacts in most RAW files. The enhanced results will be saved as a DNG file.

It’s a computationally intensive process that performs best with a fast GPU. The estimate Adobe gives me on my Late 2015 5K iMac for a single image is 5 seconds, and that seems about right. What’s really unfortunate is the file size of the resulting enhanced DNG version of a 24.6 MB compressed RAF out of an X-H1 is 117.7 MB.

The results out of this feature would have to be pretty spectacular for me to consider taking on that kind of additional data.2 I’m seeing some decent results in my own limited testing, but weirdly, the Enhance Details dialogue preview totally betrays what the feature is actually capable of in some cases. I had one image that looked significantly worse in the dialogue box preview—more false detail, crunchy texture where there shouldn’t be—and I was ready to call Adobe out on it. After I actually rendered the image though, it did look a fair bit better than the default rendering.

It’s fantastic that Adobe are putting in the time and effort to support X-Trans—they could easily have made this a Bayer-only feature since they obviously support many more Bayer cameras than they do X-Trans. I’m looking forward to the day this feature is part of Lightroom proper, vs. behaving more like a plug-in, but one comment from Sharad on the podcast really jumped out at me:

“Fuji’s proprietary RAW file, the RAF, it doesn’t have an openly documented specification that Adobe can use to add the additional information.”

This is the result of Adobe having to create a separate (huge) DNG files. An obvious question is why doesn’t Fuji open up the gates enough to allow Adobe to write this additional information to the RAF/a sidecar file so we don’t need to go through this cumbersome workflow? I’m sure Billy has asked Japan this question, and either his hands are tied or there’s a really good reason that he agrees with. 3 Either way, I wish we got an inkling as to what the issue is there.

Another obvious question is why are other applications able to generate better results without having to create a separate file? What does Phase One know that Adobe doesn’t? Adobe talk about having to balance performance with resolutions, but Lightroom isn’t exactly blowing away the competition when it comes to performance with RAF.

For the time being, unless you’re all in on Adobe and a Creative Cloud subscription is your budget for photo editing (which is perfectly reasonable), a strong case can still be made for better, more specialized tools like Iridient Developer for those really important or really challenging images.

Film Simulation Modes

In the back half of the interview, the trio speak about Film Simulation Modes and how Adobe works with Fujifilm to ensure they have the same understanding of how each Film Simulation Mode should affect an image. This has been the official story for years now, and back when it was first told, Adobe’s interpretation of Fuji’s Film Simulation Modes were nowhere close to what we saw out of camera. To my eye, they’ve gotten better, but my recent experimentation with Capture One 12 suggests Phase One is quite a bit closer. Indeed, Phase One’s interpretations of Fuji’s Film Simulation Modes so far has been strikingly good. I’m on the cusp of switching to Capture One for much of my X-Trans processing needs for a few reasons, not needing to create whole separate files to get better detail out of my images and Film Simulation Modes are big ones.

  1. What doesn’t use “machine learning” these days? Anyone else already tired of that? ↩︎
  2. In the early days of DNG, I remember reading about photographers converting to DNG wholesale with some going so far as to then delete the original RAW files. I’m awfully glad I never considered this kind of asset management. ↩︎
  3. Billy also does a remarkable job navigating these waters. He’s in a tough spot having to balance transparency and trade secrets, but he comes across as really quite genuine. Having spoken with Billy myself quite a few times in the past, I can say he truly does take user feedback to heart, and when he says he’ll take something back to Japan, he means it. <p>I’m really digging this addition to FujiLove. It can come across as an advertisement at times, but it’s counterbalanced with honest upgrade recommendations to listeners who could perhaps skip a generation. <a href="#ffn3">↩</a></p> </li>

Adobe’s Fujifilm Camera Calibration Profiles

Another new page has been added to the “Extras” menu called Adobe’s Fujifilm Camera Calibration Profiles This will be another evolving oage. Currently it has just one images with each of the Fujifilm-endorsed profiles for a quick visual comparison, and brief analysis. This is pretty heavy duty pixel-peeping stuff, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I feel little shame in being picky about the end result of my images.

I’ll add the lake and valley image seen in my X-Trans Before & After page next so we can have a close look at how landscapes and greens are handled.

Adobe’s Fujifilm Camera Calibration Profiles Compared

On Adobe, and Lightroom for iPad

Today marked the release of Lightroom 5.4 which delivers the long awaited Fujifilm X-T1 support, and Film Simulation Modes for RAFs via the Camera Calibration panel. Awesome stuff. I plan to throughly analyze their profiles and compare them with their in-camera counterparts as soon as possible.

Today also marked Adobe’s announcement (or confirmation) that Lightroom will be available on the iPad for Creative Cloud subscribers only. This comes as little surprise, and yet I can’t help wondering what the hell they are thinking. It seems to me they are leaving money and users on the table by choosing (or sticking with) a pricing model they hope will encourage Creative Cloud subscriptions.

At the end of 2013, Adobe announced 1.4 million subscribers to Creative Cloud. That’s 1.4 million + people who will get Lightroom for iPad “for free.”1 Maybe Lightroom on iPad will keep some of those subscribers loyal,2 maybe some people will begrudgingly subscribe in order to get it.3 I won’t, and I think they’ve passed up an app pricing structure that would make them more money, make their customers happier, and be more future-proof. I’ve been pondering this morning about what that might be. One idea involves the dreaded in-app purchase (IAP).

“This app offers in-app purchases”

It’s not uncommon for top-tier apps on iPad to sell for $19.99. Twenty bucks is a fair price for an app like Lightroom, but that could be cut down to $15, $10, or even $0 because camera and lens profiles would cost anywhere from $1 - $5 each.

Done.

Things could be kept simple ($5/camera, $1/lens), but there’s tremendous flexibility in this pricing structure too. “Consumer” gear could be less expensive, “Pro” gear more expensive. Exotics or lenses with complex distortion correction profiles could also command a premium.

How many Creative Cloud subscriptions does Adobe realistically hope to gain making Lightroom for iPad subscription-only? Compare that number with how many photographers would happily shell out for Lightroom as a standalone application while being able to purchase camera and lens profiles as they see fit? I’d have happily paid Adobe $5 for the Film Simulation Modes they released for Fujifilm cameras today. Don’t want or need ’em? Then you’ve got the built-in Adobe profile already. The nice thing about Fujifilm is those same profiles would work across every camera that shares the X-Trans sensor, but let’s get back to Adobe for this post.

This model gives customers the freedom to purchase what they want, and more importantly what they actually need, something Creative Cloud fails at miserably. It’s also self-sustaining since we photographers can be a fickle bunch, generally speaking, many of us collect lenses, and we love our upgrades. Maybe Adobe would only ever get $7 less Apple’s cut from some photographers, but 70% of $7 is better than 100% of nothing.

I’d upgrade to a 128GB iPad just to have this imaginary version of Lightroom with me when I go on vacation. It would be an immediate backup of my photos to the iPad I’d have with me anyway, and I could start the selecting, rejecting, and editing process while still on vacation or on the flight home. I could see a lot of photographers doing the same for jobs.

What about Lightroom for the desktop?

Maybe it’s time the desktop version moves to a pricing structure like this one too with a reduced core applicaiton price. I’m personally not a fan having 100’s of MB of profiles I don’t need on my computer, and if DxO can implement a decent profile download system, Adobe sure can. We’d just have to hope they wouldn’t build it in Flash.

Of course the pay once and get everything model we’ve enjoyed to date with the desktop version of Lightroom would be ideal, but I’m trying to see this somewhat from Adobe’s side, and acknowledge that additional and recurring revenue might be a necessity.

The future of photography?

Perhaps most importantly of all, it protects Adobe from a potentially huge threat from Apple. Not strictly from Aperture, but from the iPhone. With any luck, Aperture for iPad is on its way. Maybe it will be announced alongside the iPhone 6 which presumably will feature an even better built-in camera. Now consider the iPhone 6 (or even a simple iOS update) allows owners to capture and manipulate RAW data with immediate support for it via the newly released Aperture. Given Apple’s track record these days, Aperture would be free. Now you’ve got the most popular camera on the planet’s RAW files editable via Apple’s competitively-priced one-time fee (or free) iPad app, and Adobe’s subscription-only app, once they get around to supporting the iPhone’s RAW files. Or, Adobe could just sell the iPhone profile for $2 to a ton of “iPhoneographers” who want to keep using Lightroom on the desktop.4

Apple isn’t known to add complexity the way adding RAW support certainly would. However, they are heavily focused on the photography market in general, and it seems there should be a very easy way to make RAW data available to users who want it via Aperture for iOS and the Mac, while keeping those who aren’t interested blissfully unaware. If photography continues to be an area Apple hopes to dominate, RAW support of some kind ought to be in their future. Just imagine all those VSCO presets being applied to sensor data rather than JPEGs.

Conclusion

I can’t be totally sure the pricing structure I outlined above would work, or if it would ultimately even be profitable after the content delivery system is in place. It’s really just musing with some griping for good measure. What I do know is Adobe’s actions are getting frustrating, and are starting to reek of hubris. I’m curious what it would take for them to wake up. Extraordinary apps like Pixelmator are already putting a dent in the once invincible Photoshop. If I wasn’t so deeply entrenched in the industry I am (advertising, marketing, etc.), I’d have dumped Photoshop for Pixelmator already.

Adobe’s apps have become uncontrollably bloated and hopelessly inconsistent. Lightroom was widely regarded as they only app they were still “getting right.” I think that sentiment will change with photographers to some degree today, and that’s a shame.

  1. Anyone who believes this needs to reassess their definition of “free.”
  2. I doubt this number is very high. Most people who subscribe do so out of necessity.
  3. This number is probably even lower.
  4. Or on Windows for that matter.