All of us who own an R-D 1 and a MacOS computer are painfully aware that Epson gave us a bit of a shaft in the bundled-software department. For shooting and processing raw files, Windows users get both a Photoshop plug-in and a separate batch-processing application; Mac users get the plug-in only.
This made it difficult for me to shoot in raw format, because I tend to shoot a lot.
Opening an entire session's worth of files one at a time, using the Epson plug-in (excellent though it is), often is just not practical. What I need is a way to do a quick conversion of a batch of raw files into a format that I can catalog and browse, THEN select the shots that are worth investing the time in opening and converting.
Until this afternoon I had thought that there weren't any MacOS X-compatible raw file conversion programs that could handle Epson's ERF format. But thanks to another post on this forum I learned about one, and that led me to a couple of other options. I thought I'd summarize my few hours' worth of learning to date for anyone else who might need a quick answer. Here's what I've found so far:
RAW Developer - sophisticated $70 solution
This full-fledged application from Iridient Digital
is a powerful, serious solution. It handles ERF files three ways: singly; in small batches via a filmstrip-type browser; or in an automated batch process via a drag-and-drop window.
It offers a huge range of options for converting raw files, including white balance, tone, sharpening, noise reduction, and an option for auto-detecting 'hot' and 'dead' pixels that seemed to work well in my very cursory tests. You can try out a set of options on one image, then save the option set and apply it to a group of images in batch-processing mode.
Output formats include Photoshop, TIFF, JPEG and several other flavors. Two minor omissions that struck me as curious in this otherwise very thorough application: You can't save 16-bit Photoshop files (your only 16-bit options are TIFF or PNG) and there's no option for downsampling images, which would be convenient when you just need a quick way to make medium-quality files for a "contact sheet."
RAW Developer downloads as a demo version, which puts a watermark across converted images but isn't "crippled" in any other way, so you can give it a good tryout before deciding whether you want to invest your $70 to get a serial number that removes the watermark. I'm still undecided, but so far RAW Developer is looking good to me.
dcRAW-X - Limited but inexpensive tool
This simple but effective application is basically a graphical front end for dcraw
, a command-line tool originally created by a programmer named Dave Coffin for decoding raw files on Linux computers. dcraw
is so effective that its underlying code is used in many other converter programs (including RAW Developer, Bibble, BreezeBrowser, and even Adobe Photoshop's Camera Raw plug-in). But being a command-line program, it's not exactly convenient to use.
Enter dcRAW-X, available for download here.
This $15 shareware program provides an easy-to-use graphic interface for dcraw. The trial version is fully functional except that its batch processing is limited to three files at a time.
In my limited testing, dcRAW-X did its job well, but it has one deliberate quirk: The files it generates are linear,
meaning that their tone curve hasn't been compensated for viewing on a computer monitor; the result is that if used as-is, the images usually look too dark. Although that's not a problem if you plan to open the images in Photoshop and fix them, it's a big limitation if you're just looking for a way to pre-screen and catalog your images.
Raw-format purists point out that linear files retain more of the original raw data and allow for higher-quality post-processing. That's true -- but if you have to open the files in Photoshop anyway to make use of them, why not just use the Epson converter?
DCRAW - the zero-cost solution
As noted above, the powerplant under the hoods of both of these converters is Dave Coffin's dcraw
command-line program. Coffin distributes the source code for dcraw free, under the open-source General Public License, but using it requires a C-language compiler and the know-how to use it.
Fortunately, another helpful soul named Francisco Montilla offers pre-compiled binary versions of dcraw at his website.
The MacOS X download consists of two pieces: the dcraw program itself, and the 'instruction manual' pages for it.
Both of these pieces have to be installed in special places normally invisible to the MacOS X user -- but these places are easily accessible using the Finder's "Go to Folder..." command, and actually installing the files is simply a matter of dragging them into place. (If you want to try this and it isn't obvious to you, let me know and I'll expand this section with more specific instructions.)
Once it's installed, you have to run dcraw using the Terminal program -- which might sound intimidating if you've never poked at MacOS X's UNIX innards, but isn't really difficult. After opening a Terminal window, the first thing you should do is read dcraw's "instruction manual" by typing man dcraw
. Text will appear showing how to control the program's simple but useful conversion options by typing switches
-- letters after the basic command that take the form -x
, where x is some letter that controls a switch.
For example, to tell dcraw to convert a file named myfile.ERF
into 16-bit Photoshop format, you'd type:
dcraw -3 myfile.ERF
(-3 is the switch that tells it to use Photoshop format.)
You can batch-convert a number of files by adding their names after the first one, and the Terminal has a little trick that makes this easier: just type the beginning of the command, then switch to the Finder, select all the files, and drag them into the Terminal window. The Terminal will add all their names in the UNIX path style the command needs to operate. Press the Return key and dcraw goes to work. It's even fairly fast.
As with dcRAW-X, the conversion is linear, so converted images will look too dark if viewed as-is. But for this price (i.e., free) you expect to put up with a few inconveniences -- so how I handled this was to batch-import my converted Photoshop-format files into iView MediaPro, and then use its batch-adjustment capabilities to reset the levels of all the files at once.
This step took only a few moments and gave me a catalog of files that, while they may not have been optimum quality, were plenty good enough to evaluate which ones were the best candidates for a more careful full-dress conversion.
Spartan as it is, dcraw has a few useful tricks. One is the -h switch, which downsamples every cluster of four pixels into a single pixel. Although not a high-quality approach, this method is very fast and produces a 'draft-quality' image that works fine for cataloging and evaluation.
Another capability that's especially relevant to R-D 1 users, given our recent discussions of 'hot pixels' at high ISO settings, is that dcraw offers a crude but effective method of mapping out pixel defects. If you make a text document in a specific format, name it .badpixels
, and put it in the same folder as dcraw, the program will read it and patch the bad-pixel locations by interpolating data from the pixels around them.
Producing the document is a bit tedious -- you need to identify each bad pixel in Photoshop by its X and Y coordinates, then type those coordinates into a list -- but it's not really difficult, and in my limited testing it seemed very effective.
RAW Developer seems like a good choice for someone who wants a full-featured solution. It gives you a lot of control and produces files that are immediately usable as-is. Its main downsides are a somewhat cluttered interface and a non-trivial price.
dcRAW-X doesn't fit my needs very well -- I'd just as soon interact with the dcraw program directly -- but for someone who just needs simple linear file conversions and doesn't want to bother fooling with the Terminal, it could be $15 well spent.
Using dcraw directly is a bit inconvenient, but it's free, it does the job, and it offers some useful tricks such as the half-size option and bad-pixel mapping. Currently, I'm planning to use it while deciding whether or not I want to invest $70 on RAW Developer.
Special Free Offer: To make using dcraw a bit more convenient, I wrote an Applescript that lets me select files to convert and choose some of the basic options without having to use the Terminal. I've attached it so you can download it and try it if you want. Remember that you must install dcraw for it to work!
To use the script, download it and put it in your Library>Scripts folder, which will make it accessible under the Scripts menu in your menubar. Or, just double-click it to open it in Script Editor, and click the Run button. This will let you see how the script is put together, so you can change the options (or add other types of raw files) if you want.
If anyone has any other experiences or recommendations with MacOS X-compatible raw-file batch converters, I'd like to know about them, too!