Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Post-processing on a netbook

On Saturday 25th of April I carried out a small experiment. As a big fan of netbooks and a massive fan of photography I like to combine both and make the maximum use of the technology. Some time ago I bought one of the first 7" EeePC netbooks to take on holiday with me. A 160GB external USB hard drive was to be my backup storage for any photos I took and the EeePC (with 4GB of onboard flash memory) was both the means of getting the photos onto the external drive in the first place and of viewing them subsequently. And the EeePC and external drive took next to no space in my rucksack. The wonders of modern technology.

The EeePC's 7-inch screen was the first thing I outgrew; the keyboard I could live with but it was doing my back damage having to continually lean forward to read the screen. And, in any case, I had bigger plans than just using a netbook for backup. I wanted to do post-processing 'in the field'. So I bought a new netbook.

The Advent 4211-B is an MSI Wind clone. It has a 10" screen, an 80GB hard drive, 2Gb of RAM (upgraded from the original 1GB for just under £18) and a 98% keyboard on which I can touch-type at not much below my top full-sized keyboard speed. It has an Atom N270 processor and, apart from the screen size, this is the major difference between the netbook and my dual-core Pentium, 2 GB RAM, 160 GB HD main PC. Oh yes, and there's the weight. I wouldn't try to cram the PC and monitor into my rucksack.

Anyway, I said something about an experiment, didn't I?

I've put Lightroom 2 (upgraded to 2.3) on the Advent netbook as well as on the PC and it runs quite well. Yes, it's slower than on my PC but that's down to the processor, bus, and graphics chip speeds. But I can live with it. And, of course, the screen - at 1024 x 600 - is less than half the size of my 1440 x 900 17" monitor. But I can live with that, too. It's not as if I'm going to be using the netbook for all of my post-processing. Just occasionally, when I'm 'in the field'.

I should mention that I've also installed the GIMP, Picasa, and a few other graphics-manipulation programs on the netbook. That 80 GB hard disk is pretty big. Big enough for Windows XP, Mandriva Linux, all of the programs I use regularly under both operating systems - and I mean all, not just the graphics ones - plus a 10 GB partition for multimedia: photos, videos, my MP3 collection, and a few dozen ebooks, too. The wonders of modern technology.

Ah, but I digress. I said something about an experiment, didn't I?

On Saturday 25th of April there was a St George's Day celebration in London's Trafalgar Square. No, this isn't another digression, this was the day of The Great Experiment. Lugging my Canon 40D, a couple of lenses, and the netbook, I attended the aforementioned celebration, which took the form of a concert. A concert of folk music as it happens, which isn't my favourite, but that's not important in the Great Scheme of Things. In fact, Eliza Carthy cracked out a banging set that should have made her top billing. But that's not important in the Great Scheme of Things either. Well, maybe for Eliza it is, but I digress...

I took 74 photos at the concert (plus one of a Routemaster bus on the way, just to prove to myself that the camera was switched on) and the plan was to hive off to the local cafe to copy them to the netbook, select a small number of them, process them and upload them to Flickr. Just like the pros do. I said, "like". I know they use Mac laptops with screens the size of a barn door. But the principle's the same right?

Anyway, I selected six shots, three of performers and three of people getting into the spirit of St George's Day, and ran them through the Lightroom mill. I tweaked exposure, clarity, levels, fill light, vibrance and saturation; I cropped one or two a little; I worked with the colours on a couple; I reduced the luminance noise levels and sharpened them; and I even used the Adjustment Brush to bleach some teeth and sharpen up the eyes a little more. All in all I thought the result was acceptable. Not what one of the pros would do on his Mac with a screen the size of a barn door, but acceptable. Oh, and I did all of this with the touchpad, not a mouse, not a pen pad.

You've seen the results at the top of this post - my photo Waving The Flag For England. If you'd like to see the other five, go to my Flickr stream. When you're there, just search my stream for "Proof of concept". The ones to look at are titled English Hat, Jim Moray, Eliza Carthy, English Face, and Seth Lakeman.

You'll see that I missed some chromatic aberration on one of the shots - not because I couldn't see it, but because it took me a while trying to remember my usual workflow on the PC. And that, in turn was triggered by my noticing that I hadn't copied my Develop presets onto the netbook. Of course, I remedied this as soon as I got home. But if you want to try this experiment, do remember to copy all of your presets to the netbook; it's not that you won't get good results if you don't, it's just that presets save so much time.

I did the whole exercise simply as a proof of concept. I wouldn't dream of making this my regular way of working. But I've proved, to myself at least, that with a bit of practice it's workable.

Since then I've carried out a similar experiment with my Canon S3is bridge camera. With the CHDK firmware hack, this camera can shoot RAW. It's also a tad lighter than my 40D plus lenses. A few dozen tads, in fact. Though it only packs 6 megapixels as opposed to my 40D's 10.2. But 6MP is still enough to party with - at least up to A3 print size. I'll be putting together an article on this latest experiment soon.

And in a later article I'll pick one of these photos and go through the post-processing steps so you can see how I get the 'look' you see in many of my pictures.

1 comment:

  1. Garry

    Very interesting blog post, I was one of those professionals at Tragfalgar Square, using a Mac (not quite a barn door screen - only 15"!), transmitted from Costa Coffee, in Waterstones just by Northumberland Ave - would have been fun to have bumped into each other.

    Anyway, I've also been playing with a netbook-Samsung NC10 and LightRoom and it's certainly not as bad as first imagined. The main learning curve has been using Windoze ;-( and then learning the workflow in LR.

    I haven't yet found an free image browser which matches the speed of PhotoMechanic, so that I only have to import a selection of images into LightRoom, as the screen redraw during the reviewing process is a bit slow for newswork. So if I'm to use it for news then I'll have to buy a Windoze licence for PM.

    Shooting in JPEG certainly makes a difference in screen draws, where as using RAWS from a 5D2 does work, but again the speed hit is during the export.

    I look forward to hearing more about your experiences.

    Cheers

    Ant

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