Friday, 8 May 2009

Post-processing on a netbook part 2

In an earlier article, I told you about an experiment I carried out, taking my Canon 40D DSLR and my Advent 4211-B netbook on the road, post-processing the shots I'd taken in Lightroom on the netbook, and uploading them from there to my Flickr account while on location. A few days later I repeated the experiment with my Canon S3is bridge camera and the same netbook.

Bridge cameras are useful if you want to get better results than you get on your point-and-shoot compact camera but don't want to (or can't) afford a DSLR. Or if you just don't want to carry the weight of the DSLR, lenses, filters, etc on every trip. Unfortunately, most bridge cameras and compacts don't shoot RAW, and that limits the amount of control over the post-processing that you can do. However, some clever developers have produced the CHDK firmware hack that works on a slew of Canon bridge and compact cameras including the Powershot A series, S series, SD series, SX series, G7, G9, Digital IXUS, and TX1. This hack gives your camera a shedload of new options including the ability to shoot RAW.

So I can go out with my 40D or my S3 and shoot RAW all day then process the resulting photos in Lightroom, because Lightroom loves RAW. Well, so I thought. The first time I tried it, it refused to import RAWs from the S3, reporting that they might be broken. For some reason the developers of the CHDK hack decided to make the camera produce a RAW file format that Lightroom can't handle. Not to worry, though, someone else has produced a program to convert CHDK RAWs into Adobe's "universal" DNG format, and Lightroom loves those, too, as they're just a form of RAW file. This conversion program is called DNG for Powershot 2 - or dng4ps2 for short.

So my plan was to spend an afternoon in central London armed with the S3 loaded up with the CHDK hack, and the netbook loaded up with Lightroom and dng4ps2, then post-process some of the pictures in a local cafe in the evening. Then I'd finish the experiment by uploading the results to my Flickr account from within Lightroom using Jeffrey Friedl's excellent plugin.

One of the pictures - of a young lady playing with a hoop in St. James's Park - is at the top of this post. Here are a couple more:

Point of take-off

From the dark

I think the results are OK. If I'd taken these pictures as JPEGs, they almost certainly wouldn't have looked as good. And if I'd taken them as RAWs but processed them in, say, Picasa (which understands the CHDK RAW format perfectly) as I used to do in the past, I wouldn't have had anything like as much latitude in the post-processing as I now have using the dng4ps2 converter and Lightroom. Post-processing more than a few photos can take a fair bit of time but having to convert them from .CRW to .DNG beforehand doesn't add much to that time. DNG for Powershot 2 took about 9 minutes to convert 48 files. If I were in a real hurry I'd convert a few then start work on those while the rest were being converted.

All in all, it was another successful experiment. I don't intend to take my netbook out on a shoot with me all that often, but it's nice to know that the option is there. And the S3 is so light compared to my 40D plus lenses and other gear that I might be tempted to lug the netbook as well, if only to read my email and RSS feeds on the train home.

If you've got one of the cameras listed at the CHDK wiki, why not give it a go. If you've been shooting JPEG so far the quality of your pictures will go up quite a bit. And with the ability to convert to DNG with dng4ps2, you can use Picasa, Lightroom, Photoshop CS, Elements, Gimp, and a large number of other processing programs. If you run into any problems with any of the programs or plugins mentioned in this article, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

UPDATE
I've just found out that the CHDK hack can already save RAW files in DNG format. Apparently it's had that ability since December 2008. That's what I get for being away from the Canon S5 Users Group forum for so long. Thanks to forum member I2k4 for the heads-up.


Resources

CHDK hack
The CHDK wiki is here: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK
Check out the FAQ and Usage tabs first, then go here to download: http://mighty-hoernsche.de/
There are full instructions on how to install and use the hack on the wiki. For a quick look at what it does as well as how to get it and install it, look here. Do check out the CHDK For Dummies link at the bottom of the page.

DNG for Powershot 2
You can download dng4ps2 from here: http://code.google.com/p/dng4ps2/
Install the beta version, which is the latest. If you want the Linux version, just click the Download tab at the top of the page

Jeffrey Friedl's plugins
LinkJeffery Friedl has made plugins for uploading from Lightroom to Zenfolio, SmugMug, Flickr, Picasa Web, and Facebook. Download them from here: http://regex.info/blog/lightroom-goodies
Instructions on how to install and use them are on Jeffrey's site.

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