Executive Summary: it is possible to have a full 16-bit workflow without
spending tons of money.
An affordable 16 bit workflow
Look at my page on why you want 16 bit (and also why you want raw mode) for some background. The idea is that
keeping 16 bit files around will give you higher quality, but is it possible
to do so front to back (camera to print) without spending lots and lots of
The answer is yes and here are the components I chose - I list the tools here
(and prices) and what they do, more detailed reviews will follow soon:
All of the software mentioned here is available as demoware, so don't
take my word for it - download it and test it. You will minimally want to
spend US$134.94 on Picture Window Pro and Qimage, but if you spend the
additional US$148 on Noise Ninja Pro and Profile Prism you'll probably
be much happier with the quality of your prints, and with a final two
times US$49.95 on BreezeBrowser and IMatch you will have a top-quality
image management system. Indeed, you will have much, much more than when
you spend US$700 or so on Photoshop - even when you use Photoshop, you
will want to buy Noise Ninja Pro, Qimage, Profile Prism and IMatch...
- Grab and convert the RAW images with the tools supplied with the camera.
Alternatively, spend US$49.95 on BreezeBrowser or something similar (if
you buy BreezeBrowser, buy the bundle with Downloader - the latter one is a
timesaver because it will store the images on hard disk exactly the way
you specify). At
this stage, I usually make sure that the image histogram fills the whole dynamic range to make sure
that I make full use of the space of 65536 values - compressing can always be
done later on.
- For stunning results, swipe your card again and spend US$69 on Noise Ninja Pro. If anything, download
the demo and let your jaw drop on the floor. After Noise Ninja, you'll have a
16bit TIFF image that people in the 90's with Medium Format cameras and
expensive drum scanners probably could only dream of (ok, I'm kidding - but
still, it gets quite close to such a setup for not even a tenth of the money).
- Next site to visit is the site of the makers of Picture Window Pro. Picture Window Pro will
let you do anything that Photoshop or PaintShop Pro do, but more targeted at
the photographer. If you're used to Photoshop (or any of its clones), it'll be
a bit of a switch. If you're used to analog darkroom work, you will feel right
at home. Picture Window Pro costs US$89.99 and you'll never need that illegal
copy of Photoshop again.
- Fine, you've got a beatiful picture. Of course, you want a beautiful
print. Time to profile your printer - even though the out-of-the-box setup is
astonishingly good with some printers (with my Epson Stylus C82 I only changed
the gamma from 1.8 to 1.5 in the advanced printer options dialog to make the
images come out just that bit lighter, but apart from that I have to look good
to see glaring differences between what's on screen and what's on paper), a profiled printer is always better.
Profile Prism comes with everything
you need for profiling your printer (and, less important, camera) except for a scanner, and will only set
you back US$79. This is an optional bit - if you are happy with the match
between screen and printer, leave it (note: I think it's worth it, so I
ordered it. I will report whether it actually works later on; more important,
whether it actually works with my cheapo Mustek scanner)
- Finally, printing time. DDI Software, the makers of Profile Prism, have a
solution here as well: Qimage,
a photo printing software that'll quickly prompt you to remove the garbage
program that came bundled with your printer from your hard disk and never look
back. Believe me, it is fully worth the
US$44.95 they ask for it.
- If you want to organize lots and lots of images, look at Imatch. I still fail to understand why
a company asks only US$49.95 for such a tool - it can organize, categorize,
batch process your images; it understands EXIF and IPTC annotations, lets you
query on image content, etcetera.
Note: there is some overlap in these tools. Picture Window Pro can print;
IMatch can do RAW conversion for you; however, all these individual products
represent what I think is the best of class for each step in the whole digital
darkroom workflow (yes: best of class. I think PWPro is better than Photoshop
for this kind of work). Install the demo versions, see what the
software can do, test a lot and make up your mind about your own workflow.
Disclaimer: No, I don't get any money for sending you to these websites. I'm
still negotiating ;-)