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What software should I use?

In many ways digital photography is different to the older type film photography. For example one can see the image immediately after taking it, or one can delete the image if its not to your expectation. One of the main differences are that today we can edit the digital image that has been saved on the memory card. The film camera "saved" the image on a role film and only the developer at the developing station had access to the "file". We as users therefore had very little part in what happened to our images in the older technology. With digital photography all that has changed and for those interested a world of new options are now available. In this short article I will try to help you with a basic understanding of what software you could decide will help you.

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The Basics

Almost all cameras are supplied with software. This typically includes an organizer, basic editing software , RAW converter in case of SLR and advanced compact, plus the ability to make slideshows, panoramas and/or projects like photo books. What exactly is included is different from manufacturer to manufacturer. When taking pictures with a digital camera or with a smart phone, you will have to consider the following:-

  • Organizing digital pictures

  • Post Processing or Photo Editing

  • Graphical Design, Art or Creative work

  • Special disciplines like HDR, Astro, Panorama or Panning...

  • Making a living from Photography

  • Printing, Posters, Books plus other outputs

Supplied Software?

It will be a mistake to say do not use the supplied software or the supplied software is not good. Often I see negative comments people make about supplied software. If you happy with the first two points in the above list, then the supplied software could be all you need. I have experience with Canon and Olympus supplied software and both are good enough to support the hobby photographer for years. Its only when you get more serious about your hobby and you want to look more into the third point onwards that you will require more specific or more specialized software.

Another important aspect to consider is training. It is important to get help when you new to image editing. You will find that the supplied software is not that widely supported in terms of training on the web. On the other hand something like Adobe Photoshop Elements is extensively supported on the web. There are literally hundreds of training videos for Elements.

Different Software options

In the next few paragraphs I will discuss a few possible options you could consider. For example if you think you will be interested designing things like cards or calendars then you will need to consider something like Photoshop Elements. If you interested in a more powerful organizer or a more powerful image editing tools, RAW converter plus wider printing options then you will be more happy with something like Bibble 5. My advice is to sit down and to plan what you think your needs will be in the next three years. Based on that one can build a software strategy or plan for you. For basic details on the different options one could consider, see the information below.

I mentioned Photoshop Elements a few times as a general to expert solution. Please keep in mind that Elements is not the only solution. Corel also has a interesting solution called Paintshop Pro (PSP). I have used it and it has several options that are way more powerful than that of Elements. Its RAW converter I do not like at all, especially if compared to the Mac version of Elements. The one thing you should know is that PSP can be really difficult to remove from your system if you decide to get rid of it. Do a search and inform yourself.

Photoshop Elements

On the left is a screen copy of the CS4 Bridge on Mac. Bridge is offered as the viewer/organizer for Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac. I have tried nearly every mainstream software and Photoshop Elements has always stayed with me.

Photoshop Elements is an average to powerful package that can do a little of everything. It is also powerful enough that for most of us it is all we will ever need.

With Elements you can do basic editing of RAW images, it has a great editor, it can do a fair amount of graphical work, it has basic to good specialized modules like HDR, Panorama and other and finally it has good to very good image organizing capability. The negative side is that it is only updated while its in its current version. One loose support on things like RAW updates the moment a new version is released . In terms of training, Elements is the best supported.

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FastStone Organizer

This is a Windows only solution and its free of charge. There are other free solutions on the web and for those interested its worth looking into. For example another package, Gimp is a highly regarded editor and often compared to the full CS level solution from Photoshop. Gimp is well support both on the web plus a number of good books are available on Gimp.

FastStone is user friendly, it has a powerful organizer plus it has many basic but powerful enough editing features. With FastStone you will get introduced to the how -to of photo organizing, you will learn about basic editing skills plus you will learn about different outputs.

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Bibble Pro 5

This is one of my absolute favorite RAW editors. There are a number of them, Capture One, DxO, Lightroom from Adobe and a few more. I have used them all extensively over the last 3 years and Bibble has always been my favorite.

Bibble has a powerful organizer with an important difference. Almost all the other software solutions work on a principle of importing the images into a "closed" database based organizer. Without importing an image into the organizer one cannot edit the image in most of these other RAW converters. Bibble is different in that it offers a very powerful organizer but still allow explorer type access to all files. It has a pro level RAW plus JPEG plus many other formats editor, it has a real pro level printing section, it can accept presets from other photographers, you can build your own, it can accept plug-ins and many more functions. Bibble is a dedicated organizer/Editor and output package worth looking into. With Bibble one can do everything, accept for graphical design work. Bibble matched with a HDR solution like HDR Express will be a killer solution.

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Aperture 3

First time I used Windows it was the Dos version 2,7 if I recall correctly. Approximately 24 months ago I tried Mac and today I almost only use Mac. For those who use Mac the question, what software, becomes less complicated. The reason is standard Mac software like iPhoto and iMovie is so powerful that most people will never need anything else. If you then consider how easy it is to integrate your iPhoto collection with any other application then the typical Mac experience takes on a new dimension.

Adding a more advanced RAW plus photo Editing and Organizing solution like Aperture will have the same total integration power as Bibble. With this solution one can also consider HDR Express. If you in the market for a new PC then I would advice you to take a close look at Mac.

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Specialized Software

Some people will disagree with the title because Adobe CS5 is also specialized and I agree. The software I like to add to this section is something that is not as wide in functionality as Photoshop and which are really specialized in terms of a specific discipline. As you develop your hobby you might find that you need an additional specialized solution to help you.

HDR or High Dynamic Range photography is such an specialized example. It is really specialized and very focussed on the specific task at hand. Interesting is that one could decide to get something like Photoshop Elements plus Photomatix together. Elements then gives the all rounder functionality and like I said above it is not really specialized in any specific area. In combination with Elements, Photomatix can fill two gaps, HDR work plus it can function as a more advanced RAW converter. Many photographers does not realize just how powerful a HDR editor can function as RAW editor.

In future I will discuss Photomatix plus a few other HDR solutions in more detail.

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My aim was to give a brief introduction into a complex area of photography. Personally I think the development of hardware will be less dramatic than in the past and in the short future we will rather l see more development on software. It has also been interesting to see that no manufacturer has really partnered with any of the big software developers. Each has its own software solution included in the camera package but none is really interesting enough to function as the only post processing solution for years.

As with the other articles you are welcome to ask a question, should you need more information, in the forum section.