Luminar Neptune To The Rescue?

With Google abandoning it’s Nik Software Collection by Google, there are a lot of people trying to duplicate the things they did in Nik in other plugins suites.  On1 and MacPhun are two plugin developers that have the ability to do the same image manipulation that the Nik does with varying success.

I’ve purchased and  used both suites but have not found that there was much added value to what Nik and especially Color Effects Pro 4.0 did.  And if Nik were to continue to be supported (apparently it is already breaking on some hardware and software platforms) I would probably not be looking for a replacement.

As a long time KelbyOne member I just watched a 2 hour class on a new MacPhun product called Luminar Neptune which seems to do some things like the Nik software. This may be because the MacPhun people were involved with developing the original Nik Collection.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding why Nik, MacPhun and ON1 all had separate plugins for different jobs.  It gets really confusing when the current products all had different version numbers like Color Effects Pro 4 and Define 2 etc.

Luminar Neptune is a single plugin that combines features of multiple plugins in previous suites.  Luminar Neptune can also be run as a stand alone application for developing raw or jpeg images without having to go near Lightroom or Photoshop.

So armed with the recent KelbyOne class and a credit card I purchased Luminar Neptune 1.2.0.  If you are a KelbyOne member or a previous owner of other MacPhun software you may be able to get a discount over the current $69 (US) price.

I bought it because it seems like the right time to transition off of the Nik Suite and because the tie in between MacPhun and the Nik Suite before Google. I was hoping that I might be easy to flip over. And it was. Except I went about it in the wrong way.

What I was hoping to do was set up some presets that basically did the same things I was doing on an ongoing basis with Nik.  So I started out with a cloud image that I had processed very normally in Lightroom applying the Camera ACROS+R filter for conversion to black and white.

Structure – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR 16mm 1/2400 sec F8.0 ISO 200. With Lightroom Processing only.

To apply any filters I always import the image into Photoshop as a Smart Object so I can re-manipulate whichever plugins I use if I feel the need (and I usually do). So first I used a action I created to launch Color Effects Pro 4.0 and apply a preset I created based on settings to Pro Contrast and Tonal Contrast that I picked up from a class by Moose Peterson which is also on KelbyOne.

Structure – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR 16mm 1/2400 sec F8.0 ISO 200. Color Effects Pro 4.0 Pro and Tonal Contrast applied

I then made a virtual copy of the image and again passed to Photoshop as a smart object and this time launched the Luminar Neptune plugin. Now it would just be easy if MacPhun had created a filter called Pro Contrast and one called Tonal Contrast so I could just mimic the settings but 1) That might get a negative reaction out of Google. 2) been no fun at all. So the first thing I tried was to see if I could get Luminar to duplicate what I was doing in Nik. And that, in my opinion, is the wrong thing to do. Instead I went my own way using some suggested filters (thanks to Scott Kelby). I used the filters to make the image look like I wanted it to instead of making the image look like the Nik image. There is a lot more crunch in the image with the Luminar plugin than in the Nik one. In fact I was surprised at how soft the Nik processed image was. Look on the right side of the image at the small dark clouds about 1/3 of the way down. I really like what happens to them with the extra crunch.

Structure – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR 16mm 1/2400 sec F8.0 ISO 200. Photoshop with the Luminar Neptune plugin

The Nik software needs to be replaced, it’s not going anywhere and will soon be no more than a boat anchor. If you are using image enhancing software you need to try the different Suites and settle on one that makes sense for you.  And don’t just try to duplicate things from the old dead plugin, experiment and see what you can do with the latest and greatest. Both MacPhun and ON1 have trial periods so you can test both of them.  I liked the Nik plugins and because of the link to MacPhun1 thru common developers I went that path. Your path may be different and don’t get bogged down in how to exactly duplicate old tech, it’s time to experiment and maybe get something a bit more you.

1I still have an issue with company names that are misspellings but that is again a personal issue.

Image shot with:

Expanded Exposure Bracketing with the Fujifilm X-T2

I had all but given up on using exposure bracketing on my Fujifilm cameras. I would shoot the standard three frames, regular exposure, +1 and -1 and then use Lightroom’s merge to HDR to build a “High Def” image. Problem was that I could get the same result just taking the normal exposure and by moving the highlight and shadow sliders along with moving the white an black point sliders and get a result that was very similar to the HDR output. The dynamic range of the X-Trans sensors is pretty wide in raw. So why bother?

With newly released version 2.0 of the X-T2 firmware, you can set the camera to take up to 9 exposures to really build a much more “dynamic” image.

Kings Cross Station

This is the final image I developed using the Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR while waiting to take the train from London to Hogsmead somewhere near Hogwarts School.

Here is how I had my camera set up to shoot the bracketed images.

On the Shooting menu, select drive settings.

Then select BKT Setting

Then BKT Select (Hard to see in my excellent screen captures…)

Once you select AE BKT you can go back one screen and set up the AE Bracket steps

Click on AE BKT

Then Frame/Step Settings. Note below you can set for continuous frames or 1 frame per click. You can also determine the order in which the exposures are made.  I have it set to O normal exposure then plus exposures then minus exposures.

You can then select the number of frames to shoot.

And finally the number of steps between exposure. Note on the graphic below that the middle step is not right on 0 as the camera also takes into account any EV adjustments you have made. In my case I have (and usually have) a 2/3 minus EV dialed in.

And here you have the resulting 5 exposures. I think we start to have some captures that we can work with for building interesting HDR images.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR


ACROS To The Rescue

Light is everything and some times it is just too much. This statue in the China Store at Epcot presented some real color balance challenges. There was enough light it just was of several different color temperatures.

Calm Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mmf2.8 R LM WR f8 1/125 seconds ISO 3200 31.5mm

The original capture was quite warm with the statue being almost orange. After sampling several different areas this was about the best I could do.  I think there was incandescent lights, probably some hot halogen spots and from behind me an open doorway bringing in daylight. As you can see there a a blue cast to most of the statue while the midsection is orange. And then there is the magenta cast on the shoulders. There wasn’t one color temperature that covered all the lights.  But is this a throw away image? Nope, time for black and white.

Calm Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mmf2.8 R LM WR f8 1/125 seconds ISO 3200 31.5mm

Because this raw file came from a Fujifilm X-T2 I had access to the all the Fujifilm ACROS2 Film Simulation profiles from within Lightroom.  For the conversion I used the Acros+G filter simulation.

I have to admit I love color images but sometimes I just have to surrender to the black and white muse. The Fujifilm ACROS simulations are just stunning. The tonal ranges are so mellow. Images you can eat off of.

I applied the ACROS+G simulation right over the above image.  I then moved the image into Photoshop as a smart object where I applied Google’s Nik Color Effects Pro 4 to the image for Pro and Tonal Contrast1. Just works.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR


1 I got the Pro and Tonal Contrast Recipe from a KelbyOne class on processing aviation images by Moose Peterson. While Moose uses the recipe for bringing out detail on aircraft, it seems to work on just about any image.
2I couldn’t decide if ACROS was supposed to be all caps or not. In lightroom it is so I updated the post to ACROS.

Confidence

Photography, like most things in life is better when you are confident. I’ve processed several images lately that gave me confidence that I can create the image I see before I press the shutter button.  The confidence comes not only from the ability to get the composition correct in camera. It also comes from the camera being able to capture the detail I want. And to present the tonal range the I saw with my eyes.

Flimflam's Lanterns
Flimflam’s Lanterns

These images were taken at maybe 4:30 in the afternoon so the light was rather contrasty.  I apply the Provia/Standard camera profile to all my imported raw files and add a bit of sharpening as needed.  I bracketed the shots to plus 2 stops and minus 2 stops and processed them with Lightroom’s Photo Merge HDR. I also passed them through Photoshop where I applied some Nik Software By Google Color Effects 4 Tonal and Pro Contrast filters.

20161025-_dsf2016-hdr-2-edit
Gringot’s Dragon

The images were shot with the Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR lens. I could only have one camera and lens this would be the  combination I would chose.   The images are only 1600 pixel jpegs but if you click on them you can see the texture in the wings and the texture of the window frames, it’s just spot on.

It is nice to know that you can put the camera to your eye and get the images you see. Gives you confidence.

Using Camera Profiles In Lightroom

Lightroom’s Camera Calibration Panel may be the most under discussed feature of the whole Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw processing engine. Camera calibration allows you to control how Lightroom pre-processes imported raw images. By default the Adobe Standard profile is applied when raw images are imported into the Lightroom catalog. Available profiles depend on the make and model of camera that captured the image. These profiles are active only when processing raw files. When jpeg files are imported the profile assigned in the camera is used to create the jpeg in camera and can not be changed by Lightroom.

Digital cameras come with a set of predefined profiles for processing images you can choose to create jpeg as output to the camera’s SD or compact flash. Some adjustments can be dialed in to allow for more or less contrast, sharpness, and color rendition. Even if you are exporting as a raw file the currently selected profile is applied to the internal jpeg created to display to the camera’s LCD screen.

In a number of cameras the profiles are pretty generic in their description. For instance the Nikon D600 includes the following 5 profiles:

Neutral
Vivid
Monochrome
Portrait
Landscape

Even if you record in raw format the profiles are used and the images are processed to the current camera profile for viewing on the LCD on the back of your camera.

I know a couple of well known photographers who usually just shoot jpegs and do only minimal processing in Photoshop or Lightroom. The in camera processing of images to jpegs can get pretty sophisticated with the modern digital camera. In camera you can use these profiles to determine how the camera software converts the image. The profile may be based on the type of shot it is or it like on the Nikon or can be based on a replication of an analog camera film as provided by Fujifilm.

Actually all cameras always capture in raw mode even if the users chooses to only save the jpeg. Once the image is processed, if saving only the jpeg image, the raw data is thrown away. To me it makes sense to import the images into Lightroom as raw files and apply the camera profiles after import.

If you are using Lightroom to retrieve, catalog and develop your images you gain quite a lot from importing your images in raw format. Lightroom allows you to apply any of the camera profiles to your raw images once you have downloaded them to your computer. Using virtual copies of a single image you can have profiled images for all the available profiles that your camera provides. Applying a different profile does not make any changes any of the develop modules sliders.

Once you enter the Lightroom develop module with your selected raw image you can open the camera profile panel and select any of the profiles. Please note to use the latest Process Engine (right now that is 2012 (Current)).

My Fujifilm X-T1 has the following profiles available:

screen-shot-2016-06-14-at-6-47-03-pm

You can try all the profiles until you find one you are happy with or like I said create virtual copies and apply one to each. Remember the profile is applied to the image without changing any of the develop module sliders so you can have a clean start at making adjustments beyond the applied profile.

But wait there is a better way. You can create presets for each of the profiles. Then you don’t even have to go to the camera profile panel. One advantage to creating the profiles is that when you scroll over a preset it is applied to the Navigator image so you can see how the image will look with any of the presets. You can also apply a preset when importing images so your preferred profile is automatically applied to each imported image.

screen-shot-2016-06-14-at-6-49-58-pm

To create a preset go to the Develop Module and click on the plus (+) sign next to the Preset Panel to add a new preset. The New Develop Preset dialog will display. I would suggest you create a folder for the presets for each camera you have. Name the preset with the profile name. Uncheck all the settings except the Process Version and Calibration check boxes. Click the create button and the preset will be added to the Preset panel under the folder name you created.

screen-shot-2016-06-14-at-6-50-50-pm

The advantages to processing images from a raw file are many. Applying camera profiles as provided by the manufacturer is a great starting point for getting the most out of the image. Here is the same raw photo with 4 different profiles applied.

Classic Chrom
Classic Chrome
Monochrome
Monochrome
Provia/Standard
Provia/Standard
Velvia/Vivid
Velvia/Vivid