RAW processing on the go
November 19, 2013 10:51 AM   Subscribe

What´s a good portable option to process RAW files?

A few months from now I will start leading a nomad life, that will go on for "a while" (length of time that will define itself as it passes).

I´ve always shot film, but for the sake of traveling light, I´m bringing a digital camera instead, the Fuji X100s that my brother is bringing me from the US next month.

While I still don´t have the camera, I´ve read and head a lot about how good straight out of the camera JPEGs are with this camera, so I´ll be shooting in JPG + RAW, in order to at least have some decent images to share online. But I still want to have the RAWs to process properly later, and because despite all the praise about the X100s´ JPEGs, they´re still JPEGs, so sometimes they will need some work to be just the way I want them (after all, I´m a darkroom creature), and more if I want to make them available for printing while I´m still traveling.

Here comes the difficult part. I´ll be traveling really light. I don´t own a laptop computer and I don´t intend to change that now. I know the X100s has an option to process RAW files in camera, but I wouldn´t want to rely on a tiny LCD screen for that. My only computing power will be my Nexus 7 tablet and whatever computer I can find in internet cafes, hostels, friends´ homes, etc. While those wouldn´t have calibrated monitors, it would still be better than the camera´s LCD screen.

Is there any RAW processing software that can be installed in portable mode, in a thumb drive or external HD?

Or maybe one for Android that I could run on my tablet?

Is anyone that has used the X100s in camera RAW processor satisfied? Would that be better than I think?

PS: I´ve never shot digital before, so while I know my way around my darkroom, I´ve only used RAW processing programs in a couple of occasions while helping a friend prepare some photos for a book, and during some not very satisfactory attempts at scanning film. Not enough to get used to any program in particular, so learning any of them will be as hard or as easy as the next one.
posted by Fermin to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I understand your workflow. How do you intend to store all these photos you are shooting? I am assuming that without a computer, you really can't make use of external hard drives, and thumbdrives will be far too small to hold any significant amount of photos.
posted by inertia at 11:18 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

In your position, what I'd get be one of those portable hard drives with sd/cf etc inputs to store all the raw and jpeg files. And process the chosen raws at leisure once I get to a proper calibrated setup.

Last I've seen a friend's X100's jpeg output, they were pretty good, so I'd keep use the jpegs for what I need to print or upload, save the raws later. Raw processing without a calibrated workflow makes little sense for me...
posted by TrinsicWS at 11:33 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I still have to get an adapter for it, but external hard drives can be used with tablets. I´m bringing at least a 500 gb with me.
posted by Fermin at 11:35 AM on November 19, 2013

Raw Therapee can be made portable and is cross platform. Never used it, so I don't know how well it works.

This isn't necessarily answering the question, but if you *really* want to process RAW files on the go, I'd replace the Nexus 7 with a Windows tablet, where you can run the manufacturer's raw conversion software or Adobe Bridge.

A Bay Trail tablet will get excellent battery life, be a little slow for RAW processing and cost less than $500, or a Haswell tablet will get only decent battery life for much faster performance and cost closer to $1,000. They make everything from 8" to 11" tablets.

Some have external keyboards. Don't buy anything with Windows RT. I don't know that I'd try the 8" due to the 1280 x 800 resolution on those, but they're relatively cheap, portable and have excellent performance and battery life. Make sure if you go this route that you buy something with a MicroHDMI port so you can connect it to an external monitor. All of these devices have IPS screens. I don't know about color gamut, and I'd guess calibration won't be great, but they would provide a way to do what you're asking and have good viewing angles. They also tend to have full USB ports or MicroUSB ports that can connect to an external hard drive.
posted by cnc at 12:24 PM on November 19, 2013

Based on my experience with the X100 and X100s, soon enough you'll stop shooting RAW+JPEG... the JPEGS really are that good, unless you habitually shoot massively over- or under-exposed.

Anyway, something that could work would be to install Ubuntu Touch on the Nexus, which would give you access to any of the software that's packaged for Ubuntu (though there's no guarantee that it would play nice on the screen real estate you'll have available). I haven't actually tried this myself, though; it's just a thought.
posted by gmb at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2013

Storing raw files on any small device (and by small I mean something more minimal than a laptop) requires a lot of storage if you shoot a lot.

Processing raw files not only requires that storage, but will be a painfully slow process unless you have a fast device.

I'd largely agree with TinisicWS and suggest that you hold off dealing with the raw files until you get in front of a machine with more horsepower.

Alternatively, I'd vote for something like a Microsoft Surface Pro with as much memory as you can afford, along with some kind of portable external drive for storage.

When I was in a somewhat similar situation, I bought an "under $500" Asus laptop with an 11" IPS screen and added memory to get to 8gb. I run Adobe Lightroom on it and occasionally have to process large, Nikon D800 raw files. It's certainly not the fastest thing on the planet for this purpose, but it runs Lightroom just fine.

It's not terribly bigger than my iPad.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:31 PM on November 19, 2013

An 11" MacBook Air is incredibly portable and has storage options and graphics capabilities that tablets (like the Nexus and Surface RT) generally lack.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:00 PM on November 19, 2013

Dcraw is a little command line program for turning raw files into TIFF images (or some other formats, but not jpg directly apparently). It is distributed as a C file you can compile for your system, but binaries for some systems are also available. You'd probably need to have a bit of a hacker mentality to make use of this. Any image adjustments are applied through command line parameters.
posted by DarkForest at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2013

UFRaw is a graphical RAW editor based on Dcraw, and it can export JPEGs. There is a Windows installer available, and the website says that the Windows program is "standalone," so presumably you can install it on a USB drive and use it it Internet cafés. Obviously try with another computer it before you rely on that solution.
posted by domnit at 4:35 PM on November 19, 2013

So, the X100s. It's got lovely JPEGs. Just lovely. Which is good because...

most RAW editors don't support it! The sensor on the x100s is too weird for them to bother. Shotwell crashes when trying to preview them. Picasa (last I checked) just... stops, and halts generating previews when it gets to one. Dcraw does actually support the X100s, but the fact is I found it obnoxiously fiddly and absolutely no benefit over doing some push/pull and tone modifications in-camera. It's not going to be fun trying to use dcraw on the go. I gave it a try but there was just no way. It is portable though, that's for sure- it's a small executable, runs more or less everywhere. UFRaw might get you some results, since it's based on Dcraw but I think I remember the version of UFRaw I had was using an older dcraw that didn't yet support the x100s and it was just a big mess.

It's too bad. I love X100s to pieces and it is, in all other ways, exactly perfect for you. I bought mine in anticipation of a big trip and it was perfect- except I had to leave my RAW processing until I could get back to a beefy Windows machine.

Lightroom, as you might imagine, does support the X100s. However, I have found (in my VERY limited experience) that it can't always do as well as the in-camera processing. In very challenging environments (dark dance floor, red and blue lighting) using the in-camera tool to tell it to push the exposure up two stops produced nice soft skintones. In Lightroom there was blotchy red and blue which I could mitigate but not get rid of. Someone more experienced with Lightroom would probably be able to do better, but consider that the JPEG out of camera took like 5 seconds and no configuration and was nearly perfect!

Capture One does convert X100s RAW files and is supposed to be at least on par with Lightroom. Not sure, no experience with it. But it's also a Windows application, so it doesn't do you that much good.

I looked quite a lot and I just didn't find a good solution to doing RAW processing on the x100s without a decent computer running Windows.

Send me a message and I can forward you along a RAW for you to try these utilities with, if you want.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2013

Based on my experience with RAW files on my Nexus 4, the CPU on the Nexus 7 is going to be pretty agonizingly slow, even if you can find software that will work on it.

If I were you (based on the no laptop constraint), I'd look into getting one of the new Windows 8 inch tablets, install Lightroom on it, and count on hooking it up to a borrowed external mouse/keyboard/monitor for most work. The cheap ones that I've seen have all been Atom based, which will still be pretty slow, but better than the Nexus, but I believe there are some i5 based ones that would be pretty fast (if expensive).
posted by Candleman at 9:30 PM on November 19, 2013

inertia: "1I'm not sure I understand your workflow. "

Oh, and don´t worry, I don´t understand it either yet. I´m months again from starting this trip, just beginning to plan ahead. My workflow is still to be designed, and will be affected by what I can and what I can´t do.

cnc: "This isn't necessarily answering the question (...) "

Well, even though I said I would prefer not to buy another tablet/laptop/HAL 9000/calculator (partly because I´d rather save that money, and partly because I want to carry as little stuff as possible, I´m trying to bring only a regular backpack), I did ask for options for doing this, so you´re answering my questions, and I do appreciate it. After all I have time to study all my options. Maybe soon I´ll ask for help deciding between a Haswell tablet and the MacBook Air someone else recommended. Of course if I get any of those, the Nexus would be staying at home, or maybe it would find a new home.

BungaDunga: "Send me a message and I can forward you along a RAW for you to try these utilities with, if you want."

My X100s is coming in December 15, and I´m leaving in April, plenty of time to experiment with my own RAWs. Thanks for the offer, though.

You´re all giving me very good food for thought. Thanks a lot.

Maybe after all I won´t have a choice but to buy another gadget. Hmm...
posted by Fermin at 10:01 PM on November 19, 2013

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