At the best of times, even with the smallest of images, photo editing has always been a challenging process for any app to cope with. This problem has only worsened with the ever-increasing number of pixels being added to sensors, and the ever-increasing size of the files those sensors produce. Add the uncompressed nature of RAW files into the equation, and you have a recipe for crash-inducing disaster — a disaster that is only avoided with highly skilful development.
Adobe has managed to avoid such troubles, in the shape of Photoshop RAW plugin, and with Lightroom, both of which are trusted by photographers the world over. Apple, too, has raised the standard of Aperture over the years, and it is now as good as any all-in-one you’d care to mention. And the choice doesn’t stop at the software giants — Capture One, darktable and CameraBag are great RAW converters as well.
Hoping to join this league is AccuRaw ($29.99), a new, lightweight conversion app from small development studio, PCDMagic. It looks the part and is well equipped on paper; but is AccuRaw an alternative that’s worth having?
Unlike some of the library apps mentioned above, AccuRaw stays clear of archiving and categorizing, instead focusing purely on the editing side of image management.
As a result, images are loaded directly from a target folder on your hard drive into AccuRaw via the in-built file browser, a process which is fairly smooth, though not blindingly fast. To aid your searching, you can adjust the size of the thumbnails and view incompatible image files — photos in formats other than RAW may be seen, but not edited.
There’s good reason for this though; AccuRaw is very much a RAW converter, and not a general purpose image editor. As such, the adjustments included in this app are (nearly) all based on RAW data, and incidentally, nearly all are slider-controlled.
This no-nonsense approach is reflected in the simple, practical layout, which has more than a hint of Lightroom to it. To the right of the picture being edited is the entire toolkit, topped by an RGB histogram. This array of controls can be supplemented by calling up the nicely detailed EXIF viewer.
All the usual exposure adjustments are included (Exposure, Contrast, Brightness, Highlights and Shadows) as are the colour adjustments you would expect (Saturation, Hue and Tint), and white balance can be set manually or via the eye-dropper.
In addition, there are three mouse-based tools; the first is merely a cursor for click-and-drag image navigation; the second is a crop tool, which only applies its framing when you export the image; the third is a recurrence of the eye-dropper.
It’s a shame that there are no lens corrections on offer (other than for chromatic aberrations; see below), but it is nice to see sliders for Exposing To The Right (ETTR), allowing for punchier highlights, and Tone Curve, which provides a far more natural look to contrast adjustment.
While most editors and converters cope perfectly well with all of the above, cracks often start to show when technically challenging adjustments, such as sharpening, need to be made. However, I see no cracks in AccuRaw here.
Even pushing the Intensity and Radius sliders to their extremes produces an image that is essentially free from unwanted artefacts at 100% zoom, apart from the unavoidable increased noise definition.
That said, noise suppression is another area of impressive performance. Chroma and Luna artefacts can be tackled separately, and although AccuRaw can’t compete with the aggressive, intelligent noise-cancelling found in products such as NoiseNinja, it certainly cleans up the grain nicely. The effective Post-Demosaic Filtering — the slightly obscure name for chromatic aberration removal — is another welcome inclusion.
Profiles and Presets
The collective settings you choose above can be saved as presets, but there are also default presets to choose from, such as the clean slate Zero’d and the colourless Monochrome. Equally, AccuRaw provides its own default camera profiles, although you can provide your own, if you wish.
More unexpected are the two checkboxes in the Profile section of the control palette: Preserve Highlights and Scene Referred. The purpose of the former is reasonably obvious — it ensures that nothing of the image is “burnt out” white. The cryptically labelled latter option relates to a trend within RAW software, where images are processed to mimic the dynamic range of human vision. It isn’t a game-changing feature, but it is another adjustment to play with.
For me, though, it is AccuRaw’s batch conversion that is its most useful feature. This probably seems like a strange conclusion, given that multiple images can only be processed via one of the presets. However, the ability to convert multiple images without having to deal with a library is a real time saver.
Speaking as a committed Aperture user, I find AccuRaw refreshingly lightweight. It very clearly isn’t the app in its class with the biggest inventory of adjustments, but it offers easy access to all of the basics. What’s more, the image quality it produces is impressive, and whilst it isn’t the fastest converter I’ve seen, it gets the job done at a fair pace.
There are, of course, areas for improvement. Distortion correction would be a great addition, as would a straightening tool. Some output options for batch conversions would be nice, too.
Overall, though, I would say that AccuRaw is a proficient, dependable introduction to RAW conversion, and a reasonably priced one at that.