Since I’m getting into the whole AstroPhotography thing, at least insofar as I’m doing iPhone stuff at the eyepiece, I decided I would play with some software to see how easily I could stack some stuff. Although I’m mainly interested in single-frame stuff, planets are proving elusive for single frames. So I went with what I already had installed, and didn’t have a lot of luck out of the gate.
But I began to wonder if I’m jumping too far ahead. Interestingly, I noticed I was having troubles even with just basic photo processing. While I had an old unreliable version of Photoshop, Lightroom, and even Photo Essentials, I’ve never liked what they do to my photo organization. I want something that does what I tell it to do, and nothing else — so I blew all three of the Adobe products off. I can always put them back if I need the power, but for now, gone with the wind.
Designing a test batch
I decided I’d play with two sets of files. First are my moon shots from a few nights ago — they all need flipping left to right (horizontal). Second is a photo from a few years ago with Andrea and Jacob, and it’s a great shot except for a stain on her shirt. I cropped around it previously, but the shot is decent, so I’d like to just remove the blemish so to speak.
Starting the product review
I tried PhotoScape X, which was from the Windows store. I’m a little worried it doesn’t even seem to show up in my “installed files”, yet it is indeed installed. Individual photo editing seems non-intuitive, but I loved the viewer mode — it let me, for example, provide a horizontal flip on all of my moon photos in one go without reducing the file size, something other apps seem to mess with or requires me to do it one at a time. I might keep it around just for that, unless I can’t find something else I want to keep that has that functionality too. $52 if I want to upgrade to pro mode though. But the simple photo editing seemed complicated — I couldn’t even figure out how to get back to a simple pencil / paint brush editing tool.
Next up to try is inPixio Photo Clip 9, which is a free photo editor. Although as it turns out, it isn’t actually free. Almost all of the good functionality is reserved for the premium version, which is $30-$40 Canadian. Seemed too simple in format, with many missing obvious functions even for a quick touch-up. Except the photo eraser and photo cutter work fine. Not quite what I’m looking for, but an interesting set of features. I’m not a big fan of crippleware, so I uninstalled.
I tried DarkTable which was billed as a good RAW editor and manager, which was fine, but again, the interface didn’t wow me. I did manage to figure out how to do some spot removal on some photos, but nothing else about the tool excited me. And since I’m rarely using RAW right now, I uninstalled, and moved on.
Another popular one is Affinity. It’s not free, runs about $50, but it has a free trial, so why not try it? Well, for one thing, as soon as I loaded it, it told me there was a newer version. Really? Why didn’t it check that before installing? Okay, whatever. And of course there are a bunch of pop-ups. Ads for a workbook to buy. Sales on iPad versions. Try the Designer companion app for free. Save on everything in the store. Or just buy it outright. Grrr…so I got past the ads, it IS a trial version after all, and under the menu, the first thing I see is an option to do a stack. I have three pics of Jupiter that are sitting in my trial zone, so I tried it. Straight-through, no problem, stacked! Complete with adjustments, slight rotations, nicely done. It’s a little washed out when done, but I don’t think that’s the program’s fault.
I played with the stacking on two sets of Jupiter images, did okay. Tried it on a batch of moon images, there’s no “best of” option, it just did its best to include all of them. Final image was okay, but a bit blurry, which isn’t much worse than the originals. It would do in a pinch.
I switched over to the picture with the stain, and while I have no real talent, I could make it work well enough with various brushes and tools to get it to look like the stain was gone without leaving a giant colour difference in the same spot. Not awesome, but that is the painter, not the brush.
I had one more “backup” picture to play with. Taken the same day as the shirt photo, it has Jacob inside a tube slide, and while one or two of the shots at the top of the slide are okay, inside the tube it is VERY dark and almost impossible to see his face. More like a silhouette in a couple of shots, which were easily discarded. It’s far from an amazing shot, just playing with perspective and it didn’t work out. But, I opened the file, played with a bunch of preset lighting options, and after a bit of trial and error, I managed to get the colour down, the light up, the contrast showing, and it’s an usable shot. Not worth the effort, he’s too pale by the time I’m done, but there are other options I could perhaps try and get a better outcome, lighting up some areas but not others perhaps. Nevertheless, it worked. Decent tool.
And, finally, I opened something called the BATCH MODE, and it lets me do a bunch of macros including taking a bunch of files and changing the format, as well as a series of macros (converting to sRGB, stripping metadata, converting to black and white, and HELLO, flipping horizontally). Nice.
I am BARELY scratching the surface of this software and it already can do everything I want. The stacking isn’t amazing, but I’ve got astro software to do that. We have ourselves a contender, even at $50. And if you had a complicated workflow that was streamlined, you can record it as a macro. Sweet.
Next on my list is the everlasting Paint.Net. No, not quite the old Windows program, although lots of people have thought so. Will it do the job? Sure. But so will Windows Photos. And nothing in batch mode. Pass.
Also on my list was Photo Pos Pro v3, yet another free photo editor. After launching, it asked me if I wanted the PRO interface or the Novice interface. Yes, this is a good level question for me. 🙂 Novice it is. But then it asks me about my preference for colour schemes — classic / bright, high contrast (dark background), or silver. High contrast it is. So I played with the order this time…I started with the dark slide photo. One series of “AUTO FIX” options later for brightness and I got everything I got earlier. For the stain, I could probably get better at it, but it wasn’t awesome tool design, even in pro mode. But they have something called a “recovery brush”, and without knowing more about it, just gave it a go. It literally removed the stain and left the underlying shirt the matching colour nearby. Like a facial blemish removal tool, but there was a separate one for that. Decently done. For the “batch” mode, though, I found two problems. First, I tried switching between novice and pro mode, and to do so, it says you have to first save the image, and asks you if you want to save with three options: YES, NO, CANCEL. Presumably you should be able to say no, i.e. you don’t want to save, you just want to switch, but no works the same as cancel, you just go back to the same screen without changing modes. I had to close, say no to saving, and then reopen after switching. That’s just silly. Second, to get into batch mode, it has a great menu offering you the chance to add a bunch of scripts to run and add a list of files to process. But there’s no indication of where to find the scripts or how to create them (like a macro). Some decent tools, and since it’s free, I’m tempted to leave it installed.
Saving the big boy for last
For anyone who has ever looked at free photo software, the big boy on the block is Gimp. Short for Gnu Image Manipulation Program, Gimp has been around a long time. And I have never liked it.
Too complicated, too bloated, didn’t like the interface. I’ve downloaded it in Linux versions, Windows versions, you name it, I’ve tried it and despite being free, I have ALWAYS uninstalled it. But someone whose methods I’m trying to emulate often tweaks his final astro photos in Gimp, so I thought I would give it a try again.
As soon as I open it, I remember why I don’t like it. The User Interface is ugly and unfriendly. But I digress.
The stain on the shirt? Able to be removed with the healing brush. Took me a second to find it, but just layout issues, not a design flaw.
The dark slide shot? I couldn’t figure out to easily make the changes. I could make some, but beyond that, not so much.
Stacking? Not really relevant, but sure, I could do it as layers, manually.
And no “batch” processing mode to flip a bunch of photos horizontally. Sigh.
I wish I liked Gimp, I really do wish it. But I just plain don’t.
A backup question
So, if one of the things I want to do is batch process some images, like flipping them horizontally, is a photo editor even what I’m looking for? I do have XNView installed, which is a viewer and organizer. And it will let me select multiple images, convert them even to other formats (I have a bunch of GIF comics that I flip into JPGs before sharing on FB, for instance), and while I have only used the program for conversions, I realized that it does let me do a series of basic tweaks, like flipping. Through lossless JPGs. Which makes me wonder about some of the other processing? Should I have been looking for a better view and organizer rather than an editor?
And the XN group have other tools…like XNConvert which does even more than the viewer does, and also free. XNRetro adjusts lighting. And for no reason that I need, XNSketch will convert your photo into a cartoon version. Me thinks I have another category to look through before moving on to Astro processing tools.