Since the arrival of Photoshop CS over 10 years ago. Photoshop has included its own integrated Raw converter. The Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) plug-in has evolved greatly since its inception in 2003, and with Photoshop’s universal appeal amongst professionals and enthusiasts alike, has a wide user base.
And it’s easy to see why as well. From browsing your Raw files in Adobe Bridge (supplied with Photoshop), you can then seamlessly open them in Adobe Camera Raw before carrying on rating your images in Photoshop, offering a simplified workflow.
There’s also a wealth of editing controls available to you, including tods such as the Adjustment Brush, so rather than making universal adjustments, it’s possible to make adjustments to specific, targeted areas. This is great for enhancing sky detail or pulling dark areas back for a more balanced exposure. There’s a host of more specialised controls as well, including tens correction and split-toning.
The algorithms and image engine used by Photoshop’s ACR, especially in the latest CS6 and CC versions, deliver excellent results, while image noise handling is also very strong, too.
Downsides? Well, Photoshop’s version of ACR is built into Photoshop itself, and with the latest version (CC) being based around a subscription service that would cost around £1758 per month, it’s quite a sustained investment that’s more suited to industry professionals.
There’s no denying that Photoshop is a phenomenal image-editing package, but a more affordable alternative is Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 11 (around £49).
Like Photoshop itself, Elements features a Camera Raw plug-in though while the interface and workflow philosophy is similar to its big brother, there isn’t quite the same number of features, lacking more advanced controls such as the Adjustment Brush. Tone Curve and split-toning to name a few.
Don’t be put off by these missing features though. While they’re handy to have, the Camera Raw plug-in that is embedded in Elements 11 is a very capable Raw converter, allowing you to process Raw files to a very good standard, including sharpening and noise control. For the modest outlay therefore, not only do you get Raw conversion software, but also an excellent image-editing package that’ll suit most hobbyists and enthusiasts.
Bundled Raw software is not the only free Raw conversion software available. There’s a growing number of free programs out there such as GIMP and Raw Therapee that offer Raw conversion.
While not quite as polished as paid-for alternatives, they’re still very powerful pieces of software that offer loads of control and have built up loyal followings. They are a great way to experiment with Raw conversions without any financial risk — although if you’re feeling generous and enjoy the software, you can make a donation to fund either program.