May 3, 2006

Bibble 4.7: RAW power for penguins

Author: Mirko Perak

Bibble Labs has released Bibble 4.7, a commercial program for processing and conversion of RAW digital photography files to publishable formats such as JPG, PNG, and TIFF. Since professional photo editing programs are far and few between on Linux, I decided to take a look at Bibble's Linux version to see how it handles.

The new version includes a new automatic image correction technology called Perfectly Clear. The most important innovations in two last versions are integrated Noise Ninja technology for the reduction of digital noise, support for dual-core processors, improved detail-saving in converted pictures, and a well-organized user interface.

Bibble comes in two versions -- a Lite version that sells for $69, and a Professional version for $129 that includes all the features of the Lite version plus multithreading, work queues, advanced copy and paste functionality, and support for tethered shooting. You can download a 14-day trial package of either version from the company's Web site. Debian packages and RPMs are available, as well as packages for Windows and Mac OS X. Both versions of Bibble support more than 70 digital camera models from manufacturers such as Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Minolta, Kodak, Epson, and Sony.

I installed the Bibble Pro RPM version successfully on the latest SUSE, Mandriva, and PCLinuxOS releases. Bibble requires Linux kernel version 2.4 or later, 512MB of RAM, and a graphical environment.

When you start the application for the first time, it displays a First Time Wizard, which helps set up the primary program functions and graphical interface. With this wizard you can adjust the contrast, define your default workspace profile, and choose a color profile. The wizard also helps you organize its toolbar, which can be floating or docked, and set other aspects of the interface.

Bibble includes an integrated picture browser and flexible toolbars. You can invoke most of its functions with keyboard shortcuts, and once you start learning those the program becomes really easy to work with. Its interface and performance are made for professional or serious photographers who work with a large number of photos in RAW format.

The commands that photographers usually use are readily available from the top window tool bar: Shooting Info, Fit to Window, Zoom Actual Size, Zoom In and Out, Crop Cursor, Send to Batch, the very useful Focus Window Cursor, and so forth.

For the most part, the toolbar is arranged so that it's easy to work effectively -- though it's worth pointing out that the toolbar is missing the "Remove Image Settings" command. New users are likely to be confused by its absence, and the command isn't easy to find in the menus. After a bit of hunting, however, I found the option under the Edit menu in Settings, and its shortcut is Ctrl-R.

When RAW files are transferred to the hard disk, you'll want to choose the Browse option from the File menu, or press the F7 key to open the photo browser. The photo browser has a directory tree on the left side; choose the RAW pictures folder to browse the photos you've moved to the hard drive. You can close the directory tree pane afterwards by pressing Shift-F6. In the main window, you can see the RAW pictures in preview mode without having to convert them to another format. To see a larger preview, press F6.

The Basic Adjustments panel includes the basic tools for picture adjustment: Exposure, Saturation, Contrast, Highlight Recovery, Fill Light, Sharpening, White Balance, Basic Noise Ninja, and the new Vibrancy control. Especially useful are the Focus Window Cursor, Fill Light, Highlight Recovery, and Perfectly Clear features.

The Focus Window Cursor tool lets you view the selected part of the picture in an enlarged view in the Basic Adjustments window of the panel. This is very useful, because it makes it easy to spot irregularities in the picture, such as camera shake blur, noise, and purple fringing.

The Fill Light function eliminates one of the most common flaws in photos -- underexposure. Many photos are taken in suboptimal low light conditions, and this tool can save those that are not too far gone to save. For photos suffering from overexposure, the Highlight Recovery tool often successfully repairs parts of a photo "burned" by high exposure.

The new Perfectly Clear automatic image correction feature is designed to save time by allowing image optimizations to be applied with a single click. This feature instantly optimizes the lighting while maintaining true color and without clipping. I have found this new tool useful most of the time, but not always. When applied to some pictures it introduces too much contrast for my taste.

The new Vibrancy control adjusts the overall color without affecting saturated colors, which is very nice.

In the end, if a picture can't be saved with the help of these and other Bibble tools, then probably nothing could help it.

While the testing Bibble 4.6, I encountered a serious problem: every time I tried to activate the Basic Noise Ninja option for eliminating digital noise, the program crashed. That's been solved in Bibble 4.7. Noise Ninja works perfectly now, and I'm very pleased with its results.

When you're done adjusting and polishing your photos, you can export them to TIFF, JPG, or PNG. For TIFF and PNG format, options for saving in 16-bit mode are available. Bibble also lets you print adjusted RAW pictures without converting them to other formats. Also, Bibble can use print queues with different layouts customized for specific needs. You can lay out images onto a grid, a contact sheet, or a set of prints.

Bibble Professional comes with a batch function that lets you automatically convert large numbers of photos. You first select each picture, then click Send to Batch. When you have all the pictures you want to process, select Batch Convert from the File menu.

Bibble clearly comes from people who know the needs of photographers who work with a RAW format. Its interface is intuitively organized, and it is easy to learn. It also performs well, rendering RAW pictures faster than all other similar programs I have tried. Bibble cannot replace the GIMP for picture processing, but is mostly made to be the first step in picture processing when transferring images from the camera in RAW format.

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