Hasselblad Phocus & the H4D Digital Workflow
Deciding to buy in to a medium format camera system involves more than cameras and lenses. In the case of Phase One/Mamiya and Hasselblad, going big includes delving into exciting proprietary software. Phase One makes the excellent Capture One software while Hasselblad offers – as a free download – the relatively new Phocus program. While it’s true, to some extent, that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has become something of an industry standard for digital workflow software, both Capture One and Phocus are unique and able programs offering a higher degree of camera integration and a more unified workflow between camera and computer. Phocus is a cool piece of software, and – like Capture One – a strong selling point for the cameras and lenses it’s designed specifically to support. Anyone considering an H-series camera should certainly download Phocus and experiment with it. Hopefully this entry will serve as an interesting introduction.
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Phocus is unashamedly inspired by Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. There are many parallels between the two programs. In the image above, it’s clear the basic layout is one. From left to right, the basic panes are a file browser, photo viewer, filmstrip and tool panel. Unlike Lightroom, tools are not organized into modules. They are grouped under tabs and are customizable in a way similar to Adobe Photoshop, with interchangeable panels and user presets. The workflow functions, import and export, are both controlled in pop-up dialogues more similar to Mac OS-X than Lightroom.
The program’s tools for raw conversion show the strongest relationship to Lightroom. The above capture shows the histogram, Exposure, and White Balance controls, which will be quite familiar to Adobe users. Without customization, theses tools appear under the Adjust tab. All generate powerful changes to Hasselblad’s .FFF files (and RAW files from other manufacturers for the Mac OS-X version of Phocus).
Below the Exposure and White Balance panes are two of Phocus’s unique advantages to Lightroom. The first is the awesome Lens Correction tool. Using H-series cameras and lenses like the H4D and H3DII, the tool automatically eliminates distortion and vignetting. A slider allows the vignetting control to be scaled back for naturally darkened corners. The Color Correction tool is Hasselblad’s interpretation of the Lightroom HSL box, including saturation and vibrancy controls. Using the eye dropper, points on the wheel can be selected from image material and adjusted for hue, saturation, and luminance. I used it for the example image to add saturation to specific green and blue tones and to slightly warm and deepen the golden color of the surrounding foliage.
In addition to an eye dropper, the Lightroom version allows adjustments to 8 preset colors. By comparison, the Hasselblad version is a more fluid and precise interface, but less efficient. It’s one small example of Hasselblad’s prevailing motivation to create precise, neutral, and not-over processed files. It would be, perhaps, un-Hassy to recklessly adjust, for example, “Green” when a specific leaf color in an image is the target. Whatever the philosophy, the Phocus Color Correction interface is innovative and effective.
An important Lightroom strength is the “Sync…” button that allows adjustments to be shared among any number of files. Hasselblad offers a similar feature with the less-intuitively named “Modify” button. The button brings up the above dialogue, offering changes to families of adjustment settings and file naming. It’s handy and works quickly.
Files are exported from Phocus via a familiar-looking “save-as” like box. There are a number of file type options, and they should be closely compared for each workflow. I use Phocus to import files, apply basic corrections, including the invaluable lens corrections, and then export them as 16 bit, full size TIFFs, to integrate nicely with my usual digital workflow. The presets, including multiple flavors of DNG, JPG, PSD, and TIFF, can include user presets, like the “TIFF 16″ selected above. Once an export has been started, a count-down of remaining files appears on the “H” icon in the Mac OS-X dock.
It’s an exceedingly powerful program, aggressively grabbing RAM and processing resources. It runs noticeably better in a 10.6 “Snow Leopard” environment and should be fed plenty of RAM and hard drive space. I notice a definite system-wide slow down when Phocus is running, though the power pays off when plowing through a big pile of 40 MP files.
I was excited when Adobe added tethered shooting to Lightroom. For Phocus, it’s a native, full-featured tool. When using an H-series camera, a wide range of functions can be controlled from within focus, including exposure mode, focus, and the shutter release. A strange, black and white live view can be called up, allowing precise focus, though it will not replace the full-color and relatively responsive version of recent 35mm cameras. The default panels as seen above, allow adjustment to exposure, file naming, and white balance while files import.
The screen is adaptable, allowing good re-arranging to suit the needs of each studio. In the above example, the filmstrip box has been moved to the left, allowing a large vertical viewing of the selected image.
This is the tool bar found at the bottom of the image panel. It has a number of familiar tools: a handy compare file button, crop, straighten, white balance measure, zoom, handle, Read out tool (see bellow), shadow clipping, highlight clipping, grid overlay, image overlay, and navigation buttons.
The readout tool allows points to be placed around the image that each display a small box of RGB numbers. As adjustments are made, the numbers update in real time to give empirical feedback, which would prove useful if a certain black point, white point is needed, if a specific skin tone is desired, or if matching between images, systems, or cameras… cool. It’s certainly worth noting, also, that here and throughout, Phocus uses the proper 255 scale, not Lightroom’s cute, but unfamiliar 100-point scale. The 3 RGB numbers can be read from any point in the image with any tool active by referencing the display in the lower right of the image screen.
This is the top tool bar, which remains consistent throughout the program and can be customized to include whatever icons are most useful for a given workflow. The previously mentioned “Modify” tool is here, as well as import, export, and view options. The Slideshow tool begins a Mac OS-X style slideshow with pause/forward/backward/grid/iphoto buttons. I have no experience with the Windows version. The tight integration with the OS is a nice feature that seems to speed along functions like file moving and slideshow viewing.
This is Phocus’s Light Mode (found under the “Layout” option from the top tool bar). Files can be very quickly resized by grabbing a corner and pulling. Once a size is chosen, all others snap to the same size. It’s an interesting interface. As seen bellow, Phocus has a simplified version of Lightroom’s sorting features. The green, yell0w, and red choices are imported from the camera which can allow, for example, a promotion of chosen files or “code red” for badly exposed images (the H3DII and H4D can even code red bad exposures automatically, while playing a little “wonk-wonk-wonk” sad sound). It’s a drastically simplified version of Lightroom’s sophisticated search and filtering functions, but shows workflow-friendly and novel coordination between camera and software.
Especially considering how young the software is compared to Capture One and Lightroom, it’s a very nicely designed workflow tool. At first, I was extremely skeptical to add another program to the chain connecting camera to print. Also, thanks to mixed efforts from Nikon, Canon, and Pentax, I have real doubts about software made by camera companies. So Hasselblad Phocus is a true pleasant surprise and will serve Hasselblad shooters well.
Adobe has introduced lens correction tools, which may some day make Phocus’s greatest asset redundant. Also, Lightroom includes a simplified camera tether function that may eventually expand into a more full-featured tool set, making Phocus’s second greatest asset redundant. In the meantime, Phocus is a significant link in an imaging chain that delivers awesome results. If curious about Hasselblad, visit hasselbladusa.com (or the Hasselblad page that serves your community) to learn more and download a free copy.
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