A new ‘fanship’ with Fujifilm Hyper-Utility software
[written & photographed by Bluffname]
Fujifilm Hyper-Utility HS-V3 software – for converting .RAF format raw files from FinePix cameras – does not seem to have a lot of fans. From what I know, Fujifilm has stopped selling it. At least Fujifilm Singapore has. And not many FinePix owners seem to own and use this software.
Almost against my will, I recently established a “fanship” with it as I discovered that it produces significantly better quality images than the software that I had been using for over a year, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.0. My friend KopiOkaya had been telling me about this, but I never really listened. I was happy with Lightroom. Then one day he showed an example of the difference. Truly, a picture speaks a thousand words. I was wowed.
Reluctantly, I re-visited Hyper-Utility. I still don’t like the way it works. Who does, when it runs at snail speed? It reminds me of computers during the 1970s. I was at university then and whenever the class had a computer assignment, we would submit our work to the computer department and return the next day to collect our answers.
OK. Hyper-Utility is not that slow. But those who use it will know what I mean. You make an adjustment and wait maybe 10 or 20 seconds to see the results. If you don’t like it, you adjust again and wait again. No… wait… even before you make any adjustment, just to open a file, or worse still, a folder containing many files, might take a few minutes!
It’s not so bad when you adjust the sensitivity or exposure because the outcome is roughly predictable. With tone adjustments using the curve, where the results are less predictable, the process can be hair-pulling. It’s just so frustrating to spend 10, 20 or more minutes making simple adjustments that Lightroom achieves in seconds!
Argh! But I have “no choice”. Rather, this is my best choice if I want to get the best results. And so, to endear myself to this dinosaur-age software, I have given it a new name: Fuji Utility Conversion Kit. (Editor’s note: don’t you think of that four-letter word)
I remember when I first installed my Hyper-Utility, I had to upgrade my iMac memory from 1MB of RAM to the maximum 4MB of RAM. It did speed things up a little, but not enough.
At the time (end of 2007), the only other option I had was the ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) function on my Adobe Photoshop CS2. It could open the file. But the image turned out very dark and brightening it made it very noisy. And after conversion, the image size was only 3,043 pixels on the longer side, instead of the usual 4,256. It just didn’t work.
This is how an imaged looked when opened with ACR on Photoshop CS2:
From what I understand, Photoshop CS4 now handles .RAF raw files okay. But I have not upgraded, so I cannot comment on that. (Editor’s note: please scroll down the page and read the comments below)
Meanwhile, I plodded with Hyper-Utility for a few months. Then I bought Lightroom 2.0 and everything seemed great. Lightroom is just so intuitive and user-friendly. I loved it; I happily shelved my Hyper-Utility…
The same image, without adjustments, on Lightroom, currently version 2.5:
The image looks fine enough. Lightroom images are certainly acceptable and I recently won a major photo competition with four images, all converted using Lightroom. But when I re-visited Hyper-Utility, I realised that the results are quite different. Overall, Hyper-Utility images are more vibrant and “alive”. And the noise level is much lower.
Another difference is the colour cast. The Lightroom version is a lot more magenta, whereas Hyper-Utility gives a more yellow rendition. On real humans, the skin tone is much more accurate and pleasing with Hyper-Utility (at least for Asian skins, since Hyper-Utility is developed by an Asian company whereas Lightroom is by an American).
This is the same image, converted at “camera settings” using Hyper-Utility:
There is a reason, however, why I choose this mannequin instead of a real human for this article. Partly, it is because this is a difficult image. It was shot in a dimly-lit shop window (along Joo Chiat Road) at ISO 3,200, f4.5 at 1/6 second. (Hey, I must say my hands are quite steady to have captured this without noticeable camera shake!) This is a dull and noisy image that can do with some post processing.
The other reason is that I want to share the many steps – and mis-steps – that I went through with this image and how I finally figured out a work-flow that would minimise both my time and my angst.
I had previously processed it with Lightroom and I wanted to see how it would turn out with Hyper-Utility. In particular, I wanted to bring out the shine of her golden head dress. After countless adjustments – and frustrations – this was the best I could achieve:
I knew the image was too yellow, but I was already too tired. I had reached the stage where additional adjustments made the image worse. I gave up. Well, not totally… I decided to open the converted image in Lightroom and it took me just a few seconds to produce this:
Too magenta! But hmmmm… at least I was getting somewhere. Perhaps I could merge the two? I opened both images in Photoshop, copied one, pasted it on top of the other and adjusted the opacity. Not bad, I thought.
But at the back of my mind, I still felt that Hyper-Utility could do a better job. Having figured out, from Lightroom, how to make the image less yellow, I went back to Hyper-Utility and used a function that I had previously not touched – the “fine tuning” colour circle under White Balance. Finally, I got the image that I wanted. Almost…
I went back again to Lightroom and this time opened my Nik Software Viveza plug-in. (The Lightroom plug-in costs significantly less than the Photoshop version) Using Viveza, I placed a control point at the face to brighten it just slightly. I could also to fine tune the colour of the face, so that while the bride’s golden head dress is shiny yellow, the face is more like human / mannequin skin tone. This is closest to what I have visualised:
As you can see, I have had quite an adventurous journey with this image. In the process, I developed a work-flow that would give me the best of three image processing softwares (without even using Photoshop, except for saving images). This work-flow may be summed up as follows:
- Basic adjustments with Hyper-Utility
- Convert to .tiff file
- Fine tuning on Lightroom and Nik Software
- Save as a Photoshop .psd file. (Editor’s note: To those who don’t have Lightroom, the software allows the user to save in Photoshop .psd file)
It still takes a lot more time and effort than using just Lightroom. And its a hassle having to launch three or more different softwares just to process one image. My wishlist to Fujifilm, then, is a faster, more user-friendly version of Hyper-Utility. Is this too much to ask?