Adobe Lightroom 3 / Photoshop CS5 / Photoshop Elements 8:
Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 share the same version of Adobe Camera RAW (ACR 6) so results will be identical. Only the interface is different and I much prefer the Lightroom version. Older versions of Photoshop / Elements / Lightroom can only use earlier versions of ACR which are not nearly as good, so I’m only talking about Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3 here. (note - earlier versions can’t use ACR 6 : More)
I haven’t tested it, but Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 also uses ACR v6 but has some features missing. Judging by Adobe’s help files it does still have the important noise reduction tools though - I’ll update this once I’ve had a chance to check out Elements 8.
Adobe have completely redone the RAW processing module that is Adobe Camera RAW 6. (ACR 6) Earlier versions of ACR were great with Nikon files but not even close to the best with Canon files. Most “updates” to RAW processing modules really only amount to adding support to new cameras, so a complete rebuild is very unusual and wow does it make a difference. During the beta testing stage Adobe initially released a version of Lightroom 3 with only the colour noise reduction enabled. They felt that the improvement they’d made here was the most significant, and they were right. Colour or “chroma” noise produces random coloured patches which are far more noticeable than “luminance” or grain like noise.
Now that we have the full version of Lightroom 3 the improvement in both luminance and chroma noise reduction is very noticeable, especially with a camera like the Canon EOS 50D. Although Canon’s DPP has been improved, Lightroom 3 or Photoshop CS5 are now far and away the best choices for Canon EOS 50D RAW files. By the way noise reduction is disabled by default so you do have to turn it on when you need it.
Canon Digital Photo Professional :
Canon are unusual in that the free software that comes with every Canon DSLR is actually very good - Are you listening Nikon?
DPP does a good job, and as v3 has been updated, now to v3.8.1, it has got better and better. It now features proper noise reduction controls, which help a lot with the 50D, and at last has a trimming and straightening tool. It even corrects optical distortion and vignetting with many Canon lenses. The main criticism is that it’s slow to use, but even that has improved over the last couple of years. Results with Canon 50D files are excellent at low ISOs - at 100 and 200 ISO it was the best on test, but at high ISOs, over 1600, they’re just not as good as those from Lightroom 3. You do have to buy Lightroom 3 though, whereas you already own DPP. Make sure you have the latest version of DPP and if you didn’t even take it out of the box, give it a try. It’s the best manufacturer’s package around.
Capture One 5 :
Still a great program, which is why Capture One 4 has been my main choice for Canon EOS 20D, 30D, 40D and 5D files over the last few years. Unfortunately results from the Canon 50D aren’t as good. It is possible to get perfectly OK images from the 50D at low to medium ISO’s but at higher sensitivities over 800 images start to have white dots in the shadows, which even high levels of NR won’t get rid of. Results with the Canon EOS 50D and Lightroom 3 are better. Simple as that. If you shoot a lot at high ISOs - 1600 and higher - it’s no contest.
DxO Optics Pro 6 :
DxO Optics Pro is a really clever piece of software, which includes optical corrections for the Canon 50D with some Canon lenses and some independent ones. Click here to check if your lens is listed. It also auto corrects difficult lighting and has excellent RAW processing and among the best noise reduction around, but..... You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you. DxO has a few quirks - It has a unique interface which is almost as hard to learn as Lightroom, but it does less, and although it’s not that easy to get to grips with and it has lots of complex controls, you get the feeling that it’s meant to be left on full auto most of the time. DxO Optics Pro is one you’ll either love or hate. The noise reduction is excellent but more suited to portraits than landscape, as on default settings it tends to smooth things a bit too much, which looks great in portraits, but needs turned down for everything else - DxO was among the best answers to the Canon EOS 50D’s noise problems until Lightroom 3 came along. If you shoot architecture DxO is still worth considering, as, although Lightroom 3 also has some profiles for optical corrections, there aren’t many and I haven’t found them as accurate as those with DxO Optics Pro.
First Choice : Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
Second Choice : Canon Digital Photo Professional
Why : Lightroom 3 is unbeatable at high ISO’s, and, provided you stick with it through the horrible “Library” section and actually manage to import your pictures, this is an amazing package which quite simply is the best option for the Canon 50D above 400 ISO. Up to 400 ISO Canon’s own DPP is very good, but at 800 ISO and above Lightroom 3 gives you a new, and much better camera.
Suggested Settings >>
p1 p2 p3