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Bibble 4.9 Pro RAW Conversion Software Review
by David Rasnake -  1/18/2008

Bibble Pro 4.9 is the latest professional photo workflow and RAW file conversion software from imaging technology company Bibble Labs. Marketed to the advanced amateur and professional photography sectors, Bibble offers a lot of flexibility and image processing control not seen in some other RAW file conversion packages. Its range of features and limited hand holding would easily overwhelm casual photographers just beginning to dabble in shooting RAW, but for serious amateur shooters Bibble Pro – available directly from the manufacturer in the full version for $129.95 – offers impressive bang for your buck and some conversion tools you simply can't get anywhere else.

Bibble 4.9 Pro

Offering much of the same functionality as Adobe's more well-known Lightroom package, Bibble Pro focuses heavily on its RAW conversion capabilities, but is equally at home working in a JPEG environment. Even in its Lite form (which strips away some of the features – tethered shooting support, for instance – that only working pros will likely need) Bibble isn't a cutesy, hyper-user-friendly image editor; nor is it a broad graphic design tool a la Photoshop. What it is is a hugely powerful, non-destructive editor for photographers needing to make traditional photographic adjustments – exposure, saturation, white balance, cropping and resizing, lens fault corrections – to RAW files as well as JPEGs.


SOFTWARE OVERVIEW

Bibble is built around a familiar user interface for image editing, with basic tools in the top toolbar, image view and editing in the center frame, and sidebars that rotate options in and out depending on the mode. As with the tools, there are seemingly endless customization options within the interface: just about every frame, element, and toolbar is drag-and-drop, and Bibble remembers layout changes across sessions.

View Modes and the User Interface

There are four basic view modes: Image Mode, Browser Mode, Work Queue Mode, and Interactive Batch Mode. As seen, the modes have a common look and feel, with only minor changes to available functions and tools differentiating them.

Image Mode is the default operating mode, providing image view in the center of the frame, and adjustment tools on the top and right-hand side.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Browser Mode is divided into three primary areas, with file selection tools (browser controls and queues) on the left-hand side, image adjustment tools on the right-hand side, and image selection and workspace in the center frame.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Work Queue Mode adds a scrolling pictorial listing of all currently queued images (more on queuing momentarily) to the left-hand side bar.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Finally, Interactive Batch Mode is functionally identical to Image Mode, with the addition of quick controls for adding images to any batch, print, or work queue.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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On balance, Bibble trades some of the visual polish of competitive products for a streamlined, familiar, and at times even basic looking user experience that serious photographers less interested in visual flash than processing performance will be perfectly happy with. Most of the icons and control names use their familiar variants, further easing the interface learning curve.

The Editing Process

Bibble uses a fully non-destructive process for storing image edits. All modifications to the image performed in Bibble are stored in an appended configuration file (you can choose where you'd like these files saved when installing the program, or via a setup option).

This two-file process – keeping the edits separate from the original image file – is common to many advanced workflow systems and has a few distinct benefits over processes that work directly within the image file. Obviously, reverting to the original file couldn't be simpler with this system, as the file itself is never modified. Likewise, Bibble automatically saves whatever adjustments you make, meaning no more lost changes due to missed saves.

This editing process also allows for quick on-screen views of all adjustments, with Bibble's processing working in the background to fine-tune and finalize the output version. Once all necessary adjustments have been made, getting a final-format file (a JPEG or TIFF, for instance) from your RAW image for viewing and printing (or a new copy of your JPEG or TIFF with the changes applied) is as easy as hitting Save.

The only hitch in the editing process, in fact, might be the lack of a simple undo function for stepping backward through changes. While the original file is never modified and changes can always be undone/redone manually, for those who like to play around with the effects of adjustments, getting back to that perfect setting can sometimes be a challenge. This apparent decision (I'm open to being corrected here, but if there is an undo function in Bibble, I couldn't find it in a week's worth of use) won't upset serious users who make calculated adjustments, but for novice users looking to experiment for best results, this may prove to be an issue.

Performance Impact and System Requirements

As a result of backgrounded processing and a fast RAW conversion platform in general, Bibble claims that the software, whether running in Windows, Mac OS, or Linux (all three are supported), is 5 to 25 seconds faster per image on average than competitive RAW conversion packages.

Given its processing method, the quantifiable performance impact of Bibble was hard to accurately measure. Batch processing RAW images on my Dell D620 notebook – not a speed slouch, but hardly a high-end graphics machine either – had little discernible impact on other system processes. Simultaneous processing in Bibble and GIMP or Photoshop, for instance, will bog things down noticeably, but running Bibble won't interfere with most word processing or internet browsing tasks.

Bibble claims to offer the fastest batch processing RAW solution on the market, and my observed speed numbers were impressive: out-processing a batch of 10 files from a 6-megapixel RAW files to JPEGs took right around one minute (63.8 seconds, for the sticklers) start to finish. By my crude math, that jives reasonably closely with Bibble's published speed claims.

Operating system support is one of Bibble's strengths as well, with version 4.9 available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux users. Per Bibble, system requirements are as follows:

Windows

Macintosh

Linux

In terms of RAW file type support, Bibble works with almost every DSLR and most RAW-mode compacts currently on the market, including the latest high-end and commercial offerings from Canon and Nikon. Tethered shooting is available on a limited range of primarily commercial-grade devices as well when using Bibble Pro only.


WORKING IN BIBBLE

As a workflow solution, Bibble has a feel that's "the same but different" if you're coming from one of the Adobe systems, for instance. Queuing and batching are Bibble's strengths, and while the workflow system may not be immediately transparent without some reference to the manual, once it clicks for you, the queue-based setup is simple and acceptably powerful. Admittedly, Bibble is not as slick nor as heavily optioned as some other workflow systems out there, but it has enough functionality to get the job done.

Work and Batch Queues

Figuring out how to edit single images in Bibble is easy. Work queuing takes this a step further, allowing users to sort through images quickly with single-key functionality. The system is fully customizable, allowing users to create new user-named work queues at will. In playing with Bibble, I was able to use my preferred system of establishing a different queue for each photo shoot, for instance, allowing me to keep photos from different jobs separated and keep track of my processing progress on each one.

Once you've created your queues or decided to use Bibble's default ones, sending photos to one (or multiple) queue locations is a one-click process. While this kind of workflow is clearly tailored to provide organizational help for the working photographer, serious amateurs who shoot lots of pics and do lots of culling to identify keepers will find the workflow appealing as well.

Hot-keyed batch queues make quick work of creating standard-sized JPEGs or TIFFs from your preferred RAW format. Batch processing file options include 8- or 16-bit TIFFs, full- and proof-size JPEGs, and multi-image contact sheets. As before, batch queues are fully customizable, allowing the user to modify the settings of these default output processors and create new queues capable of applying a user-selected set of edits (standardized color and exposure adjustments, for instance) to any set of images. For everything from simple resizing to multi-file white balance and saturation adjustments, the flexible batch processing options here will save time and automate tedious processing chores.

The Standard Adjustments Pane

When editing single files or setting parameters for batch processing, the heart of Bibble's system is the Standard Adjustments pane.

Bibble 4.9 Pro

The expected adjustments common to any advanced editor are all here: exposure, saturation, contrast, sharpening, and curves, as well as a histogram with combined and RGB overlays. More unique functions include a highlight recovery tool (effective in bringing back up to a half a stop or so of lost highlight detail during RAW conversion), a shadow-restoring fill light tool, white balance adjustment (including a click white feature for automatic recalibration), Athentech Technologies' Perfectly Clear levels adjustment function, and a basic implementation of Picture Code's Noise Ninja software (accessing the full features of Noise Ninja requires a valid software license from Picture Code). Tabbing through the pane, you'll find advanced adjustment options for each of these basic features.

Compared to a manufacturer's RAW converter, or even Adobe's famed Camera RAW Photoshop plug-in, the range of fine tuning available in Bibble is really impressive. A proliferation of color adjustment and output management options in particular give this solution the power to handle just about any color/hue issue you can throw at it. I also appreciate the tabbed pane setup, with basic slider controls for most options appearing on the top tab and advanced options following beneath. This makes it easy for learning users and even advanced amateurs who may not routinely want or need the level of control Bibble provides to access its basic power, while keeping its pro-level features close at hand.

Top-level functions like crop, rotate, and resize are globally accessible from the main toolbar.

Advanced Tools

Drilling down, tools for lens correction, advanced noise reduction, and color management are available, as are a series of plug-ins for skin tone, saturation, and color correction and an amazing black-and-white tool; see the next section for some detailed discussion.

Bibble also features healing and patch tools for fixing dust spots, extraneous details, and the like. If you're coming from a Photoshop background, the interface may seem a little limited, but the straightforward functionality of the commonly used spot heal tool, in particular, makes it appealing.

Output Options

As noted, the software leaves your originals as is, where is, appending editing data in a separate file. Converting single files from RAW to more universal formats in Bibble is as simple as clicking "Save As." As with batch processing, save options include 16- and 8-bit TIFFs and PNGs, and various compression options for 8-bit JPEGs.

With a range of color management tools, including options to input custom ICC profiles, at your disposal, screen and print calibration is simple as well.


THE RESULTS

For testing purposes, I pulled out a set of RAW images taken last summer at the local zoo. The wide dynamic range and texture details of the images seemed like the ideal testing ground for Bibble's processing prowess.

General Image Processing

In terms of detail rendering, color, dynamic range expansion, and sharpening, Bibble delivers results for the pixel-conscious that go well beyond the limited functionality of your camera's supplied RAW converter. A side-by-side comparison shows off Bibble's range, in particular.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Default RAW conversion using supplied software

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Bibble's default RAW conversion

Even using default settings, Bibble subtly opens up the compressed DR of this shot, shifting the curve at a couple of key points to bring out middle values. Exposure of the fur on the bear's head is a little hot versus the default converter, but this can be easily corrected without changing the curves of the image as a whole. Enlarging the photos shows that in terms of demosaicing – the process of combining RAW data into a single image, critical for balancing sharpness and controlling visible artifacts – it's really no contest: Bibble preserves a phenomenal amount of fine detail with good edge definition and little unnatural harshness, as seen in every sample image from the software, and its sharpening algorithm is clean and punchy.

Lens Correction Tools

Bibble offers the standard range of lens correction options, with adjustments to tune out vignetting, chromatic aberration, and optical distortion. While both the vignetting and CA controls are on par with industry standards (with the CA function working perhaps slightly better than others tested), the most notable feature in this group is Bibble's use of EXIF data to automatically correct for barrel and pincushion distortion.

The process is simple: Bibble gathers info about the camera, lens, and focal length from the EXIF data (you can also supply this information manually), and at the click of a button compensates for lens distortion automatically based on a supplied profile of a lens' unique distortion characteristics.

Bibble provides a staggering number of lens profiles by default, and if you're shooting a lens made in the last ten years by a known manufacturer, it's almost certainly in the software's preloaded database. If not, Bibble will create a profile for you if you supply the appropriate test shots. For those of us using older glass on a new camera, especially, this is a great offer than guarantees continued usability.

Perfectly Clear Image Optimization

As noted, Bibble uses Athentech's Perfectly Clear one-touch image optimization system. If you're interested in a quick fix that maintains color and preserves highlights while filling in shadow detail, especially, Perfectly Clear is an elegant solution.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Without Perfectly Clear

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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With Perfectly Clear

The histogram readjustment demonstrates a nice job on the part of the processing system in keeping the slightly dark bias of the image while evening tone across the spectrum, something many auto-adjust functions fail to do well. While it's not a complete image correction solution, Perfectly Clear makes Bibble even more accessible to users learning RAW conversion, providing a good baseline exposure adjustment from which to begin if nothing else.

Noise Ninja

Even without purchasing the full-license version of Noise Ninja to get the expanded plug-in feature set, Bibble's inclusion of the basic technology is a definite draw for the package. While there's no noise-reduction algorithm that doesn't bring an attendant loss of edge sharpness when applied, fine-tuning options with even the basic implementation of Noise Ninja go well beyond the usability of most other noise reduction processing tools on the market.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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The above shot, taken at ISO 800, shows the kind of balance that can be achieved with Noise Ninja: the facial details remain sharpen (and could even be pushed further if desired), while all traces of solid-field noise in the blue background are gone.

Black-and-White Simulation

Bibble simply offers too much power in its interestingly named ("Sadie" the saturation control, for instance) plug-in options to adequately evaluate in this space. While everything I tested worked well, as a long-time advocate of film-based black-and-whites, I'm not easily impressed by digital results in this area. Bibble's "Andy" BW simulation, however, offers a great interface for creating black-and-whites from color images. While a knowledge of classic film types isn't necessary for great results, Andy simulates some of the most revered films and papers from Agfa, Kodak, Illford, and others.

The effect is more than a novelty, offering convincing results that really look like the types they emulate: I'm especially impressed with the Agfapan and Tri-X Pan sims, and there's even a Kodalith option if you're into the wide-contrast look. The following shot, processed to simulate Agfapan 25 film and Agfa MC Premium paper, shows off glossy blacks, pure whites, and near-perfect grayscale gradations.

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Bibble can be used to create digital black-and-white images using the more familiar desaturation and channel-mixing processes as well.

Additional Sample Images

Bibble 4.9 Pro
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Bibble 4.9 Pro
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CONCLUSIONS

Bibble 4.9 claims to provide a "state-of-the art workflow suitable for professional photographers needing to proof, cull, and refine hundreds of images per shoot, yet flexible enough to be accessible for enthusiasts and DSLR novices." In terms of accessibility and flexibility, Bibble offers a lot of power without overwhelming a new user. While the interface is not as transparent as a simple photo editor, for what this software is capable of, the approach is about as straightforward as it gets.

The power here is really unbelievable in many cases, and overall Bibble yields some of the smoothest image conversions I've seen. Combine this with a great, flexible workflow system and the overall package really works for serious users. If you're neither working with RAWs or processing lots of images, Bibble may not be the right direction to go, but for if you're looking for lots of speed and some of the sharpest results around, there's nothing better at this price.

Pro:

Cons: