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Review: SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0E

Febuary, 2008

SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0E


Review and images by Tony Donaldson

When Michael Horton asked me if I wanted to review a raw photo converter, I said "Sure." I thought that a simple raw image converter review should be pretty simple. Comparing a few of the same images run through this converter and my favorite, Adobe Camera Raw. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

For those of you unfamiliar with shooting raw images vs jpeg, in simple terms it means recording the data directly from the image sensor. Current image sensors in professional digital still cameras and even prosumer and consumer DSLRs can record in 8bit jpeg or 12 or 14bit raw formats. Each of the different cameras has a different sensor and processing hardware, so each camera has its own particular raw data. Using the raw data has several advantages over saving to jpeg, often at the expense of the amount of space each file takes up. A jpeg may take up 2 MB on your card, whereas the same image as a raw file may take up 16 MB, since it isn't compressed. With no compression, nothing is lost or translated yet, and there's way more information for fine detail and gradation. You have a lot more control on the postprocessing end for exposure, color, contrast, white balance, noise reduction, and other parameters.

SilkyPix is a raw converter that has been around for a few years. It's from a company called Shortcut Software in Japan. There are Japanese, English and German versions of the software.

It claims to not be an archival or cataloging tool, like Apple's Aperture or Adobe's Lightroom. It's a way to open a folder of images and select images, delete bad images, and process the rest the way you like them. It does that, with a lot of controls and options. At first, these will seem daunting, but if you can learn Final Cut Pro, you can certainly learn Silkypix.

One of Silkypix's strengths is being able to tag each image and process it in a batch. If you have several images from the same shoot that need the same correction, e.g. if they could all use the same increase in contrast, brightness and saturation, that can be easily applied. It will have to be processed, basically exporting the image. You can also tag images for deletion (e.g. out of focus, bad expression, etc.) and batch delete them.

The automatic settings in Silkypix for things like exposure, white balance, and tone curves are pretty accurate overall. You can then tweak images based on your own preferences, or go back to the original camera settings. Since all digital images need at least a little sharpening, there are a variety of controls for that and noise reduction, and they're all pretty good.

You can also remove some lens aberrations using the included tools, especially chromatic aberrations (where the wavelengths of light aren't focused the same on the sensor, often shows as purple fringing on highlight edges.

With any of these controls, Silkypix is really slow with showing the corrections. I'm using a Mac G5 Dual 2.0 GHZ machine with 4 GB of RAM and a 256 MB video card, and it can take several seconds to redraw every time I tweak anything, even simple small changes. Adobe Camera Raw and even the resource hog Aperture are virtually instantaneous on my machine. This is a true Achilles heel for this program. Batch processing is something you expect to wait for, but not a reasonable time for previews and redraws.

There are 3 different view modes for Silkypix. The first is Thumbnail Mode, showing all the images as thumbnails that can easily be gone through, like looking at slides on a light box.

Double clicking on an image automatically changes the view to Preview Mode, and you're ready to start editing

The other mode is the Combination Mode, where there are thumbnails on the bottom half of the screen, and a larger image on the top. You can also edit from this mode.

There is also a "Loupe" tool, that zooms in on the image and can be scrolled around to check fine focus and details.

Silkypix has one thing that other raw converters don't have, which is presets that emulate the look of different film stocks, types of cameras, or other looks. Though there are some filters for Photoshop, the presets in Silkypix (called "Tastes") can be applied in a batch and can be customized.
Here's an image opened in the default setting, straight from the camera with no corrections applied:

Here's the preset they call "Fine Street"

The "portrait" preset neutralizes skin tones and enhances contrast.

There's one to make it look like instant film, which may be even more important now that Polaroid has just in the past month gotten out of its core business of instant film.

There are other modes that can be interesting, like "Nostalgic Toy Camera" that emulate the colors, softness and light falloff of cameras like the Holga, Lomo and Diana.

The "Sunset" preset warms up the image, as though it was shot late in the day.

"Sepia" makes the image look like it was black & white and toned.

I chose a different image to show some of the more vivid effects. There's a red enhancer that works well on this red dress. Here's the original:

Using the "Red Enhancer"

There are a couple of monochrome settings. You can pick the one that closest approximates the look you want, and/or you can customize from there. It's a little more complicated than the controls in Photoshop, I most often use the "Channel Mixer" in Photoshop to put together the ultimate combination of the red, green and blue channels to get the look I want.

Film stock emulation is also available. There are presets that look similar to Fuji, Agfa and Kodak emulsions:

Of course, you can tweak any of these presets to your own taste as well.

There are all the tools you would expect to have in a raw image converter, including white and black point, gamma, contrast, color, and some impressive sharpening tools. Histograms are available in a headsup display (HUD), and highlight and shadow clipping can be shown in the preview mode.

The blue areas are close to overexposure, the black are completely clipped white highlights and any white (small areas under the seat in this case) are complete shadow with no detail.

You can set up any image to "process" any way you'd like it. From individually tweaking images to applying desired settings to many or all images, you can set them up to look the way you want them to, even cropping and rotating. They can be exported to jpeg or tiff images easily. The original raw files are never touched, all your choices are recorded into a folder inside your image folder called "SILKYPIX_DS", where it references sidecar files that tell it what you've chosen for the images, without ever touching your original raw files. This means you can go back any time and make any other corrections to any of the images with zero harm to your original image. Something all raw processors do.

SilkyPix is a very powerful set of tools for image editing, with a steep learning curve. The manual is a whopping 83 pages. Fairly heavy on images (thankfully), a little hard to crossreference, but useful. If you can master Final Cut Pro, this is still a walk in the park. It takes a while to get used to, especially if you're used to Adobe Camera Raw and/or Lightroom or Aperture, but if you have one of the last two, you likely won't be looking at this product unless you want the easy film emulation.

One thing this program completely lacks is IPTC captioning. If you are producing images for use in video projects, you may not need any keywords or captioning. For archiving images, IPTC captions are helpful; for news images, they're mandatory. It helps to at least have your information and some basic information what the image is about (who, what, when, where). Silkypix is at a loss here, there's no way to input caption or keyword information. You can call up a HUD to show EXIF info (camera and settings), but no way to caption.

1) Choice of preset and customizable curves to emulate specific film stocks and/or give images a specific look.
2) Batch processing of raw files
3) Ability to copy corrections to multiple files
4) Large variety of parameters and options that can be saved as "tastes"
5) Automatic settings are pretty close most of the time.

1) Large learning curve, there are a ton of controls
2) Slow previews of any changes
3) Odd metaphors ("tastes", "cloakroom")
4) No IPTC captioning
5) No library of images

Overall, I'd recommend it mainly to people who shoot raw images and want the presets and don't already own Aperture or Lightroom for batch processing. The presets can be used to give your images a consistent look. The time savings from batch processing will pay for the program quickly. I'd download the trial version to try it. If you don't need to keep a library of your images, you can save $50 on Apple's Aperture ($199) or Adobe's Lightroom ($299).

As with most software, there is a free trial version that can be downloaded from their site, at or There are both Windows and Mac versions. Full version is $149.

copyright©2008Tony Donaldson

Tony Donaldson is a Los Angeles-based still photographer who also works occasionally as a DP, editor and digital consultant. He's written columns for Xtreme Video, DV and other magazines, as well as software and camera reviews for many magazines and great sites such as LAFCPUG. His photography has appeared in such publications as Millimeter, The New York Times, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and even an upcoming coffee table book on Sony/Imageworks. His website is

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