Jan 16, 2009

RAW Workflow: Bibble Pro 4.10

While Bibble Labs has announced a faster and more featureful Bibble 5, the latest version available is still 4.10. While screenshots of 5 show a modern grey UI like C1 4, Lightroom and Apple's Aperture, the existing incarnation bears a more traditional, labyrinthine interface. Once upon a time, I believed that an app should be judged by its capabilities, and that the user interface was merely gloss. By that reasoning, Bibble should earn top scores. In terms of things that you can do with your image, it's got almost everything that you can do with Lightroom 2 (except dodge and burn), and far more than you can with C1. It's also reasonably priced, with Bibble Lite coming in at $89 with all the image manipulation features, and the Pro version coming in at $159 with more batch processing and tethered shooting.

When it comes to workflow apps though, a better UI isn't just about being prettier, it means you can get stuff done faster. While I wouldn't say Bibble's interface is poor, it's a minor frustration after being comfortable with C1 or Lightroom. After using C1, playing with Lightroom and Aperture were quite intuitive (even C1 was pretty intuitive to start with). Out of all these apps, Bibble had the steepest learning curve, probably because it gives the user the most choice. Instead of giving you a single view like C1, or different views where you can do different things like Lightroom, Bibble offers you multiple views where you can pretty much accomplish the same things; some are more optimized for particular tasks, but i found that it distracted me more than anything. If you're the type that appreciates being able to set things up just so, you'd like Bibble's options of customizing your UI. Personally, I'd prefer it if the app developer did the research to figure out what's the most efficient UI so I don't have to experiment myself, but I'm sure others would like to spend the time figuring out what's their personal preference - I lack the patience.

My main complaint about Bibble though, is that the browsing of images is incredibly slow when compared to the competitors. Again, it's a case where Bibble has not prioritized the UI sufficiently. Bibble actually has the fastest RAW->JPG conversion; the thing is, if I can queue up all the conversions in one step, I can walk away from the computer and do other things, like make dinner, and wait for all the images to get processed. What I would prefer to be speedy is browsing through my hundreds of images, when I actually have to sit in front of the computer. This is the case though, where Bibble is pathetically slow compared to its competitors. The developers have optimized the wrong thing.

Another case where too much choice comes in is the selection of plugins. Not only can I tweak the image through the standard contrast/saturation/curves/levels tools, but also through a bunch of other plugins with anthropomorphosized names like Sadie, Andy, and Rumplestiltskin. Seriously, by looking at these plugins, I can't tell exactly what they're meant to do. Plus it seems I can get similar results with some of the standard tools. I'm just confused, and that's not a good state to be in. C'mon guys, make it clear, not confounding.

One final comment about Bibble is the use of Noise Ninja. A few years ago, I had tried out the actual Noise Ninja product, and it was awesome compared to any other noise reduction algorithm that I've used. Noise Ninja is entirely worth it's price, and it seemed like Bibble included this piece of software. Unfortunately, the version of Noise Ninja includeded in Bibble is not much better than the noise reduction technology that you get in any of the competitors (okay, maybe better than the muddy results the C1 produces when you turn up the NR, but it's not noticeably better than Lightroom). To get the real Noise Ninja, you still need to pay to upgrade to the Real Deal.

Overall, I think a lot of good work in Bibble. The features work well, and there are a lot of them. Unfortunately, it lacks polish, and the other apps have it. If you told me, Bibble is actually faster to use once you get used to it, I'd be tempted to believe you, although you'd still have to prove it to me. In my short experiments though, the learning curve just threw me off, and I'd still prefer one of the other apps.

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