Category Archives: Product Review

Luminar – New Photo Editor from Macphun – Release and Review

Luminar – The new Photo Editor from Macphun (Mac OS ONLY)

Today, Macphun software introduced Luminar their new all in one photo editor. (sorry Mac OS only)

The key features are the ability to design the Workspace to how you work, Adding or subtracting Modules (filters) to show only the ones you find necessary and work with often but always having those other modules  available. The other key feature, if you want to call it that, is simply…price. At $69 normal price (there are some savings I will talk about at the end of the piece) That’s pretty darn inexpensive in the world of editing software especially when you consider how much power and versatility is built into Luminar. Now I’m a big Adobe fan and have been a user of Photoshop since Photoshop 2. so that’s quite a long time. And currently a membership to Photoshop CC/Lightroom is $9.99 a month. Now for a professional like me that’s a small expense relative to the other expenses of running a business. Not everyone is a professional but what if you could get software that offers Pro level performance at a price that’s greatly affordable to people that don’t do this to earn money. That’s where Luminar comes in and very strongly. Even a Pro may find the feature set to be everything they need. Continue reading »

ON 1 PHOTO 10 Review

ON1 Photo 10 Icon/banner 300x300In Late October, ON 1 Software will release PHOTO 10, thier replacement and upgrade for their Perfect Suite (9,5 latest version)

The new PHOTO 10 offers a number of improvements not only to performance but even the ergonomics of use. Simplifying things into a structure that makes a lot more sense considering how people edit their images.

I’m not going to go in depth into each of the new specs because ON 1 has a treasure trove of videos on their blogs delving in in detail to each of the new features. So I will give you an overview of the features that I find to be the most important and improved. **Please note that I have been working with the Beta versions of the software so the absolute final release may differ slightly and actually should work even more bug free

So lets take a look at some of the changes.

Continue reading »

Macphun Tonality Pro Black & White Review

Macphun Software’s Tonality Pro Black & White Conversiontonpro_icon92

Though not a household name (Yet) Macphun Software has been making quite a bit of buzz in the Photo Editing software market since their founding in 2008. They started off making mostly photography related iPhone apps and soon moved to full featured Software for Mac, besides their apps for iPhone and iPad™ use. Sorry, Mac only, which is OK since Photographers seem to be the most loyal Apple Fans Continue reading »

Photomatix Pro 5 Review

Photomatix 5 review

I’m a little overdue with this review but it’s given me a little more time to play.

In November, HDRsoft released Photomatix Pro 5, which contains one of the most important upgrades since changes to it’s De-Ghosting way back when.

It’s no secret that since the release of Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2, I’ve used that for the majority of my HDR Image Processing. I found it was able to accomplish a more natural look easily and of course that’s the look I prefer. However Nik had some serious side effects, the worst of which, its alignment and Chromatic Aberration control. And while it’s de-ghosting was very good; it just didn’t have the power or the versatility of Photomatix Pro.

I would, on some difficult images, use the superior alignment capabilities of Photomatix to create a 32Bit Radiance file and then open that in HDR Efex Pro 2 to do my tone mapping. But with Nik acquisition by Google, I truly doubt that there will be any further releases or significant Updates to HDR Efex Pro 2 or any of Nik’s other software. Which IS very good but without support, I don’t see much future.

Continue reading »

onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7.0 – Beta Preview

onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7 – Beta Preview

The good folks at onOne Software provided me with a Beta of their soon to be released Perfect Photo Suite 7, to both get a preview to give you and to give them some feedback.

For those of you unfamiliar with onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7 or the previous versions. They are a set of image software centered around onOne Perfect Layers. They center it around this software since it allows host programs that do not support layers (Lightroom, Aperture) to use layers and the vast amount of flexibility that layers afford you.

onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7 works as; A standalone or as a plug-in with Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements and also with Apple Aperture (check the onOne website for version compatibilities)

The Software included in the suite besides Perfect Layers 3 (new version) are:

Perfect B & W (new to the suite)
Perfect Portrait 2 (new version)
Perfect Effects 4 (new version
Perfect Resize 7.5 (new version)
Perfect Mask 5
Focus point 2

The Suite features a revised interface that is very Lightroomesqe which I find to be a good thing. As photographers these days, we use a lot of different software, so I find it comforting that all the manufacturers are going with somewhat of a standard set-up so as we move from one set of software to another we aren’t hunting for controls.

onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7.0 Interface

So we have Image Browsers and Presets left, Preview center and Controls right arranged in order of importance or frequency of use

I’ll wait for the full production version to comment on the exact working of everything and will have a full review at that time but here are just a few things that I find exciting and are new

Perfect B & W, this is a brand new program and looks to be a worthy competitor in the field of monochrome conversions. Plenty of useful presets including 30+ film styles which I found very cool and then on top of that plenty of controls so you can tweak things exactly as you like

on One Perfect B & W

Perfect Effects 4 has a new browser and search tool. With all the preset that this module has having the search bar is certainly welcome. They also made some changes to blending modes and also being able to brush in effects which I really like since sometimes I like effects but really only want them locally not globally. And speaking of that brush, it has new edge detection in it to make it much easier to apply an effect just where you want it without time wasting selection processes

Perfect Portrait 2, promises some new selection tools and controls plus faster processing. I haven’t tried it out yet because I don’t shoot many portraits but I have a portrait shoot next week so I’m sure it is going to get a workout then

Perfect Resize 7.5 has some new algorithms to do the heavy lifting and is based on image type. In initial test it seems to work faster

onOne Perfect Mask 5

Like I said, I’ll have a full review once onOne Perfect Suite 7.0 is released and I have a full production copy in my hands but this is just a few of the things that both you and I can look forward too.

onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7.0 is scheduled for release October 31st

For more info or to pre-order click below

For 15% off your purchase enter coupon code THEHDRIMAGE10 at checkout

 onOne

Follow up to the Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 Review

Over on Facebook someone asked to show the differences between Nik HDR Efex Pro and the New Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 in a side by side comparison image.

Which is a reasonable request but there are some problems with this if you don’t look at it with a few things in mind. HEP2 not only has a new HDR Algorithm, it also has some big changes in controls. So how do you separate out what is due to the algorithm and what is because of the controls? Then on top of that even if the controls were exactly the same the images would not look similar because the beginning default image is of a lighter luminance value with the new algorithm than the old Continue reading »

Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 – First Review

One note, make sure you read this review all the way to the end.
Nik Banner 
On Monday Nik Software announced the release of Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, an update to their ground breaking (In some ways ) HDR Efex Pro. It promised to deliver some much needed upgrades in a few areas
 
Improved speed and performance
A new Alignment and De-ghosting panel with improved performance
A new Tone-Mapping Algorithm
A new and improved Control Panel
 
Let’s see how these new features stack up Continue reading »

ChromaLuxe MetalPrints – Product Review

Picture does not represent actual print quality



I’m probably the worst customer for most consumer products. I’m really tough on them and there are so few products or companies that I really think get things right and I just glow about their products.
 
  • When I had my big houses, I loved Casablanca fans, hate noisy inefficient fans to death and Casablanca always got it right.
  •  Loved my 1989 Toyota pickup. NEVER broke, Got me out of any slick location I got myself into and looked as good the day I sold it with 14 years and 200,000 miles on it as the day I bought it.
  • Even though they have gotten a lot of flack over the years, Loved my Dell computers in fact I am still using 3 – 8 year old Dells that I bought before people decided they wanted $400 PC and ruined an industry. I’m typing on one now.
  • My Canon 5D still amazes me even if it is old…I’m old, sometimes I’m amazing too.
  • I kinda like my iPhone even if I swore I would never have one. It actually is pretty cool and gets me hot babes…OK well lets just say it’s a cool phone.
 
Other than that, I’m not easily impressed.
 
So a couple weeks ago the nice folks over at ChromaLuxe asked if I would like some review samples of their – direct to metal prints – to take a look at and see if I liked their product and how it would be for my reader’s HDR Images.
 
I didn’t have the heart to tell them, I was already in love.
 
I guess I should tell you what ChromaLuxe HD Metal Panels are or maybe I should just let them tell you.
 

About ChromaLuxe & HD Metal Photo Panels

ChromaLuxe is the world’s leading brand manufacturer of high definition sublimatable photo panels. Through the dye sublimation process, images are infused directly into specially coated metal, wood and table top photo panels turning any image into a vibrant decorative focal point for your home. Manufacturer of the highest-quality metal photo panels in the industry, ChromaLuxe is the preferred supplier for professional photographic labs and digital print providers and the choice of professional photographers looking for the most vibrant display options for their artwork. A full list of ChromaLuxe lab partners can be found here: http://www.chromaluxe.com/find-a-lab/. 

With their exceptional durability and image detail, ChromaLuxe HD metal photo panels are ideal for unique deliverables demanded by professional photographers looking for individualized, customizable client offerings or gallery displays, interior designers seeking one-of-a-kind decorative installations, or decorators of high-traffic locations such as restaurants, hotels and arenas. All ChromaLuxe HD Metal Photo Panels present an archival-quality, highly scratch-resistant surface that is waterproof and resistant to UV rays and other damaging elements that would easily destroy standard paper prints. 

For more information on the ChromaLuxe complete product line, visit www.chromaluxe.com.

 

Simply put, ChromaLuxe HD metal photo panels are your images printed directly onto aluminum. 

I already have 2 in my home including a 45″ x 45″  Cluster 5- panel which you can see on the wall in this post about shooting HDR Interiors and I’ve given them as gifts too. They look absolutely outstanding 

But getting the review samples was the right thing to do, I wanted to try a really tough image that isn’t big and poppy like a lot of HDRs. It was a very subtlety toned image that really is tough to get right. I also wanted to see how it looked in all of their 4 Finishes
  • White Gloss Aluminum Photo Panel
  • White Matte Aluminum Photo Panel
  • Clear Gloss Aluminum Photo Panel
  • Clear Matte Aluminum Photo Panel
Earlier this week I received the sample panels and was not disappointed in any way. They were just as I expected, fantastic. The subtle tones of the image came out beautifully. The color were spot on (with the white substrate, more on this later) Detail was excellent. Finish impeccable. The nice thing about already having some made at one of their associate labs (Bay Photo Labs) is that I know these were not just spiffed up review samples. In real life they are just as good.
 
My favorite style was the White Gloss, It just does it for me and I like glossy images even though most photographers don’t. The matte image’s color was exactly the same except of course for the finish. The two Clear panels which are direct to the aluminum without white first, were less saturated in color so for me not as appealing but I like fairly high saturation in my images. However I really wonder how the clear panels would be with a Black and White Photo. I wish  had one to see.
 
For comparison I printed the same exact image I sent for the review samples on my Canon Pro 9000 Printer. This is a 8 Ink Dye InkJet Photo Printer. The ChromaLuxe uses a Dye Sublimation process. I printed on Canon Pro Platinum Paper at best image quality.
 
On first look, the Canon print was a little more saturated and the colors looked a little more like my screen Than the ChromaLuxe Not bad different just different different. But you have to bear in mind that I have gone through extensive work to get my printer to match my screen. This is something you really are not able to do with any commercial lab even with their soft proofing ICC profiles. You can get close but not as exact.
 
At a usual viewing distance, the Canon appeared to be a bit more sharp. Because of how Dye Sublimation works  there can be a little softness due to the process. But upon using a 10X Loupe ( how many of you have one or maybe even know what they are anymore?) and close examination. The Chromaluxe was a much more pleasing image as the added sharpness of the canon also added detail to the noise in the image. Granted no one really looks at a print this way and they really shouldn’t but to me it was interesting
 
I wish I would have had time to get some True Photographic process (Digital C) sample prints from Bay Labs done on both Kodak Eudura and Fuji Crystal for comparison. But there just wasn’t time plus I’m really a cheap bastard cuz I don’t get paid to do this LOL. But having compared other images done on those papers and process to what I get at home. I don’t think any one of them would have been a clear winner.
 
But beyond IQ, there are other things that just make ChromaLuxe images so fantastic. The variety of options that their associate labs have as far as styles and edges, frames if you desire one, Shapes even so called Luxe shapes. Different hanging options and even Cluster and Split  styles of multiple prints that fit together to form a wall of images. They are just amazing and fit into so many different Home Interior styles.
 
And then there is  the durability without have glass over them. Both of  the images on my wall get a LOT of sun, especially here in Southern California. They both have been up over a year and there is no sign of fading. Cleaning is easy, I use a mild window cleaning solution to get some off the dust and household cooking smoke off of them without any worry about damaging the print.
 
OK, I talked enough about them, you get it.
 
But I could see a lot of real demand for a product like this to all the HDR shooters out there. You already know I am the biggest fan of printing your work and this is just a  great way to display it. From “as the eye sees” variety of HDRs to a total grunge out, they would look great. How about this for a great Idea for those of you that shoot automotive or motorcycle  HDR images? Think of that; Metal on Metal…how cool would that be?
 
Anyway, Yeah I love this stuff. The people at ChromaLuxe couldn’t be any nicer or more helpful when I had some technical questions so you gotta love that. Remember though that the ChromaLuxe Metal Panels are available through their associate labs so look  at their list to find one  that you either already deal with or maybe someone you would like to. Like I said I use and am a BIG fan of Bay Photo Labs but they are for professionals only. Consumers can purchase some of the metal prints through SmugMug
 
OK, I’m off to write complaint letters about all the other products in the world I don’t like…but not ChromaLuxe…I love you
 

Product Review: Topaz Labs – Adjust 5

Topaz Labs – Adjust 5

 Recently Topaz Labs came out with their latest release for their Adjust series of software, Adjust 5. It wasn’t long ago that I review Adjust 4 so with that fresh in my mind it’s easy to see some of the new things that are a part of Topaz Adjust 5 and there are  quite a few things of note that make this a better program than it’s predecessor.

 It retains it’s Lightroomesque interface. Presets on the left, Adjustment panel on the right and preview panel in the center.

 

I’ll work my way around the interface to point out what is new.

Presets

Staring on the left with Presets, There are 107 new presets. All the Adjust 4 presets are still there but they have added 107 new presets and they have broken the presets up into categories instead of just one long list. The category lists are:

  • Classic Collection
  • Vibrant Collection
  • HDR Collection
  • Film Collection
  • Toned Collection
  • Stylized collection
    And a folder for you to store your presets. 

What I really like about the new presets is that they are things that I would use. Even though I still would suggest you add these effects on a separate layer for control of the amount of effect later, there are a lot of great effects that are good like they are. Finally someone said lets make some good looking presets that actually make sense instead of some things that look like a Peter Maxx poster on Crack (I thought I would throw in a reference for both old people and young. Kids, DON’T do drugs!) 

I especially liked the new HDR presets; they are so usable it’s crazy. I would rather have something like this as a starting point and then get crazier, then to start with crazy and have to tone it down. Cuz usually I just bypass crazy. And there still are some crazy presets no doubt but they have been balanced by some very useful ones. 

A new feature of  Topaz Adjust 5 is that now you can add multiple effects to your image. Say you want an HDR effect and then a toning effect. Just apply the HDR effect and then apply the toning effect. ( The apply button is new) Saves you the time of going back to Photoshop and then back in to Adjust. 

Adjustments

Moving over to the Adjust panel on the right; at the top is a new histogram. Moving down they have the same Global adjustments as before but with the addition of a Curves adjustment which is always handy. 

The other big change is the addition of Local Adjustments via a Brush tool. You can brush out the effects you have added which is a great feature if you don’t know how to or don’t have the ability to do a layer mask. You can also Dodge, Burn and Smooth the image using the Edge aware brush. 

Below that they have added Finishing Touches, where you can add vignettes and frames. Add some grain or change the tone of the image. 

The last addition is a Transparency Slider so you can vary the total amount of the effect on your image. Again, a great tool if you don’t like working in layer. 

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about is that some of the sliders seem backwards in their actions, such as the Transparency Slider. If you are used to working in Photoshop and transparency there, 100 is the full effect of that layer. In Topaz Adjust, 100 is no effect at all. A few other controls did the same thing like when you add a vignette, moving the slider to the right gives you less vignette, not more. I would have done it different. 

Examples

Here are a couple examples, the first with the HDR Heavy Pop Smooth and the second with the addition onto of the HDR, a Vintage preset

 

 

 

Verdict

It’s a better program for the changes. The new presets alone are worth it and the local adjustment brush is really helpful. I think they have come a long way with this product. It’s great to get many looks and it’s great to use for single image HDR’s . Like I said in the previos review HDR without the mess

 I’d like them to fix two things; the way the adjustments work (make the controls more like Photoshop works left to right) The other thing I would like to see changed is the Preview. Its fine in the single image mode where you can click on the image to see the before and after, but in the side by side view, it’s in a vertical view. I wish they would also add the option of a horizontal view. 

So all in all well worth the upgrade. Speaking of which, it is a free upgrade to current Adjust Users 

This is a Photoshop Plug-in. Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto users can get a free download of Topaz Fusion Express to use Topaz Adjust within their programs 

There are also plenty of Webinars at the Topaz Labs site to help you get the full use out of any of their software products.

 

To try or buy Topaz Labs – Topaz Adjust 5 visit : Topaz Labs

Till November 30th they have Adjust 5 at a special price of just $49.99 with the coupon code of : ADJUSTME

 

Product Review: onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 6

Product Review: onOne Software Perfect PhotoSuite6 

Today we are going to take a look at onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite 6. I’ve been a fan of OnOne Software eve since I used Genuine Fractals which is now known as Perfect Resize. 

Perfect Photo Suite 6 consists of seven programs in one;

  • Perfect Layers 2
  • Perfect Mask 5
  • Perfect Portraits 1
  • Perfect Effects 3
  • Focal Point 2
  • PhotoFrame 4
  • Perfect Resize 7

 These plug-ins work with Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture BUT it is also a completely stand alone program if you desire 

You may say; I don’t need all those programs. Well rest assured that all the programs are available separately. BUT buying these bundled in this suite basically gives you 7 programs for the price of 3, so it’s kind of a no brainier why I am reviewing this as the suite 

Some of you may also ask; This is an HDR site, why do I care about any of these especially something like Portrait 1? Well, I’ll show you why you may want most of some of these programs but I also know that a lot of the readers here do HDR for fun but actually as a profession, shoot portraits and weddings. So take from this what you want and skip over what doesn’t interest you. But I think quite a bit will. 

So why do I need ANY of this? 

Now I know a lot about my readers and I know a lot of you LOVE Lightroom. I also know that a lot of you use Lightroom and then Photoshop Elements for some light finishing work. But what is the one thing that Lightroom can’t do and what can’t early versions of Elements do that really would be helpful? 

Layers and Layer Masks

When I talked about “Blends” In this article and Kenn Stamp talked about Blending 3 HDR images together. Did you Lightroom users feel left out? Well you needn’t any longer. onOne Perfect Layers 2 allows you to take multiple images from Lightroom and mask those layers as you want. In fact by using Lightroom’s “Virtual Copy” feature you can take a single image, do two different adjustments on that single image and then take them both into Perfect Layers 2 as two layers and do with them as you please. 

Perfect Layers 2

For this example I took Two separate images, I first optimized each image in Lightroom (One for the sky, one for the ground)and then brought them into Perfect Photo Suite 6 (By using the command File>Plug-In Extras>Photo Suite) 

That command brings them into Perfect Photo Suite 6 and stacks them as layers; you can change the layer order by dragging one on top of the other. Then you can use different tools to mask the top layer to reveal the layer below. The main tools are a Brush and then the Masking Bug – OnOne’s Selective area tool.

So I brought these two images into Perfect Photo Suite 6 and quickly just using the brush tool I was able to mask off the sky of the top layer to reveal the better exposed sky of the second exposure I shot. So those of you that are interested in doing Blends as your means of HDR, this tool worked quickly and easily. I had my blend made in less that 30 seconds and could save that image back to Lightroom (Note that this program exports the files and re-imports them as PSD files)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Yeah Yeah That’s great you just had a simple horizon line to follow, it should have been easy. Try doing that with a complex mask trying to go in between things. That’s a pain with layer mask brushes and even selection tools in Photoshop do a crummy job. 

Oh I just love a dare and so does onOne. Enter onOne’s next program: Perfect Mask 5. By using the tools in Prefect Mask 5 I was able to select what I didn’t want and what I did want and with just a few quick strokes and refinements, I was able to mask this complex blend in minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I simply used the Keep and Drop Eye droppers and told the programs what colors I wanted to eliminate and which one’s I wanted to keep. You can see those colors in the palates on the right

 Then I just did a quick couple strokes with  magic brush on part of the sky and that was gone,

 Then using the refine brush all the space between the railings was gone.

 

Then using the chisel tool and the blur tool I was able to refine the edges perfectly – All in very little time. Here is what the actual mask looked like in Grayscale priview mode

 And here is the final image, done in just a few minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that’s cool. 

I’m going to rush through some of the other section of Perfect Photo Suite 6 because I don’t want this post to be a mile long.

 Portrait 1 

The next section you can access all from the Photo Perfect Suite 6 module is Portrait one. Portrait one is for retouching of portraits more precisely faces and skin which can really be tough for portrait shooters. I haven’t used Portrait 1 yet, but I watched a demo of it at the David Zizer tour and it was really impressive. The great part was it didn’t make the skin look all plasticy as some programs similar to this do. And it would quickly and easily which is something that portrait shooters that have hundreds of files to work on really love. 

Perfect Effects 3

Perfect Effects 3 is an effects browser that you can apply to your images. It has ton of presets in 14 different categories, From Black & White to Film Simulation effects, Vintage effects, Vignettes, tons of different things. They aren’t really adjustable but the presets were very nicely made that you probably won’t want to touch them.

My favorite was Daguerreotype, probably cuz I love that word.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focal Point 2

Focal point 2 is a selective focus tool if you want to simulate a shallow DOF or want to do the Toy Camera (Tilt-Shift) effect that is popular right now. 

PhotoFrame 4

I didn’t think I would like this at all but actually it was fun. PhotoFrame 4 allows you to put defeat frames or frame simulations around your image. They really aren’t so much frames as what would be called borders to graphics people. So don’t think this is going to be a bunch of didn’t frames like wood frames or metal frames like you would put your finished photo in. 

This would be of better use as a Digital Mat. Like I said I didn’t think I would like this but I do make a lot of greeting cards and these borders would actually really come in handy for making those 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Resize

And finally a product I have been a big fan of for years. When it was under the name Genuine Fractals (gee, wonder why they changed THAT name LOL) now it is Perfect Resize. 

One of my favorite things to do with my images is have them printed and I Loves my images HUGE. I’ve printed up to 40” x 60” but a lot of print labs have a 100ppi minimum to make a print so that would mean a 4,000 x 6,000 pixel file at a minimum. And then on top of that, the common wisdom is to leave your file at the cameras resolution and any scaling should be done by the lab. Which I agree with to a point. That is what I would do for my prints up to 20 x 30. 

But when I push beyond that point, I want control because I want to see what the image looks like scaled BEFORE I just paid for a $300 Print and quite honestly I don’t trust anyone. I could use Photoshop to resize and in Bi-Cubic it does a pretty good job and if I was just scaling up a bit I wouldn’t think twice about using it. But when I want to have something create and interpolate more than double the pixels. I want a program made for that job and Perfect Resize is that tool 

Perfect Resize uses an “Adaptive Algorithm” so it does more than just sample the four closest pixels (as bi-cubic would do), it instead takes into account where that pixel is, such as if it is an edge and uses the correct algorithm to make that edge look it’s best. 

It’s just great software and  you can make huge prints out of a good file. For those of you that like to have your images made into Canvas Gallery Wraps, Perfect Resize now has a Gallery Wrap feature that will duplicate your edges for the wrap so that you are not wasting any pixels on the wrap part. Very cool.

 

 

So there you have it. Quite a bit of software put together in a nice suite but even if you just want one part you won’t be disappointed. 

If you are worried about having to learn new software, worry not. Take advantage of onOne’s onOne University where they have Video Tutorials and Webinars to help you get up and running quickly. I was fumbling around with Perfect Mask 5  so I watched a couple short videos and I was maneuvering through it like a pro

Let me just make one point so that you aren’t disappointed. This is very powerful software, as such it is really system intensive ( Especially Perfect Resize) and will use a good amount of your system resources so make sure your system meets the the system requirements so that you don’t run into problems that are more of a fault of a deficient system than the software itself. Even though my system matched their specs, I found that updating the driver on my video card helped to make the software run smoother. Updating your driver for your video card isn’t a bad idea when running any Photo software especially Photoshop CS 4 or CS 5. It can REALLY make a difference.

  

To Try or Buy onOne’s Photo Perfect Suite 6 or any onOne software CLICK HERE

For 10% off your order enter the coupon code: THEHDRIMAGE10  at check out

 

 

Product Review: Topaz Labs -Topaz Adjust 4 – HDR without the HDR Mess?

If you are a big fan of the “Grunge ” or “Painterly” Styles of  HDR or if you would like the HDR look to your Single  images but just can’t be bothered with all the work. Well I may have a easy and inexpensive fix for your desire.

Topaz Adjust 4 from Topaz Labs

Now you may be saying, “Peter that’s certainly not your style” and you are right, it isn’t. But I have to be honest and cognizant of the fact that those styles are some of the most popular for people that enjoy HDR Photographs. And I will let you in on a dirty little secret of the Photographic Art world. Grunge and Painterly HDR styles far outsell realistic HDR styles when it comes to selling prints. So I think it would be a little foolish of myself to deny those styles or force my opinions on anyone.

So onwards.

Topaz Adjust 4 is a Photoshop Plug-in which you might guess means you need Photoshop but they do have a free product called Topaz Fusion Express that makes their programs compatible with Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto along with a couple free editing programs like Irfanview.

Topaz Adjust 4 is available by itself for an inexpensive price or in a Bundle of 10 Topaz programs which works out to a very inexpensive price per program when purchased that way.

It works like most Plug-in, it is available under the “Filter” menu in Photoshop. I would suggest as I usually do, before applying or launching Topaz Adjust 4, you duplicate your layer so the effect is applied upon that layer only to give you more flexibility as I will discuss later.

Launching Topaz Adjust 4 brings up a familiar LR Style panel. Presets on the left, Adjustments on the right and Image preview in the center. The program launches quickly and also auto-previews the last used previously preset. The speed tells me this is not a processor demanding program.

Presets

There are Presets that mostly deal with color pop and those that deal with increasing detail and then of course a few that do both. You can also Save your own presets as well as Import and export them to share with other users. I found most of the presets on the heavy side but again, that’s ME. For most users the presets will be just about right and I am sure many just choose one and don’t even touch the adjustment panel

Adjustments

The Adjustment Panel on the right starts with an Exposure section which is where you would do work to compress the exposure of the image to get more of that HDR look, Next below that is a section to work on how much detail you want in an image and you really can go anywhere from mild to wild with these controls. The next section down controls Color if you want to add some saturation pop (or take some away) and finally there is a Noise section which seemed to be effective but limited in adjustments. This may not be a problem if you buy the bundle because you will have Topaz De-Noise which can be launched from this application. Any adjustments made were applied and the preview refreshed rather quickly.

OK, I’ll admit it was fun

NOW comes the confession. I actually had fun using this. Yeah it’s way beyond where I will normally go with images but it was nice to just play and get some wild effects on some of my images in my portfolio. And that is part of it. It can be very image dependant. Using the Automotive images I shot in the previous post were not so successful but when I opened some images from a car show I shot two years ago they worked perfectly and were well suited to any treatment I applied.

Use it on a layer

Now I mentioned using them on a new layer earlier. This is appealing to me and how I work because although I may not love the wild style, I can, by varying the opacity of that layer, have as as little or as much of that style as I want and by doing that was certainly able to find something pleasing to my eye. I certainly could see using the Detailed preset for some work.

So summing it up, it’s kinda like how I eat. I try to eat healthy as much as I can, but the truth is, I loves me some hot wings. Topaz Adjust 4 may just be your hot wings.

Here are some of  images and the original to compare to ( Click to enlarge)

 

If you would like to buy or try Topaz Adjust 4 click here

Hope that helps,

PT

Nik HDR Efex Pro – Review

 Note: HDR Efex Pro has been replaced by  the much imporved HDR Efex Pro 2 and is now part of the Great Nik Collection by Google

 

For about a year now I have been chomping at the bit to test drive HDR Efex Pro from the cool folks at Nik software. But because of some technical deficiencies on my end, I never got to do that. So recently I upgraded some software that allowed me to test it out. Coincidentally I was invited over to Nik software for lunch and just to talk about HDR, where it is and where it is going. The people there are really great and I even had some Durian Fruit for dessert after lunch. For those of you that don’t know, Durian is an Asian fruit that smells and  TASTES something like a cross between old gym socks and garlic…Mmmmm. It actually was fun to try.

(Click on Images to enlarge in a new window)

Nik Software

Nik software is a very high quality company and software manufacturer. They have a very large engineering staff in Europe and aren’t just a couple guys playing in their garage. They have a wealth of experienced and knowledgeable people to draw on and put out some very compelling and imaginative software. I got to play with a number of their offering but the spotlight of this article will be on, of course, Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Like all of Nik Software (except for their new Ultra-Hip Snapseed iPhone Ap) it is a plug-in requiring a “Host” program. They work with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture. For this review I was working with Adobe Lightroom 3.

The process

After selecting the images in LR  that you want to use in your HDR (yes you can do single image HDRs), you simply right click (Mac Control Click) them and say Export to HDR Efex Pro. Or with the images selected you can go up to  File> Export with> HDR Efex Pro. This will open up the HDR Efex Pro workspace. It’s an interface familiar to LR users, Presets on the left, working controls on the right in an descending order of importance and the image preview in the center. The preview updates in real time and is fully scalable up to 300%.

The first process that occurs is the merging of your files and then the image goes through alignment and De-Ghosting if selected. The first time you open HDR Efex Pro, you may need to go down to settings on the left and select what you actually want to occur on opening of files and it will sticky that setting, however you can go up top of the panel and change those setting and realign/deghost the image again with different settings. Alignment work very well for the most part, occasionally there was some confusion in background sections that had very complex areas of tone or contrast. This didn’t happen often but was visible on two images I did process. I’ve been assured that this is something that will be addressed in updates from Nik. For Chromatic Aberrations, Nik recommends taking care of that in RAW before processing but I did find in a few cases there was some chromatic aberration from the alignment itself but only very occasionally.

De-ghosting worked great especially if you used the Global setting and High. Those of you that remember the example I showed of De-Ghosting with the Pelicans in flight will be glad to know I used the same image and it came out very well with just a little bit of cloning work to do on the final image. While Photomatix’s Semi-manual option is extremely good at what it does  and may eliminate even the most stuborn ghost,  for the most part the automatic operations of HDR Efex pro are great for most usual occurances.

Presets

Once you have your image aligned and de-ghosted as necessary, You can move to the left side of the panel to the preset area. Nik includes 33 factory presets from mild to wild as well as the ability to store your own presets and also export those preset to share with other users. I’m really not a big preset fan but the advantage is it shows new users a lot of different styles that are possible and they can see where the settings are for that look and then modify or at least understand what different controls will allow you to achieve.

Adjustments

Moving to the right side of the panel are the adjustment controls. Upon opening, all the controls are reset to zero. I actually wish they would sticky to last settings used or at least allow me that option without the need to make a preset. Sometimes I will work on a file and want to redo it afterwards with just a few modifications of what I used. Speaking of which, I wish that HDR Efex Pro also had the ability to save a file as a 32 bit Radiance HDR file so that I didn’t have to go through the tedious and time consuming merging/alignment  process, if I wanted to redo a tonemapping or try a different style. The program does have the ability to OPEN them, it just can’t save as one. It of course is possible to save as a Radiance File using a merge in Photoshop or “That other HDR program” But I would rather not have to use another program or another step.

As I mentioned before, the adjustments are  arranged in a descending order of importance. The first being Tone Compression which will determine your overall balance between highlight and shadow or if over-boosted, the lack there off. But this is the most important adjustment to make  and then go on to make other adjustment and maybe return to it for a slight tweak. Below that are your global adjustments for Exposure, Contrast and Saturation which are self-explanatory to photographers. Next is an adjustment for “Structure” I don’t know how to best describe Structure, It’s kind of like sharpening but not really. Its like sharpening of tone and not contrast. And with judicious use if it will increase the… well..Structure or textural detail of an image. Used correctly it can add some interest, used too much it starts to look like the faux HDR software effects like Topaz Adjust or Lucis. You may or may not like this effect. Structure is a control that is a part of most Nik Software offerings.

Below that you have controls for overall Black Level, Whites and then a Warmth – color balance control.

Below these all  is a drop down box for HDR Method. Nik HDR Efex Pro has 4 different HDR Algorithms in  20 different preset flavors and then a strength slider. I don’t know, sometimes too many things to play with is a bad thing and I think this is one of them. In the first place the difference between presets is not  always visible unless you up the strength and then that tends to make it look overblown and you end up going back and forth and never really knowing what looks better or not. If it was me I would get rid of this part and just have the four algorithms and a slider, done!

Selective Adjustments

While I may not have been crazy about that part of the software, the next section of it is probably the most interesting and exciting part of Nik HDR Efex pro:Selective Adjustments.

Selective adjustments allow you to place up to 64 “Control Points” anywhere on the image and make Local adjustments to those areas individually. This is HUGE! After you make a control point and adjust the area you want it to affect, you can make all the adjustments that are in the upper part of panel to just that control area. ( the Screen shot only shows the first three adjustments but the list can be expanded to all in the top panel) Not only will this eliminate some dodging and burning later in post processing but it also allows you other adjustments that dodging and burning will just not do. You can leave HDR Efex pro with a totally finished product and may not need to ever touch it in another program. Like I said, HUGE and this may be the ONE reason you buy HDR Efex pro.

Finishing

Next down are the Finishing Adjustments. The first of which allow you to add an Vignette to the image with either black or white edges or various lens vignetting effects. Worked fine for people that don’t want to take it out to other software.

The next and last item is something else that I am really happy they included, a levels and curves adjustment. This something that I, without a doubt, always do to an image in an external processor and it’s nice to have it included so I can make some tweaks and then if I need to, go back and make other adjustments based on that tweak. You can’t do that if you bring it into an external processor afterwards. The only thing I wish is that there was more difference in color in the included histogram, The background is black and the histogram a very dark grayand it makes it hard to see with my old used eyes.

On the very bottom is a Loupe and a Histogram. The histogram is a RGB + Luminosity Histogram but again the luminosity is in Black against a dark gray background and you hardly know it is there. An easy fix for future updates ( I hope)

And then you have the save button at the very bottom, You can save the image ( and re-import and stack in LR) as a JPEG or either 8 bit or 16 Bit Tiff files.

The verdict

Okay so enough about the way it works, I know you want to know, How DID it work? VERY well actually. But it is such a different animal than Photomatix. I feel more comfortable using Photomatix but I also have been using it for 5+ years. With Photomatix I always have a default starting point of adjustments I start with on every image and then go from there. With HDR Efex Pro, I could never find a starting point that worked well with every image. So I would start from scratch every time. But that’s the way I work, Others may be able to find a preset close to what they want and tweak from there quickly.

When I processed I really didn’t try to duplicate the look I got in Photomatix (HDR Efex Pro’s only real competition or vice versa I guess) because what would be the point of that? Wouldn’t that preclude me from maybe getting a result that was even better? So I just worked in HDR Efex Pro and tried to get an image that looked the best it could without comparing it to what I got in Photomatix (well – until later).

If you are a detail freak, HDR Efex Pro is the one for you, there is detail in sharpness as well as tone. Comparing images in Photomatix, the Photomatix images sometimes looked “Fogged” compared to the HDR Efex Pro one. Some times that is good, sometimes that is bad, depends on the image and of course your taste. That increased detail also brought about a slight increase in noise with HDR Efex pro. But nothing that couldn’t be fixed with Noise Reduction in Lightroom or a  plug in  like Nik’s own DFine. Sometimes results were very close, sometimes image looks could not be more apart.  I really hate to use this analogy, but Photomatix looked more like film, HDR Efex Pro like digital. You can decypher that however you like. Neither one right, just different. Like Vanilla or Strawberry Ice cream. I love them both, they just taste different. ( I do take Ice Cream donations BTW)

I could talk on and on about the results but it’s probably a better idea to show you some side by side so maybe you can determine the look you like. Remembering that I tend to go for a more natural “as the eye sees” result. If you are more of a “Grunge” style artist, either software will work but you may find your way to Grunge Nirvana a little quicker in HDR EFex Pro.

Here are some side by sides:

 

 

  

 To buy Nik  HDR Efex pro or to try a free 15 Day trial of the software as part of the Nik Collection buy Google 

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Nik HDR Efex Pro, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

 Hope that helps,

PT