With each successive release of ACDSee Pro, the photo management suite adds ever-more-powerful features. In this review I hope to help you decide whether or not its features match up with your own workflow, meet your needs, or even improve on existing features to enhance your photographic creations.
In my own workflow, the new version, ACDSee Pro 5, smoothed over a few rough edges in the editing process and made my management chores a bit less time-consuming. The release is not so groundbreaking that it might make you consider abandoning Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture altogether, but there are some pro-level additions that are definitely worth considering. The program never crashed and operated quickly for just about any task on a standard desktop PC. Note I said PC—there is no Mac version available or considered at this point.
I usually do not write reports on new computers, but the new 2011 Apple Mac mini (www.apple.com) is an exception. It is not because it has the fastest CPU, as that is not a major advantage for working with digital photographs. In fact, doing digital photographic editing does not involve much computation (“compute” is to calculate or reckon a figure or amount) and no calculation is needed to edit an image with Photoshop. When an image editor opens a digital photographic file, the entire image, every pixel, is put into RAM memory.
Digital black and white has probably never been more popular than it is today. All of the major editing programs like Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture support black-and-white conversions natively, and at a much higher quality than just a few years ago. While all of these programs can do black and white you can take your monochrome imagery to the next level with plug-ins, specific task programs that use the architecture of the main program to get the work done. These plug-ins (which may be available as “stand-alones” as well) produce some amazing work, letting you emulate various film types, grain patterns, and more, usually working with “presets” (image looks) that can be modified with ease to customize every image. Combined with the improved output from recent inkjet printers, there has never been a better time to explore digital black and white than today.
Backing up images while on the road makes sense; having a backup drive that can take the rigors of the road seems to make even more sense. That’s the idea behind the ioSafe Rugged Portable USB 3.0, available in various configurations, including SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive), capacities, and aluminum or titanium covers. Regardless of the enclosure, the unit is dubbed shockproof (drops from 20 feet with the SSD and titanium enclosure with the optional “skin”), waterproof (submersible up to 10 feet for three days in aluminum, or 30 feet in titanium), and dustproof even in sandstorms, and even during ice storms for 24 hours. And, you’re also covered if you happen to drop it into a barrel of oil (up to 12 feet for an hour) or climb above 15,000 feet (aluminum) or 30,000 feet (titanium). To back up their guarantees the company includes a one-year replacement and one-time data recovery guarantee (up to $5000 on the data side).
Color Efex Pro 4 is Nik Software’s (www.niksoftware.com) latest version of its digital photographic filter plug-ins for retouching and creative enhancements. It is Mac OS and Windows compatible and installs as a 32-bit and 64-bit plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS4 or later, Lightroom 2.6 or later, Photoshop Elements 8 or later, or Apple Aperture 2.1.4 or later. The installer searches for all of the hosts that are on your computer and if you already have Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture installed, as I do, it will install Color Efex Pro 4 for all of the host applications.
One of the biggest improvements in Color Efex Pro 4 is the ability to use Filter Combinations that let you stack multiple filters, adjust each one’s opacity, and make selective adjustments to get the desired look. Each filter contains single-click starting points, making it possible to explore different options. Shades of Emeril Lagasse, there are Filter Recipes that let you customize and share filter combinations with others. Bam! Reminiscent of HDR Efex Pro, the 10 recipes that are part of the package are a quick way to get started using Color Efex Pro 4 and more are available for download on Nik Software’s website.
The merge to HDR process has for too long been a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. That cloak of mystery is one giant step closer to being removed thanks to HDR Express, from Unified Color Technologies (www.unifiedcolor.com). While this software greatly simplifies the process, successful HDR merges don’t just happen when you click a button. There is some planning involved.
If you are a serious digital photographer you probably have a good D-SLR camera. And you expect it will capture sharp, finely focused, high-quality photographic images. It follows that the display you choose should be capable of reproducing all the attributes and qualities your camera has recorded. Most of the displays sold with computers in box stores, however, are not much better at reproducing photographs than the old-type big and heavy CRTs we had back in the mid-1990s.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 caters to the entry-level crowd, but is imbued with several professional-level tools. Even when a feature is not really intended for serious photographers, there is a goldmine of functionality that could save countless hours. The app is celebrating 10 years on the market. Adobe has slowly revised the workflow, and it’s getting much better.
In this version, you’ll first see a start-up screen with two buttons, one for organizing photos and one for editing. It makes more sense to click the button to organize images first, especially if you’re not even sure which images need editing.
When you do, one of the first prompts you’ll see asks how you normally import photos. That’s handy, because even the most experienced pro has to get photos off the camera somehow. You might typically load images onto a network drive, or prefer loading directly off the camera. (An option to scan images seems woefully dated these days.) Whatever option you choose, you can always go back and select a different import default. For now, it just means, when you start Elements 10, the app will automatically look for that specific source.
Operating as a plug-in for Lightroom, Aperture, or as a stand-alone workspace, Perfect Layers from onOne Software distills down and codifies the often-complex task of working in Layers to a fairly simple task, offering various Blend modes, composite shortcuts and tools that might otherwise pose a steep learning curve. You can use numerous source files, including Raw, TIFF, and JPEG formats, and scale and move the various layers as required. In short, Perfect Layers poses an effective tool for those who have wanted to work in Layers out of Aperture and Lightroom and opens up new doors to image creation.
The onOne workspace contains toolbars on the left and modifications and working options on the right, #1. Once you have selected an image or images from an organizer such as the Library in Lightroom, they load as separate Layers in the center screen. You choose the images to be used by selecting them from the Library or Browser, then going to File>Plug-In Extras>Perfect Layers. Here’s the selection process shown in Lightroom 3, #2.
It has been some time since anentirely new hardware andsoftware display color management system was introduced. X-Rite, the world’s largest color management manufacturer, now has a new i1Display colorimeter and next generation i1Profiler software. First of all, the new i1Display Pro is designed to accommodate all kinds of computer displays, including standard home/office models, wide color range displays, LED backlit LCD displays, laptops, and projector displays. The new colorimeter is a very flexible and convenient instrument design capable of measuring displays directly, as well as projected on a screen, plus ambient environmental illumination, all in one instrument. This new i1Display colorimeter is also capable of measuring a display at full screen to evaluate flare, and correct for it. It also features ADC, or Automatic Display Control, to manage a display’s internal controls and eliminate manual adjustments. Added to this comprehensive package is the Pantone management system for spot colors. A set of different methods of validation is available to measure the result of calibration and profiling with user-defined pass/fail tolerances.
Like most professional portrait photographers, I use Photoshop every day. Yet, because Adobe Photoshop is such a powerful program with so many tools available, it also comes with a significant learning curve. And when it comes to facial retouching, there are several tasks involved that do not always make Photoshop the best choice for everyone, especially those who want to do the job and move on.
Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 is a major upgrade to an already great product and introduces many new features that offer you even more control over an image’s detail, contrast, and tonality, making it easy to transform color files into stunning black-and-white photographs. Silver Efex Pro 2 now includes controls for Dynamic Brightness, Amplify Blacks, Amplify Whites, Soft Contrast, Fine Structure, Image Borders, Selective Colorization, as well as a History Browser and many speed and quality improvements. All of Silver Efex Pro 2’s new features also play nice with Nik’s U Point technology, giving you selective control over an image instead of globally applying an effect, although that option is available, too.
Photo/Graphic Edges (PGE) from Auto FX Software has been with us for many years and the company recently released their latest version, 7.0, Platinum Edition ($249, stand-alone and plug-in; $129, upgrade for owners of Version 5 or 6). The interface is identical to that used by all Auto FX Photoshop plug-ins. If you already use another Auto FX plug-in, such as Mystical Lighting or Mystical Focus, learning to use PGE should be easy. Even if you’re not familiar with Auto FX products, you’ll likely find the interface to be very straightforward and uncluttered, with plenty of room to work on your images.
Whether you yearn for a subtle fine-tuning or an over-the-top effect, Exposure 3 lays out a fully stocked film vault for you. Do you yearn for the gritty look of pushed Tri-X, or the impressionistic color that is characteristic of a faded Polaroid? To add the organic look of specific film types to your photos, or transform them with a wide range of processing and darkroom effects, try one of the 500 presets available in the third generation of Alien Skin’s Photoshop plug-in, Exposure 3, up from 300 presets in Version 2.
Exposure 3 gives you access to effects from many stages of the photographic process: blur from cheap plastic lenses, color shifts from cross processing, grain and contrast from push processing, and warped vignettes from low-end cameras or from the printing process. Exposure 3 renders looks that span the entire experience of film back to the earliest days of photography.
Mention digital image editing and it’s likely that the first word you’ll hear is Photoshop. It’s become a general term, like Xerox. For many, the full-blown version of Photoshop (currently at CS5) is either overkill, with features that you’ll never need or use, or just too expensive. Adobe realizes this and has produced a more streamlined version for years. This “entry-level” version of Photoshop, named Elements, is priced like a basic editing program, but filled with features you’d expect to pay quite a bit more for. The latest version, Elements 9 has added several new features that photographers have been requesting for years, making this release an even more attractive option, and further blurring the line between CS and Elements features.
There are normally a couple of new features in each release that make upgrading an attractive option for current users, and in this regard Elements 9 adds some interesting items in the sharing area, and a major feature that has been requested for years. Let’s take a look at what is new in Version 9.