New Vistas For My New iMac; A Delicious Assortment Of Utilities And Digital Goodies
"But some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open
up such terrifying vistas of reality..."--H.P. Lovecraft, The
Call of Cthulhu
Instead of "starting up" my Windows computer recently greeted me by sitting there and just beeping, something I know spells trouble. Having suffered far too many slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune from this particular computer, a new approach was needed. Even though I write about both platforms, some readers believe that I only use a Mac OS or a Windows computer, when in fact I use both. My pal Mr. Gadget (www.mrgadget.com) suggested installing Windows on an iMac using Apple's Boot Camp and switching back and forth between operating systems. I ordered an iMac with the biggest hard drive Apple offers (only $100 more) then installed 4GB of additional memory ($200 cheaper than Apple) from Other World Computing (www.macsales.com). I installed an OEM version of Microsoft's Vista Home Premium that's designed for system builders and is cheaper than a normal boxed copy, and while it doesn't include Microsoft's customer service, I've never called them before so why start now?
Both Mac OS and Vista aspects of the iMac network perfectly with my Mac Pro.
At this point, I'm not sure if I have a Vista computer and will only use
the Mac OS from time to time or vice versa. Time will tell. Naturally within
one week of purchasing the iMac, Apple introduced a newer model with a faster
processor, more memory, and a better video card for the same price. As Charlie
Brown once said, "ARGHHHH!"
Tone Mapping Plug-In
Tone mapping is the process of converting an image's tonal values from a high range to a lower one so they can be properly displayed on a monitor or printed. Many scenes that we photograph have high contrast, a.k.a. High Dynamic Range (HDR), with part of the scene in shadows and part full of the blown-out highlights. One of the most amazing tools I've found for dealing with this problem is HDRsoft's (www.hdrsoft.com) Tone Mapping plug-in that works with raw image files captured in 16- and 32-bit mode and is compatible with the Mac OS and Windows versions of Adobe's Photoshop CS2 and CS3. You can apply Tone Mapping's corrections to a single raw file or an HDR image created by merging several raw files made at different exposures using Photoshop's Merge to HDR command or your favorite HDR software. The results can be startling and I urge you to download a free trial version (the finished image file will be watermarked) as it may convince you to spend $69 for this amazing product.
ACDC...Not The Band, Beavis
As I write this, ACDSee Photo Editor 2008 (www.acdsee.com) is in open beta and Windows users might want to give it a try. The upgrade, scheduled for release around the time you read this, includes new image adjustment capabilities, custom text paths, and an array of scrapbooking templates. Other features include advanced journaling and text curving capabilities; a "trim to shape" feature for quick and easy use of templates; new re-sizing, cropping, and masking options; artistic effects that can be added, modified, or deleted; and optimization for web and advanced printing. Photo Editor integrates with ACDSee 10 Photo Manager, the company's signature tool for viewing, organizing, and managing photo and digital scrapbooking collections, but I was unable to open Canon's .CR2 raw files using the program, which if you've read my previous reviews of the company's products is so ACDSee. Insanely cool interface, though, and maybe they'll fix that limitation in the shipping version that will sell for $49.99.
Keeping It Raw
The Rosetta Stone for raw file conversion for many people, including yours truly, is Adobe Camera Raw. Sure, it's part of the pricey Photoshop CS3, but it's also bundled with the under-$100 Photoshop Elements. If you're looking for another affordably-priced alternative, take a look at ArcSoft's (www.arcsoft.com) PhotoStudio Darkroom 1.5. It focuses on nondestructive processing for image files and offers a complete set of enhancement tools and export options, including a thoughtfully-designed user interface. Features include a built-in browser and you can import image files from a camera or removable media. The program supports JPEG, TIFF, and raw files for cameras from Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, Kodak, Olympus, Sigma, Mamiya, and Epson. PhotoStudio Darkroom can also import and export Adobe DNG (Digital Negative) files, a format that's bound to catch on really soon now. PhotoStudio Darkroom lets you adjust exposure, white balance, as well as make lens corrections, adjust Levels and Curves (something you can't do in Elements), and automatically removes redeye. The software costs $99.99 and works with the Mac OS and Windows, including Vista.