Archive for Computers & Software
The first thing I noticed about LightFrame is how dodgy the viewing controls are. I tried to zoom in and out of the picture, but just ended up with a semi-zoomed-in view which was heavily distorted – not a good start. Loading up the tools in LightFrame is easy enough (assuming you guess that the “scenes” button opens up the tool palette), as is the process of using the tools themselves. Alongside the framing options, LightFrame has a number of other features, such as the ability to add a caption or sprite to the image, plus image cropping and resizing.
The textured frames in LightFrame are terrible, looking like something grabbed from a gaudy mid-90s web page. On the plus side, the plain colour frames look okay, and LightFrame’s in-built shadow creator is pretty nifty, allowing you to select the angle of light. In addition, LightFrame can create borderless frames (like the clip ones); that is, it can create the shiny effect of its real-life counterpart.
The rest of the functions in LightFrame work well enough, although the list of apps out there that will perform the exact same functions (many being free, I should add) is the size of several directories. It is also worth noting that many of LightFrame’s rivals work a great deal better. Read More→
As a photographer, my main focus is landscapes, and my style is to try to keep my images realistic. Often, this means just using one well-balanced exposure, but at times, I need to use more than one exposure to capture what my eyes saw. Personally, I prefer to blend multiple images in Photoshop, by hand, but other photographers like the effect that HDR brings. For these folks, Photomatix is currently the king of HDR apps; amongst the challengers for Photomatix’s throne is Hydra – but is it regal material?
Hydra comes in two editions – standard and Pro – and the main differences between the two are the number of images which can be blended at one time (3 and 7 respectively), and the fact that Pro comes with Lightroom and Aperture plug-ins.
Loading images into the standalone app is easy – Hydra provides an image browsing window which allows you to view photos in your iPhoto or Aperture library, or on your hard drive. A quick drag-and-drop, and your images are ready for pre-HDR processing. The HDR-preparation process in Hydra is relatively minimal, largely consisting of EV (exposure value) and temperature adjustment, as well as manual image alignment, a crop function, and ghosting reduction controls. And just for the record, these work perfectly well.
The magic – a.k.a. HDR – happens on the develop menu. If you’re in a hurry, you can select from one of 11 presets, these ranging from “photorealistic” to “cyanotype.” For more control you can head to the adjust menu; here are all the standard image controls, which can be applied to the composite image.
There are two additional features, however, that make Hydra stand out from the crowd. The first is the option of “Snapshots.” During the HDR-adjustment process, you can make up to five different copies of your image, the idea being that you can temporarily save up to five different sets of image adjustment, and then compare them easily to choose the one that looks best. The other killer feature is “Probes.” Probes are basically local adjustments to your image, and they work in a similar way to Lightroom’s local adjustments – place a dot, and choose how large the area around it – the area to be adjusted – should be. Read More→
The original version of MacPhun’s SnapHeal app was focused purely on cloning and healing, and whilst it was a polished product, I didn’t see why Photoshop owners would want or need it. MacPhun is now releasing version 2.0, complete with new features and better processing. But do the upgrades take SnapHeal from Photoshop wannabe to Photoshop rival?
(Note: rather than reviewing 2.0 as a new app, this article will be commenting on the improvements MacPhun have added to the new version. If you’d like more information about SnapHeal, please read my original review)
Almost every part of SnapHeal has been upgraded, re-beautified or added to with new features, although many areas of change have been altered subtly or under the hood. The most noticeable non-UI change is in the area that matters most – image editing performance. Whereas previously SnapHeal was no better than Photoshop’s healing tool at cloning large areas, quite large areas can now be filled adequately using the Shapeshift function. No image editor (at present) will do a good job at removing large objects from a picture, regardless of which settings you use, but I would say that SnapHeal produces some of the most realistic cloning I’ve seen in any image editor. Having tested its abilities to remove driftwood from an image of a pebbly beach – a nightmare background for cloning – Snapheal produced a result good enough for any online use, if not for printing. That said, this isn’t cloning by hand, this is automatic, draw-a-rough-shape-and-go cloning, which makes the results very impressive. For those who want to spend time making their images pixel-perfect, SnapHeal’s brush tool is as good as anything Photoshop has to offer. As an added bonus, my tests would suggest that the new SnapHeal is quicker at processing than its predecessor.
SnapHeal 2.0 has also added full image adjustment. Happily, somewhat advanced controls such as highlights/shadows, hue and temperature adjustments are included, pushing SnapHeal into the complete image editor genre. SnapHeal’s all-rounder credentials are boosted further with the addition of a crop and resizing tool. Read More→
Since the dawn of time – well, of Photoshop, anyway – photographers have taken pictures, loaded them into their photo editor, and then seen the tempting “art” filters, only to be disappointed by them time and time again. As a result, what should be a good idea – artifying photographs – has been a technique to avoid at all costs. Alien Skin’s Snap Art 3 is a plug-in for Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom, which attempts to deliver a better in-computer art experience to photographers. But is it a Caravaggio, or more of a crayon?
Snap Art 3 is accessed via the filters menu, but upon activation, it springs up in a new window of its own. Unlike Photoshop’s built-in art filters, Snap Art 3 comes with a plethora of realistic options. First, you choose your favoured real-world method of putting an image on canvas. Options include pastels, watercolours and pen and ink. Each style has its own set of variables, such as paint thickness, brush stroke length and brush size. The results are very realistic and, to add a unique twist to every picture, Snap Art 3 includes a 4-digit randomisation system, which means the texture of the “canvas” can be one of 9,999 subtle variations.
Once you’ve chosen your style, you then have the option to adjust it selectively, using Snap Art 3’s in-built layer mask system. Unfortunately, this does not include adjustments such as colour or exposure, but it does allow you to change photorealism and brush effects on an area of the image, perhaps increasing the apparent realism of the artwork. Snap Art 3 does, however, include the ability to make standard adjustments to the whole artwork.
Upsizing, with current technology, is one of the thorniest tasks you can perform on an image. Photoshop can upsize your image to a limited degree without loss of too much quality, but there are numerous other specialised apps which have tried (and many have failed) to improve on Adobe’s upsizing formula. One of them, PhotoZoom Pro 4, I have already reviewed, but this review is dedicated to a competitor – AKVIS Magnifier.
AKVIS isn’t hugely pretty, but the layout of the controls within the app is sensible and clear. Your opened picture is displayed on the left, while the upsizing and adjustment tools are in a column on the right (think Lightroom). You can have one of two set-ups – express or advanced. The express set-up reduces the displayed controls to size/ppi and edge sharpness/artefact removal, whilst the advanced set-up adds sliders controlling grain, ”simplicity” (how much you want to smooth out pixelation) and edge smoothness. In the advanced set-up, there is also the option to use Unsharp Mask, but, to be honest, the last time you’d want to be sharpening your image is when you’ve just upsized it – if you use this control, watch out for jagged edges coming at you from out of the screen.
By using AKVIS’ presets, and then applying little tweaks to the controls here and there, you can get quite a usable picture, even when you upscale by 500%. Don’t get me wrong – the quality is significantly degraded, and I don’t recommend you try this stunt. For something to hang on your wall, however, the picture AKVIS produces is probably acceptable. Read More→
I imagine many of you reading this review take quite a lot of pictures. Some of you will upload your pictures to Flickr or Facebook, but many of you will have your own website. And some of you with some technical nous may prefer to self-host and will be aware of the limitations on storage space web hosts often impose. This means that the number of high quality images you can upload to your website can be severely limited. JPEGmini is a service which is likely to relieve these pains, and now, it comes in a Mac flavour. Or should I say two Mac flavours, Lite and Full; today, I’m looking at the Lite version.
The premise of JPEGmini is pretty simple – to reduce the file size of jpegs. The service has been going a while now, online, and doesn’t seem that revolutionary on paper. Only when you look at the results, however, will you see what the fuss is about. In many cases, JPEGmini can reduce the file size of an image by 4 times, yet there are no visible signs of image degradation. A few examples can be seen on JPEGmini’s home page. Whilst JPEGmini’s website does a fine job, it does require a process of upload, wait for processing, then download – the app version bypasses this hassle, and, as a result, is far more convenient. Today, I’m looking at the Lite version. The difference between Lite and Full is that Lite restricts the number of images you can process to 20 per day. Both versions, however, have the ability to take jpegs up to 17MP in size (a.k.a. MASSIVE). Read More→
Aren’t panoramas dramatic? I think so, certainly, and given the number of images which I see online that are as wide as a bus, there are plenty of other photographers out there who like the format. Panoramic images do come with a down-side, however – you have to spend hours stitching them together. Photoshop does a reasonable job, but what about if you want a simple, quick stitch? This is the niche which the app DoubleTake is aiming to fill.
Echoone, DoubleTake’s developer, claims that this app is the “nano” of its genre, and DoubleTake lives up to that billing. Open the app, drag-and-drop in your images, and you’re ready to stitch. DoubleTake’s automatic detection of stitch-lines isn’t great, but manual positioning is quite effective. In addition to mouse-based manoeuvring, images can be adjusted in terms of rotation, tilt, direction and scale, with sliders.
Additionally, the overall image can be adjusted with the standard forms of adjustment – brightness, saturation, etc.
One helpful feature that comes with DoubleTake is the ability to create 360º stitches. For a quick and easy 360º, DoubleTake works well enough, although I would recommend looking at specialist software if you’re going to work with 360s regularly. Read More→
Most of us take photos of family, of our holidays, or big events, and these photos hold many memories, hence you want to share them. You upload them to Flickr or Facebook, you email them to your friends, and you might even get a few prints done for your Nan. But since the invention of the slide projector, no other way of exhibiting pictures has been as enthralling as a slideshow.
iPhoto, all-rounder that it is, has a fine slideshow builder, which is getting better with every edition of iLife. iPhoto’s effort, however, isn’t comprehensive, and so there is room for other apps to fill the void. Xilisoft Photo Slideshow Maker is one such app, but is it the offering you should invest in?
Xilisoft doesn’t trump iPhoto on looks – it’s a very ‘PC looking’ app. Looks, of course, aren’t everything, however, and Xilisoft is pretty slick at loading pictures. Once you’ve chosen the photos you want to use, Xilisoft provides a fairly simple route to slideshow. After arranging the order of your images, you can adjust the length of time each photo is displayed, and the transition length between photos, in milliseconds. You can also control which transition styles are used (although the possibilities in this area are rather limited when compared to iPhoto’s range), and whether you want a Ken Burns-style zooming effect.
When you take a photo, what do you do with it? I imagine you upload to your Mac, tweak it in iPhoto/Aperture/Lightroom/Photoshop, and then share it in some way – either digitally or in print. Most of the time, however, you will share images digitally. But what happens when you prepare your images for sharing online? You’ll no doubt resize them, and many photographers like to protect their images with a watermark. It is these two functions that Photora aims to make simple and easy, but is it just an unnecessary step in your workflow?
Photora keeps things simple; images are easily inputted via drag-and-drop, and then a minimal palette of clear controls awaits you. These are resize, watermark (both of which may be turned on and off) and file type selection.
The resize function is controlled either by percentage of original size, or by fixed width, height or size. The watermarking function is also simple, but it gets the job done. Watermarks can be text or images, and their transparency is adjustable. You can centre your watermark in one of nine positions (top-left, top, top-right, middle-left etc). The opportunity to adjust the precise location of your watermark is provided by optional spacing.