Digital imaging and photography is one of the fastest moving targets in terms of the pace of new hardware, software, and tools. Photography has always been a sweet spot for gadgets that promise to revolutionize the way we work and the quality of the end result, and in that respect digital imaging is no different then analog photo. Here are a few products we found interesting this season, and yes they will all make you into a Rock Star Photographer!
The difference between analog and digital is that a 40 year old Leica with a new roll of film is absolutely usable, and the image quality will be better now then when it was made due to advances in film technology. Digital imaging is the exact opposite and what you buy now will be pretty quickly improved upon and outpaced in just a year or two. What to do? Shoot RAW, pay attention to DAM (Digital Asset Management), and start shooting!
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3-Beta (Ok, we listed this twice, how could we not?)
We are big fans of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, having worked with it since it's beta days in January 2007. Summer 2008 brought Lightroom 2, with increased speed, a more logical use of language and workflow, and some great technology from the Pixel Genius mafia under the hood for sharpening and noise reduction. November brought a public beta of the next version, Lightroom 3.
While the feature set is obviously still in development, the new version promises another increase in speed, refinement of the workflow, and additional features for processing of raw files. There is also an emphasis on noise reduction, an increasingly important aspect of obtaining the optimum output. With folks like DxO coupling their data and findings on the sensors being used in cameras, they are able to work with noise reduction in an entirely different way. With the competition so strong, it will be interesting to see how Adobe meets that challenge among others. This will also be version 2 of the port to 64bit operation, as well as an update to the use of PixelGenius' popular technology.
Adobe is once again to be lauded for it's open Beta program, not only allowing commentary from future users, but also demanding it. We wish more major developers would follow this lead. Stay tuned for updates as the next version of the beta is released. A Mac Edition Radio Holiday Pick! Even in Beta!
For more information on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3-Beta please visit: www.labs.adobe.com
SilverEfex Pro – NIK
Last year, we spoke highly of NIK's plug-ins for Photoshop, and the recent release of Viveza 2 completes the cycle of upgrades. All the programs are fully Intel native, and best of all, there are free upgrades for existing users, which extends their use to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2. An nice hat trick since for increasing numbers of photographers, there is less and less need to enter into Photoshop from Lightroom 2 now that its architecture embraces third-party plug-ins.
Using Silver Efex Pro for Black and White conversions results in black and white images that look like images made from film. Viewing one of the conversions next to a normal grayscale conversion is a reminder of just how difficult it is for color digital files to provide convincing proof that they are true black and white images. Silver Efex Pro makes it easy, with a flexible interface that makes it a tool of choice. Their free video tutorials are pretty nifty as well. A Mac Edition Radio Holiday Pick!
For more information on NIK Software visit: www.niksoftware.com
Portraiture 2 – Imagenomic
Portrait photographers tread a fine line with their clients who insist that they look "real" or "natural" but that doesn't include any "skin issues" such as blemishes, pimples, crows feet, age spots, laugh lines, tan lines, or any of the normal signs of genuine skin. So, while folks want to look their "best" they don't want it to look fake or airbrushed!
There are more techniques to retouch skin then there are menu commands in Photoshop, but all require a careful attention to detail and are often time-consuming, especially where you are attempting to fix a blemish, reduce acne scarring, yet maintain skin texture and detail.
The best tool we have seen for this is a Photoshop plug-in from Imagenomic. Their Portraiture 2 Photoshop and Lightroom plug-in allows you to quickly retouch skin, with varying rates of effect. You can dial it down to subtly smooth out out a complexion, or dial it up to where it looks like an airbrushed model from the 70s. What impressed us was the ease in which it corrected flaws, yet preserved skin texture, pore structure, and differentiated between skin that needed corrections versus needing to be left untouched The new version supports 32 and 64 bit mode in Windows, and now integrates with Adobe PhotoLightroom 2, so the workflow is significantly increased. If you are struggling with retouching skin and improving complexions, Imagenomic's new Portraiture 2 is a great tool to consider. A Mac Edition Radio Holiday Pick!
For more information on Portraiture 2 visit: www.imagenomic.com
Bokeh – Alien Skin
Photographers in the know can just about instantly spot a photo taken with a modern lens, most of which have a less expensive diaphragm with fewer blades to save money. Look at older lens and you will see a many bladed aperture with a smooth almost circular aperture opening. Compare that to many modern lenses with as little as 5 to 6 blades, as opposed to 7 to 11 which is the average for high-quality glass. And many current high-end lenses seem to opt for a minimum of blades for a variety of reasons. The number of blades in diaphragm has a direct impact upon the appearance of out-of-focus areas.
For many photographers the look and feel of that area, especially in portraiture or fashion has a significant effect on the final image. That blurry area is often referred to as Bokeh after a Japanese word for blur. The more blades, the rounder and smoother the aperture opening will be resulting in a more natural, softer, and less distracting background.
Alien Skin, long known for their excellent line of image enhancing plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, sought to recreate those lenses of old with their new application Bokeh. It's actually a selective blurring tool, the distinction of which is the varieties of blur effects, patterns, Bokeh modeled after existing lenses. We didn't find the more kitschy ones like heart or star shaped highlights that useful, but somewhere there is no doubt a lot of folks who think heart shaped highlights is just soooo cute! We'll stick to the Bokeh pattern modeled after the Canon 85mm f1.2 lens!
There have been ways to do this dating back to Photoshop's beginning, but it normally involved using a variety of tools to make a subject selection, refine that edge, feather and smooth the edge, then use tools like Gaussian Blur to simulate depth-of-field. If you were truly obsessive you might create custom patterns, and use them to create Bokeh like effects, but no matter what you did, it was a hassle.
With Alien Skin Software's Bokeh, you still need to make the selection the normal way using Photoshop, or you could use a masking tool like Fluid Mask from Vertus to make it easier. However you approach it, this requires judgment on the users part, so this isn't a click-and-go tool, you still need Photoshop skills. Once the selection is completed you launch Bokeh and put the plug-in to work. While it can also do other effects including simulating a long-lens depth-of-field, a Lens Baby type selective focus effect, and vignetting, we think that most folks will use it to simulate their favorites lenses of old, or lenses they can't afford now!
Bokeh is a powerful tool to help your images set a visual and emotional priority, allowing you more control in shaping how your images are perceived.
For more information on Alien Skin Software's Bokeh please visit: www.alienskin.com
Need to clean your Lenses or Display?
When many of us were growing up there was one way to clean your camera lenses. And no, using your shirt isn't the answer we are looking for! The best way was to use special lens tissue and cleaner, with Kodak being the standard. There were lots of trick to actually get the lenses clean this way, and it was difficult to actually get the residue of the cleaning solution off your lenses. The same holds true for your display, especially matte finish flat panels on laptops. There are many good solutions out there, ranging from micro-fibre cloths, which are a great field solution to a new generation of tools. Here are a couple of our favorites.
A couple of years ago during the PMA (Photo Marketing Association) conference in Las Vegas I visited the folks who make Purosol, which they claim is 100 percent natural, made of organic plant extracts,100% solvent free, hypoallergenic, non-toxic and 100% Biodegradable. Even the bottle it comes in is made with PET plastic, among the most recyclable plastics. Best of all, their sales representative was showing just how safe it was by spraying it into his mouth!
Aside from bringing back hilarious memories of a chemical industry bought scientist drinking chemical laced water in front of a Senate sub-committee to prove it's safety, it was pretty convincing. So, they gave me a sample bottle of their Optic and Plasma products and during the conference I put them to the test and have used them since on a variety of lenses, displays, and finishes. Supplied with a Micro-Fibre cloth, they offer two products, Optics, which is aimed at lenses, and Plasma, which is slightly more aggressive and designed for displays. I was told that both are safe for optics and displays, but the Plasma solution is designed to remove the oily residue left by fingerprints. I found both of them equally adept at removing just about anything on lenses or displays. True to their promise, there wasn't a trace of residue left after cleaning. A Mac Edition Holiday Pick!
For more information on Purosol please visit: www.purosol.com
SensorKlear Loupe + SensorKlear II Combo – Lenspens
An entirely different approach to lens and sensor cleaning is from the folks at Lenspens in Canada. A few years ago I was on a shoot and managed to get my lens seriously smudged as I changed a filter, so it needed some quick cleaning but I didn't have anything with me and I didn't want to use my shirt. Luckily another photographer offered me something that looked like a marking pen, but a close inspection revealed it was a Lenspen lens cleaner.
On one side there was a retractable soft brush and the other was a strange little disk that looked a bit like a suction cup. So, I brushed off any dirt with the brush, and then used the disk on the lens and it cleaned it right up. I put the cap back on the pen, and discovered that it helped to recharge the cleaning tool. You have probably seen these sold in stores with a company imprint on them ranging from Kodak to Canon but they all come from Lenspens.
We have tested several products for cleaning sensors in digital cameras over the years, including the unique and excellent Arctic Butterfly brush from VisibleDust, which we found a very capable tool, along with their excellent BriteVue Sensor Loupe sported some of the best optics we have seen in a loupe. The only drawback to most loupes is that while you can spot the dust on your sensor, to clean the sensor you need to remove the loupe, do your best to remember where the dust was, clean it off, then pop the loupe back on and see how good you did. If you were like us, you would need to repeat this several times to get it right
Lenspens approach was to create a self-lit loupe with a cutout in the side, so you could actually see a magnified view of the sensor as you cleaned it. After you use it once, it's one of those "Why didn't I think of that" moments! To clean the sensor, they took their Lenspen cleaning tip, put it in a slimmer body, and added an articulating joint so you could bend it to fit the sensor chamber. To clean, you simply fit the loupe to your camera; switch on the LED light source, and use the pen to clean off any dirt on your sensor while you look through the loupe. Simple and elegant, the SensorKlear Loupe + SensorKlear II Combo will keep your sensor sparkling clean with little effort. A Mac Edition Radio Holiday Pick!
For more information on Lenspens visit: www.lenspen.com
Happy Digital Photography from Mac Edition Radio!
Harris Fogel, Posted 12/10/2009, updated 6/2010