Software round-up

What s new in the world of software, Photoshop plug-ins and apps? Read on to see what the team has found this month... Adobe Lightroom 4 Organise and edit your photos and photo shoots with the best version of Lightroom to date Photo management programs from software publishers that also offer photo editing applications involves a balancing act. You can t put too many correction facilities in there, because it would be competing with your own photo editor. But, if you don t then rival companies will. Which brings us to Lightroom-a worthy, if dull alternative to Apple s Aperture. Until now that is. Adobe has decided to get ahead of the game and implement a major upgrade with this new release, version 4. There are new features and workflow improvements across the board, but it all starts with the Library tab as this is where images are imported. Images can have keywords and colours/stars/tags added to help with searches later. There are different ways of looking at files here, with catalogues of images that are imported into the database, actual folders of images on the hard drive, smart collections that are virtual so no files are duplicated and the collection can also come from disparate sources, plus there are publishing services for exporting. These include social media sites as well as to your hard drive, so a collection that is all RAW data can be batch processed and exported as TIFF files, ready to use. You can in fact apply processing to the files in the Library, export and never get any further into the program. However, it s more likely that you re going to want to use the rest of the facilities, which are tabbed under the headings Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print and Web. The Develop section contains the most photo editing tools so that white balance, exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks, brightness, contrast, clarity, vibrance and saturation can be adjusted. And yes, these are all found in the RAW importer in Photoshop. There are also sections for tone curves, HSL colours, split toning, detail adjustment, lens correction, effects and camera calibration. Over on the left side of the interface there are some presets that can quickly improve a photo, or you can create your own and save them. There s a history section for undoing actions and a snapshot function so you can roll back editing to specific points. The new tools here include shadow and highlight recovery along with adjustment brushes, so you can paint improvements into specific areas. There s also a neat white balance brush for tackling scenes with mixed lighting where just an overall adjustment would cause as many problems as it would fix. Meanwhile, there is geo-tagging with a world map option, so if you re a jet-setting photographer you can log your adventures. On a more hobbyist level, just zoom into your country and log them there. And that leads us on to another new function-the photo book section. There are some issues here, because pro photographers in the wedding and social markets will probably want to use their favourite pro lab. Enthusiasts may want to use who they can source as the cheapest. But, if you want to use Blurb, the built-in supplier, then it s a great feature to have. You can also export the book as a PDF, which other printers may be able to use. The other export options are slideshows, for print and web. The slideshow is good enough, but perhaps some small improvements would help-a dedicated slideshow program might do a better job. The text and overlay headlines are fine, but there s a lack of transitions from slide to slide and the audio side is very basic. The Print menu offers the basic support you d expect in Photoshop with ppi, sharpening and paper types, but there s also an option for arranging multiple photos per sheet, so making contact sheets is fairly easy. On to the Web module and in here photos can be turned into HTML or Flash web galleries for direct uploading to your website. There are a number of styles for covering both the colour scheme and layout, but actually integrating this with your website requires a decent amount of knowledge about how your site works. Other improvements to Lightroom include lots more video support and video publishing tools due mainly to the video capability of the latest DSLRs. Footage can be trimmed, adjusted or have stills saved off. There s also soft proofing for printing on colour managed printers. Verdict: The interface on show here is sleek and modern looking, if not entirely sexy. That, however, is a good thing because it doesn t detract from the image side of things, which is what the entire process is all about. The workflow for developing, searching and cataloguing images is well thought through and there are now enough photo editing facilities that, for a general purpose photo shoot where the subject isn t going to require extensive retouching, you can dispense with Photoshop completely. The Slideshow aspect is a bit limited and navigating it is clunky and non-intuitive. Obviously, packages such as Lightroom are for the pro, semipro or those who do a lot of shoots. With version 4, Adobe has managed to leapfrog Apple s Aperture to make this the leading photo management app with editing tools included. Adobe Lightroom 4FX Studio Pro Get creative with your digital images as both photo editing and filter effects combine together in this all-in-one package First of all, there are two versions of this app, the regular one and the Pro version. The first has all the same features, but lacks support for ultrahigh resolution images and doesn t have the photo editing tools. Both offer a fast, though messy, interface-just drag and drop images to edit or use the file browser. The app will run in its own window or go full screen in the Apple Lion OS. The functions are controlled on the top right, with tabbed sections for the effects catalogue, cropping, rotating or additional adjustments. The latter includes a raft of features including exposure, brightness, saturation, contrast, temperature, hue, colour balance, levels, sharpening and shadows plus highlights adjustments. Although there aren t any layers, and hence no adjustment layers, you can access a mask feature for the adjustments. This brings up a separate control panel where the mask can be seen as a red overlay and edited. The real fun though comes when using the various filters and here we head into Analog and CameraBag 2 territory. There are 20 categories and numerous filters in each one. The app was recently updated and these have now been improved significantly, adding grunge, light leaks, scratches, borders and so on. There are lots of colour distortion filters, but also some artsy ones as well, with outlines, comic halftones, brush strokes and old print styles. There are thumbnail previews along the bottom for these, although they re square so they crop the top off all portrait shots. Clicking one brings up the main screen preview, along with the basic adjustments for that effect and the masking option. However, this is missing a filter opacity slider. Also added with the update is a selection of frames in three or four categories, though there s a bug in this at present. Three of the categories work fine and add plain or grungy borders, with an option to adjust how far in they come but it lacks a randomise feature. Finally, images can be saved, emailed or shared on social media. Verdict:The photo editing side is clumsy and limited compared to programs like Photoshop Elements, even with the masking functions, so the Pro version doesn t represent great value. The regular version wins out though because of the decent array of filters and borders that have now been implemented. Some of the filter effects are poor, but there s enough good ones too with varied styles to make this worthwhile. CameraBag 2 Explore a whole host of effects, presets, borders and styles for grunging up your digital images In some ways it s a good job that FX Studio got its act together with a recent update, because CameraBag 2 provides very stiff competition. It features a much neater interface with the main options neatly arranged on the right. The primary ones are Styles, Adjust and Borders. There is also a section for favourites and Quicklooks too, which can be accessed from its own tab or from the top of the filter/adjustment lists of the other categories. The Quicklook function pulls up all the options as thumbnails of the current image. However, in normal use, clicking on different styles delivers a list of exotic sounding names. Move the cursor over one of these and it pops up in a square preview-cutting the head off your subject-along with a description of what it does.This also applies to the Adjust section, which has categories for the basics including exposure, contrast, saturation, cropping and then also light for curves, shadow and highlights along with luminance. There are also more editing options for channel curves, split toning, colour balance, tinting and colourising, applying a colour filter and digital dye. And, as if all that wasn t enough, there are vignettes, grain and discolouration options too, which is another description for light leaks. Selecting a filter or adjustment then produces an oblong under the image. This is so that effects and adjustments can be stacked before being applied to the picture. Clicking on the oblong produces the parameters for that individual effect. Going back to the Styles-these are a range of modern effects, so vignetting, colour shifts, retro looks, saturated colours and toy/plastic cameras like Lomo are present. There are also borders here, plus the basics of white or black overlays and these can be adjusted.The more interesting options though are those that emulate the sprockets and holders for film, but they lack any ability to adjust or place the image inside. They could also do with some randomising function. Verdict: Many more modern effects than FX Studio Pro and the photo editing tools are considerably better and more varied too, even if it doesn t have masking functions. The design and organisation of the interface is much cleaner this time out too. The borders could do with more variety and user configuration options, but otherwise this is one of the best grunge-effect apps for the Mac there is currently. Adobe Photoshop Touch After the disappointment that was Photoshop Express, Adobe gets back on track with the rather good Touch software Available for both iPad and Android tablets, PSTouch finally brings some form of Photoshop to the touchscreen generation. A blank canvas can be created or a photo loaded from Google, Facebook, the camera, Adobe s Creative Cloud service or from the device itself. Obviously the latter is much easier on Android than on the shackled iOS device. Once selected, the image can be loaded and then itinto the icon-strewn interface. And here s the first problem-the work area is appalling-it looks like it was designed by a maths student. So, slowly but surely, you need to work your way around. There s a magic wand with settings on the left, a layers system on the right and the main functions above the image. There are also tools for cloning, lasso and marquee selection, painting, erasing, a Healing brush, blur and smudge and the spray can. But where are they? Bizarrely, they re in the tools palette on the left. The default start is for the Selection tool to be active, which consequently hides all the other options. Tap on the Selection tool itself and it retreats back into the palette, revealing the rest of the tools. There s a set of distortion, rotation and resizing options, though the latter has a bug in it that causes it to stick at 99%-good job you can cancel it. The fun options start with the Adjustments menu, which shows thumbnails of the categories, but not using your currently loaded image, just a default one. These include mono conversion, saturation, automatic image fixing, brightness/contrast, temperature, replace colour, shadow and highlights adjustment, colour balance, noise reduction and levels and curves. There s also an Effects menu, which offers basic, stylised, artistic and photo-style effects. Before you get excited about these creative effect options it appears they are pretty much the filters off the Photoshop filters menu and, as such, are fairly basic, although the scratch filter has a few variations. It s not a bad selection, but it s nothing like what a modern app like iDarkroom can offer. Verdict: The painting aspect is done better by Art Studio, the photo editing is done better by Snapseed and FilterStorm Pro and the creative filter side is done better by iDarkroom HD. The interface is awful, it s badly thought out and ugly to look at. Yes, it has some of the basic Photoshop functions you ll recognise, so there s some form of comfort factor, but everything else is underwhelming and better designed elsewhere. Image size is limited too. While this is better than the abysmal Express, that s faint praise. Stop Motion Studio More stop-motion animated frolicks for would-be animators from the same people that brought you Time Lapse It s a short leap from time-lapse photography to stop-motion animation, so little surprise to see the vendor of Time Lapse add a Wallace and Gromit-style app to the stable. Initially the interface is extremely blank and unhelpful-when starting a new project there are no details about what you are doing, the frame rate, the length, the resolution and so on-just a simple capture button and a couple of icons. One of these is the settings where some of the parameters can be defined, including standard resolution or HD resolution for the video output. There are also the options to add a grid to the scene to help with movement, scale and overlay so you can accurately add new frames over old ones. Mind you, in practice, it s pretty hard to keep the phone still while capturing them. There s a slight pause to give it chance to settle before capture, which is a good thing, and you can use the volume buttons or the on-screen touch-fire button. It s not easy on an iPhone 4/4S and they have a square edge, We wouldn t like to try this with an iPad or 3GS phone. There s also the zoom function so you can close in on subjects and pull back without having to move the camera. Once a set of frames have been captured, both an audio and a music track can be added. Then, the editing can begin, and here s where you can set the frame rate from 1fps to 30fps, so you need to know what it was going to be at the start to get the movement distances right. There are also some vintage and creative filters to add over the top, although this isn t done in real-time, you have to wait. Verdict: Potentially very good. The onion-skinning and the choice of standard definition or HD resolutions are very welcome. The ability to use the touchscreen or the volume buttons is also handy and editing is easy. Once you find it. That s the problem here-the interface is very poor leaving you to blunder around trying to find which bit does what. With a little more development, this will be a good stop-motion app, but at the moment it s too awkward and not well organised enough.

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