Monday, January 28, 2013

Software Trial by Photo Editing

In the past I have purchased several software packages from and have been generally satisfied with the products. They have repeatedly tried to sell me their PhotoPlus software which I have never before bothered to look at because I have been using Photoshop since version 7 and since the introduction of Lightroom I use and recommend both Lightroom and Photoshop. All my initial processing is done in Lightroom and I use Photoshop for images that require the use of layers, advanced selections or photo-merging.

This morning however I got an email from Serif offering limited time free trial versions of their software so I thought it would be interesting to see how PhotoPlus X5 compared with other image editing software I have used. I undertook this as a matter of personal curiosity and a recognition that not everyone wants to or can pay the cost of Photoshop. I have no affiliation with Serif beyond having bought a couple of pieces their other software several years ago.

The first thing I discovered after installing Photo Plus was that it does not play well with Adobe DNG files. It will open them but with a wide black band on one side. You can't simply crop off the black band because it falls within the frame of the image, not covering but compressing and distorting the image into the remaining space.

Since my current standard practice is to convert all RAW images to DNG upon import, this problem alone is sufficient to remove it from consideration by me. Looking at older files however I note that PhotoPlus will properly open CRW and CR2 files. I'm guessing that the difference lies in the fact that most RAW files write the EXIF data to a sidecar XMP file whereas Adobe DNG incorporates the EXIF and IPTC data into the DNG file itself and PhotoPlus can't separate it from data describing pixels so it represents the EXIF & IPTC sector as a band on one of the long sides. Don't quote me on that though. I could be wrong.

PhotoPlus does open JPG, PSD& TIFF which are the only other file types I use or have used and have to test with. I cannot vouch for its ability to work with any other proprietary camera RAW files or other image file types.

The layout of controls closely follows Photoshop's interface including a lot of (if not all) of the same keyboard shortcuts, i.e. left & right bracket keys to change brush size and Control Z to undo the last command. The Tools (brush, cropping, clone, etc.) are on the left and the Studio Tabs (their equivalent of Photoshop's palettes) are on the right side. There are a good range of tools and controls including layers. I did not find any photo-merging capacity except for bracketed exposures to create HDR images and that is disabled in the trial version so I could not test it.

The Adjustments palette on the right includes Levels, Curves, Color Balance, Brightness/Contrast, Hue/Saturation/Lightness, Colorize, Vibrance, Selective Color, Channel Mixer, Gradient map, Lens Filter, Black & White Film, Threshold filter, Posterize and Negative image. They appear to closely mirror Photoshop's set of Adjustment layer tools. The Warp, Line, Shape and Node tools on the left were shaded pink indicating that you'd have to buy the full version to get them. The same was true for the Organizer, Tablet controls, Photo Fix, Filter Gallery and Cutout Studio on the top menu.

Overall the interface is very similar to Photoshop. There are a few differences in layout but if someone wanted a less expensive software to begin photo editing they could go to Photoshop later if the need arose without suffering “interface shock”. In the past I have used Paint Shop Pro which I can't say the same for. I actually began image editing on PSP3 long before Corel bought it and continued to use it for a couple of iterations past when Corel changed the interface. PSP is a powerful program, Photoshop on a budget, but with a significantly different interface that I stopped using because I found it to be nearly the opposite of “intuitive”. That could be just me however.

I discovered while trying to save an image that I edited in PhotoPlus that you can only save layered images in PhotoPlus' proprietary .Spp format. Aside from .Spp the only other format offered to save in is JPG. I suppose you could save all your work files in .Spp and your output files in JPG but I frequently use TIFF for images that need to be saved in a non-lossy format. Whether any other editing software will recognize the .Spp files should you want to do further editing in other software or switch to another editor in the future is an open question.

My conclusion on Serif's PhotoPlus? As I said at the outset, it is not for me. The incompatibility with my preferred RAW format, inability to save to layered TIFF and the fact that I am already invested in Photoshop and Lightroom make this a non-starter for me. I am impressed by the clean interface and range of tools however and for those who shoot JPG or a RAW format that PhotoPlus is compatible with, at $89.99 this could be a real budget friendly alternative to Adobe's much more expensive software as long as you don't plan on stitching panoramas, merging photos for DOF or a handful of other advanced features from Photoshop.  

The top photo was shot with my Canon SX50 in JPG. I was able to do levels and vibrance adjustments to it in PhotoPlus but had to merge the layers to re-save it. I could not test the sharpening tools. They were one of the "pinked out" features in the trial software. The second picture is a screen capture of how a DNG file looks when opened in PhotoPlus. I tried several, all with the same result. The black band is always on a long side, on the left with a vertical image and on the bottom with a landscape format image. The image itself is always 'squished' on the right/top.

May 2, 2014 Upon receipt of the comment  thanking me for the review I revisited the Serif website thinking I should review the most recent version (#7) however it appears they no longer offer limited trial copies of their software. There is a free "basic" version but there is no indication of how it relates or compares to the current paid version in terms of features and capabilities. The only comparisons on the site are to Corel's Paint Shop Pro and Adobe's Photoshop.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ten Years & Four Days Ago

When the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center was still run by the state they had a series of "Challenges". The challenges consisted of completing a series of hikes in areas other than the High Peaks. The purpose was to draw some hiking traffic away from the High Peaks which were suffering from overuse and to encourage hikers to discover the other delights offered by the Adirondacks. I participated in the first challenge and today's photo was made on a snowshoe hike up Goodnow Mt. on Jan. 14th, 1993. I scanned the negative in one of the recent batches of scanning and this is the first time this photo has been seen by any one but me. It was a beautiful day with the lingering aftermath of a fresh snowfall. I broke a snowshoe harness and completed the hike sans snowshoes. You wouldn't guess from the photo but there was only about 4" of snow so the lack of snowshoes wasn't really a problem.

Photo made on B&W 120 film using a Fuji GS 645 camera, a folding model that I could carry in my coat pocket and did on several hikes back then.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mid-winter Longings

I'm still scanning old negatives. This one is from a climb up Redfield in the Adirondacks. The trail follows Uphill Brook and I photographed  this scene of rocks with moss and wildflowers along the way. Scanning these scenes from old hikes, this one in August of 1991, makes me long for summer and mountaintops.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Archiving Film

I've been scanning my old B&W negatives for a while now and in the process found a few that I liked but for some reason had never done anything with. This is one. It was a 35mm negative that I made on a winter trip up Azure Mt. on the Blue Mountain Rd. near Santa Clara & St. Regis Falls. The wave was created by wind blowing around the snow that was on a fallen tree trunk.

I was prompted to scan this particular roll of film because I had entered another photo from the roll in a show at the Paul Smiths V.I.C. and they wanted a digital copy to put on their website. Except for two, all of the photos in that show were made on film. If you are in the area of Paul Smiths stop in, check out the show and take your skis or snowshoes. They have an excellent set of trails to explore.

Below is another photo from that roll of film. I did make a silver print of this one once in my darkroom.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Camera - Canon SX50 HS

I haven't been watching new equipment announcements so I didn't know about the Canon SX50 HS until a friend told me. I was dismissive at first because it was so inexpensive I had a hard time seeing how it could generate high quality images at a 1200mm equivalent angle of view but it nagged at me because of the times I've had to pass on photos simply because my lens wouldn't pull in the subject. I had a chance to get one on sale and on an impulse I bought it. This is a mini-review which is to say I'm not going into the kind of detail that review sites like DP Review do. Just my impressions in my (so far) limited use of it.

The photos here come from an outing yesterday to a local trail along the Racquette River. I took the SX50 HS but not a tripod. I was on snowshoes and did have one hiking pole with a small ballhead on the camera screw under the knob. I shot 65 photos. I lost one series of 4 or 5 photos because some water drops got on the lens and I missed seeing that until I got home. My fault, not the camera's.

The photos below were shot with the lens at or nearly at full extension. I used the hiking pole and a convenient tree for stabilizing the camera. Both have been subjected to my 3 stage sharpening (Detail controls in Lightroom, export to Photoshop, apply USM 15/60/0 and Smart Sharpening 75% at 0.3 radius). The Smart Sharpening settings I use vary according to final image size and the type of output. These are settings I frequently use for an 800 pixel wide web image.
 For reference below is a broad view, although not the full width of the widest angle the camera can do, taken from exactly the same position as the two icicle shots. All were shot as RAW images. The icicle shots both come from the area outlined in red, they are left and right at the base of the rock. The water's edge on my side of the river was about 8-10 feet in front of me.
 I'm still getting used to the controls which are significantly different from my other Canon cameras. The buttons on the back are too easily pressed, causing unintended changes in settings and the power button not easily enough. You have to press it with some deliberateness to turn the camera on or off. I lost 2 or 3 shots at the longest focal length due to camera movement, not surprising for such a long lens. A tripod would have been better than the pole and a cable release would help too. For the money though, and with care, the camera is quite a good performer.

 The closeups were 1/13th sec. @ f/6.3. The lens only stops down to f/8 and wide open is f/3.4. Neither closeup image was cropped, they are the full 3000x4000 pixels so at 240ppi I could print them 12'X16". At 300ppi they would be 10"x13".

This camera won't replace the 7D but  will be more like a supplement for when I need the kind of reach that I don't have and can't afford for the DSLR, not to mention that a DSLR lens of similar length could be a weight concern. The longest SLR lens Canon makes is 800mm. It weighs 9.9# and costs $14K. To get to approximately 1200mm you'd need a 1.4 Tel-extender which weighs only ½# but adds another $500. The SX50 HS cost me $400 on sale. Would the performance of the 7D with a tel-extender and 800mm lens be $14,100 better? I don't think so, at least not for me. I don't do that much telephoto shooting. The SX50 may replace the G11 for hiking when photography is not the object of the hike but I want a camera along.