Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW: onOne Software PhotoTools 2.0 Professional

PT2-pro_BOX_2-webIf you’ve read my previous review of PhotoTools 1.0, you know that I wasn’t very kind nor was I a huge fan of the product. While it had some good stuff in it(much of which is still present in this version) it was hard to really enjoy it. I’m pleased to say that this new release of PhotoTools addresses many of the shortcomings and results in a product that is a delight to use.

PhotoTools Rants and Raves

Here’s some of my notes and observations while using PhotoTools 2:

  1. Hand and zoom controls work better and the hand performance is very good.
  2. I actually notice the descriptions better this time which makes my user experience much better!! I went back to 1.0 and confirmed that many were there in the info window, but I just didn’t notice them.
  3. I am still impressed with Kevin Kubota’s filters, but still frequently disappointed with Jack Davis’ because they really need to fade the luminosity to avoid oversaturation issues common with his effects.
  4. I wish the library area was resizable so I could make it larger.
  5. I’m very disappointed there’s no real-time preview, but I’m glad to see the preview window for the filters is on by default (better usability than 1.x). A preview image just doesn’t cut it for me.
  6. I love the new mask brush support. While not as cool as Nik’s U-Point, it does make things much better for selective processing. 
  7. It is great that you can view the mask and change the brush options. I hate the default opacity of the brush (should be 100%) but at least I can change it. I didn’t have a chance to plug in my tablet and try out the Wacom support, but that’s promising too!
  8. Including the X keyboard shortcut for paint-in/out is very useful!
  9. The new library is much more user-friendly. Even though they are subtle changes, they are for the best. I enjoy using it much better than the 1.0 tree view.
  10. I’m so glad to see the favorites feature!  I would have liked to seen ratings for filters like in PhotoFrame, but that’s a minor nitpick. Keywords were a nice touch as well.
  11. I like how custom presets saves a preview image
  12. The preview image for The Debigulator, Crayon, Impression and several others aren’t very useful or representative of what they do.
  13. I was jazzed to see the video about applying PhotoTools to video in CS4 Extended (which I have) so I decided to try it out. I made sure that I was using the “Copy of Current Layer” preference, but initially didn’t realize I needed to restart Photoshop to have it apply the change – onOne might want to add that to the video. Given the new popularity of video with the 5D Mark II and D90, I think this is a great feature to have!
  14. Page Curl / Steve’s Reflection didn’t work as expected (i.e., white bottom under the curl) when using “Copy of Current Layer” preference and a white layer on the previous layer as the details suggest.
  15. There’s still the same bug from 1.0 where if you switch to a different application while PhotoTools is open you may not get back to the PhotoTools window when you try to activate Photoshop again. InsteadBecause the PhotoTools window is modal, you can’t do anything with Photoshop, so you are hosed. It seems there is some Z-Order issue where PhotoTools is still running, but it gets set behind the main PS window. The default remedy is to do a brute force shutdown of the process via task manager, which some users won’t realize so they’ll just reboot or reset their PC. This is a horrible, horrible, horrible user experience! There is a trick workaround though – if you use Task Manager to minimize Photoshop and then you minimize your open windows, you’ll eventually see the PhotoTools window again. I can’t repro the exact steps to get into this scenario, but it happened to me MANY times in the writing of this article, so it isn’t an infrequent anomaly.
  16. It still seems like way too much stuff to actually use in one product. I think things like Frame Effects would be best left out and leave that to PhotoFrame which now does an awesome job in that area. While more is always good from a value standpoint, it seems that many filters are so similar that it might be best if onOne took the approach they did with PhotoFrame where they keep mostly the good stuff (less is more) and offer the legacy ones online.Trying out all of the filters include takes a full day though without a nice live preview feature – UGH!!!!

Overall, I’m pleased with the product but it still isn’t as stable and user-friendly as I would like. However, it offers a lot of value for the money with all of the features that are included.

With that said, let me move on to some samples that show how I used PhotoTools on a variety of crappy images and rescued them into something I might actually want to print out.

Sample 1 – Han Woo-Ri Ribbon Dude

Recently I was at the Han Woo-Ri Korean Festival in Federal Way, Washington and there was this guy (I think his name was Man Sung) who spun his head really fast to spin this ribbon from his hat. It was pretty cool in real life, but when I captured the image I was disappointed with the results. To address this, I decided to play around with some of the cool features in PhotoTools 2.0 to convert this ordinary snapshot into a more exciting image that represents the movement that was there in real life. If you hover over the image below you'll see the dull before image, and mouse out or click the image to see the enhanced version created entirely with PhotoTools 2.0:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click for a larger version

I applied the PhotoTools Reduce Noise to tame some of the noise introduced by this ISO 2500 image. Next, I sharpened the edges using the Edge Sharpen Only filter (so as not to sharpen the remaining bits of ISO noise). I chose to sharpen at this point rather than at the end because the Lens Zoom effect I’d apply last is not sharpening friendly, so it was best to do this first. Technically I should have done it after my next filter – Turbo Boost (to give the colors some oomph and darken the background), but I didn’t. Lastly, I ran the Lens Zoom filter which simulates a longer exposure where you zoom during the exposure to create a sense of movement. I chose the subtle version of this and it added that sense of movement that this shot was missing. Since this shot required a higher shutter speed so as not to blur the subject badly, this post processing helped me to keep the sharpness and add the motion back after the fact. Overall, I’m pleased with the results and felt that PhotoTools saved me a ton of time here. Start to finish this modification took me about 10 minutes.

Sample 2 – Jeong-hyun Lim (a.k.a., Funtwo) Rocking on his Guitar

Next up was another shot from the Han Woo-Ri festival where YouTube sensation “Funtwo” was wailing on his guitar, but lighting and background of this ISO 1250 image sucked.  It needed something to make it cool, so it was time for PhotoTools to the rescue! Hover over the image below to see the original and mouse out or click it to see the PhotoTools version I created in less than 10 minutes:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click to see larger version

For this version, I started with a quick noise reduction using Nik Software’s Dfine and then I ran PhotoTools (note: noise reduction is included in the original here). I then applied the following:

  1. Funky Senior 2 Preset – This uses the bleach bypass and selective focus radials to give a neat “grungy look” as Scott Kelby would say.
  2. I used the Edge Vignette to draw the attention to Funtwo.
  3. Sharpen CH P1 – I used this sharpening because it doesn’t use the Unsharp Mask Filter and seems to avoid sharpening the noise.
  4. Lastly, I went back and tweaked the bleach bypass to 100% fade to apply the full effect.

I was very pleased with the final results. This once crappy background now looks cool and the colors look fantastic on this shot. In addition, the image sharpened nicely from its original where Funtwo’s face was a bit blurry from his head rocking during the capture.

Sample 3 – My wife and I first thing in the morning

Ever have one of those shots where you aren’t prepared, but somehow it turns out good? This is one of those shots. We literally just woke up, haven’t showered, we have terrible bed head, and my wife has no makeup during her 38th week of her pregnancy where her hormones haven’t been kind to her skin. I had to soften her skin a bit to account for the lack of makeup, but the rest is PhotoTools magic. I intentionally darken out our hair to hide the bed head.

Hover over the image below to see the original and mouse out or click it to see the PhotoTools version I created in about 40 minutes as I had a hard time choosing a filter that wouldn’t darken Moon’s hair too much (click the larger version to see it’s still visible, but it does get lost in small images):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click for a larger version

I started with the Holga Color preset and then modified it with Creamsickle filter, Edge Vignette Dark and Edge Sharpen Only filters. The result is an image that focus on us rather than our kitchen and even though we weren’t looking our best we now look as if this was a planned shot.

Sample 4 – Black & White

Here’s a image of my pregnant wife in her last days of her pregnancy that looked nice in color, but I felt it would be better in a black in white with a slight blue tint to it. Hover over the image below to see the original and mouse out or click it to see the PhotoTools version I created in about 30 minutes, most of which was spent trying to decide on the right filter to use:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Here’s a screen shot of PhotoTools 2.0 that shows how I did it entirely in PhotoTools 2.0:

Click for a larger version

All I did here was apply the B&W Warm 1 + Snappy filter with the Wow Tint Blue+Dark Edges filter and then used the PhotoTools High Pass Sharpening. The net result is a pleasing black and white! Now that I have this formula, I can create a preset and apply it in seconds to any photo I’d like to convert to black and white in the future.

A Note About Non-PhotoTools Processing

All images in this article were resized to 800 pixels using Genuine Fractals 6.0, and if skin softening was applied I used Nik Software’s Color Efex 3.0’s Dynamic Skin Softener filter.


This version of PhotoTools is significantly better than its predecessor thanks in large part to a drastically improved user-interface. The performance is better as well. While I still wish it had real-time previews, and the occasional crash was maddening, overall I found myself spending hours playing around with all of the possible options. I wish I had the time to list more samples here as I have a ton of cool things I did, but I tried to show that there’s endless flexibility with the samples I’ve included here.

I highly recommend this product for those wanting a ton of features in one product. I will warn you that it’s hard to get your hands around this product because there’s so many filters included, but many will consider that a good thing. Fortunately the new search feature works well in helping you find what you are looking for quickly, and the presets are always a great place to start when you first install this product (in demo or retail form).

onOne Software is offering a 20% discount to readers of this blog if you enter the discount coupon code RMART20 when you purchase any onOne software product online from their web site. Personally, I recommend you buy the onOne Software Plug-in Suite which bundles all of their products in a package that offers a lot of bang for the buck. See my discount coupon codes page for the latest discounts on Plug-in Suite not available on onOne’s web site.

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