Monday, March 30, 2009

REVIEW: Wacom Intuos 4 –vs- Wacom Intuos3 and 3DConnexion SpaceExplorer combination

Wacom

Intuos 4 Image from Amazon.com

Words and Images by guest blogger - David Pitcher

When Wacom announced their latest pen tablet the Intuos4 I jumped at the chance to upgrade and and hopefully replace the Wacom Intuos3 and 3DConnexion SpaceExplorer combination as the primary hardware tools used for my image editing.

Image Editing Environment

My current environment that I use for image editing is a Windows Vista x64 machine with 8GB of memory and driving two Apple 20" Cinema Displays. I have customized the Photoshop workspace so that I have the menu bar and the tool palette are the only items displayed on the left monitor, the rest of the screen is dedicated to display of the image. The second monitor has all the other common used panels, such as Channels, Layers, Actions, History, and Histogram, opened and expanded.

Primary Display
Secondary Display

Prior to upgrading to the Wacom Intous4, I had a keyboard and mouse sitting on top of the desk and used a sturdy keyboard tray to hold the Wacom Intuos3 6" x 11" tablet and the 3DConnexion SpaceExplorer. After the upgrade, the Intuos4 replaced the Intuos3 and SpaceExplorer.

3DConnexion SpaceExplorer

The key element of the Space Explorer is the controller cap which gives the device ability to control 3 different axis of movement. The controller cap can be pushed forward, backward, left, right, down, pulled up, twisted left or right, and tilted. These movements allow the controller cap to make adjustments to the working area of an image that is being edited in Photoshop. Having the controller cap perform these actions definitely reduces trips to the keyboard and covered the most common repetitive actions taken when editing an image in Photoshop.

Panning Images

The panning feature is an especially nice change compared to holding down the spacebar and moving a mouse all over the desk to pan a large image. I can keep a tablet pen in one hand and pan around the image using the controller to move the image to the place I wanted to edit or review at 100%.

Zooming Images

By pushing down or pulling upward on the controller cap you can control the zoom level of an image. The simplicity of zooming is another of my favorite features and is something I do often while editing an image.

Adjusting Brush Size

The icing on the cake of controller cap feature is that you can twist the cap left or right to make brush size adjustments. No more reaching for the keyboard and tapping the "[" and "]" to increase or decrease the brush size which I do very often when creating masks and doing some dodging and burning.

The Space Explorer also has 15 programmable buttons which you can configure for common Photoshop keyboard shortcuts. I have configured these buttons to perform the following actions:

  • - and + buttons mapped to navigate History backward and forward
  • L and R buttons mapped to decreasing or increasing Brush Hardness
  • Fit button mapped to resize the image to fit the screen
  • 2D button mapped to swap Foreground & Background colors
  • Shift, Alt, Ctrl buttons remained the default
  • 1,2,T,and F buttons were left in their default configuration

The software provided with the SpaceExplorer is easy to install on Windows XP or Vista x64 in conjunction with Photoshop CS3 Extended and CS4 Extended(excluding the 64 bit version). To fully leverage the benefits of the SpaceExplorer, you will need to configure Photoshop to utilize the device by adding a custom keyboard shortcut for the Photoshop Automation menu.

I found the software at first difficult to use and to customize the buttons. I was also not too pleased with the overall reliability of the software under either of the operating systems and either version of Photoshop. Often the controller cap would stop responding to commands while in Photoshop and would require exiting Photoshop and launching the configuration tool again and other times would require a system reboot.

Wacom Intuos3 6" x 11" Pen Tablet

The Intuos3 comes with 4 programmable buttons and a vertical touch strip. Since I had the SpaceExplorer, I rarely used these buttons or the touch strip and kept them at their default configuration of emulation Alt, Shift, Ctrl, Space and Zoom for the touch strip.

The mouse never left the original box and I never thought for a minute about using it; I did not want another device on cluttering up the workspace.

I configured the tablet so that drawing surface was mapped to the same area as my primary image editing monitor. This gave me a 1:1 mapping of the displayed image and the tablet surface area which worked very well for me as far as pen stroke movement compared to the relative area covered on the displayed image. The only downside, was that I needed to use the mouse to activate and change settings of Photoshop panels displayed on the second monitor.

The pen has a two-position rocker switch located on the grip of the pen which you can customize it's functions. I mapped the lower switch position to activate the Photoshop Erase tool while pressed, and mapped the upper switch position to activate the Photoshop Fade Command.

The provided software is easy to install and configuration of the tablet and pen and can easily be reached from the Control Panel. Reliability of the software and drivers was never a problem and always worked as desired. The tablet and pen are fully configurable and functional even with the 64bit version of Photoshop CS4 Extended.

Wacom Intuos4 Large Pen Tablet

The Intuos4 is what I consider a significant upgrade from the Intuos3 series. The difference in the tablet capabilities is not so much the new pen that can detect up to 2048 different levels of pressure, but the inclusion of a programmable touch ring and 8 programmable buttons each with an OLED display.

I was happy with the dimensions of the Intous3 6" x 11" tablet that I had been using and desired to get something about the same size. With the new Intuos4 the sizing options are slightly different and you can select from a small, medium, large and extra large tablet sizes. The Intuos3 6" x 11" fall in between the Intuos4 Medium with an active area of 5.5" x 8.8" and the Intuos4 Large with an active area of 8" x 12.8". I decided to go with the Intuos4 Large since it maintained the same aspect ratio and I did not want to step down to something smaller.

Installing the tablet was no different than the Intuos3 and has the same familiar Wacom configuration interface with a few new tabs added to accommodate the new features. This is includes tabs for the Touch Ring, Display Toggle, and Radial Menus.

I kept the same 1:1 display mapping configuration that I has used with the Intuos3 tablet, so now I had a tablet surface area of 8" x 12.8" mapped to the area of the 20" Apple Cinema Display monitor. The 2" increase is surface was definitely noticeable but did not take long to adjust to. I also decided to keep the same pen configuration that I had before minimizing the amount of new settings that I had to relearn.

I first customized the actions of the 8 buttons included on the tablet which Wacom refers to as "ExpressKeys". There are two groups of 4 buttons with the Touch ring separating the two groups.

ExpressKeys Configuration
ExpressKeys
Radial Menu

I mapped the first button to the new on-screen Radial Menu feature. I really think this is one of the best features of the new Intuos4. When the Radial Menu is activated, it is displayed on screen centered on the current position of your cursor. The menu consists of 8 individual menu slices that can be configured with predefined tablet features, mapped to custom keystrokes, or a submenu of another 8 menu slices.

I am still experimenting with how I think I would like to configure the Radial Menu, but at the moment have it configured with keyboard shortcuts for the Brush Tool, Gradient Tool, Move Tool, set default foreground and background colors, swap foreground and background colors, move forward and backward thru history, and a submenu for selecting layer/tool opacity.

On-Screen Radial Menu

On-Screen Radial SubMenu of Layer Opacity

Display Toggle

The second button is mapped to the new Display Toggle feature which allows me to change which display the tablet's surface area is mapped to. I found this extremely handy and it has completely eliminated the need to use a mouse while editing an image. I can now easily switch between my primary monitor where the image is displayed and the secondary monitor where all the Photoshop Panels are displayed. With my previous setup there was not an equivalent in functionality.

Precision Mode

The third button is mapped to the new Precision Mode feature which changes the amount of distance the on-screen cursor moves in relation to the pen. With the Precision Mode active you need to move the pen twice the distance to get the same distance covered on the display. This is really helpful when for me when working within very detailed areas of an image and I want to have more precise control of painting masks, or creating selections.

Pan/Scroll

The fourth button is mapped to the new Pan/Scroll feature. By pressing and holding this button down I can use the pen to pan an image around on the screen. This is very helpful when I am working on an image zoomed into 100% or greater. I click the button and move the pen in the direction I want the image to move. This feature is a direct replacement for the SpaceExplorer's panning capability of the controller cap.

Shift/Ctrl/Alt

Buttons 5, 6, and 7 remained at the default setting of keyboard modifiers Shift, Ctrl, and Alt. These keys are commonly used to temporarily alter the behavior of a Photoshop tools.

Show Settings

The eighth button is mapped to the new Show Settings feature which displays on screen the current configuration of the Touch Ring and all 8 buttons. I did not find this as useful as I initially thought it would be and ended up mapping the eight button to a Photoshop keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+0 which adjusts the zoom of an image to "Fit" on screen. This setting replaced the Fit button functionality of the SpaceExplorer.

The Touch Ring consists of an outer touch sensitive ring and an inner toggle button that you can use to select up to four different functions the ring can perform. I elected to configure the Touch Ring so that the first function would allow me to adjust the image zoom level and replaced the SpaceExplorer's zoom feature of the controller cap. The second function I configured so that I could adjust the size of a selected brush, replacing another capability of the SpaceExplorer's controller cap. The third Touch Ring function is configured to change the selected brush hardness. The fourth and final function is configured to cycle thru the Photoshop Blending Modes and is something I do often enough that this saves time and seems to make exploration of these blending modes easier.

Touch Ring Configuration

Conclusion

I am extremely happy with the new Intuos4 and is nice to see Wacom continue creating great quality products. The new Intuos4 has been able to replace all the functionality that I had with the SpaceExplorer, although not as convenient as the SpaceExplorer's controller cap. The stability of the Intuos4 software and the support for CS4 64bit far out weighs the slight differences in convenience. With the new tablet the need for a mouse and keyboard is further reduced and I feel I gain further efficiencies in my Photoshop editing workflow by not having to reach for the keyboard as much and the mouse is never needed.

You can learn more about which size is right for you by using this guide.

You can order one now from Amazon in the following sizes:

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Nik Software does it again – Color Efex 3.0 Complete Lightroom Add-in ROCKS!

 

NOTE: A 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades, but even if you buy an excluded product please include the code when ordering.

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NOTE: This article is obsolete. Please see my Color Efex Pro 4 review instead.

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While it is true that you could do in Photoshop on your own what nearly every add-in on the market does, the reality is that some add-ins just save you a ton of time. Nik Software’s products consistently achieve that objective and seriously kick ass! Since I first reviewed Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete, I’ve come to love this product to the point that I can’t process a photo without it. This is seriously fantastic stuff! It’s U-Point technology works wonders making complex masking a breeze in seconds, as shown in the image below where I’ve used 4 U-Points to have precise control of where I added and subtracted the super awesome Sunshine filter:

 north_cascades-644-Edit

Why do I like it so much? Well, the first is that the 52 filters that come with Color Efex 3.0 Complete rock! You can see for yourself on their website, or you can look at some of the cool photos I’ve created in this article which owe most of their coolness to the fantastic filters that this product offers. For example, my shot below of Audrey was done using the Bleach Bypass filter. In fact, all of the shots in this article were done in Lightroom without going to Photoshop!

 audrey_snoqualmie_falls_175-edit-Edit

Well the good news here is that the good just got great because this add-in is SMOKING FAST and a blast to use via Lightroom. During the writing of this article, I tried out nearly all 52 filters (including many of the variations of some of those filters) on a dozen photos in about 45 minutes. It was great to see how fast Color Efex works when running directly from Lightroom without Photoshop hogging all of the memory. Here’s an example of the awesome Solarization filter applied to a fall photo that’s currently the wallpaper on my desktop. Talk about a new refreshing change!

FallPorsche_misc_10-19-08-19-edit-Edit

It was SO FUN playing around with this product and getting cool effects like this (using one of my favorites, Color Stylizer):

tulip_festival_034-edit-Edit

I had a blast using this product and feel like I’ve found a new reason to use my favorite third party add-in directly from Photoshop. It was such a joy to use that I can’t recommend it enough. If you already own Color Efex the good news is that this plug-in is free, but if you are only a Lightroom user then this is a MUST HAVE addition to your Lightroom workflow. Don’t believe me? Try it out for 15 days and I’ll bet you can’t live without it. This product cost me $250 when I bought it and I’ve never once regretted purchasing it. It is really that good and this upgrade makes it even better – period!

NOTE: A 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades, but even if you buy an excluded product please include the code when ordering.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wacom announces new Intuos4 Pen Tablet

You can view a quick intro video here, but the main highlight is the new wheel that can replace the functionality of your Logitech SpaceNavigator (handy for fast brush size adjustments in Photoshop). It also features LED’s to display text along side the buttons, and a more sensitive stylus. It can also be flipped so it works for left and right hand users, and its digital LED text will flip for your orientation.

You can learn more about which size is right for you by using this guide.

You can order one now from Amazon in the following sizes:

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sandisk Rebates are back

For those of you who missed out on the Sandisk rebates last time, they are back:

3 Pack Links Price for 3 Rebate for 3 Final Cost for 3 Final Cost Per Card
SanDisk 16 GB Extreme III Compact Flash Memory Card $ 288 $ 90 $ 198 $ 66
SanDisk 4 GB Extreme III Compact Flash Memory Card $ 93 $ 60 $ 33 $ 11
SanDisk 8 GB Extreme III Compact Flash Memory Card (my favorite card) $ 146 $ 80 $ 66 $ 22
SanDisk 16 GB Extreme IV Compact Flash Memory Card $ 575 $ 200 $ 375 $ 125
SanDisk 4 GB Extreme IV Compact Flash Memory Card. $ 180 $ 90 $ 90 $ 30
SanDisk 8 GB Extreme IV Compact Flash Memory Card. $ 332 $ 200 $ 132 $ 44
SanDisk 4 GB, Extreme III Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Memory Card, Class 6 $ 120 $ 60 $ 60 $ 20
SanDisk 8 GB, Extreme III Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Memory Card. $ 204 $ 90 $ 114 $ 38
SanDisk 4 GB, Extreme III Secure Digital (SDHC) Memory Card. $ 84 $ 60 $ 24 $ 8
SanDisk 8 GB, Extreme III Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Memory Card. $ 147 $ 90 $ 57 $ 19

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

REVIEW: Alien Skin Software BlowUP 2

Blow Up 2 Box ShotFor those who print their own images, you probably frequently turn to onOne Software’s Genuine Fractals for resizing their images to the desired output size. However, those of you who read my review for Genuine Fractals 6 back in December saw that the king has lost a little of its edge to the (almost) new kid in town – Alien Skin's BlowUP 2.

In that original article, which turned into a mini shoot out, I used this image of the Capitol of Texas in Austin:

Click for the originalI then used several different products / techniques for increasing the image to 200%.  The clear winner was Alien Skin BlowUP 2. The following image shows how good the 200% upsizing was using a 100% crop (refer to my previous review for other examples):

Click to see full 200% image

All I can say is WOW - that's good! This was with its default settings and no sharpening as shown here in its UI (which renders the results in near real-time):

Click to view the Alien SkinBlowup 2 User Interface

Alien Skin claims it can upsize to 400% which is hard to believe, but I tried it and sure enough the results are amazing. Click here to see the 400% image, but warning its a huge file (compressed using JPEG 10, so there are some compression artifacts).

Why is Alien Skin BlowUP so good?

The reason why this product is so good is because it has looked at the issue of resizing differently than any of its competitors. When BlowUP resizes an image, it first detects all of the edges and converts them into a vector image. The resize occurs and the vector is flattened which results in perfect edge retention. To put this in more concrete terms, its basically the same technique used by ClearType fonts on your computer versus old raster-based fonts of the past that would look jaggy at certain sizes.

Printing

As was the case with the Genuine Fractals 6 review, my emphasis on this product is resizing for screen. However, I have sent off a 200% image for printing and will report back if the results are anything but perfect. Given how great the image looks on screen (which is MUCH less forgiving than print), I fully expect the results to be wonderful.

Conclusion

I’ve been using Alien Skin's BlowUP 2 almost exclusively for the last couple months and the only area I can complain about is the fact that I have hit out of memory errors a few time. I ultimately discovered I had to set my Photoshop memory settings to 100% on my 3GB 32-bit Vista machine to make those errors go away in CS4 (they happened much less in CS3). Beyond that this product has been smoking fast and a pleasure to use. I can say, without reservation, that I highly recommend this product as the best resizing tool on the market that I have seen to date!

Special Offer

Sadly Alien Software has discontinued all coupon codes for all sites, but you can continue to support this blog by purchasing using this link.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sweet new Elinchrom Lighting Kits

Elinchrom Head

Elinchrom has released some sweet new compact lights called the BXRI series (offered in 500 & 250 watt versions). You can view a PDF on them here, and there’s more info on their web site.

BH Elinchrom Kit

B&H has the full kit for only $1550 which includes 2 500 watt monolights, skyport wireless transmitters, 2 softboxes, light stands, sync cords, and cases. I want this kit!

You can save $100 by getting this kit, which is the same thing except a 500/250 watt combo instead of two 500’s.  However, I think it’s worth the extra $100 for the two 500’s. If you are really strapped for cash, they even offer a two 250 watt kit, but I think you’d be penny-wise, pound foolish getting that kit as you’ll grow out of it quickly.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Introducing a new Photo Blog

To celebrate the 1 year anniversary of this blog (a bit late) and the 100th post (even later :-), I’ve decided to create a new photo blog. It’s for times when I feel like talking about a photo capture that I enjoyed or learned something from. Since the posts are short, my goal is to post a little more frequently. It will be an open forum, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts and constructive criticism via post comments on that site! Thanks for your support!

P.S. For those who are wondering, this won’t impact what I do on this site – this blog will keep going (and growing – thanks) as it has been.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My experience printing a Photo Book from Shutterfly

View

I was lucky enough to get an offer from Shutterfly for a “free” 8x8 20 page photo book. I took them up on this offer, and after shipping it ended up being $8.71 for regular shipping to Seattle (seems high for about a 8 oz package).

Building the Book

Making the book using the software at Shutterfly was okay for beginners, but I found myself wishing for more (but not enough to to through the hassle of doing it myself). Overall it worked fine with only one issue – the text was nearly impossible to read on my 1920x1200 resolution monitor. This made proofing text overly challenging. I just had to hope I didn’t make any mistakes because I couldn’t read it very well (even using Windows Vista’s Magnifier tool). You can see the results here and the problem I’m talking about if you have a higher res monitor.

Color Issue

Even though I went through my photo book images and turned off VividPics, I still got a bit of an orange cast from my images I upload to Shutterfly. Here was Shutterfly’s response to my inquiry:

Dear Shutterfly Customer,

Thank you for contacting Shutterfly.

Did you edit the image as an AdobeRGB? Since it looks to me when I check the file data that it's not a sRGB which is the optimal profile for the images. If you use a AdobeRGB or other vender specific image format we have to convert the image to the sRGB color space and that can cause the colors to shift slightly.

Our imaging scientist here at Shutterfly wrote down some thoughts on how to use Shutterfly as part of users color managed workflow.

First some background information.

We run a fully-automated Silver Halide and Digital Offset printing facility with multiple machines of either kind. We constantly monitor our machines and keep them within 2-3 DeltaE_94 of each other. We have many production processes in place to ensure this level of accuracy. You are right, based on paper and native printing technologies, there will be some differences in color. But let me assure you that the differences are minimal; the color reproduction differences between the glossy and matte papers is less than 2.0 DeltaE_94.

I would encourage you run your own test - but remember, turn off VividPics - to measure color accuracy. Save your original image as an sRGB image and order different size products from us. Ideally you should print color patches and measure the Lab values using a spectrophotometer. For an independent test of color accuracy, please also see last June/July issue of MacWorld where they performed similar tests on online photofinishers and ranked Shutterfly as the best.

There are three things that happen to images printed through Shutterfly:

  1. We interpret the RGB pixels as sRGB
  2. We do automatic color enhancement and adjustment (we call this VividPics processing)
  3. Finally, we print the images on color managed sRGB printers

For people interested in getting accurate colors on prints from Shutterfly, you will need to do the following:

  1. Either calibrate your monitor to be sRGB or use monitor profiles for soft proofing your images.
  2. Save the images as sRGB
  3. After uploading to Shutterfly, turn off step #2 above, i.e. turn off VividPics.

Here are the steps for doing this to a group of images in a single album:
a. Select all pictures in your album

b. Go to the "View & Enhance" tab (top left after "Add Pictures")

c. Select any one of your pictures

d. Select the "Effects" tab on the right hand side

e. You should come to a screen which has a check box w/ "Don't apply automatic correction to picture" on the left bottom. check that box.

f. then click on "Apply this effect to other pictures" right above it.
This will turn off VividPics on all your pictures in that album and you will therefore get accurate sRGB colors on the final prints.

All our printers are calibrated to be sRGB printers - the profile therefore for these printers is just the industry standard sRGB profiles. For more information on sRGB, feel free to check out these web pages:

The link http://www.color.org/srgbprofiles.html should take you straight to the ICC profile download page. If it doesn't work remove the "/srgbprofiles.html" part and then go to the dropdown “resources” and choose “profiles” there you should see an option for sRGB.

*If you turn off VividPics*, all our printers will produce sRGB colors accurately.

If you are not getting exact colors. We can hypothesize on two reasons that come to mind:

  1. Different profile building software have different biases in them. At the end of the day, each software has a model of the final output device and builds a coarse grain look-up-table to map colors. The accuracy and bias of each software is a function of the inherent printer/output device model.
  2. The same profiling software produces slightly different colors for different output technologies (for example: RGB vs. CMYK)
    You can verify both of these by printing, say, a MacBeth chart and measuring Lab values. A MacBeth chart has standard Lab values and a comparison will show that every profiling software has some directional bias.

In addition, getting "perfect"/"spot on" colors is a very difficult task in an open color exchange environment. Communicating color accurately (i.e. having everyone speak the same color "language") and perfectly interpreting the intent of the original customer is more of black art than a science. Given these limitations we have tried to architect our infrastructure so that we can provide reasonably accurate color reproduction in a fully automated workflow, without having to do job specific setup. The costs of the latter will be prohibitive and we may not be able to provide this service in a cost effective manner.

Having said all this, we are constantly looking to improve and do have some ideas that are in the process of implementation. I cannot talk about them right now as time lines etc. are not set and we have to work within constraints of not increasing our costs, maintaining automation etc.
As for questions about using different input spaces, I don't think it will make a difference with skin tones; changing color spaces will primarily make a difference with highly saturated colors as the other spaces (e-sRGB, Adobe RGB) differ in gamut size. Skin tones lie within the gamut of all these color spaces.

One final thought: If your needs for extremely accurate color reproduction are not being met w/ the automated pipeline we are providing, it is possible for you to build profiles and manage everything locally. That way you have complete control. In order to do this, just print your targets through us (after turning VividPics off) and build profiles with your own profiling software. That way, the biases of your own profiling software will be accurately compensated for in your prints. Keep in mind that we maintain our printers within ~2.0-2.5 deltaE so that day after day you will get very consistent reproduction.

Hope this reasonably addresses any color questions that you may have about Shutterfly.

Sincerely,
Jacob
Shutterfly Customer Service

Well, I was using sRGB, on a color profiled monitor, and the results were still a bit of an orange cast. I never heard back from Shutterfly after this, nor was I offered any sort of re-print or further assistance.

Book Quality

The quality of the pages and binding was excellent, and I was pleased that it arrived without any damage (the box seemed sufficient) and was wrapped in plastic to avoid rashes from the box itself. The quality of the paper and book over was very good (actually much better than I expected).

Conclusion

Overall I felt like this is something that will be very good for the average user, especially busy soccer mom’s who are too busy to scrapbook, but still want something nice. I recommend this product for people who fall into this category, but not for photographers selling their work to third parties. The quality is good, but not that good. I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of their free book deal again, but I would try another site like blurb.com if I was paying full price.

Shutterfly.com

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Finally, a Lightroom 2 Add-In that doesn’t suck!

If you are like me, you’ve tried a few Lightroom 2 add-ins, only to discover they quite honestly suck. They crash or they simply launch Photoshop, so if you don’t have Photoshop then you’re screwed. Well, tonight I finally downloaded the Viveza for Lightroom 2.0 add-in (free for existing Viveza users) and am happy to report that it doesn’t suck!!!!!

Here’s how it works (and how it’s different from the average add-in):

  1. Select the photo you wish to modify
  2. Choose Edit In (usually from a right click) and choose Viveza
  3. You’ll be prompted for a format to export (unfortunately, it does save a new file to disk). I tried a 16-bit ProPhoto PSD, but that failed, so I stuck with the default TIFF format on the next try.
  4. The simple to use Viveza UI comes up and you make your changes, as you would from Photoshop (but the key here is that Photoshop is NOT required).
  5. When you are done, choose save (where you’d normally say OK) and the file is saved back to disk and you are returned to Lightroom.
  6. No fuss, no muss, no crashes!!!!!

I’ve already reviewed Viveza here, and I love it. I use it quite often, so I’m pleased to be able to use it with Lightroom now. Here’s a really bad photo I had of “Chub the Frog” (my kids pet frog) taken inside his filthy dirty plastic home (the kids insisted that we not take him out):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

Even though the odds were against me (hover over to see the before), I managed to save this muddy photo into something reasonable using ONLY Lightroom 2.3 and Viveza 1.0! A special thanks goes out to Chub the Frog and my kids for participating in this article! :-)

NOTE: A 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

REVIEW: Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers

So if you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Scott Kelby books. The reason why is simple Scott Kelby knows his stuff and even better he knows how to get to the point and describe things in a way that the average schmoe can understand. His books are filled with pictures and well organized which makes them some of the easiest books to read on the planet.

Do I really need this book? I already know everything about Lightroom!

I thought I knew Lightroom very well. I’ve used it nearly every day since it first came out, and I’ve even taught classes to show people how to use it. It is for this reason that I’ve delayed getting around to reading this book and writing a review because I quite simply thought there was little to learn from it. In fact, I thought this was pretty much an idiots guide for the mentally challenged as Lightroom is a pretty easy product to use (which is why I love it so much).

If you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll notice in some I talk about my post-it flags that I mark on cool and noteworthy points in a book (i.e., stuff I want to be able to jump back to quickly). Well, in this book I had 31 and that’s  A LOT for me – especially for something I thought I knew backwards and forwards! Well done Mr. Kelby for opening my eyes to some really cool stuff I never knew existed in Lightroom 2!

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here's my thoughts on each chapter of this book:

Chapter 1 – Importing

ImportRenameThis chapter starts off with the mind numbing obvious stuff that I thought would fill this book. However, for the sake of discovering something new I always force myself to read every word of every page rather than just skipping to chapter 2 (or realistically chapter 3). However, I only had to get to page 10 before I learned something new - you can edit the names in the import photos dialog as shown in the blue highlight above.

Of course, I was still skeptical that’d I’d learn much from this chapter, but then page 19 comes along and BAM – he’s done it again! Scott actually took the time to show some performance data on how long the various “Initial Previews” take so you could see the cost of doing Minimal versus Standard, etc… It really makes you think about switching from the default of Minimal so I can say this little nugget of info will definitely save me some time.

Other great tips included in this chapter are the Filename Template Editor which I didn’t even know existed (and honestly don’t need), tips on tethered shooting and more. Overall, I was quite surprised and glad that I hadn’t just skipped this chapter. With this in mind, I was more determined to pay close attention to every page of this book.

Chapter 2 – Library

I live in the the Library and Develop modules of Lightroom, so I know them pretty well. Once again, I found myself pretty surprised when I learned about a VERY COOL feature I never realized existed on page 63 – you can drag and drop photos onto the keyword list and that keyword will be assigned to them – SWEET! I had no idea! Page 64 was even better when it showed how you could nest keyword groups (i.e., think Travel keyword has keywords under it for locations you’ve travelled) – AWESOME! This entirely changes the way I plan to do keywording now and makes me less intimidated about how to fix my stack of photos that still need good keywords.

Another cool thing I learned in this chapter is that if your photos have been geotagged (i.e., the GPS field in the Metadata pane has coordinates) then you can click the arrow in the field and it will take you to Google Maps to show where the photo was taken – useless, but cool!

Last, but not least, if you hold the Alt (Option) key when clicking the plus (+) button in the Create Smart Collection dialog, it will allow you to further refine your sort criteria – sweet!

Once again, this ended up being a much better chapter than expected and definitely worth the read.

Chapter 3 – Customizing

This is the chapter where I expected to learn some cool new stuff, and to my surprise – I didn’t. This was mostly a chapter on the meaningless customization you can do in Photoshop (i.e., changing the identity plate, flourishes, etc…). Oh well, Kelby keeps me guessing again!

My recommendation – this is one chapter you can skip unless you REALLY care about rebranding your copy of Lightroom (i.e., you frequently show clients your Lightroom window).

Chapter 4 – Editing Essentials

This chapter dives into the Develop module and this is where Kelby starts showing how to do some really cool stuff in Lightroom that most of us would typically make a visit to Photoshop to accomplish. I strongly urge you to follow along with his samples for this chapter as you’ll be amazed at what you can do when you follow along.

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The first really cool thing I learned in this chapter is a trick where if you have blue skies and you crank your recovery up (say to 100) it will add more detail to your clouds and slightly darken your blue sky as shown above in the picture of Dublin Castle I took last Fall.

The next really cool thing was to see how to do what Kelby calls the “Gritty Portrait” look from within Lightroom (whereas I would normally go to Photoshop to do this). As you can see from the example below it creates an effect that you don’t typically see people getting from just using Lightroom!

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One feature that blew me away that I had never heard of before was Auto Sync. Let’s just say that if you find yourself taking lots of similar shots (i.e., wedding photos, studio shots, etc…) then page 158 will introduce you to a very cool non-discoverable feature!

Finally he finishes with yet another cool preset called the Desaturate with Color Snap on page 161. I tried it out on one of my recent photos I took this February on my honeymoon and I was very happy with the results:

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Chapter 5 – Local Adjustments

If you know anything about Lightroom 2.x, you know that the big new feature is local adjustments. This is huge too because you can actually do a lot of work now that would have required Photoshop in the past. For example, Kelby shows how to use a –100 saturation brush to create the popular desaturated background look(a.k.a., Sin City movie look) as I’ve done here with my photo:

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This was done entirely in Lightroom using an adjustment brush (with the handy “Auto Mask” feature turned on around the edges of the car and sign) in about 5 minutes.

While reading this chapter it was also great to discover that you can press the letter ‘O’ as a shortcut to show the mask being applied while painting – that alone was nearly worth the cost of this book in my mind!

This chapter is great for those new to Lightroom because it shows other popular examples of how to soften skin, fix eyes, fake a Graduated Neutral Density filter, and much more.

This is definitely a chapter that every Lightroom 2 reader should read carefully.

Chapter 6 – Problem Photos

This chapter was a bit disappointing given the title because I expected more cool stuff like I had seen in the previous chapter, but it ends up being a lot of Develop tab 101 stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good chapter for those unfamiliar with Lightroom, but for seasoned vets this is old news.

One cool tip mentioned is Kelby’s secret recipe for his Sharpen – High preset (Amount: 125, Radius: 1.0, Detail: 75, Masking: 0) which I found to be quite nice. If you have a noisy photo, then you’ll want to boost Masking from 80 to 100 to avoid sharpening the noise.

Chapter 7 – Exporting Images

Again, we’ve got another Lightroom 101 chapter, but worth reading none-the-less. An interesting note here is that no matter what Kelby does with sharpening in Lightroom, he always turns on the Output Sharpening with Glossy/High for prints and Screen/Standard. I’ve found that this rarely results in oversharpening, so I agree with his recommendations.

Chapter 8 – Jumping to Photoshop

For those who own Photoshop, you’ll find this chapter to be handy but once again it’s Lightroom 101 stuff. The good news is that he’s got some cool Photoshop tricks, so if you haven’t read his other books then you’ll love this chapter.

The cool discovery for me in this chapter was the “Synchronize Folder” feature which I didn’t realize existed. The gist of it is if you’ve done file management to a folder outside of Lightroom, then you can use this feature to get Lightroom back in sync (without re-importing).

Chapter 9 – Gorgeous B&W

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This was a fun chapter because Kelby shows some neat tricks for getting great black and white photos. Both of the photos shown here were processed entirely in Lightroom 2.3 using the methods that Kelby describes in this chapter.

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Chapter 10 – Slideshow

The rest of the chapters of this book were less helpful to me as I tend to avoid the last three modules, but once again Kelby does a great job of showing how to build a cool template which I now intend to use from time to time when showing people photos on my computer.

Chapter 11 – Print

I have long given up on printing myself and outsource my photos to Smugmug for fantastic prints. However, I gained a new appreciation for the improvements Lightroom 2 has made. I enjoyed creating some useful templates for sending to PDF’s or JPEG’s for other purposes. Seriously, this is good stuff even if you don’t own a printer!

Chapter 12 – Web

Okay, I’ll tell you now that this is the most useless feature of Lightroom but Kelby does a decent job of trying to make the best of it. The reality is that this feature just flat out sucks, so I say ignore it and go use Smugmug.

Chapter 13 – Portrait Workflow & Chapter 14 – Travel Workflow

I grouped these together because they are fairly similar. Again, Kelby tries hard to use all three modules, but the reality is you should use use Smugmug instead of the Web module. I found these chapters to be interesting, but not extraordinarily useful.

Here’s how I edit my workflow. I’m not saying mine is much better (and honestly it is a little outdated on the web site), but it offers an alternate viewpoint.

Bonus Chapter – Wedding Workflow Video

This is excellent because you get to see a real workflow from capture to completion. It ends up being a video of much of what you’ve read in the book, so it acts as a great reinforcement for new Lightroom users.

When Scott moves from the shoot to Lightroom it is a little more tricky to hear him because the audio isn’t that great, but just turn your speakers up and pay attention!

I found it is best viewed at 100% in Quicktime which makes the text a bit small, but at 200% the text gets a little jaggie.

Conclusion

Skill Level: All
Value: Excellent
Recommendation: Must Own. Everyone who owns a DSLR should own Lightroom, and if you own Lightroom you owe it to yourself to own this book. It’s simply fantastic, even for those like me who thought there wasn’t much more to learn about this awesome photo management software. You can learn enough from this book to delay purchasing Photoshop a bit longer (and some indefinitely) and that alone makes it worth the cover price.

For those who follow my blog, this book is now being added to my popular Which Books Should I Read article. It’s that good!

Support this blog by ordering this book directly from Peachpit.com here (which includes FREE online access with Safari books) or from Amazon.com by using the link at the beginning of the article.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Canon FINALLY Admits 1D-Mark III AF was still flawed

When my Canon 1D-Mark III’s AF hits its target the results are awesome, BUT that seems to be about 65% of the time which negates any benefit in performance you get from this crazy expensive camera. Canon today finally admitted that they have figured out the AF issues (of course we’ve heard that before) and issued a new firmware update to address the issue.

Canon has also created a new web site just for the Canon 1D-Mark III autofocus.

DPReview.com reports that Canon will be working with owners and local stores to ensure that AF issues are addressed in all 1D-Mark III and 1Ds-Mark III bodies.

I’m looking forward to seeing if Rob Galbraith’s article gets updated to discuss this latest “fix”. For now, there’s only a short blurb.

Let’s pray that Canon fixes this because this is a great camera that has been marred by a senseless bug!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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