Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Canon 7D Now Shipping from Amazon & Adorama

 
Photo Copyright 2009 Canon USA

Canon has announced the release of a competitor to the Nikon D700 and an alternative (not replacement for) to the full-frame 5D Mark II. DPReview has a great preview article as does Rob Galbraith.

UPDATED: September 29, 2009 – I have confirmed reports that this body is now shipping.

Adorama is offering Canon 7D body only and Canon 7D Kit, and Amazon is as well:

Lens Announcements

Canon also announced a replacement for my much loved 100mm macro lens that features a new IS system. Read more about the 100mm f/2.8L Hybrid IS lens here, and order on Adorama. They also announced a EF-S 15-85mm IS, and EF-S 18-135mm IS for cropped sensor cameras like the 7D.

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, September 25, 2009

onOne Software Photo Essentials 3 (20% off and Free Upgrade)

PhotoEssentials3

If you’ve lusted after onOne Software’s plug-in suite but didn’t have Photoshop, you may be thrilled to know that Photo Essentials 3 for Photoshop Elements has a lot of similar technology for a fraction of the cost. Photo Essentials 3 is a collection of five tools that correct color, remove unwanted backgrounds, add photographic effects and enlarge photos. Using the new Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 (Windows / Mac), onOne’s Photo Essentials 3.0 offers these capabilities:

  • New Photo Essentials Palette – The Palette provides quick access to all five modules from a single location right inside Photoshop Elements.
  • Make It Cool – New in Essentials 3, this offers a library with dozens of professional effects that can be added to images in one click.
  • Make It Better – Turn your snapshots into professional images. Automatically fix brightness, contrast, color and sharpness with no need to understand cryptic sliders.
  • Cut It Out – Easily remove an unwanted background while maintaining fine detail such as hair, clouds and glass.
  • Frame It – Choose from hundreds of easy to add edge and border effects to give pictures the perfect finishing touch.
  • Enlarge It – Get sharp, poster sized prints out of your photos, even from camera phones

In addition, this product is super easy to use. Click here to learn more about Photo Essentials.

The best part is if you order the current version using the 20% RMART20 discount code from this blog on the Discount Coupon Code page, you can be one of the first people to get the updated Version 3 FREE when it ships. onOne Software’s Photo Essentials 3 will be available in October 2009 for $69.99. Customers who purchase Photo Essentials 2 on or after September 24, 2009 will receive a complimentary upgrade to Photo Essentials 3 as an electronic download for free.

Here’s a picture of the onOne shopping cart with the coupon code box highlighted (NOTE: the code shown in the picture does not apply to this offer).

If you already have Photoshop, a special promo price for Plug-in Suite has been extended. Read here for details. If not, then Amazon has a great deal that features a $20 discount rebate off the prices shown below when you pre-order. It’s a great for those just getting started!

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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

REVIEW: Nikon Capture NX 2 (compared against Adobe Lightroom 2.5) – Update Sept. 26, 2009

Nikon’s Capture NX2 is a product made using technology licensed under contract by my favorite add-in vendor Nik Software. I decided to take time to see if Capture NX2 is more of the magic that seems to make the Nik Software products so great, or if it was merely the bastard step-child that is plagued with the problems that you typically see in software from hardware manufacturers.

NOTE: This is not a review of Adobe Lightroom 2. I am reviewing Capture NX2 and using Lightroom 2.5 as the baseline for comparison purposes.

Capture NX2 – The Pros

Capture NX2 UI - Click for a larger version

I’ll admit, Capture NX2 is cool! There’s some great stuff included in the box and the value seems too good to be true. In fact, the average Joe could easily argue that you only need Capture NX2 to save yourself the expense of owning Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Truth be told, you probably could, but at what cost? I’ll get to that later, but first lets look at what is cool about Capture NX2:

  • It can read your NEF files. Yes, if you don’t have other software that can do this, then you’ll depend heavily on Capture NX2 as it is critically important to have a RAW file processor in your digital workflow.
  • It can mimic your in camera features. Yes, it is true that when shooting RAW you can save lots of time if you can use software that mimics the results you could have obtained had you shot JPEG, and Capture NX2 can do that very well in its Camera Settings Panel. You can change the white balance, picture mode, in-camera sharpening and Active D-Lighting, on the fly and see immediate results which mimic what your camera would have done in JPEG mode – cool.
  • Metadata and XMP/IPTC Support – Anything coming from or sponsored by a camera manufacturer should have this, but its treatment here is decent.
  • Noise Reduction and Sharpening Support – While the Noise Reduction isn’t as good as Dfine and the Sharpening isn’t as good as Sharpener Pro, what is here is way better than what you find in Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2. 
  • Distortion Control – This feature seemed to work fairly well in its default form and would be useful for wide angle lenses.
  • Color Control Point – This is the most powerful feature in Capture NX2 because it is the same thing you get with Nik Software’s Viveza, but unfortunately it doesn’t work quite as well due to subtle differences that favor Viveza. For example, Viveza features better negative control points and much better intelligent masking for large regions.
  • Auto Retouch Brush – Photoshop calls this the Healing Brush and Lightroom calls it the Spot/Healing brush. While this version is slower, it works fairly well for touchups like removing the label on the apple in the picture above.
  • UPDATE: Non-destructive editing of your NEF files – When I first used Capture NX and it would prompt me to save changes to my NEF files I’d say NO because I didn’t want to destroy my original. However, like DNG files, it seems that the changes you make are stored in the NEF file but without destroying the original as the contents of the Develop Edit List (see the curves histogram area in the image above). The only gotcha is that the changes seem to be additive so my files appeared to grow with each change.

Capture NX2 – The Cons

Click for a larger version

I’m a computer programmer by trade and any piece of complex software is going to have bugs – it’s just a fact that as software grows its impossible to test every permutation of the product. However, some products are more buggy than others. Now to be clear, when I say “bug” I don’t just mean software that crashes, I also mean user-interface features that just don’t work very well (i.e., text getting clipped, title bar controls getting hidden under panels, etc…). This product has these problems in numbers too great to count. It seems that every time I set out to accomplish a task, I discover a new bug I hadn’t encountered before. In fact, I’ve come to enjoy discovering that the latest quirk is as it amazes me one product could have so many easy to find bugs and still charge money for it! Here’s some other quirks I observed:

  • Capture NX2 can be very slow at times. Many operations require waiting instead of real-time feedback, which for things like Curves or before/after comparisons is unacceptable.
  • There seems to be a more aggressive highlight clipping alert in Capture NX2 than in Adobe Camera Raw 5.5 or Lightroom 2.5. This can result in making modifications that underexpose the image.
  • It runs out of memory fairly easily on my 32-bit Windows Vista system with 3GB of RAM. It’s the only program to ever give me a Out of Memory error besides a few select Photoshop Add-ins.
  • The UI docking story is horrific. If you don’t go mad switching between metadata displayed and not, then you are a very patient person.
  • The undo “step” system is the most confusing, horrible design I’ve ever seen. Frequently I’d go to a previous step to tweak a setting only to see my healing brush changes removed because I forgot that caused a reverse walk in the history stack. I absolutely despised this design. Lightroom is light years ahead with its history pane.

File Management

Capture NX 2 File Browser Lightroom 2.5 Library View
Capture NX2 - Click for a larger view... Lightroom 2.5 - Click for a larger view...

There’s no comparison here as even Adobe Bridge CS4 has clear advantages over Capture NX2, and Lightroom 2.5 beats them both by a substantial margin. With support for easy filtering, advanced key wording, more batch editing options, superior triaging options, and fast search Lightroom 2 is the clear winner. The only advantage Capture NX2 offers is the lack of a requirement to import photos (which Lightroom needs for its database based file management system), but I found it to be useless as a file management system as it offers very little beyond what the operating system offers. 

Image Editing

While I’m more experienced using Lightroom 2.5, I’m also spending a lot of time in Photoshop and Nik Software products so I didn’t feel totally lost in Capture NX2. With that said, I played around with various features and tried to come up with what felt like a good result in each product. This isn’t scientific because the products aren’t directly comparable. However, using the tools and my subjective opinion in each product, here’s my results: (click each for a larger version)

Capture NX2 Photo Edit

Lightroom 2.5 Edit

Capture NX2’s strengths were:

  • A far superior healing brush solution. Lightroom’s spot version was terrible in comparison.
  • Local edits were faster and more powerful.
  • Its more aggressive highlight warnings were awkward to use but resulted in a less overblown image (the image above had no warnings in LR).
  • Superior Noise Reduction and Chromatic Aberration control
  • Easier to darken the exposure on the countertop at the top of the picture. Lightroom’s Gradient control sucks.

Lightroom 2.5’s strengths were:

  • Speed – it’s always immediate results
  • Sharpening was easier to use
  • White balance was easier to achieve (which surprised me because NX2’s system is more advanced)
  • Editing time was about 10% of that in NX2 which is partially my experience but a big part is the design of its Develop tab and presets
  • Post Crop Vignette – I could add one as shown in the image.
  • Undo persists across sessions, and snapshots allow for more experimentation
  • Virtual copies offer flexibility for radical different interpretations or crop of an image without incurring any disk space overhead
  • Support for add-ins
  • Additional modules (print, slideshow & web) offer much more features

In the end, with a little more experience I could get better results with Capture NX2 than I did here. However, i don’t think I could get better results than Lightroom 2.5 except in the areas of local adjustments where NX2 clearly shines. I do think Lightroom will always be faster given its presets concept and easier to use interface. In addition, Lightroom has a larger series of plug-ins available for it which makes its feature set grow when paired with these third party products.

RAW Processing – In-Camera vs Capture NX2 vs Adobe Camera RAW 5.5

The real advantage people perceive as a benefit of owning Nikon’s Capture NX2 (or Canon’s DPP) is that they will get RAW processing designed by the manufacture and in theory the best possible result. To test this theory I did a comparison of my own using an in-camera JPEG taken with the Standard picture mode. I then opened the NEF up in Capture NX2 and Lightroom 2.5 (which uses Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.5) and set the picture mode to Standard and simply exported minimal compression jpeg’s.

Below it is hard to tell much difference, but it does seem that the In-Camera version is brighter than the others with the darkest being the Capture NX2 version. You can click the images for larger file versions so you may do your own comparisons.

In-Camera JPEG

Capture NX2 Raw Conversion

In-Camera JPEG - Click for larger version... Capture NX2 Raw Conversion - Click for larger version...
Lightroom 2.5/ACR 5.5 Raw Conversion Lightroom 2.5/ACR 5.5 Raw Conversion - Click for larger version...
100% Crops

To really tell if there’s much difference you need to look carefully at a 100% crop, and the reality is they are all pretty darn close. The In-Camera JPEG had more sharpening and less noise than the others, but that’s expected as RAW images have minimal processing. It appears to my eyes that the Lightroom/ACR version was a slight bit sharper, but that can be easily corrected in both products.

The net result is that I couldn’t observe any advantage in Capture NX2 over Adobe Camera Raw 5.5/Lightroom 2.5. Click the images below to see larger versions.

In-Camera JPEG

Capture NX2 Raw Conversion

In-Camera - Click for a larger version... Capture NX2 - Click for a larger version...

Lightroom 2.5/ACR 5.5 Raw Conversion

 
Lightroom - Click for a larger version...  
File Sizes

Another comparison I did was on file size, and ironically the Capture NX2 image was the largest which implies the least compression, but I’m not sure what caused the difference (i.e., image data versus metadata –vs- a poor compression algorithm). The in-camera image ironically had the smallest file size despite setting the D700 to maximum quality. It also had the sharpest image, whereas the largest file from Capture NX2 was the softest (by a small margin).

File Description File Size
In-Camera JPEG 4,120,795 bytes
Capture NX2 4,242,144 bytes
Lightroom 2.5 JPEG 4,123,104 bytes

Conclusion

When you start digging into the Capture NX2 to see what it really offers, you’ll find that Adobe Lightroom (and even Apple Aperture) offer similar features in a more reliable package. When paired with Nik’s Software’s Complete Collection for Lightroom (click link for product reviews), you have everything that is good about NX2 in a more robust environment that works faster and more effectively than what you can have with Capture NX2, albeit for a much larger price tag. With that in mind, the question becomes – should you invest in Capture NX2 at all? My contention is no. While NX2 is cheaper, Lightroom 2.5 is a far superior file management system which offers great speed and features (like persistent undos, snapshots & virtual copies) due to its underlying design which uses a database. In short, you get what you pay for. Capture NX2 doesn’t suck and will work if you can’t afford Lightroom but I don’t believe it offers anything unique like better RAW file processing.

Price

There’s no mistaking that Capture NX2 is a decent value at over $100 less than Lightroom 2. To get parity with some of Capture NX2’s features, Lightroom owners would have to purchase Nik’s Software’s Complete Collection for Lightroom. Even with the discount on my Discount Coupon Code page, it is still $254.99 (as of the time of this writing - price subject to change) which is more than Lightroom itself. As a result, the better solution I recommend is a big jump up in price which will make some wonder if they should just buy Adobe Photoshop CS4? However, Photoshop wouldn’t include the Complete Collection and the combination of Lightroom 2 with the Complete Collection is one that would make Photoshop unnecessary for all but the most faithful Photoshop diehards.  For some, price will be a major issue but I feel that the superior file management and additional features of Lightroom 2, even without Nik’s Software’s Complete Collection for Lightroom make it a far better overall solution.

I shoot Nikon, so I need Capture NX2

Those who are new to DSLR photography quickly learn that shooting RAW format (NEF files in Nikon) is a good thing because you are getting all of the data stored in the sensor so the flexibility of what you can do with white balance, exposure, etc… in a non-destructive way during post processing is fantastic. Of course, the first exposure any Nikon owner will have to RAW processing software is an ad for Capture NX2 in the box with their camera which might prompt them to check out the cool Capture NX2 web site. To the newbie, the site is really cool and you quickly learn about the power of RAW and U-Point technology (called Control Points on Nikon’s site). It’s really cool stuff, so you think – wow, I’ve gotta have this so I can make my pictures look great! Hopefully you’ve seen in this article, that isn’t the case as there seems to be little advantage to the RAW processing in NX2 versus Lightroom.

Sorry Ron, I already own Capture NX2 and I’m not switching

Okay, I know I won’t convince some existing NX2 owners to switch to what I believe is a better solution, however I think you’d enjoy your copy of Capture NX2 MUCH more if you considered owning Color Efex for Capture NX.  Why? Well start by checking out my Color Efex for Lightroom review which also references another review. All of the features shown in that article as well as my digital reflector article can be accomplished using Color Efex Complete for Capture NX2. Unfortunately none of the other great add-ins found in the Nik’s Software’s Complete Collection for Lightroom are offered for Capture NX.

Hey Ron, I shoot Canon, what about Canon’s DPP?

I shoot Canon too and I won’t be reviewing DPP because it is a free product -- and that’s almost too much to pay for it. While it is great because it offers access to additional metadata not available in Lightroom (like AF point location) and much better file management than Capture NX2, it still sucks pretty bad. I applaud Canon for including it along with other more useful tools like the EOS Utility, but it doesn’t even come close to what Capture NX2 or Lightroom offer. 

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, September 23, 2009

onOne Software offers $150 off Plug-In Suite 4.5

Use code RONM15 to Save $150

In addition to its normal discounts on my discount coupon code page, onOne Software is now offering blog readers a special $150 off Plug-In Suite 4.5 until September 30th when you use the discount coupon code RONM15.

Here’s a picture that shows you how you to use the code in the Coupon Code section on the onOne site:

Click for a larger image

Check out some cool videos to learn more about the products included in this product.

Enlarging Images
Watch Now
Genuine Fractals 6
Professional Edition
Photographic Effects
Watch Now
PhotoTools 2
Professional Edition
Edges & Adornments

Watch Now

PhotoFrame 4
Professional Edition
Selective Focus

Watch Now

Focal Point 1
Removing Backgrounds

Watch Now

Mask Pro 4
Color Correction

Watch Now

PhotoTune 2

If you have trouble viewing these videos, please click here for an alternate site.

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, September 20, 2009

REVIEW: Nik Software Sharpen Pro for Photoshop, Lightroom & Aperture

sp3_boxIf I had to summarize this article, I’d say this is really a story of a discovery of the most misunderstood product in the Nik Collection by Google. It’s a fantastic product that requires a solid understanding of its feature set, so you don’t just run this filter and hit OK. As a result if you own it or have tried the demo and were disappointed with the results, please read on as this article will enlighten you on what you and I (until recently) have missed.

When to Sharpen in your Workflow

Don’t even think about sharpening until you are 100% done with the processing of your image. You should be done with all noise reduction, exposure/color adjustments, filters, etc… and have completed your final crop/resizing. Sharpening is your last step to prepare your image to look its best for a specific targeted output (a display device for the web, a small or large print, etc…). In fact, Nik Software has products for all stages of your workflow and output sharpening falls at the end of that group.

I highly recommend you perform noise reduction as your very first step and sharpening the very last step.

A Word about Changing the Settings and Zoom

In other products, if you do sharpening you are always reminded to zoom to 100% when doing sharpening. However, in Sharpener Pro I don’t recommend that you do that. Instead, I suggest you zoom to a level that represents how you will be looking at the image for your final output. For example, if you are going to be doing a huge print and could see it up close then sure zoom to 100%. However, if you are going to be doing a print and you aren’t going to be staring at it under a microscope, then don’t view it at 100% when sharpening. I say this because sharpening is much like anti-aliasing on fonts where at 100% the fonts will look terrible with anti-aliasing, but the enhancements made at a distance will make the text more clear and legible (like in the case of ClearType on Windows). At 100% you may be disappointed sometimes with the settings, but for your image on your web site or print, the settings may be perfect. However, if you pixel peep and try to do the minimal sharpening, the results on the web or in print will suffer.

Fortunately, Sharpener Pro is very good at showing real-time results (with a slight lag on my computer) of any of the settings you will change. Toggling the preview checkbox allows you to see a before and after to see just how much it has improved your image. As a result, I think you’ll find that viewing the full view and making adjustments in most cases will create the best overall results (and your images will look much better than those who pixel peep).

TIP: Nik Software products don’t have maximize buttons, but if you move the window into the top left corner of your screen and then drag the handle on the bottom right corner of the window you can fill the screen with the UI. I find this expanded view useful when doing sharpening adjustments.

Lightroom User Interface

To use the Lightroom add-in, you begin by right clicking and choosing the Sharpener Pro 3.0 feature you want to use.

The RAW pre-sharpener is for the hard core types where you’ll want to begin to do general purpose sharpening on RAW images ONLY if you have turned OFF ALL sharpening in your camera and your RAW processing software (usually Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) or Lightroom). That’s right, your camera, ACR, Lightroom, etc… ALWAYS apply some default sharpening to your images.

If you are using JPEG’s, or other sharpening on your RAW images, then the Output Sharpener is where you will want to sharpen before printing or displaying to the web. This is what most of us will use, so generally speaking you can ignore RAW sharper until you have mastered this product and wish to have greater control of your sharpening experience.

Click for a larger version...

No matter which option you chose you’ll get a similar looking dialog as shown below here:

Click for a larger version...

Generally speaking you’ll want to choose the first option – Edit a copy with Lightroom Adjustments so that all of your existing changes get included in the new file that Lightroom will create for use with Sharpener Pro. Yes, that’s right – a new file has to be created as that is the way Adobe Lightroom (not Nik Software) handles working with external editors. The good news though is that for sharpening, it should always be your last step so you’ll just created a new file for that specific output target (i.e., a 8x12 print, a web gallery, etc…).

TIP: Choose the defaults. While this dialog shows PSD, the Nik Software products can’t read that format and will crash. TIF files are huge (but fortunately non-destructive so this is better than JPEG), so leave yourself plenty of disk space. This file will be created along side your original file.

From this point everything is the same as if you were working in Photoshop (except the results are saved to the file instead of as a new layer in Photoshop). Aperture works in a similar way as Lightroom, so the same concepts should apply.

Common  User Interface (Similar in all Host Products)

For completeness, I’ll start right away by showing the RAW Presharpener user-interface. If you skipped the section above, go back and read the 2nd paragraph about this feature. It’s usage is fairly simple in that you are just setting some LIGHT sharpening to start off with. Some argue that you shouldn’t never do any sharpening to the end, and that is a sound argument, but the reality is that we like to see images that aren’t blurry even when we are working on them and we are used to some default sharpening from our cameras and import software. If you want to get some of that back in a more controlled way, this is your option but be sure to use it sparingly as the real sharpening should always be last.

RAW Presharpener - Click for a larger view...

Display Output Sharpening

Most of us these days really have one target for our images – computer displays (either locally or on web sites like Smugmug). The cost of printing every image in the digital age is cost prohibitive for most of us, so generally speaking you’ll spend most of your time accepting the default output target of Display. Here’s a shot of the user-interface in Display output, that is also taking advantage of a U-Point control to provide alternate sharpening to my face in this image (which will appear later in this article):

The user-interface has a preview window of your image which shows real-time changes and a convenient Preview checkbox, which if you clear it will show you your original image. This is a fun checkbox to toggle as you’ll be pleased with the before and after results of sharpening. You can read the help for a discussion of the rest of the UI, but the remaining items I want to call out are:

  1. Creative Sharpening – This is the most important part as it allows you to set the sharpening you want for your image. This will be discussed more later in this article.
  2. Selective Sharpening – Here you can use Control Points to add additional or remove existing sharpening from a specific area. These are easy to use masks where you just drop a control point on a color and it figures how to create a complex mask – sweet! There’s also a second type of selective sharpening called color ranges, but I’m not very fond of them so I’ll leave that as an exercise for you to discover.
  3. Loupe – The loupe is normally very useful in Nik products because it shows you a split view where your mouse is currently located that shows the before and after 100% view. However, in the case of sharpening (as mentioned earlier) you may not like the results of the 100% view so don’t get hung up on it. It’s more of a safeguard to ensure that you aren’t getting nasty artifacts which might be a problem if you are doing large prints.
  4. Brush / Save Button – If you are using Photoshop you’ll see a brush button which gives you the option to paint using a layer mask the part of your image you want the changes to be applied to, otherwise choose OK to have it applied to the whole layer. In Lightroom there’s just a save button to force Lightroom’s copy to be updated.

TIP: You can click the little check boxes next to the control points (see the orange check above) to see exactly what will be impacted by your control point. These are just layer masks so the rule that Black conceals and White reveals (which implies that grayscales in between will be semi-transparent) still apply. The little box above the orange check can be used to show ALL or hide ALL control point masks.

Controls for Print Output

Output Target – This is where you can specify which print type of device you have (which for most of us will be Display or Inkjet):

Output Target - Click for a larger view...

Viewing Distance – This I think is more of a legacy feature as Nik recommends you always use the Auto setting. However, I guess if you are putting your art in someplace small like a powder room you might want to choose one of the lower settings as shown below to avoid too much sharpening for a large print with a short viewing distance. However, my recommendation would be to use the default unless you do your own printing and you are willing to do multiple prints to experiment.

Viewing Distance - Click for a larger version...

Paper Type – Different paper types require different levels of sharpening (i.e., glossy will need less than a canvas), and the UI below shows they’ve pretty much got everything except for the hot new Metallic paper types available. Generally you’ll set this for your paper type and your good to go.

Paper Types - Click for a Larger Version...

Printer Resolution – DPI is a fairly meaningless number these days, so this is a more accurate way to apply your sharpening based on the pre-defined (or user-defined) output of your specific printer. If you are sending your prints off to a third party, a quality print house will be happy to tell you everything you want to know about their printers – including the resolution. Again, this is a set and forget option.

Printer Resolution - Click for a larger image 

After you have made your output sharpening selections you are ready to get to the fun stuff – creative sharpening.

It’s All About Creative Sharpening

What this product offers that is much different than what you can do with Lightroom or Photoshop is its Creative Sharpening features. They are also available as sliders in the UI (and on the U-Point controls) and are described as follows:

  • Output Sharpening Strength – This is like “Amount” in Lightroom or Photoshop – how much sharpening you want applied.
  • Structure – This sharpens the smooth areas between hard edges (this seems similar to Photoshop’s Threshold, but smarter).
  • Local Contrast – This sharpens small details or small edges. As far as I can tell, no other sharpening tool out there does this.
  • Focus – This is an amazing adaptive sharpening that applies more sharpening to the out of focus areas than it does the in focus areas. This is a HUGE advance over things like Focus Magic or anything in Photoshop's USM or Smart sharpening.

This is where you’ll add your own level of sharpening. In generally you’ll need to decide which (and it could be all) of the last three sliders you want to adjust to get your desired level of sharpening and then use the Output Strength to determine how much sharpening you want.

Here’s an image where despite my best efforts, the camera moved (it was resting on slanted rock) and the image ended up being very blurry. However, I loved the capture and the environment brings back great memories. As a result I wanted to try to save this shot, so I cranked up the focus to help with the blur. I increased the adaptive sharpening to have mroe of the image impacted, and then I added a little structure and local contrast. At this point, I was fairly pleased with everything except the rock in the bottom left corner, so I put a U-Point control on it and boosted the sharpening in that spot. Here's the inputs for my changes (which might be a little over done for the demo, but you can adjust to your own personal taste):

Creative Sharpening - Click for a larger version...

Below is the final output. If you hover over the image you can see the before image (after a slight pause for the download) and then mouse out to see the finished version again:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

As is the case with noise reduction, the results are very subjective. One man’s wow is another man’s yuck, so I’ve boosted the changes to make the results easier to notice. You are free to go more or less based on your taste. In addition, if you do lots of sharpening as I have for this sample, your image might lighten up a bit so keep that in mind when doing your color processing BEFORE sharpening (yeah, delete and redo your sharpening if you need to make adjustments – sharpening is ALWAYS last!).

You can see this once blurry image is now much sharper and detail can be seen in the water (or removed via U-Point control if you like the blur there). The moss, wood and rock textures make the image almost feel three dimensional now. I can attest to the fact that this image printed quite nicely on canvas after sharpening so this was a case where sharpening saved a cherished image that might have otherwise be deleted or ignored on a hard drive.

Want to see some cool videos of Sharpener Pro in Action?

I’ll admit that this is a little tricky to describe in a blog as nothing beats a real life demo. see my video entitled Photo Thoughts–Editing Seattle with Nik Software for a short but detailed demo.

Compared to Photoshop

Sharpening hasn’t changed much in Photoshop in a while, so even though I’m using CS4 the same results would apply to earlier versions. I haven’t been able to achieve better results with the Smart Sharpen filter. Here’s my settings and how they are applied via my Action:

Unsharp Mask - Click for a larger version...

  1. Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E to Merge All visible layers into a new layer
  2. Rename the layer to Sharpen
  3. Run the Unsharp Mask filter with the settings shown above (which were boosted quite high to account for the out of focus image)
  4. Edit | Fade Mode Luminosity (so the sharpening doesn’t create color halos)

Hover over the labels below the image to change to the corresponding version. There might be a slight delay while the image downloads, so be patient. Click the image to see a larger version of the currently active image.To my eyes, the Sharpener Pro image is the clear winner, especially when you look at things like my backpack straps, the tiles on the back wall and my hair:

 Hover over the text below to change to a different version
Original USM Sharpener Pro

I probably over did it on my face and should have toned it down more, but you get the general idea.

Compared to Focus Magic

While Focus Magic’s user-interface is pretty bad, initially I thought the results were okay. However, as the image below demonstrates (and remember, you can adjust to suit your taste) you have a lot more flexibility for recovering blurry images with Sharpener Pro than you do with Focus Magic. Hover over the image to see the Sharpener Pro version and mouse out to see Focus Magic again.

Mouse over to see Sharpener Pro, mouse out to see Focus Magic. Click to to see a large Focus Magic image.

So now I no longer have to be mad at the bartender in this Irish pub for taking a blurry shot – I’ve corrected it to the point where its worth of an online gallery or small print.

Conclusion

Of all of the Nik Software products I own, I have to admit that this is the last one I’ve warmed up to. While I love Nik products, I didn’t really fully understand this product before watching the videos, so the results I achieved with it were poor at best. I was so used to my fine tuned Actions for the USM filter in Photoshop and Lightroom presets, that I never really bothered to learn how to use this product. WOW, what a mistake that was! If I only would have known how to effectively use this product sooner I could have done a much better job with some shots that I loved but which were a tad soft due to errors on my part. I also could have saved myself A LOT of time. Fortunately I have discovered it now, largely in part to my taking the time to learn about it better for this review (which I initially expected to be a “not recommended” review). I’m now in love with this product and won’t be sharpening the old fashion way anymore moving forward.

If you’ve been disappointed with the results you get from sharpening in Adobe’s products or Aperture, then this product is for you.

If you print and have struggled to to nail the right “for print” sharpening settings, then this product is for you.

If you’ve had people insult your images as being “too soft” or “oversharpened”, then this DEFINITELY is THE product for you!!!!

Honestly, short of buying better lenses, there’s nothing else I can think of that would help your images more. In fact, even if you have great glass, you’ll still benefit from this product to get that world class sharpening you see from Top Photographers.

I HIGHLY recommend this product, especially if you own or considered buying Focus Magic. This is way better!

Special Offer

Click here to learn how to to save 15% off all Nik Software products by using the coupon on the  discount coupon code page.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

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, September 16, 2009

Back to blogging again soon

My in-laws have left and my parents are leaving on Wednesday so I hope to finally have my house back so that I can find some time to blog again. Thank you for those who have hung in there during this shortage of articles during this time of important life distractions (new house, new baby, and extended family visits).

Works in progress right now include:

  • An interview with Gary Parker, one of my top photographers and friend;
  • Review of Nik Software’s Sharpen Pro;
  • Review of Auto FX Software;
  • A monitor calibration article;
  • Book reviews of some really great Amherst Media books;
  • A lens rental roundup series;
  • and much, much more!

So if you’ve wondered if this blog has died, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Today this blog hit 100,000+ page hits since January 15th 2009 when I started using sitemeter, and any day it should cross the 100,000 unique visitors mark since it began on March 3rd, 2008.

In the meantime, be sure to check out this article and take advantage of exciting updates coming soon to the discount coupon code page. 

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, September 4, 2009

CORRECTION: Think Tank Photo Promo Discount Code Update

The original article I published on Wednesday had an error due to Think Tank Photo sending me an incorrect code. The article has been updated on Thursday morning and you can resume getting a special offer from this blog by following the now much more simple instructions in the Think Tank Photo – Promo Code Update #2 article. Additional Discount Coupon Codes are still available as well.

BTW, if you have pictures or video of you wearing your Think Tank Photo gear, please add a comment with a link as I’d love to see and hear how my readers are using my favorite bags. You can even store your image on the Ron Martinsen’s Photography Blog Readers Flickr group.

If you’ve been off the blog for a while, please be sure to check out these recently released articles:

If you are new to this blog, then don’t miss the Welcome to the Blog article which has tons of great info, links, and special offers.

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, September 2, 2009

Think Tank Photo – Promo Code Update #2

This article has been replaced by this article. It discusses the new offer by Think Tank Photo and details on the promo code.

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.