Thursday, April 29, 2010

Video added to the onOne PhotoTune 3 Review

I’m going to try to start doing more videos for my reviews, so hopefully you’ll enjoy this new enhancement to the blog. With that in mind I’ve kicked it off by doing one for onOne Software’s PhotoTune 3.

If you’ve seen my Lenovo W700ds review, I am pleased to report my audio is much better for this one. Unfortunately my cursor capture in SnagIt wasn’t working so if any of you readers out there have experience with good screen capture video software, let me know as I think I need a different product.

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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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wow, ronmart.blogspot.com crosses the 200,000 unique visitors mark

My reason for not writing many articles lately

It’s hard for me to believe but just last October I was so excited that this blog had crossed the 100,000 unique visitors mark and my dream was to cross the 200,000 mark by October 2010. Thanks to readers like you I’ve reached that goal 6 months earlier than expected – thanks! It was clear that people were excited about my articles from the Olympics, and especially my first look at the new Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM. That article alone attracted many new visitors, so if you were one of them who discovered my blog with that article – thanks for coming back!

I’ve been slow to write lately with only 7 articles over the last two months, but my son and my day job (to support him) has kept me extremely busy! It’s been very difficult to find the spare time to write, so I appreciate your visiting despite this. To that end, I may try doing more videos to help get content on the web faster than is possible in the written review format. Please provide feedback in the form of comments to those articles and let me know if the videos are a hit or miss.

If you haven’t discovered our group on Flickr yet, then now’s a great time to join and add your photos! I do monitor them and will give feedback from time to time, so it’s an easy way to get my attention.

I hope I’ve been able to help you in your photography and save you some money with our Discount Coupon Code page. If you are new to the blog then be sure to check out this article to learn about what you can find here!

Here’s to the next 100,000 and beyond!

Thanks,

Ron Martinsen (gear)
http://ronmartinsen.com (portfolio)
http://ronmartinsen.blogspot.com (photo blog

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.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

REVIEW: onOne Software PhotoTune 3 (Updated 4-29-10)

image

onOne Software is known for making a large selection of great products, so their faithful followers were excited about the new release of Plug-in Suite 5 which included many new updates. One of those updates was a product that I’ve had  on my “todo” list to review for a long-time, and it’s called PhotoTune 3. It is a product that can be purchased separately or with the suite for the best value, and it’s basically a step by step wizard for enhancing your photos. It allows the most basic of beginners using Photoshop Elements 7 or greater or Photoshop CS2 or greater (32 or 64-bit) users to use their eyes and click which of two pictures looks best, slide some sliders (optional) to improve the choices on some steps, and voila – a drastically improved image is the result. This is the kind of plug-in my Mom can use, so I’m excited to finally get a chance to show you how it works.

Everyday tasks, like Sierra’s basketball pictures

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after. CLICK to see the full size.

If you are a parent, you inevitably will end up in a school gym taking photos for basketball, the school play, volleyball, etc… If you’ve done this then you know it is a dungeon so you are going to have to do some post processing. For those who aren’t skilled in Photoshop or Lightroom, PhotoTune 3 might be the answer to your editing prayers. Consider the image below (or mouse in and out of the one above) that is the final step of the PhotoTune 3 wizard where it shows what we started with and the final result. A big difference, huh?

The after image is simply the result of running PhotoTune 3.0’s wizard on the before image. I’ve done no additional post-processing after running the wizard. Now, I would probably do some things a little differently if I processed the photo entirely from scratch, but I thought this was a pretty darn good result that the average soccer Mom (or basketball dad in this case) could accomplish! To see how I did it, follow each step in the photo gallery here (and be sure to read the captions). You can click on any of the images here or in the gallery for a larger version.

Is it any good for images without people?

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

I won’t go through all the steps, but the short answer is yes – I think it did a decent job for a beginner. You can hover over the image above to see a before and after or take a look at both side by side in the user-interface below:

You’ll notice that there’s only 5 steps for the summary in the gallery here which shows each step. I think more could be done, especially for shots where the sky is a little bleached out and the foreground is dark. It works, and depending on your choices it will be an improvement – but I can definitely do much better with my Ninja Photoshop skills. :-)

Pro Mode

I’ll be frank and say, I don’t see the point in Pro Mode. I’d rather use Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to make the types of tweaks offered in Pro Mode as it is more effective and less frustrating. This product isn’t geared towards pro’s, so I found this feature to be less than useful. You can see some detailed screen shots here, but my advice is that if you aren’t getting anything out of the wizards then the Pro Mode isn’t going to make you any happier.

The Color module also drove me insane, so while I commend the out of the box thinking – this solution isn’t it very useful to me.

Video Demo

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth even more. Here’s a simple video I made to demonstrate how this product works. Let me know if you enjoy these as I will try to do more if the feedback is positive.

Conclusion

This is an application that I think is clearly geared towards beginners, but that’s okay. There are a hell of a lot more beginners than pro Photoshop users (including Photoshop Elements) out there, and this is a product that will help them be productive fast. It’s especially useful for those who just haven’t figured out what all the fuss is about with Lightroom, and feel that just making there pictures look a bit better is enough (i.e., they aren’t interested in investing huge amounts of time to make their photos look magazine worthy). This represents a lot of people I know, so I think it is a good choice for many beginners. I’ve used the previous versions and always was a little disappointed, but the the third time seems to be a charm. This version gets the job done quickly and easily, but don’t forget that it requires Photoshop CS2 or greater or Photoshop Elements 6 or greater to run. Visit the web site for more details.

Great Videos

See some great videos here to see how this product works, but don’t forget to return to this blog for your discount when purchasing!

Special Offer

Shopping cart with the discount for the upgrade included

Click here to order at 20% off the retail price (or click here for 20% off the upgrade) using the code RMART20.

Disclosure

onOne Software is a paid sponsor and I earn a commission if you take advantage of the special offer. Please support this blog by support onOne Software and using my 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, April 14, 2010

onOne Software Plug-In Suite 5 - $100 off discount coupon code, and 20% off the upgrade

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NOTE: This offer expires April 30th!

Save $100 off or 33% off the full retail price when you order by clicking this link (make sure that RONM15 appears in the Coupon Code box as shown below). If you already own an existing version of Plug-In Suite and you want to save on the upgrade to 5.0, you can upgrade using this link (make sure that RMART20 appears in the Coupon Code box) to save nearly $40!!!

imageTo learn more about Plug-In Suite 5, click here.

Press Release

Portland, OR– October 27, 2009 – onOne Software, Inc., a leading developer of innovative, timesaving solutions for professional and advanced amateur photographers, today announced Plug-in Suite 5 for Adobe Photoshop. Designed to solve the most common problems facing photographers in the areas of color correction, enlarging, masking and professional photographic effects, the Plug-in Suite 5, combines full versions of six essential software tools in one affordable package: FocalPoint 2, PhotoTune 3, PhotoFrame 4.5 Professional Edition, PhotoTools 2.5 Professional Edition, Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition and MaskPro 4.

With support for Photoshop CS2, CS3 and CS4 the onOne Software Plug-in Suite 5 now includes the new onOne Panel which provides quick access to all products, Windows 64 bit support and the ability to access select plug-ins from within Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 and Apple Aperture 2.1. Plug-in Suite 5 will be available in November.

"This is our biggest product update and release in over 4 years," said Craig Keudell, president of onOne Software. "Since the release of Plug-In Suite 4, we have been working closer than ever with both professional and enthusiast photographers to make sure that Plug-In Suite 5 continues to solve the most common problems they face as photographers. We are confident that Plug-In Suite 5 continues in the onOne tradition of providing photographers with software that sets the standard for value, quality and ease-of-use."

Plug-in Suite 5 includes full versions of the following onOne Software products:

FocalPoint 2 – Like bringing the camera lens inside Photoshop, this new version of FocalPoint 2 gives photographers the best way to add the most realistic depth of field and selective focus control to any image after it is photographed. Photographers now have an incredible amount of flexibility and control over the look of the blur with FocalPoint 2's new blur algorithm, FocusBrush, Lens Presets and multiple FocusBug features.

PhotoTune 3 – Getting great color doesn’t have to be so hard. This new version of PhotoTune 3 uses patented eye-fidelityTM technology, originally developed by and licensed from imsense to optimize the dynamic range, color and sharpness of images so that they look more true-to-life. The improved Wizard offers fast color and tone correction in as little as two steps while giving pro users direct access to advanced and innovative controls. SkinTune, which represents two years of research and analysis of thousands of skin tones, now offers one-click color correction of portraits and the option to correct just the skin in an image.

PhotoFrame 4.5 Professional Edition – With PhotoFrame 4.5, you can add the perfect finishing touch to your images with over 100 exciting new professionally designed frames, backgrounds, textures and layouts including over a dozen from professional photographer Kersti Malvre. With one thousand design elements like film edges, borders, textures, backgrounds and adornments, PhotoFrame 4.5 Professional Edition even has complete layouts where users can simply drop an image in and they are done. It is the easiest and fastest way to add an authentic darkroom touch with a film edge or to create beautiful albums or scrapbook pages

PhotoTools 2.5 Professional Edition – PhotoTools 2.5 is the highly acclaimed Photoshop plug-in that allows photographers of all skill levels to maximize the full power of Photoshop with it's ability to preview and combine Photoshop Actions in a single, intuitive interface. Designed by photographers for photographers, PhotoTools 2.5 Professional now includes a new MaskingBug control based on the FocusBug control from the award-winning FocalPoint plug-in. The new MaskingBug allows photographers to create high-quality masks to selectively apply effects to images. With over 30 new creative effects, for a total effect library of 280, photographers can easily find, combine and save the results to create images that truly stand out.

Genuine Fractals 6 Professional Edition - The industry standard for enlarging photos, Genuine Fractals 6 enlarges images up to1,000% while maintaining sharp edges and important image details. Genuine Fractals 6 now includes an automated gallery wrap feature and output options for tiling an enlarged photo. No other resizing plug-in is as widely used by more professionals than Genuine Fractals.

MaskPro 4 – For those times when you need to extract a subject from a photo, Mask Pro 4 uses a color-based method that allows users to easily remove unwanted backgrounds from your photos. Mask Pro's unique Color Decontamination technology allows users to get realistic results by maintaining transparency in hard to mask objects like hair, smoke and glass in a fraction of the time using traditional tools.

Other Cool onOne Software Products Available at 20% off

Enter the coupon code RMART20 when you check out to save 20% off any of the above products sold separately or for onOne Photo Essentials 3 for Photoshop Elements.

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.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

HANDS-ON: Lenovo W700ds Photographers Dual Screen Laptop

Lenovo W700ds

During the Olympics in Vancouver I had the good fortune of working at the Media Press Centre (MPC). My job was to make sure that the Photographers covering the Olympics had the support they needed to get their photos to their publishers as soon as possible. To assist in this goal, Microsoft teamed up with Lenovo to provide over a dozen Lenovo Photo Laptops running 64-bit Windows 7 as well as some common software products Camera Bits Photo Mechanic,  Adobe Photoshop CS4 & Lightroom 2, as well as Expression Media & Capture One.

I had a great time on this assignment and got to take lots of great pictures, use some cool gear, experiment with some great camera products and more importantly learn more about Windows 7 and some really cool Lenovo Photo Laptops. One of the coolest, that I had lusted after ever since I first heard about it, was the Lenovo W700ds – a DUAL SCREEN laptop! I love using dual screen, and I’ve always carried huge laptops because performance and big displays are super important to me, so when I first heard of this laptop I REALLY wanted one. Sadly, at the time, it was way out of my price league, so when I found out that I’d be able to play with some at the Olympics I was thrilled.

Display Quality

This product bills itself as a photo laptop, but what does that really mean? Well, fundamentally for me it means having a high quality 1920x1200 display with a fast video card so that I can use Photoshop CS4 or Lightroom without pulling my hair out. However, this laptop is WAAAAAYYY more than that, because unlike even my desktop system, this display has a wide color gamut which means you can see way more colors when working with those ProPhoto and Adobe RGB images in Lightroom or Photoshop. This extra color support would be nothing if it wasn’t calibrated properly, so unlike any laptop I’ve ever seen or heard of it – it has a built-in XRite Pantone color calibrator that takes about 90 seconds to get your monitor fully calibrated – with no user intervention - I LOVE IT!!!

Sadly the W700ds is no more, but the good news is that a new W701ds is coming out later this month (visit again for a special offer)! I’d LOVE to own one of these laptops, but i fear after using this one that I’d probably create a configuration that was once again way out of my league!

Open and Closed Views

This laptop is loaded with features. Inside you’ll find both a touchpad and eraser head style pointer which gives you the flexibility to choose your mobile pointing styles. However, there’s also another option, of great interest to Photographers and Artists – a built-in Wacom digitizer! This tablet – shown below between the track pad and the ThinkPad logo isn’t as sensitive or as nice a full-blown Wacom tablet, but it works a hell of a lot better than a trackpad or eraser style pointer for doing photo imaging. In fact, after I got used to it – I was liking it much better than my mouse! It actually encouraged me to dust off my Wacom for my desktop and fall in love with it all over again.

Other features here are the cool built-in Pantone Huey color calibrator (that little thing above the Wacom next to the arrow keys) and a very slick thumb print reader!

Mouse over to see closed, mouse out to see opened. Click for enlarged open view.

Last but not least, is the blue ThinkVantage button which is the magic button that gets you the things you need to configure this laptop and more importantly – save your bacon at boot-time if you want to do a full, bare-metal restore. 

The features of this laptop were great, but what I liked about it the most was the quality of the construction. This is a VERY well made laptop that made me hate my Dell after using this one. The keyboard is more solid than your typical desktop computer keyboard and the tactile feel is excellent. I did get frustrated with the FN button being where the CTRL key belongs, but beyond that I was pretty comfortable using this keyboard on a daily basis. I also got used to the track pad so that I avoided using the eraser head pointer, which is usually my preference on laptops.

Left and Right Views

When facing the front of the laptop, on its left side you’ll find a fire wire and two USB ports, an ExpressCard slot and a very fast Compact Flash (CF) reader. This is the first laptop I’ve ever used or seen that has had a Compact Flash reader, and the first built-in one that I’ve used on a computer that was actually fast (most are dog slow and useless). Sadly I don’t have all of the specs for this machine, so i can’t confirm if it is a UDMA drive and if so, what version, but I can say that I was getting some very fast transfer times compared to what I’m used to on my desktop system (a Dell XPS 420). In fact, 2GB (as you can see on the video) took less than a minute to transfer, which i thought was fantastic.

Left View

On the Right hand side, there’s a ton of goodies. It starts with the basics of 3 USB ports, and a telephone modem jack. However, after that things start getting good because then you have your built-in WACOM pen slot, an optional BluRay  DVD burner and the really cool 2nd display slot. This side is a true geek’s paradise as shown below:

The sides of this laptop are packed with lots of goodies, but surprisingly it isn’t cluttered or filled with a bunch of useless features. Some might question the modem port in this day and age, but for the business traveler who has to send a fax this can be a lifesaver. This laptop is thick, no doubt, but I’m pleased to see that Lenovo has made good use of the space and fit it with plenty of useful ports on the sides.

Front and Rear Views

This  laptop has a nice clean design so it spreads its multitude of I/O ports around its entire chassis. The SD reader, headphones, and microphone ports are conveniently located in the front, whereas the traditional power, network and display ports (including both DVI and HDMI!!!!) are in the rear next to its massive cooling vents. Despite its large size, this thing runs very cool and never once was blowing hot air – unlike my Dell XPS M1710 which can both cook food and barbeque legs at the same time.

Front and Review views - stacked

Another thing worth noting here is that the hinges for the the display seem industrial strength, which for me is great because that was a MAJOR problem I’ve had with my laptop with a 17” display. The hinges have loosened up twice nearly coming apart, but I don’t think that is likely to happen here.

Webcam


NOTE: If the video/sound are out of sync, that's a network issue with this recording, not something I saw in real testing

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably found webcams to be frustrating to say the least. They never work when you need them to, yet they can be an invaluable tool when dealing with business partners overseas where the virtual face-to-face time can really help establish a much more personal business relationship. I’m pleased to say that this web cam is the first, and only one I’ve ever used that “just works”. I didn’t have to fight to configure it or do any special gyrations to get it to work – it just worked – flawlessly. It’s still poor quality by today’s standards, but usable (see the above video). I love having this built in and not having to carry yet another accessory in my bag (which usually gets broken anyway).

Performance

All the coolness of this laptop would mean nothing if it wasn’t something a photographer could really use to edit the massive photos we get off our cameras these days. I’m pleased to say that this system, despite my review unit NOT having the latest Intel Quad Core processors, was screaming fast. Perhaps it was the RAID 0 configuration of two fast 7200rpm 250 GB hard drives (solid state available), or perhaps it was the DDR3 memory, but I know for sure that the 1GB of video RAM on a dedicated discrete video card helped this thing to absolutely fly when using Photoshop. Even though it only had 4GB of memory, when combined with the fast performance of the 64-bit version of Windows 7 this thing screamed like no laptop I have ever used. I fell in love with it the first time I started Photoshop, and I wish I could keep this one for my own.

Videos

WARNING: The audio on the following videos SUCKS. You MUST turn your volume up and listen carefully (but don’t hurt your ears with your speakers) to have any chance to hear what I am saying. My deepest apologies for the poor audio quality, but one thing I haven’t reviewed yet is DSLR microphones. It’s clear to me now that it needs to be higher on my priority list!

If you can hang in there you will see a few examples of how some features of this laptop work (which in some cases is easier to show than discuss). I’ll also put this laptop to the test by doing a real-world photo edit from start to finish using a RAW image from a 5D Mark II in Bridge & Adobe Photoshop CS4 (complete with Nik Software) and finishing up in Lightroom. Bridge is not normally part of my workflow (Lightroom is instead), but I did it this way to just show off the horsepower of this beast. In the end I left more impressed with this laptop than I am with both my existing photo laptop and desktop, so now I want a new computer!

Without further adieu, here are a few videos for your viewing pleasure:

Dual Display Demo

Here I just show how seamless it is to extend the 2nd display which automatically configures itself. Eat your heart out Macbook fanboys! :)

Dual Display in Action with Lightroom 3

Lightroom is fantastic when you use the grid view in the right display. Here I show that cool feature in action with this laptop

Photoshop CS4 & Bridge in Action with Wacom Tablet Demo

Here I show how smoking fast Bridge and Photoshop CS4 load and then I use the Wacom tablet to draw on my son’s face.

Compact Flash Reader Demo

Here I show how fast you can transfer 2GB of data from a CF card onto the hard disk and then load that content into Lightroom 3.

Display Calibration Demo

This is a bit boring to watch, but i demonstrate how the built-in display calibration works.

Thumbprint Logon Demo

Here I demonstrate how easy it is to log on using the thumb print reader.

The Coolest Laptop Commercial - EVER!

GEEKS REJOICE!!!! Once you own one of these bad ass laptops you can stand proud like this guy - the happiest W700ds owner on the planet:

Okay, maybe that won’t really happen to you, but I’ve gotta say that was good for one hellva laugh! :-) You can at least link to this and say “hey, I have one of those and yes it is huge!”. :-)

Conclusion

Overall, I’ve gotta say I love this laptop and hate to have to give it back. I really want one for my personal use, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to buy one at some point. However, there were a few things I didn’t like about it. The first, and probably the worst for me, was that it won’t fit into my 17” ThinkTankPhoto Artificial Intelligence laptop bag. Given the fact that this laptop is heavy as lead (mostly due to all of the cool features it sports), not being able to carry it in a small comfortable bag is a big downside to me. Beyond that my other gripes were that it has has a massive power brick (more like a cinder block! :), the fn key is in the wrong place (where left CTRL goes), the 2nd display quality sucks compared to the main display, and the wireless network card was slow by today’s standards.

I’m hoping that several of the issues I had will be addressed on the W701ds, but even if they weren’t I’d still want one. It is a very powerful laptop to use that truly is a portable graphics workstation, and that’s something I’d want with me when I’m on the road or on a plane. I hope to have a chance to review a W701ds soon, so I’ll let you know about the improvements.

Special Offer

Unfortunately the W700ds shown here is no longer on sale, but it’s replacement – the W701ds is coming soon. In the meantime, you can get 25% off the ThinkPad W700 (single display version of the computer shown) using the coupon code USPW700JULY until July 31

Disclosure

I get a tiny 3% commission if you use the link above to purchase a W700, but you save 25% so the real winner is you! Please support this blog by using the 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.