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Archive for the ‘Utensil Reviews [Product Reviews]’ Category

Adobe Announces Lightroom 3 Release and Availability

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By Diane Berkenfeld

After thorough Beta testing by the photographic community, Adobe today announced the release of Lightroom 3.

Lightroom 3, like the prior versions of the software, groups tools into five areas: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. The Library is where you organize your images. Develop is where the exposure changes are made, cropping is done, sharpening and noise reduction occurs, grain is added, etc. Slideshow, Print and Web are the areas that you’d work on Slideshows, Printing and Web sharing respectively.

This latest version of the image management/editing/RAW file processing software offers a brand new image processing engine, increased processing speeds and a host of improvements and new features.

Adobe rebuilt the engines that drive Lightroom from the ground up, to keep pace with the growing resolution and file size of today’s popular digital cameras, and the growth of photographers’ image libraries.

Because a new image processing engine is incorporated into Lightroom 3, when working on images that were originally processed in Lightroom 1 or 2, you’ll be given the option of using the previous version’s processing engine, or updating to the image processing engine in Lightroom 3. The choice is given to the user because slight changes can occur when updating from one version to the next, so now you don’t need to worry about the images you’ve worked on in the past and perfected.

Improvements include:

• Improved noise reduction and sharpening.

• Enhanced post crop vignetting.

• An improved import feature.

• Lens and perspective correction. Adobe also created a Lens Profile Creator that you can use to create profiles for the specific lenses you own.

• An expanded offering of custom print layouts.

• Addition of new Develop presets.

New features include:

• The ability to shoot tethered to a camera and import images directly into Lightroom. (26 Canon and Nikon models have been approved as being compatible with the launch of Lightroom 3. Additional models, as well as cameras from other manufacturers are expected to be added to that list as testing is completed. An updated list will be posted at Go.adobe.com/kb/ts_cpsid_84221_en-us.

• Cataloging of video files in addition to still images. Video files will show an icon of a video camera in the bottom left corner.

• The ability to add natural looking grain to images.

• The creation of slideshows synced to music that can be output as movie files compressed for the web, at HD quality and everywhere in between.

• Flexible watermarking.

• Direct access to image sharing websites and mobile devices. An included Flickr plug-in lets you upload directly to that website. Developers will be able to create such direct access for other websites and services.

Minimum system requirements for Lightroom 3 are: Mac – Intel-based Mac, OS X 10.5 or 10.6, 2 Gigs of RAM, 1 Gig of hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, and 1024 x 768 monitor resolution; Windows – Intel Pentium 4, OS Windows 7, Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise (certified for 32-bit and 64-bit editions) or Microsoft XP with Service Pack 2, 2 Gigs RAM, 1 Gig available hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, and 1024 x 768 monitor resolution. Lightroom 3 is a 64-bit application by default for the Mac, and can be used as a 32-bit application if users so choose. For Windows, the 64-bit version will only be installed on Windows 7 or Vista 64-bit operating systems, all other operating systems will install the 32-bit version by default.

My 2 ¢

As a Lightroom user since version 1.0, the decision to upgrade to the latest version of Lightroom is a no brainer. Why stay in the past when you can improve your workflow and utilize the many new features of the software. And at a cost of only $99 to upgrade, its quite affordable to do so.

If you’re debating whether or not to add Lightoom to your workflow, the list of features alone should sway the decision. The full program MSRP is $299.

Lightroom is a powerful part of my workflow. When you’re shooting hundreds or thousands of images per job, you don’t want to be editing through images by opening each file individually. While Adobe Bridge offers the ability to perform some tasks, Lightroom 3 features not only image management but image editing tools as well.

Using Lightroom 3 in conjunction with Photoshop CS5 is my ideal workflow. I import all images I shoot into Lightroom, edit through them for the files I want to work with, make exposure changes, crop/straighten images, and export the files in the size(s) I need. (The export feature alone is worth the price of the software to me! Especially when I have to save multiple sizes of the same images.) Major retouching or compositing is then done in Photoshop.

Adobe is shipping Lightroom 3 starting today.

For more information, go to www.adobe.com.

♦ We’ve begun testing out Lightroom 3 and will be posting a full review within a week! —Ed.

Product Review: Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box Photo Plug-in

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By Diane Berkenfeld

Digital Anarchy today released a new skin retouching program for still images, Beauty Box Photo. A Photoshop plug-in, Beauty Box Photo is compatible with Photoshop CS5 and earlier versions. The software is a follow-up to the company’s popular video retouching tool for After Effects CS5.

Beauty Box Photo skin retouching software automatically identifies skin tones and creates an intelligent mask that limits the smoothing effect to skin areas while keeping facial details sharp. You can use the software for batch processing too, which really helps speed up your workflow.

In Use Review

I had the opportunity to review a beta version of Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box Photo, using it with Photoshop CS4, and love the software. It has the power of high priced programs, yet the GUI or graphic user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use.

One of the great features of Beauty Box Photo is that it provides subtle yet visible retouching. Whether you use the automatic retouching or manually tweak the settings, the skin smoothing is subtle, so your portrait subjects look normal—skin does not look plastic or over-retouched. Pore structures and wrinkles are visible but softened.

(l. to r.) Screenshot showing 100% view before, and after. Photo ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

I found that the automatic mask did a wonderful job of masking the skin tone, not just on a face, but shoulders, arms—all visible skin in a photograph. You can very easily tweak the mask too, if necessary. Once you have the mask, you can fine tune the skin smoothing to your liking.

(l. to r.) Final portrait, and screenshot of the Beauty Box Photo mask. Photo ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

The software lets you take up to three snapshots of different amounts of smoothing, and you can toggle between each of them to choose which looks the best, and then apply that one. I personally would have liked to see a before/after button instead—although to the software’s credit, it lets you see up to three different settings which is more than a simple before/after or split screen would provide.

When it comes to retouching, sometimes less is better, meaning that Beauty Box does what it says it does—providing powerful skin smoothing without going overboard. And it is not overwhelming to use, like some software programs can be. This is great for the non-techie photographer or beginner digital imager.

The software is also very intuitive. I tested it out with a portrait of a 6 month old, a 4 year old and a 30-something. Each time the automatic settings provided a pretty good starting point. Less smoothing for the kids and more for the 30-something. Although I did tweak the settings, most folks would probably be happy with the program completely running on auto.

(l. to r.) Close-up view of the original non-retouched image (file open in Photoshop), and after (image in Beauty Box Photo's dialog window), using the automatic settings of Beauty Box Photo. Note the smoothing of the baby's blotchy red skin on his cheek. Photo ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

I definitely see Beauty Box as an addition to my retouching workflow. It makes it really easy to smooth skin for a pleasing look while leaving the skin looking realistic.

The photographs of the baby and child were for an actual job I was working on. I originally used a Photoshop action on the portraits, which while smoothing the skin also added a soft-focus glow that really was overboard for these images. The Beauty Box Photo skin smoothing was perfect—just enough to smooth out blotchy skin without overkill.

Beauty Box Photo works in Photoshop versions 7.0–CS5 and Photoshop Elements versions 6–9; on the Macintosh, running on OS 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6; and on Windows, the software supports Windows XP Home, Windows XP Pro, Vista 32-bit, Vista 64-bit and Windows 7. In the next few months, Digital Anarchy will have a version compatible with Apple Aperture, and in the future (date tbd) with Adobe Lightroom.

Beauty Box is regularly priced at USD $99. The product is on sale for $79 through June 21, 2010.

For more information, to try out demo filters and view samples, go to www.digitalanarchy.com.

Product Review: Foto Fashionista’s My Foto Vest for Ladies

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By Diane Berkenfeld

I am a woman with a camera—a professional photographer.

When shooting personal projects or working on location, I don’t always want to carry a camera bag, nor do I always want to have a gear belt full of pouches that resembles Batman or Robin’s utility belts. Thanks to fellow photographer Marla Holden, I won’t have to do that anymore. That’s because Marla decided to design a photo vest for women.

The vests fit a woman’s shape, unlike the baggy, oversized photojournalist’s vests that have been available for men for years. Marla’s company, Foto Fashionista, offers female photographers a more fashionable choice for carrying necessities while shooting, the My Foto Vest, in four styles: Nantucket Stripe, Casual Friday Khaki, Saturday Blue Jeans, and Midnight Denim. The vests are made of comfortable cotton materials, and are machine washable. They’re available in small, medium, large and x-large.

One of the great features of My Foto Vest is that the back is made of a stretchable lace, so it breathes. A zipper lets you wear the vest closed or open. On the inside of the vest, you’ll find pockets that are made of a stretchy neoprene-like material. The right side features five pockets, one for a pen, and four more to hold accessories. The left side has two pockets for accessories, with three smaller pockets to hold media cards higher up near your shoulder.

Pockets are stretchable. The My Foto Vest is comfortable to wear even when you've got the pockets full and the vest zippered closed.

Photo accessories, such as a light meter, flash, lens caps, filters, white balance devices (i.e. Spydercube), extra batteries, and more will easily fit in the pockets. So will a cellphone, keys, ID and money, or a small wallet. I like that when wearing a Foto Fashionista vest, I don’t have to stuff everything in my pant’s pockets. This is important, because, except for denim jeans, not all pants have pockets that are large enough, or shaped correctly to safely hold much of anything. I would like to be able to fit a lens in the vest, and wasn’t able to with the lenses than I own. The material that makes up the pockets is stretchy, but I couldn’t get the lenses to pass through the seams at the top of the pockets—which also speaks to the durability of the vests’ construction.

I like the ability to keep my full media cards on me. I don’t normally put shot cards in my gear bag in the event that it disappears on a shoot. My camera gear is replaceable, but the photographs I’ve taken aren’t.

Overall, I found the vest could replace a small purse, which I would find helpful on its own. If I was going out shooting with only one lens, I would definitely wear the vest instead of carrying a small camera bag. Being able to easily and comfortably carry accessories I use all the time is great. Because I shoot events, I would definitely like to see a more formal looking vest in black. Marla has said she’s working on a formal design for photographers to wear while shooting events, and I can’t wait to try it out.

MSRP of the My Foto Vest is $139.99. For more information, go to www.fotofashionista.com.

Product Review: Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS Lens

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Article & Images By Diane Berkenfeld

The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS telephoto zoom lens is the second lens from Sigma that I’ve tested out, and have to say it is a nice piece of glass. The lens, which incorporates an Optical Stabilizer, is compatible with Nikon, Canon, Sony/Minolta, and Pentax mount bodies.

Minimum focusing distance is 59.1-inches, and the lens uses a 62mm filter. The lens offers a 34.3 degree angle of view at the wide 70mm end and 8.2 degrees of view zoomed in at 300mm. Aperture range is f/4-5.6 through f/22. For a lens with such a wide zoom range, it’s not extremely heavy, weighing in at only 610 grams. The lens has a nine blade diaphragm, and although it isn’t an f/2.8 lens, it does offer a nice out of focus blur at f/4.

Designed for use with DSLRs that incorporate full frame image sensors, the lens can also be used with camera bodies that use the smaller APS-C sized sensors. When used on a camera with an APS-C sensor, the lens effectively becomes a 100-450mm lens.

According to Sigma, for the Sony and Pentax mount lenses, you can use the optical stabilizer even if the camera body has a built-in anti-shake function.

The 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS lens uses Special Low Dispersion glass elements. The Super Multi-Layer Coating reduces flare and ghosting, providing high contrast throughout the entire focal range.

While shooting an outdoor concert by the band Finally Balanced, I zoomed in to 300mm, on the drummers gear.

Bringing the image into Adobe Lightroom, and zooming in, you can clearly make out the lettering on the medallion on the drum.

I’ve been using the lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II body, and found it to be quick to focus, producing sharp images. Canon’s 5D Mark II has a full frame image sensor, so the lens was accurate at the 70-300mm zoom range. The images from this lens were as sharp as I’ve seen with Canon brand lenses.

As I mentioned in the review of the Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle zoom, posted on Picture-soup.com last summer, there are folks who don’t think third-party lenses are as good as those made by the camera maker. From my experience using Sigma lenses I think they’re definitely worth the money. The money you save by buying a Sigma lens doesn’t come with degradation in quality.

Singer/guitarist Dave Christian, of the band Finally Balanced. At its widest aperture of f/4, the lens provides a nice blur to the background.

These images were taken during a family portrait shoot. They were converted to B&W in Lightroom, and saved as a four-up for printing.

MSRP of the lens is $599.00. For more information, check out the website at www.sigmaphoto.com.

To read the Picture-soup.com review of the Sigma 10-20mm f/3-5 EX DC HSM lens, click here.

Product Review: Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer

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By Carrie Konopacki

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II inkjet printer. I was looking forward to seeing how the printer would perform and increase my workflow productivity.

To give you a little background on myself, the first true experiences I had in the photo world began with my Canon AE-1. The ability to have complete control over your picture from start to the final print became a quick addiction. I loved my Canon. Through the digital years, I dabbled with various other makes and used your standard printers. Was this Canon going to be a “love affair rekindled?” Could be.

Printer Specs and Features

When the printer first arrived, it was very overwhelming. Lets just say you need to find ample desktop space. The printer is 26.0″(W) x 7.6″(H) x 13.9″(D). It can handle output up to 13×19-inches. My first challenge was finding the printer a workspace. With the front and rear trays open, the printer will need around a 30”x40” area. The 1.6mm steel body adds to the overwhelming appeal and speaks “rough and tough.”

After taking the printer out of the box, I just needed to install the 10 single ink cartridges: Matte Black, Photo Black, Gray, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Photo Cyan, Photo Magenta, Red, and Green. The driver now installed on a Dell Inspiron 530 Intel Core 2 Quad PC, it was finally time to print. Or in my case, select the images to test print.

The Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer utilizes a 4800×2400 dpi FINE print head, two separate paper paths, and a new printer driver. The printer is compatible with Mac OX X v.10.2.8 to 10.5.x and PCs running Windows XP/2000/Vista/7. The printer connects to computers via USB 2.0 and direct printer ports—no FireWire and no Ethernet. The printer can output 16-bit files.

The 10-color PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II printer uses Canon’s professional Lucia brand pigment-based inks. The printer was designed to output great B&W prints as well as color. Its ink system includes gray, black and matte black cartridges for printing of monochrome photographs on both fine art paper and glossy photo paper.

The printer comes with both Windows & MAC OS X: Easy-PhotoPrint Pro, Easy-PhotoPrint EX, CD-LabelPrint and Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, however most professional photographers are likely to print from whichever version of Photoshop they are using. Using the included software allows you to print directly from Photoshop and also print RAW images. These options allowed me numerous options to choose from with my inventory of prints.

Test Use

Ali. Photograph ⓒ Carrie Konopacki.

My goal was to find the most luminous, vibrant color photos and the black and white images with high levels of contrast, shadows and depth of field. And also throw in some sepia. For my printer tests, I used a variety of media, including: Canon Inkjet art & photo paper,  Fine Art paper “Museum Etching”, Fine Art paper “ Photo Rag”, Fine Art Paper, Premium Matte, Photo Paper Plus Semi Gloss, Hahnemühle Matte FineArt, Kodak Premium Photo Paper (Matte), and Kodak Photo Paper (Gloss).

Arizona Cacti. Photograph ⓒ Carrie Konopacki.

For my first print, I chose the Museum Etching media to print an image of a Cacti from a 2009 trip I took following Imaging USA. Once my enhancements were made to the image, it was time to print.

For me, the most difficult process to figure out was how to successfully operate the front feeder for the heavier and larger sized papers. After a few miss attempts and unsuccessful interpretation of the online owners manual, by sheer frustration, it became clear.

Bumblebee on Flower. Photograph ⓒ Carrie Konopacki.

I truly thought the printer had come with a malfunction. Mind you, not having used other Canon large or wide-format printers before, it took me some time to figure out exactly how the paper feed worked.

When I reviewed the online owners manual, which does give you a walk-through, with pictures and descriptive directions, I was able to figure out what to do. The front output tray needed to be placed into the feed position and paper manually fed into position from the back. Once you figure this portion out, everything else is pretty self-explanatory.

While Printing

Now that the printer was all set up, sending images to print was my next task. The printer handled anything I threw at it without any real complaints. You can even print regular documents on the printer, which I did in a pinch.

My only concern is that printing of photographs was slow.

Photo of Jake Konopacki by Herff Jones.

Using the Kodak glossy media I printed some school pictures, 2 (5×7)’s, 8 wallets, and 4 (3×5)’s in about 3 minutes. The quality was great. And the colors were representative to the true.

I was using Photoshop CS3, although I did try using Canon’s printer software to see how it would render my images. For the school images, I used the print package that was a part of the Canon Solutions menu options. Because the printer would be used by prosumers as well as pro photographers—and to see how well it printed—I didn’t use ICC profiles. The colors were spot on with the Jake’s school photos.

I did use the print screen option to make sure the picture I wanted had more of a vibrant color, with certain images.

The printer offers ICC capability, and can print both 8 bit and 16 bit images. The Pixma Pro9500, the predecessor to the Mark II was only able to print 8 bit image files.

The printer was remarkably quiet even without being in “Quiet Mode”, had great color and B&W image reproduction and was user friendly. There is also an easy one-click help button from the On-Screen Manual, which will help you diagnosis and resolve issues and/or questions.

With regards to the various papers that I used in testing the printer, I liked various ones for different prints. The goals is to make sure you like the final look on the paper you wanted, hence with the school picture, I knew the people I was handing them out to would be accustomed to glossy prints, so I used glossy media. For my cactus picture, I wanted to “soften” the look so I went with the Museum etching.

Overall, the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II is a great 13-inch printer with excellent Black & White printing capabilities. The wide color range make your color prints pieces of artwork. Ink usage was within expectations of desired print quality and quantity. In addition, the quietness of the printer allows you to continue to work in the same room you are printing in with minimum distraction. I would definitely recommend this printer for those in the market.

For more information about the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer go to the website www.usa.canon.com.

♦ Carrie Konopacki’s passion and expertise in photography began at the age of 16 when she took a job as a receptionist at Olan Mills Portrait Studios. From there she began a 15-year adventure as a photography professional. First as a photographer for Olan Mills, then in college, where she planned to become a photojournalist. Learning the roots behind her passion for photography, Carrie received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has done freelance commercial photography as well as family portraiture. Most recently Carrie worked for Studio Photography magazine.


Product/Service Review: Your Photo on Canvas/Pro

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By Diane Berkenfeld

WPPI was the location for the debut of a new-to-the-photo-industry canvas printing company, who’s parent company has been in business for over 20 years, providing artists with high quality giclée and canvas printing—Your Photo on Canvas (www.yourphotooncanvas.com).

The company has a consumer facing retail website and also a pro website section where professional photographers are able to order canvas gallery wraps at wholesale prices. Pros receive custom branded product and packaging, an online order history, ICC color profiling, and quick turnaround with shipping in 2-4 days, with low, flat rate ground shipping ($9.95 per order).

The website’s pro area (www.yourphotooncanvas.com/pro) has an easy to use uploader for images and your logo. You upload your logo and the company outputs it to the back of each of the canvases you order, which is a great marketing tool for your studio. Canvas sizes range from 8×10 through 40×60 in a wide variety of shapes/sizes. Another great feature of the site is that the price list includes both the wholesale and MSRP of each size, so its easy for you to mark up your work to an appropriate amount.

Each canvas is coated with a UV protective layer that is specifically designed for the company’s combination of canvas and inks, ensuring the longevity of each print.

Image files only need to be 150 DPI, as the company has found that resolution combined with the latest RIPs allows them to produce extremely sharp prints. The file uploading system allows you to choose your image to wrap around the stretcher bars, 1.5-inches deep, or for you to choose a black border for the sides of the gallery wrap. When uploading files, the website shows you a visual of your image, so you can choose exactly what part of the image will print on the front of the gallery wrap, so you can make sure the cropping is correct before ordering.

The company also offers an affiliate program for businesses that want to offer such services to their customers.

My Photo on Canvas

diane berkenfeld picture-soup blog photo

Original image Ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld

Diane Berkenfeld picturesoup blog photo on wall

An image of the canvas hanging on the wall. Although the color of the canvas print is exact to the image file, the ambient lighting has added an overall slight red cast. Photo Ⓒ Diane Berkenfeld.

To be honest, I actually had an image printed via the company’s consumer facing side but the quality of the output is the same whether you’re a consumer or a professional photographer—high quality, crisp, vibrant, sharp canvas gallery wraps. When I received my canvas and opened the box, I found it to be packaged well, with a claw hanger already attached to the rear of the wrap, ready for hanging. The image looked absolutely beautiful [if I do say so myself].

I was definitely impressed with the quality and will likely be using the pro services to output canvas gallery wraps for my clients’ images.

For more information on Your Photo on Canvas, go to the website www.yourphotooncanvas.com/pro.