June 2016 - Digital Group - Nik and Topaz Filter Sets

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June 2016 - Digital Group - Nik and Topaz Filter Sets

Post by spb » Sat Jun 18, 2016 4:39 pm

DpReview Camera Roundups have been updated for 2016, comparing cameras in many different categories. Invaluable if you are thinking of buying a new camera.

iFixit is a great site for people who like to mend things, with advice and videos on a wide range of repairs.

I have often joked that software will eventually tell you if your pictures are any good. Well. Picturesqe is now attempting to do just that. Results are unreliable it seems - now there’s a surprise.

Western Digital, kings of the spinning hard disk, have seen the writing on the wall and acquired SanDisk, kings of solid state memory. Price per GB has come down rapidly from 10x to 5x in the last year or so. Not long now till the spinning hard disk is as rare as a floppy disk.

JPEGMini are offering an intriguing app that intelligently re-compresses JPG images to as much as a fifth of their former size without visible loss of quality. The resulting jpeg is still fully compatible with all existing software so I’d like to say that this must be the future if they can license the technology. However other attempts to dislodge the rather old-fashioned JPG compression algorithm have failed to catch on. Given the space taken up on our hard disks by images, this should be marketed as an environmental upgrade.

Several members have suffered black ink problems with their Epson Stylus Photo R3000. This is more than the occasional nozzle blockage and involves ink leakage and/or sudden and complete loss of blacks mid-print. There is a lot of rumour and speculation on the net but this appears to be a component problem with both R3000 and R3880 models. Either the matte/gloss black selector valve leaking and/or the damper (an in-line filter and shock-absorber) blocking. Both models share a common ink delivery system, apparently.

If rumours are to be believed Epson recommend that the ‘professional’ R3880 has a complete ink delivery system replacement every two or three years ($170 for the parts alone). The R3000 is classed as a consumer printer, is uneconomic to repair, and is to be consigned to landfill once outside warranty. Hmm.. lets take a look at that Epson Environmental Commitment American Class Action anyone?

We are trying to find an Epson service agent who is willing and able to tackle this at an acceptable price...to be continued.

NIK Software developed a sophisticated set of image enhancing plug-ins and tools and charged a sophisticated price for them - $500. Then along came Google in 2012 and bought the company for its Snapseed image editing and sharing app. This year they have decided to make available the NIK plug-in set for free. I recommend that you give it a try.

There are seven tools in the set;
Silver Efex Pro – this converts colour to mono and is probably the best-known and most highly regarded means to do this. It provides a wealth of conversion choices for any single colour image and can produce beautiful results with the right image.

Analogue Efex Pro – simulates films and film cameras in the way that many mobile apps have done crudely for a long time but Analogue Efex Pro does it with great skill and variety. If you want to simulate a wet-plate process, an obscure mono film, or a realistic film edge, you can do it here too.

Color Efex Pro – enables you to hit a colour image with a bewildering array of effects, corrections and ‘looks’.

A Control Point facility can apply enhancements to selected areas of the image but I prefer to apply these effects to a copy of the entire image in Photoshop so that they can be dialled down or restricted to given areas as required, using layer masks or the other powerful facilities in Photoshop.

Also in the NIK set is Viveza (a vehicle for basic adjustments using Control Points), Sharpener Pro (a powerful sharpening tool), Dfine (noise reduction) and HDR Efex Pro (an HDR processing tool for Photoshop and Lightroom but not Elements).

The larger Topaz Labs suite of 17 plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom closely mirrors and extends the Nik set. However this is still commercial product with an official full price of $499 for the entire set or $30 to $80 for individual filters. Having said that, special offers are regularly to be found; often 20% but up to 50% on occasion (such as Black Friday). A 30 day trial is available and bargains are offered when Topaz visit shows such as the NEC Photography show, where the complete set was, I think, £130 this year.

I am a fan of Topaz software and believe that the set is more useful than NIK with the possible exception of black and white conversion. I also prefer the interface (although both are very similar). Topaz Adjust has been widely used by visiting speakers to APS to add grit and mid-tone contrast to dramatise images. Topaz Simplify offers some powerful effects including a close simulation of the much-loved but obsolete Buzz filter.

Another powerful tool is ReMask which is unequalled for achieving selections of very difficult image edges such as feathers or hair. A video tutorial even changes the background behind a bridal veil!

There are excellent tutorial videos online for both sets of filters and I recommend that you give one or other a try. Installation is automatic and trouble free and they are not difficult to use. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Topaz ‘special’ price of £130 becomes the norm in the face of Google’s ‘engulf and devour’ strategy.

Cheers, Steve Brabner

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