Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Big Thank You to Skylum

I recently responded to a promotion from Skylum and purchased on sale a set of templates and a set of skies for use in Luminar AI and Luminar Neo.  Unfortunately, I misread the promotion and mistakenly thought my purchase entitled me to a free gift when in actuality that was reserved for those who'd purchased a subscription to Luminar X, which I had not.  It was not until after I'd written a letter of inquiry to Skylum support, though, that I discovered my error and there was nothing to do then but write a second letter and apologize for wasting the support specialist's time.

To my surprise, I received an email from Skylum support the next day informing me that, though the gift was indeed only intended for those who'd purchased the subscription, an exception had "gladly" been made in my case and that the gift, a set of templates, was already included in my list of add-ons on my account page.  I thought this was great customer service, especially considering the horrendous working conditions existing right now in Ukraine, and yet another reason to continue doing business with Skylum.

As for the software itself, it's apps like Neo, the first fully AI powered photo editor, that inspired me to begin writing this blog in the first place.  While more established firms, such as Adobe, have stubbornly adhered to the formulas that brought them their first successes decades ago, only adding a few bells and whistles along the way, relative newcomers like Skylum have fully exploited the new AI technology to create products whose approach to photo editing is far more original and innovative.  Working with Neo, one can't help being more creative if only because the user approaches photography from an entirely new perspective.  The app is really a must have for any serious digital photographer.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Google Imagen

One of the purposes of this blog is to highlight the ways in which AI is transforming the practice of digital imaging.  While many apps are innovative and imaginative, some of are so amazing they seem more properly to belong to the realm of science fiction.  Chief among these is Google's new experimental Imagen as described in a recently released research paper.  

The premise behind Imagen is simple: One need only compose a single line of descriptive text and Imagen will create an image illustrating it with astounding fidelity.  Sample images can be viewed at the above link.

Imagen has not yet been commercially released and judging from the number of moral reservations already voiced by various commentators there is some question whether it ever will be.  As the history of technical innovation repeatedly shows, whenever a new medium of communication is released there are invariably those who will immediately seek to put it to the most perverse, if not actually criminal, uses possible.  And with Imagen such negative possibilities are limitless.  The most obvious is pornography, but there are no doubt others that will quickly occur to minds more twisted than my own.  In light of that, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the app, if anything.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Acer Swift 3 Notebook

Badly in need of a replacement for my suddenly problem plagued notebook, a refurbished HP, I purchased last week from B&H a 13.5" Acer Swift 3.  Although I use a 15.6" Acer Concept D7 for photo editing, I wanted something smaller that I could carry more conveniently in my travels around the city and that I could use primarily for web browsing and word processing.  While most of the computer's specs are fairly standard, what really set this model apart for me was its 2K 2256x1504 IPS display.  It's not quite HD, but it's far sharper than the 1920x1080 displays one usually finds in this price category,

The computer was easy to set up, and the update to Windows 11 from the pre-installed Windows 10 Home wen smoothly.  So far, the computer has performed well and I haven't encountered any problems while using it.

While the computer's limited power makes it unsuitable for editing photographs, its 2K display does make it an excellent choice for viewing photographs and videos.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Nikon Plans to Build on Success of Z9


Nikon has seen the future, and it is mirrorless.  There can no longer be any doubt that the stunning success of the Nikon Z9 has not only drastically improved the company's fortunes but has also led to a complete turnaround in the direction in which it intends to take its camera line.  The proof can be seen in the Medium-Term Management Plan released yesterday.

As one scrolls down the PDF to "Product Strategy" one finds the entire section is given over the Z9.  And that's entirely understandable appreciation for the "Top selling professional flagship full-frame mirrorless camera in the first quarter of 2022 in the USA."  Sparing no superlative in its description, Nikon best expresses its hopes for the future with the single word "Unstoppable."

But far more interesting is the "Imaging Products: Earnings Plan" a bit further down.  The two Revenue graphs placed side by side provide a fascinating glimpse into Nikon's plans for the future.  While in FY 2021 the Z line accounted for only about half the company's revenue of 178.2B yen, it is projected that by 2025 it will account for well more than 80% of estimated revenue of 200B yen.  That increase is expected to come almost entirely at the expense of the company's F mount DSLR's whose overall share will shrink to less than 5%.  In other words, the company that made its fortune in the 1960's with the legendary Nikon F is some 60 years later almost entirely abandoning that format in belated acknowledgement that it is the mirrorless camera that is best suited to today's digital photography.  It's a truly revolutionary move for so long established a company as Nikon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Photos from NYC Japan Day Parade

I had a lot of fun earlier this month at NYC's Japan Day Parade.  Above is George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu, who served as grand marshal.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Affinity Photo Sale

I've previously posted about using Affinity Photo as a viable Photoshop alternative.  Affinity has now announced a 50% off sale on all its products.  It's a great deal for those in search of a new photo editor.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Bird Photography


I received a newsletter from B&H Photo last week containing links to two instructional videos and one beautifully illustrated article, all on the subject of bird photography.  For those who don't subscribe to B&H's newsletters, which I've always found to be a source of useful information, I'm putting those same links below.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Luminar Announces Neo Preset Availability


I received an email from Skylum yesterday announcing that presets previously purchased for use as templates in Luminar AI can now be downloaded for use in Luminar Neo.  A link to the My Add-Ons section of users' accounts where the purchased presets are available for download was enclosed with the email.

Skylum had originally announced late last year that users would be furnished with an app that would convert the AI templates to Neo presets, and the current download feature is obviously an update on that idea.  The new concept is much more convenient in that users now need not bother with any conversion process before downloading the presets, but at the same time the lack of a conversion feature creates a problem for those users who purchased templates from third-party vendors such as PixaFoto and will now apparently be unable to convert them for use in Neo.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Aspect Ration & Resolution Guide

I recently received an email from Noam Kroll, founder of Cinecolor, announcing what he termed, with no display of false modesty, "The Definitive Aspect Ratio & Resolution Guide For Video: 2K, 4K, 6K, 8K & Every Other Major Format."  As Kroll generously wrote in the email that I should "Be sure to bookmark the page and share it to any online forums or communities that might be able to make use of it," I have felt no hesitation in providing the link above.  The guide does appear at first glance highly useful and I immediately bookmarked it for future use.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Free Monitoring LUT's from Cinecolor


Last month I posted a link to free LUT's offered by Cinecolor.  Then yesterday I received from the company an email with a link to eight monitoring LUT's which, when loaded into a monitor, allow on-set previews.  There is a highly informative accompanying article that provides more detail on the LUT's as well as instructions for use.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Panasonic Announces Leica DG Summilux 9mm MFT Lens

Ever since Panasonic announced its S1 series of full frame cameras there has been speculation that it would eventually abandon its MFT line.  Panasonic has steadfastly denied these rumors and the announcement of the new Leica DG Summilux 9mm f1.7 ASPH lens seems further proof that the company remains committed to the MFT format, which is definitely good news for those of us like myself who own a Lumix G9.

The lens, whose 9mm focal  length is the equivalent of a 35mm 18mm lens, is ultra wide angle with a 100 degree angle of view. The maximum aperture of 1.7 allows for a very shallow depth of field, and the 7-blade rounded aperture diaphragm was purposefully used to create smooth bokeh.  Its minimum focusing distance of 3.7" allows half-size (1:2) macro photography.  All in all, though I haven't yet seen any reviews, the lens seems at first glance a great wide-angle addition to any photographer's kit.

The lens s currently available for preorder at B&H for $497.99, which seems a remarkably fair price for such a high quality optic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mediachance Announces Digital Auto Painter 7

Mediachance, a small Canadian based software developer has announced a new version (7.0.1) of its popular Digital Auto Painter app that bills itself as "the most advanced software to automatically repaint photos in the style of famous world masters such as Monet, Van Gogh, Benson, Corot, Cezanne and many others." Such a claim might seem an unwarranted overstatement, but I currently own version 6.0 and can attest that the app does exactly that.  And in a single click to boot, though it also allows a certain degree of user input for those who want more control of the process.

New features in version 7.0 include:
  • Brush designers and helpers
  • True mosaic engine
  • Feature follow
  • Directional brushes
  • Auto masking
While the site claims that the app is still available in both Home and Commercial versions, as was the case with 6.0, only one price ($89 + tax) is shown, which is more likely that of the commercial version based on 6.0 pricing.  The product site also states that a discount is available on upgrades, but annoyingly doesn't say what the upgrade price actually is.

Those interested are advised to first download the trial version, as I myself will do in coming days, since the only difference between the trial and paid versions is that the former places a watermark on images that will cease once payment has been made.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Luminar Neo Update: Mask AI


I received an email from Skylum yesterday announcing the newest update, designated 1.0.6, to Luminar Neo.  The update's most important feature is the new Mask AI tool.  According to Skylum: "The powerful neural network behind Mask AI identifies up to nine separate elements in a photo: people, skies, buildings, vehicles, water, plants, mountains, and both natural and artificial ground."  The tool also allows users to make manual adjustments to selections. The email goes on to say that it is now possible to:
  • Apply any powerful Neo tool to the selected mask: Denoise, Structure AI, Enhance AI
  • Create custom Presets with Mask AI and apply changes only to the desired area
  • Fine tune with the Paint, Gradient, or Radial Mask if needed, retaining full control over the result
In addition to the Mask tool, the latest update also makes the Histogram available for all images complete with hotkey toggling to identify clipped pixels.  There are also a number of minor bug fixes.

As Skylum continues to add imaginative updates to Neo, the app is fast growing into a comprehensive photo editor that in many ways rivals and even surpasses Photoshop and Lightroom.  When all Skylum's promised updates have been fully implemented, I truly believe Neo will become my default photo editor in place of Adobe's products.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Photo Op: Lincoln Center Outdoors

Lincoln Center, New York City's iconic cultural institution, has announced a three month Summer for the City festival to be held from May 14th though August 14th.  As can be seen from a glance at the calendar, most of the events are free and most will be held outdoors at various locations inside the Center's grounds.  I posted here last month photos I took several years ago at Midsummer Night Swing, and it seems those outdoor dances will once again be held as part of the upcoming festival.  Accordingly, on evenings when the weather is good, I may very well walk with my camera down Columbus Avenue to the Center to see what photos opportunities may present themselves.  If nothing else, it should be pleasant to spend a summer evening sitting outside while listening to live music.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Photo Ops: Asian Parades in NYC


Those New York City photographers who enjoy shooting events spotlighting foreign cultures and lifestyles will have two great photo ops this weekend.

As I mentioned in my April 30th post, the first Japan Parade, led by Grand Marshal George Takei, will kick off at 81st Street on Saturday the 14th at 1:00 p.m. and will continue down Central Park West to 69th Street where a street fair will be held from 1:00 to 4:30.  The event will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival in 1872 of the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the U.S. which resulted in, among other things, the establishment of the Japanese consulate in New York City.

The focus on Asia will continue on Sunday the 15th when the inaugural Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Cultural and Heritage Parade will begin at 10:45 a.m. at Sixth Avenue and 44th Street.  It will then march north to 55th Street.

The timing for these two parades couldn't be better as it becomes increasingly necessary for all New Yorkers, whatever their ethnicity, to take a stand against the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes that have become a growing problem in the city.  I have always been proud to live in a city as multicultural and multiethnic as New York and have been heartbroken to witness the acts of racial violence that have lately become so common here.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

DxO PhotoLab 5

Although DxO has been around for quite some time, it's only in the past few years, with the introduction of its PhotoLab raw processor that I've begun to take it seriously.  Its prior offering, Optics Pro, had struck me as poorly designed, lacking in features and confusing to use.  I was taken by surprise then when I discovered PhotoLab 2 while searching for a alternative to Adobe Lightroom.  I found  PhotoLab to be a simple straightforward app that offered everything I needed on an uncluttered interface.  Beyond that, the purchase price for 2.0 was extremely attractive - it came bundled with the then new version 2.0 of NIK filters for only $99.  I subsequently acquired PhotoLab versions 3 and 4 as soon as they became available and thought they were worthwhile upgrades, but it was really the current version 5 - the first that I purchased in the Elite version - that has really amazed me.  It represents a truly astounding advance over the earlier versions and is now in my opinion simply the best raw processor on the market.

PhotoLab 5's most significant advance over previous versions is its new Deep Prime feature, which is also included in DxO's PureRAW, an app designed for those not yet ready to abandon their current RAW processor in favor of another.  The feature combines denoising and demosaicing into a single operation that DxO claims represents a two-stop advance over its previous Prime feature, thus allowing photographers to shoot at high ISO's without having to worry about noise or loss of detail.

Beyond this, DxO has significantly improved features found in older versions of PhotoLab.  Most important of these is the lens correction feature that allows for improvements in an image's sharpness while correcting distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting.  Meanwhile, the SmartLighting feature is one of the easiest to use tools I've come across to control the dynamic range of an image through the simple use of Selective Tone sliders.  Another slider, labeled ClearView Plus, can be used to control the haze/fog/mist in a given image.  Finally, the ColorWheel won rave reviews in the last version of PhotoLab for the exactitude it achieves in controlling an image's Hue/Saturation/Luminance.   Of more questionable value, to me at least, is the continued presence of the U Point technology that I first encountered in NIK filters and that I feel has been largely superseded by advances in other apps' masking tools.

Photolab 5 also includes new image management tools, most probably to bring it into line with Adobe Lightroom and other such apps, but I personally have never been a big fan of these tools.  One of the reasons I actually liked PhotoLab 2 so much was precisely because there was no image management as such to clutter my workflow.  Nevertheless, such a feature is probably of great use to those switching over from Lightroom catalogs.

For all the reasons given above, PhotoLab 5 has become my default RAW processor and I highly recommend it to those searching for their own alternative to Lightroom.  A free trial is available for those who wish to learn more and take the app for a test drive.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

NFT's Coming to Instagram and Facebook

In a Facebook video published on Monday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Meta has begun testing NFT's on Instagram and that they will soon also be available on Facebook.  Eventually, the feature will include "augmented reality" (3D) NFT's created through the use of Spark AR

Yesterday, Meta issued a news release that elaborates on Zuckerberg's brief video.  Stating that testing has begun with "a handful of U.S. creators and collectors who will be able to share NFTs on Instagram that they have created or bought,"  the release promised that more general availability will be coming soon.  This new NFT feature will allow users to connect to a digital wallet, share digital collectibles, and automatically tag both the creator and the collector.  The release goes on to identify the blockchains that will be supported by Meta as well as compatible third-party wallets.  Finally, the release stated that "there will be no fees associated with posting or sharing a digital collectible on Instagram."

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Expressive Self-Portrait

These days almost every photo editing app on the market has a portrait feature whose purpose, whether or not explicitly stated, is to render such highly idealized depictions of subjects' faces that many times they end up bearing little or no resemblance to their real life counterparts.  Indeed, some apps such as Portrait Pro have no other function.  The popularity of the ubiquitous "selfie" has only accelerated the process, but the phenomenon itself is nothing new.  Long before the invention of photography, portrait painters routinely touched up their work in order to flatter their sitters as far as common sense would allow.  After all, those painters of yesteryear wanted to be paid just as badly as do modern day portrait and wedding photographers.

If, however, a photographer, especially one not possessing model looks, wants to express individuality and character in portraying himself, there are any number of alternatives to Photoshopping his images, though at the same time it must be admitted that a calculated use of filters and presets can often be successfully employed to call attention to those aspects of his appearance that he honestly feels best represent his true self no matter how unflattering the result.  In the above self-portrait, for example, I achieved the extreme graphic effect that fully emphasizes my age by first applying the Dragan Effect script in Corel Paintshop Pro and then the Dramatic Black & White and Desaturated Grunge looks in Topaz Labs Studio 2.  For better or worse, the resulting self portrait shows very well how I see myself at this point in my life.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Corel Video Studio

Corel actually offers two different video editing apps - Video Studio and Pinnacle Studio.  This is somewhat confusing since the features offered by both often overlap.  Generally speaking, the latter, though actually not that much more expensive, seems geared more for professional users and accordingly has a steeper learning curve.  In my opinion, unless one is planning to produce a full-length feature film, Video Studio should be more than adequate for most users.  Notably, PC Mag in its review named it an Editor's Choice, an honor not awarded Pinnacle.  In any event, I had no choice between the two when purchasing since my own copy of Video Studio 2020 came bundled with Paintshop Pro.  I've since upgraded to the 2022 version only recently released.

In comparison to a bare-bones app such as Adobe Premiere Elements, Video Studio is a full fledged editor that contains all the features one could ever realistically expect to use and then some.  There are many features - e.g., animated AR stickers, stop motion animation, and 360 editing capabilities - for which I have no immediate use but for whose inclusion I am nevertheless grateful since it's always difficult to anticipate one's future needs.  More importantly, the app includes all the tools needed to crop, trim and split video as well as the ability to change the aspect ratio.  Correction tools enable the user to adjust color tones and white balance and to apply lens corrections. Motion speed adjustments, motion tracking, and panning & zooming capabilities are also available as well as support for webcams and multiple cameras.  There is also an impressive array of features for recording, editing and mixing audio.

New and noteworthy features in the 2022 version include face effects, a speech to text converter, and a GIF creator.  Adding to the huge library of transitions previously available, the app now also offers camera movement transitions.  I was also pleased to see there is now enhanced support for LUT profiles.

One thing that surprised me in the 2022 version of Video Studio is that much less emphasis is placed on templates than in previous versions.  They are still there, as are graphics and overlays and filters and effects, but they are given much less attention.  Perhaps Corel feels these are no longer appropriate for an app that aspires to be of use to professionals.

Before leaving the discussion of Corel products it might be well to mention that unless one is in dire immediate need of a particular app it is almost never necessary to pay full price.  While nearly all software developers periodically run sales, no other seems to offer as many seasonal, holiday, flash, and customer reward sales as does Corel.  As the discounts are often substantial, a prospective customer would do well to periodically check prices on a given app's website before making any purchase.

As I was writing this article I received from Corel notification of a free "service pack" upgrade to the app.  I downloaded and installed the update without problem but the app crashed the first time I tried to launch it after having completed the installation.  On the second try, however, it opened without problem and now appears to be working fine.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

You Tube Channels for Affinity Users

I received an email from Affinity Photo last week containing an article listing the "16 Follow-worthy You Tube channels for Affinity tutorials, tricks and tips" with Affinity itself , of course, first and foremost on the list.  There were some interesting suggestions, so I thought I'd provide the link to the article here for those who might be interested.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Create NYC Extends Deadline for Presenters

I wrote in an earlier post this week that PhotoPlus was searching for "Creators" to be part of the three-day Create NYC experience to be held in Brooklyn from September 29th through October 1st.  It now appears the organizers may be having more trouble finding qualified individuals to fill that role than had been anticipated as I yesterday I received an email from PhotoPlus stating that deadline for applying to be a "Presenter" has been extended until May 16th.

Those who are interested can check the application here.  The qualifications ("What we look for in a creator experience leader") are fairly vague and once again there is no mention of compensation.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

B&H Photo Announces OPTIC 2022

I received an email earlier this week from B&H Photo announcing the 8th annual OPTIC (Outdoor Photography Travel Imaging Conference) it will be hosting from June 12th through the 15th,  The event will be both in-person and virtual and will be held at the New Yorker Hotel located down the block from B&H's superstore on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 34th Street.

The keynote speakers will be Chester Higgins and Camille Seaman; other speakers will include Scott Kelby, Jennifer Davidson, Susan Magnano, Steve Mallon, Joe McNally, Esteban Toro Martinez, Steve Simon, Harvey Stein, Ralph Lee Hopkins, Ami Vitale, Rich Reid, National Parks at Night, and more to be announced in coming weeks.  

Those interested in attending can register at the link shown above.  Tickets are free for both in-person and virtual attendance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Luminar Insiders Announces May Coffee Break Schedule

Luminar Insiders is a Skylum-hosted group consisting of Luminar AI and Neo users who are regularly offered online chats and tutorials, including the popular "Coffee Break" series held on Thursdays, as part of their free membership.

The Coffee Break schedule for May has just been announced and will be as follows;
  • May 5 - Fred Rogers - Going with the flow in nature photography
  • May 12 - Rick Friedman - Creative Lighting on the Go
  • May 19 - Angela Andrieux - Organize with Myllo Photos, Edit in Luminar Neo
  • May 26 - Jim Cadwell - Secrets and techniques for Bird Photography
The sessions are archived for later viewing for those members unable to watch the livestream.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

PhotoPlus Announces 2022 Create NYC

I received an email yesterday announcing "Create NYC powered by PhotoPlus" that will be running from September 29th through October 1st at the Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn.  The late September dates are, of course, those on which in previous years the Photo Expo had been held in Manhattan at the Javits Center.  Based on the announcement, however, more seems to have changed than just the name and venue.  It appears there's been a definite attempt to reimagine or at least repackage the entire affair into a "3-day festival experience."

For one thing, there's much less emphasis placed on exhibitors and their newest products (viewing which, quite honestly, had been my main motivation in attending past expos).  In contrast, the announcement contains only the single sentence: "Test out new gear in our Creator Row (AKA Expo)."  While this is accompanied by an impressive list of top photo brands, the footnote in small print immediately below identifies them as "Past Sponsors and Partners" (the emphasis is mine).  

Classroom sessions are still available, though these are now referred to collectively as "the Lab," as well as appearances by Mentors, identified as "industry-leading educators in small group discussions."  Most interesting by far is, at the very end of the announcement, the "Call for Creators" who are defined as "engaging photographers, filmmakers, designers, editors, marketers and artists."  Notably, there is no mention of qualifications.  This particularly caught my attention since I myself had received last week an email invitation to apply for one of these same positions.  That email also neglected to mention qualifications, stating only that the search was for "bold, skillful, engaging, dynamic, and interactive visual storytellers."

Finally, in place of the old registration system one must now "Sign up for updates to be the first to know when ticket sales go live this June."  I have no idea what ticket prices will be and in any event am not sure I'll be attending.

Monday, May 2, 2022

On1 Releases Resize AI Update

As a purchaser of the 2022 On1 plug-in bundle, I was given a free upgrade to the new On1 Resize AI that was released this past week.  I've yet to experiment with the software but if it performs as well as On1 claims on its website it will almost certainly replace Topaz Labs' Gigapixel as my default enlargement software, all the more so as I am no longer entitled to free upgrades to Gigapixel.  I do not regularly print my digital photos and so am not often in need of extreme enlargements, but I do like to  have the capability of creating them when necessary.  In coming weeks I will be doing side by side comparisons of the two apps to determine which is actually the better product.  In the meantime, for those deliberating between them, I'd point out that all else being equal Resize AI is definitely the more cost effective option as I purchased the entire On1 plug-in bundle on sale late last year for only $89.95 while the full price for Gigapixel alone is currently $99.99.

It's interesting to note that almost all the other apps in the On1 plug-in bundle - including Portrait, Effects, HDR, and No Noise - have also been updated since my original purchase, but none have been given the big rollout accorded Resize.  From that I'd infer On1 considers it for all practical purposes an entirely new app due to its AI capabilities.