Thursday, February 18, 2010

Image Editing On A Budget: Part II

Powerful Photo Software Programs That Won’t Break The Bank
By Brendan Keenan, Penn Camera Tysons Corner

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I'm continuing this topic from last week on choosing budget friendly image-editing programs.

Maybe you’re a Mac user and love to integrate your programs, and your life, simply and easily. Apple’s Aperture software delivers all the power and control you need over your pictures, with an easy incorporation to iLife, and iWork. This is a powerful program. It includes complete RAW file support, for brands ranging from Canon, to Nikon, Olympus, Sony, and many others. It also supports PSD (or Photoshop) files, so if you’re already an Adobe fan, you can still seamlessly integrate Aperture into your workflow. This program offers a great set of editing tools, from color retouching on only specified colors, to effective sharpening tools, to organizing and cataloguing metadata information (the digital info recorded on every picture you take with your digital camera). It offers custom printing setups, and may be the only program you ever need. Check out the free 30 day trial at the Apple website. Bottom line here: A little more money, but perfect for Mac users. Great RAW support, as well as support for plug-ins and PSD files, Aperture offers a complete, compatible, organize, edit, share and print system.

As a frequent Nikon user, I can proudly tout the powerful, affordable, and super-simple Nikon Capture NX2 software. Obviously for Nikon users, Capture NX2 offers a powerful, yet elegant and simplistic image editing program, which shouldn’t surprise users; as such traits have long been a trademark of Nikon. A personal favorite feature is the color control. Utilizing a point selection tool, it allows users to quickly adjust brightness and saturation by simply selecting a point in the image and adjusting the corresponding sliders. It’s easy to learn, and surprisingly easy to master. It also sports functions like Auto-Retouch, which can be used to remove dust, blemishes, or basically any unwanted elements in a photograph. In Raw mode, it has a terrific tool for adjusting shadow and highlight detail, which is recommended for use with Nikon’s RAW, or NEF format, but is applicable to both jpg and TIFF files. The adjustments are easy to learn, with no complicated layers, or multiple selections. It includes tools that handle noise reduction (noise is the digital equivalent of grain in film; anytime there isn’t enough light, it shows in the photo), distortion control, and a vignetting corrector. Distortion is caused by lenses that go very wide, or lenses that cover a large range, but this software corrects for both types of distortion easily. It also offers custom black and white, as well as colorize features.

Let’s say that after settling on a product, you find it doesn’t have a certain feature, or effect that you desperately want. Trust me, it happens. The answer? Nik Plug-ins. Compatible with all popular and professional imaging programs, Nik plug-ins offer enhanced control over specific areas, or types of photos. Need to handle light and color better? Nik Viveza. Love Black and White? Nik Silver EFEX Pro. Nik Color EFEX Pro offers 52 filters, for a total of over 250 effects. Blurry photos? Nik Sharpener. Like Low Light? Nik Dfine. These plug-ins are available in complete collections, or a la carte. Selling for around $150 for most, some plug-ins are under $100. The idea here is customization. With the ability to add plug-ins, you can customize your software to get the most out of every file, based on your personal needs, and based on your preferred type of photos. Whatever program you decide on, plug-ins can make it more powerful, and ultimately, give you more control.

So like I said, there is a little something for everybody. One thing is for certain, software bridges the gap between file and final, snapshot and work of art. No matter what you use or who you are: RAW or Jpg, Windows or Mac, Enthusiast or Serious photographer, only one thing is standing between you and your dream images. Your computer. So take control. Make every shot perfect, even if it takes every tool in the box.