Software Review: Tiffen Dfx 3.0 Suite

Practically Every Digital Filter & Effect Except the Kitchen Sink

Text and Images by Diane Berkenfeld

The Tiffen Company recently released version 3.0 of the company’s Dfx digital filter suite (www.tiffensoftware.com). I had used the first iteration of the plug-in for Apple Aperture a lot when it was first introduced. These days I use Lightroom extensively so I’ve been using the new version with Lightroom 3.

The suite is available as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Photoshop Lightroom, Apple Aperture, and as a stand alone program. One Tiffen Dfx photo plug-in license will allow it to run in all of the aforementioned image editors if installed on the same machine. The company also makes a version of the software for video/film editing using Adobe After Effects or Premier Pro, Apple’s Final Cut Pro 6/7 and with the Avid Editing Systems. One Tiffen Dfx video/film plug-in license will allow it to run in all of the aforementioned video editors if installed on the same machine too. It may not seem like a big deal, but most photographers use more than one piece of software for their imaging needs. Even though I do as much as possible in Lightroom, I still need Photoshop for some tasks. Knowing that I can use the same plug-in with both is convenient. I’m sure the same is true with folks working with video—using After Effects along with one of the video editors mentioned. For those multimedia folks who use Final Cut Pro X, look for a compatible version of Dfx in the future.

before and after image of orange poppies in field by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) the original image, and (r.) the final image after masking the area around the main subject (the flower in the foreground) and emulating shallow depth of field.

I’ve been impressed with Tiffen’s Dfx software from the time the company launched the very first version, because of the extensive collection of effects and especially filters—digital versions of many of Tiffen’s photographic filters that we used to use so commonly with film cameras. Now with digital we can use software to emulate the effects of many of these filters in post-production, which is a great benefit because it lets you get really creative with your older images as well as those you just took. I love being able to go back to digital images that I shot years ago and tweak them in ways I wasn’t able to at the time the images were shot. The below shot is one that I photographed years ago on Ellis Island and every so often I’ll pull it out to work on it.

Tiffen Dfx 3 examples Ellis Island photos by DIane Berkenfeld

(l. to r.) Original image; Looks, color 8mm; ND Grad 1.2, cross print slide, preserving highlights; DeFog 6.

And, with the additional filters, lab processes, color correction and photographic effects that this new version offers, I’d say Tiffen has packed practically everything except the kitchen sink into Dfx 3. Over 2,000 different optical filters and effects are incorporated into the software. There’s so much that you can do with Dfx 3.0, you could conceivably replace a bunch of separate plug-ins—for B&W conversion, masking, adding lighting effects, adding blur/changing depth of field of an image, color correction, special effects like toning, adding grain, as well as debanding, deblocking, reducing noise, simulation of over a hundred film stocks, adding texture and matching the color, tone and detail of one image and applying it to another.

The DeBand, DeBlock and DeNoise are new, as are the key light and light rays, glow darks, color shadow and more.

That’s a lot of power in one plug-in/stand-alone software title. And what makes this software so unique is that its available in versions for both still images and film/video editing as well. With so many photographers delving into video these days, the familiarity of knowing how to use the plug-in for still images will be beneficial when you start working on video.

And like most plug-ins, you can tweak the strength of the filters. One of the cool things is that you can save filters as favorites, and when you’re looking for filters to use on an image, all of your favorites are in one location.

Diane Berkenfeld photo from Yellowstone park of hot spring in color and black and white

(l.) The original image, a close-up of a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and (r.) the B&W conversion, red filter. No additional tweaking was needed beyond the initial conversion.

There are so many different things that you can do with digital images these days, that sometimes you can find yourself at a loss as to exactly what a particular image might need until you begin to browse within the filters, seeing the effect on the image you’re working on. And I also think that once you use such an extensive program like Dfx, and get more familiar with the many things it can do, the extensive amount of choices becomes less overwhelming.

polarizer before and after image of boy by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) The original image and (r.) Dfx 3.0's polarizer filter.

I love being able to use one program—stand-alone or plug-in—for a lot of the effects I like to use on my images. It makes your workflow quicker if you don’t have to keep switching from program to program. And with Tiffen’s Dfx plug-in for Lightroom, all I have to do is ‘Edit in’ Dfx 3.0, and I can browse filters to my hearts content. Dfx is very quick when you’re working within it, you see changes instantly on the fly when browsing among the filters and effects. When you’re done working with a filter or effect, rendering is pretty swift too.

Diane Berkenfeld screenshot of image in Tiffen's Dfx 3, masked

Masking is easy within Tiffen's Dfx 3.0 suite.

masked image of birds on rocks in ocean by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) I had originally finished this image with a border in Lightroom; and then decided to work on it in Dfx 3.0, (r.) here is the image after masking and adding a graduated blue-red filter. I decided to crop the image, which I think makes the foreground stronger.

With regards to masking, Dfx gives you a variety of different ways to create the mask on your image, and a whole host of options for tweaking the properties of the mask once you’ve created it, and a myriad of ways to utilize masking a portion of an image with the thousands of filters and effects that the plug-in offers. Having the ability to create the mask within the plug-in saves valuable time, which may not seem like a lot when you’re working on one photo, but if you’re in the middle of a big editing session, all of that time switching between programs and plug-ins adds up. I also found it helpful that I could tweak the mask as much as I needed to if I didn’t like the way it was coming out—without having to start over.

before and after image of dalmation by Diane Berkenfeld

(l.) the original image, and (r.) the photo after I added highlights on the fireplace heath bricks at the top right. I added light, using a gobo for the mottled look on the bricks.

To find out more about Tiffen’s Dfx v3 software, watch the company’s promo video: http://bit.ly/ndZqgw.

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Nik Software Announces HDR Efex Pro Plug-In

HDR_Efex_Pro_Boxforweb for picture-soup.com announcement articleNik Software today announced HDR Efex Pro, a completely new HDR imaging toolkit designed to help photographers quickly and easily achieve the full spectrum of HDR enhancements from the realistic to artistic.

High dynamic range or HDR photography is the process whereby you capture multiple exposures of a scene or subject (over- and under-exposing), and then align and merge them to generate a single image that enables a much wider range of colors, highlights, and shadows. According to Nik Software, HDR Efex Pro overcomes limitations in other software tools with a revolutionary all-in-one approach that enables both realistic and artistic effects to be applied within a single tool.

The plug-in is ideal for both pro and amateur photographers. HDR Efex Pro gives you single-click HDR imaging with categorized style presets, precise selective fine-tuning using Nik Software’s proprietary U Point technology, advanced alignment and ghost reduction, full access to shadow and highlight details, and new tone mapping algorithms. Color, contrast, and vignette controls enable you to further enhance your images to create amazing results.

HDR Efex Pro also lets you create the dramatic HDR look from a single image. This feature enables you to reprocess images in which either an exposure series was not previously shot or for subject matter that does not lend itself to multiple exposures, such as portraits or moving water.

Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro plug-in works with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Apple Aperture. HDR Efex Pro installs as a 32-bit or 64-bit plug-in for Photoshop CS3 or later, Lightroom 2.3 or later, or Aperture 2.1 or later.

Screenshot of an image in Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro. Image courtesy Nik Software.

The plug-in will be available in Q4 in both boxed delivery from photo specialty retailers select online and national resellers (complete list of Nik Software resellers may be found at www.niksoftware.com/resellers) and electronic download from the company’s website . MSRP for HDR Efex Pro is $159.95.

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

— Diane Berkenfeld

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Alien Skin Releases Bokeh 2 Plug-In

Alien Skin has announced the immediate release of Bokeh 2, the latest version of its lens simulation plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Bokeh lets photographers hone in on their subjects by manipulating focus, vignette, and depth of field in post production.

Bokeh 2 accurately simulates the distinctive blurring and creamy highlights of real lenses. The company achieved this by working with lenses famous for their bokeh—including the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 and Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro.

New Features

This new version of the software also lets you render film grain to match the original photo, making the image look more natural. The plug-in also has been enhanced so you can see real-time changes to your image while working on it. Other new features include the ability to simulate the effects of tilt-shift lenses and add creative shapes to the highlights in your image. And the addition of factory presets means that new users can begin experimenting right out-of-the-gate.

The Bokeh 2 plug-in is compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 or later; Lightroom 2 or later; Photoshop Elements 7 or later; and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X3. For photographers using Windows-based PCs, you must have at least a Pentium 4 processor and Windows XP SP3 or later. For Mac users, an Intel processor and Mac OS X 10.5 or later is required. The plug-in works with the 64-bit version of Photoshop CS5 on both the Mac and PC. The company suggests a monitor with the resolution of 1024×768 be used.

Bokeh 2 retails at $199. Upgrades from Bokeh 1 will cost $99. For photographers who purchased Bokeh 1 in April 2010 or later, the upgrade will be free.

For more information go to www.alienskin.com.

Look for our review of Bokeh 2 in the near future!

— Diane Berkenfeld

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Product Review: Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 Plug-In

By Diane Berkenfeld

Alien Skin Software’s Exposure 3 plug-in lets you turn your digital images into the photographs you took yesteryear. Sorta. What the plug-in does, is,picture-soup.com new gear announcement exposure 3 simulate film—an extensive library of accurate film properties, both color and B&W. In addition to the film simulation, the software offers the added creativity of simulating Lo-Fi and vintage effects. Don’t have a Holga or plastic toy camera but wish you could have taken a certain photo with one? No worries, just run the image through Exposure 3 and you can turn your crisp, perfect image into the toy-camera output of your dreams.

Get Technical

The computer I tested Exposure 3 on is a Macbook Pro with an Intel Core Duo Processor, Mac OS 10.6.3 with 2 Gigs of RAM.

The Exposure 3 plug-in can be used with Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3. I’ve found it works faster when using it from within Photoshop than launching it as an external editor for Lightroom. Exposure 3 offers 64-bit support for Photoshop CS5 on both the Mac and PC.

If you choose to run it through Lightroom 2 or 3, you don’t need to have Photoshop on the computer to run the plug-in, however I think that most pro photographers reading this review have Photoshop. Exposure 3 is also compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 and CS4, Adobe Lightroom 2, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or later, and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X3.

Alien Skin suggests Microsoft Windows users have at least a Pentium 4 processor or compatible and Windows XP SP3 or later. Apple Macintosh users must have an Intel processor and Mac OS X 10.5 or later. A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

Whether your workflow includes Lightroom or Photoshop, Exposure 3 offers multiple ways to alter your images without being destructive to the files. In Lightroom you can choose to edit a copy or edit a copy with Lightroom adjustments, in addition to editing the image file. In Photoshop, the software can render effects on a duplicate layer instead of the original; or be used as a Smart Filter.

The company has also improved the user interface in this iteration of Exposure. Once you launch the plug-in, you choose either color or B&W. Although not clocked with a stopwatch, I did notice previews were quicker than previous versions of the software. And because there are so many settings you can choose from, I found myself looking at the preview of one particular setting and if I didn’t like it, I immediately clicked the next one as soon as the preview was complete. I never found myself waiting for the previews before I was ready to move onto the next one.

exposure 3 screenshot for picture-soup.com review

Screenshot of the Exposure 3 plug-in launched from Photoshop CS5 on a Mac, showing a split screen. The settings listing shows the film types/Lo-Fi camera effects; further tweaking can be done by clicking on color, focus, tone, grain and age, after choosing a film simulation. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

Get Creative

In addition to all of the technical improvements ‘under the hood’ so to speak, Alien Skin has added the simulation of Lo-Fi toy cameras, aging effects and more vintage films like Technicolor and old Kodachrome, in addition to other film types, toning and aging settings.

picture-soup.com image for exposure 3 review

(top left) Original image of a recording studio's sound board; (top right) Fuji Sensia low light cross process; (bottom left) Fuji Neopan 1600 dust and scratches; (bottom right) vignette soft Agfa APX 100. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

If you’re looking to replicate the look of one of your favorite films, odds are you’ll find what you’re looking for in Exposure 3. There are 500 presets you can choose from. But if you want to use a certain film look as a stepping stone to a more unique look, you can do that too, because the plug-in lets you make numerous tweaks to the settings provided, and it allows you to save presets too.

As much as you may spend hours restoring images that came from a scratched print, neg. or slide, it would take you only mere seconds to add dust and scratches, or realistically fade colors to age a digital image using Exposure 3.

shots of water for picture-soup.com review of exposure 3

(top left) Original image of marshes and the far shore reflected in the water; (top right) Bleach bypass; (bottom left) EPP cross process; (bottom right) Lomo Fujifilm cross process. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

What makes Exposure 3 such a great plug-in is the fact that Alien Skin has put in a lot of work to make sure the film simulations are realistic. When I shot film, I loved the look of big grain in B&W and used to shoot Kodak Tmax 3200; with regards to color, I’d shoot Fujifilm chrome film because I loved the warmth of the final images. Now I can take my digital images and give them the “look” of those films. For discontinued films, like Kodachrome, which will cease being processed by the end of the year, this means a lot. [For more on Kodachrome's film and processing discontinuation, click here —Ed.] Oh, and being able to take a photograph handheld, at whatever exposure ambient lighting allows, then simulate Kodachrome 25 or another extremely slow film sounds like a better prospect than having to wait for exactly the right moment—not to mention lugging a tripod, and perhaps using a cable release. I won’t even go into trying to find a lab that will cross-process your film without charging you an-arm-and-a-leg. Even a film-lover like myself has to admit that digital does have its advantages.

Exposure 3 sells for $249, upgrade from any version for $99.

Go to www.alienskin.com for more information.

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Alien Skin Software Announces Immediate Availability of Exposure 3 Plug-in

picture-soup.com new gear announcement exposure 3Alien Skin Software today announced the immediate availability of the Exposure 3 plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS5. Exposure 3 is the latest version of the company’s plug-in that provides photographers with film simulation as well as a range of creative effects.

The first iteration of Exposure was mainly a film simulation tool allowing photographers to give their digital images the look of their favorite film emulsions. Exposure 3 adds the look of Lo-Fi cameras such as the Holga and Lomo, as well as vintage looks including Technicolor movie film and old Kodachrome that’s distressed with dust, scratches and vignettes to appear aged.

In addition to the new film styles, Exposure 3 will provide users with an improved interface, faster preview and hover help. The software offers over 500 presets that lets you give images a complex look with only a single click of the mouse. Hundreds of settings in all categories are new—including more films, color toning and aging.

Computer Requirements

Exposure 3 offers 64-bit support for Photoshop CS5 on both the Mac and Windows. The plug-in can also be installed in Adobe Lightroom without Photoshop needing to be installed too.

Exposure 3 is compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 or later, Adobe Lightroom 2 or later, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or later, and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X3. PC computers need to be running at least a Pentium 4 processor or compatible processor and Windows XP SP3 or later. Apple users must be running an Intel processor and Mac OS X 10.5 or later. A monitor with 1024 x 768 resolution or greater is required.

Alien Skin Exposure 3 sells for $249 for the full version, and upgrades from any previous version are $99.

Check out Alien Skin’s website at www.alienskin.com for its large library of tutorial videos.

—Diane Berkenfeld

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

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.

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Product Review: Auto FX Software's Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7

By Diane Berkenfeld

I’m going to begin the review of Auto FX Software’s Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7 at the beginning—with installation. Photo/Graphic Edges will take about 30 minutes to install, not the five to 10 minutes that the installer says. And it may not look like it is doing anything right away, but be patient because it will install correctly. The software is Mac and Windows-based PC compatible and will work as a plug-in with Photoshop versions 7 through CS4 or as a stand-alone program. on a computer running at least MAC OS X (on an Intel or PPC Mac) or on a Windows-based PC, running Windows 2000, XP or Vista.

This version of Photo/Graphic Edges includes 32 new edge, border and frame effects. With all of the edges, frames, borders and overlays, adornments and embellishments you have thousands of options. For the pro photographer who wants to be able to add edges to a wide variety of images from baby and child photography to teens, seniors, couples and families, Photo/Graphic Edges provides edges, borders and frames appropriate for all. The software also features powerful tools to alter the edges, frames and borders. Many of them can be tweaked in a number of ways, from changing the hue, opacity, and other characteristics.

One of the additions to this version is the ability to add multiple layers to create unique images. You can save these new borders, edges and frames as presets so you can use them again. Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7 includes 300 pre-made layouts and instant effects, as well as the ability to add your own presets. Other new features include new storyboards and the ability to brush on edges. Auto FX Software has also improved the program with the addition of a new rendering engine and interface updates. An example of this is larger content previews. The content collections have also been reorganized so it’s easier to find what you want. And a favorites feature has also been added.

Using Photo/Graphic Edges

The software is simple to use, as a Photoshop plug-in or a stand-alone product, you launch the software, open an image and choose an edge, frame or border. You can add embellishments, adornments and overlays. If you don’t like the edges you’ve chosen, simply delete that layer and choose another. The edges and frames load pretty quickly too, so you won’t find yourself waiting.

When you are done with one image, and want to move on to another, you just open the new image and that automatically closes the first. It would be nice in a future version to have a ‘close image’ choice in the File menu, if only because everyone associates the word with the act of closing a working file.

When working with Edges, regardless of the one you choose, they reshape to fit the dimensions of the photo. When you are working with Frames, the Transform tool allows you to scale and position the photo as you want. There are actually two transform tools, transform frame/edges and transform photo so you can tweak the frame or edges and the photo exactly how you want. Auto FX notes that the Transform tools are dynamic and non-destructive.

Images can be saved as Bitmap, JPG, TIFF, and PSD files, however the software saves the PSD files flattened but with full transparency, so you can’t make any changes among the layers when opened in Photoshop. You need to do all photo editing and manipulation in Photoshop before you import the photo into Photo/Graphic Edges. One other thing you need to be aware of is that when you’re working with an image and Quit out of the stand-alone program, it will quit without asking if you want to save what you’re working with, so just don’t be too quick with your keyboard shortcuts. When you’re working with the plug-in, and Quit, it cancels the plug-in and returns you back to the host program, for example Photoshop.

I love the photo realistic darkroom edges like the filed out film holders, Polaroid film and Polaroid transfers. One of the cool things about the software is that you can add backgrounds for a full layout. Backgrounds include colors, gradients, textures, and more. Many of the frames and edges are for a single image, but there are also two-up and quad frames that can each hold a different photo. You can add text to images as well. There are frames that are designed to look like actual frames, as well as scrapbook style frames, embellishments and layouts. There are also geometric, digital, traditional, artistic, and more modern edges and frames as well as vignettes.

For software that incorporates so much content—a thousands items—you’ll have plenty to browse from, to find that exact frame or edge for your images. Photo/Graphic Edges Platinum Edition v.7 offers photographers such a wide range of options, that practically anything is possible. So much so, in fact, that you should definitely take a look at the manual before you begin, it comes as a PDF file. You might also want to view the free video tutorials on the Auto FX Software website.

For more information, go to the website at www.autofx.com.

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