PLUGINS, CAMERA RAW CONVERTERS, NEW FILTERS – IT IS GETTING CRAZY OUT THERE!
I don’t know where everyone else is, but I am getting so totally confused about all the new software-plugin releases that have come out in recent days/weeks. I was hooked on plugins since I bought Nik Viveza at Christmas of 2009. I remember being nervous about paying so much for it, but loved it right from the beginning (and now it is free!!!). Over the years I have become totally immersed in what can be done with all the plugins available – and wish I could afford to get them all (sigh). So in this wordy blog I will try to sort this out.
As a quick example, let’s talk about Viveza 2 again. I downloaded the first beta version of Lightroom and never looked back. Lots of people said Nik Viveza was just a copy of what Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) could do for an image. Yes, it did similar things, but still was a lot different in my mind. Flash forward and I still use Viveza on nearly every post-processed photo even though we now have the somewhat similar Camera Raw Filter available in Photoshop. The point here is that yes, there is a lot of overlap between most of these programs, and yes, they do things just different enough that they all present some benefits to your post-processing workflow. It is really just personal taste in how you want to adjust your images.
So here we are now with not one, not two, but three really good updated software programs (not to mention several other newer ones on the scene) that can process Camera Raw images and do pretty much everything Lightroom/ACR does. They are now all stand-alone programs or plugins for Photoshop layers. For website links to all three programs, check out my Tidbits Blog sidebar. Using the same image of Edinburgh Castle, the top one used Luminar 2018 for Windows, and below used On1 Raw 2018 and Topaz Studio. I tried to use a fairly similar workflow doing the basic Raw editing first and then adding in filter effects. So here is my take on where we are now.
All three of the above programs are really good – I am not going to bash any of them as they all do things I totally love. Do they overlap in what they do? Somewhat, but each has a few things I wish they all could do. Of course that is what sets them apart and why it is so hard to decide which one(s) to get.
To figure out which one would fit your workflow, you need to answer a pretty simple question: What do you want to do with your image or several of your future images? Where is your interest going – do you want to go more into an artistic feel or are you just trying to get the most realistic images for your profession or travel experiences? Since I do not have a professional studio or take wedding or senior photos often, I am more inclined to really stretch what the plugins will do to give an artistic feel to an image. Now I do understand that having a few quick tricks up your sleeve for clients to give them a choice of a few really artistic images is nice to have so using special effect plugins is just fine for that.
- Topaz Studio
First, the Topaz Studio is a free download and contains several adjustments to get your started. Your older Topaz Labs filters can be accessed in this interface so you will always have access to them. You can’t go wrong with Topaz Studio’s Impression or one of their other creative Labs programs like Topaz ReStyle or Topaz Texture Effects for the really artistic effects. Impression has given Topaz the one-up on the other programs for the artistic effects and I am sure you have read lots about it – it is one of my favorite plugins. And I have to mention this little slider that lets you stop the painting action wherever you want – great addition to the updated filter. Topaz has done a terrific job with their masking effects tools and the different masking tools work really smoothly. The biggest down side is that even though Topaz Studio platform is free, to get it to work well you need to buy their Pro Pack. Therefore it brings it in line with the other two programs as far as cost goes. The Impression filter (or Clarity, Detail, or Simplify) needs to be bought individually to add into the Studio interface. If you already own Topaz Impression (or the other filters) as a Topaz Labs filter, you are entitled to a free upgrade for Studio (forever is their policy – once a filter is bought it is upgraded for free). And please do update to the newer Topaz Studio Impression filter – it is much better than the older Impression 2. If you own many Topaz filters, they will all eventually be added into the Studio interface. I am not going to say the program does not have its problems, but I do know enough by working with them that their final product will be very good. They have a Basic Adjustment that is not as complete as the others, but with the addition of the Clarity and Detail plug-ins, and several color adjustments choices, it is fine. In the image below, just a little more work on the clouds and some color reduction would really help and can be easily fixed in the program.
- On1 Photo Raw 2018
Photo Raw is now a really good challenger to Lightroom and is definitely worth checking out if you do lots of photo shoots. I have always liked On1 but it was very computer processor intensive. Their Browse Module is now lightening fast – it makes LR look really slow. I was stunned at how fast it all happens and it appears to be picking up my keywords from LR – that was even more amazing! And my computer hardly even cared. Once an image is chosen, go into their Develop Module which sets you up with the needed filters and is very similar to LR. Besides Shadow and Highlight sliders, there is a Midtone slider which I really like. There are other similar sliders to LR and includes a Detail section and Lens Correction section. Then it is time to go into the Effects Module where they provide lots of presets and individual filter choices. A very popular filter is called Dynamic Contrast – very similar to Detail in Topaz. Also the Glow filter is to be very popular. When masking, they do have a lot of choices (including a new Chisel Brush and Blur Brush) but I found it a little harder to use than in Topaz or LR. The filter settings can be somewhat hidden which includes the blending options, and Highlight, Midtone, and Shadow sliders so the filter is only applied to certain areas if wanted. My biggest problem with On1 is the high learning curve. I believe it is a fantastic program and technically is going to keep Adobe on their toes. But it does take time to watch the videos to understand where everything is in the interface and what all the different filters will do. I can honestly say that On1 is totally improved from previous versions and I plan on using it a lot more. In the image below, the cloud color is just not quite right to me but the foreground sharpness is incredible! The clouds can be fixed easily in the program.
- Luminar 2018
And now to Luminar 2018 – new entry for me into the field since I am a Windows person and this was for Mac previously. The image at the top of the blog is the Luminar example – loved the cloud effect especially and the Golden Hour filter on the front of the buildings. There are other parts I love and parts I hate it! Okay – if they would have updated it to match their Mac counterpart for us Windows users, I would love it. After watching several videos just to find out all the sliders are not there, it is a bit frustrating. I also find that the Masking Tools are harder to use than with the other programs. The Mac version has several grouped filters for different types of effects – for Raw images an Essentials group was created which contains Tone, Accent AI, Color Temp, and Polarizing Filters. In Windows there are Filters Catalog but the Essentials is not the same group. This is definitely confusing. (Thank you Serge Ramelli for the video showing this filter set up – see Luminar 2018 vs Lightroom Classic?) But I love their filters and they seem to give a slightly different feel to an image – the Sun Ray filter, the Golden House filter, an Accent AI filter – and many others. Of the 3 image results shown, I liked the results from Luminar the best. I am under the assumption Luminar will be catching up the Windows version soon so it will work just like the Mac users interface. When that occurs, I will blog on this so everyone knows.
- Bottom Line
I do love all these programs – have used Topaz and On1 for years – in fact my second favorite plugin from years ago was On1’s Photo Frame 4.6 – the best framing plug-in ever and I was totally upset when they discontinued it. BTW they do still have some framing options, but it is not quite the same – will blog on this soon. All three of my images are not that different – just some personal preferences there. And this was basically just using the Raw processors – each program has decidedly different strengths which are not showcased in these examples. A recent post by Photoshop Guru Matt Kloskowski called Is There a Lightroom Replacement explains in more detail about the browser and Raw converter issues – a good read. And check out my Related Blogs below for some other examples of what these programs can do.
As you can see things are changing as we come into a faster and more efficient software era. We have to say good-bye to some of the ways we used to post-process and attempt to figure out what to do with all the “Raw Converters!” – and what do we need from a filter program. I think so much of what you choose has to be based on just trying out the software now and seeing what works. Like I said, I am pleased, I am frustrated, and I am amazed at some of the filters I am now seeing. All three of these plug-ins are seasoned software companies and know what they are doing. Apparently Nik has been bought from Google recently by DxO and will be coming out this Spring with some updates. So there will be a new-old kid in town to really spice things up. Will I use their Raw converters for my work? Probably not so much – still a LR person at this point. Will I use their Special Effects filters? Totally!!! Hope this helped a little if you are as confused as me. I will continue updating you on all the new things coming out with these plug-ins but in the meantime, just try them out. It is amazing what some of the new filters are doing and it may fit just what you need for creating a new type of post-processing effect. In the meantime, Happy Black Friday if you are in the US and good luck finding some great PS finds!…..Digital Lady Syd
Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Macphun Luminar 2018 Sun Rays at a Glance
Now Available – Free Beta Version of Macphun’s Luminar for Windows
Introducing the Free Topaz Studio
Updated Impression Now in Topaz Studio
Updated Clarity Now in Topaz Studio
How to Add a Simple Glow Effect to Your Image
A Beautiful View
My Favorite Photo Frame Plug-In – OnOne PhotoFrames (hum!) – just a little nostalgia here