Buyer's Guide 2008: Software Plug-Ins

While you can do just about anything to an image with Photoshop, some tasks can be fairly labor-intensive or tricky to accomplish unless you know exactly what to do. Plug-ins are applications that extend the capabilities of Photoshop, most often by providing a more automated, simplified approach to an otherwise complex Photoshop task. They typically launch from within Photoshop and use a customized window with specialized tools for the job at hand.

You don’t have to use Photoshop to use Photoshop plug-ins. Many less-expensive programs, including Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo and Ulead PhotoImpact, are compatible with them.

Nik Sharpener Pro 2.0

Sharpening is essential to the finished output of an image, particularly when printing. No amount of sharpening can save an out-of-focus image, but what it can do is provide you with enhanced detail that can make a good image even more striking.

Nik Sharpener Pro 2.0 simplifies the process of sharpening while maintaining the necessary functions for optimal prints. By considering the detail, image size, printer type, resolution, underlying characteristics and viewing distance, Autoscan automatically reviews and applies the sharpening process for best results. The plug-in also features 16-bit compatibility, an Advanced Panel for localized and manual control over sharpening in the image, and RAW Presharpening for use with images converted from a RAW format. List Price: $329.

onOne Genuine Fractals 5

Even basic digital cameras these days come with a lot of megapixels for large images. These sizes are perfect for your computer display or for slideshows on your TV, but there will be times when you want huge, poster-sized prints of your work. For that, you may need to upscale.

onOne’s Genuine Fractals 5 uses sophisticated algorithms to scale images over 1,000 percent without a claimed loss in image quality. By using Texture Controls, adjust the detail in non-edge areas, hard edges and continuous tones. There’s a built-in unsharp mask to save the extra step of resharpening in Photoshop. Video tutorials assist with an already manageable learning curve. List Price: $159.

DxO Optics Pro v4.5

There are any number of things that can go wrong when you’re trying to make something perfect. Lenses capture images with pincushion or barrel distortions. Low or high shots that may look great on your LCD screen often have unnerving perspectives once you see them. Low light levels can lead to high noise levels.

DxO Optics Pro v4.5 uses camera and lens profiling to automatically correct your images. With auto, guided and expert modes, the plug-in corrects and optimizes image distortion, color, exposure, perspective, vignetting, noise, fringing and lens softness. SmartVibrancy selectively intensifies colors automatically, deepening aesthetic beauty without exaggerating color shift on areas like skin tones. Features and supported cameras vary by package. List Price: $79 (Starter); $169 (Standard); $299 (Elite).

PhotoWiz B/W Styler

Capturing black-and-white effectively throws away data. Yet the aesthetic appeal of black-and-white imagery is always a classic and favorite of creative photographers. For this reason, many programs offer conversion to black-and-white images that’s quick, easy and comprehensive.

PhotoWiz’s B/W Styler emulates a variety of traditional black-and-white feels, including filters, lab effects, photo papers and film looks. The program uses the dynamic range of color to achieve a wide spectrum of striking monochromatic outputs not possible by shooting in black-and-white. A B/W Quick Mode offers 16 functional controls, and the Expert Mode provides dozens of features with bountiful controls and presets. If you already have black-and-white images, you can further enhance them by adding soft focus and effects, frames, film grains and colorization. List Price: $49.

Alien Skin Eye Candy Effects Collection

Graphic effects add layers of creativity to images. Ordinary photos can become authentic works of art, while textures or effects can be added to enhance the surrealism of an otherwise ordinary image.

Alien Skin’s Eye Candy Effects Collection packs their greatest hits of textures, effects and styles into one set. One purchase provides 54 filters with over 1,000 one-click modifications. Included in the set are five programs: Eye Candy 5: Nature, Eye Candy 5: Texture, Eye Candy 5: Impact, Xenofex 2 and Snap Art. Some of the simulated effects include lightning, fire, smoke, comics, pen, ink and pencil sketches, star lighting, burnt edges and lightning. The Eye Candy Effects Collection is available for $399.

PhotoTune Test Strip Proofer

Printing can often come down to guesswork unless you take the time to proof. An image may look wonderful on your screen, but then look considerably different in the print.

Make a printed proof of color variations, choose the best printed selection and calibrate your digital image automatically with PhotoTune’s Test Strip Proofer. The Home edition prepares horizontal and vertical test strips in sizes from 4×5 inches to 12×15 inches. Test Strip Proofer Pro also offers horizontal and vertical sizes, continuing up to 36×45 inches, and includes a selection of wide proofs between 16 to 43 inches wide. List Price: $59 (Home); $129 (Pro).

PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.1.3

Camera sensors with high sensitivity are necessary to produce great images in low-light or fast-action situations. Unfortunately, when you boost a sensor’s sensitivity, you’re also boosting its noise levels, appearing as random, grain-like artifacts within the image. Though many cameras have on-board noise reduction, it often softens the detail of the image, as well.

PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.1.3 removes noise through automatic noise analysis, camera-specific profiling, batch processing and a Noise Brush that selectively adds or removes the effects of noise reduction in the luminance, chroma or color channels. Color components of the image are filtered separately from luminance channels for superior results. Manual control is available. List Price: $79 (Pro Bundle, plug-in); $69 (Pro Standalone)—both 16-bit TIFF output; $44 (Home Bundle, plug-in); $34 (Home Standalone)—both 8-bit TIFF output.

Vertus Fluid Mask 3

Masking portions of an image in Photoshop is often a necessary, but time-consuming task. By doing so, you can cut and paste aspects of an image into other images or selectively restrict image manipulation to one area. The potential is powerful, but the time it takes to outline a subject, especially a complex one like hair or tr
ee leaves, can be as dull as driving in traffic.

Revamped for more powerful and accurate blending, faster speed and streamlined ease of use, Vertus Fluid Mask 3 separates difficult subjects from difficult backgrounds. Instinctive deciphering of the width and character of edges easily isolates complex textures and patterns. Features include feather blending, a 2D Color Workspace and a Color Sampler for fine-tuned, color-based mask selection. List Price: $239.

PictoColor inCamera 4.5

Differences in the ways that monitors, cameras and scanners capture and display color can range wildly with each image you shoot. There are a variety of color-correction tools available to fix this problem, but sometimes all you need is a program.

PictoColor inCamera 4.5 uses color management to achieve consistent and predictable color from any variety of digital cameras and scanners. The intuitive interface and user guide make creation and use of input profiles in Photoshop much simpler than it sounds. inCamera evaluates captured color data, compares it to known color values and then creates custom ICC profiles. From there, the profile can be applied to images shot or scanned to correct color distortion. List Price: $199.

Tiffen Dfx Digital Filter Suite

Plug-ins are digital descendants from the optical filters of traditional photography used for saturating color, removing haze, or adding blurs or refracted light. High-quality special-effects filters can be expensive, though, and you may not have the perfect filter with you in the field.

Tiffen, the venerable optical filter manufacturer, offers the Dfx Digital Filter Suite as a solution. With up to 1,000 filters for emulation of everything from infrared to night vision to light streaks, the Dfx Digital Filter Suite features factory presets or custom effects for complete creative and technical control. List Price: $199 (Complete Standalone Edition); $99 (Select Standalone Edition); $299 (Adobe Photoshop Complete Plug-In Set); $159 (Adobe Photoshop Select Plug-In Set).

Twisting Pixels ArtStudioPro Volume 2

If you’ve ever had a desire to make a painting without all of the mess, fuss and muss, then Twisting Pixels ArtStudioPro Series is for you. The newest ArtStudioPro Volume 2 features painting effects that give your images new lives as fine-art paintings. Experiment by mixing several paint mediums, including oil, pastel, chalk, charcoal and finger painting. A brushstroke slider easily changes strength from subtle smudges to radical abstract strokes. Presets are included for fast and fun templates. List Price: $99.

Digital Anarchy Primatte Chromakey

By using chromakey, popular for compositing subjects over digitally composed backgrounds in the motion-picture industry, subject masking, removal or superimposition is a snap. By shooting subjects, especially portraits, against a uniformly colored background, masking becomes an almost single-click process.

Using a sophisticated interface integrated within Photoshop, Digital Anarchy Primatte Chromakey 3.0 takes foreground images of any resolution and replaces the single-color backgrounds with transparent pixels. Primatte Chromakey’s toolset offers simplicity, with click-and-drag setting of tonal values for extraction. The one-click AutoMask works intuitively, even with Photoshop Batch Actions, for removing backgrounds from an entire folder full of images, ideal for school or event photography. Primatte Chromakey maintains detail in transparent objects like smoke, glass and water while still retaining the sophistication to discern and remove color spill, the bounced tint from background colors. List Price: $299.

Andromeda Software Photographic Tools & Lens Effects Digital Imaging Collection

Digital manipulation can be extensive and tedious. Sometimes, though, all you need is the correct tool for the job. The Photographic Tools & Lens Effects Digital Imaging Collection from Andromeda Software combines the programs RedEyePro, ScatterLight Lenses, VariFocus, LensDoc and Perspective for comprehensive, but simple image adjustment. Effects include patterned and diffusion lens effects, depth-of-field alteration, perspective and focus control, and lens distortion repair. RedEyePro corrects for the red eyes that result from flash portrait photography in low-light situations. List Price: $265.

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