Affinity Photo for iPad

UK developer Serif has been busy creating a number of Mac, Windows, and now iOS applications that challenge Adobe’s stranglehold on the imaging industry. Newest of these is Affinity Photo for the iPad. As newer iPads become more powerful – starting with the Air 2 and moving into the present with two Pro models – iOS app developers are taking notice. There have been a number of graphic and design apps available for iOS for some time, including Adobe Photoshop Express (PS Express), but none is as full-featured as Affinity Photo. There is very little compromise between the desktop version and the iPad version, making is the most sophisticated iOS application currently on the market.

Affinity Photo starts with an elegant user interface, that’s broken down into five “personas”. These are essentially workspaces and include Photo, Selections, Liquify, Develop, and Tone Mapping. Various tools, specific to each persona, populate the left edge of the screen. So in Photo, that’s where you’ll find crop, move, brush tools and more. The right edge displays a series of “Studios”. These often contain a set of tools, like layer management, adjustment filters, channel control, text, and so on. There’s everything there that we’ve come to expect from an advanced desktop graphics application. Naturally, if you own an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, then you can further take advantage of Serif’s support for the pressure-sensitivity of that input device.

Best of all, response is very fluid. For example, the Liquify persona offers an image mesh that you can drag around to bend or deform an image. There’s virtually no lag while doing this. Some changes require rasterization before moving on. In the case of Liquify, changes are non-destructive, until you exit that persona. Then you are asked whether or not to commit to those changes. If you commit, then the distortion you’ve done in that persona is rendered to the image inside of the Photo app.

When working with photography, you’ll do your work either in the Develop or the Tone Mapping persona. As you would expect, Develop includes the standard photo enhancement tools, including color, red-eye, and lens distortion correction. There’s also detail enhancement, noise reduction, and a blemish removal tool. Tone mapping is more exotic. While intended for work with high dynamic range images, you can use these tools to create very stylized enhancement effects on non-HDR images, too.

All of this is great, but how do you get in and out of the iPad? That’s one of Affinity Photo’s best features. Like most iOS apps, you can bring in files from various cloud services like Dropbox. But being a photography application, you can also import any native iPad images from other applications, like the native Apple Photos. Therefore, if you snap a photo with your iPad camera, it’s available to Affinity Photo for enhancement. When you “save a copy” of the document, the processed file is saved to iCloud in its native .afphoto file format. These images can be accessed from iCloud on a regular Mac desktop or laptop computer. So if you also have the desktop (macOS) version of Affinity Photo, it will read the native file format, preserving all of the layer and effects information within that file. In addition, you can export a version from the iPad in a wide range of graphic formats, including Photoshop.

Affinity Photo includes sophisticated color management tools that aren’t commonly available in an iOS photo/graphics application. Exports may be saved in various color profiles. In addition, you can set various default color profiles and convert a document’s profile, such as from RGB to CMYK. While having histograms available for image analysis isn’t unusual, Affinity Photo also includes tools like waveform displays and a vectorscope, which are familiar to video-centric users.

Serif has made it very easy to get up and running for new users. At the launch screen, you have access to an interactive introduction, an extensive list of help topics, and tutorials. You can also access a series of complex sample images. When you pick one of these, it’s downloaded to your iPad where you can dive in and deconstruct or modify it to your heart’s content. Lastly, all personas include a question mark icon in the lower right corner. Touch and hold the icon and it will display the labels for all of the tools in that persona. Thus, it’s very easy to switch over if you come from a Photoshop-centric background.

Affinity Photo is a great example of what the newest iPads are capable of. Easy interchange between the iOS and macOS versions are the icing on the cake, enabling the iPad to be part of a designer’s arsenal and not simply a media consumption device.

©2017 Oliver Peters

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Customize Premiere Pro with Workspaces

Most days I find myself in front of Adobe Premiere Pro CC, both by choice and by the jobs I’m booked on. Yes, I know, for some it’s got bugs and flaws, but for me it’s generally well-behaved. Given the choices out there, Premiere Pro feels the most natural to me for an efficient editing workflow.

Part of what makes Premiere Pro work for me is the ability to customize and fine-tune the user interface layout for the way I like to work or the tasks at hand. This is made possible by Adobe’s use of panels for the various tools and windows within the interface. These panels can float or be docked, stacked, or tabbed in a wonderfully large range of configuration possibilities. The Adobe CC applications come with a set of preset workspaces, but these can be customized and augmented as needed. I won’t belabor this post with an in-depth explanation of workspaces, because there are three very good explanations over at PremiereBro. (Click these links for Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3). My discussion with Simon Ubsdell made me think the topic would make a good blog post here, too.

It all starts with displays

I started my NLE journey with Avid and in the early days, two screens (preferably of a matching size) were essential. Bins on the left with viewers and timeline on the right. However, in the intervening years, screen resolution has greatly increased and developers have made their UIs work on dual and single-screen configurations. Often today, two screens can actually be too much. For example, if you have two side-by-side 27” (or larger) displays, the distance from the far left to the far right is pretty large. This makes your view of the record window quite a bit off-center. To counter-balance this issue, in a number of set-ups, I’ve taken to working with two different sized displays: a centered 27”, plus a smaller 20” display to the left. Sometimes I’ll have a broadcast display to the right. The left and right displays are at an angle, which means that my main working palette – the viewers and timeline – are dead-center on the display in front of me.

I also work with a laptop from time to time, as well as do some jobs in Final Cut Pro X. Generally a laptop is going to be the only available display and FCPX is well-optimized for single-screen operation. As a result, I’ve started to play around with working entirely on a single display – only occasionally using the landscape of the secondary display on my left when really needed. The more I work this way, the more I find that I can work almost entirely on one screen, if that screen offers a decent resolution.

So in order to optimize my workflow, I’ve created a number of custom Premiere Pro workspaces to serve my needs. (Click any of these images to see the enlarged view.)

Edit layout 1

This is the classic two-screen layout. Bins on the left and dual-viewer/timeline on the right. I use this when I have a lot of footage and need to tab a number of bins or expand a bin to see plenty of list details or thumbnails.

Edit layout 2

This layout collapses the classic layout onto a single screen, with the project panel, viewers and timeline.

Edit layout 3

This layout is the one I use most often, because most of what I need is neatly grouped as a tab or a stack on the left and right sides of a single viewer window. Note that there are actually source and record viewers, but they are stacked behind each other. So if I load a clip or match frame from the timeline, the source viewer becomes foremost for me to work with. Do an edit or go back to the timeline and the viewer switches back to the record side.

By tabbing panels on the left side, I can select the panel needed at the time. There is a logical order to what is on the left or right side. For instance, scopes are left and Lumetri Color controls on the right – thus, both can be open. Or I can drag an effect from the right pane’s Effects palette onto the Effects Control panel on the left.

Edit layout 4

This is the most minimalist of my workspaces. Just the viewers and timeline. Anything else can be opened as a floating window for temporary access. The point of this workspace is 100% focus on the timeline, with everything else hidden.

Edit layout 5

This workspace is designed for the “pancake timeline” style of editing. For example, build a “selects” timeline and then pull from that down to your main editing timeline.

Edit layout 6

This is another dual-display layout optimized for color correction. Lumetri Color and Effects Control panel flanking the viewer, with the Lumetri Scopes fullscreen on the lefthand monitor.

There are certainly plenty of other ways you can configure a workspace to suit your style. Some Premiere Pro editors like to use the secondary screen to display the timeline panel fullscreen. Or maybe use it to spread out their audio track mixer. Hence the beauty of Adobe’s design – you can make it as minimal or complex as you like. There is no right or wrong approach – simply whatever works to improve your editing efficiency.

Note: Footage shown within these UI screen grabs is courtesy of Imagine Dragons and Adobe from the Make the Cut Contest.

©2017 Oliver Peters

LumaFusion – an iOS NLE

As Apple’s iOS platform becomes more powerful, applications for it begin to rival the power and complexity of desktop software. LumaFusion is a recently introduced nonlinear video editing product from Luma Touch. Its founders created the Avid/Pinnacle/Corel iOS NLE, but LumaFusion takes a fresh approach. Luma Touch currently offers three iOS products: LumaClip (a single-clip editor), LumaFX (video effects for clips), and LumaFusion (a full-fledged NLE that integrates the features of the other two products). All three apps run under what Luma Touch dubs their Spry Engine, a framework for iOS video applications.

LumaFusion works on both the iPhone and iPad; however, the iPad version comes closest to a professional desktop experience. Ideally you’ll want one of the iPad Pros, but it runs perfectly fine on an iPad Air 2 with the A8X chip, which is what I used. I’ve tried other iOS NLEs, including Adobe Clip, iMovie, and TouchEdit, which have their pros and cons. For instance, iMovie doesn’t deal with fractional video frame rates and TouchEdit tries to mimic a flatbed film editor. This brings me to LumaFusion, which has been designed as a modern, professional-grade NLE for the iOS platform.

UPDATE: Watch this video for a rundown of the new features in version 1.4, released in September 2017.

The iOS ecosystem

Like other iOS apps, that tie into the ecosystem, media can be imported from iTunes, Photos, and other third-party applications, like FiLMiC Pro. As a “pro” app, it understands various whole and fractional frame rates and sizes up to 3840 x 2160 (UHD 4K), depending on your device. However, for me, the interest is not in cutting things that I’ve shot with my iPad, but rather fitting it into an offline/online editing workflow. This means import and export are critical.

If you own an iPad Pro, then you can get an SD card reader as an accessory. With the card reader, only native DSLR movie clips will be imported into the Photos app, but not other file formats. Typically, you are going to transfer media using cloud syncing tools, like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, etc. LumaFusion also includes a number of royalty-free music cuts, which can be accessed through its integrated media browser.

To use it as a rough-cut tool, simply create H.264 proxies on your desktop system and sync those to the iPad using Dropbox (or another cloud service). I created a test project of about 60 clips (720p, 6Mbps, 29.97fps) that only consumed 116MB of storage space. Therefore, even a free 2GB Dropbox account would be fine. Within LumaFusion, import the files from Dropbox and start editing.

LumaTouch will soon start beta testing LumaConnect – a macOS companion application designed to facilitate offline/online editing roundtrips. It will feature automatic iOS proxy creation and the ability to relink high-res media – as well as any iOS-captured content – back on your desktop computer. LumaConnect will also allow the rendering of projects as Apple ProRes files.

User interface and editing workflow

Overall, the interface design and editing model more closely approximates Apple Final Cut Pro X than any other NLE. The app’s design is built around a media pool with various editing projects (sequences). This is a similar approach to FCPX 10.0, which had separate Events (bins) and Projects (sequences), but no combined Libraries. It’s almost like FCPX “Lite” for iOS.

There are three main windows: media browser, timeline, and a single, combo viewer. It uses fly-out panels for tools and mode changes to access clip editing and effects modules. These modules are, in fact, LumaClip and LumaFX integrated into LumaFusion. The timeline is “magnetic”, much like FCPX. Clip construction on the timeline also follows the layout of primary and connected clips, rather than discrete target tracks. A total of three integrated audio/video clips can be stacked vertically, along with another three audio-only clips, for a total of six audio “tracks”. Audio can be adjusted through a fly-out track mixer. LumaFusion includes four clip editing tools: speed and reverse, frame fit, color effects, and audio editing. In addition, there’s a multi-layered title tool, along with a number of customizable title templates to choose from. Clip-based volume and video effect adjustments can be keyframed.

Effects are pretty sophisticated and would often be GPU-accelerated on a desktop system. These include color correction, blurs, transforms, transitions, and more. You can stack a number of these onto a single clip without any impact on playback. The effects priority can be rearranged and the interface also provides an indication of how many resources you are tying up on the iPad.

The editing experience

Serious video editing on an iPad isn’t for everyone, but the more I worked with it, the more I enjoyed the experience. If you have an iPad-compatible keyboard, it follows some generic commands, including JKL playback and I and O for mark-in and mark-out. There are also a few FCPX keystrokes, like W for insert/overwrite (depending on which edit mode is selected). Unfortunately J (reverse playback) only works in the clip viewer, but not in the timeline. I’d love to see a more extensive keyboard command set. Naturally, being an iOS app, everything can be accessed via touch, which is best (though not essential) if you have the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro.

There are a few standard editing functions that I missed. For example, there’s no “rolling-edit” trim function. If you want to move a cut point – equally trimming the left and right sides – you have to do it in the overwrite edit mode and trim the incoming or outgoing side of one of the clips. But, if you trim it back, a gap is left. J-cuts and L-cuts require that you detach the audio from the clip, as there is no way to expand an a/v clip in the timeline.

It is definitely possible to finish and export a polished piece from LumaFusion. You can also export an audio-only mix. This enables you to embellish your audio track outside of LumaFusion and then reimport and marry it to the picture for the final version. Because you can layer vertical tracks, cutting a two-camera interview piece on your iPad is pretty easy. Rough-cutting a first pass or pulling edited selects on an iPad becomes completely viable with LumaFusion.

Sharing your edit

Once you’ve edited your piece, it’s easy to share (export) your final sequence as a single audio/video file, audio-only file, project (currently only compatible with LumaFusion), or trimmed media. Be aware that there’s a disconnect between the frame rate terminology for settings versus exports. For example, with project settings, you can pick 24 or 30, which are actually 23.98 or 29.97; however, on export, you must pick between 24 and 23.98 or 30 and 29.97. Nevertheless, exports up to UHD frame sizes are fine, including downscaled sizes, if needed. So, you can import and cut in UHD and export a 1080 file. A flattened H.264 movie file of your sequence – wrapped in either an .mp4 or QuickTime .mov container – may be exported at up to 50Mbps (1080p) or 100Mbps (UHD).

If your intension is to use LumaFusion for “offline” editing, then for now, your only option is to embed “burn-in” timecode into the media that you send to the iPad. Then manually write down edit points based on the visible timecode at the cuts. The upcoming LumaConnect macOS application will make it possible to send projects to both Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro via XML. According to Luma Touch, they will also be adding XML export from LumaFusion as an in-app purchase, most likely before the release of LumaConnect.

Using an iPad or iPad Pro as your only computer isn’t for everyone, but LumaFusion is definitely a tool that brings iOS editing closer to the desktop experience. To get you started, the company has posted over 30 short tutorials on their YouTube channel. Sure, there are compromises, but not as many as you might think for simple projects. Even if an iPad is only a supplemental tool, then like so many other iOS apps, LumaFusion is another way to add efficiency in the modern, mobile world.

Originally written for RedShark News.

©2017 Oliver Peters