Boris FX Optics

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are ubiquitous digital photography processing tools that hold a place in nearly every pro and semi-pro photographer’s toolkit. From straight-up image correction and enhancement to wildly creative looks, it’s hard to beat what these tools offer. However, when you get into the stylistic filter options, Photoshop looks a bit stale. You can certainly push the artwork to new levels, but it takes talent and often a lot of work. That’s not in step with today’s mindset, where powerful, yet simple-to-use effects tools are the norm. (Click any image in this post for an enlarged view.)

Enter Optics for Photoshop

Last September Boris FX acquired the award-winning effects developers Digital Film Tools and Silhouette. Optics is a new tool developed since this acquisition, specifically designed for the photography market. It features a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom (as well as Bridge), which is paired with its own standalone application. Optics shares design similarities with DFT, but also integrates other BorisFX products, such as 75 of the Sapphire filters – a first for Photoshop users. According to Marco Paolini, Optics product designer for Boris FX (and co-founder of DFT and Silhouette), “Optics is the only Photoshop plug-in that specifically simulates optical camera filters with presets based on real-world diffusion filters, as well as realistic simulations of film stocks and motion picture lab processes.”

To use Optics from within Photoshop, simply apply the Optics filter effect to a layer, which opens the Optics Photoshop plug-in. If you first converted that layer into a Smart Object in Photoshop, then the final Optics result will be applied as a Smart Filter and can be toggled on and off in Photoshop. Otherwise, that layer will appear with the “baked in” result once you exit Optics. From Lightroom or Bridge, use the “edit with” command to route the image to the Optics application. Lightroom will send either the original version of the image or with any Lightroom effects applied. When done, a processed copy of the “sent” image appears in Lightroom. The Optics Standalone application supports an extensive set of camera raw file formats in addition to JPEG, TIFF, DPX and Kodak CIN files.

Filters and looks galore

Optics offers 160 filters with thousands of customizable presets. The filters are grouped into nine categories, including color, diffusion, stylize, and more. The user interface is designed with tools and controls bordering around the image. Top – tool bar for masking and view control. Left side – the layers stack. Bottom – filter groups and selection. Right side – two tabs for presets and parameter adjustments. You can show or hide these panels as you like, depending on what you need to see at the time. Resolution choices for the image viewer include 1K, 2K, 4K, 5K, 6K, 8K, and Full resolution. The available choices in the resolution menu are dynamic depending on the size of your image. A lower resolution helps to speed up processing results on lower-powered machines, but you’ll want Full to correctly judge some effects, like sharpening.

If you are comfortable in Photoshop, then you already know how to use Optics. You can build up complex effects using a combination of different filters by using layers. Each layer can be masked and includes all of the usual composite modes. Optics uses floating point processing. This means you can blow out highlights or exposure in one layer, but then bring it down again without information loss in a higher layer. Test out different looks simply by building them onto different layers. Then toggle a layer on or off to see one look versus another. For instance, maybe you’re not sure if you want a sepia look. Just make one layer sepia, disable it, and add a new layer for a different style. Then enable or disable layers to compare.

The EZ Mask is a super-cool function. Let’s say you want to separate a fashion model from the background. First draw rough mask lines for the interior (the model), then rough lines for the exterior or background. Optics will then calculate a very accurate mask. Trim/adjust the mask and re-calculate as needed to better refine the edge. Masks may be inverted as well as copied between layers, which enables you to apply separate effects inside and outside of the mask area. In the example of the model, this means you can create one look or set of effects for the background and a completely different style for the model.

Optics includes a number of stylized render elements that can be added to images, like the moon or lightning zaps. This also includes a ton of lens flare effects, thanks to the included Sapphire filters. In addition to the variety of presets, you can further customize the flares by launching the separate Lens Flare Designer, which is integrated into Optics.

Working with Optics

Optics runs on Macs (macOS 10.13 or higher) and PCs (Windows 10 or higher) with fairly basic hardware requirements. I was able to test Optics on both an iMac Pro and my mid-2014 MacBook Pro. There was a minor license activation issue with the laptop, which was quickly sorted out by Boris FX’s customer service technician. Otherwise, the installations were very smooth. No hiccups with the iMac Pro. Optics responds well on less powerful computers; however, processing-intense effects as well as workflows with a stack of complex layers will perform better on a faster machine. For example, effects that were instantly responsive on the iMac Pro took a bit more time on the older MacBook Pro. If you are only photo developing/color correcting, then you probably won’t notice much difference.

The Optics Standalone application may also be used to process single stills without coming in through Photoshop. The new files can be left in their original size or optionally resized. You can save custom presets, which may be used for single images or to batch process a folder of stills. For example, if I wanted all my vacation stills to be processed with a certain Kodak film stock preset.

Batch processing offers another interesting possibility. Optics will batch process any image sequence, whether from a camera (such as drones) or from a video file exported/rendered out of After Effects. As long as they are JPEG, TIFF, DPX, CIN, or camera raw files, you are good to go. This is a cool way to apply a custom look that you may not have access to as a video filter or plug-in effect, even though Optics is a still photography application.

Select “batch process” and load the image sequence. Then load a saved Optics setup that you have created. Batch processing will save these files as a new image sequence complete with the custom look applied. Finally, reconstruct the processed image sequence back into a video file using After Effects, Resolve, or any other application that supports image sequences.

If you work with a lot of stills and hate going through the gymnastics that Photoshop requires in order to create truly unique looks, then Boris FX Optics will be a game changer. It’s very addictive, but more importantly, Optics offers a huge improvement in efficiency. Plus you’ll have filter options at your fingertips not normally available in Photoshop alone. You might quickly find yourself doing all of your image processing strictly in Optics.

As with other Boris FX products, Optics is available as a perpetual license or subscription. Click this link for Optics video tutorials.

Click through the gallery images below to see further examples of looks and styles created with Boris FX Optics.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Pixelmator Pro Revisited

Many Final Cut Pro X users prefer the software precisely because it does not require an ongoing subscription. If you bought all of Apple’s ProApps products, then you have largely replaced the need for an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. The exception to that is graphics and photography design and manipulation. Even the most diehard FCPX users often maintain the basic Adobe photography bundle just to have Photoshop in their toolset, since Apple doesn’t make such as application.

There are alternatives, which I have reviewed in the past. Principal replacements come from either Pixelmator or Serif. If you want the most direct alternative to the Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign trifecta then your best bet would be to buy Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher. On the other hand, if you only want an alternative to Photoshop, then Affinity Photo or Pixelmator Pro might be your best option. While I like them both, Pixelmator Pro seems the closest to the FCPX design ethos.

I reviewed Pixelmator Pro after its initial release a bit over two years ago and have recently started to use it on a more full-time basis. Like others who have the Creative Cloud apps installed alongside FCPX, I tend to go where muscle memory takes me. So if you have Photoshop installed, then you’ll probably just continue to use Photoshop as the line of least resistance. However, if you want to stay strictly within the macOS, FCPX-centric ecosystem, then you owe it to yourself to move over to something new.

Pixelmator Pro is a clean app written with newer code, designed to take advantage of Metal. Its interface design is a perfect complement to Final Cut – using a similar approach to tool/layer/inspector panels. These panels can be revealed or hidden, which means that you can have a very minimalist interface that focuses only on the image, if that’s how you like to work.

Another new technology integrated into Pixelmator Pro is machine learning. It’s important to remember that there isn’t really any “learning” involved with machine learning. Instead, calculations are made against a defined set of parameters. For instance, the application uses machine learning to automatically name layers when you import a photo and place it on a layer. It makes a generic guess at the name, like “building” for an image of a building, tower, or other similar image, which is based on shape recognition. In addition, alternative suggested names are also available. If you change it to a custom name, Pixelmator Pro does not “learn” that new name for future use. The available library of possible names is not increased or improved.

Machine learning can also be used for an image’s color/level adjustments. This is more sophisticated than a simple automatic white balance. I find the results more pleasing and successful than similar automatic adjustments in other applications. At the end of 2019, an update added machine learning to image scaling. If you want to blow up a lower resolution image for a higher resolution result, you can employ Pixelmator Pro’s Super Resolution function. This will give you the cleanest edges around complex images and textures as opposed to the other available algorithms. Unfortunately, it is a very slow process on my older MacBook Pro; however, its use it entirely optional. Expect faster results on the newer Macs.

As I’ve been using Pixelmator Pro more these days – instead of the knee-jerk reaction to head to Photoshop first – I’m rediscovering things that I like and that I find to be more fluid and intuitive than in Photoshop. While you can’t do some of Photoshop’s more exotic functions, like video animations, Pixelmator Pro covers the bulk of what an editor needs to do with a graphics tool. Furthermore, if you use Apple Photos, Pixelmator Pro is also supported as an extension and through Photos’ “edit with” functions. In short, Pixelmator Pro is a perfect match for Final Cut Pro X. If Apple were to design a graphics app, it would undoubtedly look and feel a lot like Pixelmator Pro.

Check out an enhanced version of the article at FCPco.

©2020 Oliver Peters

Stocking Stuffers 2017

It’s holiday time once again. For many editors that means it’s time to gift themselves with some new tools and toys to speed their workflows or just make the coming year more fun! Here are some products to consider.

Just like the tiny house craze, many editors are opting for their laptops as their main editing tool. I’ve done it for work that I cut when I’m not freelancing in other shops, simply because my MacBook Pro is a better machine than my old (but still reliable) 2009 Mac Pro tower. One less machine to deal with, which simplifies life. But to really make it feel like a desktop tool, you need some accessories along with an external display. For me, that boils down to a dock, a stand, and an audio interface. There are several stands for laptops. I bought both the Twelve South BookArc and the Rain Design mStand: the BookArc for when I just want to tuck the closed MacBook Pro out of the way in the clamshell mode and the mStand for when I need to use the laptop’s screen as a second display. Another option some editors like is the Vertical Dock from Henge Docks, which not only holds the MacBook Pro, but also offers some cable management.

The next hardware add-on for me is a USB audio interface. This is useful for any type of computer and may be used with or without other interfaces from Blackmagic Design or AJA. The simplest of these is the Mackie Onyx Blackjack, which combines interface and output monitor mixing into one package. This means no extra small mixer is required. USB input and analog audio output direct to a pair of powered speakers. But if you prefer a separate small mixer and only want a USB interface for input/output, then the PreSonus Audiobox USB or the Focusrite Scarlett series is the way to go.

Another ‘must have’ with any modern system is a Thunderbolt dock in order to expand the native port connectivity of your computer. There are several on the market but it’s hard to go wrong with either the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 or the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock. Make sure you double-check which version fits for your needs, depending on whether you have a Thunderbolt 2 or 3 connection and/or USB-C ports. I routinely use each of the CalDigit and OWC products. The choice simply depends on which one has the right combination of ports to fit your needs.

Drives are another issue. With a small system, you want small portable drives. While LaCie Rugged and G-Technology portable drives are popular choices, SSDs are the way to go when you need true, fast performance. A number of editors I’ve spoken to are partial to the Samsung Portable SSD T5 drives. These USB3.0-compatible drives aren’t the cheapest, but they are ultraportable and offer amazing read/write speeds. Another popular solution is to use raw (uncased) drives in a drive caddy/dock for archiving purposes. Since they are raw, you don’t pack for the extra packaging, power supply, and interface electronics with each, just to have it sit on the shelf. My favorite of these is the HGST Deckstar NAS series.

For many editors the software world is changing with free applications, subscription models, and online services. The most common use of the latter is for review-and-approval, along with posting demo clips and short films. Kollaborate.tv, Frame.io, Wipster.io, and Vimeo are the best known. There are plenty of options and even Vimeo Pro and Business plans offer a Frame/Wipster-style review-and-approval and collaboration service. Plus, there’s some transfer ability between these. For example, you can publish to a Vimeo account from your Frame account. Another expansion of the online world is in team workgroups. A popular solution is Slack, which is a workgroup-based messaging/communication service.

As more resources become available online, the benefits of large-scale computing horsepower are available to even single editors. One of the first of these new resources is cloud-based, speech-to-text transcription. A number of online services provide this functionality to any NLE. Products to check out include Scribeomatic (Coremelt), Transcriptive (Digital Anarchy), and Speedscriber (Digital Heaven). They each offer different pricing models and speech analysis engines. Some are still in beta, but one that’s already out is Speedscriber, which I’ve used and am quite happy with. Processing is fast and reasonably accurate, given a solid audio recording.

Naturally free tools make every user happy and the king of the hill is Blackmagic Design with DaVinci Resolve and Fusion. How can you go wrong with something this powerful and free with ongoing company product development? Even the paid versions with some more advanced features are low cost. However, at the very least the free version of Resolve should be in every editor’s toolkit, because it’s such a Swiss Army Knife application.

On the other hand, editors who have the need to learn Avid Media Composer, need look no further than the free Media Composer | First. Avid has tried ‘dumbed-down’ free editing apps before, but First is actually built off of the same code base as the full Media Composer software. Thus, skills translate and most of the core functions are available for you to use.

Many users are quite happy with the advantages of Adobe’s Creative Cloud software subscription model. Others prefer to own their software. If you work in video, then it’s easy to put together alternative software kits for editing, effects, audio, and encoding that don’t touch an Adobe product. Yet for most, the stumbling block is Photoshop – until now. Both Affinity Photo (Serif) and Pixelmator Pro are full-fledged graphic design and creation tools that rival Photoshop in features and quality. Each of these has its own strong points. Affinity Photo offers Mac and Windows versions, while Pixelmator Pro is Mac only, but taps more tightly into macOS functions.

If you work in the Final Cut Pro X world, several utilities are essential. These include SendToX and XtoCC from Intelligent Assistance, along with X2Pro Audio Convert from Marquis Broadcast. Marquis’ newest is Worx4 X – a media management tool. It takes your final sequence and creates a new FCPX library with consolidated (trimmed) media. No transcoding is involved, so the process is lighting fast. Although in some cases media is copied without being trimmed. This can reduce the media to be archived from TBs down to GBs. They also offer Worx4 Pro, which is designed for Premiere Pro CC users. This tool serves as a media tracking application, to let editors find all of the media used in a Premiere Pro project across multiple volumes.

Most editors love to indulge in plug-in packages. If you can only invest in a single, large plug-in package, then BorisFX’s Boris Continuum Complete 11 and/or their Sapphire 11 bundles are the way to go. These are industry-leading tools with wide host and platform support. Both feature mocha tracking integration and Continuum also includes the Primatte Studio chromakey technology.

If you want to go for a build-it-up-as-you-need-it approach – and you are strictly on the Mac – then FxFactory will be more to your liking. You can start with the free, basic platform or buy the Pro version, which includes FxFactory’s own plug-ins. Either way, FxFactory functions as a plug-in management tool. FxFactory’s numerous partner/developers provide their products through the FxFactory platform, which functions like an app store for plug-ins. You can pick and choose the plug-ins that you need when the time is right to purchase them. There are plenty of plug-ins to recommend, but I would start with any of the Crumplepop group, because they work well and provide specific useful functions. They also include the few audio plug-ins available via FxFactory. Another plug-in to check out is the Hawaiki Keyer 4. It installs into both the Apple and Adobe applications and far surpasses the built-in keying tools within these applications.

The Crumplepop FxFactory plug-ins now includes Koji Advance, which is a powerful film look tool. I like Koji a lot, but prefer FilmConvert from Rubber Monkey Software. To my eyes, it creates one of the more pleasing and accurate film emulations around and even adds a very good three-way color corrector. This opens as a floating window inside of FCPX, which is less obtrusive than some of the other color correction plug-ins for FCPX. It’s not just for film emulation – you can actually use it as the primary color corrector for an entire project.

I don’t want to forget audio plug-ins in this end-of-the-year roundup. Most editors don’t feel too comfortable with a ton of surgical audio filters, so let me stick to suggestions that are easy-to-use and very affordable. iZotope is a well-known audio developer and several of its products are perfect for video editors. These fall into repair, mixing, and mastering needs. These include the Nectar, Ozone, and RX bundles, along with the RX Loudness Control. The first three groups are designed to cover a wide range of needs and, like the BCC video plug-ins, are somewhat of an all-encompassing product offering. But if that’s a bit rich for the blood, then check out iZotope’s various Elements versions.

The iZotope RX Loudness Control is great for accurate loudness compliance, and best used with Avid or Adobe products. However, it is not real-time, because it uses analysis and adaptive processing. If you want something more straightforward and real-time, then check out the LUFS Meter from Klangfreund. It can be used for loudness control on individual tracks or the master output. It works with most of the NLEs and DAWs. A similar tool to this is Loudness Change from Videotoolshed.

Finally, let’s not forget the iOS world, which is increasingly becoming a viable production platform. For example, I’ve used my iPad in the last year to do location interview recordings. This is a market that audio powerhouse Apogee has also recognized. If you need a studio-quality hardware interface for an iPhone or iPad, then check out the Apogee ONE. In my case, I tapped the Apogee MetaRecorder iOS application for my iPad, which works with both Apogee products and the iPad’s built-in mic. It can be used in conjunction with FCPX workflows through the integration of metadata tagging for Keywords, Favorites, and Markers.

Have a great holiday season and happy editing in the coming year!

©2017 Oliver Peters

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

Photo Phun 2015

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It’s holiday time again and a chance to take a break from serious talk about editing and the tools – sort of. I’ve done a version of this post for a few years. Usually I take a series of my photos and run them through Photoshop, Lightroom, or one of the other photography applications to create stylized treatments. This year, I figured, why not try it with Final Cut Pro X?

These images have all been processed in a custom FCP X timeline set to 2000 x 1500 pixels. I’ve used a wide range of filters, including some from the FxFactory partner family, Koji, the built-in FCP X effects, as well as my own Motion templates published over from Motion. Enjoy these as we go into the holiday season. See you in the new year!

Click any image to see a slideshow of these photos.

©2015 Oliver Peters