Boris FX Optics 2022

Boris FX is a respected developer of visual effects tools for video. With the introduction of Optics in 2020, Boris FX further extended that expertise into the photography market. Optics installs as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Bridge. Optics is also installed as a standalone app that supports a variety of still image formats, including camera RAW. So, if you’ve avoided an Adobe subscription, you are still in luck. Before you go any further, I would encourage you to read my 2020 review of Optics (linked here) for an overview of how it works and how to use it.

How has Optics 2022 changed? 

Since that introduction in late 2020, Optics has gone through several free updates, but the 2022 version requires a small upgrade fee for existing users. If you are new to Optics, it’s available though subscription or perpetual licensing and includes a trial period to test the waters.

At first glance, Optics 2022 looks and operates much like the previous versions. Key changes and improvements for Optics 2022 include Mac M1 native support, Metal acceleration of most Sapphire filters, UI enhancements, and mask exchange with Photoshop. However, the big new features include the introduction of a Particle Illusion category with over 1700 emitters, more Sapphire filters, and the Beauty Studio filter set from Continuum. The addition of Particle Illusion might seem a bit odd for a photography application, but by doing so, Boris FX has enhanced Optics as a graphic design tool.

Taking those point-and-shoot photos into Optics 

I’ve used Optics since its introduction and was eager to review Optics 2022 when Boris FX contacted me. There was a local British car show this past Saturday – a superb opportunity to take some photos of vintage Jags, MGs, Minis, Bentleys, Triumphs, and Morgans on a sunny Florida weekend. To make this more real, I decided to shoot the stills with my plain vanilla iPhone SE 2020 using FiLMiC Pro’s FirstLight still photo app. Somewhere along the line, iOS and FirstLight have been updated to allow camera RAW photography. This wasn’t initially available and technically the SE doesn’t support Apple’s ProRAW codec. However, FirstLight now enables RAW recording of DNG files, which are kissing cousins of ProRAW. In the RAW mode, you get the full 4:3, 12MP sensor image. Alternate aspect ratios or in-app film emulations will be disabled.

After a morning of checking out classic cars, I returned home, AirDropped the stills to my iMac and started testing Optics. As RAW photos, the first step in Photoshop is to make any adjustment in the Adobe Camera RAW module before the photo opens in Photoshop. Next, send the layer to Optics, which launches the Optics 2022 application and opens that image in the Optics interface. When you’ve completed your Optics adjustments, click Apply to send the image back to Photoshop as a flat, rasterized image layer or a smart filter.

Working with layers and filters

As I discussed in my 2020 post, Optics itself is a layer-based system, similar to Photoshop. Each layer has separate blend and masking controls. Typically you add one effect per layer and stack more layers as you build up the look. The interface permits you to enable/disable individual layers, compare before and after versions, and adjust the display size and resolution.

Effects are organized into categories (FilmLab, Particle Illusion, Color, Light, etc) and then groups of filters within each category. For example, the Stylize category includes the various Sapphire paint filters. Each filter selection includes a set of presets. When you apply a filter preset, the parameters panel allows you to fine-tune the look and the adjustment of that effect, so you aren’t locked into the preset.

In addition to the parameters panel, many of the effects include on-screen overlay controls for visual adjustment. This is especially helpful with the Particle Illusion effects. For instance, you can change or modify the path of a lightning bolt by moving the on-screen points of the emitter.

Handling file formats

Optics supports TIFF, JPEG, PNG, and RAW formats, so you can open those straight into Optics without Photoshop. In the case of my DNG files, the first effect to be applied is a Develop filter. You can tweak the image values much like in the Adobe Camera RAW module. The operation for creating your look is the same as when you come from Photoshop, except that there is no Apply function. You will need to Save or Save As to export a flat, rasterized TIFF, PNG, or JPEG file. 

Unlike Photoshop, Optics does not have its own layered image format. You can save and recall a set-up. So if you’ve built up a series of filter layers for a specific look, simply save that set-up as a file (minus the image itself). This can be recalled and applied to any other image and modified to adapt that set-up for the new image. If you save the file in the TIFF format, then you have the option to save it with the set-up embedded. These files can be opened back up in Optics along with the various filter layers for further editing.

Performance

As I worked through my files on my iMac, Optics 2022 performed well, but I did experience a number of application crashes of just Optics. When Optics crashes, you lose any adjustments made to the image in Optics. However, when I tested Optics 2022 on my mid-2014 15″ MacBook Pro using the same RAW images, the application was perfectly stable. So it could be some sort of hardware difference between the two Macs.

Here’s one workflow item to be aware of between Photoshop and Optics. If you crop an image in Photoshop, the area outside of the crop still exists, but is hidden. That full image without the crop is the layer sent to Optics. If you apply a stylized border effect, the border is applied to the edges of the full image. Therefore, some or all of the border will be cropped upon returning to Photoshop. Optics includes internal crop controls, so in that instance, you might wish to crop in Optics first, apply the border, and then match the crop for the whole image once back in Photoshop.

All in all, it’s a sweet application that really helps when stuck for ideas about what to do with an image when you want to elevate it above the mundane. Getting great results is fast and quite enjoyable – not to mention, infinitely easier than in Photoshop. Overall, Optics is a great tool for any photographer or graphic designer.

Click through the gallery images below to see further examples of looks and styles created with Boris FX Optics 2022.

©2022 Oliver Peters

Santa’s Cutting Room

Holiday time is a joyous affair, but it’s also the time of the year when retailers roll out their specials and cyber-deals. In these past almost-two years, many editors have spent a significant time cutting from home. Many have been working with ad hoc set-ups, like spreading a laptop and drives across the dining room table. If that’s you, maybe now is the time to create a more comfortable and productive editing environment.

I’ve discussed the minimalist approach in the past and that’s what I’m revisiting in this post. The objective is to set up a powerful room built for modern workflows, but with a light footprint. My goal is a comfortable cutting room, not a high-end grading or mixing suite. For example, with editing in mind, you don’t necessarily need a large video reference display and AJA or Blackmagic Design i/o hardware. You can if you want to, but it’s not essential.

I’m going to describe a layout designed around a laptop with an external display. While you could certainly go with a workstation, the laptops offer you mobility, should you need to move the project to the location. Modern laptops, like the new 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pros have more than enough horsepower to compete with most desktop system. However, if mobility is less important and you still want the latest Apple hardware, then a Mac mini or a 24″ iMac might best fit the bill. Currently these use the entry-level M1 chip. While offering plenty of power for most users, you might want to wait until 2022 before committing, since more powerful versions are expected. After a couple of years running an older 15″ MacBook Pro plus a Dell display, I reconfigured my home cutting room around a 27″ Intel iMac. This best matches my current needs, since I rarely work on-location anymore.

Since I typically work with Macs, I’m going to focus on them here. If you prefer Windows PCs, then simply substitute your favorite – maybe a Dell, HP, or even a custom Puget Systems machine. If you are purchasing a new Mac with an Apple Silicon M1 integrated SoC, then make sure the hardware and software you add is compatible with the M1 chipset, as well as the latest macOS. While I have tried to make selections that are compatible, I don’t have personal experience with each and every item, so do your own research before you buy. My whole point here is to spark some ideas that may help you hone in on just the right room layout and tools for you.

Click the embedded links that appear throughout this post for more specific product information.

The room

For sake of discussion, I’m talking about repurposing a spare bedroom, office, cave, etc into a permanent editing suite. However, this doesn’t mean a total rehab. You certainly could do that, but I’m not advocating making the walls soundproof, adding a compression ceiling, or anything crazy. If that is your goal, then check out some of my old posts about DIY edit suite construction. There are three key considerations – power, your sitting/standing preference, and sound treatment.

Most modern residential buildings have adequate power in the normal outlets to power your gear. However, I would highly recommend bringing in an electrician to wire dedicated circuits just for your computer and accessories. After all, you don’t want your RAID on the same circuit as the kitchen microwave or toaster. In addition, add an uninterruptible power supply, like an APC Smart-UPS or CyberPower Systems UPS. A single floor unit (1500-220VA) will be sufficient to provide power through momentary black-outs, as well as provide some voltage regulation. Also include a few standard power strips.

The chair and desk will be the most important purchases over time. Whether you prefer to sit, stand, or mix it up is a personal choice. I like large flat table surfaces in the 3′ x 6′ range. To cover the bases look at something like a Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk. Make sure you pick an adjustable height model with electrical control and add the option of cable trays for neater cable management. Your sit/stand preference will dictate whether you need a standard office chair or stool. I’m a fan of the Herman Miller Aeron and Mirra 2 models for their quality and durability, but X-Chair or similar gaming chair is also a high-quality alternative.

Finally, the acoustic wall treatments. You may have enough furnishings and irregular surfaces in the room already to sufficiently kill sound reflections. If not, a good solution will be sound panels that can be mounted on the walls, like color-coordinated kits from Acoustical Solutions.

Computer and peripherals

As I stated up top, this room is designed around a laptop with an external display. My top laptop pick right now is Apple’s 16″ MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip. Get the 10-core (CPU) / 32-core (GPU) model with 64GB RAM and a 1TB internal drive. Except for the drive, this is maxed out, so it should be ready for anything you toss at it. Some will prefer the 14″ MacBook Pro, which is smaller yet offers similar power. (Although some have noted that the “notch” is more intrusive on the 14″ models.)

Be sure to add an external Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and/or trackpad. I recommend also adding a Rain Design mStand laptop stand and an Anker USB dock for additional USB-A ports. If you prefer to run your laptop in the clamshell mode and tuck it out of the way, then go for the Twelve South BookArc. In that case, the smaller 14″ MacBook Pro might be the better choice, since the laptop screen is less important in daily use.

When it comes to the display, the goal is a large primary interface display that’s good (enough) for critical video evaluation. But it’s not a dedicated video display. The laptop’s screen becomes your secondary display if you configure this as a dual-display layout. There are plenty of options, but my top three choices are the Apple Pro Display XDR, Apple’s version of the LG UltraFine 5K display, and the ASUS ProArt PA32UCG-K.

If you prefer a matched dual-display layout, instead of using the laptop screen as a second display, then you may want to consider a pair of the LG UltraFine 4K models. Remember to add AppleCare to any of the products purchased from Apple. Yes, it’s an “insurance” policy, but I have actually had to use it in the past with an older Apple laptop. I was glad I had it then.

Storage

The type and capacity of required storage will depend on the projects you tackle. If you work with many projects or a lot of media, then I would recommend two RAID choices. The Promise RAIDs are tried and true, so the Pegasus32 R4, R6, or R8 models stand out. Another interesting option is OWC’s Thunderbay Flex 8, because you can mix both SSD/NVMe and spinning drives in the same enclosure. The enclosure also adds some expansion capability.

Because you never have enough ports, look at the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock. This may or may not be necessary if you purchase the Thunderbay Flex 8, as that unit already adds some additional ports. But you may need both.

I archive all client projects onto removable drives. If you work with such raw drives, make sure to get a fast drive dock, such as the OWC Drive Dock USB-C. This is handy not only for archiving, but if the dock and drive are fast enough, you can also edit directly from it, should quick revisions be required in the future. For media, my current choice is Seagate’s Ironwolf Pro line. Regardless of brand or capacity, select drives that run at 7200 RPM or faster, carry a 5-year limited warranty, and are rated for NAS use.

If you prefer to use small external drives or need them for location work, then you can’t beat the Samsung T7, G-Drive Pro, or Glyph Atom SSDs.

Audio hardware

While I think you can do without an external video monitor in this type of room, I do believe you need good audio monitoring. I’m not a fan of working and mixing 100% of the time using only headphones, so speakers and an audio interface are important. How invested you are in audio gear is going to depend on whether you want to be able to work in stereo only or also surround. While I think you can adequately mix and master (for TV and the web) simple stereo projects in this environment, I don’t recommend that for surround. The intent is purely monitoring while editing, using either an LCR or a 5.1 configuration.

The most straightforward is a stereo-only configuration. There are plenty of interface options, but my top choices are the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96, PreSonus Studio 24c, Apogee Symphony Desktop, or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. If you want or need to monitor LCR or 5.1, then this requires an audio interface with additional discrete analog line outputs. 5.1 requires six outputs, but most units will come in configurations with eight line outputs. I have not personally tested these, but based on my research, I would recommend the PreSonus Studio 1824c, Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, or Focusrite Pro Red 16Line.

If the interface uses macOS core audio, then it should be compatible.  However, if a separate software driver is used, then make sure that it will work with the M1 Macs and the latest macOS version. If you use powered speakers, then you can design the room without an external audio mixer, unless you prefer to add one.

Powered speakers eliminate the need for additional amps, wiring, a mixer, etc. This fits with the minimalist ethos. There are plenty of great speakers to choose from, but it’s a highly subjective choice. My top picks include Genelec, ADAM Audio, PreSonus, KRK, and M-Audio. Obviously for stereo, you’ll only need a pair of speakers; but for a 5.1 surround, you’ll need to purchase five matched speakers, plus a subwoofer. I also recommend speaker stands or risers – especially for any speaker sitting on the desk. This isolates vibration between the speaker and the desk and elevates the cones to the right height for your ears. I currently use speaker ISO-Stands from isoAcoustics.

Having speakers won’t eliminate the need to use headphones from time to time, so pick some good ones. AKG studio models are my go-to. Need to record any scratch tracks? Don’t forget a basic microphone. I’m fond of RØDE’s NT-USB Mini or their PodMic (with stand).

Video software / plug-ins

I’m not going to dwell on the choice of editing software (NLE). The options are all good and what you use will depend on preference or business/project requirements. I’m talking about Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, or DaVinci Resolve. Of course, you can also toss in Lightworks and Media 100. Of these, Premiere Pro, FCP, and Resolve will be the most up-to-date with Mac compatibility. If your needs are simple, then you are probably fine using the tools as they come. But if your needs are more advanced or you are required to interchange projects with users who are running other NLEs, then you’ll have to augment the NLE with third-party tools.

Final Cut Pro users who exchange files with Premiere Pro editors or send sequences to a mixer using Pro Tools will need to invest in interchange products from Intelligent Assistance, XMiL, and/or Marquis Broadcast. These are available through the Apple App Store.

If you perform advanced color correction, but want to stay within the NLE, then Media Composer editors can choose to add the Symphony option. Final Cut Pro editors have several choices, including plug-ins and applications from Color Finale or Coremelt. Other tools available to the various NLEs are FilmConvert’s Nitrate and CineMatch. Need more effects grunt than what the native effects and transitions offer? The best all-around package is Continuum from Boris FX.

Audio plug-ins

Like video, most of these NLEs have a solid selection of built-in audio effect/filter plug-ins. Nevertheless, often a third-party tool might handle tough sound situations in a better manner. One area is audio clean-up. My three top choices include the Accusonus ERA bundle, Klevgrand Brusfri, and iZotope RX. The first two offer good real-time performance and work well applied to clips or tracks. RX does include some real-time plug-ins, but you are better off using the standalone application that’s part of the RX bundle.

If you need to add more processing (EQ, compression, limiting), then I really like the various FabFilter plug-ins. But, there are also some good free plug-ins from Tokyo Dawn Labs and TBProAudio.

Other software applications

To wrap it up, don’t forget about some other useful tools. Even through you may use Photoshop, it’s still a good investment to add Pixelmator Pro and Affinity Photo. Each offers some graphics capabilities that Photoshop doesn’t. For example, Photoshop no longer supports certain font types as editable text within .PSD files. However, Affinity Photo can edit these, which helps with legacy files.

You are probably using either Apple Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder to batch-encode camera footage, generate files for review, and create web deliverables. Yet, there are still formats that these skip. One solution is the free (donation requested) Shutter Encoder. Two other applications in my video player toolkit include the free VLC – an all-purpose media player – and Telestream Switch. The latter is a bit pricey, but is my go-to application for detailed video analysis and QC. It can also transcode single video files when needed. Finally, if you do a lot of work with batches of files, Better Rename is one of my most-used applications.

OK, there you have the round-up to build a powerful, yet minimalist cutting room from the ground up. Remember that minimalist does not mean cheap. Heck, I’d venture to guess that if you max out this list, you might be pushing $35K. This is an investment in your business and future, so bite off what makes sense now and leave the rest for later. In any case, enjoy the holidays and maybe this rundown will give you some ideas as to what to put on the wishlist for Santa!

©2021 Oliver Peters

CineMatch for FCP

Last year FilmConvert, developers of the Nitrate film emulation plug-in, released CineMatch. It’s a camera-matching plug-in designed for multiple platforms – including operating systems and different editing/grading applications. The initial 2020 release worked with DaVinci Resolve and Premiere Pro. Recently FilmConvert added Final Cut Pro support. You can purchase the plug-in for individual hosts or as a bundle for multiple hosts. If you bought the bundled version last year, then that license key is also applicable to the new Final Cut Pro plug-in. So, nothing extra to purchase for bundle owners.

CineMatch is designed to work with log and raw formats and a wide range of camera packs is included within the installer. To date, 70 combinations of brands and models are supported, including iPhones. FilmConvert has created these profiles based on the color science of the sensor used in each of the specific cameras.

CineMatch for FCP works the same way as the Resolve and Premiere Pro versions. First, select the source profile for the camera used. Next, apply the desired target camera profile. Finally, make additional color adjustments as needed.

If you a shoot with one predominant A camera that is augmented by B and C cameras of different makes/models, then you can apply CineMatch to the B and C camera clips in order to better match them to the A camera’s look.

You can also use it to shift the look of a camera to that of a different camera. Let’s say that you want a Canon C300 to look more like an ARRI Alexa or even an iPhone. Simply use CineMatch to do that. In my example images, I’ve adjusted Blackmagic and Alexa clips so that they both emulate the color science of a Sony Venice camera.

When working in Final Cut Pro, remember that it will automatically apply Rec 709 LUTs to some log formats, like ARRI Alexa Log-C. When you plan to use CineMatch, be sure to also set the Camera LUT pulldown selector in the inspector pane to “none.” Otherwise, you will be stacking two LUT conversions resulting in a very ugly look.

Once camera settings have been established, you can further adjust exposure, color balance, lift/gamma/gain color wheels, saturation, and the luma curve. There is also an HSL curves panel to further refine hue, saturation, and luma for individual color ranges. This is helpful when trying to match two cameras or shots to each other with greater accuracy. FCP’s comparison viewer is a great aid in making these tweaks.

As a side note, it’s also possible to use CineMatch in conjunction with FilmConvert Nitrate (if you have it) to not only adjust color science, but then to subsequently emulate different film stocks and grain characteristics.

CineMatch is a useful tool when working with different camera types and want to achieve a cohesive look. It’s easy and quick to use with little performance impact. CineMatch now also supports M1 Macs.

©2021 Oliver Peters

Boris FX Continuum FCP 2021

The software teams at Boris FX have been busy introducing new 2021 versions of their assorted product line. This includes Continuum for Final Cut Pro, which has not only been updated for faster performance, but is in fact a re-imagined product. It’s somewhat stripped down from earlier versions – missing mocha tracking, Primatte keying, and built-in particle illusion effects. (The latter are available through a free, standalone application for the Mac.) Nevertheless, this comprehensive set of lighting effects, film stock emulations, and other image stylizing tools has a lot to offer. It’s bound to be a hit with many users. Check out my in-depth review at FCP.co for all of the details. For even more, here’s a new video from Ian Anderson about using this new version in FCP. Go back to the head of Anderson’s presentation for an in-depth overview of Final Cut Pro.

©2021 Oliver Peters

Audio Plug-ins for Editors – Part 4

What about free?

Working with plug-ins is fun, but it gets complex when you want to be consistent across multiple hosts. The built-in effects can be quite good and if you only ever work in Media Composer, Resolve, Premiere Pro, or Final Cut Pro and are happy with what’s included, then nothing more is needed. But if you work in multiple applications, then what you like in one will be missing in the other. For example, the Logic compressor is available in FCP, but not Logic’s vintage EQ. If I use native effects in FCP, I have to use different effects to achieve the same results in Premiere Pro.

That problem can be solved by purchasing a plug-in bundle that is consistent across multiple hosts. If you install audio effects that support AU, VST, VST3, and AAX, then you are covered for Macs and PCs, and nearly all DAW and NLE brands. However, such bundles and/or individual plug-ins are typically authorized for a single machine at a time, via an activation code, a licensing portal, or a USB license key, like an iLok. If you operate a multi-seat shop, then it’s complicated juggling plug-in licensing across several machines. Hence, you have to purchase a plug-in set for each workstation, which can be costly. So free options become quite attractive. Install them on all the machines and never deal with the “missing plug-in” error message again.

One source to find options is the Audio Plug-ins for Free website. I follow the Pro Tools Expert website. They frequently highlight free audio plug-ins. Some offers are only available for a limited time and others indefinitely. Some of the free options are gimmicky or don’t have a ton of use for most video editors. iZotope’s Vinyl is a prime example. But every now and then you’ll find some gems.

TBProAudio

I’ve run across two companies with free products that I find to be quite useful. The first is TBProAudio. They offer a range of audio plug-ins, including a couple of free products. The first is the sTilt v2, which is a linear phase equalizer, also known as a spectral-tilt or tilt-shift equalizer. Think of the frequency spread as a playground teeter-totter. The audio spectrum is on a “slope” that pivots on a center frequency. As you move the dial to the right, audio frequencies above the center frequency are boosted and audio below is cut or reduced. The result is a brighter sound. Move the dial to the left and upper frequencies are cut, while lower frequencies are boosted for a warmer sound. Adjust the center frequency value to move the “fulcrum” of the tilt-shift processing.

Another one of their free plug-ins is the mvMeter 2. This classic, analog-style meter array features several metering models, including, VU, RMS, EBUR128, and PPM. I started in radio, so working with VU meters is second nature to me. Since finding this plug-in I’ve used it on nearly every mix. I find that my mixes are now more standard with more consistent levels than simply judging by the built-in full scale dB meters.

Tokyo Dawn Records/Labs 

As I searched for more useful plug-ins, I also ran across Tokyo Dawn Labs, a software offshoot of Tokyo Dawn Records in Germany. They offer a number of plug-ins, including four free products. Each of the free products includes a paid GE (“gentlemen’s edition”) version with additional features. The free products are not severely limited “lite” versions, but in fact, include 80-90% of the functionality of the GE products. These include two equalizers and two compressors, which are amazingly good – free or not.

TDR VOS Slick EQ is a mixing/mastering equalizer with several emulation models – American, British, German, and Soviet. Each model mimics certain gear or console characteristics. The American model is the most transparent. Slick EQ’s general operation is like most classic, three-band EQs with hi/low pass filtering and shelving controls.

TDR Kotelnikov is a dynamics processor, i.e a compressor/limiter.  It has a very smooth and transparent sound with processing that’s affected by a stereo density control. Its transparency makes this tool ideal to apply to the final stereo output or master mix bus of any mix.

TDR Nova is a bit harder to describe. TDR calls it a parallel dynamic equalizer. It looks and acts a bit like a four-band parametric equalizer, however it also includes compression. So you can use it simply as an EQ, or you can combine that with compression to create a multi-band compressor.

TDR Molotok is another dynamics processor. I haven’t tested this one, but it definitely has the most old-school UI of the bunch. TDR states it doesn’t emulate any specific vintage device, but has what they describe as eleven flavor nuances. For me personally, Kotelnikov fits the bill for video project mastering, But If I were a music producer, then Molotok would hold some appeal.

An interesting aspect to these plug-ins is that default processing is stereo, but it can also be put into a sum or difference mode. Effectively this enables mid or side signal processing. For example, if you want to only process the middle portion of the stereo signal, set the filter to the sum mode. In addition, the filter can be switched from Precise to ECO (economy) in case you are working with an underpowered computer.

In wrapping up this series of posts, I want to point out that not all application hosts treat audio plug-ins equally. Typically DAWs generally do the best job of  working seamlessly with third-party audio products. That’s less the case with NLEs.

If you use a Mac, you can install both AU and one of several VST versions of a plug-in. PCs only use VST varieties. However, in some cases, the AU version may have slightly different UI properties that the VST flavor. If you use Avid products, make sure to verify that a plug-in offers AAX and/or AudioSuite versions.

Finally, if you are a Final Cut Pro editor, tread lightly with plug-ins. FCP has increasingly become touchy with third-party audio plug-ins (under Big Sur), including many that play well with Logic Pro. And, of course, not all third-party plug-ins are yet fully compatible with the new Apple Silicon-based Macs. So make sure you test a trial version before you commit to a purchase.

Click to read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

©2021 Oliver Peters