2008 Plugins
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Feature: The popularity of digital Cameras has brought a renaissance of plugins
Idea:here are some of the best new plugins for the Summer of 2008.

Nik Efex Complete 3.0
Nik Efex has been previously and very positively reviewed before. As before these are photographic filters primarily. If you have attached lens filter or used a special film with your camera (Morning and Infrared filters) or worked in the darkroom (Solarization or Vignette filters) or did strange things with your pictures(Polaroid Transfer or Saturation Stylizer), Nik Efex Complete 3.0 has a filter for you. My favorites Efex 3.0 filters are:
Pro Contrast - gets users to proper exposure very quickly
Polaroid Transfer - shades of Art School fun days
Reflector Effects - adds fill light as if you had a reflector umbrella on the scene
Solarization - this is darkroom heaven and unheard of precision
Vignette Blur - is like having Focal Point plugin thrown in
Nik has changed the plugin interface. Yes, you can still paint on the effects as before. But the plugin interface itself as seen above uses the Adobe Lightroom styling with new control points for precisely centering the effect if desired. Second, as before, the learning curve for Nik is reasonable, but the sheer number of filters is very large - plan spending some time to getting to know them well.

Portrait Professional 6

If you do any amount of portrait photography then you owe it to yourself to take a careful look at this plugin. It has the ability to make subtle changes to the face . First, there is face sculpting using specific contours for the eyes, eyelashes, nose, mouth, and hairline. One can thicken the mouth or raise an eyebrow. For example, note the fuller"Mona Lisa " smile above. Second there are 9 skin controls including removing pores, wrinkles and other imperfections. Third, the eye controls allow precise control of each eye, eye white, eye lash top, eye lash bottom and eye colour. Fourth, the mouth controls concentrate on lip color, saturation, brightness. Fifth, the skin lighting controls effect just the skin areas of the portrait while the picture controls effect the exposure, contrast, fill shadows, saturation and temperature of the overall picture. Finally, there are tools for cropping, skin selection, and blemish retouching. Bottom line - this plugin really provides a complete portrait make-up kit.

Colormancer

Have you ever wanted to ditch the normal brightness/contrast controls in your favorite editor. In the words of Bubba Bill Clinton, "I feel for you". Photoshop's Brightness-Contrast at least has the alternate of the Exposure and Curves dialogs (but they are tightly coupled variations on Brightness with Contrast). Ditto for PaintShop Pro has its Curves and Manual Color Corrections dialogs. So I have been secretly wishing for a better color toner.

Enter Colormancer, a plugin that allows users to set the Brightness/Contrast links to as high or as little as desired. Add to that a saturation that hits the sweet spot for hue uptake (see screen shot above where users can control RGB luminance settings). The net result is that I find that Colormancer allows me to do color corrections and saturation shifts with much more satisfying results a lot faster than switching between Levels and Curves in Photoshop or Manual Color Corrections and Curves in PaintShop Pro. the downside - Colormancer is an Adobe plugin but it does not work with all programs - Ulead Photo Impact, Irfan View and Core PaintShop pro all returned with error codes - Photoshop worked like a charm.

The only two programs that come close to Colormancer's speed of arriving at the right corrections are Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom with their luminance corrected Exposure, Vibrance, and Temperature controls. But at $200-300, these are solutions which are really pro-oriented. In contrast, at $65 - Colormancer puts users on color target much faster and more satisfyingly. Try it here - you will like it.


Summary

This is the first of a whole array of plugin reviews. The emphasis here is getting the highlights covered as there are just a flood of good tools becoming available. I hope to have more detailed reviews of these and other favorites. Let me know your plugin preferences and I will respond.




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