Digital Photography Software News

Starting July 1, 2016 I’ve moved the software update and software news into a blog form that has its own RRS feed (right column). All digital photography software updates and new digital software program announcements will appear in this blog.

Items appear with the newest on top, oldest on the bottom.

The Return of Capture NX2

DxO just pulled off the coup of the year by picking up the Nik Tools and U-point technology from Google. Google mostly wanted Nik for Snapseed and the things that they could apply to their smartphone images. Why they didn't think U-point was part of that, I don't know; Google does Google-dumb things sometimes.

But DxO figured it out. Basically by taking the Nik software—particularly U-point—and integrating it into OpticsPro to form a new product called PhotoLab, DxO has (mostly) recreated Capture NX2. I say mostly because, of course you don't get the Nikon camera settings nor the level of control over those that Capture NX2 gave you. Instead you get DxO's raw conversion and corrections instead of Nikon's demosiac engine. But you also get U-point correction, which is one of the things that Nikon users valued so much about Capture NX2.

bythom photolab


Here's a quick example, with the base image on the left, and the image using a couple of small corrections including one big U-point on the sky, which shows up in the right side. I'm sure if I spent more than a minute on this, I could make it far better, but what I was mostly interested in was how the U-point integration went. And that was basically much like the original Capture integration was: a little in need of some performance tweaking, and with a somewhat different UI, but basically similar to what we had with the Nikon software and liked. Yes, the U-point system includes the brush, so you can do more than just have circles and graduated renderings with the U-point settings.

It strikes me that those that liked Capture NX2 are probably going to find a lot to like in PhotoLab Elite (you'll want the US$149 Elite version for the noise reduction, presets, and a few others bits and pieces). Oh, and yes, PhotoLab can be used with Lightroom.

I've seen others write that Nik Tools are in PhotoLab. They aren't. U-point is. The Nik Tools still live as a separate set of plug-ins at the moment, now managed by DxO (see this page for the current Nik Tools). It's unclear what will happen to the original plug-ins other than DxO has plans to update them in some one in mid-2018. Nik Define uses a different approach to noise reduction than does DxO Prime, for example, and I can't see DxO really promoting multiple tools that do the same things. For the time being you can still get the original Nik plug-ins from DxO for free. But now you can get the U-point technology back by getting PhotoLab. Very promising.

Affinity Photo Version 1.6

Version 1.6 of Affinity Photo has a number of new improvements beyond just some performance boosts (some which only come from using Metal 2 in macOS High Sierra):

  • New UI options, including font chooser and a glyph browser
  • Stroke stabilizer for pencil and brush tools
  • Better integration with Apple Photos
  • New alignment options
  • Improved plug-in support

In addition, numerous bugs have been addressed.


Other Creative Cloud Updates

Lost in all the uproar over Lightroom is the fact that the other programs in the Photography Plan changed this week, too. 

First up, we have Photoshop 2018. Like Lightroom Classic CC, the primary big addition to the latest Photoshop for photographers is the ability to use Range Masking in Adobe Camera Raw (which itself is now updated to version 10). 

Many of the other changes have less direct impact on photographers' use of Photoshop, but here they are:

  • Brush Presets have been modified to include additional default brushes, better organization, and some subtle but useful UI changes.
  • Brush strokes have additional smoothing and symmetry options.
  • If you use paths in your Photoshop files, the new Curvature Pen tool might be of interest to you.
  • Quite a few minor font handling changes have been made, with a number of enhancements to the Font Properties panel.
  • Tooltips have been expanded to allow for "rich tooltips", and there's now a Learn panel. Both features help with discoverability of function use within Photoshop.
  • If you have photos synced to the cloud with Lightroom CC, they're available from the Photoshop Start Screen now. Note that you can search through these photos with keywords even if they're not tagged due to Adobe Sensei, which is an automatic tagging feature. You can also save photos directly to Lightroom Photos (cloud) from Photoshop. This feature may prove to be very useful in dealing with clients.
  • You can edit 360° spherical panoramas.

As usual with the bigger Photoshop updates, there are ton of buried little changes. You can copy and paste multiple layers now. A new image resize algorithm has been added (it's in Preferences/Technology Preview/Enable Preserve Details 2.0 Upscale). There's support for Apple's HEIF photo format. And much, much more. 

Meanwhile, Bridge wasn't immune from an update. The emphasis in the new Bridge CC is a completely rewritten Output module, including an Export to PDF function. Likewise, it's now far easier to output your work directly to Adobe Portfolio or Adobe Stock. 

To a large degree, the whole 2018 update of the CC apps tends towards integrating all of Adobe's capabilities together. Adobe really wants you to use their portfolio and stock photo options, to let the cloud integrate your workflow with others in your group or clients, and to better manage the entire photographic (illustration, design, video) workflow with common tools and functions across products. 

I'm impressed by the level of integration we're getting here, even if it doesn't feel like we're getting a lot of photography-friendly feature additions. Adobe was demonstrating some new technologies that will likely make it into future products. The coolest one I saw was a video implementation of Content Aware Fill (called Cloak), but photography-related features are coming, too, including one called Deep Fill (reconstructing missing parts of an image). 

Deep in the Digital Doo Doo

Well, Adobe's done it again. They're stirred up a hornet's nest with their Lightroom announcements. Even my teaching partner was in a tizzy yesterday morning and leveled a long phone tirade at me about what Adobe had done. 

Sigh. 

First off, I'm certainly not an Adobe apologist. I think they have lots of problems, many of them very frustrating to those of us who use their products. Also, the whole thing about overemphasizing Lightroom CC over Lightroom Classic CC on their Web site just adds to the confusion surrounding their products and inflates the emotions that are playing out among the Lightroom/Photoshop user crowd. 

I was never particularly upset by the switch from perpetual-licensed software to the SaS (software as service) model. When I calculated everything out, the actual costs to me were about the same over time. The one problem I did have, though, was the loss of the use of a full product if I ever got off the subscription mouse wheel. That, I think was a wrong decision by Adobe; it's been a big source of the ill-will towards CC from the beginning.

As I've written before, software is not forever (nor is hardware). I've been through so many word processors and spreadsheet programs and versions in my tech history that I can't count them. I actually think that if CC gives Adobe the steady stream of revenue they need to keep their products up-to-date and keep them getting better, then fine. 

But the sheer number of emails, forum threads, editorials, and yes, even phone calls I've been pointed to or have received about Adobe's latest change is a bit startling. They're full of emotion, anger, and vitriol. And often irrational math. One fellow said he would have paid as much as US$300 for the standalone version Lightroom update, which at current prices is over two-and-a-half years worth of Lightroom+Photoshop under the current CC program. 

Adobe promised in 2013 that the stand-alone version of Lightroom would be around indefinitely. Indefinite, as in an unknown amount of time that is not endless. That turned out to be four years. Less than many of us had hoped, for sure. 

Many are already assuming that Lightroom Classic CC is on the same "indefinite model." Well, sure. All software is usable only for an indefinite time. I see people already guessing there won't be a Lightroom 8 (what Adobe would probably call Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC (2019)). I suppose that's possible, but I think it unlikely, and Adobe's postings on the subject seem to verify that. While we don't know exactly how much revenue the current US$9.99 program bundle of Photoshop and Lightroom generates for Adobe, it has to be considerable. And transitioning photographers to a less-than-Classic version of Lightroom would be terrifically difficult to do, I think. Lightroom CC (the new online-only version) is a very small subset of Lightroom Classic; it has a long way to go before it can even replicate the organization abilities of Classic. A long way. 

As I tell everyone when a big change comes down the pike, that's a good time to look at your entire ecosystem and figure out if it's the best for you. The notion that you only buy your computer, software, and camera once is long gone. For those of you who think it isn't, just freeze your spending and lock down on what you've got. Be happy with all the money you save not trying to keep up.

Adobe's timing isn't great for trying to figure out what to do next, though. None of the true competitors are really quite where they need to be in order to take full advantage of the "Lightroom fiasco" (your words, not mine). 

MacPhun is still a ways away from releasing their Lightroom-compatible digital asset management (DAM) companion to Luminar. On1 Photo RAW 2018 is in beta still, and has nascent Lightroom abilities, but no absolute compatibility, meaning you'll be changing horses. Capture1 has DAM they got from Microsoft, but it's a different thought set, so you're again changing horses. The Affinity folks are still not showing their future DAM product, though they have a near Photoshop equivalent on the market. A product you might not have considered, Apple Photos, is starting to come back into bloom with all the extensions available to it, but is Mac only, still has some issues, and is yet another change of horse. 

Still, it's a good time to rethink your workflow and where and how you use your images. For the time being, my workflow isn't changing, but I'm thinking about how it's likely to change in the not-too-distant future. Personally, I have my fingers crossed for MacPhun, as it seems like the most likely one to appear with near full Lightroom compatibility in the near future, and I've liked and used many of MacPhun's products for some time.

But be careful what you wish for. A lot of people are making economic arguments about Adobe (the US$9.99 a month tithe), but as I've noted recently, asking for US$79 or US$99 a year for updates to get features that start to bring your software up to Lightroom level is a minimum of US$6.60 a month, so there's no free lunch here. Software development is difficult, expensive, and the target is constantly moving. You need to expect to pay for that. 

The funny thing is, back in the days of film, we were paying all the time. Every image we shot had an implied cost to it (processing and sometimes printing). Nothing's really changed. If we want darkroom-like capability, we're still paying for it with digital ;~). 

Finally, here's the other thing that everyone in the photography community keeps forgetting: we're in the minority now. Apple, Google, and yes Adobe, all have been making moves regarding "photography" that cater to a new world where most images are captured with smartphones and shared via Internet services. I've reported how the camera companies are completely botching this turn of events, and as a result, camera sales are down. Way down. 

Let's put that in numbers for you to ponder. In the first quarter global smartphone sales were in the neighborhood of 380 million units. In the first quarter global shipments of dedicated cameras were 5.9 million units by the Japanese companies, so add in units from the non-Japanese and we still don't get to 7 million. Not even 2% of the smartphone unit volume. 

Now do you know why Adobe wants to have mobile (and now desktop) users on that new Lightroom CC? If you were the head of Adobe you'd be trying to rally your troops to the new battlefield, too. Scott Kelby posted a clip from the Adobe Max Keynote that pretty much highlights the pitch Adobe is making with Lightroom CC. It's a powerful point, though for us production photographers it would be costly to try to use that approach solely: we just don't have the bandwidth while shooting to take advantage of that. 

So what's all that mean to Lightroom Classic CC for us dedicated camera types? Unknown. Ask Again Later. 

Seriously. If Adobe's moves yesterday really start an exodus away from Lightroom Classic CC, then the length of time Adobe will continue to move that product forward is likely shortened. If things stay stable for Adobe with the Photography Plan at US$9.99 a month, I think it likely that they'll just continue on as usual with Lightroom Classic as they continue to try to position and improve Lightroom CC against Apple and Google. 

This absolutely means that you can vote with your pocketbook. Just be careful what you wish for. Lightroom Classic CC is the most robust, fully-featured, and well-integrated DAM we currently have. You're not rushing towards better products when you exit the building. At least not until one shows up. 

That's why I noted that the timing is bad for the competitors. They're not quite ready to step in and claim your US$6.60+ a month ;~). 


Lightroom Fragments

Well, it's happened. Lightroom as a standalone, perpetual license product is coming to an end.

At Adobe Max the new versions of Lightroom (yes plural) were introduced. 

First, let's deal with the Lightroom 6 perpetual license users: there will be no Lightroom 7. At least until the end of the year Adobe will continue to provide basic camera/lens updates to the 6.x versions. Your version will continue to work after Adobe stops updating it, but it won't get new features, bug fixes, or camera support beginning at some currently unspecified time in 2018. (The good news is that the D850 camera support squeaks into these last updates.)

I can hear the groans already, but this was clearly predictable behavior on Adobe's part. You can complain all you want, but it's not at all likely that Adobe will rethink this decision. Simply put, the change to CC subscriptions worked extremely well for Adobe, and at this point there's no going back.

As 6.x users know, there have been issues with not getting new features that were in the CC version, such as the Dehaze filter. That has to do with the way Adobe is doing their accounting for CC. It's an odd aspect of the US tax law that catches some updating processes like that (Apple had issues with this at one time). Not that you can't figure out a workaround, but Adobe basically has signaled from the beginning that they're not interested in that.

So, if you're using Lightroom 6 and want to continue, you have three basic choices: 

  1. Continue to use LR6 and convert any new camera file that isn't supported to DNG. You will add to your workflow and be stuck on the same feature set.
  2. Get an Adobe Photography Creative Cloud subscription for US$9.99 a month (slight price variations across the world, and some states subject this to sales tax). Download the new LR7 (more on that in a bit), and continue into Lightroom's future.
  3. Find another program to do what you used Lightroom for. Now you know why all the Photoshop competitors have been building digital asset management (DAM) features into their products lately. This is their best chance to ween you off Adobe.

Okay, so what about Lightroom CC?

Today what we would usually call Lightroom 7 becomes Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC. Ugh. Technically it is Lightroom CC 2017 (7.0), using Adobe's previous naming practices.

Adobe announced that the core goal of this update was performance, though they've added at least one new key feature, as well. 

Right up top of the list is something that the Photo Mechanic and Fast RawViewer folk are going to be concerned with: you can now import into Lightroom with Embedded Previews. This is going to speed up the process of importing and culling your images quite a bit. (There's a preference that allows you to tell Lightroom to build normal previews during idle time, netting you the best of both worlds.) Of course, we sports photographers will likely still use Photo Mechanic because of its ability to quickly tag and build captions from pre-stored data, but Lightroom is getting closer to gobbling up another software product with the embedded preview change.

Other speed improvements abound within Lightroom Classic CC. Some you'll notice (e.g. preview rendering, browsing images in the Develop module), while many might not be immediately noticed (e.g. slider or brush response). But you should notice that the new version is snappier and maybe even clearly faster, especially if you have recent hardware. 

The Process Version has changed with Lightroom Classic CC. The original process version is now renamed Version 1 (2003) and was inherited from ACR. We've had two other process changes over the history of Lightroom/ACR, now labeled Version 2 (2010) and Version 3 (2012). Yes, that means that the new version is Version 4 (Current).

What's this mean? 

In previous version changes we sometimes got color and tonal value changes. This time around the change is mostly to accommodate a new feature and provide better performance in some underlying technologies used by things like the Noise Reduction settings.

The new feature is Range Mask. This new tool gives you ability to change Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, and Adjustment Brushes so that they effect only Color or Luminance values. It's funny how convoluted this new feature is compared to the way the old Nik control points, but you get similar impacts across the tools Range Mask works with.

Plenty of small changes and features exist in Lightroom Classic CC, but I'll leave them for you to find during exploration. Lightroom Classic CC also gets the previous ACR camera support, plus: ACR was updated to version 10 today, and both it and Lightroom Classic CC get Canon EOS M100, Fujifilm X-E3, Olympus EM-10 Mark III, Sony RX0 and RX10 Mark IV support. 12 third party lenses were added for Canon lens profiles, and 5 were added for Nikon. The Sony 100-400mm FE is now profiled both with and without the TCs. Likewise, the DNG Converter also updates to version 10.

Which brings us to the question mark and reason for the headline: Lightroom CC. 

Wait, what?

bythom adobe lightroomcc

Yes, there's another new version of Lightroom (also included in the Photography bundle, but available separately for US$9.99 month, and it comes with cloud storage space of 1TB at that price).

In essence, Lightroom CC is the desktop version of Lightroom Mobile. This product is the next generation of what we've seen in Lightroom Mobile, only targeted to Windows and Macintosh users. The user interface is simplified, as it really just has Catalog and Develop functions. 

The key difference here is that your images are in the cloud, and everything synced to those images in the cloud benefits from the alterations you make in Lightroom CC. You can even switch between Lightroom Mobile and Lightroom CC mid-process of editing an image, and the changes are reflected on both platforms. 

I'm worried a bit about Lightroom CC. Clearly Adobe, Apple, and Google all want us to store our photos on their server and run their software on those images from any device (in the case of Apple, any iOS or Mac device). The implication in Lightroom CC is that someday Lightroom Classic CC is not the priority at Adobe. It might not happen for a long time, but I can see Adobe shifting emphasis on new abilities from Classic CC to CC at some point, in order to consolidate their position in the cloud.

You can see this already on Adobe's site. Go ahead, try to find details on Lightroom Classic CC. The "Lightroom" product position takes you to Lightroom CC ;~). Moreover, everywhere you can get to a Lightroom Classic CC page on the site, you'll see "the future of photography...Lightroom CC" and be offered to learn more, which takes you to the Lightroom CC pages and information. The Adobe press releases all mostly identify Lightroom CC as the big takeaway. 

The Expensive Update

Another new updated raw converter product that's added Lightroom-like organization and image management features: AlienSkin Exposure X3. 

If you've forgotten the story of Exposure, it started out life as a series of presets via a Photoshop plug-in that gave you film-like styles and choices. That evolved to a standalone/plug-in that did full raw conversion. And now we've evolved to a standalone/plug-in that basically becomes a complete photo and organization tool. 

So far, so good. I'd certainly argue that there are many interesting looks and features in Exposure. Especially if you are trying to get those film-like effects. 

But what we're seeing as all these software companies try to develop out a full Lightroom competitor is that they're getting a little persistent about asking for a new pile of cash from users.

OnOne, for instance, just asked for another US$80 from its customers less than a year from the last for-sale update. Now AlienSkin is asking US$99 from its existing customers for the X3 update (regular price is US$149). 

Let's put that in perspective. I pay about US$100 a year for Photoshop and Lightroom CC updates. Why isn't that US$120? Because I wait until someone has the annual package on sale during the Christmas period and just pop for that (last year it was Amazon). In other words, everyone seems to want a minimum of about US$8 a month average for their software updates now. All that does is make the Adobe monthly program look better and better, as much as we dislike what happens when you stop making payments (products that can open but not modify your images). 

If you're charging basically the same amount Adobe is for a continuous user, then you'd better be able to say your product is better than Adobe's. I can't say that any of the ones I've seen to date—MacPhun, OnOne, AlienSkin, etc.—are there yet. They're all in a mad scramble to get there and beyond, but none have out-Adobeied Adobe yet.

Yes, I know software development done right isn't free. Not even close to it. But we now have multiple companies all chipping away at about the same annual tithe. Worse still, the "new user" prices don't tend to be all that much higher than the "loyal user" upgrade costs, which always raises the upgraders eyebrows.

I'm not the only one that's noticed. Just in the past week I've gotten multiple emails from people who saw the upgrade pricing and balked. 

Here's what I would have done if I were leading one of those software companies: US$10/month pricing for everyone (or US$100 for a year in advance). Update in a major way at least once a year. After a year of ownership, if you let your subscription expire, the product remains usable, but not-updateable. If you lapse for six months and then decide you want back in at US$10/month, your year-to-full ownership period starts anew. Simple system. Provides on-going revenue to a developer that's treating its users well with regular updates, while giving the user confidence that they can get off the tithe wagon whenever they want (after a year). 

It’s the New Model Year, Apparently

Yes, it seems like it's 2018. Hot on the heels of one product with 2018 in its name, Adobe has announced Photoshop Elements 2018. The new and enhanced bits in this annual update are:

  • Adobe Elements Organizer 2018
    • Auto-curate finds your best shots
    • New slideshow system and themes
    • 8 new Guided Edits
    • Swap Backgrounds
    • Double Exposures
    • Overlay Effects
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018
    • Automated selections
    • Open closed eyes (?!?!)

As usual, an Adobe Premier Elements 2018 is also part of the fun, allowing automated extraction of photos from raw footage, smart trim, and more.

Adobe Photoshop Elements is US$99.99 and will be available this quarter.

Let’s Announce a Beta

I never quite know what to do with this sort of announcement. I really hate the “we’re announcing our new product today” when what they’re really announcing is that a beta will be available to the public later this week, and a final version available at some indefinite date in the future (though often an unrealistic one in terms of fixing bugs found in beta).

Okay, with that out of the way…

On1 Photo RAW just got a 2018 to tag along behind it’s name (e.g. On1 Photo RAW 2018).  (Still no explanation for why RAW is all capitals ;~)

What’s new? A lot:

  • HDR creation, claimed to be 7x faster than other HDR apps
  • Pano stitching
  • Versions (ala Lightroom), where multiple conversions can exist for a single image file
  • Paint with Color Brush
  • Blur and Chisel Mask Tools
  • Add or Remove noise

All with the usual UI updates/changes, tweaking of many tools, and additional camera and lens support. This appears to be a big update.

The bad news? This is a for-fee update. Users of former OnOne products can update for US$79.99 if they pre-order (US$99.99 otherwise), while new users pay US$119.99. The beta is supposed to be available on Friday, October 6th, and the final version by the end of October. 

MacPhun Introduces AuroraHDR 2018

Hey, it's 2018 already!

I'm not a big fan of these pre-announce the announcement announcements, particularly for software, but here we go:

bythom aurora hdr 2018

Aurora HDR is getting a big update late this month (September 28th is the planned date). Labeled Aurora HDR 2018 the big news is that there will now be both Macintosh and Windows versions of the product. But the product is pretty much completely reworked in the way it maps tones and does its basic work. Additional new features include:

  • Lens correction tool (linear distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting)
  • Transform tool (scale, rotate, shift)
  • Dodge and burn filter
  • History panel
  • Redeveloped Structure tool

In addition, the program has been improved in the way it handles raw data, the speed at which it works, and even been given a cleanup to the user interface. MacBook Pro users will get Touch Bar support.

One thing to note: the Windows version, on launch later this month, won't have all the tools and features of the Macintosh version, but MacPhun is promising that they'll be added "by the end of the year."

If you're into the pre-order thing with software, you can get a US$10 discount from the new pricing (US$59 for upgrades, US$99 for new users), plus you'll get some source files plus two tutorials. 

Click here to go to MacPhun's Web site.

On1 Photo RAW 2017.6

OnOne Software continues to add features and tweak performance of their raw conversion program. The new bits include faster preview and browsing of images, cataloged folders, Kelvin temperature display, plus many other small things.

New supported cameras include the Canon 6D Mark II and Rebel SL2, the Leica TL2, the Nikon D7500, and the Olympus TG-5. 


text and images © 2017 Thom Hogan
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