Photo Imaging Suite
Georgiou, November 2004, send
by: Extensis, go
to the web site
Plug-in Compliant Host application. For Portfolio 7 - Pentium
III or faster CPU, Windows 2000, Windows XP; Power Mac
G3, G4 or G5, Mac OS X 10.2.8 - 10.3.5. For pxl SmartScale
1.0, Mask Pro 3.0.1, PhotoFrame 2.5.1 and Intellihance
Pro 4.0.3 - Windows 98, 2000 or XP, Mac OS X 10.2.5 - 10.3.5
and Mac OS 9.2.2 (via a downloadable installer)
As a designer, I've long had a familiarity with
Extensis and their plug-in solutions as well as Portfolio,
their stand alone asset management program. I had
the pleasure of reviewing Portfolio a few years back
when I was looking at a variety of asset management
solutions. I've also owned several of the earlier
versions of some of the other tools found in this
suite and used them to great effect. The bundling
of many of these great tools in the Photo Imaging
Suite is a great idea and although the price may
appear steep, it is actually a substantial saving
over the purchase of individual plug-ins. The suite
consists of four plug-ins (pxl SmartScale 1.0, Mask
Pro 3.0.1, PhotoFrame 2.5.1, Intellihance Pro 4.0.3)
and one stand alone application (Portfolio 7).
Intellihance Pro is designed to quickly enhance
and correct your images from within a unified interface.
It allows you to apply enhancements via three modes:
an intelligent adjustment mode, a fine tune mode
and visually using a power variations feature. Extensis
has also provided many presets for a variety of image
sources and image enhancements.
allows you to make changes in any of the eight
settings found in the "intelligent
adjustment" mode. The settings include de-screening,
dust and scratches, contrast, saturation, brightness,
cast, de-speckling and sharpness. You can adjust
further using fine tune mode and the power variations
mentioned above which is essentially multiple previews.
It's quite useful and effective being very much akin
to the traditional method of creating test strips
in the darkroom. For most users this variations feature
will be the preferred mode although I found the fine
tune feature more to my preference. Although many
of the adjustments could have been carried out directly
in Photoshop itself, it is still nice to be able
to have many of the more common adjustment types
available in just one dialog.
Mask Pro is one of the most useful tools in the suite
as it facilitates the easy removal of unwanted and difficult
background with a variety of tools. The plug-in removes
backgrounds from very difficult images while retaining
fine details like hair and soft edges. The native capabilities
in Photoshop to achieve this often fall short in the case
of hair as even with channels and masks the removal of
elements isn't always as seamless as it should be. Mask
Pro achieves this by allowing you to select which colors
to remove and which to keep.
The tools offered in Mask Pro are also quite varied. With
some experimentation you can arrive at solutions to the
removal process which, just using Photoshop alone, are
nearly impossible. Mask Pro is however not a walk in the
park; it does need extensive use to master its features.
The results will provide you with superior cutouts from
your images. The inclusion of tools like highlighters which
allow you to select entire regions for removal, the Chisel
tool which restores needed pixels in your image and the
Blur tool which softens up the edges of your masked image
to allow for smoother transitions, all contribute to a
well-rounded package. All in all Mask Pro is a worthy tool
to own just by itself let alone as part of the Suite.
PhotoFrame is another tool which I am familiar with as
it has provided me with many great edge effects for some
of the images I've used in my web projects. Its earlier
incarnations have also worked nicely with much of my digital
imaging and photography work for clients. I've owned versions
1 and 2 and was eager to see the improvements in version
2.5. PhotoFrame applies controlled border and edge effects
to your images. The effects can be applied with a variety
of edge effects such as color, bevels, borders, glows and
shadows. You can assign background colors and even control
the matte with a variety of attribute controls which affect
opacity, orientation and size. Other capabilities include
the ability to add texture effects and background images
to your treatment as well as the creation of bump maps
for texturing your images. The blending controls also allow
you to apply effects similar to layer blending modes in
Photoshop. The library of 2000 frames is quite extensive
but Extensis' insistence on using a proprietary format
means you are limited to using only what they supply. It's
true that any talented Photoshop artist can create their
own effects natively in Photoshop, but it would be great
to allow users to create their own library of frames and
border treatments. Even with this shortcoming, PhotoFrame
is a worthy addition to the suite.
pxl SmartScale was the next tool I took a look at and
it is quite simply another method for resizing your images.
It offers the capability to enlarge your images up to about
1600% without adding too many artifacts. It uses a combination
of techniques to enlarge the file and at the same time
remove any introduced artifacts. The plug-in performs with
few issues and the quality of the images produced with
SmartScale are without a doubt an improvement on the enlargements
produced using the interpolation features included in Photoshop.
pxl SmartScale also does a good job of downsizing images.
The inclusion of this plug-in nicely rounds out the Photo
Portfolio 7 caps the suite with an asset management environment
that facilitates the easy tracking of your digital images,
photos, graphics and other files. In these times of larger
hard drives and high resolution digital cameras, an asset
management system is a necessary and highly desirable feature.
Creating the asset database was fairly straightforward
and could be done from within Portfolio or by right clicking
on a folder. Speed was a factor and it can take a long
time to catalog a large asset collection. I would like
to see some improvements in this aspect of the application.
Some scalability in Portfolio's features would also be
nice here as there should be a lighter database approach
which allows you to select the features used as your needs
Portfolio also facilitates direct CD and DVD archiving,
the batch conversion of images and the creation of web
based catalogs and content. The ability to define subsets
within your database is also a handy feature, allowing
you to group your assets into catalogs which make sense.
The ability to do batch conversion of your assets to JPEG
or TIFF format is also a handy. The ability to view, edit
and add metadata to your TIFFs and JPEGs is also nice,
as is the ability to print contact sheets of these assets.
The addition of Camera Raw format support is useful for
the digital photographer who prefers to use this more versatile
file type in their workflow. Workgroup support in Portfolio
is good for tracking image usage and is useful in situations
in which more than one person can access the assets. You
can lock, assign and secure files so that work isn't carried
out on them unnecessarily or simultaneously. While not
as integrated a solution as Version Cue it's a nice feature
to have especially for those who don't use the full Creative
Suite from Adobe.
The NetPublish feature is also new and facilitates the
publishing and creation of web sites with image search,
preview and batch-download capabilities. Provision for
a Collection Basket is a bonus and all this can be accomplished
web-based feature is the capability to create e-mail friendly
versions of your files. This can also be done in batch
fashion, facilitating the easy distribution of transfer-friendly
Cons: No support for custom design frames in PhotoFrame.
Portfolio 7 seemed a touch slow in generating the asset
database. I was a little disappointed that the video tutorials
were limited to Portfolio only and that there were not
any user forums available to provide a public knowledge
base and repository for user tips and files. This will
only further enhance this excellent suite of products.
Pros: Easy to use. Very Powerful. Simple User Interface.
The online support provided by Extensis provides some great
video tutorials for Portfolio as well as user manuals and
white papers for the other products in the suite.
Extensis pays a lot of attention to the design and functionality
of their tools. The tools themselves integrate into Photoshop
very nicely and the interface doesn't get in the way of
doing your job. The suite provides the digital photographer
and imageer with some very useful tools. I highly recommend
Extensis Photo Imaging Suite for any Photographer, Graphic
Artist and Imageer who is looking for some great tools
to augment their Photoshop toolkit. Enjoy.
Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org