The OnOne Photoshop plugins bundle offers three industry leading tools, one-nice-to-have, an odd-box neither fish-nor-foul which you'll either find incredibly useful or incredibly annoying, and a tool that improves on a Photoshop built-in function.
First, the industry leading tools. Genuine Fractals pips SizeFixer XL to the post as the best extreme image enlarger, beyond anything you can do with Photoshop's native tools, even using techniques such as stepping. Colortune and Skintune are superb colour adjustment tools which guide you helpfully through the process of perfecting image tones. Mask Pro beats Vertus Fluid Mask in ease of use as a top-end masking tool, with equally good results on difficult areas like frizzy hair. Ease of use is key on masking tools because -- if you're willing to put the time in -- you can in principle achieve perfect masking with Photoshop's built-in tools. But if you're working in a commercial graphics environment, the extra time required to use Photoshop's built-in tools may make it more worth your while to reshoot the picture.
Photoframe has been around for some time, and is, essentially, the leading collection of high quality framing to give your Photoshop images a more finished look. Or a totally tasteless and tacky look: Photoframe gives you possibilities, not an injection of good taste. Photoframe is great for quickly picking a frame, although -- to my mind -- you would be wise to stick to the darkroom edges type frames, rather than the faux-wooden frames which it also offers. There are hundreds to choose from, and Photoframe probably offers the highest number of top quality frames of any application right now. The caveat is that there is nothing here you couldn't do in Photoshop yourself, and, once you've learned how to do it, it's not particularly difficult.
Phototools began life as some fairly cheap and cheerful auto-enhancements to images. The current incarnation still has lots of automatic presets, but it now contains a vast array of quite reasonable photographic, darkroom, tinting, colour conversion, tinting and style filters, as well as a few 'trick' filters. Some of them are paintable, and the software is highly Wacom aware, if you're using a tablet or Wacom screen. But some of them are 8-bit only, which is a bit cheap and nasty in today's world. Typically they have a handful of parameters each.
I have to say that the Phototools themselves fail to thrill me. They are nowhere near as systematic as the Tiffen dFx, which must now be the gold-standard for taking photographic and lighting filters into the digital world. They seem on a par with the NikEfex set, but not as well thought out, and without the innovative U-point controls. If you don't have a set of premium photographic filters, then Phototools might save you from having to buy them. But if you do have Tiffen or NikEfex, then you'll probably give these a miss.
The other tool is FocalPoint, which allows you selectively defocus parts of the image. Photoshop includes the more powerful, but much slower and clunkier Lensblur. There are also competitors of varying degrees of sophistication such as Trueblur (Fixerlabs) and Tiffen's dFx. FocalPoint does its job well, but is not particularly special.
All in all, for the money you are saving if you buy the bundle, the total price is a lot less than the separate price of Genuine Fractals Pro ($299.95), PhotoTune ($159.95) and Mask Pro ($159.95), so you are effectively getting FocalPoint, PhotoFrame Pro and Phototools Pro for free.
Genuine Fractals Pro goes head to head with FixerLabs SizeFixer XL. Essentially it allows you to enlarge up to 1000% with no artefacts, although, of course, you don't introduce any new details in doing so. SizeFixer actually claims to go to any size, and works fine at 1600% -- however, that depends on using SizeFixer's proprietary FocusFixer sharpening routine, which effectively means you can't further sharpen after you've upscaled. Straight out of the box, and with no further work, SizeFixer has the edge, but, if you are going to work further on the image, Genuine Fractals is ahead -- and GF does have its own sharpening and grain routines if you want to use them. GenuineFractals Professional, as included in this bundle, also integrates with Lightroom, provided that you have Photoshop installed (it's a bit more sophisticated than just swapping into Photoshop, but you may still feel this is a bit of a cheat), and with Aperture. Both GF and SizeFixer are life-savers if you need to turn a decent quality, decent size image into a huge image. Neither of them are good for enlarging images from the internet to be used in print, because you need an initial level of detail to look right. On the other hand, taking images from the internet is frequently a breach of copyright anyway, and is unlikely to be an application that interests photographers.
About two years ago, I downloaded every demo from every company available for colour controlling pictures (as opposed to colour controlling monitors). At the time I saw Colortune (then known as 20/20 color MD) and Skintune as far and away the best, but I felt the price to be a little much for my need, which was to solve a particular problem with blues and purples. Full Spectrum Portrait solved that problem for me, but I always meant to come back to Colortune and Skintune which are exemplary in guiding you through the process of getting general colour balance and skin colour balance exactly right. It's unusual to find a plugin that has no competitors, but, in this case, there's really nothing out there. The original name for Colortune was supposed to reflect the notion that this was like going for an eye test, where you tell the optician which of two images you prefer, and he keeps narrowing it down until he's worked out exactly what lenses you need. That's what Colortune does -- it doesn't offer colour corrections which can't be achieved by other means, it merely offers corrections which wouldn't be achieved by other means, as well as avoiding the common mistake of beginning with an image which is fairly well balanced, and correcting it with curves, levels and hue/saturation until it is completely wrong. Skintune is a slightly simpler product, but uses the same underlying technology to help you quickly and reliably get the right skin result. In either case, the results are remarkably good, provided that your monitor and output device are properly calibrated. If they aren't, then there's really no point using this product, as you'll never get it right anyway. But that's a different matter.
Mask Pro's best competitor is Vertus Fluid Mask. Both of these products are high-end attempts to give better masking for complex areas such as hair, and difficult areas such as flame, than is possible through either layer masking or Photoshop's initially promising but ultimately lamentable Extract tool. Vertus do it by chopping the image up into regions, and getting you to select the regions, Mask Pro does it much more transparently, and I found myself cutting out hair with much more than the usual ease.
This is me in Westminster, London:
Honestly, my hair is usually better kept and better kempt than that — it was a blowy day.
Here is a cut out using Mask Pro, which took no more than 30 seconds. I've entirely replaced the uninspiring sky with Photoshop clouds, so you can see the effect more clearly. Doing this is an operation which would take at least ten minutes in Photoshop's Extract, and at least five in Vertus Fluid Mask. My 30 seconds were essentially the first thing I did after I fired up the software for the first time. There's a lot more sophistication to the product than I used here, as there ought to be, and, on a more challenging image, or where you wanted a much more contrasting background, you would need it. But as an example of raw ease of use, this is pretty good.
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