Photoframe is -- to me -- a bit more of a grey area.
Back in 1999, I thought this was a really cute effect. I still do — sort of.
I'm not so sure about this one:
And this one just makes me go 'Yukk!'
It's a real photo, for heaven's sake, so why put it in a fake frame?
Anyway, if this is your thing, then Photoframe will be a source of endless delight, with 1300 frames to choose from in the Professional Edition. Or you could just do it yourself in Photoshop, and know then that your results would be unique to you. Your choice
Phototools is something I really struggle with. It's got loads of different effects, but it doesn't seem to do any of them with much control or particularly brilliant results. The sales blurb says it all for me: "PhotoTools 2 is the fastest way to add a professional look to your photos in Photoshop." Say what? Professional, to me, isn't a look, it's a result of shooting as part of your paid job, or as all of it. It's not a 'look'. There are almost 300 effects in Phototools, but some of them are 8-bit only, which strikes me as just cheap and nasty in today's world, and they vary from the sublime (FixSkin Shine -- works better than ImageTrends ShineOff, because you can paint it on or off in the software) to the ridiculous (the debigulator, which just seems to mess up the image). Some of them don't work in CS2 -- important to me because I still keep CS2 for using FocusMagic on an Intel Mac. The problem with them is that very few of them are as good as the best on the market — Imagenomic Portraiture does much better for portraits, for example — and the selection seems quite haphazard. For the same (unbundled) price, Tiffen dFx has just 110 filters, but more than 1,000 'effects' which more exactly correspond to Phototools notion of 'effects', because many of the Phototools effects seem to be little more than different presets from the same base filters. What's more, the Tiffen collection have acres of tightly matched digital reproductions of industry standard lighting or photographic filters, whereas Phototools has a few of those, and a lot more celebrity-designed presets. The Tiffen collection has about 20-30 parameters for each effect, whereas Phototools has about four per effect.
Interestingly, FocalPoint, which is a selective focus tool, more or less parallels one of the Tiffen tools, but is in the bundle as a separate product, and retails on its own for a hefty price tag.
For my money, Mask Pro, Genuine Fractals and ColorTune are more or less must-have plugins if you do the kind of work that needs them: each of them are the best available in their field, and unlikely to be overtaken anytime soon. Unless you really, really know that you will only ever need one or two of them, you're getting a discount by buying the bundle. Phototools, FocalPoint and PhotoFrame are not — in my view — anywhere near as compelling. PhotoFrame is definitely the best on the market, but you can reproduce it's effects either by making your own Photoshop masks, or, if you like the cutesy wood-effect frames, then you can get free actions to do them for you. Phototools is just too random to interest me. Many of its effects can be reproduced with free actions downloadable from Adobe's own Exchange, and most of the rest are simply not as good as competitor offerings at similar prices. FocalPoint is rather better — it is much, much easier to use and quicker than the Photoshop tool, and outperforms FixerLabs' True Blur, although it doesn't really have anything that Tiffen dFx doesn't include.
There's a quite clear difference of approach in Mask Pro, Genuine Fractals and ColorTune from the others. Phototools, FocalPoint and PhotoFrame contain lots of presets, including celebrity photographer presets in Phototools and PhotoFrame. Mask Pro, Genuine Fractals and ColorTune don't — to my mind, this marks them out as truly professional products, whereas the others sell themselves as products which help amateurs achieve professional results. Mm…
Overall, at the regular price, this is a good buy. At the time of writing, with another $100 off the price, it's an excellent buy, even if you never bother with the PhotoFrames or Phototools.
FixerLabs bundle their SizeFixer XL with their other tools for a similar price. It contains far less, but SizeFixer is arguably better than Genuine Fractals for some tasks, and FocusFixer, NoiseFixer, and ShadowFixer do things that none of the Phototools effects do, and these three are more important and generally useful things. TrueBlur is about as good as FocalPoint, but has less control parameters, and is therefore less useful. However, FocusFixer is not as good as FocusMagic, NoiseFixer isn't as good as Noise Ninja, and ShadowFixer isn't as good as Nikon D-Lighting.
Tiffen dFx blows Phototools and FocalPoint out of the water in everything it does, but it doesn't have any of the functions of Genuine Fractals, Mask Pro and ColorTune.
Vertus Fluid Mask is at least as good as Mask Pro, but it's much more frustrating to use, and, ultimately, the quality of your cut outs depends on how much work you put into them. You can get results in 1/5 of the time with Mask Pro, which means you can produce better images in the same time.
Imagenomic Portraiture is king of the skin-fixing and beauty enhancing plugins. It's expensive, but if your main interest in this bundle is the portrait functions in Phototools, you should really look at it.
Full Spectrum overlaps slightly with ColorTune, but they are really designed for very different purposes. PictoColor iCorrect EditLab makes similar promises to ColorTune, but is much less sophisticated and much less sure in its results. Xe847 claims to be able to get images right without much interaction. I'm still not sure I agree, but you can download their demo and see if you like it. It doesn't compare with ColorTune in my opinion.
There seem to be an ever growing number of commercial and shareware plugins which do photo-frames. None of them have as many presets as PhotoFrame.
A final warning:
Some of these plugins seem to be a bit unstable in Photoshop CS2 on an Intel Mac — I haven't had time to track down what causes this, and you can live with it. But, really, they are targeted at CS3 and CS4.
Martin Turner August 2009
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