Photos Extensions Review

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by r.harris1, Nov 17, 2015.

  1. r.harris1, Nov 17, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2015

    r.harris1 macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

    Joined:
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    #1
    Note: I think I got how to properly add images to the review so they stay around...we'll see :)

    I thought I'd take the time to post a quick review on the new Photos extensions available since the general release of OS X El Capitan. Personally speaking, they offer the possibility of a highly effective workflow and the potential for having best-of-breed developers handling key components of image editing. Imagine a world where DXO does your lens corrections, MacPhun handles your BW conversions and Affinity Photo offers its toolkit at your disposal, all from the same centralized framework and all in a non-destructive way, each building on the edits of the previous extension. Awesome! (Spoiler Alert: We’re not there yet)

    Sidebar: DAMN DAM

    I am staying away from the DAM tool debate. Lots of people love Lightroom. Others love Capture One. Others have another way that works for them (I'm in that camp). Aperture and LR have never been central to any process I've used except as something my images end up in once I've got them safely on my system already keyworded, rated, culled, renamed and backed up. I tend to focus on one image at a time and I am not an event or otherwise high-volume shooter. With that baseline laid, let's jump in to the review.

    The Review

    Out of the gate, we get local edits, layers (MacPhun), more sophisticated noise control (MacPhun), gradient tool (MacPhun), more sophisticated black and white options (MacPhun), functions like dodging, burning, de-haze and a handful of other nuggets (Affinity Photo), image distorto-rama if that's your thing (Pixelmator). Even Iridient has stepped in with a quirky “Edit in Iridient” extension for opening an image in that tool.

    I’ll be using a really bad image from a trip to the local wildlife refuge where I forgot to take the ball head for my tripod. Bummer! Hand-held, low-light, preference for lower ISO. Not the best of combinations.

    [​IMG]

    Activating extensions is relatively straight forward in each of the products. You need to make sure all of your licenses are in and have opened the standalone version at least once to get past the “This is an application downloaded from the internet, etc, etc” sorts of messages. After that, you can either enable them from Photos itself or in the Extensions section of System Preferences.

    Once enabled, you are ready to go from Photos.

    [​IMG]

    Clicking on “Extensions”, you get the list currently installed and can then choose and get to work. For my first (and only) trick, I’ll work with Intensify CK.

    [​IMG]



    The extension comes up reasonably quickly. It is displaying the JPEG from the NEF and not the base RAW image, or even a JPEG built off of the base RAW image. The other extensions seem to open my RAW image on initial load (or JPEG off of the base RAW image). Disappointingly though, once you’ve saved your changes from one extension, everything from then on out is editing in JPEG.

    [​IMG]


    That said, as you can see above, the extension presents a wide array of tools and for me, what I’ve been looking for since day one is local edits, which I can now do. With Intensify CK, you can choose to make your changes globally by simply adjusting the controls as needed or paint an area with an edit brush to have the changes added for particular parts of the image. With layers, you can apply different edit combinations in different areas to build up the complete image. In the image below, I’ve got a simple Sky layer that applies the gradient tool to pop the sky a bit and a Ground layer to raise the exposure level of the grass area. Overdone for demo purposes.

    [​IMG]

    When finished, you simply save the changes and it takes you back to the main Photos screen. No extension I’ve used currently can remember it’s last edits, even though this is possible in the Photos extension API (how well it is implemented, I don’t know). The next time you open the same extension, it won’t remember what you did and you’ll be starting at ground zero and in the case of Affinity (beta) extensions, you literally start at the beginning with the original image. Obviously, this is not a trivial problem to solve but I would love to see the ability to change an edit and have Photos "replay the recipe" from the RAW image to a new (unfortunately at this time) JPEG.

    The other extensions are similar in behavior and greatly expand what you can do from Photos. Here’s the set I am currently aware of (and there may be more that I am not).

    [​IMG]


    Conclusion

    The good at this very early stage: local edits and powerful features to create great images. The selection of vendors who are stepping up to implement are top-notch from my perspective though I'm sure others have their preferred list.

    The bad list is a little bit longer and mostly related to the extension interface itself.

    For me, the biggest negative is that it’s “all JPEG all the time.” Once you save the changes from one extension, you’re working in JPEG from then on out. That’s disappointing. I’d love to see this change but it will have to be Apple that does it as I’ve taken a look at their interface and that’s the only “save to” option currently.

    Also, I'd love to have at least limited historical capability: Save the changes with extension A and open extension A again and go back to where I was, rather than having to start over. It's a tough problem to solve in general when you have many different vendors but that specific use case should be doable, I'd think. I'd also think that because the JPEG is made up of a series of edits from one or more vendors on top of the original RAW file, the more broad historical capabilities would be doable as well. Let's say I have edits applied by vendors A, B and C (in that order). I should be able to go back to the edits from B, change those, and have the recipe of edits replay to give me my final image.

    Finally and more generally, there are certainly some “version 1.0” or “beta version” inconsistencies and occasional crashes that will work themselves out over time.

    Overall though, the experience has been pretty positive and I look forward to more coming on line in the hopefully near future. My currently most anticipated is DXO’s extension and I very much look forward to seeing what they will offer. The tools available for photographers today are pretty amazing.

    Outside of Adobe’s world, I’m very keen on what the folks at MacPhun (with Nik DNA), Pixelmator and Affinity are doing with their standalone products. Pretty amazing tools and I’d recommend giving them a try and certainly, while Photos gets plenty of disparaging comments, the extensions framework does allow for a fairly sophisticated, reasonably frictionless workflow that some may like. I do.


    EDIT: Since doing this review, the Affinity Photo team has but a very much revised version of their beta which takes care of the issue of "starting over". Very nice stuff now that you can use it with the other vendors' extensions. This is release candidate one of the beta, so they're on track for getting this out in December.
     

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  2. mrnorwegian macrumors member

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    Oslo
    #2
    Thank you for an interesting review! I agree that the history part should be implemented, one of the things that keep me in Lightroom at the moment.
     
  3. r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

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    #3
    Yes, I'd love to see it happen. The rough outlines of such an approach is there in the interface, at least from the perspective of each vendor being able to see what they've done before. Lots of potential, the big question is just whether it will happen.
     
  4. richpjr macrumors 68030

    richpjr

    Joined:
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    #4
    Very nice summary. I've been looking into some of these extensions as my Creative Cloud yearly subscription is coming close to needing to be renewed and I'm trying to decide if I need it or could get by with extensions. Some of the limitations you point out do scare me a bit.
     
  5. r.harris1, Nov 20, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015

    r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

    Joined:
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    #5
    Yes, for me, having to work in JPEG after using one extension is the worst offender and I'd like to see that addressed. Personally, I am chucking my Adobe CC subscription when it comes up in January because I'm already using other high quality tools - Affinity Photo, Pixelmator, MacPhun's stuff, etc and don't dip into Photoshop at all any more and I don't use Lightroom. These tools work great for how I work and the developers are improving the tools constantly.

    Despite the current limitations, I actually really do like the extensions paradigm. Rather than waiting for Apple to implement some particular functionality, opening up the interface so that people who know what they're doing can write it is a great way to go. I like the fact that it's a relatively frictionless workflow with options. For example, if I don't like Apple's healing tool, I can pop into MacPhun's and soon, Pixelmator's, and all from the same central application. If I don't like Apple's B&W conversion tools, I can try MacPhun's Tonality or Affinity Monochrome, and again, all from the same central application. Same with noise control and reduction and a host of other things. Apple doesn't provide local edits yet? That's OK, because MacPhun, Afinnity and Pixelmator do. No layers in Photos? Not a problem, MacPhun can help. Dodge and burn? Affinity Retouch to the rescue. At the end of the day, I can now do some very sophisticated work quickly and easily.

    I hope the JPEG limitation can be addressed and from looking at the Photos Extension interface docs, the history piece in some form or fashion is already there, so at this early stage of the game, I'm much more pleased than not, and certainly with the vendors coming to the table if not Apple's internal 1.0 interfaces, per se.

    Really, the state of the tools market for photographers and videographers is astonishing right now, at least on the Mac. Very high quality stuff, many options, lots of competition.


    EDIT: One of the things I'm not clear on is if the series of "edit recipes" in the extensions get applied to the original RAW image so that what you see is a rendered JPEG rendered from the sequence of "recipes" or if each new edit gets applied on top of the rendered JPEG from a previous edit. I'd love to know the answer to that.
     
  6. richpjr macrumors 68030

    richpjr

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    #6
    I'm not keen on renewing my CC subscription, but I'm not sure if I can get around the JPEG limitation with how extensions work. While not a professional photographer, as a hobbyist I have a fairly large collection of photos and currently have it organized by year and month in folders on my Mac. I really need to get it into a DAM and the obvious choices are Lightroom, which is part of my CC subscription but I am not currently using (just using Photoshop and a couple of plugins). or Photos. I'm going to have to spend a bit more time on this.
     
  7. r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

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    #7
    Another choice for a DAM would be Capture One Pro - a lot of people here like it a lot. I've used it myself and if I were changing my current approach to DAM, I'd likely choose that one.
     
  8. r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

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    #8
    For anyone interested, The Affinity Photo team has put out release candidate 1 of their beta which contains, among many items for their standalone, a host of fixes for their extensions which had mostly made them unworkable previously (it wouldn't carry over edits). Their extensions include Retouch, Haze Removal, Liquify, Monochrome, Miniature and Develop. Strong work. You can get the beta here. I believe you do need to own Affinity Photo to use the beta (but haven't tested this).
     
  9. robgendreau macrumors 68030

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    Jul 13, 2008
    #9
    I have been using all these myself. A pretty balanced review. Note that the extensions for Affinity only provide access to a very limited subset of what you can actually do in Affinity Photo. Which might be good, because AP is rather more like Photoshop, and anyone relying on Photos is probably not going to need what AP's full application provides. And you need to be able to save in AP's proprietary format in any case.

    I find MacPhun's stuff provides a more comprehensive set of tools. Still on sale, BTW, and the CK version also has plugins that work with Aperture and Lr, should you still be using the former and/or needing to switch to the latter. Affinity is pretty much just Affinity and Photos AFAIK (still in beta, but I haven't heard they'll be providing any Lr plugins).

    But one does, unfortunately, have to get into the great DAM debate because at the end of the day Photos and the extension scheme still has very significant limitations compared to Aperture, C1, Lr, etc etc.
     
  10. r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

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    #10
    Thank you. Yep, agreed on the DAM aspect for most people. Personally, the biggest items on my wish list are edit history for extensions and a real "edit in" function in Photos. Looking forward to what DXO is bringing to the table as well.
     
  11. atbaldwin macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2014
    #11
    Thanks so much for this in depth review. Do you know if any of these tools offer curves adjustments (as opposed to just levels, exposure, contrast, etc.)? I'm currently stuck with my Aperture workflow because my primary process involve adjusting curves for different color channels in order to generate cross-process effects, etc. Until an extension offers serious curves support, I feel like I'll be stuck with Aperture - or at least until Aperture actually ceases to work with Mac OS X.
     
  12. r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

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    #12
    Affinity Photo itself has curves capabilities, but the Develop extension is right now a far cry from the the actual product's functionality. So right now, it's just levels/etc, unfortunately.
     
  13. atbaldwin macrumors newbie

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    Sep 24, 2014
    #13
    Thanks for the fast response. Hopefully Affinity adds curves to their extension or someone else steps up with an extension that is a little more comprehensive soon.
     
  14. r.harris1 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    r.harris1

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    #14
    An addendum to this review that may interest anyone using Photos. DxO has released an extension on the app store ($9.99 US) that tacks in optical corrections, including distortion, chromatic aberration,etc as well as white balance, dxo smart lighting, their noise removal components and their clear view piece too. Definitely a "1st release" but it does start to fill in additional gaps. Nice that there's now a couple of dehaze tools with Affinity and DxO.
     
  15. FWRLCK macrumors member

    Joined:
    May 2, 2011
    #15
    Really the disappointing thing about extensions so far is the way they develop into JPEGs, which makes it difficult to stack them or use them with internal adjustments. For now I'm sticking with OOC JPEG/built-in adjustments for most photos, sometimes going to Affinity Photo via export.
     

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