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August 2014 Archives

August 12, 2014

The Case for Prints: Canon Pixma Pro-10 After One Year

By Ellis Vener

Should you be making your own prints? I think you should.

Printing your work closes the circle of creation.

Holding a print in your hands and being able to show it to others makes you look at your work in ways that don’t happen when you only look at your work flashing by on a monitor, even the best monitor.

The longer you look at a photo, the more you see, and the more you see into your work, the more you learn about it and the way you see, and that makes you a better photographer. I think you should make your own prints even if you have no intention to sell fine art prints or never plan on entering your work in competitions or exhibits, and even if you already work with a trusted lab. By taking full responsibility for what you create you get a solid psychological boost in confidence, which also helps when selling your services. Finally, a print is the photograph. What you see on a screen is just an ephemeral visual event, evanescent images flickering in and out of consciousness one after the other. And one more thing: prints make wonderful, personal thank you gifts.

Printing used to be difficult, but it isn’t anymore, not really. As the equipment has gotten better, paper manufacturers have stepped up their game as well. It used to be that to get a really good print you needed to learn how to make your own ICC-compliant profiles and that required expensive equipment, complex software, and time invested in overcoming an arcane learning curve. To be honest, making profiles was boring and expensive. But over the past two years companies like Canon and Epson working together with media manufacturers like Legion’s Moab division have made great strides in eliminating the entire profiling workflow. It’s far simpler to consistently making great quality prints than in any other time in the photographic history. The intuitive and elegant interface of the print engine in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 has also helped simplify the printing process.

The Canon Pixma Pro-10 is a great example of the progress in making affordable and easy-to-use desktop printers. The Pro-10 is a 10-ink pigment printer capable of printing on media up to 13x19 inches. It cannot be classified as a machine built for high production environments—the width limit and lack of a roll feed option rule that out—but for small editions of portfolio and fine art work it does a great job. It can even print on optical disks to customize image delivery.

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The Pixma Pro-10 uses a 10-color LUCIA pigment ink system and Chroma Optimizer; input resolution is best set to either 300 or 600ppi depending on the size of the print and media surface. On rough-textured canvas media you can get excellent results with even lower input resolution, down to about 200ppi. The ink droplet size is 4 picoliters and the print head is equipped with 7,680 nozzles or 768 per ink. In my experience, because of the inkjet technology and sheer number of nozzles per color Canon printers are less prone to the clogging issues that bedevil competing printers. Like its big sister the Pro-1 and the large-format Canon imagePrograf printers, the Pixma Pro-10 uses Canon Lucia Pigment ink system—cyan, gray, magenta, matte black, photo black, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, yellow, and a Chroma Optimizer—each in individual PGI-72 tanks. It’s no secret that ink isn’t cheap, and with individual replacement ink cartridges costing approximately $15.00 each or about $133.00 for a full 10-ink set, cost is a consideration. As do other Canon printers, however, it sips ink compared to its competitors.

More important than ink cost is quality of color. For a printer in this class and price range, print and color quality is excellent and compares favorably to more expensive printers. This general statement holds true whether the subject is portraiture, landscape, or still life, and whether you are printing in high definition on super glossy media or on lower-resolution matte surfaces. An 8x10-inch image prints in three and a half minutes and a 13x19-inch print takes around six minutes.

The Chroma Optimizer is clear coating that Canon says reduces the difference in ink droplet height to form a flat and smooth ink layer, which is especially important with the glossy print surfaces. You can see this to full effect on metallic papers like the very shiny, high contrast Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl 260. That’s not an appropriate paper choice for most portraits, but if you are shooting highly saturated landscape or still life work, the dynamic visual effect achieved with Canon’s Lucia Inks is impressive.

To test the capabilities of the Pixma Pro-10 for color portraits I worked with a set of images shot for a local school’s annual fifth grade dance. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the theme, so the color gamut of the costumes ran from extremely saturated to extremely delicate. I chose this set of images as it represents a full panoply of human skin tones from very dark to very pale along with an equally wide array of hair color. In Lightroom 5.3 I created a custom template for printing nine 4x6-inch images on a single A3 (13 x 19inch) sheet of Moab Lasal Photo Gloss 270, at 600dpi. Rather than use my own custom profile, I first tried Canon’s profile for that paper in the Pixma Pro-10. I used the profile available at http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/standard_display/3rd_party_papers and was quite happy with the results.

The next test was to see how well it did with black-and-white imagery. Getting monochrome prints to look right can be trickier than color because of its visual simplicity. In a neutral black-and-white print you want to see a large and smooth tonal gradient from deep blacks to pure crisp paper white without unexpected color tints or shifts. Here the Pixma Pro-10 did an excellent job of keeping tones neutral from the highlights down into the blacks. Matte-surface papers are generally a better choice with images where the exciting essence of a well-made print is found in the separation down in the dark tones because matte surfaces absorb more light. Canon thinks enough people will be using the Pixma Pro-10 to print black-and-white that they sell a four-ink package containing only matte black, photo black (gloss), gray and Chroma Optimizer.

Beyond print quality the Pixma Pro-10 has a slew of useful features including Wi-Fi and Apple AirPrint wireless printing options, and the ability to print directly from PictBridge equipped cameras, or print directly onto printable CD-R/DVD and Blu-Ray disks.

What it doesn’t have: Beyond being limited to the 13-inch media width, there is no roll-feed option and wired connections are limited to USB 2.0 and Ethernet. For photography purposes the auto-load is limited to 20 4x6 sheets, 10 8x10 sheets or a single A3 (13 x 19 inch) sheet. The printer is largish—27.2 inches wide, 15.2 inches deep, 8.5 inches tall—and at 43.9 pounds, heavy. You’ll also want to leave a fair amount of room free both behind and in front of the printer. While you could call this a desktop printer, the desk should be pretty sturdy with a fair amount of room around it. 

Over the past year my usage pattern with the Pixma Pro-10 has been spasmodic: intense weeks of daily printing sessions separated by long periods of making no prints at all. Except for a color nozzle that clogged due to user error (I had mistakenly left the printer off for three months), which was quickly resolved, I have had no operating issues with it. Two standard cleaning cycles cleared the clog and I was back in business. To prevent this from happening again I simply leave the printer turned on and in standby mode and make a small print once a week. This keeps the nozzles warm and prevents the ink in them from drying out. 

All in all I’ve been very happy with the Pixma Pro-10. Though I’d like to be able to larger format prints, the print quality easily lives up to the marketing claims and with the one exception noted above, I’ve had no operating issues. This real-world performance explains why it picked up several awards in 2013, including a Professional Photographer Magazine Hot One for Inkjet Printer between $500 and $1,000.

Photodex ProShow App Update Adds Control, Capability

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

Photodex ProShow has released a new version of their iOS app, which provides a stylish new user interface, more custom controls and effects, text and caption options, better downloading and sharing tools, and more. The original app was nice, but I have to say I like all the improvements.

When you open the ProShow App, you’ll see all of your shows—you can create new ones from here, or open existing shows to edit or view them.

When making a new show, select a theme, then add music, either from your device library or from the extensive online directory. You can view by genre, length, frequently used tracks, etc.

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The next step is to import your images. You can import images from a local directory or from online locations such as Facebook or Instagram. For this example, I imported from Instagram. The app then went through an authentication process where I allowed ProShow to access my Instagram account, and I was able to select the images I wanted to add to the slideshow.

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Once images have been imported, you can edit the slideshow.  Here is the edit show view with the side panel expanded and the show settings that you can edit.

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Now, onto some of the new improvements for the app—text effects. If you want, you can edit the effects for individual images, overriding the automatic effects. You can also change the slide transitions, and add captions to the image slide.

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You can create and apply themes to text slides. The effects for your text slides can be customized just like the image slides (no transition effect customization though), or you can choose to simply have a main heading or a heading and sub-heading.

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Back in the edit show view, now with captions and text slides included, you can add captions to any image slide or add title slides. The images with text captions have a “T” icon in the lower right corner of the thumbnail. You can render the videos from the app as well. A variety of resolutions and formats are available. There are also options to share the slideshow online, via social media, or just a link to copy and paste. 

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I’ve shared a show to YouTube for you to view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmZSx3bs-94

Overall, I really enjoyed the updates to the ProShow App. The interface is even easier to use than their web application. As for the new ability to customize text slides on the app? Even though I regularly use ProShow to create slideshows for my portrait clients, I rarely add text slides. However, I think these title slides and captioning features would be useful for wedding photography slideshows. I can see using them to make kind of a digital wedding album, complete with captions to designate the details of the day, or for personal scrapbook-style slideshows such as the Instagram show I imported.

Pros

  • easy-to-use interface
  • lots of effects for slides
  • automatic effects can be overriden
  • cloud storage allows updating/editing from any device
  • integrated with social media
  • extensive library of music, effects
  • ability to save finished videos to camera roll for offline viewing
  • expanded effects and text options

Cons

  • only on iOS appstore
  • title slides may be unnecessary feature

As before, the ProShow app remains an extension of the ProShow Web service. The ProShow Web App is available for iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad (an Android app may be developed in the future). While the app itself is downloaded from the iTunes store at no charge, you do need to register an account with ProShow Web (free, $30/year, or $150/year). There are a number of upgrade options (HD video creation, unbranded videos) that can be purchased from within the app, starting at $4.95. For more information about the ProShow Web App, visit ProShow Web or the Apple App Store.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP is a portrait photographer in Michigan.  http://bphotoart.com

August 18, 2014

Alien Skin Snap Art 4: Good Looking, Easily Done

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP

If you’re interested in doing simple photo-to-painting or other art media effects to add a fun touch to one of your products, you don’t have to invest in a professional application that’s used to create fine-art pieces and does far more than what you need. You just need an application that creates realistic art effects and that's easy to use. To that end, Snap Art 4 delivers. 

While the early versions of SnapArt were only usable as a plug-in for Photoshop, Snap Art 4 can be launched as a standalone program or from within your image editing software (Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, etc). 

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The interface is also much improved, with many more customizations.  

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You’ll notice that there are a number of different effects in the left panel (click on the image for a large view). I’ve expanded the effects tour section so you can see some of the different styles that can be rendered. The selections are Color Pencil, Comics, Crayon, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pastel, Pen & Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Recently Used, Stylize, and Watercolor. Each effect has a submenu of preset settings you can begin with. For example, the watercolor presets are Abstract, Colorful, Detailed, Large Brush, Low Coverage, and Vignette. 

The right panel has six sections: Navigator, Background, Detail Masking, Colors, Canvas, and Lighting. Each of these has sliders and other options that you can adjust to tweak the appearance of your rendereding. You can save your custom settings as presets for later use if you'd like to use a certain formula often.

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Detail Masking is an important section for rendering portraits. This section allows you to retain detail in certain areas of your image, such as the faces. You can paint the mask onto the image with an adjustable brush—the masked areas do not need to be adjacent—and partially mask areas, for instance if you want 50 percent of the effect to be applied on the faces so that you maintain the paint effect but retain some of the photo realism. Keep in mind, though, that the effect applied in this manner is obviously a computer-blended effect.

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Here’s a before and after comparison of a flower photograph-to-painting conversion. I used the thick paint oil paint effect with the thick, textured brush stroke look.

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Overall, I was quite happy with Snap Art 4 and how it performed. I’d previously used Snap Art 2, and there have been vast improvements in the interface and customization options have increased. I love that you can use it with batches of images to help speed up workflow—after all, most of us probably have a few go-to presets we rely on for our photographs, so batching painted renditions makes sense once you have your customizations figured out. I can easily see choosing a set of background accent photos in a certain color palette to render for an album in the same painting style.

Obviously this software isn’t meant to be a manual painting program, so if you’re aiming for a fine-art market, Snap Art 4 won’t fit your needs. But if you want to quickly render paintings with consistent results, then Snap Art 4 is definitely worth trying.

Pros

Fully automated rendering of paintings
Customization panels
Batch editing
Masking options
Standalone software can also be launched from Photoshop, Lightroom
Realistic brush and media looks

Cons

No option for manual strokes
Some effects are not geared to photographers (Comics)

 

Snap Art 4 is currently available for $64.35 (normally $99), a free trial is available.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP, is a portrait artist in Michigan. 

About August 2014

This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in August 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2014 is the previous archive.

September 2014 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


 
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