Digital Is A Huge Part Of My Photographic Life

This is not another film post. You might think that I am some sort of anti-digital nut case based on my last few posts. In case it's not clear at this point - I am not. I shoot digital as much or more than most DSLR owners. I own every digital image editor and photo browser you can think of. In some areas of that software I might even be considered an expert, not that I ever wanted to be. I spend far far more time in front of a computer and specifically in front of Photoshop that I care to recount.

Believe it or not this started while I was shooting film as a capture medium exclusively. The reason is that for my purposes, digital output allowed me to produce output quality that exceeded what I could personally produce or even afford to produce traditionally. This was first true for color and then at some point a while ago it also became true for black and white as well. When I say output what I mean is photographs on paper and other physical artifacts. Which by now you should know is my favorite way to view and share images. I use Aperture 3 as my primary image cataloging system and Photoshop as my primary image manipulation software.

So today I wanted to share a few of my recent digital specific acquisitions with you and a few thoughts that I have had about their features and performance. First off, I finally got around to grabbing myself a Nikon 35mm f1.8 G DX lens. I have been meaning to for about a year or so since I bought a Nikon 7000. I am hoping that I can build a reasonably priced, small lightweight kit that will produce images that I am please with. Time permitting I will be reporting on how this goes… Specifically how it measures up from a holistic standpoint compared to my experiences in comparison to 35mm film cameras and lenses like the Nikon FM, Olympus OM-1, and Leica M6.

Next up that I will be talking about a lot is the final decision that we made on a new printer for taking on a few enormous print installation projects that need to be completed at the end of the summer. The final decision was the Epson 9900 - the new-ish Ultrachrom HDR ink sets are amazing. The results appear to be as good as it gets for now. I am not going to make any technical claims or comparisons to some of the more specialized solutions still being marketed but what I am initially seeing for the 9900 is as good or better.

Not only is the quality fantastic, the operation is amazingly improved since even a generation back AND the initial investment is silly low (thank you Canon for this!). The only thing left is the color management solution - still hamstrung with the old system but the game as been shaken up lately by a couple of new options from x-rite. as well as specific options for the 9900. Anyway you slice it - it's going to be an X-rite Product at this point. Maybe simpler than what you are imagining. Much more on this to come as I print my way through the summer.

Last on the recent digital junk acquisition list is Photoshop CS6. Yes I went a bit around the bend when I first started using the beta. I still feel the same way about a few of my comments but after settling in with CS6 for a while now I don't feel quite as bad about spending the $200 to upgrade my perfectly good CS5. I upgraded not because I changed my mind about CS6 prior to purchase but because I was pretty much forced to. I sill don't like the forced to part.

I could have gone on kicking and screaming about it and refused to upgrade by causing myself a lot of extra work but I folded. Let me explain - I create a lot of output that includes everything from prints, to logo designs, to portfolios, you name it. Some for myself but mostly for others. A couple of them use Lightroom. At this point they use Lightroom 4 - aka the one with the new ACR process. If I continued to use CS5 I would be stuck with downgrading almost every file I exchange with photographers that use Lightroom 4. Without going into detail this would be a significant drain on useless time spent on my behalf as well as those photographers I work with. So instead of fighting I switched pretty much as soon as I could.

Since I switched and have been working with Photoshop CS6 exclusively for a few weeks I have found that I actually like it. It's going to take a while until I have my interface the way I want it but there really are some nice things in here compared to older versions as well as some hidden gems. Even without using a lot of the new new new stuff that all the internet guys get all excited about because it's easy to explain in four seconds like video and content aware move it's worth every penny of the two hundred bucks. I couldn't care less about the video. I will probably play with it for more than ten seconds like I have so far just to understand it a bit but my impression is that it's extremely cumbersome and kind of forced into PS.

I also don't give a crap about content aware move and other marquee "features". So why is it worth 200 bucks? Here is a brief list I some of the things I am liking a lot.

  • Modified patch tool behavior. Finally - I have not been a big fan of the content aware stuff but now the patch tool is extremely useful in almost every circumstance and situation where I stopped bothering with it before as most of the time I knew it would make a mess. Try it near an image edge now. For that matter try the spot healing brush as well. Not nearly as many "WTF did it do that for???" things.
  • New crop behavior - there is way more than meets the eye. I may devote an entire post to just the crop tool. Yeah. Even something as simple as the ability to change crop parameters without backing out of the crop tool is amazing. I never realized how much I needed this until I had it.
  • Background file save. Sounds stupid but this saves me a lot of time. I can work while my 2gig image is writing to disk.
  • Real curves in ACR with RGB channels. ACR is way better all around. Way better - to my eye image quality is even up. See for yourself.
  • Some of the new blurry filters and controls are really cool - especially if you mess with the multitude of parameters in the filter a bit. Of course I would rather a great lens with great bokeh but… You can make noisy bokeh appear not only nice but natural in short order. I think my minimal use of gaussian blur will now be non-existent (except for technical stuff).
  • New brush features. I am not done exploring these yet but they look like they may prove useful to me. If you haven't checked out the new brush stuff and have CS6 you should - Adobe hid these pretty good.
  • The layer filter and search things are actually useful to me. I mostly use the filtering atm.
  • Skin selections are quite useful and save me a ton of time. As with many things photoshop - I won't even fully understand how good this is until I really get using it in combinations with other things more but this is something great.
  • The new "auto" method in curves (and levels and brightness and contrast) The new thing is the "Enhance brightness and contrast" mode. I don't need this - as is the case for most people that have screwed with images adjustments at all but… we all get stuck in a rut of doing things the same way all the time. Think of the new auto mode as a way of getting another persons take on things. That's basically what it is. The old auto modes (you can get to them via option-clicking the auto button) gave you full control over what the auto button did. It still does. That new mode is completely different. It uses a database of adjustments based on image characteristics that has been compiled based on what lot's of other photoshop experts do to an image with similar characteristics. Try it - if nothing else it may point you in a direction that you weren't thinking of.
  • Performance enhancements. These might actually qualify as UI enhancements as the ones I am talking about are all the real-time effects that now happen, are better, or are faster in the UI. I won't go through them all but you will see them as soon as you start using crop. They are in most if not all of the tools and filters now. Amazing - this alone is worth $200 to me.
  • Bridge CS6 - yep. It's better, mainly because it's faster - a lot faster in many cases. Finally Indesign linked files are shown in bridge - yes!

I am not really sure about how I feel about the rest of the new things. I am %90 sure I think the video stuff is useless, cumbersome, and forced in. Maybe it might be useful for something specialized but as a generic video editing tool - hmmm no. I will spend some more focused time with it just to make sure I am not missing the point but for now I don't even buy into the notion that messing with video in PS is somehow easier for non-video people. Huhhh? Trust me messing with video in PS is not a whole lot like dealing with still image files in PS… especially for the kinds of things you want to do to video.

There are also a bunch of other things that I would lump into the same category as Video. By category I mean features that belong in other applications finding their way into Photoshop. Video? Isn't that Premier. A bunch of new type features with styles? Isn't that InDesign. A bunch of vector graphics stuff? That's what Illustrator is for… When I first fired up the CS6 beta this is what smacked me in the face. Photoshop feature bloat - like MicroSloth Word. Great now we are on the train to make all CS apps to everything… Does this all end up at a place where Creative suite is Photoshop?

To be candid I do use typographic features every once in a while inside photoshop. Not just stupid text tricks for web graphics but type layout things. Really simple things. Anything more than a one liner puts me into InDesign. I don't know how I feel about styles and additional type features in PS yet. I guess that is what confused me a little about the CS6 upgrade.

Adobe chucked a bunch of stuff in there that already exists in a better more comprehensive more appropriate way in Creative Suite apps that are specifically for doing those kinds of things. This sort of overwhelmed the awesome improvements to the core image editing functions that I view to be central to Photoshop. The bottom line is that even without the new non-photoy features that are fairly massive there is a heck of a lot of core Photoshop as image editor things in CS6 than we have seen in a long time. Those alone are worth the upgrade.


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