Best Image Software Round-up 2012 (Part 2) : HDR Artist, Big Lens, Classic TOY

12/31/2012 9:02:42 AM

Don’t be beaten by challenging lighting conditions, simply combine your images for a HDR result

·         Ratings: 4/10

·         Price: Free (Pro version $10.5)

·         Web:

HDR Artist gives you the easiest and fastest way to create the best HDR effect photos from just a single image

HDR Artist gives you the easiest and fastest way to create the best HDR effect photos from just a single image

In the early days of digital imaging it was something of a triumph to be able to declare to film-loving friends that you could make one exposure for the landscape and another for the sky, then combine them into one. That rather fell by the wayside with the onslaught of the HDR craze which, at the extreme end, became less about creating a great exposure in difficult or impossible lighting conditions and more about producing absurd colors and contrast. HDR Artist is an app that aims to cater for both ends of this spectrum, with a free version that is simplicity itself and a paid-for Pro version that apps tone-mapping control. The free version then requires one or more images to be drag and dropped onto the interface. With just one image it performs the process of brightening the shadows, darkening the mid-tones and lightening the highlights. Hey presto, pseudo-HDR.

For a more compelling alternative, drop a number of shots with different exposures onto the app. There’s an automatic alignment function, which takes its time but can cleverly line up shots that are slightly off. At the bottom of the screen is the HDR effect slider. Just drag it to the right to see the process start to work. Using multiple images means that they all get complied into an average that really doesn’t suit grey, cloudy skies. Some HDR apps and plug-ins will maximize cloud contrast, but this doesn’t work that well here it has to be said. As the slider moves along you get results that any photo editor produces – it’s only towards the maximum end that a more HDR-like result is generated. You can stop there with a reasonable result or press on for a more cartoon-like look and feel depending on your sense of taste.

System requirements: Mac with Intel CPU, OS X 10.6.6 or later. This is a 6.3MB download.

Verdict: This isn’t really that impressive. The single image treatment has been done better elsewhere and pushing the effect to the maximum creates lots of halo effects, especially in the clouds. The multiple image approach isn’t that much better, making little difference to the clouds and producing results that could be created in any photo editor using Curves. The Pro version does add more control over how the tone-mapping works, so it might be worth having a look at the free version first to see if it delivers the kin of results you want.

Big Lens

Too much depth-of-field in your photos? Get that background out of focus and add some creative filter effects along the way too

·         Ratings: 7/10

·         Price: $1

·         Web:

Description: Big Lens also offers some filters and lens flare effects

Big Lens also offers some filters and lens flare effects

One of the main disadvantages of the iPhone and compact cameras is that there is always too much depth-of-field in portrait shots. This universal app aims to fix that, though as masking on a phone-size screen is pretty difficult, we’re looking at this on the iPad. There’re two modes of operation – Basic, which uses simple shaped to draw masks and Advanced, where you can draw around the subject. The Basic mode uses either a circle or a parallel strip for masking. The latter can be used for miniature camera style effects, the former is pretty much useless.

On to Advanced then, and either use Lasso or Brush mode to paint the mask. Unfortunately, the lasso mode is fairly stupid and often fills the wrong area if painting step by step. You really do need to zoom in and then use two fingers to move the screen around. Mistakes can be erased, but it really isn’t easy or accurate to draw masks with your finger.

On to the next part of the app and the background is then blurred according to which aperture setting is used. There are also filters to add for creative touches, lens shapes for a Bokeh effect, a pseudo-HDR function and the chance to touch up the mask. That’s fine, except the blurring is a bog-standard blur, which leaves artefacts on the edge between it and the sharp area. There’s no blending and the mask selection isn’t intelligent so it doesn’t pick up edges. The blurred effect doesn’t look convincing at the wider aperture settings. Fortunately, the Bokeh effects work very well and to save the entire process there’s a slider that moves between macro and non-macro. Well, whatever it’s supposed to represent, this actually reduces the opacity of the blur, so you can blend it in better while keeping the effects. On top of this, the selection of filter effects is actually quite good so from the jaws of defeat, some useful effects are just about possible.

System requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS+, iPod touch 3+ and iPad 1+ running iOS 4.0 or later. The iPhone 4/4S and iPad 2 support 8-megapixel images, the rest only 3-megapixels. This is 28.1MB download.

Verdict: Painting a mask with your finger is hardly very accurate and the app doesn’t help at all with no sophisticated edge detection. The blurred effect isn’t convincing at maximum strength and there are artefacts clearly visible until you blend the effect in with an opacity slider. The Bokeh effects and filters are an added bonus. Decent enough, but you wouldn’t want to do this with your prized DSLR photos.

Classic TOY

Grab a handful of lenses and a bagful of films with his neat take on the classic plastic camera craze

·         Ratings: 8/10

·         Price: Free (Premium Pack $2)

·         Web:

Description: The Classic Toy app offers unique films and lenses such as a basic single-focus lens, a multi-shot lens that can take various photos consecutively, a fisheye lens, and others

The Classic Toy app offers unique films and lenses such as a basic single-focus lens, a multi-shot lens that can take various photos consecutively, a fisheye lens, and others

Well we’ve seen plenty of this type of app already, but Classic TOY scores from the start by being free. There’s an in-app purchase of $2 to add more films and lenses, which is fair enough because there plenty built-in to start with. There are 4 lenses and 17 film stocks to try out, from vintage to vivid, mono to 70’s styles. What further expands the range is the fact that each film stock has an original and a remake version and that there are also normal, supertoy and grunge versions of each one as well.

The camera lenses offer a lot of variety too, from a standard lens to multi-shot, fish-eye and split-lens that takes two shots. On this latter one you can also control the timing for when the second shot occurs. The camera interface is fairly barren, rather than using the Retro Camera route of filling the entire screen. At least it means you can see what you’re doing. The app supports both front and back cameras for the iPhone and iPad. It’s in the settings that the graphical finery comes out, with a camera back that slides open to let you rotate through the film stocks, or slide a new lens in place on the front.

The results appear hanging by a peg in a virtual darkroom and offer all kinds of overexposed and distorted effects. Really, you’re not going to get much idea from the names of the stocks until you try them out, especially with the variations involved. Fortunately, because the app is free, you can do just that. Finished films are developed high-resolution to the Camera roll and they can be sent via email or Twitter or, alternatively, opened in other apps.

System requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS+, iPod touch 4th gen, iPad 2 and requires iOS 5.0 or later. This is a 23MB download.

Verdict: As most of the film stocks don’t use recognizable names, it’s largely guesswork seeing what effect they have. The fact that there are so many variations on each one means you’ll spend plenty of time just trying them out. The graphic interface is slick and fun to use while the results are ideal for those who love grungy, overexposed and messed-up colors. Overall, this is very decent little package.

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