In this review we look at the Power Retouche range of plug-ins for Photoshop and compatible applications
Power Retouche publish a larger number (24 at last count) of Photoshop and compatible application plug-ins for photographers and those editing images. They can be bought individually or in one of two complete sets: in the cheaper they are limited to working on 8-bit RGB images, in the second, pro, version, they will work in 8-bit or 16-bit mode in RGB, Grayscale, Duotone. CMYK, Multichannel or Lab. Because of the number of filters, we’ll spend more time on some than on others.
I’ll mention here one limitation I have noticed across multiple filters. When you have a side by side, before and after, view up, you can only move around within the limitation of the current zoom factor and the whole preview window, not just half. It will make sense when you try it yourself. What this means is that, in split view, there are some sections of the image that you cannot preview without switching to only seeing the modified view. This is very strange compared to the way many other programs work.
Black & White Studio
When you open up Black & White Studio you are presented with a preview area on the left and controls on the right. These controls are divided into three sets: film, print and zones, with film presented as the visible one on startup.
The preview area gives you the choice of seeing the original, the modified version and several arrangements of a split approach showing you both the original and the modified. This is zoomable and you can pan around within the image.
The film controls allow you to make preset changes to how a range of colors: magenta, blue, cyan, green, yellow, orange and red are converted into tone. You can, of course, do this manually. The sliders adjust to darker or lighter how the color band is converted to monochrome compared to the pure luminance conversion. You can also save these personal settings and reload them with other images. The film presets are:
3 Perceptual Luminance
4 100TMX TMAX
6 400Tx Tri-X
7 APX 100
9 Delta 100
10 Pan F+
These produce subtle but noticeable differences. I am too long from the darkroom to know if these accurately reflect the particular film stocks or not, but the results look about right.
You can also apply color filters once you have a film stock or manual setting made. These have a more marked effect on the image. These filters are none, magenta, blue, cyan, green, yellow, orange, and red.
The print controls give you a range of sliders that offer a huge degree of control over the image. Some of them appear similar, such as multigrade (simulating paper hardness grade) and contrast (which works more on just the mid tones and has minimal effect on the extreme highlights and shadows). Balance operates similarly to adjusting the middle slider in the Photoshop Levels dialog. These controls work extremely well.
The zones control allows you to make further adjustments to up to three specific tones and the band of tones near them.
Black and White Studio is a very impressive filter. Whilst I am sure it can’t do anything that you could not achieve in PS if you tried hard enough, what I love about this filter is that it is accessible and although immensely powerful, easy to use. You can produce striking images much more intuitively than in PS, in my view. I suspect you will produce more black and white images if you have this filter.
The Illumination Editor adjusts light and shade in an image. It can also generate a graduated transparency for correction layers. In practice I don’t find that this filter gives me much beyond what I can do easily in Photoshop.
Dynamic Range Compressor
This filter works on opening up shadow detail and/or highlight detail. It is highly effective at this.
You can protect the light areas whilst opening up the shadows
The Sharpness Editor offers a lot more than just a different way of sharpening an image. As well as the Sharpness Editor there is a Gentle Unsharp Mask, Enhanced Unsharp Mask, Smart Sharpen (for things like JPEGS) and a de-focus Blur.
So you have four different sharpening methods to choose from, each adjusting the algorithm used in various ways, so you can choose which works best for your image. In addition there is an extra high quality tick box, which slows processing down but further adjusts the algorithms to give a better result.
Gentle Unsharp Mask works best on very clean images with little or no noise.
Sharpness Editor works with most images and is the Swiss Army Knife.
Enhanced Unsharp Mask works like normal unsharp masking.
Smart Sharpen is designed for working on JPEG images where you do not want the artifacts sharpened. It works like Enhanced Unsharp Mark but makes use of some
of the controls in a set way to avoid sharpening the artifacts.
Blur, of course, does not sharpen at all, but rather offers a look much closer to a true lens de-focu
s than the Gaussian Blur in Photoshop does.
In practice it all works extremely well. For sharpening, the choice of sharpening method, plus the base controls, let you finetune the sharpening nicely. The antialiasing controls then let you sort out any tough edges and then the retouch levels or target range controls allow you to limit sharpening to only the parts of the image you want. If all that doesn’t get you exactly what you want you can fall back on my old method: duplicate the layer you want to sharpen before going into the Sharpness Editor, do your sharpening on this layer and then use a layer mask to control exactly where the sharpening is visible.
The results are good. You don’t get the visible white edges of the normal Photoshop unsharp mask if you over sharpen and the degree of control is excellent.
Corrects color balance automatically or manually.
An image noise corrector.
Adds film grain to an image or layer. This is quite useful if you need to combine, for example, digital and film images.
Graduated Color adds one or two color gradients over an image or layer. A nice feature is the complement button that picks the opposite color (on the color wheel) to the other color.
Toned Photos will take your color images, convert them to mono and add a color to them. It doesn’t split tone, just tone. It is nothing amazing, but it does do several steps all in one, nice dialog.
Definitely a niche filter, this one can put Golden Section lines and divisions over an image, as a guide to object placement and composition. For those who love the Golden Section, this is a great filter. I love it.
This tool gives you another option to correct over or underexposed images.
Fixes up the gaps in a histogram that can appear when an image is heavily manipulated.
Radial Density Corrector (Vigneting)
Fixes up vigneting, or adds it if you want to.
Anti-aliasing tries to fix up those jaggies on sloping edges. It works reasonably well, considering what a tough job it is. Useful when your client sends you over sharpened images to use.
Allows you to adjust the black in your images to boost color contrast, offer more snap or just give richer blacks.
Contrast lets you control the image contrast in interesting ways, including working on the BW contrast whilst leaving the color contrast alone.
This is a more sophisticated saturation control than the simple slider in Photoshop. It works well.
Meant for removing colorcasts in images, which it does fine, I also found you can use it for that cross-processing or color infrared film look.
Posterizer posterizes, allowing separate control over the number of colors and levels within those colors. It also allows you to use blending modes to merge it back with the original image.
Edgeliner creates line images from the edges in your image
. Nice control.
This filter is only really of any use with graphic elements.
The Soft filter operates like traditional soft filters you screw onto the lens.
Lets you adjust the brightness of your image or selection.
So what is my overall impression? Like all filter sets, there will always be some you like and others you won’t. Which ones are which will vary from person to person, depending on how you like to work and the type of work you do. Personally I found a good number of filters that I could use in my black and white work. There are others I would use more when doing graphic rather than photographic work. Others I would probably never use, preferring to use the tools in Photoshop. Of course, people’s skill levels also affect how much they like and use filters. There are many filters here that are more intuitive and easier to use than Photoshop’s. Thus they could also appeal to people who are still coming to terms with the Photoshop tools, or who just need to get a job done quickly.
This is a good filter collection and, in my view, well worth the money in the functionality they offer. Some of these will definitely join my set of tools.