When Google acquired Nik Software, many of us found a very nice and effective set of image enhancement plug-ins to be no longer available. Macphun, a relatively new developer of image editing applications, however, comes to the rescue with its stand-alone app Intensify Pro. Intensify Pro is also available as a plug-in to Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom.
Intensify Pro literally intensifies your images by bringing out the details and structure. The program offers total control over contrast and sharpness, and also features the usual controls such as a colour temperature slider and vignette. When I first launched it, it reminded me of Nik’s apps, which is a compliment as these were always neatly designed and chock-full of image editing power. However, in some respects, Intensify Pro is better than Nik’s equivalent. For example, it uses a brush and a gradient tool instead of the control point technology in Nik’s system.
I tried Intensify Pro with three images. One photo of a cathedral, one of a building with statues in front of it, and one of plush puppets. When you start the app, you’ll have immediate access to a large range of presets, including monochrome and “faux HDR” ones. The presets can be used to start fine-tuning the image, or exactly the way they are. The real fun, however, starts when you adjust the presets to your liking.
The adjustments can be layered, so that you only affect parts of your image. Combined with a brush that you can control the size of, this allows for very granular adjustments. With Intensify Pro it’s easy to go overboard if you want to, but subtle improvements in contrast and detail are possible too. The only slight criticism I have with regards to the layer system is that the option for making layer masks visible should perhaps be a button instead of being buried in a menu.
The Basic Tune set of adjustments lets you set exposure, vibrance, saturation, highs and lows. Pro Contrast is your first set of power tools. It allows you to tune contrast in the shadows/highlights/midtones separately. Adjustments in each of these areas can result in dramatically different looking images. The Structure set makes the image more contrasty in low contrast areas only. If you overdo this one, you’ll quickly run into the (in my opinion ugly) faux HDR effect.
With the Details set you are capable of revealing smaller details by turning on micro-contrast. I saw a good example of this on my cathedral photo. Micro-Sharpness will sharpen your image without introducing artefacts. There’s a masking parameter in this set that enables you to block the effect in areas that need to stay blurry or soft.
After playing with the app for a week or so, it wasn’t hard to see why it’s been backed up by so many photographers. It can make a huge difference, especially with photos of technical, architectural and object oriented nature. While I personally wouldn’t mind also using it when shooting nature or portraits, I think only small adjustments would be advised with these types of photo.
A nice touch is that you can save your editing job to an Intensify file format, so that you can work on an image when you feel like it. The exporting functionality is great too. Except for direct export to SmugMug (!), Intensify Pro also exports to JPEG-2000, TGA and OpenEXR, to name the exotic ones. Finally, it integrates with Macphun Print Lab.