Latest Posts

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe disk drive is extremely fast

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe SSD: extremely high speed mobile storage

Plugable has just released its mobile Thunderbolt 3 NVMe 1TB drive and I took it for a spin. The Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe drive appears to be based on the Phison E12, a PCIe Gen 3×4 controller.

Plugable’s drive is about the length of half an iPhone and almost two iPhones thick. It is made of aluminium, looks rock-solid and has a generous number of cooling ribs on three sides. The smooth metal backside is home to a very short 20cm integrated Thunderbolt 3 cable. The Plugable logo is printed on the top with the Thunderbolt logo beneath it. It’s available in 1TB and 2TB capacities — I received the 1TB version. The only accessory in the box is a velvet pouch that sits tight around the body but leaves the cable exposed.

I am not a huge fan of integrated cables, certainly not on mobile drives that are often tossed into a bag or case and can easily end up snatched off if you’re not careful. Yet, many a manufacturer opts for integrated cables and perhaps the advantages — you can’t forget to take one with you, nor can you mix up a 10Gbps USB-C cable with a 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 one when leaving for an important job — outweighs the disadvantages. Still, I would have liked the cable to be a little bit longer.

I checked the Plugable drive with DriveDx, a disk utility for the Mac that uses a disk’s SMART information to establish its health. The brilliant thing about DriveDx is that it reads external drives’ SMART data no matter the connection technology (USB, Thunderbolt, etc) as well as the SSD manufacturer’s data if it’s available. That’s how I found out the Plugable has a Phison controller, while the 1TB OWC Envoy Pro EX (EV) NVMe drive that I’m using to compare it with, has a Samsung EVO 960 inside.

The Plugable device as reported by DriveDx. The firmware points to Phison.
The Plugable device as reported by DriveDx. The firmware points to Phison.

With that out of the way, I ran Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test app and expected about the same performance as the Envoy Pro — and was blown away by the Plugable’s performance. With a write speed of 1636MB/sec and read speed of 2266MB/sec, this drive is the fastest I have tested so far.

Blackmagic Design Speed Test reports high throughput figures, regardless of the stress put on the drive.
Blackmagic Design Speed Test reports high throughput figures, regardless of the stress put on the drive.

At first, I thought it was the formatting the drive comes in – exFAT — that was causing this speed, but it wasn’t. The Plugable is as fast in APFS, HFS+ or whatever else you care to format it into.

The benefits of such monster-speeds immediately became obvious when I tried uploading a couple of 10-minute video clips to the Plugable and rendering out the clips in Final Cut Pro X with a blur and ColorSynth effect. Final Cut finished rendering the clip in about half the time it took when I ran the same test using the Envoy Pro and three times as fast as when the clip resided on the iMac’s built-in Fusion disk.

Also, there appears to be no throttling going on, so, although higher temperatures may shorten the lifespan of the unit a bit, you won’t see a rendering, offload or backup job slowing down to a fraction of the initial speed when the going gets …hot.

The Plugable retails at $299 for the 1TB model and $499 for the 2TB model.

GoPro hero8

Is GoPro taking advantage of customers since the introduction of the HERO8?

Every time GoPro releases a new action cam, I find pleasure not only in trying out the new unit but, in preparation for my piece, also watching some Youtube reviews. With the HERO8, I found that a few influencers were criticising the integrated lens, the protective housing and tempered glass lens and screen protectors being optional and all of this possibly a deliberate attempt by GoPro to direct you to their GoPro Plus service.

The last argument was presented by one of them in a way that I found suggestive with no proof offered of what is claimed. The other I saw was showing that the door on his HERO8 easily came off. This guy was also lamenting the integrated lens and showing that the lens of his previous model could be replaced easily.

Why didn’t I criticise those things in my review? First a little bit about where I come from. I left the Bar Association of which I was a member some 30 years ago when I became a journalist and started writing about IT and “multimedia”. I wrote for 13 magazines in the US, UK and EU combined and used to cover enterprise systems in the eighties and nineties, covering interviews with COs of Intel, IBM, HP, etc, and later also reviewing products ranging from computer disks to publishing software, stills and photo, film, video and audio equipment and software.

I’m not telling this to brag but to make clear I am not a freshman at this. I abide by journalistic ethics and I am not in the habit of defending a company if it’s being criticised. I do have a problem with reviews that suggest something that you can’t prove with facts — in trade publishing, such remarks are just as damaging and poisonous as they are in politics.

The target of suggestive remarks can’t respond to them because they’re usually too undefined and some criticism of some Youtube reviewers is flawed, which is why I didn’t criticise the same “flaws” in my review. I’m offering you sort of a defence — in a bout of nostalgia if you wish — below.

The battery/SD-card door came off too easily. — One of the Youtubers showed it on camera, so it’s true, his battery door came off easily. On my test unit, not so much. On the contrary, it’s darn difficult to get it to open in the first place. That frustrates me and probably a lot of other users, but it’s sort of reassuring as well — it’s an action camera, after all. His, like mine, experience is anecdotal, which is why you can’t make more general conclusions. It would take a test of a significant sample (a large enough number of HERO8 cameras), to tell you with some certainty the door is working fine or is rubbish.

The SD-card is very difficult to remove. — That’s true, but it’s not worthy of criticism as all SD-cards on practically every GoPro since the HERO4 have been difficult to remove. One of the Youtubers argued that it would be impossible to do with gloves on. Given the fact that we’re talking about MicroSD cards here, I don’t think he can handle one with gloves on without great difficulties anyway.

The old lens’ one-turn removable hood was better than the integrated lens. — I don’t agree. Firstly, I never managed to unscrew the hood on my HERO5/6/7, because it was very tight and I never have wanted to use brute force to the point of breakage to remove it. Secondly, I am not a physics Ph.D., but I’ve always learned that if you put a body with removable parts under a lot of stress, the parts will give in sooner than when they’re 100% integrated with the body. If that is true, it’s actually better to have an integrated lens — and if you want to reinforce the lot, to be able to enclose the body in a more robust accessory.

This is also the point where the suggestive argument was used. Its author made the remark that GoPro has integrated the lens into the body and only provides optional tempered glass lens protectors and a protective housing as a deliberate attempt to steer people towards its new Plus service that includes a replacement policy. The suggestion is that GoPro has deliberately made the camera weaker and is charging you for the options to bring it on par with previous models to boost sales of its Plus service.

However, none of the Youtubers showed that the HERO8 is weaker than its predecessors, which is hardly surprising. Reviewers can only prove that a device has a worse quality of build than another one by breaking both of them and observing or calculating which one broke first. As most of us don’t have the budget to break one, let alone two cameras, we can’t tell if one has a weaker construction than the other. We can only guess.

I do know, and I told as much in my review, that the foldable mounts tend to wiggle when you don’t tighten them enough, but other than that, I haven’t found evidence the HERO8 is easier to break than the HERO5/6/7.

I also don’t buy into the suggestion that GoPro is devious about them being after my subscription money for their Plus service and the reason is that you have options: you can buy a protective housing that turns your GoPro into a tank. You can even reinforce the HERO8 in stages. If you’re worried about the lens and the screen only, €19.99 will buy you a set of tempered glass protection sheets. If you want to have total protection with underwater capabilities thrown in as an extra, there’s the clear polycarbonate plastic (or is it acrylonitrile butadiene styrene — ABS?) housing for €49.99.

Perhaps GoPro’s goal is only to offer a choice. As many HERO’s today are used for a lot more than action, a HERO8 with its already strong build for reasonably rough handling is more than sufficient.

Besides, if GoPro were deviously trying to shove the Plus service down our throat, they’d better not offer the staged protection upgrades — there’s no legal obligation to do so as long as the camera can be used under the conditions it’s claimed to handle.

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe drive 1TB

Plugable adds small, portable, and extremely fast NVMe Thunderbolt 3 drive to its portfolio

Plugable, a developer of USB, Thunderbolt, Bluetooth and power-related devices, islaunching the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 NVMe External SSD, a solid state drive that offers creators up to 1 TB or 2TB of storage and speeds of up to 2800 MB/sec read and 1800 MB/sec write, all without the need for an external power connection. The 1TB model will be yours for $299 and the 2TB model for $499, the company says.

The Plugable drive is targeting creators like film producers and videographers who require fast scratch storage and regularly conduct large file transfers of formats like 4K. The new drives come in high enough capacity to give them the space they need for their footage.

Plugable’s drive is a plug-and-play solution for both Macs and Windows computers as it is pre-formatted with exFAT. The formatting allows it to be used interchangeably with Thunderbolt 3 Macs and Windows systems. Videographers can import media directly into Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere or any of their favourite editing applications seamlessly. With a camera or recording device that is Thunderbolt 3 capable, film makers can even offload footage without first having to format the drive.

The Plugable drive is designed for optimal portability, weighing in at 173g and a surface area slightly larger than a smartphone. It has an integrated 18cm long 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cable. The SSD technology inside is encased in full-body anodised aluminium enclosure, designed to keep the SSD cool while also protecting your data. However, Plugable hasn’t said whether the drive is shock proof and to what extent. It does come with a plush velvet carrying case so that you can go from shoot to shoot without worrying about damage.

A nice — legal — feature is that the Plugable gives a 36-month warranty on the drive. That will, of course, only cover you if you handle the drive with care and all other disclaimers that apply to warranties, but it more or less shows the trust the company puts in the build quality of the new drive.

Plugable made a Youtube movie for those of us who don’t know what you can do with a NVMe drive….

BBEdit 13

BBEdit turns 13 and makes Grep a whole lot easier

In human years, BBEdit turns well over 30 and with that age comes wisdom. Lots of it. Besides having become better at following Apple’s luminance schemes, the venerable text editor now offers a vastly simpler way to create Grep patterns, a Grep cheat sheet and the ability to create rectangular selections in documents with Soft Wrap Text set to active.

I’m not a coder, not even with CSS or HTML anymore, but I do regularly search for words and sentences even that you can’t find by simply looking for the actual characters. In other words, I search for patterns and BBEdit has always been a great help with that. In the past, though, I had to re-adjust myself to using Grep which is a patterns lookup language that I am sure is logical from a coder’s perspective but not mine and a lot of people like me. Setting up a Grep pattern took a lot of time and sometimes I just couldn’t make one work at all.

Enter BBEdit 13’s Grep Cheat Sheet. This mnemonic apparatus appears as a popup menu button in the Find, Multi-File Search, and Pattern Playground windows. It also works within the “Process Lines Containing”, “Process Duplicates”, and “Sort Lines” dialogue boxes. The menu provides some common Grep pattern idioms and brief descriptions and the best part is that it allows you to choose one that will then literally be inserted into the pattern you already figured out and select it. In the Find and Multi-File Search windows, choosing an item from the cheat sheet also turns on the “Grep” option.

That’s a first method BBEdit 13 uses to make Grep pattern creation better — as in more accurate and faster. The second way is the so-called “Pattern Playground” window. That one lets you interactively experiment with the behaviour of Grep patterns. This is my personal favourite. It makes creating complicated patterns much less a trial-and-error affair, because you can see exactly what will match and how that works. It reduced the time I needed to spend on Grep with my pattern-averse brain to a fraction of what I needed to spend without it — even the Cheat Sheet can’t compete with this.

But there’s a third method as well, although this one is for people who have a better understanding of Grep already. That’s the feature whereby editing a search string will highlight the results in the “target” document window. With most editors, this will work only with literal text, but BBEdit 13 makes this work with Grep patterns too. Of course, it will only work when the pattern is valid. As soon as it stopped being valid, the highlighting disappeared — but that’s useful in its own right, because it alerts you to errors you’ve made instantly.

As always, BBEdit upgrades have plenty of new and improved features and to list them all would take another five pages or so, but there’s one I don’t want to skip because it’s too useful to let pass under your radar: the ability to now make rectangular selections in documents for which “Soft Wrap Text” is turned on and act upon them — copy, cut, etc.

The rectangular selections are made in the actual text, not in the visual representation, so if the rectangular selection crosses a wrapped line, the wrapped portion of the line will not be highlighted, which could cause confusion, but not if you keep this in mind!

Conclusion: BBEdit is a tool, not just for coders or people working with simple HTML and CSS, but also for simple wordsmiths like myself. Yes, I write my articles in the Ulysses markdown editor, but for anything else I will open BBEdit.

BBEdit 13 retails for $49.99. You can use it for free for 30 days and try out all the features. After that, BBEdit goes into “Free mode”. You can’t use the advanced functionality in Free mode, but everything else will continue working as always.

GoPro telemetry extractor map

GoPro Telemetry Extractor Premium

With a HERO8, as with previous GoPro action cams, GPS and other metadata are recorded with the movie you shoot and embedded in the resulting MP4 files. A few years ago, GoPro added the ability to add this telemetric data to its editing app in the form of gauges that you can choose to show as overlays on the resulting movie, but you can’t extract the metadata and use it as you wish from within their app. Unless you buy software like GoPro Telemetry Extractor Premium, which allows you to do pretty much anything you want with a HERO’s metadata.

There’s a free version of the GoPro Telemetry Extractor (GTE) app as well, but it requires you to use a browser and doesn’t offer all the goodies that come with the paid app, so this review covers the paid version. In a nutshell, the GTE Premium app extracts all of the metadata that is available with any current HERO model, including sensor, GPS and other data the camera generates. It allows you to extract data from multiple cameras simultaneously, merges the data when it’s appropriate — for example when GoPro splits up very long videos into multiple files — and optimises it for the output file format you desire. It outputs to After Effects (mgJSON), GPS Exchange Format (GPX), Comma Separated Values (CSV), JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), Keyhole Markup Language (KML), GeoJSON and the Virb Edit type of GPX. All that costs $299, but, for the time being, at least, the developer is selling the app for $149.

The After Effects format is probably the easiest way to create animated visualisations that can contain almost any data stream. In addition, the developer has designed and sells his own designed After Effects templates for telemetry overlays and gauges. Other formats like JSON, for example, can be used to display data streams on a web page. The KML format is used to display geographic data in many programs, including Google Earth.

The GTE app is very simple to operate. You drag a file to the app, wait until it’s been parsed, click on one of the data categories and subsequently on the output format. With a HERO8, you can choose to see/output a dazzling array of categories, including GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, exposure time, white balance temperature and gains, ISO, average luminance, image uniformity, scene classification, predominant hue, face coordinates and details, camera orientation, gravity vector, wind processing, microphone and audio data.

You can filter data on frequency, time, smoothing, altitude, etc. Frequency, for example, can be useful if you want to display telemetry data using a plug-in that creates a static gauge turned dynamic by keyframe-animation. As GTE allows you to create a data point per frame, you can associate data points with frames on the timeline. Admittedly, that would prove to be a very tedious and time-consuming job. The alternative would be to either dive into scripting or subscribe to Adobe After Effects and use the JSON file GTE exports for you and which automatically “programs” the animation synchronised with the video.

If you want to view the data instead of exporting it, that’s possible too: there’s a graph format that’s usable with any data and a map view for GPS data. A very nice touch is that most graphs offer On/Off switches for specific data on any axis and the ability to save the graph as a PNG image for instant use in a document or on a webpage — or in your video as static information.

The GPS view offers a video — that can, of course, be started and stopped — of your trajectory overlaid on a white background, a satellite or map view. You can also see a location when you stop the video on Google Maps. And again, a very nice touch is that you can download a frame as an image or the whole video of the GPS trajectory with or without background and a few gauges as an HTML5 video (Webm), which you can convert to MP4 or something else with ffWorks, for example.

In short, even if you don’t know how to script variable data into an animation that runs synchronised with your movie or you don’t have After Effects, GTE makes it as easy as pie to use GoPro’s telemetry in your video.

iZotope launches tool for audio post-production, dialogue match

iZotope launched Dialogue Match, a tool to automatically learn and match the sonic character of dialogue recordings. It is also the first product  to combine machine learning algorithms from iZotope with the reverb technology from Exponential Audio’s product line, which iZotope acquired earlier this year.

Re-recording mixers that are responsible for delivering the final sound mix for films and television programs, often need a way to quickly match the dialogue recorded with lavalier, boom mics, and ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement), in order to create a seamless and cohesive dialogue performance. With Dialogue Match, users can analyse audio to extract a sonic profile, then apply the profile to any other dialogue track for fast and easy environmental consistency in scene recordings, allowing them to complete the tedious process of matching production dialogue to ADR in seconds, rather than hours.

For re-recording mixers and ADR editors, Dialogue Match may prove to be an unprecedented time-saver. They can match tonal characteristics between a boom and a lavalier microphone, localised audio to the original language and save or load global snapshots and reference profiles.

Dialogue Match has an EQ Module that  leverages the EQ matching mechanics of Ozone 9 to quickly learn and match the tonal and spectral characteristics of dialogue. The second pillar onto which it is built, is a Reverb Module that uses new reverb matching technology powered by machine learning, to capture spatial reflections from one recording and accurately apply them to another via Exponential Audio’s clean, realistic reverb engine. And the third pillar is an Ambience Module that analyses the spectral noise profile of a recording, and identifies and recreates room tone for dramatic acceleration of the ADR workflow.

Dialogue Match is now available as a standalone AudioSuite Plugin for $599. iZotope does not currently support its use for any host application other than Pro Tools 11 or later.

GoPro hero8

Bitrate of GoPro’s HERO8 Black on par with pro ENG cameras

A year ago, GoPro introduced a very good smoothing algorithm designed to work as a digital six-axes gimbal, Hypersmooth. This year, the HERO8 Black tries much harder with Hypersmooth 2.0, Timewarp 2.0, digital lenses, presets, better night photography and more.

The HERO8 has a new form factor that’s about 10% sleeker than the HERO7. The enclosing cage has gone and the camera now mounts with built-in folding fingers. The latter looks is a clever, logical design step-up and an efficient one at that, but you must make sure to tighten the mounting screw well to avoid a slight wiggle.

The HERO8’s battery and SD-card are now inserted at the side of the device. The big door is removable to connect with the new “Mods”, a new system of accessories that let you add lighting, audio input and a front-facing screen. A new, tougher and better lens sits in its slightly bigger protection cage.

With this better lens, GoPro introduces digital lenses which are, in reality, cropping modes. The results are excellent but, in photographic terms, a real zoom or exchangeable lens would have been better. The digital lens functionality offers four virtual zoom factors to frame an activity or scene. The camera automatically sets the optimum cropping area. Whereas the HERO7 in 4K mode only offered Wide at 60fps and Wide and Superview at 30fps, the HERO8 offers Wide (16-34mm) and Linear (19-39mm) at 60fps and SuperView (16mm), Wide and Linear at 30fps. Starting at 2.7K/60, you also get a new Narrow (27mm) angle.

GoPro fine-tuned the algorithm on their GP1 chip to deliver HyperSmooth 2.0 with Boost and TimeWarp 2.0. The HERO7 only gave you a choice between automatic smoothing and none at all. The HERO8 Black has three levels of stabilisation: On, High and Boost. I tried all three of them and found that every type of smoothing gives you more natural results than the HERO7. That’s no small feat, as the HERO7’s stabilisation was already incredibly good — as good as using a Karma grip.

TimeWarp 2.0 automatically adjusts speed based on motion, scene detection and lighting. You can even slow down the effect to real-time and then tap to speed it back up. TimeWarp 2.0 is available in four resolutions: 4K 16:9, 2.7K 4:3, 1440p 4:3 and 1080p 16:9. Leaving the rest of the settings in Auto mode results in the camera figuring out the best speed versus the recording time, but you can also set the speed yourself. To slow down the effect and speed it back up, you just tap one button on the screen. I tried Timewarp 2.0 with the slow down feature and the results looked much better than doing this in post.

Video Presets…

The HERO8 has also gotten a more intuitive control screen with presets. You can create your own, but the naming of presets is not free, so you can’t type a preset name that makes sense to you Giving the GoPro app on your smartphone or tablet that power would have been even better as people don’t necessarily associate “Cinematic” with a setting of 4K/30fps and Protune turned on.

In Photo mode, the HERO8 has been improved as well. However, in my opinion, the default settings of the presets don’t do justice to the improvements. The default ISO minimum setting is at 100, which is good, but, just as with video, the HERO8 will decide if it needs to set a higher ISO for the best results and the default maximum setting is at 3200 ISO. That turned out way too high for beautiful JPEGs without ugly noise — remember, this is a tiny sensor and small sensors are noisier by definition.

Once I turned down the max ISO setting to 400, JPEG photos came out very noise-free and with beautiful colours when I left the Protune colour setting to GoPro. And I got a stunning result from the RAW setting. One note in that respect: I’m on a Mac with no access to Adobe software since they switched from licences to a subscription model. That means I don’t have direct access to GoPro RAW files. Even DxO Photolab 3 still has no module for it. I checked the RAW image quality by converting the file with Adobe’s DNG Converter first and subsequently opening it in Capture One Pro 12 (DxO’s doesn’t support DNG either).

What else is new with the HERO8? A new front-mic placement which is supposed to enhance audio performance, especially in high-wind situations. I can’t say I heard much of a difference with the previous model, but there wasn’t any wind to speak of when I tested it, so I could be wrong. Anyway, I think that you’ll need the Audio Mod to really enjoy brilliant sound.

Last but absolutely not least, there is a big improvement under the hood: the HERO8 Black shoots 4K/30/60 footage at 114Mbps and 1080p/30 at 65Mbps. The maximum video bitrate on the HERO7 and HERO6 Black was 78 Mbps. The higher bitrates put the HERO8 on a same level as a high-end ENG camera or above a Sony RX0. The high bitrate has a clearly visible effect on an output with more detail and just better quality overall.

CalDigit Tuff Nano mobile NVMe SSD

CalDigit Tuff Nano, the smallest, toughest mobile NVMe SSD on the market

CalDigit released what must be the smallest mobile NVMe SSD currently available. The 74 grammes CalDigit Tuff Nano has a capacity of 512GB (soon also available in a 1TB version). The Tuff Nano is slightly bigger than two CompactFlash cards laid next to each other and slightly thicker than two of them stapled on top of each other. It comes with two cables in a sturdy plastic storage box.

Small though it is, the Tuff Nano has some impressive specs. The version that I tested holds 512GB with a theoretical maximum throughput speed of 1055MB/sec. It is immersible up to 1m for half an hour (IP67-certified) and survives drops from up to 3m. Its IP67 certification is due to the Nano’s silicon rubber enclosure and the IPX8 USB-C waterproof connector.

For this high-speed Tuff, CalDigit developed a power management mechanism that monitors the traffic for both the internal NVMe SSD as well as the storage controller. During system idle time, the Tuff nano will stay in low-power mode, prolonging the lifespan of the internal SSD and its components as well as your laptop’s or iPad Pro’s battery life. You read that right: the Tuff Nano can be hooked up with your iPad Pro and extend its internal memory space — if you run the latest iOS version.

I tested the Tuff Nano with Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test and AJA’s test app. CalDigit’s speed claims were pretty close to my results when the drive was cool to the touch. In Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test the Nano sustained a write speed of around 700MB/sec and a read speed of 920MB/sec using a 1GB test file. The AJA test showed a slightly higher throughput performance on the write side, resulting in a maximum speed of 760MB/sec. Maximum performance was obtained using my own CalDigit passive Thunderbolt 3 cable. I noticed that when the drive became warmer (roughly warmer than my skin temperature, which it reached after about 10 minutes of running the AJA test), its write performance dropped to around 550MB/sec while the read speed remained unchanged. That’s still on par with comparable SSDs and better even than SSDs from brands you would expect much higher performance from as they specifically target the filmmaking market.

This is due to CalDigit’s fine-tuning of the drive’s throttling mechanism which kicks in as soon as the drive reaches a level that is a bit hotter than skin temperature.

As the internal temperature is one of the more important factors in the lifespan of a memory device, the Nano should last longer than most other NVMe drives. Another reason why the Nano is bound to last longer than many of its competitors is the removable cable. Permanent cables are a weak spot in that they easily break with rough handling.

The disadvantage of the throttling is, of course, that — if you plan on using the Tuff Nano to render 4K movies on the road — the speed slowly decreases until it’s reached its bottom performance of 550MB/sec. It’s the price you pay for a lifespan that exceeds that of many other NVMe-based mobile SSD drives. If you’re using the Nano to offload, back up or temporarily store images and videoclips, you won’t mind the throttling at all.

So, do I like the Tuff Nano? Well, I’m a big fan of CalDigit storage products and the Tuff Nano is no exception. Imagine a RAID with these little buggers in a chocolate box size enclosure weighing less than a real box of chocolates…

The Tuff Nano 512GB costs around €170 and is available immediately from CalDigit’s online store.

Luminar 4 sky replacement in photo

Luminar 4’s AI assistance is actually quite good

Luminar 4 is Skylum’s most AI-driven app until now. It has a plethora of features that no longer depend on your masking or layer blending skills without – much to my surprise – taking out the creativity completely. What Luminar 4 does help you with, is to automate the work that requires you to painstakingly draw selections and blend layers to correct luminosity errors.

The Luminar 4 installer installs a stand-alone app on your system as well as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom Classic CC, Photoshop Elements and Apple’s Photos (and Aperture). The Library module has largely been kept the same as in Luminar 3, although updates will add more management features in the future. The image editing modules have been improved in terms of much more AI-assisted functionality.

Except for re-designed modules, such as the Edit module, Luminar 4 incorporates Skylum’s new AI Sky Replacement. This is a module that uses machine learning technology and it’s claimed to be the first image editor that offers fully automated sky replacement. Of course, I had to try it on a difficult image of a bicycle bridge spanning a busy road with lots of buildings in the background. The bridge itself has holes in it for the cyclists to enjoy the ugly scenery.

Much to my astonishment, the Sky Replacement module worked without first creating a mask and it succeeded at recognising the holes in the bridge and showing the sky through them correctly. General atmospheric conditions for each sky are included when you apply the AI Sky Replacement tool, so with a heavy overcast sky, the image becomes darker only where it would be when it really were overcast. You can also fine-tune the effects, such as the “relighting” strength, if you think it’s overdone. In a few cases, like with dramatic skies, the edges of the bridge showed some artefacts as if your lens would suddenly have a bit of chromatic aberration

There’s also an AI Skin Enhancer, which automatically removes skin imperfections like acne, freckles, and moles in addition to smoothing the skin. Nothing too exuberant here, but fairly realistic enhancements if you keep the amount applied in check.

Although the AI assistance you get in Luminar 4 is excellent, you can still opt to create your own masks. Even a combination of the two is possible. The AI Sky Enhancer, for example, works well on its own, without any mask having been made, but you can restrict the effect by creating your own mask.

Colour corrections can be done as always, i.e. judging them and the adjustments needed, based on visually assessing the image (on a calibrated monitor!) or by loading a DCP profile.

In short, it is no surprise Luminar 4 has won several awards and is probably going to win several others. It’s available for pre-order now.

DxO releases Photolabs 3 with unique colour manipulation wheel

DxO released its third upgrade of Photolabs, the former Optics Pro. The new version has a new repair and clone tool, a new local adjustments mask manager and a new colour wheel. And finally, after so many years, the metadata module has been updated as well, albeit with a very modest support for a keywords, author name and copyright field.

The local adjustment tool that lets you remove unwanted elements from an image has been improved in the new version by adding the ability to reposition the area that is used as the source for the reconstruction. It becomes visible only when you opt to see the selection. Two masks then become visible; one is where you brushed in the correction, the other is the source. Each of these have a manipulation dot that you can move around. The tool now also offers a Clone Mode, which lets you directly replace the area you are editing. On my system and in both modes, manipulating the dots slowed down the image rendering considerably. The results are what you would expect from such a tool, nothing too spectacular but useful.

DxO PhotoLab 3 also improves on the Local Adjustments palette. You can now manage local correction masks that have been layered within a single image. The tool also lets you reverse the selected mask with a single click. That saves time, but again, nothing spectacular.

That it does not look spectacular is not what you can say from the one tool that really sets PhotoLab 3 apart: the HSL Tool. It features a new colour adjustment mode based on a chromatic circle called the DxO ColorWheel.

The DxO ColorWheel allows you to select a colour range from eight different channels, fine-tune the value, select a replacement colour and adjust the transitions. The DxO ColorWheel is loosely based on Capture One’s colour wheels, but it’s more intuitive to use, nicer designed, more modern and it invites to experiment. So, a very big thumbs up for this one.

The tool is no toy, though. It’s very useful and efficient at manipulating the exact colours you want to change. Uniformity settings also let you adjust colour variations within a specific range, for example. The Saturation and Luminance sliders operate more or less independently, which offers more flexibility, especially when converting from colour to black and white and creating partially desaturated images.

Finally, DxO PhotoLab 3 at long last offers keyword management. Keywords associated with an image can now be displayed in the interface, including when they are imported from other apps. You can now add, delete, or rename keywords for one or multiple images simultaneously and include them in multi-criteria searches (macOS version only; this feature will be available in the Windows version in the near future). DxO PhotoLab 3 also offers more complete information and metadata display options as well as additional Projects management options.

That metadata thing is a big step forward, but I still think DxO should add the ability to view and edit all the IPTC metadata that’s available. That would make the app a complete solution for editing as well as cataloguing.

Wrapping it up, DxO Photolab 3 is a magnificent image editor with a decent management module. Its PRIME noise reduction algorithm is still unparalleled, its local adjustment functionality is one of the very best and now it also has a HSL tool that is turning heads. It’s definitely on my recommended list.