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21st June 2007
Kodak Professional Image Enhancement Plug-in Software Review
3953: Kodak Professional Image Enhancement Plug-in Software Review

Kodak Professional Image Enhancement Plug-in Software Review

Iím of the opinion that if there is some tool that will allow me to do a task more easily and quickly, whilst at the same time producing a better result then Iím all for it. So it is with digital photography, there are so many tasks that require a level of skill and familiarity with the software that many photographers cannot justify or are not prepared to achieve. Hence a good plug-in designed for a specific task can be much easier and save much more time than using the long method in Photoshop.

The suite of Kodak image enhancement plug-ins contains 4 separate programs each designed to do a specific task. Clearly they are not all aimed at the same individual digital photographer. All except the Airbrush Plug-in, No 3 below, are available in a Pro and standard version. Each can be obtained separately from www.asf.com

The 4 plug-ins as described on the site, are:-
ē The DIGITAL SHO Plug-In, for ADOBE PHOTOSHOP and compatible programs, automatically reveals image details hidden in shadow areas
ē The DIGITAL GEM Plug-Ins, for ADOBE PHOTOSHOP and compatible programs, automatically reduces and manages noise and grain in digital images without causing excessive softening or blurring.
ē The DIGITAL GEM Airbrush Professional Plug-In, for ADOBE PHOTOSHOP and compatible programs, automatically smoothes skin and other surfaces of digital images without softening or blurring important details like eyelashes, eyebrows, or hair.
ē The DIGITAL ROC Plug-Ins, for ADOBE PHOTOSHOP and compatible programs, automatically correct, restore, and balance the color of digital images.

All the plug-ins install easily and when in Photoshop they are readily available in the Filter menu.

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Digital SHO


On applying the Digital SHO as with all the others, a default adjustment is applied. However in the Pro version of this Plug-in there is a fair degree of control, the main ones being Detail, Threshold and Saturation. In the standard version the control is more limited being Shadow Brightness and Colour Intensity.

Screen grab-1 cropped


The control dialogue windows in all the plug-ins is too large and my 14400x900 laptop screen it was filled from top to bottom. In many other plug-in dialogues Iíve used the window is much smaller.

screengrab 2 cropped

DIGITAL SHO Pro version dialogue


The Before & After control is common to both the Pro and Standard versions though the Pro has a Threshold option which allows you to see changes dynamically in the preview window the threshold settings. White areas are mapped to the highlight slider and black areas to the shadow areas. It is therefore possible to alter the weighting applied to different tonal range.

The image sample I used was one where the fill in flash was not enough and the shadows needed lifting. The default application seemed to give a good result (see below), though I did notice some halo effect round the shoulders of the men, which was not present when I applied the Shadow Highlight tool in Photoshop. Not only this but as can be seen the sky area and background has been altered considerably at the default setting.

comparison with SHO-8185


My own particular preference for tools of this genre is Shadow Illuminator Pro from Intrigue Technology (www.intrigueplugins.com). Using this with its default setting had less lightening effect on the sky and background and no evidence of the halo effect round the shoulders.

When one considers the price being asked for the Pro version of this plug-in, $99.95 and $49.95 for the Standard version, compared with $39.95 for Shadow Illuminator, one has to ask if its good value for money.

comparison original-8185


In this particular instance (above), the Shadow Highlight tool in Photoshop CS2 has done an acceptable job. Itís not my favourite tool for this job and not everyone has the benefit of Photoshop CS2, nor a similar solution in other imaging programs. However, when a plug-in costs as much as, for example, Corel Paint Shop Pro in its entirety, Iím sure many will be put off.

Digital Gem Airbrush Pro


There is no Standard version of the Digital Gem Airbrush Pro Plug-in, and the price of $99.95 is the same as the other Pro versions. This plug-in is aimed more at portrait photographers, especially pros, who can spend many hours correcting skin blemishes and facial highlights that are unflattering. There are not many models with perfect skin, and with today's cameras and the need to get in close, especially for beauty shots, facial imperfections have to be smoothed out.

Using a fairly random but typical portrait shot I applied the default settings. The effect was immediately obvious. Most of the facial highlights and minor blemishes have immediately been neutralised. However, there is a good deal of control available, and with a live preview itís easy to play and see what effect changes have. The controls are intuitive and if you struggle to understand what the different sliders and buttons do, there is an easy to follow guide to help you along. I have to say I was rather impressed with the result it gave on a full size 50mb file even on the default setting.

Airbrush default settings


Obviously the amount of smoothing a face should have is a personal thing and so itís possible to either increase or decrease the level of treatment thatís applied. I was happy with the default level and was amazed that things like the eyes, mouth and hair do not seem to be altered or significantly changed in the process.

It must also be said that there are other and cheaper programs that do the same sort of thing. Some allow you to actually alter the shape of the face slightly which the Kodak version does not, though these do require more input from the user. However, this is a great time saving program and if I was in need of such a plug-in for my everyday work and felt that this was going to save me time, which it undoubtedly does, then the $100 price tag is a small price to pay.

Below is a before and after of the full image followed by a crop, hopefully you are able to see the differences.

Full Head

Before
Full head adjusted

After


Head cropped


Cropped head adjusted


Digital ROC


Digital ROC, also comes in Pro or Standard versions. It's intended to automatically correct and balance colour in images. Most digital camera tend to get the colour right when set on Auto white balance, most of the time, but there are exceptions. Artificial lighting using tungsten filament (ordinary light bulbs) and fluorescent lighting, for example, are notoriously difficult to get right. With this in mind I tested the plug-in on a night shot. Iíve always struggled in Photoshop to correct this sort of shot from a jpeg, its one of the reasons I always use Raw.

ROC screen grab


The default adjustment seemed better, though rather yellow. In the example screen above, the orange original is in the top right The control available consists of colour sliders, much like in Photoshop, plus some brightness and contrast adjustment. The Standard version does not have any controls for brightness or for the black and white clip which control contrast. The only other difference, again following the other Pro versions, is that there is the option to specify if the source image is from a Film or a Digital camera.

It seems to me that these plug-ins are intended more for photographers who donít use Raw mode. The Raw converter in Photoshop, for example, offers much more control over colour balance. In my example I tried to correct the image in Adobe Camera Raw as well as the Digital ROC plug-in with some further adjustment using the controls available. As you will see below from the comparison the Raw adjusted version seems more naturally colour correct. I was unable to get near as good as result with the plug-on compared to the Raw adjusted version, and I struggled with the highlights too.

ROC Raw comparison


Having said all that, this was possibly an extreme example and with this in mind I had another go with a different photo. However this time I used both the SHO and the ROC filters, both on default one after the other and got a much better result first time. With a little adjustment to levels I was pleased with the result this time (below).

Comparison SHO and ROC


Digital Gem Pro


One of the problems with the smaller digicams is that when you turn up the ISO much above a 100 they are prone to show colour noise and grain in the image. The small sensors and the desire to pack more pixels in essentially create the problem, though some manufacturers do seem to be addressing the problem with built in noise reduction.

Digital GEM comparison


The Digital Gem Pro plug-in reduces image noise and grain (for film users) and I applied it to a shot from a small sensor camera that was taken on Auto and therefore with boosted sensitivity and showing signs of noise.

Iíve shown a comparison screen grab in this instance to show the essential difference in the Pro and Standard versions of these Kodak Plug-ins. The non-pro version makes do with just slider controls for Highlight and Shadow noise reduction as well as clarity.

One of the things I donít like about these noise reduction programs is that unless you control things they have a tendency to make your images rather Ďplastickyí looking, smoothing over texture and detail. The default setting on the Gem plug-in did just this. However, with a few minutes sorting out the controls it was relatively easy to Ďtoneí things down and the clarity sliders helped in this, sharpening things up somewhat.

Old Trafford cropped original


The above photo is a 600x400pixel crop from a shot taken with a Canon Ixus at iso 400. Noise and grain is fairly pronounced when the image is enlarged to 100%.

After using the Digital Gem Pro plug-in at is default setting and adjusting slightly the clarity slider to sharpen it a little, much of the colour noise had been reduced to a more acceptable level. I could have increased suppression but in this instance I felt detail was being smoothed over too much. Remember this is a crop and when you see the full image, things do look better.

Old Trafford cropped DigitalGEM


Generally speaking the Digital Gem Pro version did a pretty good job and with a little time playing with the controls one can soon work out the best settings for a photo. For me though, I donít think Iíd be as happy with just the standard version.

There are also other noise reduction programs on the market which also do a pretty good job. Noise Ninja from www.picturecode.com sells as a standalone or plugin version and the price ranges from $44.95 to $79.95 for the plug-in versions. Neat Image www.neatimage.com ranging from $29.90 to $74.90 Both these programs seem to be market leaders and are, it has to be said, more sophisticated as well as cheaper than the Kodak versions.

Conclusion


Overall then the Kodak plug-ins worked reasonably well and I particularly liked the Digital Gem airbrush plug-in. They are all easy to operate and the online help guides you through their use. Apart from the airbrush plug-in, these tools seem to be aimed at people who do not use Raw processing and yet they are clearly aimed at Photoshop and similar users who could, if they used Raw often, get a better result, especially with the SHO and ROC versions. Not everyone has a camera that uses Raw though and using my original premise of something to make life easier, these may be the solution, if on the pricey side.

DPNow may have an answer for that final point as Kodak is offering 25% discount deals for DPNow readers purchasing the ĎProí versions of these enhancement plug-ins. To get the discount, go to the ASF website and when ordering, use the voucher code EAMERGEN07 as prompted.

ProductDPNow RatedStar RatingsPercentages

Digital Sho Pro

good4.5 stars85%

Digital Sho Standard

adequate3.5 stars70%

Digital Gem Pro

good4.5 stars85%

Digital Gem Standard

adequate3.5 stars70%

Digital Roc Pro

adequate3.5 stars70%

Digital Roc Standard

adequate3.5 stars65%

Digital Gem Airbrush

good4.5 stars90%


DPNow rating system explained..
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Digital SHO
 
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