PMA: Best in Show – Software

Tim Grey
24 June, 2011
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Camera geeks from the world over converged on national eyesore Darling Harbour today for this year’s PMA Imaging and Entertainment Expo, a massive if not exhaustive showcase of the latest camera gadgets, gear and peripheries.

As Macworld Australia’s in-house camera geek, I was fortunate enough to be on the floor at the Sydney Convention Centre, which housed more pieces of camera equipment than one puny human mind can possibly handle.

My iPhone was honestly hot to the touch for all the twittery the expo’s selection engendered (I was forced to ask an exhibitor to charge it for a half hour).

But, even for the befuddled, a few blatantly obvious trends – and a couple of distinct exceptions – could be clearly observed.

One would be that the line between moving and still image-making has been thoroughly abolished. Photographers now expect to be able to make movies as easily and skilfully as they do stills, and they’re roundly able to do so. A cornucopia of rigging, dollies, sliders, monitors, mics, lighting and other filmmaking bits and bobs were on show at PMA this year, but barely any of them were for camcorders – all hail the dSLR.

Another was that Apple (which was not in attendance) entirely dominates the imaging market. Someone commented to me that 70 percent of the photographers they dealt with used Apple products for editing, communication and control, but I’d hazard a guess that number is higher. Anyone without a MacBook Pro at PMA this year would have felt positively bullied.

For tethered shooting, companies were displaying their wares via iPad or iPhone-controlled apps, while Kayell Australia demonstrated a totally amazing iPhone app-controlled Elinchrom lighting system that lets photographers control flash intensity, speed and timing via the iOS device. So cool.

On the whole, however, it appeared as though the photo-editing and organisation software race has been run: Adobe, which didn’t have a stand, but did employ hired agents to roam the building, seems to have won the battle for hearts and minds with Lightroom.

The company – which recently released its mid-stream Creative Suite updated, 5.5 – seems to have little competition in the enthusiast to professional tier.

Nikon did mention its proprietary Capture NX 2 photo-editing software in passing, but it didn’t seem too convinced. Phase One’s Capture One Pro 6 suite was on display, although it typically caters to a small but enthusiastically committed niche (I too would be committed if I could shell out for a medium format digital back).

What was interesting was those developers who’ve taken the if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em approach, creating, rather than stand-alone imaging software, inventive add-ons for Lightroom, Photoshop and even Apple’s Aperture software.

Topaz Labs, for example, demonstrated a plug-in that made blurry photos clear. Truly; they took a completely unusable photo à la my Nan, clicked a button and the thing was sharp. We’re living in an age where the nonsense technological fakery you see on Alias really exists.

Topaz also demonstrated its latest high dynamic range (HDR) software, which seems to do what it says it’ll do, although I personally can’t see past the overworked dog’s breakfast the technique inevitably produces.

My personal favourite today, however, was OnOne’s suite of Perfect plug-ins, made for Lightroom and Aperture, which allow you to do incredibly complex things by simply clicking and dragging.

The company writes a number of specialist plug-ins, the latest of which is Perfect Layers, a program that allows you to perform some of the more complicated processes of blending and matching multiple images normally reserved for Photoshop inside of Lightroom or Aperture.

Sure, you could just use Photoshop, but Perfect Layers provides a near-iOS level of point-and-click simplicity that takes some serious know-how to achieve in the grown-up Adobe software. OnOne’s staff demonstrated the ability to paint on areas in layers of multiple photographs, for example, and combined two exposures by using a drag-and-drop ‘bug’.

It’s a technology that’s not new per se, but its application is. It allows someone that’s not a digital imaging expert to achieve as powerful a result. And that makes for a happy geek.

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