Extensis Photo Imaging Suite

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, November 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Extensis, go to the web site
Requires: Photoshop Plug-in Compliant Host application. For Portfolio 7 - Pentium III or faster CPU, Windows 2000, Windows XP; Power Mac G3, G4 or G5, Mac OS X 10.2.8 - 10.3.5. For pxl SmartScale 1.0, Mask Pro 3.0.1, PhotoFrame 2.5.1 and Intellihance Pro 4.0.3 - Windows 98, 2000 or XP, Mac OS X 10.2.5 - 10.3.5 and Mac OS 9.2.2 (via a downloadable installer)
MSRP: US$499.95

As a designer, I've long had a familiarity with Extensis and their plug-in solutions as well as Portfolio, their stand alone asset management program. I had the pleasure of reviewing Portfolio a few years back when I was looking at a variety of asset management solutions. I've also owned several of the earlier versions of some of the other tools found in this suite and used them to great effect. The bundling of many of these great tools in the Photo Imaging Suite is a great idea and although the price may appear steep, it is actually a substantial saving over the purchase of individual plug-ins. The suite consists of four plug-ins (pxl SmartScale 1.0, Mask Pro 3.0.1, PhotoFrame 2.5.1, Intellihance Pro 4.0.3) and one stand alone application (Portfolio 7).

Intellihance Pro is designed to quickly enhance and correct your images from within a unified interface. It allows you to apply enhancements via three modes: an intelligent adjustment mode, a fine tune mode and visually using a power variations feature. Extensis has also provided many presets for a variety of image sources and image enhancements.

Intellihance allows you to make changes in any of the eight settings found in the "intelligent adjustment" mode. The settings include de-screening, dust and scratches, contrast, saturation, brightness, cast, de-speckling and sharpness. You can adjust further using fine tune mode and the power variations mentioned above which is essentially multiple previews. It's quite useful and effective being very much akin to the traditional method of creating test strips in the darkroom. For most users this variations feature will be the preferred mode although I found the fine tune feature more to my preference. Although many of the adjustments could have been carried out directly in Photoshop itself, it is still nice to be able to have many of the more common adjustment types available in just one dialog.

Mask Pro is one of the most useful tools in the suite as it facilitates the easy removal of unwanted and difficult background with a variety of tools. The plug-in removes backgrounds from very difficult images while retaining fine details like hair and soft edges. The native capabilities in Photoshop to achieve this often fall short in the case of hair as even with channels and masks the removal of elements isn't always as seamless as it should be. Mask Pro achieves this by allowing you to select which colors to remove and which to keep.

The tools offered in Mask Pro are also quite varied. With some experimentation you can arrive at solutions to the removal process which, just using Photoshop alone, are nearly impossible. Mask Pro is however not a walk in the park; it does need extensive use to master its features. The results will provide you with superior cutouts from your images. The inclusion of tools like highlighters which allow you to select entire regions for removal, the Chisel tool which restores needed pixels in your image and the Blur tool which softens up the edges of your masked image to allow for smoother transitions, all contribute to a well-rounded package. All in all Mask Pro is a worthy tool to own just by itself let alone as part of the Suite.

PhotoFrame is another tool which I am familiar with as it has provided me with many great edge effects for some of the images I've used in my web projects. Its earlier incarnations have also worked nicely with much of my digital imaging and photography work for clients. I've owned versions 1 and 2 and was eager to see the improvements in version 2.5. PhotoFrame applies controlled border and edge effects to your images. The effects can be applied with a variety of edge effects such as color, bevels, borders, glows and shadows. You can assign background colors and even control the matte with a variety of attribute controls which affect opacity, orientation and size. Other capabilities include the ability to add texture effects and background images to your treatment as well as the creation of bump maps for texturing your images. The blending controls also allow you to apply effects similar to layer blending modes in Photoshop. The library of 2000 frames is quite extensive but Extensis' insistence on using a proprietary format means you are limited to using only what they supply. It's true that any talented Photoshop artist can create their own effects natively in Photoshop, but it would be great to allow users to create their own library of frames and border treatments. Even with this shortcoming, PhotoFrame is a worthy addition to the suite.

pxl SmartScale was the next tool I took a look at and it is quite simply another method for resizing your images. It offers the capability to enlarge your images up to about 1600% without adding too many artifacts. It uses a combination of techniques to enlarge the file and at the same time remove any introduced artifacts. The plug-in performs with few issues and the quality of the images produced with SmartScale are without a doubt an improvement on the enlargements produced using the interpolation features included in Photoshop. pxl SmartScale also does a good job of downsizing images. The inclusion of this plug-in nicely rounds out the Photo Imaging Suite.

Portfolio 7 caps the suite with an asset management environment that facilitates the easy tracking of your digital images, photos, graphics and other files. In these times of larger hard drives and high resolution digital cameras, an asset management system is a necessary and highly desirable feature. Creating the asset database was fairly straightforward and could be done from within Portfolio or by right clicking on a folder. Speed was a factor and it can take a long time to catalog a large asset collection. I would like to see some improvements in this aspect of the application. Some scalability in Portfolio's features would also be nice here as there should be a lighter database approach which allows you to select the features used as your needs grow.

Portfolio also facilitates direct CD and DVD archiving, the batch conversion of images and the creation of web based catalogs and content. The ability to define subsets within your database is also a handy feature, allowing you to group your assets into catalogs which make sense. The ability to do batch conversion of your assets to JPEG or TIFF format is also a handy. The ability to view, edit and add metadata to your TIFFs and JPEGs is also nice, as is the ability to print contact sheets of these assets.

The addition of Camera Raw format support is useful for the digital photographer who prefers to use this more versatile file type in their workflow. Workgroup support in Portfolio is good for tracking image usage and is useful in situations in which more than one person can access the assets. You can lock, assign and secure files so that work isn't carried out on them unnecessarily or simultaneously. While not as integrated a solution as Version Cue it's a nice feature to have especially for those who don't use the full Creative Suite from Adobe.

The NetPublish feature is also new and facilitates the publishing and creation of web sites with image search, preview and batch-download capabilities. Provision for a Collection Basket is a bonus and all this can be accomplished without having to know HTML or JavaScript. Another nice web-based feature is the capability to create e-mail friendly versions of your files. This can also be done in batch fashion, facilitating the easy distribution of transfer-friendly files.

Cons: No support for custom design frames in PhotoFrame. Portfolio 7 seemed a touch slow in generating the asset database. I was a little disappointed that the video tutorials were limited to Portfolio only and that there were not any user forums available to provide a public knowledge base and repository for user tips and files. This will only further enhance this excellent suite of products.

Pros: Easy to use. Very Powerful. Simple User Interface. The online support provided by Extensis provides some great video tutorials for Portfolio as well as user manuals and white papers for the other products in the suite.

Extensis pays a lot of attention to the design and functionality of their tools. The tools themselves integrate into Photoshop very nicely and the interface doesn't get in the way of doing your job. The suite provides the digital photographer and imageer with some very useful tools. I highly recommend Extensis Photo Imaging Suite for any Photographer, Graphic Artist and Imageer who is looking for some great tools to augment their Photoshop toolkit. Enjoy.

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