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Vivid-Pix Land & Sea Picture-Fix: One Click If By Land, One If By Sea

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday November 17, 2016

Paul Revere's Ride

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

       --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Snapshot

Name: Land&Sea Picture-Fix
Description: One-click image-editing software
Compatible systems: Windows and Mac (mobile versions coming soon)
Price: $24.99
Full description: Here


You can buy the Vivid-Pix software download from their site, or in a growing number of camera and dive shops. Or test the software using the free trial on their site.

So Simple a Mouse Can Do It

The Longfellow poem has absolutely no logical connection to this review whatsoever, but this being a political year (and what a year!), it’s nice to look back on our history a bit now and then and see just how far we’ve come. Am I right? It’s impossible to quantify the debt we owe to the very small group of brave men and women who risked their lives to set this country in motion. And also, when you’re looking for a clever title for a review, no famous song or poem is safe from a little pillaging.

There’s no question that I’m a born skeptic (politically and otherwise) and if you tell me you’ve developed a software program that can radically improve photos with just one mouse click, I’ve got two words for you: show me. So a few weeks ago, while sitting in the great glass lobby of the Javits Center while attending Photo Expo, that’s exactly what I asked one of the founders of Vivid-Pix software to do. And he did. I got a 20-minute demo on how their Land & Sea Picture-Fix software could transform a nearly colorless underwater shot void of contrast and steeped in undersea blue or fix very poorly exposed terrestrial landscapes with just a single click. And as you can see in the pairing below, it works nicely for flash macro shots, too.


This is a simple close-up shot with a flash and overexposed by, I'm guessing, at least two stops. Hey, everybody makes mistakes! I was able to fix it using Land & Sea with a single mouse click. Seems like a vast improvement to me. Total time of the fix? Five seconds--maybe less.

I couldn’t wait to try it. So, a few days after the show I downloaded the software and put it to work. The software downloaded in a minute or two and I immediately started playing with various photos. Of course, being the perfect photographer that I am, it’s rare that I would mess up an exposure or shoot a landscape with a crooked horizon (which the software can also fix), but I managed to plunder the depths of my photo collections and find a few good (i.e. bad) photos to salvage.

The first thing you notice about the software is that for the most part it exists on a single and extremely uncluttered screen. It’s so simple, in fact, that you could probably teach your mother to use this software before her cup of coffee has cooled down. (I kept thinking of the Albert Brooks’ movie “Mother” where he teaches his mother to use a word processor and she almost immediately starts writing a novel on it.) In fact, the software is so simple that most of the instructions you’ll need show up in a drop-down screen that appears when you upload a photo. There is no other manual offered or even necessary. You can however go to the Vivid-Pix site and watch a few short and helpful tutorials.


I shot this pair of photos of my street last winter and it was snowing pretty heavily as I shot, plus it was late in the day, so the shot is kind of flat. I kind of like the misty-looking first shot, but I think this comparison shows just how well the Land & Sea software can add a "vivid" fix to dull photos. The funny thing is, when I don't compare the two, I sort of like the vivid version more. The software gives you a panel of nine "fixed" images to choose from, but if you have several exposures of the same scene, you can try each of them until you see a version that really sings to you.

Either That or It’s Voodoo

So how does the software work so simply and magically? In most cases, it seems to me that the program is using an algorithm that mines each file in search of a few different markers and then makes educated guesses about the problem you’re facing. When it comes to color, for example, when you are in the “sea” mode, it recognizes that there is vastly too much blue and so it mutes that and pumps up the reds and yellows. It does something similar when you select the “land” option and you’re trying to correct exposures: it makes an educated guess (or nine of them) about what is wrong with the file and then it displays a panel of nine “corrected” images from which you choose the one that you like best. Surprisingly (to me, at least) it seems to hit the nail on the head in at least one of those nine choices every time. I think there is a correlation here between how the software works and how your matrix metering works, by using other examples programmed into the algorithm, but again, that’s just my best guess. Either that, or there is a witch doctor at work here. Of course, my knowledge of algorithms is about the same as Albert Brooks’ mother’s knowledge of how word processors work, so mostly I just kind of scratched my head and kept on working.


I don't dive, so I borrowed the "before" shot (top) from Vivid-Pix and then created the corrected version myself--again, with a single click. I think that this comparison, perhaps more than any of my terrestrial images, shows just how profoundly the software can rescue an image. It's not that the before shot is just underexposed, but in any underwater environment--particularly at depths of say 12 or 15 feet or more--the reds and yellows disappear quickly. Could you make this same correction using a program like Photoshop? Sure--and I did, just to prove it to myself. But for someone who has doesn't have complex editing software, this is awfully dang good and oh so simple to do. By the way, divers and underwater photographers helped develop the program.

In addition to simple exposure and color corrections the program enables you to fix a number of common flaws including things like eliminating haze and removing some of the glare of shooting through  glass, fixing color saturation and contrast in underwater shots, fixing crooked horizons and improving backlit exposures. The program is available for both Mac and Windows users (I’m a Mac user) and the company also makes two other software products: “SCUBA” (available in both Mac and Windows) which is aimed at underwater photographers shooting at both snorkel and SCUBA depths and “Restore” (Windows only right now, but Mac is on the way) that is designed at giving old family photos a new life. I hope to test the Restore software as soon as the Mac version hits the market. There is also a mobile version of Land & Sea coming soon, as well.

Again, you can download and try the software yourself for free by clicking here.


Another tough situation that the software seems to do a pretty good job with is backlighting. I photographed this swan shooting directly into a rising sun and the original (top) looks OK, but is pretty washed out. The bottom was fixed with a quick click on the panel of nine choices and then enhance a slight bit with a lightness adjustment and by adding a small amount of yellow to warm things up. The backlighting is far better defined in the bottom example, I think. I also like how the Land & Sea brought some detail back into the rings in the water.Again, could I do better in Photoshop? Of course, but nowhere near this fast.

Click: You’re Done (Almost)

Mastering Land & Sea is really something you can learn to do in under five minutes (compare that to the 23 years that I’ve spent learning Photoshop) and it’s entirely painless. The first thing you do after opening the software is to select one or more images from your online files. If you select multiple files (by holding down the control key) the software will queue them up and let you tackle them one at a time in the order that they were uploaded. That’s a nice time-saving step if you know you have a certain group of photos that you want to fix in one session.


Here are two different panels of nine images of concert portraits that I've done. The first thing you see when you select an image is this panel of nice different interpretations. There are only two choices to make at this point: first you select if this is a "land" or "sea" image (upper left of the screen) and then you choose the image that you like. You're done. The software then shows you a comparison of the original and the corrected version and from there you can add some simple refinements, namely: exposure, contrast and color adjustments. The top panel is blues singer Miss Marie from Professor Louie and the Crowmatix and the bottom is the late Leon Russell, who passed away this past week.

Once you select an image a panel of nine comparison interpretations of that shot opens up (see illustration above). You click a box to tell the software whether you are working with a land-based or underwater original (again, I assume a different algorithm is applied depending on the type of original). Since everyone sees things like color and contrast and tonalities differently, being able to select from this nine-up panel lets you choose the correction that most appeals to your eye. Then you simply click (here’s your one click) on the one you like best and bingo, you’re essentially done. The software opens up a side-by-side comparison with the original on the left and your “fixed” image on the right.


The top image here shows the before and after comparison screen that you see once you've selected an image from the panel of nine proofs. At the bottom of that screen you'll see the basic image-fix options that you have available. For this pale overexposed shot of a saguaro cactus shot near Tucson I clicked on the "+" vividness setting to pump the color saturation a tiny bit and then pushed the contrast slider to the right to get what I thought was optimal contrast. It's kind of fun to play with the same image using various settings and if you don't like your choices, you can simply click the "Reset Corrections" button and start over. At the bottom is the corrected image--perhaps a tad too saturated but I kind of roll that way.

You can further refine your corrections using a series of sliders below the images. For undersea images there is a very cool slider called “Depth Removal” that reverses the effects of depth in undersea photos (like loss of brightness and red light). Just slide that slider to the right and the image gains in contrast, brightness and color. I don’t dive, but based on the sample underwater images that Vivid-Pix supplied to me, the results are pretty astounding. For anyone diving on vacation and perhaps using a rental camera that they’re not that familiar with, this software would be a saving grace. If you have a drive full of underwater or snorkel images that you thought were a lost cause, it will bring them new life.

As you can see in the screen shot above, there are also separate color-adjustment sliders: Red, Green and Blue. Below those are very rudimentary sharpness and “vividness” controls: just simple clicks. I found the sharpness fix of very little value, but it really depends on the image. I’m used to having a world of Photoshop options when it comes to sharpening, but obviously anyone using this software isn’t going to have those tools available. You can also crop images just by dragging into them and boxing in the area you want to keep. Oh, and there is a rotate/tilt slider in case you’ve got a crooked horizon to deal with.

Once your image is done the software will save both the untouched original and the corrected file (it applies the word “Vivid” to the file name so they’re easy to spot). Also, you have the option to save both a high-res file and a “sharing” file or just one or the other.  The program leaves your original untouched.


Interestingly, the software also seems to do a pretty good job with fog. The top shot is a jpeg right out of the camera, I made no adjustments at all other than to resize it. In the bottom version I just chose the one I liked best from the nine options and then reduced the "vividness" a tiny bit just to control the excess blue. Not bad.

Conclusion

So, just who is this software aimed at? Primarily, I think, the software will appeal to those consumer photographers with no editing skills (and no desire to learn them) and who perhaps have folders full of digital images that they either downloaded from their phone or cameras or from scanned files of older images.

Truth be told, there are a lot of editing apps for your phone (and more and more cameras) that let you make many of these same corrections  right in your phone or camera. But let’s face it, there’s a huge difference between fixing photos on a 4-inch screen and a 24-inch screen. Also, being able to fix photos you shot today in-camera does nothing for the thousands of photos already sitting on memory cards or in your hard drives. In addition, once your photos are out of your phone or camera, that in-device doesn’t do you much good. As I mentioned above, the Vivid software will soon be available for mobile devices, too.

Is it a worthwhile investment? The reality is that for $25 (the price of a decent burger in Manhattan these days), you can fix all the photos you want and revise them as often as you like and that seems like quite a bargain. Being able to fix photos this easily and this fast is also kind of addicting: I sat here for a few hours just going through files to see how different images looked with the infamous one-click magic. No, this software is no match for learning to use a real software editor, but then again, it is not meant to be. But if you just got back from the Bahamas and you have a few file cards full of terrestrial and undersea vacation pics that need some improving, you will probably be very happy that you spent $25 on this software. 


Even "undersea" shots made in an aquarium turn out pretty well with a little vivid zap. I shot this starfish at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

New Product News 

Affinity Photo for Windows. If you’re a Windows user with Mac envy (at least when it comes to photo editing with Affinity software), take heart, you can now download the long-awaited Windows version of Affinity Photo, with the launch of a free public beta. Chosen as Apple’s ‘App of the Year’ 2015, and ‘Best Imaging Software’ 2016 by the Technical Image Press Association, Affinity Photo for Mac has received a ton of 5-star reviews from photographers, editors, artists and retouchers around the world. Features include advanced HDR merge producing full 32-bit linear color space images, focus stacking to bring depth to multiple combined images,batch processing for smoother, faster workflow and an all-new way to edit 360 degree images. Also, the program works in real time, so there’s no waiting to see results. Non-destructive editing, RAW processing and end-to-end color management are also standard. Click here for more info about Affinity Photo.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Olympus has announced that its new flagship camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, will begin shipping by the end of December (Amazon has posted a release date of December 2nd). The suggested retail price has also been announced: $1999.99. The camera is equipped with the newly-developed high-speed TruePic VIII Image Processor which, says Olympus, is 3.5 times faster than the previous TruePic processor used in the OM-D E-M1. It will feature a 20.4 megapixel Live MOS sensor equipped with 121 points of cross-type on-chip phase detection and contrast detection AF for super-fast focusing. Perhaps most impressive though are the incredible burst rates: 60 frames per second in single-shot AF mode and it can track moving subjects at an extraordinary 18 fps. Amazing. Kind of an expensive body, but still, wow!

Manfrotto MB PL-3N1-26 Professional Pro Light Camera Backpack. One of the more interesting new camera cases that I got a chance to examine at Photo Expo last month was the MB PL-3N1-26 Professional Pro Light backpack from Manfrotto. The bag has a versatile design that lets you pack a considerable amount of either still or video gear, as well as personal belongings. Set up for photo mode it will hold up to three bodies and five lenses. And in video mode it an hold a camera as big as a Canon C100 with handles and lens attached, a microphone, three additional lenses and a backup body. There’s also a dedicated pocket for carrying a 10-inch tablet. Carrying the pack is modular, too: it can be configured into three different modes: a backpack, a sling or a cross backpack. I'll be testing the pack soon, so stay tuned.

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