Software that Totally Redefines the Need for Mega-Pixels

Over the course of the last week I have been testing a new piece of software that in brief my experience to date totally redefines the need for super high mega-pixel cameras. This new piece of software is such a game changer that I believe it may well revolutionise not only the workflow of a great many serious photographers (especially those like myself who print) but seriously challenges the validity of cameras with any more than about twenty mega pixels. On top of that, it raises serious concerns about what can be done with a image downloaded from the internet. The potential for this to be abused is a bit of a concern, but that is a topic for another day.

I ran across this new piece of software quite by accident. To be completely transparent I don’t even remember exactly where it was I first heard about it. I may have read about it on a forum or someone may have mentioned it in passing. In any case, I have been testing this new software from Topaz Labs called A.I Gigapixel™.

In short, A.I Gigapixel is a simple stand alone application for uprezzing images.  That in and of itself is nothing unique, but what makes it so special is the incredible results you can achieve with this remarkable piece of automated software. According to Topaz Labs:

A.I Gigapixel™ is the first and only desktop application to use the power of artificial intelligence to enlarge your images while adding natural details for an amazing result. Using deep learning technology, A.I.Gigapixel can enlarge images and fill in details that other resizing products leave out.

I wont bother to repeat any more of their marketing copy here on my blog, suffice to say this software works as advertised; and it works in spades. In direct comparisons between uprezzing in photoshop and uprezzing in A.I.Gigapixel there is a clear and obvious advantage in the Topaz Labs software. The difference is so pronounced as to be truly extraordinary. I have long harboured the belief that all you really need is about fifteen mega pixels to make a really great print up to roughly 20 x 30 inches if your capture is sharp and well exposed. I have demonstrated this fact countless times in my print workshops. Of course, everything has to do with viewing distance, but in the real world we don’t view prints six inches from our noses or under the power of a loupe. Now, with this new software it is possible to make prints of simply superb quality much larger than previously possible. Don’t believe me?

Well, you can try it for yourself as Topaz Labs offer a 30-day money free Trial with no obligation to purchase at the end of the trial period. If you are interested in making prints and you need to get the best possible image quality I strongly recommend you give it a try.

To be absolutely clear I have absolutely no affiliation with Topaz Labs. I have never spoken with anyone from the company and nor have I ever received anything from them for free (I have never even tried any of their software before). I downloaded the trial of A.I Gigapixel, tested it and within fifteen minutes I was so blown away that I immediately purchased it. If you print, or if you need larger files I wholeheartedly recommend you check out A.I Gigapixel. It might be the most significant piece of software for the digital photographic industry since the release of Photoshop.

Skylum Updates Luminar to Jupiter with Big Performance Increase

Skylum software has just updated my favourite processing plug-in to Jupiter. The update 1.2.0 for Luminar 2018 is available now as a free update to all current users of Luminar 2018, and includes adding Batch Processing and a Free Transform tool to the Windows version. This update also features over 300 improvements and updates that make the app faster, more responsive and useful than ever.

The most essential features of the upcoming update are:

  1. Speed (Performance & adjustments): Dramatically increased the speed of editing across all areas of Luminar 2018.

  2. Automatic Lens Correction: RAW Develop filter analyzes your image and the metadata to calculate a one click Automatic Lens Distortion fix.

  3. Enhanced image quality on image view:  Most of the demosaic and green equilibration issues have been fixed.

  4. DCP Profiles Support (for the Mac version only. Coming to Windows soon): Luminar 2018 recognizes the industry standard DCP files that you may already have on your computer (or have bought from third parties).

  5. Import speed (for the Mac version only. Coming to Windows soon): re-engineered RAW import, optimized for speed.

  6. Windows version catches up with Mac: Added Batch processing feature, Free Transform image feature, Flip/Rotate image feature to the Windows version.

Here is a full list of the new features and improvements:

MAC:

  • Fast RAW opening;

  • Super fast image editing and adjusting;

  • Faster image export;

  • DCP Profiles support;

  • Automatic Lens Correction (fix Lens Distortion, remove Chromatic Aberration and Defringe);

  • Enhanced image quality on image view – most of the demosaic and green equilibration issues have been fixed;

  • Big number of stability fixes;

  • UI and UX improvements;

  • Localisations updated (German, Japanese, Chinese & more).

    WINDOWS:

  • Super fast image editing and adjusting;

  • Faster image export;

  • Batch processing feature;

  • Free transform image feature;

  • Flip/Rotate image feature;

  • Automatic Lens Correction (fix Lens Distortion, remove Chromatic Aberration and Defringe)

  • Big number of stability fixes;

  • UI and UX improvements;

  • Localisations updated;

  • Added ability to change localisation language in the application main menu;

  • Fixes with color profiles on export/in plugin mode;

  • Preview mode feature added (F hotkey);

  • Enhanced image quality on image view – fixed most of demosaic and green equilibration.

BenQ SW271 27″ Wide Gamut Adobe RGB UHD 4K HDR Monitor Review

In January of 2017 I reviewed BenQ’s outstanding SW320 31.5” 4K Wide Gamut Adobe RGB monitor for photographers. It offered groundbreaking performance at its price point (Read the Full Review). The SW320 review followed on the heels of my earlier review of the BenQ SW2700PT 27” Adobe RGB Monitor (Read the Full Review). Since my review of the SW320 BenQ has subsequently released the newer and slightly smaller SW271. The SW271 is a 27” 4K UHD monitor that utilises a 10-bit panel with 99% Adobe RGB, 100% sRGB colour space coverage as well as support for HDR content. The SW271 was designed to build upon the success of its SW2700PT predecessor and thus it takes image quality to the next level with the addition of 4K UHD resolution and HDR capabilities.

Back when I reviewed the SW2700PT 4K monitors were not yet widely available and those that were on the market were exceedingly expensive. Much has changed in the last eighteen months or so and there are now a wide array of 4K monitors on the market from which to choose. To be clear, the SW271 is a 27” 4k monitor that is primarily aimed at the middle to higher end of the photography and video market. It is in essence the next generation of the SW2700PT with increased 4K resolution, expanded input options and HDR support and capability. As you will see from my review, it offers an incredible amount of bang for your buck.

When I reviewed the SW320 I was inconclusive on the supposed benefits of the HDR feature in real world applications. Now, a year on from that review I have had the time and experience of a lot more testing and it is clear that HDR capability does make a difference. Where the difference really shines in my experience is when playing the latest crop of 4K Ultra HD HDR disc titles. On the HDR ready SW271 they are simply jaw dropping. If you own a 4K Ultra HD DVD Player then you should definitely plug it into your SW271 and load up a 4K HDR title just to see how good video can look these days.

*Note – To view HDR content from your device, ensure that you use the HDMI cable provided with the SW270 monitor or a High Speed HDMI Cable or Premium High Speed HDMI Certified Cable.

Specifications – There is no need to regurgitate a complete list of the SW271 specifications as those are already available on BenQ’s website. See the SW271 page on BenQ’s website for full details. In brief, the most important key features are included below.

Key Features – 

Access to 99% Adobe RGB + 100% sRGB Colour Space With IPS technology

27″ 4K UHD Resolution

High Dynamic Range (HDR10) via HDMI

Hardware Calibration With Palette Master Element Software

USB-C for transmitting data and video signal with one cable

Shading Hood & Hotkey Puck for switching between picture modes as included accessories Appearance –– Externally the SW271 is not dissimilar to the previously reviewed SW2700PT. Don’t be fooled though; the new SW271 display is bristling with the latest technology and represents a not insignificant advance in capabilities and performance. There are a few small cosmetic differences between the models with the new SW271 having a slimmer bezel and the OSD buttons have been moved from the bottom edge to the front.

Out of the Box – Every single BenQ SW271 ships with an online factory Calibration Report. This detailed report includes some very useful information including Uniformity Measurements and Dealt E reports that tell you just how your individual SW271performed when tested before it left the factory. It is worth noting that the report is serial number specific and not batch specific so BenQ are testing each and every monitor. These sort of calibration reports are normally only found in much more expensive displays such as those from the NEC SpectraView Line and the Eizo Colour Edge monitors. The mere fact the BenQ SW271 ships with this sort of individual test report speaks volumes to the sort of high quality display BenQ have produced and the care and attention to detail they have invested in this new display. The report is nicely presented in a branded envelope on the inside of the box. A copy of the individual calibration report included with the supplied SW271 as tested is included below:

Out of the box the BenQ SW271 is very simple to set up and in less than ten minutes I had the stand fully assembled, the display plugged in (via HDMI) to my MacBook Pro and the system fully operable. It is worth noting at this point that the SW271 does utilise the latest USB-C port to transmit video and data with only one cable. So you can do the hardware calibration without having to run a seperate USB cable if you utilise the USB-C connection. The USB-C port displays 4K content and offers an up to 5Gbps transfer rate. Since neither of the current Macs in my studio include USB-C I did not test this capability and instead relied on the HDMI cable for video and the USB for calibration. Until such time as USB-C becomes more prevalent I expect many photographers will do likewise. As I wrote when I reviewed the SW320 I am extremely impressed at the quality of the display stand and ease of installation. It’s a pet peeve of mine that many manufactures of high end displays  often include such cheap plastic stands. These manufacturers would do well to take note of the quality of construction and attention to detail BenQ have lavished on their current monitor range.

SW271 Performance – Just like its larger brother the SW320, the SW271 ships in ‘flame-thrower’ mode and out of the box was far too bright for my viewing environment. I know manufacturers do this to try and impress viewers who will no doubt see the display first in a brightly lit fluorescent showroom but I really wish they wouldn’t. It would be preferable to have the display at a comfortable default with an option for store keepers to switch to the ‘super bright’ mode for store display. Once I had calibrated the SW271 to a more reasonable 120 Candelas (a light level appropriate for my studio) and D6500 Kelvin I was able to properly assess its performance and make direct comparisons against other displays.

BenQ Palette Master Software – Just like its larger brother the SW320, the SW271 requires the use of profiling software to access the internal monitor hardware Look up Tables (LUT), and for that you need the supplied Palette Master Element software. For Apple users, the supplied software is installed as an application. I don’t own a Windows machine so did not test the software under a Windows environment.

The SW271 ships with the BenQ Palette Master Software; but it can also be downloaded for free from the BenQ website. By using the Palette Master Element software and a calibrator (primarily the X-rite i1 Display in my case), you can tune and maintain the colour performance of the monitor at its most optimal state.

The BenQ SW271 currently supports the X-Rtie i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro /i1 Pro 2 , and Datacolor Spyder 4/5 colorimeters.  I tested all of these during my time with the SW271 and all performed without issue.

Note: The X-Rite ColorMunki Display is not supported. Xrite does not support its use with third party software (Not BenQ’s fault).

BenQ provide a user friendly instruction manual with the Palette Master Software that you can download from their website.  There is both a basic and advanced mode to choose from. The instructions are clear, concise and easy to follow. Download the PDF Manual  HERE.

Palette Master is supported on Win7 or above and Mac OS 10.6.8 or above.

Rather than repeat myself, If you read my review of the SW320 you will find a link to a video that goes into more detail about the Palette Master software.Driving a 4K UHD Display – I tested the SW271 with both a 2013 6-core Mac Pro with 64 gigabytes of RAM and dual AMD FirePro 500 video cards and a late 2013 15” MacBook Pro with an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M 2048 MBMB and both were able to drive the display at its full native resolution. Like my tests on the SW320, I did notice the fan kick in more often on the MacBook Pro when driving the SW271 than with the previous SW2700PT. This is to be expected as the video card is being driven harder with the higher resolution display. There were however no ill side effects and system performance and speed appears unaffected in general day-to-day use. In general, there is now more software on the market that properly supports 4K displays and there have been numerous updates to both Apple and Windows operating systems for better 4k compatibility and performance. BenQ do publish a compatibility guide for the SW271 on their website HERE.

Advanced Black and White Mode – The BenQ SW271 also includes an advanced Black and White mode that allows you to view your photos in a black and white film effect. You can choose from three different black and white presets to preview your photographs in before you perform actual adjustments in Lightroom or other image editing applications. I am not a black and white photographer so I didn’t test this feature other than to quickly check it actually functions as advertised; which it does. Black and White photographers should definitely test this feature to see if it fits within their workflow.Gamut Duo – Matching its larger sibling like-for-like, the BenQ SW271 is likewise equiped with a feature BenQ call GamutDuo. GamutDuo enables you to view content simultaneously on the screen in different colour spaces side-by-side for easy comparison. I found this new feature quite useful to soft proof images going from Adobe RGB colour space to SRGB for the web. By viewing the two images side by side it is very easy to see the differences. Users who have to re-purpose their photographs for different colour spaces are likely to find this a very useful feature. To activate the GamutDuo feature you switch to PIP/PBP mode.Hotkey Puck – Like both the previous generation BenQ SW2700PT, and the 4K BenQ SW320, the SW271 ships with a Hotkey Puck that allows the user to switch between Adobe RGB mode, sRGB mode and Black & White modes with ease. The hot key buttons can also be customised to map other modes or OSD settings, such as brightness and contrast to bring added convenience to photographers. The Hotkey Puck is a nice addition and it is worth taking a bit of time to properly understand its uses and how it might save you time in your own workflow.4K Display Comparisons – Comparisons between the previously reviewed BenQ SW320 and the SW271 are going to be inevitable so lets get those out of the way (since I have both displays side by side in my studio). Perhaps most importantly there is the obvious size difference between these two displays and the corresponding price differential. Whilst the SW320 offers a 31.5” panel, the SW271 comes in at a more modest 27”; which I suspect may be a more convenient size for many people and most office / studio spaces. Side by side there is quite a noticeable difference in their physical size. The SW320 includes a larger bezel and as such appears significantly larger. The SW271 with its much slimmer bezel does present itself with a more edge to edge finish and as such does make the SW320 look somewhat dated in its design. In terms of price the SW320 can be purchased for around $1,500 USD. The SW271 again comes in at a more modest $1,100 USD.

Both the BenQ SW320 and SW271 are UHD (Ultra high Definition) with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. Obviously with its smaller screen size the SW271 has a higher pixel density which does result in slightly smaller text when driving the display at its native resolution. For image editing applications the difference is mostly irrelevant and I suspect the choice of the SW320 or SW271 will simply come down the individual users preference for monitor size, available work space and budget.

Measuring colour gamut between the BenQ SW320 and SW271 is a pointless exercise since for all intent and purpose they are identical in real world applications. Both produce 100% of the SRGB colour space and both produce 99% of the Adobe RGB space. Any subtle differences in gamut are nothing more than a quibble. Side by side in my studio they are to my eyes identical in their colour rendition and accuracy.

When I reviewed the SW320 I noted a noticeable and significant improvement in uniformity over the SW2700PT and outside of the extreme corners it measured almost as good as the much more expensive Eizo CG-318. I am pleased to say the SW271 picks up this improved uniformity over the last generation SW2700PT and at least in my own unit performs ever so slightly better in the corners than the larger SW320. This is remarkable performance, regardless of price and BenQ are to be commended for their efforts in obtaining this exceptional level of uniformity.

Shade Hood – Knowing that ambient lighting can obstruct colour accuracy, all BenQ SW series  photographic monitors include a detachable shade hood to reduce screen glare to deliver the most accurate colours possible. The shade hood included with the SW271 can be used in portrait orientation as well as in landscape orientation (a very nice design consideration). Just like the hood included with the SW320 what I really appreciated is the solid build quality of the shade hood that ships with the SW271. It feels like a high quality addition to the display and not a cheap plastic after thought; like it does on the much more expensive Eizo CG-318 display (it’s a real niggle for me that this six thousand dollar plus display has such a cheap flimsy hood). As I noted in my review of the SW320, the Eizo CG-318 shade hood looks positively cheap and nasty in side by side comparisons.

Once secured in place the shade hood for the SW271 feels extremely robust and is nicely finished inside with anti-reflective black flocking. Another nice touch is the addition of a small operable window at the top of the shade hood to pass a colorimeter through for screen calibration. Quite honestly, the shade hood included with both the SW320 and SW271 are the best I have seen regardless of the brand or price of monitor.The Bezel and Stand – Attention to small details is very important in high end displays and I was very pleased to see that the ultra slim bezel of the SW271 is finished in a dark grey matt that minimises any potential bezel reflection. This sort of attention to detail might sound trivial but it ensures an optimal result when you are working for hours at a time in front of the display. The monitor’s stand has been redesigned in a minimalist style, with a sleek L-shaped neck that streamlines with the monitor frame.  It looks great on my desk and will likely fit well in most studio spaces. The stand is easily assembled without tools. There is some facility for cable management and over all the stand feels very solid and well made.

Real World Use – In Real world use the first thing you notice on turning on the SW271 is the incredible resolution that a UHD screen provides and the subsequent desktop real estate that this resolution enables. If you are used to working with a lower resolution display the vast real estate that this sort of display offers will be a revelation to you. Depending on how close you sit to the screen and the quality of your vision you may need to implement some scaling to increase the text size. In my studio I sit quite close to the monitor and have no problem reading text on the SW320 without the need for any software scaling.  On the SW271 with its smaller size and higher  pixel density I occasionally have to squint and lean in a little to read text without implementing any software scaling. Colour rendition is excellent on the SW271 and the UHD resolution makes for a powerful and versatile work space.

My daily use for a monitor such as the SW271 involves the editing, post production and printing of digital files in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud. I also use applications such as in-Design, Premiere Pro and other image related programs and plug-ins. On the whole most of my time is in the majority spent in Lightroom and Photoshop and thus this is the area that my comments are most related.

The colour rendition of the SW271 is exceptional and when combined with the excellent uniformity the display offers it is extremely easy to judge tone and contrast when processing RAW files.  For those of you who place a large emphasis on printing (as I do) you will find the BenQ SW271 to offer very good performance. In fact, it offers performance that far exceeds its modest price tag.

I am primarily a stills photographer who only occasionally works in video so I confined my testing to predominantly sill images. The video I did pass through the SW271 looked extremely good to my eyes and videographers should be extremely happy with the performance of this display.  During the review I tested several 4K video pieces (including HDR content) as well as upscaled 1080p video content. I also tested 4k UHD HDR content and was very impressed with the results.

Conclusion – The BenQ SW271 is an exceptionally well constructed high quality UHD HDR wide gamut monitor that offers users native 4k resolution, colour accuracy and uniformity at a price point that is extremely appealing. The monitor is simple and easy to assemble and operated without issue out of the box with both my laptop and main desktop computers.

Picture quality is exceptional with excellent linearity and uniformity across the screen that matches the much more expensive Eizo CG-318 in all but the extreme corners. This is outstanding performance that photographers and other graphic artists will really appreciate in daily use.

The display hood is extremely well constructed and provides a very solid black around the screen when working. The screen itself exhibits very low reflectance.

The BenQ SW271 monitor offers the big and accurate colour space I need in my photography and the power of the 14-bit 3D hardware LUT means there is no banding or posterisation in any of the test images I tried when reviewing the screen. I tested the SW271 with a wide range of my own photographs as well as a large suite of ISF (Image Science Foundation) test images designed specifically to trip up displays (ISF test images are designed to show up weaknesses in displays not often found in general viewing). The SW271 performed without issue on all counts. BenQ quote a Delta E of 2 on their website for the SW271 and the sample monitor supplied measured an impressive Max ∆E of 1.11.

Overall the BenQ SW271 is a superb display that offers a huge UHD resolution workspace in combination with a wide gamut Adobe RGB display at a price point that is extremely competitive.   In fact, it is hard to argue with the value proposition BenQ brings to the table with the SW271. With a street price of under $1100 USD you get a colour accurate display with 4K resolution that packs HDR, hardware LUT and a suite of features tailored for photographers. The SW271 quite simply offers extraordinary performance at its price point and is exceptional value for money. Highly recommended.

Full Disclosure – In the spirit of full disclosure I would like to be clear that BenQ provided me with the SW271 test unit at no cost. I also want to be clear that although I am officially an ambassador for BenQ they have in no way tried to influence my review and instead specifically asked me to be thorough and rigorous in my testing of the SW271. I only ever accept products to review on the clear understanding that I will be completely impartial and report anything negative I find as well as anything positive.  Since I am using these products in my own workflow being clear, honest and forthright is my number one priority.

Skylum Luminar 2018 Update Available

Skylum (previously known as MacPhun) has released today a significant update to Luminar 2018 for Windows and Mac. See What’s New with Luminar?

The free update brings the following new and improved features to improve the Luminar editing experience:

MAC USERS

  • Improved Raw Support: We’ve improved RAW Develop support and added Leica Monochrom .DNG , HEIC formats.  We’ve also improved support for Hasselblad and several other cameras.
  • Photos for Mac: Luminar works even better as an extension for Photos for Mac.
  • Adobe plug-in improvements: The plugins for Adobe products have been performance tuned.
  • Improved cross platform files: We’ve fixed issue with Dodge & Burn filter masks for documents created on Windows.

WINDOWS USERS

  • Language support: You can now enjoy Luminar in many more languages.
  • Brush Size: Use the left and right bracket keys ([ and ]) to adjust the size of your brush.  Add the shift key (Shift+ [ or ]) to adjust the Softness.  It’s now easier than ever to mask.
  • Curves: The Curves filter is  improved for better results
  • Merge Layers: Permanently merge two or more layers with Merge layers feature.
  • Improved Sidebar: The sidebar controls are even easier to use and navigate.
  • Cropping improvements: The cropped state of an image is now correctly captured in the native Luminar file.
  • Adobe plug-in improvements: The plugins for Adobe products have been performance tuned.

If you have not as yet tried Luminar I would encourage you to give it a try. The software has been developing at a rapid rate and is proving itself a viable alternative to Lightroom in all except Digital Asset Management (Which will likely come in a future update later this year).

Lightroom Creative Cloud Classic Keyboard Shortcuts Update 2017

Keyboard shortcuts are a fantastic way to save time and speed up your workflow when processing images in Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom has a great many keyboard shortcuts (in fact, too many to remember off hand) and some time ago I posted a link to download a really handy cheat sheet. The cheat sheet has now been updated for the latest Lightroom Creative Cloud Classic; which can be downloaded here: Download the Full Resolution Cheat Sheet. There is also a shortcut sheet for Photoshop. Thanks to Natasha for all the hard work in putting this together.