Software Review: Macphun’s Bundle of 6 Mac Apps
September 15, 2016
Macphun’s recently updated Creative Kit (CK) is a bundle of six Mac apps: Tonality, Intensify, Noiseless, Focus, Snapheal and FX Photo Studio. These function as standalone programs, as part of the CK and as plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements and Photos (El Capitan OS or later).
The newest addition to the Macphun family is the standalone Aurora HDR app ($99) for creating high dynamic range photos. It’s not part of the $130 Creative Kit, but we gave it a try anyway.
You can buy the Creative Kit apps individually for $30 to $60 each, but the kit is the better bargain as you will likely find use for more than a couple of them. Free trial downloads of the CK and of Aurora HDR are available from macphun.com.
Other than Aurora HDR, the other Macphun apps have been around for a while. If you are unfamiliar with them, they greatly extend the emasculated capabilities of Photos on the Mac, and function much as the On1 Photo 10 suite, Google Nik Collection and Topaz Labs programs if you are using Photoshop, Lightroom or Affinity on the Mac. Macphun’s Tonality app puts the beauty of monochrome imaging at your fingertips. Its latest update adds presets from respected photographers to the more than 150 presets already available in the program. As with most of the Macphun apps, a variety of sliders allow you to fine tune the presets to your liking and save the result as a new preset.
The new Aurora HDR app is the result of a joint project between Macphun and renowned HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff. It provides a range of presets from natural to grunge, with sliders to adjust the look and to blend the HDR image with an original. Layers are also available with a variety of blend modes and luminosity masking. You can use Aurora HDR with RAW or TIFF file formats and work with single or multiple files to create the final HDR image.
The remaining Macphun apps have specific capabilities to extend and simplify the image editing and enhancing process. The Intensify app provides controls for sharpening, enhancing structure and detail, and controlling contrast. The ten adjustable presets in Noiseless give you one-click noise reduction that is often more than adequate for an excellent result while retaining edge sharpness. (Using a stronger-than-needed preset and backing off the opacity turned out to be the quickest way to reduce noise.)
The Focus app allows you to adjust the softness of very specific parts of your image, including the ability to brush on a mask to retain sharpness on a specific area. Motion blur and tilt-shift functions are also available as well as vignette effects and face detection for portraits. The Snapheal app functions much like content-aware fill in Photoshop, but allows you to brush a mask over the area that you want to remove as well as use a selection to isolate it. And FX Photo Studio is a special-effects app with more than 200 presets in 20 categories including Color Fantasy, Groovy Lo-Fi, Grunge, Vintage and many more.
Despite the power of the CK apps and Aurora HDR, the learning curve is minimal and no manual is needed. Navigating between CK apps is easily accomplished with the dropdown “Open with” submenu of the File menu in each app or the Save and Share icon. The workspace itself is organized in the contemporary style with thumbnails in a filmstrip below and adjustment tools in a panel to the right of the preview. And if you are using Adobe Bridge, you can use it to open an image directly in a CK app, as you can in Lightroom, Photoshop and Photos. As an added bonus, whether accessed as a standalone or as a plug-in, the CK apps open in their own window.
What We Liked
The new presets in Tonality add further useful functionality to the app and provide additional starting points for creating your own custom presets. But for me the big news is Aurora HDR. It is extremely well designed and a must-have program if you are on a Mac and have any interest in creating HDR images. The presets are well thought out and the controls provide all of the options you need to create any HDR style you can imagine.
Working with the apps and Aurora HDR, it is clear that a good deal of thought went into the design of each. Thumbnails for the presets, where they are available, show the effect of the preset on the image you’re working on. Opening the preset to a large preview image is very fast and the resolution of the preview is usually adequate to easily judge how the final image will look.
© Stan Sholik
The workspace of Aurora HDR shows the setting I used for the final sunrise image. I backed off the Landscape Detailed preset by about 65 percent for a more realistic look. Several other preset categories are available, including a set from renowned HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff.
What We Didn’t Like
Since each of the apps was developed and released on its own before being bundled into CK, there are some minor issues that make for a slightly less-than-optimal experience. While it isn’t a big deal, the interfaces between the standalone and the plug-in apps are not always identical. Controls can be located in different places between the two.
Installing the CK apps as plug-ins is more work than it should be. Each app must be opened individually first and then installed through the File menu of the app. Installing the CK into Photos is easier, but you must have El Capitan installed. Strangely, Macphun has created proprietary file formats for saving images in several of the apps, but other CK apps cannot open those formats. Navigating between apps is a better way to proceed rather than trying to save each time you finish using an app. You can then save the result as a TIFF or JPEG once you have finished with all of the CK apps.
How it Compares
As a suite of post-processing apps, the Creative Kit most closely compares with On1 Photo 10 and the Topaz Labs and Google Nik collections. Although slightly more expensive, CK lacks the file browsing capability of Photo 10 as well as the feeling of being truly integrated with a common, easily navigable interface. However, working in CK is far easier and more intuitive than in Photo 10. The Topaz Photography Collection is far more expensive than the CK but includes 17 separate apps that extend image editing and enhancing beyond that of the Creative Kit. You can’t beat the price of the free Google Nik Collection and its seven apps track closely to those of the Macphun CK bundle—but those apps won’t be updated going forward. If you own and regularly use the collections competing with MacPhun’s Creative Kit, you owe yourself a look at the CK free trial. You may well prefer its simplicity and responsiveness.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, Shoot Macro, for Amherst Media, is now available.
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