Perfect Photo Suite 7.5 review

The immediate good news about release 7.5 of Perfect Photo Suite is that if you already have version 7 or 7.1 then this is a free upgrade. If you don’t then the price has just been dropped to make it more affordable anyway. The package installs as a standalone app with a variety of tabbed modules, or as separate elements of a plug-in for Photoshop CS4+ and Lightroom 2-5. It’s a handy option, based on whether you need to do a modest amount of work or are going to need all the power of Photoshop.

The standalone package has two features which aren’t needed if you are working in Photoshop itself, namely the Layers and Mask functions. On their own they are presented as separate tabs and switching between them, just to add a mask to a layer is very cumbersome. Perfect Layers 3 in fact, is designed to combine images and use a layered workflow. Layers features common blending modes and opacity and has a raft of tools. These include resizing, moving and transforming the layer, cropping and trimming, a new red eye removal tool, then the masking brush, the masking bug and the retouch brush. The latter is the equivalent of Photoshop’s Healing Brush and can be used to remove blemishes from portraits. There’s also a Clone tool option to make it easier to remove larger faults, though this doesn’t have blending modes like Photoshop. The two masking tools both add a layer mask automatically when they are used. The Masking brush uses brush strokes to reveal the underlying layer while the Masking Bug uses gradients to do the same thing. It’s all a bit awkward though and requiring a separate tab and work area just for layer control is clumsy and slows the workflow down. That’s without progressing on to the Mask tab for more specialised implementation of masks onto your layers. Having these two as separate functions is particularly ponderous. It’s for that reason that Photo Suite works much better as a plug-in where you can work normally in Photoshop or Lightroom, then access the Portrait, Effects, B&W, Focus and Resize modules and processes when needed.

Perfect Portrait 2 is the next port of call and this is one area of keen competition among rival packages. Starting this automatically detects the face and applies control points, ready for enhancement. They can be reselected but you’ll then see there are points for the eyes and mouth, but ones for nose, face and head shape are all absent. On the enhancement side then, there are sections for skin retouching, colour correction and tweak the eyes and mouth. They are all controlled by sliders so the relative effects can be fine tuned. The skin retouching is quite good, being able to remove blemishes and shine from bright light sources, even out colouration and soften harsh shadows. If the result is too plastic-looking, texture can be added back in. Also, it isn’t just the face that can benefit from skin smoothing. Other areas can be manually added to the skin selection. The functions here aren’t a patch on Portrait Professional, but they are worth having as part of the suite.

The Effects section is where you can have some fun with the images and where the new image browser on the left is replaced by live previews of the effects on offer. There’s a huge number covering everything from grunge and retro colouring, to borders, film stock emulation, split-toning and a wealth of textures. The one flaw in these is that they are always the same, there’s no randomisation seed like in Alien Skin’s Exposure 4, so they have to be used with some care to avoid producing images with exactly the same light leak and border. Fortunately, the effects can all be stacked and the transparency adjusted so that they can be blended together to give quite different results. If you like your filter effects, or even just having lots of ways to enhance images quickly you’ll enjoy this part of the package.

Similar to the Effects module is Perfect Black & White, or B&W as the tab states. If you’re looking for a quick way to give those portraits, wedding photos or landscapes a classy monochrome finish, this is the place. There’s a list of live preview presets on the left where one click is all you need to come up with something with impact. Alternatively, there are sections for tone, colour response, tone curves, glow, film grain, toner, vignette, borders, sharpening and blending for you to adjust to come up with something different. There are also brushes for brightness, contrast and detail to just tweak problem areas from the conversion as well. It’s definitely a time-saver for photo studios or photographers.

The modular approach of the package tends to fall by the wayside at the next port of call. Called Focus on the tabbed menu, clicking on it actually launches FocalPoint 2 which ditches the image and preview browsers that were on the left, loses all the tabbed menu selections along the top and places the presets right at the bottom of the column on the right. It’s a sudden and jarring change of interface. The object of this is to add blur and bokeh effects to images. Well, it does a decent job, but really, there hasn’t been one automatic package yet released that can do this properly. Not only does the subject need to be completely isolated, the background needs to be blurred for depth, unless you are simply making it all blurry. There are neat touches like highlight blooms, specific aperture shapes, and a focus brush which is best used where there already is some blurring from a shallow depth-of-field. Then it can enhance it. Otherwise you’re making a trip to the selection tools in Photoshop. It’s a decent element of the package, but not one worth buying the package for. That claim could, however, be laid at the door of Perfect Resize, which is a top-notch image resizing package that can increase image sizes while avoiding jagged edges.

OUR VERDICT

As a standalone package, it’s a little uneven, with the workflow for layers and masks being particularly clumsy. If this is your focus then it’s better to look elsewhere. The other modules though, portrait, effects, B&W, focus and resize are all worth having and make for a handsome collection of utilities.

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