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PictoColor

iCorrect

EditLab 4.0 Plug-in & Stand-Alone

By Ian Lyons

 

 

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A Computer Darkroom Review

 

In early August 2003 PictoColor  released an update to iCorrect EditLab 4. As its name suggests  iCorrect EditLab 4 Stand-Alone doesn't require Photoshop or any other image editing application. Unfortunately an oversight on my part meant that my review of the version 4 Plug-in  never appeared as such. It continued to read as version 3. I've therefore corrected my error and revised the review to reflect both products.

iCorrect EditLab 4.0

Like all previous versions of the iCorrect product family PictoColor have designed this new version to provide the user with a more intuitive method of colour correction. By simply clicking on certain reference or memory colours within an image, iCorrect EditLab will perform a global colour correction. This review is based upon the Mac OS X version but iCorrect EditLab is also available for Mac OS9 and Windows including XP. At this point I think its important to mention that iCorrect EditLab Plug-in is only compatible with the Adobe range of image editing products (e.g. Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Photoshop LE). The Stand-Alone version can be used independently of other image editing applications.

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iCorrect EditLab 4.0

Whilst the main interface "appears" to have changed little from earlier versions it does have a few hidden secrets and optimisation tricks. The process of editing the image is a mixture of Automatic and Manual correction. If the user prefers not to use Automatic (SmartColor mode) then it can easily be disabled and only manual edits will be applied. There are four simple steps to editing an image and each is described below:

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Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 1

Colour Balance

When you first launch iCorrect EditLab it will use SmartColor to automatically analyse and adjust the image tone, colour and saturation. The user can also configure iCorrect EditLab so that SmartColor correction is disabled, although this to some extent defeats the purpose. Nevertheless, the ability to override auto correction is welcome.

The initial settings dialog is also the location of the global colour cast removal tool (neutrals eyedropper). Simply choose "Neutrals" from the pop-up menu and then click (using the eyedropper tool) an area of the image that you know to be neutral and all equally coloured pixels will be neutralised. The user can, if they wish, use a simple Slider Tool to balance the Red, Green and Blue channels. Typical neutrals will include such items as: snow, paper, clouds, teeth, car tyres, asphalt, cement, tree bark, and ice.

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Global Colour Balance Adjustment

By applying a few mouse clicks on various neutral areas within the image, such as the clouds in my example image the iCorrect EditLab Colour Balance tool removes any remaining colour cast.

The accuracy of the correction is dependent upon the size of the sampled area. Sometimes we will want a small sample and sometimes larger sample areas. By clicking on the eyedropper tool it can be set for 1 pixel, 3 pixel average or 5 pixel average resolution.

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Eyedropper Tool

The user also has the choice of displaying colour values in either RGB, HSB (Hue, Saturation and Brightness feedback) or CMYK. Simply clicking the letters to the side of the Eyedropper tool changes the mode back and forth and the display for both gives before and after readings. The Undo button will undo the last edit. If the overall adjustment is not to your liking it's simply a matter of clicking the Reset button and beginning again.

Before and after display of the edits can be achieved very simply by unchecking the Preview tick box and then rechecking it again. Since the Preview facility is active in all four tabs it provides a very quick means of determining the extent of the edits.

Preferences

Since the Stand-Alone version of  iCorrect EditLab doesn't have the benefit of Photoshop's internal colour management system PictoColor have developed their own along with all the components required for correctly handling ICC profiles. The Preferences are a menu option rather than a button within the preview panel. In addition to configuring the how  iCorrect EditLab handles images with and without embedded ICC profiles we can preset the JPEG quality/compression value. A further pop-up menu allows the user to refine the degree of global saturation applied to the image by SmartColor. The default value is 80; values less than 80 will desaturate the image and values greater than 80 will increase the overall image saturation.

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Preferences - EditLab Stand-Alone

The Quality setting determines the quality of the preview image and has NO bearing on the quality of the final image. It is provided so that the time needed to screen updates is kept to a minimum on less powerful computers.

The folder and image format in which the edited images are to be saved is user definable. iCorrect EditLab Stand-Alone can save images as either JPEG, BMP or Tiff.

Live Slider Preview and Show Sampled Region are a mixture of old and new. They are a tad less useful than Largest Possible Window. If selected in the Preferences dialog we will get live feedback within the preview window. If you notice that your computer is slow at updating the screen image after an adjustment then simply deselect Live Slider Preview. Of course you will loose the ability to see your edits in real-time but at least they'll not bring your computer to a crawl. This problem will only occur with very large images (hundreds of megabytes) or on really old computers with slow processors or small amounts of memory. When Show Sampled Region is activated you can click on an area of the image and it will produce a brief "blue flash" over the sample area. Adjacent pixels with similar RGB values will also flash blue for a few seconds.

With the Plug-in version the facility exists to maximise the editing window (Use Largest Possible Window). This feature enables the user to fill the full desktop within Photoshop. When coupled with the Zoom (1:1 pixel ratio) and Scroll (Ctrl+Left mouse drag) tools we can now get much more accurate. Activating the feature requires that you check the little tick box, close iCorrect EditLab and reopen.

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Preferences - EditLab Stand-alone

Step 2

Black and White Point 

The Black and White point tool is designed to optimise the lightness range (tonal range) of the image by pushing the darker colours closer to black and the lighter colours closer to white.

The user can use any one of three methods to set the black and white points. The firsts and easiest is simply letting iCorrect EditLab automatically find the brightest and darkest points within the whole image. The second requires the user manually drag the black/white triangle of the histogram to their preferred values. The last and probably most effective is were the user defines an area within the image and then clicks this area with the eyedropper tool. To get in really close it is necessary to use the Zoom tool - Hold down the Alt/Option key and click the desired area of the image.

Step 3

Global Brightness, Contrast and Saturation

The Brightness/Contrast/Saturation slider tool handles the global distribution of tones and then gives the colours an added boost via a saturation. Generally the automatic adjustments get quite close to the desired result, but manual fine-tuning is provided via three sliders.

Step 4

Selective Hue Edits

The final step involves the user making selective corrections to specific colours. After correcting the colour balance, setting new black and white points, adjusting the brightness/contrast/saturation, the user can fine-tune specific colours. This step is broadly similar in operation to iCorrect Professional and is without question the most powerful and useful tool. 

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Selective Hue Adjustments

Remember, that these adjustments are done without effecting any of the previous adjustments. Choosing the sky (B) from the image and clicking on the Memory Colour button for Sky causes iCorrect EditLab to automatically correct the sky. As with the earlier tools the user can override this feature, and manually adjust the saturation/brightness slider or the specific hue (colour) on the Hue Wheel. Describing this step in detail is beyond the scope of this review but it is well documented in the user manual.

Skin (S) tone and Foliage (F) are the other two memory colour within iCorrect EditLab. I've found Skin tone to be very effective with many portrait images, especially those taken with flash and under mixed lighting. Once the overall colour balance has been corrected we can home-in on editing the skin tones, and remember, this is done without affecting any of our previous edits.

All of the editing tools work with a preview image that is fully synchronised with the Photoshop working space. So assuming the user has an accurately calibrated monitor then the final images should appear in Photoshop as they do iCorrect EditLab.

EditLab (Plug-in) Editing Options

EditLab Plug-in also includes the ability to edit ICC Input profiles. The process of editing a profile isn't too difficult and uses a conventional image as the basis for your edits. Ideally the image will have been captured at the same time or lighting conditions as the actual profiling target. If you can edit an image using EditLab then you'll have little problem editing your own ICC input profiles.

Help is always available from within the plug-in and PictoColor have included an on-line user guide which is fairly comprehensive. Virtual tours of iCorrect EditLab 4.0 Plug-in and Stand-Alone are available from the PictoColor web site

Verdict

When I first reviewed iCorrect EditLab 2.0 I was impressed by the ease of use and quality of results but not so with the overall appearance of the application interface. Nevertheless, I did think the 4-step approach to colour correction was useful and worthy of further development. Version 3 improved things further and now that we have reached version 4 most of my dislikes have been eliminated. That said I'm a bit confused as to why the Stand-Alone version doesn't offer a print option.

Although designed for all types of image I have found iCorrect EditLab seems to work particularly well with images captured on digital cameras. I was also very pleased to see that PictoColor have continued to include full 16-bit per channel editing within iCorrect EditLab as this is my preferred way of working. This means that 16-bit images imported directly from a digital camera can be opened and colour corrected with ease. Actually, iCorrect EditLab 4.0 can handle Linear images from digital cameras, albeit the final results tend to require some additional increase in saturation.

The PictoColor "tabbed" editing tools are specifically designed to be used in a left-to-right order and in following this order we can be assured that tools to the right do not adversely affect the adjustments of the previous tool. This method goes an long way to reducing the frustration of correcting for one edit while throwing off another. If we were to ignore this feature we could be forgiven for thinking that iCorrect EditLab doesn't really offer intermediate and advanced users anything that Photoshop can't already do. In a sense this is true, but I've received many emails from professional and amateur photographers who feel the speed and ease of operation provided by iCorrect EditLab makes it a worthwhile addition to Photoshop. However, and come to think about it, does Photoshop provide a facility to edit ICC Input profiles? EditLab Plug-in does!

 

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