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123di V5: A Review Of The Digital Photographer's Library In A Box

Apr 25, 2008
Most of the books I've purchased about digital photography have only one or two sections I find useful when processing my images. This means that I've had to acquire a huge -- and expensive -- library of books, each having something I need from time to time, but no one book being comprehensive enough to serve as a first-choice reference. This means that, when I need information about some aspect of the digital workflow, I have to remember which book it's in, put my hands on the book, and then find the right page. Sound familiar?

Wouldn't it be great to have a comprehensive reference and be able to find needed information quickly and easily?

123di, "The 123 of digital imaging Interactive Learning Suite" seeks to fill this need for photographers at all skill levels.

Nearly all of my digital images need some processing after image capture. Taking those great pictures can be loads of fun, but the resultant images can be disappointing. When I need information about how to fix image problems and convert the throw-a-ways to keepers, I want to find it quickly.

As a photographer, being able to find the information I need *quickly* is *very* important. I found that 123di offers several ways to do this. In addition to reading the manual like a printed book, you can quickly find the information you want through

* interactive Photoshop graphical user interfaces,

* digital imaging workflow diagrams,

* custom bookmarks,

* interactive slide show,

* index,

* before and after images, and

* frequently-asked digital imaging questions.

Common image problems I often have to fix with post-processing include

* posterization,

* loss of shadow detail,

* white, overexposed areas,

* dust spots,

* a crooked horizon,

* wide-angle lens distortion,

* and distracting flash reflections.

Why do these problems show up in images? If you are like me, sometimes you just want to point and shoot. I don't always fuss with camera settings -- or sometimes I just forget a critical camera setting.

For instance, overexposure can usually be avoided by setting the camera to underexpose images by -1/3 to -1 stop: if this is done, detail in bright highlights are not likely to be lost. The camera's exposure compensation is adjusted to do this. Do I always do this? Nope! That's one reason I need a tool like Photoshop to correct such image defects -- and why I need a comprehensive reference manual like 123di to tell me *how* to use the tool.

123di makes it easy to find solutions to image problems like those above. For example, I had an overexposed image I wanted to use for a slide show. The image required a fix for posterization. A quick search of the 123di manual for "posterization," using the search feature in the extended version of 123di, turned up 48 references! Compare this result with what you find in the index of your favorite book on photography!

It should be noted that several problems might have to be corrected in any given image. Many techniques are sometimes required to bring out the best in an image. I confess, I haven't taken the *perfect* image yet; but, since I am not a photo-journalist, I don't have to deliver my digital images untouched by processing. I can use any of the techniques discussed in 123di to either make my images look closer to the scene as I saw it or just to make a beautiful picture.

Assisting the photographer to find information of interest was a primary goal of 123di from the start. In fact, the 123di manual includes a special section dedicated to how to find topics of interest quickly. This section is found in Appendix B, "How to Quickly Find What You Want in 123di." One of the ways uses an "Index of Keywords" that enabled me to quickly find appropriate sections containing solutions to the problems I often have to fix.

I accessed the index and easily found a tutorial on posterization with links to relevant sections for additional information. Solutions to the other problems listed above were also easy to find through the index, including how to remove disturbing flash reflections.

Having access to the index is great, particularly if you have the standard version of 123di. With the extended version, it is possible to search the manual for a single word and have all of the references visible as links in the search-results box. This single feature makes the extended version worth serious consideration for purchase even without the other features included with the extended version. The standard version can be upgraded to the extended version at any time.

The only real complaint I had about the standard version was that it did not have a similar search feature. Initially, I had purchased and installed the standard version. When I attempted to research the "posterization" problem, I spent a little time trying to find a search box in which to enter the search term. I ended up using the index to find the information I needed. I have come to expect an easy-to-find search form on the web pages I visit -- and the better web sites all have this feature as a usability enhancement. I would certainly welcome such an enhancement to the standard version of 123di. Also, although the extended version does have a search icon in the navbar, the search only allows a search for a single word. Many times, I do searches on the Web for phrases like "luminance masking." In 123di, I have to search for "luminance" and "masking" which complicates finding the information I need. A more enhanced search capability in all versions would be very useful.

123di has done a good job of helping users learn how to use the manual most effectively. My advice is to take the time and carefully read the first five introductory pages of the manual. These pages contain important information about the best way to use the manual and also provide an overview of the manual's content. As an example, on page 2 of the "Introduction," there is a section for "Practical Image Editing Techniques." Clicking the link to "image editing tutorials" from this section links to a list of drop-down selection boxes for problem-oriented tutorials. The drop-down boxes are

* Overcome Scene Limitations,

* Overcome Camera Limitations,

* Overcome Lens Limitations,

* Enhance Detail,

* Enhance Composition,

* Enhance Color and Contrast,

* Add Effects, and

* Create.

The drop-down box for enhancing color and contrast has choices for using levels and curves and for white balance. These are essential topics for image processing with Photoshop and are well covered.

If I had not spent a little time exploring the introductory pages, I might have missed this useful 123di drop-down feature.

123di features how-to coverage of several software packages for image organization, editing, and presentation.

Although I use Photoshop CS2 for my processing, it's nice to know that is it *not necessary* to purchase such an expensive piece of software to benefit from 123di. Image-editing tutorials in the essential sections are based on Adobe Photoshop Elements 2-3-4-5-6, a much more affordable software package that is often included free with today's digital cameras. Other software packages, besides those from Adobe, have similar methods of correcting image problems: the tutorials in 123di can point you in the right direction.

The image-editing tutorials in the advanced sections are based on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop CS3, CS2, CS, and 7, including Photoshop CS3 extended features that are relevant for digital photography.

Once the images have been taken and processed, they can be optimized for presentation or display. Since most photographers are going to want to share their images on the Web, in slide shows, in screen savers, or with prints, knowing how to do this is very important. 123di shows how to do all of these things.

Perhaps the most valuable content in the 123di manual -- for photographers at all levels -- are the materials showing how to *avoid* image problems in the first place. This content begins with topics about digital cameras and their sensors and then thoroughly presents processing techniques that not only prevent or overcome problems -- but also make the images "pop."

123di is a digital manual available either through download or as a boxed set, and periodic updates keep the material up to date. 123 has versions for both PC and MAC users. There is also a special version for Nikon Camera users with coverage of software supplied by Nikon with their cameras.

123di allows installation on multiple computers. I particularly like this benefit as I use a desktop in the office and a laptop in the field. It is nice to know that I don't have to purchase an additional licence or unlock key for this. 123di allows installation on three personal-use computers and can supply additional unlock keys upon request.

123di contains much more than just the practical tutorials for image processing. It has comprehensive theoretical coverage on the technical aspects of digital photography. These sections are great for understanding technical areas and can even help you select your photographic equipment and use it effectively. 123di explains both the *why* and the *how* of digital photography.
About the Author
For more information about 123di: http://www.selectdigitals.com/123di/ For additional content of interest to photographers: http://www.selectdigitals.com/
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