Today we photographers have many tools to develop our photos. The general public and professionals alike usually take photos and drop them into some sort of Digital Asset Management System (DAM) like Apple’s Photos, Adobe’s Elements, Lightroom, or my personal tool Capture One 9. These programs have their own internal functions allowing simple to extremely complex edits built in.
The issue though is speed. These programs require us to learn how to manipulate dozens of different settings to achieve various “looks” we want to achieve. Some of these programs have built in shortcuts or “presets” you can use to speed up your editing scheme. These shortcuts range from simple to advanced. Even then, these baked in presets often can be hard to manipulate further. So there is a window for outside developers to offer speed demon or specialized solutions to quick editing for consistent style.
Years ago, when I was an Apple Aperture user I began using Google’s Nik Plugin Collection to assist me with quickly adding effects I desired to my photos. For me these plugin’s did a lot of advanced editing, very quickly, which Apple refused to bake into its Aperture program. Unfortunately since Google acquired Nik, the plugins remain good but receive very few updates. This means competitors are catching up, and providing more value. Topaz, OnOne, MacPhun (for OS X users only) and others have much better family integration, regularly improved interface style set, and more “solutions to creatives” than Nik does now. Into this full field now enters Franzis COLOR projects 4, with a style familiar to Nik users, and its own unique twists.
Who is Franzis? It is a one time partner of Nik in Germany, and distributor with other vendors. They also are a large publishing house. They have a long history with publishing and software, just maybe as part of other projects. One item Franzis is happy to let you know is the product is 100% German made. This can give you some extra confidence in security as developers in the EU face hurdles and data sharing restrictions vendors based across the world may not face.
Color projects 4’s basic premise is when you open a photo from a file (or via plug in from Lightroom) you will within seconds receive 134 enhanced variations of the photo to choose from for publishing. Once you choose the baseline variation, you can then personalize it further with basic and advanced editing. Color projects then finalizes the result for you with cropping, sizing and other tools to close out the assembly line inside the program. If you were working a project and wanted consistency, you can easily batch process photos with the same full array of options.
This is the claim…so how does it work? Bottom Line Up Front: Pretty well with a few small program hiccups in my opinion (only if you need the English version). It should be considered as a replacement for anyone currently using Nik Software and mainstream Digital Asset Management (DAM) software such as Lightroom or Photo Mechanic. For users of other editors, it will come down to liking or disliking the interface.
Once you open up the program you’ll see the previews quickly generate on the side panel. Some of the icons may at first confuse the user slightly since they are different than those in many similar programs, but in the end this is ok because they work as designed and explained in the manual!
Nik users will quickly recognize similarities on the left side to the Nik programs. Presets and options names are very similar. What they will get not available in Nik, is a column with ready to use previews. This is similar to new programs such as OnOne’s suite and becoming expected as an industry standard. On the right, you will see a slew of options for customization which take this program beyond plugin to full featured editor.
The magnifying glass on the right gives you a quick view to see the effects of the preset versus your original. I found this very helpful since it can show you in realtime the effects of the applied preset. Like other magnifying glasses you can select the point of interest quickly by moving your mouse over the main photo image.
Once you open a preset category you’ll quickly see many variations, and like many other programs the preset you select will render large on the screen. Once you select an option you can also select another preset to combine with your image to make a new unique set of presets. Nik users will see this as no different than their current workflow of stacking filters on an image.
If you are in a rush, most of these presets (or combinations of presets) are all you’d ever need. You can of course save a favorite set of presets for later use. This is helpful since many people like to build their own “style” as part of their brand. When you combine a pre-made favorite and batch processing, an event shooter will be able very efficiently get large blocks of an imaging work flow done efficiently.
Next to the photo film simulation and optimization assistant you will see a grid with a magnifying glass on top of it. Clicking on that symbol opens up a proof sheet of thumbnails allowing you to compare all the options available at once. Below you’ll see an example of the film options and then the optimizations options. These appeared very small on my 15” MacBook Pro. I wish I could get the ability to enlarge or magnify the proof sheet, but it got me close enough to make good judgements faster on color and tone effects of the preset. I am big fan of film simulations, and this program has a strong selection of some of the most popular film options to work with to further personalize your images. The option to have the film presets all in front of me sped up my selection process, and prevented my need to enter a different program for film selection. Then it was just a click with the the same feature to refine with additional optimization in Denoising, Tonal Value, Clarity, Dynamic and Sharpness.
In 90% of the cases I’d probably be done at this point, and ready to move on in a matter of 50-55 seconds from opening COLOR projects on a photo. Again, my focus for plugins if to speed my workflow. The image below is a "watercolor" I made up in just a few clicks from three other available, and saved variants inside a project. I want to spend minimal time in front of my computer, and most of my time pushing product out and caring for a customer (or the family!). So speed like this is what I want and need.
Franzis adds more advanced options for additional refinement to include selective editing to COLOR projects 4. Both boxing and a ray mode allow selective editing with every sub-editing feature available in the program. Their use is different than some competitors, so some brain and muscle memory will need retraining to use them efficiently. Nothing wrong with Franzis implementation of selective editing, just different than established big name competitors.
One other point needing illumination is how COLOR projects 4 works on each photo as a project in stand alone mode. At the end of each project you need to export or save the photo into the format and location desired. COLOR projects 4 gives you plenty of formats including the most popular TIFF and JPEG to export at as needed to various quality levels. In the cropping phase you can select European or American crop sizes, and utilize three overlays to achieve classic proportion ratios quickly for your final product.
While working with your project, you can create restore points as well. This gives you the ability to save several different “looks” while making a project with their own export points. It is a different, and better method of working than some competitors. The reason is when COLOR projects 4 reverts to a restore point it does so without artifacts or unintended changes still deeply embedded in the photo. The two photos of my son above came from snapbacks to a restore point inside the project file.
I was concerned about integration between Franzis product line. Nik products made me bounce in and out of my DAM to achieve effects using various plugins, and it was not fast. Franzis addressed this by including a Projects button across its suite. So as you add various Franzis products, you will be able to effortlessly switch between them. I tested this with Black & White projects, and it worked very well. (One note from my testing: I learned you will need to reload the previous programs so they detect other programs. COLOR projects did not detect BLACK & WHITE when I reopened it…but BLACK & WHITE had the feature active at its first launch.)
One unfortunate unique aspect of COLOR projects resulted from the kernel used to create the Mac version. When I engaged the save function, the dialogue boxes came up German. The Franzis team is working a fix, but the rest of the program was in English to include all pop up hover boxes. Luckily I remembered just enough from my time in Germany in the 90’s to get by. I’m glad it was not Chinese though. I had some bad grades in that class.
Photo renderings, control of noise and artifacts in the various settings was excellent. The film simulations were also on par with renderings created in Capture One 9 using Capture One Styles preset packs.
Based on how the Nik plug-in worked in my limited Lightroom time, the program could also be a fast preset editor for the leading (in sales) Digital Asset Management system. Unfortunately the round tripping does not work with Capture One 9, which is my primary DAM system. So I had to export each file and edit externally before re-import. This is not a fault of Franzis, rather the non-existent Capture One plug in system.
If you are looking at features for the buck, you will find Color projects 4 ($99 US) compares favorably with its peers. It has enough options to be a full featured editor, and options which tilt towards the creative such as pencil or watercolor conversions. In addition the family of products is growing and integrated. So should you pick up a well priced bundle, you will have everything you need: COLOR, BLACK & WHITE, SHARPENING, DENOISE, HDR, FOCUS (very exciting product to me), and ANALOG. According to Franzis, the company is working out the final international pricing on a bundle now.
I found I could create very nice photos in minutes from COLOR projects 4. COLOR projects 4 quickly proved itself more of a complete editor than the simple preset program I expected. Over the course of an afternoon, and a little time in the manual, I was able to easily use advanced features. Over the course of a few more afternoons I was able to use selective editing to enhance photos in more detail. As pixel editing is my editing weakness, this is important to me to be able to do swiftly.
Still this program is not for your casual consumer photographer . Casual photographers will be best served by Franzis Photobuzzer software. (This software may fill the void of Nik’s long forgotten and brilliant Snapseed for PC/MACs.) COLOR projects will best serve an enthusiast or professional photographer who is looking for solutions to two issues of speed and/or control. This program can provide more specialized control than most DAM and primary editors provides inside the box. It can also quickly crafts and applies complex presets to batch sets of photos.
If I was a Lightroom or Photo Mechanic user this program would handle 70% of my personal work via the plug in, or open in commands. The Franzis suite of products would be able to handle 100% of my normal editing process for production work. It should be in your personal testing program. If it meets your ergonomic needs, and matches your thinking process it may be your solution to speed up your workflow.
Just do yourself a favor and test this program against the other industry leaders using the free trial programs. I cannot tell you enough how important it is to make sure the logic process of a program workflow matches how you personally process information. If you and the program cannot communicate, it does not matter if both of you are the best in the world at what you do. Your projects will just be an epic fail.
As a Capture One 9 user I am a little handicapped though. The open with command did not result in putting photos back into the catalog. This meant the speed advantage the program gives me for stylizing photos is negated by time lost importing the exported photos back into my DAM.
COLOR projects 4 would be able to replace an exisiting Nik Color Efex 4 workflow, and provide a user additional options not inherent to that Google suite of programs. The primary advantages of COLOR projects 4 would be the near instant rendering of all options, excellent integration of projects, and full stand alone mode as an editor. The only drawback for me right now is the Capture One 9 workflow I personally utilize. If I was a Lightroom user, it would probably be time to move on from Nik (with a hint of sadness here) to this more modern editor.
This product is going head to head with several very successful and well publicized suites. The staff at Franzis knows this. In my emails back and forth with them, I can say they internalized this. They are ready to work hard, and rumble with the big kids on the block now. In the end this only means good competition for the hearts and money of us photographers in the challenge of making good photographs.
View their product line at: COLOR projects 4
FYSA: I did not receive any compensation for this review...just an extended trial so I had time to review the software properly. The information team at Franzis was very courteous, and helpful in answering my many questions.