First Exposure: Genuine Fractals 6

Photo courtesy of onOne Software

October 01, 2009 — When onOne Software released Genuine Fractals 5 in 2007, the company made major changes to the program. It was the first release of the product since the company purchased it and included a new scaling algorithm along with new capabilities, all wrapped in an attractive modern interface. Genuine Fractals 6 adds further functionality that will be of interest to a select group of photographers.

The software continues to be available in two versions, Genuine Fractals 6 ($159.95 MSRP) and Genuine Fractals PrintPro 6 ($299.95 MSRP). Both are Photoshop plug-ins and both use the same scaling algorithm, but differ in a few features. For example, the PrintPro version scales both 8- and 16-bit CMYK, RGB, LAB and grayscale files, while Genuine Fractals 6 (GF) will only scale RGB and grayscale files (8- and 16-bit).

Chief among the latest enhancements are the addition of output print tiling to both versions and the addition of a Gallery Wrap feature to Print Pro. Batch processing, that required you to create a Photoshop action in GF5, is now built into both versions of GF6. And there are other less obvious changes in GF6 that will make life easier for all users.

Tiling allows you to output large prints on a smaller printer. After selecting a preset output size or directly inputting the final size, you switch the tiling feature on. Boxes are available to input the dimensions of your printer paper and the amount of overlap (usually about ¼ inch) between the images that you desire. The monitor shows the tiling and the overlap areas as well as any cropping of the image to fit the final output size. When you click Apply, GF6 automatically creates the separate files you need to print on your smaller printer in order to create the large output.

The new Gallery Wrap feature is aimed at photographers who print images on canvas. Labs that offer this service wrap the edges of the canvas around the wooden support frame, resulting in the loss of several inches of the image from all sides. If there is important information at the edges, it is lost to the sides of the frame.

Using the Gallery Wrap feature of GF6, you input the thickness of the frame and whether you would like the edge to reflect or stretch the areas near the edge. The software automatically creates the additional areas needed so that none of the actual image area is lost. Also, presets are available to soften the reflected or stretched areas.

No longer do you need to create a Photoshop Action to resize a folder of images. You can access GF6’s built-in batch-processing feature from either the onOne dropdown menu in Photoshop’s menu bar or from the File > Automate menu. You have the option of choosing any one folder and creating settings to scale, rename and resize the images to two separate destinations. The settings for each destination can be entirely different.

Batch processing in GF6 is also a very powerful archiving tool. One of the available output file formats is .STN, Genuine Fractals proprietary format, which uses fractal technology to compress image information. You can choose either lossless or lossy compression, but you will need Genuine Fractals loaded onto whatever computer you are using in order to reopen the file.
As in GF5, you do not need to convert images to .STN format in order to scale them. In fact, one of the new features that is available in both versions of GF6 is support for files with Photoshop layers, layer masks and type layers, so you do not need to flatten an image before resizing. However, scaling should be the last operation you perform on a file, unless you sharpen it outside of GF6, so the advantage of working on an unflattened image is debatable.

While these are the main features new to GF6, there are a few others that speed up and enhance your workflow. If, like me and many other photographers, you find yourself spending more and more time in Lightroom or Aperture, you will appreciate that GF6 automatically installs itself into those programs as well as into Photoshop.

While GF6 is available in these programs through their plug-in menus and the scaled result is fed back to these programs, the actual scaling is done using Photoshop as the imaging engine, so you must also have Photoshop installed on the computer. When accessed through Lightroom or Aperture, the tiling feature is not available. Gallery Wrap is available through Lightroom, but not through Aperture.

Another change to GF6 is the addition of presets to the Texture control. The Texture control that was introduced in GF5 gives you the ability to adjust the amount of detail that is “pulled out” of continuous tone areas, as well as to control how strongly the scaling algorithm works on edges and areas of high contrast. As with unsharp masking, the Texture control is not particularly intuitive to use, even after reading the detailed explanation in the GF6 user guide. So the five presets (General, Low-res JPEG, Portrait, Landscape and High Detail) are welcome as starting points for understanding this useful tool.

One step backward that I found in GF6 compared to GF5 was the maximum scaling amount. In GF6, asking for enlargements beyond 1000% brought up an error message, while with GF5, I was able to scale up to 10,000% with smaller images. This is unlikely to be an issue in the real world, however.
In all the tests that I did comparing GF6 with Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask, the results with GF6 looked consistently better on the monitor. In some cases, depending on the amount of detail and the sharpness of the original image, the results were close. But with original images that are sharp and contain lots of fine detail, the scaled output was clearly superior with GF6.

However, what you gain in quality, you lose in speed. Scaling a 3.03MB TIFF to a 303.5MB TIFF (1000%) required 4 minutes and 18 seconds in PrintPro, but only 4.2 seconds using Photoshop Bicubic. While GF6 isn’t going to win any speed contests against Photoshop, the better quality of the final image along with the ability to tile the output, produce gallery wraps and sharpen while scaling make Genuine Fractals 6 a useful plug-in for those photographers who can make use of those capabilities.

System requirements remain the same as GF5. The software installs as a plug-in in Photoshop CS2 (v9.0.2), CS3, or Photoshop Elements 4 or later versions of these programs. OS requirements are Windows XP SP2 or Vista or Mac OS 10.4.4 or later with Microsoft .NET 2.0 framework installed. GF6 for the Mac is written in Universal Binary to be fully compatible with both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.

To use GF6 in Lightroom you must be using Lightroom 2 or higher. Integration with Aperture requires Aperture 2.1 or higher. Upgrade price from GF5 is $99.

Stan Sholik is a contributing writer for NewsWatch Feature Service. He is also a commercial photographer with over 30 years of large format studio and location experience.

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