Macphun Creative Kit 2016 review: Critical photo editing functions delivered in one diverse app

macphun creative kit 2016 logo
At a Glance
  • MacPhun Creative Kit 2016

    Macworld Rating

With Creative Kit, Macphun wants to pick up where Apple’s now-defunct Aperture left off. As a plug-in to Photos, Macphun’s apps significantly augment the Apple app’s bare-bones editing tools. Despite their power, Creative Kit apps require a minimal learning curve.

Creative Kit does not seek to replace Photos’ organizational utility, though Macphun does market a separate app called Snapselect for organizing and choosing the best photos from a batch and trashing duplicates.

The Mac-only Creative Kit is a six-app bundle that functions both as a standalone app and a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Elements.

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You can access Macphun’s Creativity Kit directly from within Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or Elements.

Available via a single installer for one discounted price, Creative Kit lets you access some of Macphun’s most popular image enhancement packages: Noiseless, Focus, Intensify, Tonality, Snapheal, and FX Photo Studio. Each is also available as a standalone app (though in your Applications folder, they are separate apps appended by a CK) and variously support features like batch processing and multiple file formats including JPEG, PNG, 8- and 16-bit TIFFs, PSD and various flavors of RAW.

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After editing your image, you can automatically launch it into another CK app or share to social media.

Creative Kit component apps are not new—just the all-in-one package: Each app has been previously released, and is still available separately. But there are tremendous financial and functional advantages in purchasing the kit though even in this update you can only work on one photo per app at a time.

Components

Intensify takes shots that looked a lot better through the lens than they do on your screen and lets you achieve results that better resemble your original vision—and in most cases improves on it.

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You can open Creative Kit apps as extensions in Apple Photos. Focus is not an extension yet, but it will be soon.

Focus, which includes a facial recognition feature, spotlights specific parts of your image after the fact, letting you emulate intriguing lens blur, tilt-shift, vignette and motion blur styles. Tonality, a sophisticated black and white editor, adds old-fashioned drama and monochromatic special effects to portraits, landscapes, and action shots.

Snapheal removes unwanted objects, people, and flaws from your photos while Noiseless removes ugly pixel artifacts from poorly lit shots.

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You can access extensions directly from Apple Photos’ edit window.

When you’re done editing, FX Photo Studio’s special effects that can make run-of-the-mill photos shine.

Interface

Choosing the plugin gives you the same interface as launching the app independently: It opens in its own window and will either save in its native format or export to a universal format like JPEG or TIFF.

If you save in Macphun’s native formats hoping that other CK apps will read or open them, you’ll be disappointed. Focus, for example, will not automatically open an image saved in Noiseless MPN format.

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Noiseless CK interface.

Note that to use the apps as Photos extensions, you have to launch them independently once. Focus, the only app that does not show up in Extensions, will be updated soon, Macphun said, though you can still use it in standalone mode.

And, while the suite’s File > Open In command is the easiest way to bounce a photo among the different apps without having to save, close, and relaunch them, you will have to save and relaunch if you are using Creative Kit as an Apple Photos extension.

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Tonality CK interface.

App interfaces are similar but not identical. The original standalone and plug-in apps were created at different times and with different functions, so expect controls to be located in various places.

The best part about Creative Kit is that there’s no need for a manual. Just fire up each app and poke around. There are an abundance of presets to get you started, and quite often the presets are all you need. The Macphun website also features video tutorials and guides that demo the programs’ major functions.

For the most part, the app gives impressive results without your having to do much more than click and keep your eyes open.

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Intensify interface.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of tweaking opportunities that will put you in an alternative time zone—you can literally experiment for hours on a single shot. That’s because each app has an abundance of manual settings that work alongside the presets.

If a portrait or landscape needs a little more than a single preset offers—or the preset is the right idea, but just too little or much—adjustable sliders and manual controls are there for fine-tuning. Most of the apps also have a layers function lets you stack edits on top of each other and switch them on and off.

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Focus CK portrait mode zeros in on faces.

There are also several ways to view real-time edits: side-by-side view, slider view, compare button, and a complete restore for starting over again.

App performance, on the whole, is swift on my 2013 MacBook Air. Preset changes appeared instantaneously, for the most part. However, if you use the grabber hand to change the position of an image on screen, the app will often take a few seconds to rescan the entire image in order to register the details, which can get tedious.

Intensify CK

Photoshop has a variety of sharpen tools (including my favorite, Smart Sharpen), but Intensify CK has so much more for achieving precise control over contrast, structure, detail and sharpening across different tonal ranges—in one click—that there’s no comparison.

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Adjustable round brushes let you paint edits on to different areas of your image.

Seven categories of presets—Architecture, Black & White, Creative, Detail Enhancement, Landscape, and Soft—which also feature up to 14 specific presets each, give you a head-spinning array of sharpening options.

Slider adjustments and layered effects help you avoid that pixelated over-sharpened look while at the same time focusing your concentration on specific areas of the image with layers and masks.

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Intensify before and after preview.

Intensify CK’s adjustment panel offers eight categories with an assortment of slider-based fine-tuning tools.

Don’t rely on the names of the adjustments, as it’s difficult to determine their exact effect. Just click through all of them—previews are very quick—to determine how to proceed.

You don’t have to stick to the presets that come with the program, you can also create your own. Save Favorites and Custom presets right in the interface for easy reach. The app’s layers feature lets you combine and brush in presets. Switch layers on and off to see the effects in action.

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Masking tools and layers let you paint in effects to specific parts of your image to avoid oversharpening.

The adjustable brush works well, but it would also be nice to have different brush shapes in addition to round.

Snapheal CK

If you’re familiar with Adobe Photoshop’s content aware fill feature, then you get the point of Snapheal. Its proprietary algorithm helps you remove offensive or extraneous objects or people from your photos and analyze the surrounding context to “fill in” what is “behind” the removed item.

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This shot—taken around midnight—has deep shadows, including the one in the middle of me taking the photo. Not pretty.

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I used Snapheal to erase my own shadow from the shot while retaining all the natural shadows.

Snapheal’s three tabs—Erase, Retouch, and Adjust—provided all of the controls needed to improve the photo above. Editing tools such as crop and straighten and adjustments for contrast and clarity delivered a fine rendering of my vision of what the scene would look like.

The app comes with three erase modes, so if you don’t get the result you like the first time, you can try different ones. The Global mode looks at the overall image while the Local mode uses nearby pixels to calculate a background fill. The Clone tool helps to remove leftover artifacts from the frame for a pristine composition.

FX Photo Studio

Special effects are not mandatory for photo editing, and many photographers eschew them altogether.

Taking an image into FX Photo Studio special effects app can give your run-of-the-mill picture much-needed drama—Instagram gone wild. There’s nothing remotely complex about the app: It provides 20 categories of effects from Art to Color Lenses to Groovy Lo-Fi to Symmetry to Vintage.

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FX Photo Studio’s special effects range from subtle to wild, so go crazy.

Just choose a category from the popup menu or set it to all effects and roll the dice (there’s a dice icon) to see what you come up with. The app’s controls include Effects, Crop and Adjust with familiar controls.

But you don’t have to stop there: A large selection of frames round out the special effects.

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FX Photo Studio gives you a selection of frames in different categories.

Tonality CK

Ansel Adams is arguably the most famous landscape photographer that ever lived because of his haunting black and white images of the American West. Anyone who ever loaded a camera with Kodak’s Tri-X or Panatomic-X film probably envisioned emulating perhaps a small sliver of what Adams was able to capture. Macphun’s Tonality CK can help recreate that drama for your landscapes and portraits.

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Tonality presets

Tonality’s features plunge deeply into monochromatic subtleties. Like the other CK apps, Tonality lets you begin with some 150 presets, some actually created by photographers: Basic, Architecture, Portrait, Dramatic, Outdoor, Street, Vintage, Film Emulation, Toning, and HDR.

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Tonality Raw landscape with Tri-X film effect.

And as with the other CK apps, these presets may be all you need, though the layer-based interface offers additional options.

For deeper control, a variety of tools such as color filters, split toning, clarity & structure, grain and multiple layers, and authentic film emulation help you fine-tune your vision.

Noiseless CK

The very definition of photography is light, and with low light comes color or luminance (light) noise—artifacts that make even the best composition unbearable to look at.

Noiseless, with ten adjustable presets, helps you salvage noisy shots and remove ugly colored speckles from your smartphone or DSLR photos without sacrificing sharpness or clarity.

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There are many utilities on the market that do a similar job, including Photoshop’s own controls. But I found that Noiseless worked very well, often with a single click.

The app’s controls are designed to retain edge details, giving your image a crisp but natural look.

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Using Noiseless and Focus together can make details in a low-light photo pop.

Focus CK

Focus helps spotlight specific parts of your image after the fact, letting you create the popular bokeh effect, for example, with a sharp foreground and a blurred background in addition to selective focus and vignette effects.

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A face detection feature helps put portraits into focus, too. Add motion blur and tilt shift for a dynamic sense of action.

Don’t rely on the named presets: Adjustable aperture settings for Portrait, Nature, Architecture, Macro photo and Tilt-Shift let you enhance portraits, street photos and landscapes. Try each on your image to determine which one is right or use selective masking to precisely control blur and focus for photo areas of your choice.

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Focus CK motion blur and twist.

If you just want to highlight a specific part of the image, use the app’s masking function. The paintbrush can mask the parts you want to focus on and then choose the effect, which shows up only for the chosen part of the image.

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Bottom line

Macphun’s Creative Kit is a super-impressive entry into the bundled photo editing app arena, rivaling packages like On1 Photo 10, the Google Nik Collection, and Topaz Labs’ vast collection. Its flexibility, ample supply of presets, and excellent performance help a wide range of photographers—spanning amateur to pro—get quick results.

Why purchase a suite? Because chances are that over time, you’ll need all of the included utilities, and the deep discount available for the package makes it a good investment for use as either standalone apps or plug-ins.

Creative Kit is an exceptional bargain at $130 for the complete package, as opposed to paying prices ranging from $30 to $60 for individual app components. A pro kit, which includes a training package, is available for $155. Tryouts are free.

This story, "Macphun Creative Kit 2016 review: Critical photo editing functions delivered in one diverse app" was originally published by Macworld.

At a Glance
  • MacPhun Creative Kit 2016

    Macworld Rating