Review: CameraBag 2 (Desktop) snapshot editing software
Doug Pardee | Software/App Reviews | Published Mar 19, 2012
Stairs to the wheelchair-accessible toilet, London, England, 2005.
Filter: "Colorized" and "Dusklight", both adjusted.
Playing with snapshots:
An in-depth review of CameraBag 2 (Desktop) editing software
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my "photographs" that I forget about snapshots. Snapshots can capture real life. Snapshots can record our memories. Snapshots can be moving, and snapshots can be fun.
The thing with snapshots is that they usually aren't particularly strong on content, composition, or technical issues. They're just... snapshots. In the past we've probably just filed those away for our own use, but in today's online world there's a growing desire to share snapshots. And who wants to share boring snapshots?
Making your snapshots more interesting often involves reducing, rather than increasing, their fidelity. We all see everyday life in high-fidelity, all of the time. A low-fidelity look at life can be intriguing, just as a monochrome picture often can be more impressive than a color photo of the same scene.
If you're only interested in producing quality photographs, don't waste your time reading this review. CameraBag 2 isn't for you.
Introducing CameraBag 2 Desktop
Nevercenter's CameraBag 2 Desktop (CB2) is an inexpensive Windows/Mac photo editor for dressing up snapshots where the final image will probably be posted on the Web, sent via email, or printed at 4x6. With CB2 it's pretty easy to take an ordinary snapshot and make it more eye-grabbing... even if sometimes the result might be considered a bit "trashy" by the purist. Although casual snapshots are CB2's natural input material, I've found that even my serious photos often can turn out to be fun snapshots if I let myself go.
The heart of CB2 is applying Style looks that are inspired by vintage film photos and snapshots, especially looks that are noted for their relatively low fidelity. The "toy camera" looks are the obvious (and most extreme) examples, but those are just one part of CB2's retro repertoire. CB2 also includes historical looks like cyanotype and autochrome, the nostalgic looks of the Polaroid and Instamatic eras, and some vintage pro looks inspired by newspaper and magazine photos. Of the latter, my personal favorite is probably "1962": a high-contrast B&W look that reminds me of Weegee's work (example on page 4 of this review).
CB2 can be used for conventional post-processing, but that's not really its strong point. It doesn't offer any sharpening nor any noise reduction, no painting nor pixel editing, no selections nor layers. Furthermore, all adjustments have to be done by eye. There is no histogram, no eye-dropper, no way to determine the numerical values of the pixels. There's also no zoom-in or zoom-out; you're always seeing the entire working image at a "fit to screen" size, and even that's limited to 100% (for small images). Cropping is the only way I know of to get a close-up look at a section of an image, and even then it's limited to 100%.
One thing I really enjoy about CB2 is using it as a photo browser. I'll set up a particular look and flip through a folder of my pictures, and I'm just fascinated by the images. Many of the photos I'd considered to be "blah" turn out to be quite interesting when viewed as snapshots. No, I don't know why. But it sure is fun. I do wish that CB2 had some kind of "filmstrip" or other way of seeing thumbnails for multiple photos in the folder, though.
I was a bit surprised to find that CB2 is strictly an editor. All you can do with your edited images is to save them as sRGB JPEGs, and you don't even get a choice of compression level (the level is roughly similar to Photoshop level 9). There is no way to print from CB2, and there's no way to upload to photo sharing sites from CB2. You'll need to do those things with some other program.
CB2 can process Raw files, provided that the Raw-file format is supported by an installed Windows codec or by OS X (as appropriate). However, it doesn't offer any Raw adjustments, not even white balance. CB2 works straight from the image provided by the system software. In the case of the Canon codec on Windows, at least, this means that the "as-shot" parameters are used, including B&W — there's no way to un-B&W the Raw file inside of CB2. The main technical advantage of working from the Raw file is the added bit depth (there's probably an advantage in convenience).
The learning curve for the CB2 software is quite low, and Nevercenter provides a very short tutorial and a 5-minute introductory video that will cover most of what you need to know in about fifteen minutes. From there, it's mostly endless playing with the tools, learning how they work with your snapshots. Nevercenter has provided a few more videos on YouTube, none of them very long.
The Mac-only version is available from Apple's App Store for $15 (USD), and the Windows/Mac version is $20 (USD) direct from Nevercenter.
-> Please continue reading on Page 2. <-
Persian Air Services DC-7C, Mehrabad Airport, Tehran, Iran, 1961.
Filter: "ColorCross" and "Lolo" + Exposure and Contrast adjust tools.
CameraBag 2 lets you apply a sequence of Styles, Adjust tools, and (optionally) a Border to an image. This sequence, called a filter, is dynamic: you can change the order of the items and change their configuration at any time, and the resulting image will be adjusted to reflect that. Nevercenter calls this "non-destructive" editing, which is true during the editing of a photo, but the effects are destructively applied when the final image is saved.
You can also save the filter configuration, which is useful if you might want to come back to revisit the processing some day. You'll have to do that as a separate step — the filter is not automatically stored when you save an edited image. You can save the filter into an ordinary folder, or into CB2's "Favorites" list for easy use on other photos.
The components: Styles, Adjust tools, and Borders
CB2's Styles are specialized tools that are designed to produce certain looks such as "high contrast B&W" or "instant camera," while the Adjust tools are more classical image-processing tools like Contrast and Saturation. Borders are (obviously) borders that can be applied.
From what I can tell, all of CB2's operations treat each pixel individually. There don't seem to be any operations that involve neighboring pixels, so there aren't any convolutions like Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask. CB2 doesn't provide any sharpening tool at all.
CameraBag 2 provides over eighty pre-defined "Favorites" filters, to which you can add your own. Some of these filters are usable as-is, some are mainly a starting point for tweaking or for inspiration. The Toolkit filter is just a shortcut to add a collection of standard Adjustments — Exposure, Contrast, Colorize, and Saturation — all of which are initially at their "no effect" settings.
Adjusting a component
Each Style comes with two adjustment sliders. The Amount slider is a standard opacity or fade control. The Remix slider controls various internal settings of the style. Nevercenter claims that there are an "infinite" number of remixes, although a more accurate statement is that there are billions of remixes. For most Styles, each step of 10 on the Remix takes you to a new configuration, and the values in between the "tens" are mixtures. Also for most Styles, the Remix has a somewhat cyclic nature at steps of 50. The pre-defined Favorites use a wide variety of Remix values, ranging from -288 to 3654. The Ctrl-Up-Arrow and Ctrl-Down-Arrow keys move the Remix in steps of 10, and clicking an end of the Remix slider moves the Remix in steps of 50.
The Adjust tools have their own individual interfaces. Sliders are widely used, as are curves and color-picker boxes. The Contrast and Luminance Contrast tools have two sliders: one to increase or decrease the contrast, and the other to select what brightness level is the reference. Interestingly, the Multi Tool (Exposure, Contrast, and Saturation) has a Contrast setting that consists of a conventional single slider.
The cropping part of the Crop/Straighten tool has its own interface, and I always have trouble with it. It differentiates between whether you're clicking somewhat near an edge (the edge turns red and you can then drag that edge) or not, and if not, whether you've already adjusted the edges or not. If you haven't already adjusted an edge and click somewhere not near an edge, CB2 assumes you want to drag out a specific crop box. If you've already adjusted an edge, CB2 assumes you want to move the crop box.
There are two simple Borders that fit the current aspect ratio of your photo — with square image corners and with rounded. These have a slider that control the width of the border and a color picker; the Border with rounded image corners has an additional slider to control the radius of those corners. There are also a dozen fancy Borders with fixed aspect ratios that will crop from the center as needed; these have no adjustments.
It's possible to type in specific values for sliders and color pickers, but not for curves.
All of the Styles and almost all of the Adjust tools can be combined in any combination and permutation, including duplicates of the same Style or Adjust tool. These can be re-arranged, switched on or off, or completely deleted from the current filter.
The Crop/Straighten Adjust tool is special. If present, there is only one, and it is always the first tool in the filter sequence.
The Constrain Size Adjust tool is also special. If present, there is only one, and it is always the last tool in the filter sequence. This tool is mainly of use for batch operations — whenever you save an individual photo, CB2 will ask what dimensions you want it saved at, so you shouldn't need Constrain Size there.
Borders are also special. If present, there is only one, and it is always the last tool except for a Constrain Size tool in the filter sequence.
The components in your current filter appear as gray (orange if selected) square tiles underneath the image. They are in a line, and are applied from left to right. Each tile has an "on/off" button to temporarily disable it, and an "x" button to completely delete it. Except for the three fixed-position components, you can drag-and-drop tiles to a different point in the sequence.
When you choose a Style or Favorite, you can choose to have it completely replace the main part of the current filter, or to have it added to the end of it (by clicking the "+" on the button). When you choose an Adjust tool, it's always added to the end. When you choose a Favorite that has a Crop/Straighten tool or a Border, those will replace the current tools even if you choose to have the Favorite added to the current filter. I still find this variation in behaviors to be a bit disorienting.
Saving the filter
If you choose to save a filter, whether to the Favorites or to a separate folder, you'll find that Constrain Size tools are never saved, Borders are always saved if present, and if you've got a Crop/Straighten tool in the filter, you'll be asked if you want to save it as part of the filter.
Closed Produce Stand, Huntington Beach, California, 2012.
Filter: "Tunnel Vision".
[You're probably not much interested in the toy-camera looks — DPReview isn't exactly a hot-bed of toy camera lovers — but CameraBag 2's design certainly is informed by the toy-camera movement, so this information provides some background. Feel free to skip this page if doesn't interest you.]
CameraBag 2 doesn't really attempt to emulate the focus issues caused by the plastic lenses in toy cameras like the Lomo, Holga, and Diana. CB2 primarily concentrates on brightness/exposure, contrast/flare, color shifts, vignetting, light leaks, and grain. The main Styles that CB2 provides for emulation of toy cameras are:
- Lolo — emulation of the high-contrast, high-saturation effects of the Lomo's Minitar lens and, to some extent, cross-processing (E-6 slide film processed as C-41 print film) which is often associated with the Lomo (example on page 9 of this review). This includes an increase in overall brightness and a tendency to blow out highlights. Some hue distortion is also present at some Remix values, especially toward warmer colors. It's often useful to stick a Colorcross style ahead of Lolo in order to provide more color shifting. However, Colorcross and Lolo sometimes gang up to produce a large shift in brightness, so you might want to put a Brightness Adjust tool ahead of both of them.
- Helga — emulation of Holga imagery. Contrast and saturation are reduced, and vignetting is added.
- Plastic — emulation of a non-specific, very low-fidelity, toy camera. Center is overexposed while corners are seriously vignetted. Hues may be distorted. An overall flare may be apparent, washing out the shadows except in the vignetted area.
- Hipster — emulation of Hipstamatic iPhone app. Heavy vignetting, weak reds resulting in a strong cyan cast, and grain.
- Colorcross — emulation of cross-processing (E-6 slide film processed as C-41 print film). Where Lolo emphasizes the contrast and saturation effects of cross-processing, Colorcross emphasizes the color and brightness effects. The default remix gives a noticeably brighter image, with somewhat subtle hue shifts, but Colorcross is rarely used without adjusting the Remix. Colorcross is occasionally used on its own, but more frequently it's used in combination with other styles.
- Lightleak — emulation of a light leak. Lightleak is usually used in combination with other styles. The Remix slider moves a parade of different light leaks across the image.
Some Adjust tools that are particularly applicable to toy camera looks:
- All of the tools under the Color grouping — all sorts of color modifications and distortions can be applied. These Adjust tools are discussed in more detail on page 6 of this review.
- Discolor — variable discoloration across the image, generally larger than a light-leak and less pronounced. This Adjust tool is discussed in more detail on page 6 of this review.
- Grain — adds grain (noise).
- Vignette — adds vignetting. Vignetting can be black, white, or gray, and controls are provided to adjust the size of the vignetting and the sharpness or gradualness of the boundary. It's not critical at all, but Nevercenter recommends putting Vignette at the front of the filter chain for best results on most images.
Some notable pre-defined filters applicable to toy-camera looks (these are often just starting points for adjustment):
- Diane — emulation of Diana imagery. Based on a Helga style with a Remix value that gives a somewhat warmer look, and some of the lost contrast is reinstated.
- Pinhole — emulation of a camera with a pinhole lens and B&W film. Color film can be emulated by turning off or deleting the Saturation tile.
- Tunnel Vision — a toy-camera look that's made up from individual Adjust tools. If you need to customize specific aspects of the look, this might be the one to start with. There's a secondary 0.45x wide-angle lens that's nicknamed TunnelVision when used on Lomos and Holgas, but that lens is noted for giving images with only a small in-focus area in the center and with heavy vignetting (when used on a 120-film camera), so this filter probably isn't related to that lens. (Example on this page.)
- Helga Alternate — a Helga style with a different remix value that gives a brighter image with more contrast.
- Mild Hipster — a Hipster style with a different Remix value and with Amount=50%.
- Plastic II — an overexposed and vignetted image roughly based on a Helga style. More adjustable than the Plastic style.
- Colorcross Alternate — a Colorcross style with a different Remix value for a stronger effect.
- Superleak — multiple leaks produce lots of flare.
Borders that are often associated with toy cameras:
- 35mm Bleed — emulates a paper print of a full-height exposure of 35mm negative film in a camera designed for type 120 roll film. The width (length) seems to be approximately equivalent to 59mm, which is a reasonable approximation to what a Holga without the 6x6 mask would produce. (Example on page 1 of this review.)
- Eroded — emulates a 6x6 square transparency (or a print from a transparency) from type 120 roll film, with some roughness around the edges of the image area. (Example on page 2 of this review.)
- Cut — I think this emulates a 6x4.5 (4:3) image from type 120 roll film, mounted in a dark gray mount with rounded image corners. The Holga and Lubitel come with both 6x6 and 6x4.5 capability. (Example on this page.)
- Insta — emulates Fuji Instax Mini (Polaroid Mio) instant film. This film gives a 62x46mm (4:3) image, and adapters are available to use it in the Lomo LC+ and Diana F+, in a horizontal alignment. On both of those adapters, however, the wide part of the film border is on the left, not the right. On the Instax Mini, the film is in a vertical alignment with the wide part on the bottom.
In keeping with the "unpredictable results" aesthetic of the toy-camera movement, CB2 provides a way to obtain random results. Press the space bar, and CB2 will randomly pick a Style or Favorite, and it will set all of the Remix values to random numbers.
Amalfi Coast Highway, Positano, Italy, 2007.
Of the 100+ "looks" that CameraBag 2 provides, the majority fall into the categories of vintage or retro. For brevity's sake, only some of the most significant are mentioned here.
Notable styles for emulating vintage snapshots:
- 1958, 1974, 1983, Poolside — various color styles, generally somewhat faded and color-tinted.
- Instant — reduced contrast, drastically reduced saturation, with a color cast that can involve two different colors across the image depending on the Remix setting. I think this is aiming to emulate the degraded look of expired instant film; Polaroid quit making film in 2008.
- Lolo — my personal recommendation for emulating the look of a vintage Polaroid that was originally taken on fresh color film. Polaroid color films tended to have a high-contrast, high-saturation look when properly exposed (example on page 9 of this review). However, the reds were particularly exposure-sensitive — overexposure tended to reduce the reds and yellows, while underexposure tended to emphasize the reds and yellows. Since the backing layer was black instead of white, shadows in Polaroids tended to be very black compared with color prints from negatives.
- Italiano — sepia-tinted monochrome, with vignette.
- Skater — high-contrast, high-saturation, a bit grainy.
Notable filters for emulating vintage snapshots:
- 1937, 1941, 1952, Mono — various monochrome styles.
- Film NC01 — a passable emulation of C-22 Kodacolor and Kodacolor X film, used into the early 1970s, including Instamatic cameras. For a more accurate emulation, some grain should be added.
- Viewster — reduced contrast with a color cast.
Notable borders for emulating vintage snapshots:
- Custom Straight — a classic, straightforward, white or black border. A white border would normally be used for a print, and a black border for a transparency or a print from a transparency. (Example on page 7 of this review.)
- 47mm Square — not really an emulation of type 127 roll film with a 4x4cm square transparency (or a print from a transparency), but close. Type 127 is 46mm, not 47mm, wide. Type 127 square was a popular snapshooting format in the late '50s and into the '60s. (Example on this page.)
- Eroded — emulation of type 120 roll film with a 6x6 square transparency (or a print from a transparency) and some ragged edges. Could also pass for type 127 roll film with a 4x4 square transparency or a print from a transparency. (Example on page 2 of this review.)
- Paper — a basic 3:2 (4x6") paper border showing a little wear. (Example on page 8 of this review.)
- White Slide — emulation of a standard 2x2" slide holder with a 3:2 35mm transparency. Far more border than picture.
Vintage Pro Photos
Styles for emulating vintage pro photography:
- 1962 — high-contrast monochrome.
- Magazine — brightened with crushed highlights, saturation somewhat reduced.
Notable filters for emulating vintage pro photography:
- Cinema — brightened, slight bluish cast.
- Portrait I - Portrait V — five monochrome portrait styles.
Notable borders for emulating vintage pro photography:
- 47mm Square — not really an emulation of type 127 roll film with a 4x4cm (square) image, but close. Type 127 is 46mm, not 47mm, wide. Type 127 square was seen on "Baby Rolleiflex" TLRs produced from the early '30s through the '60s. Note: the Rolleiflex fed the film vertically, so you might want to crop if necessary to force the border to have the writing along the side edges. (Example on this page.)
- Eroded — emulation of type 120 roll film with a 6x6 square transparency (or a print from a transparency) and some ragged edges. Could also pass for type 127 roll film with a 4x4 square transparency or a print from a transparency. (Example on page 2 of this review.)
- Safety Film — used from about 1938, safety film isn't nearly as flammable as nitrate films. Unfortunately, its acetate base was found not to age well, with a tendency to become brittle, to shrink, buckle, and bubble, and to develop pink or blue casts. CB2's 4:3 aspect ratio is probably an emulation of 6x4.5 photography on type 120 transparency roll film.
- Notched — emulates type 522 notched transparency sheet film in the 3A "postcard" size of 5½x3¼ inches — a little short of 16:9 aspect ratio — that was used from about 1908-1955, or a print from such a transparency. The frame indicates it's safety film, which Kodak introduced to sheet film in 1939. The specific notches are the Kodak code for safety-film Kodachrome prior to 1949. (Example on page 6 of this review.)
- Vinyl — emulation of an LP record album "cover". Square.
- Paper — a basic 3:2 (4x6") paper border showing a little wear. (Example on page 8 of this review.)
- White Slide — emulation of a standard 2x2" slide holder with a 3:2 35mm transparency. Far more border than picture.
Really Old Photos
Styles for emulating really old photography:
- Autochrome — emulates autochrome, the first significant color photo system.
- Saloon — high-key monochrome with white vignette.
- Silver — tinted monochrome, including split-toning, with drastically reduced contrast.
Notable filters for emulating really old photography:
- Autochrome II — an autochrome emulation with much more adjustability.
- Cyanotype — an emulation of cyanotypes.
- Explorers — faded sepia-toned monochrome, with Paper border (3:2 aspect ratio crop).
Notable borders for emulating really old photography:
- 75mm Strip — emulation of Lumière Wide movie film, circa 1898-1900, with 5:4 aspect ratio crop. An early movie film format (monochrome, of course).
Tourists in the shade of the Colosseum, Rome, Italy, 2007.
Filter: custom with Split Tone.
Although CameraBag 2 isn't a full-fledged photo editor, it does provide a number of tools for enhancing snapshots, and some of them are a bit unusual.
Since image enhancement isn't CB2's strong suit, I was surprised to find that some of my old and seriously-faded color images from 1960 perked right up with the simple application of CB2's Lolo style. I had fought to resurrect the colors in those images using more serious applications, but with CB2 I just needed to click that one style button. This is probably a case of "even a blind cat occasionally catches a mouse," but I couldn't help being impressed.
Added one month later: Maybe it's not just a "blind cat" that got lucky. For photos that have major problems that are in CB2's area of expertise — brightness, contrast, and color — I'm finding that CB2 can fix them up quickly and with great results. Check out these photo fixes and compare the simplicity and quality of the offered CB2 fixes to the offered Photoshop results: 1-serious underexposure 2-serious color problems. It seems that CB2's adjustment controls are unusually well-designed and well-implemented.
Notable Styles: Color
- Wedding — the premier choice for relatively serious editing of color images. Wedding primarily pumps up the contrast and increases the saturation a bit, with the precise effect being controlled with the Remix slider.
- Lolo — "pop in a box." Lolo significantly pumps up the contrast and saturation, and somewhat increases brightness. For color images that are dull or faded, Lolo often works magic. Lolo can cause some color shifts, especially toward the warm side at some Remix settings, but these aren't drastic and often are pleasing.
Both Wedding and Lolo will tend to blow out highlights. It's often worthwhile to stick a Brightness Adjust tool ahead of the Wedding or Lolo style, so that you can control the highlights by reducing the brightness. A Luminance Contrast tool probably would be superior to a Brightness tool, although a tiny bit more work. See the discussion about Luminance Curve and Luminance Contrast below.
There aren't any Favorites filters that stand out as being particularly valuable for serious enhancement of color photos. Pretty much all the color filters are trying to give some particular "look." The Toolkit filter is a convenience, letting you add Exposure, Contrast, Color Corrector, and Saturation tools with a single click.
Notable Styles: Monochrome
- Mono — an obvious choice.
- 1962 — high-contrast monochrome.
- Italiano — heavily sepia-toned.
Monochrome conversions can also be done using Adjust tools:
- Saturation tool set to 0.
- Multi Tool with saturation set to 0.
- RGB Swap tool with R=G=B for each input channel.
- Split Tone tool with amount set to 100.
- Dye tool with amount set to 100 and color set to white (255/255/255) or light gray.
It's often very useful to stick a Colorcross style ahead of the monochrome conversion. Adjusting the Colorcross gives effects similar to using color filters, and can help bring out contrasts in the monochrome image.
One reason that Colorcross is so effective is that all of CB2's normal monochrome conversions give little weight to the blue channel. The exception is the RGB Swap Adjust tool, which can be used as a conventional channel-mixer to give you precise control over the contributions from the three image channels. Details on RGB Swap are on page 6 of this review.
There are about twenty of the Favorites filters that provide monochrome conversions with different looks. There's little point in listing them all here.
Adjust Tools: Basics
CB2 separates its Adjust tools into five categories, and the first category is appropriately named Basics. It includes the following tools:
- Crop/Straighten — straightening is limited to fifteen degrees (there are 90° rotations under the Edit menu). The crop tool user interface is quirky and takes some getting used to.
- Exposure — a very useful tool. This is a gamma adjustment like the center-point slider in a conventional Levels tool. Blacks are left black, whites are left white, but levels in between are raised or lowered.
- Contrast — what you'd expect, but with some extra control. CB2 pointedly doesn't restrict the range, so that a setting of 0 results in a blank gray image while a setting of 100 results in each channel (red, green, or blue) of each pixel being either 0 or maximum. CB2 also gives you a slider to select what the center value of the contrast expansion (or reduction) will be.
- Saturation — what you'd expect, except that once again CB2 doesn't restrict the range, so that a setting of 100 results in a posterized image containing only red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta, black, and white at full brightness.
- Multi Tool — combines exposure, contrast, and saturation into a single tool. The contrast adjustment has a fixed center value.
Don't overlook the Brightness Origin slider on the Contrast tool. It helps you deal with one of the fundamental restrictions of digital photos: there are maximum and minimum levels which can't be exceeded. When increasing contrast, if your highlights are being blown out but your shadows are still gray, go for a higher center point; if your shadows are being blocked to black but your highlights are still gray, go for a lower center point. Or if you go the opposite direction, you can use this slider to achieve a high-key or low-key effect.
You can create a Threshold effect by first converting the image to monochrome, then applying a Contrast tool with the Amount set to 100. Adjust the threshold level with the Brightness Origin slider.
Adjust Tools: Light
The Light category of Adjust tools includes:
- RGB Curve — the classic Curve tool for brightness and contrast adjustment.
- Luminance Curve — luminance-based alternative to the RGB Curve tool. See discussion below.
- Luminance Contrast — luminance-based alternative to the Contrast tool. See discussion below.
- Brightness — pushes the entire image toward black or white. Here again, CB2 pointedly doesn't restrict the range of the control, and setting it to 0 results in pure black while setting it to 100 results in pure white.
- Shadows — darkens or lightens the shadow areas of the image. Doesn't affect pure black. No surprises here.
- Highlights — darkens or lightens the highlight areas of the image. Doesn't affect pure white. The potency of this control is surprisingly restricted, given CB2's "no limits" philosophy on some of its other controls.
... about the Luminance Curve and Luminance Contrast tools ...
The everyday RGB Curve, Contrast, and Brightness tools aren't necessarily the best choice for color images. Those tools treat each channel (red, green, and blue) separately, which can result in changes in saturation and hue. Areas of increased contrast tend to have increased saturation, with some shift in hue toward the primary and secondary colors. Areas of reduced contrast tend to have reduced saturation, with some shift away from the primary and secondary colors, and perhaps some posterization.
The luminance-based tools treat each pixel as a whole, giving colors that are more true to the original. For everyday use, they're not likely to be your first choice. The resulting colors tend to be less spectacular because increased contrast doesn't give increased saturation. In other words, these tools don't give the same "pop." In particular: since white and black are necessarily desaturated, any pixels that are adjusted close to those extremes will not show much saturation. Some people might see a bit of bleach-bypass look in the result.
On the other hand, areas of reduced contrast tend to have much better and smoother coloration with the luminance-based tools. If you're reducing contrast, do give some consideration to using a luminance-based tool. For the same reason, if you're reducing brightness, you might want to try a Luminance Contrast tool with the Brightness Origin set to zero.
For untinted monochrome, these tools offer no advantage.
Adjust Tools: Photographic and Utility
The Photographic category mainly has tools for reducing the fidelity of the image:
- Vignette — allows adding or correcting vignetting. The vignette can be light or dark, and the radius and the tapering of the effect can be adjusted. It's not critical at all, but Nevercenter recommends putting Vignette at the front of the filter chain for best results on most images.
- Grain — allows adding a grain noise effect. You can select the size of the "grains" and the intensity of the effect. You can also reposition the grain field left and right, but I'm not clear on the value of that.
- Discolor — adds a discoloration a bit like a light-leak, but larger and with more controls. Details on page 6 of this review.
The Utility category has only one tool:
- Constrain Size — sets the maximum size of the output JPEG file. You can choose the height, the width, or the size of the longer side. This is mainly useful when batch-processing an entire folder; when you save an individual image, CB2 will always ask you what size you want it saved at so you don't need Constrain Size for that.
Borders usually don't fit too well with a more serious look, but here are ones to consider:
- Custom Straight — it's hard to go wrong with a simple border, especially a white one (example with a black border on page 7 of this review).
- Paper — for 3:2 (4x6) images, with just a bit more character than Custom Straight (example on page 8 of this review).
- Cut — for 4:3 images, gives the appearance of having a dark gray photo mount (example on page 3 of this review).
- Insta 50 — for 4:3 images, gives the appearance of a transparency or a print from a transparency.
- 47mm Square — for square images, gives the appearance of a transparency or a print from a transparency (example on page 4 of this review).
1954 Ford Hood Ornament, Garden Grove, California, 2009.
Filter: Custom, RGB Swap + Discolor + Contrast. Original is chrome on a red hood.
CameraBag 2's main mission — low-fidelity toy-camera and retro looks — tends to involve a lot of color reassignment. Consequently, its collection of Adjust tools for manipulating color are extensive enough that they need an entire page of their own.
Color Channel Controls
The following tools allow you to adjust the behavior of the individual color channels (red, green, and blue). The Color Balance, Color Filter, and Color Corrector are mainly different interfaces for the same thing — level controls on the individual channels — and the R,G,B Curves tool is also related to those.
- Color Balance — separate level controls for each of the color channels.
- Color Filter — separate level controls for each of the color channels. This is the same functionality as Color Balance but with a slightly different interface. See details at the bottom of the Color Application section below.
- Color Corrector (in Color Filter mode) — separate level controls for each of the color channels, with a common response curve. See details at the bottom of the Color Application section below.
- R,G,B Curves — separate response curves for each of the color channels.
- RGB Swap — sets the output color for each of the color channels. See details below.
... the RGB Swap tool ...
The RGB Swap tool allows you to specify the coloration associated with of each of the color channels. You certainly can swap channels to get an unusual color effect, as was done in the hood ornament photo above. For monochrome, you can use RGB Swap as a channel mixer. But for color photos, the main reason to use RGB Swap is to emulate the color response or fading of a particular film type, by adjusting the redness, greenness, and blueness of the channels. Here's a table showing how the filters provided with CB2 use RGB Swap:
|Film NC01||Dull red||Aquamarine||Cornflower|
|Film NC02||Red||Olive green||Dark cornflower|
|Film NC05||Orange||Dark green||Deep blue|
The numerical values in the RGB Swap tool are not on an absolute scale of 0 to 255, although you certainly get that impression from the color pickers. Each is relative to all of the other numbers. It's all proportional, not just within an input channel but between input channels, too. That's not important for small tweaks, but it is for large shifts and re-assignments.
This can be especially useful when setting up a monochrome channel mixer, because you can use percentages directly in the fields. So if you wanted 50% green, 30% red, and 20% blue, you could set up the RGB Swap tool with values of 30/30/30, 50/50/50, and 20/20/20. There's no need to convert the numbers to be on the 0-to-255 scale. Then, if you decided you wanted more of the red channel, you could simply change it to, say, 40/40/40 and you don't need to go back and readjust the numbers on the other channels; they're automatically rebalanced for you.
CameraBag 2 provides a number of tools for applying a particular color to an image. Note that Color Corrector can do everything that Colorize, Tint, Dye, and Color Filter can do; those four tools just provide a simplified interface for simpler cases.
- Colorize — mixes the color with the image while generally retaining the brightness of the original pixels. The coloration tends to be more noticeable in the midtones and shadows. Whites are slightly colored, reducing their overall brightness. Mixing in a bright color can reduce contrast in the shadows because black pixels are replaced with the color. Use as dark a color as possible if you want to retain the shadows. Mixing in a white, gray, or black color has no effect.
- Tint — mixes the color with the image without concern for preserving the brightness of the original. At 100%, the image is completely replaced with the tint color. Contrast is reduced because the pixels are all moved closer to the brightness of the tint color.
- Dye — mixes the color with the image in a subtractive way, resulting in a somewhat darker image, usually with increased contrast. Mixing in a bright color will let highlights escape with minimal coloration while shadows are colored and deepened. CB2 uses this effect for its Dusklight filter. Mixing in a dark color will darken and color the highlights while blocking the shadows toward black, so use as bright a color as possible if you want to retain the shadows. Mixing in a white, gray, or black will remove all color and will reduce the brightness to have a maximum of the mixed-in color.
- Color Filter — a somewhat complex tool. See details below.
- Color Corrector — applies a color using any of the four modes above, but with the intensity of the effect depending on the brightness of each pixel according to a curve. The Colorize mode is the default, which seems a good choice since the Colorize mode is generally stable brightness-wise.
- Split Tone — applies different coloration to shadows and to highlights, using Tint mode. The color to be applied to each pixel is controlled by the brightness of that pixel (black=dark color, white=light color, others=in-between). When the Amount is set to 100%, all of the original coloration in the image is replaced, effectively forcing a conversion to monochrome. By selecting shades of gray for both shadows and highlights, the image can be converted to monochrome with a limited range; CB2's 1952 and Soft B&W filters do this.
- Color Correction — (hidden tool) applies different coloration to shadows, midtones, and highlights, in Colorize mode. There is no Amount control on this tool, so the only way to reduce its potency is by using desaturated colors. Color Correction cannot completely replace any existing color in the image.
- Discolor — applies a color to part of the image, using Color Filter mode (see details of Color Filter mode below).
... the Color Filter tool, Color Filter mode for Color Corrector, and Discolor ...
The Color Filter tool is flexible and calls for some finesse, by which I mean paying attention to (and perhaps directly entering) the numerical RGB values. Attempting to use Color Filter in a naïve fashion usually results in an effect rather like a weaker version of Tint.
The trick is choosing the correct RGB values. Values of 127.5 have no effect, 128 and above will lighten, and 127 and below will darken. If the color RGB is set to 127.5/127.5/127.5, the Color Filter tool has no effect at all. [Yes, the color controls can be set to fractional values, but the fraction won't stay displayed.]
With a true color filter, some of the light is removed so the overall image is somewhat darker. To emulate such a filter, none of the RGB values should be above 128. For example, a pure yellow filter might have values of 127.5/127.5/0.
The Color Filter tool, and the Color Corrector tool in Color Filter mode, can also be used for channel level control. They are essentially the same as the Color Balance tool, except that the ranges for each channel are denoted as 0 to 255 instead of -255 to 255, and the Color Corrector tool offers a response curve (the same curve is used for all three channels).
- Selective Saturation — increases or decreases saturation for a range of colors. Can also be used to produce the "B&W with selective color" look by desaturating the complementary color, as is done in CB2's filter called Red Splash.
Giraffe at the Zoo, San Diego, California, 2008.
Filter: "Portrait III" (Vignette, Dye, Luminance Curve, Color Corrector), adjusted.
[This review is based on the Windows/PC version. There may be some differences in the Mac version.]
CameraBag 2's user interface (UI) is generally simple and straightforward, but there are parts that aren't so simple and parts that are better characterized as "primitive." CB2 started life as an iPhone app, then graduated to the Mac, then to the PC, and its heritage shows in the UI. The problem areas are mostly in dealing with stuff outside of the CB2 program (loading and saving files, for example), and in not adhering to UI conventions. As long as you're working inside CB2, it's pretty easy.
System-standard UI — not!
CB2 doesn't seem to have heard of the CUA user-interface standard that Windows programs almost universally adhere to. The mouse is treated as a single-button; right-click doesn't do anything except usually mimic left-click, and double-click isn't used at all. Most of the standard keyboard operations are missing, although Ctrl-O, Ctrl-S, and Ctrl-W are still there for opening, saving, and closing files, and Ctrl-Z is Undo. Tab does take you to the next enterable field, but if you try to use a Shift-Tab to go back to the previous one, you'll instead be toggling the screen layout.
CB2 has some keyboard shortcuts, but they tend to be a bit on the loosey-goosey side. You can open a file with "O" or Ctrl-O, and you can save with "S" or Ctrl-S. If they'd stuck with the standard Ctrl-S, they could have used "S" for the Style Quicklook, but instead they used "C" for that.
There's no button for rotating the image 90° left or right. You'll either have to pick that off of the Edit menu, or use the L and R keys. See the Quirks and Bugs section on page 8 of this review for more information on rotation.
The pop-up dialogs show their Mac heritage by having the OK and Cancel buttons reversed for Windows users. Similarly, the "x" (delete) button on various items often appears in the top-left instead of the top-right. But sometimes it's in the top-right; go figure.
I don't think I've ever seen another Windows program that doesn't have a Preferences dialog at all. There are two items in the View menu that function as preferences.
CB2 doesn't maintain a list of recently-opened files, and it uses the plain system dialog for opening files. So you need to know the name of the file that you want to edit — there's no way to preview multiple files at once and pick one.
There's no Save button — you'll have to do a save either from the menu or the keyboard. There's no Print capability at all, nor is there any facility to upload files to file-sharing sites.
CB2 does remember which folders you were loading images from, saving images into, loading filters from, saving filters into, and running a batch conversion in. It remembers these separately, so it won't automatically save your edited file in the folder you loaded picture from, but rather in the same folder that you did the previous save into.
When you're saving files and filters, CB2 sometimes remembers the name of the last one that you loaded or saved. If you're not careful, you could overwrite the wrong file or filter with your new one. More likely, you'll store the file or filter with the wrong name.
CB2's installation process doesn't give you the option to associate CB2 with photo files, so that if you double-clicked on one it'd automatically open in CB2. You probably wouldn't want CB2 as your default photo editor anyway, but if you do, you can make the association yourself in Windows Explorer through the Folder Options menu item.
Since CB2 stores its few preferences into a file, and doesn't automatically associate photo files with itself, I don't think CB2 interacts with the Windows Registry in any way. That's a Good Thing, in my opinion.
Working Inside the Program
The interface for doing the image editing works pretty smoothly. There's a tabbed toolbar down the right-hand side, and mousing over the buttons gives a large fly-out preview of the approximate effect of that button.
After a while you get used to the little differences between the tabs. When you mouse over a Style, a plus sign pops up on the right side that allows you to add the style to the current filter instead of replacing the current filter, and hovering over the plus sign shows the approximate effect of adding that Style. There isn't any such plus sign for Adjust tools, which always are added except for Crop/Straighten and Constrain Size which have dedicated slots. There also isn't a plus sign for Borders, which have a dedicated slot. When you mouse over a Favorite, you get both the plus sign and, in the upper-left corner of the button, a tiny dark "x" that allows you to delete the filter from the Favorites list.
A Quicklook lets you see previews of all of the items in the currently selected tab (Styles, Adjust tools, Borders, or Favorites) at one time. Well, you'll need to do a bit of scrolling. If you want to see a Quicklook for Styles or Favorites where the item has been added to the filter, you can either click on the plus sign at the right of the Quicklook button (which only appears when you mouse over the button), or use the undocumented keyboard shortcuts Shift-C and Shift-F.
Your current filter appears across the bottom of the image as a series of "tiles." Each tile has a small "x" in the upper left corner so you can delete it from the filter, and a small on/off symbol in the upper right corner so you can disable it without deleting it. You can select a particular tile for adjusting by clicking on it — it'll turn orange, and adjustment controls will pop up over the bottom of your image (provided your mouse cursor is in that vicinity). To select a different tile, just click on it. To deselect the current tile, click away from all of the tiles.
The customization controls are pretty large, so they're not finicky to work with. Sliders are big, and to speed things up you can click on the spot you want the slider set at — including clicking on either end of the slider — rather than dragging, or you can directly enter the desired value into the data box. The color pickers also allow directly clicking on the desired positions, and direct entry of values into the R/G/B boxes.
The curves behave a bit oddly, but I quickly got used to it. The mouse cursor doesn't exactly drag a point. Rather, it's used to indicate a general direction of movement. The mouse ends up covering a lot larger area than the curve itself, so it's not so finicky. But if you move the mouse too far, the point gets deleted from the curve. Furthermore, the curve doesn't necessarily go through the dot. From what I can tell, the position of the dot is just a control point while the effect is defined by the curve. So the dot doesn't stay under the mouse cursor and the curve doesn't stick with the dots — the link between mouse cursor and curve is rather... elastic. There is no place to directly enter values into the curves.
The Remix slider on Styles also behaves in an unusual way. In order to let you go beyond the initial range of -50 to +50, when you "let go" of the Remix slider, it re-centers on the new value. I saw a YouTube video by someone who complained that the slider wouldn't stay put, and he thought that it wasn't doing anything. Look at the numerical value that's reported above the slider "button," and you'll see that even though the button has returned to the middle, it's brought the new remix value with it. So if you drag it to 40 and let go, the Remix slider now has 40 in the middle, and the left end will be -10 and the right end will be 90. (The endpoints are labeled simply "-" and "+", without numeric values like you'll see on other sliders.) The Offset slider on the Grain Adjust tool works the same way.
For some reason, there are no buttons for rotating 90° left or right. You have to do that either from the Edit menu or by using the L and R shortcut keys. Similarly, the "random remixed filter" feature is only available from the Edit menu or by using the space bar.
In the bottom left corner of the screen are three tiny icons. One hides and shows the filter tray, one turns off the main part of the filter (not Crop/Straighten nor Border) so that you can see what you started with, and one deletes everything in the filter. That last one takes multiple clicks to delete everything because the first click only deletes the main part of the filter.
The Insanity-Inducing Crop Tool
Yes, everything's pretty smooth inside the program... until you use the crop part of the Crop/Straighten Adjust tool. Cropping in CB2 makes me crazy.
The big problem is that you can't reposition the crop area until after you've adjusted at least one crop limit. When you move your cursor around, as you get near a crop limit, the limit line will turn red. When a limit line is red, you can click and drag the limit line. If you click inside the cropped area after moving a crop limit (without any red lines present), you can move the cropped area around. If you click anywhere before moving a crop limit, CB2 thinks that you want to drag out an all-new crop area. This is disturbing when you're just starting to crop and you've selected a specific aspect ratio, and now you want to position the crop — but you can't. But it's really infuriating when you've already had a crop going, then decide you want to move it a bit (maybe to fit inside a border), and when you click in the crop area, the crop completely goes away. Also, CB2 doesn't provide a way to reposition the crop area from the keyboard.
A lesser annoyance occurs when you've selected a specific aspect ratio but the current crop limits don't match that ratio. CB2 sets up the crop between the narrower limits, centered between the wider limits. That's fine. But now if you move the wider limits closer to the crop area in order to get them more "correct," CB2 moves the crop area to keep it centered between the two wider limit lines. After a while you get used to that, but it's still a bit strange.
The Crop/Straighten tool is also the only tool in all of CB2 that has Apply and Cancel buttons — or any buttons at all, for that matter. The Apply button does exactly the same thing that clicking off of the tiles does: it activates the crop and deselects the Crop/Straighten tile. The Cancel button does what you'd expect: it restores the Crop/Straighten to whatever it had been, and then deselects all of the tiles. The thing is, after you've spent some time working with CB2, your natural reaction would probably be to reach for the Ctrl-Z "Undo" instead. Big mistake: Ctrl-Z in Crop/Straighten has a tendency to crash CB2, losing any unsaved work (it usually takes at least two Ctrl-Zs to trigger a crash). Use the Cancel button.
Doesn't Seem Quite Right, Show Low, Arizona, 1978.
Since CameraBag 2 uses 32-bit floating point for its computations, I was surprised to find that it still clips the data to the 0-100% range after each step in the filter. There generally shouldn't be any need to do that until the final image-rendering phase, although I imagine that the curve-based tools, Split Tone, and maybe Vignette would have problems with out-of-range inputs.
I was also a bit surprised that not a single one of CB2's borders (frames) perfectly fits any standard photo print size. I guess the borders are mainly intended for online/email usage.
Quirks and bugs
The 2.0 version of CameraBag 2 has some minor bugs and quirks. The most troublesome bug seems to be in the Crop/Straighten tool, where using "undo" (Ctrl-Z or whatever) more than once will cause CameraBag to crash (at least on Windows). It's better to use the tool's Cancel button and start over.
CameraBag 2 has problems with the Orientation flag in the EXIF. For JPEG files, it ignores the flag and presents the image as-is — you'll need to rotate it within CB2. However, it retains that flag in the saved JPEG, so if you did rotate the image, you'll need to rotate it back before you save it. Otherwise, the image will appear double-rotated in software that recognizes the Orientation flag. Behavior with Raw files may be variable; for Canon CR2 Raw files on Windows using Canon's codec, CB2 gets the image already rotated right-side up, but the Orientation flag still says it needs rotating so you need to rotate it back to the original position (hmm, was that left or right, do you remember?) before saving.
The Amount slider on the Discolor Adjust tool runs from 0 to 1, whereas all other Amount sliders run from 0 to 100.
The Styles and Adjust tools have descriptions on their fly-out previews, but there are no descriptions on Borders and Favorites. The descriptions for some of the Adjust tools have minor problems, and the one for the Split Tone Adjust tool is completely wrong.
Some of the supplied "Favorites" filters have some surprises. Colorized and Golden have the Amount sliders on their coloration set to zero. When used straight out of the box, they don't do the colorization that you might expect. The Film NC05 and Viewster filters use a hidden curve on the R,G,B Curves tool to accomplish what the RGB Curve tool does. That makes it impossible to adjust the RGB curve from CB2.
There's a hidden Adjust tool called Color Correction — as opposed to Color Corrector — that provides separate color selections for shadows, mid-tones, and highlights (Colorize mode). There's no way to access that tool except through an XML filter definition. I can't say that I've found it to be very useful anyway, at least not in my initial fooling with it.
It's probably just my own ignorance, but some of CB2's special Borders leave me wondering what they were supposed to be. I like these, but have no idea where they're appropriate to use. If you have any information on any of these, please leave a comment.
- 47mm Square — what the heck is 47mm E1005 film? Type 127 was 46mm, but I've never heard of a 47mm-wide film.
- Cut — is this supposed to be a frame of movie film? There aren't any perfs, but it looks like it's supposed to be in a grayish mount. Or maybe it's a mounted 6x4.5 print or transparency.
- Infini 50 — another roll film transparency, with about a 4:3 aspect ratio and rounded corners on the image. The name suggests it's related to Nevercenter's Infinicam smart-phone product.
- Safety Film — since the border says "Safety Film", I assume it's supposed to be either a negative or a slide, not a print. The border looks like it could be a mounting frame.
In addition to the above, a number of borders are "film" rather than "paper" borders, which means they'd normally be either a negative or a transparency like a slide or a frame of movie film.
Goofiness at the Doo Dah Parade, Pasadena, California, 2008.
Filter: Crop 4:3 + "Lolo".
Conclusion — Pros
- Fun to play with
- Can give new life to otherwise-boring snapshots
- Intriguing as a browser for folders full of photos
- Non-destructive editing while working on a given image file
- Large selection of pre-defined, and adjustable, low-fidelity toy-camera and retro looks
- Dynamic previews of tool effects, and Quicklook oversized contact sheet of multiple looks
- Reasonable selection of conventional full-image enhancement tools
- Contrast adjustment tools have selectable reference brightness
- Curve and Contrast tools are available in both RGB and Luminance modes
- Adjustable basic borders plus some non-adjustable fancy film-inspired borders
- Unusually large selection of color adjustment tools, but with some functional duplication
- Basic Raw file support (via Windows codecs or OS X) for added bit depth
- Preserves EXIF/IPTC data
- Can batch-process an entire folder with a particular filter sequence
- Generally easy to use, maybe fifteen minutes to get going
- Value priced
Conclusion — Cons
... as a serious photo editor (which it's not) ...
- Documentation mainly consists of a few videos; learning is mostly by experimentation
- No Raw-file adjustments, not even white balance
- No histogram and no eye-dropper; adjustments are all done by eye
- No sharpening, noise reduction, or blur tools
- No zooming in or out; the size of the image on the screen is essentially fixed
- No ability to work on just a selected part of the image (selections, masks, etc.)
- No ability to add text such as watermarks
- No layers and hence no image compositing
- No organizer, EXIF, IPTC, XMP, or other digital asset management
... as the lo-fi editor it's designed to be ...
- No emulation of plastic-lens focus blur
- Crop tool interface is frustrating
- Crop tool will crash CB2 if Undo (Ctrl-Z) is used repeatedly
- Orientation flag in EXIF isn't handled in a reasonable way
- Some supplied borders are of unknown inspiration
- User interface on Windows is mostly non-standard
- Interactions with Windows are weak or non-standard
- File to be edited can only be selected by name; no previews or "filmstrip"
- No ability to print or upload photos from program, only save as JPEG
- File save is destructive; filter sequence must be saved as a separate operation
CameraBag 2 (Desktop) is a different type of desktop photo editor: one that specializes in quality production of low-fidelity images. There are plenty of serious editors that offer special effects, but few of those effects are lo-fi effects, and even then the effects usually aren't very adjustable. The smart-phone world has seen a number of successful lo-fi snapshot apps such as Hipstamatic, Instagram, Infinicam, and the original CameraBag app which apparently started it all.
At the moment, CB2 seems to be unique. The only other Windows/Mac editor of its type (that I know of) is Autodesk's Pixlr-o-matic, which is free but only lets you apply one unadjusted effect plus one unmodified overlay plus a frame to each photo, and cropping is restricted to an immovable and unadjustable square (or else uncropped). There used to be Wingnut's Lo-Fi, but that product's no longer available. I don't think Nik's SnapSeed Desktop product is quite in the same category — it seems to be primarily oriented toward image enhancement rather than lo-fi — but I haven't tried it myself.
CB2 has its bugs and quirks, but they're not a significant concern. The real question is this: are you prepared to even consider the possibility that snapshots can have value, and that technical imperfection can be desirable for snapshots?
CB2 challenged my fixation on producing only quality photographs. It's taught me the value of my snapshots, and in fact has encouraged me to take more snapshots. And I've found that playing around with my snapshots is a refreshing break from critical perfectionism. In fact, it can be outright fun.
As an aside, imperfection in photos seems to be in vogue right now. I'm surprised at how often I now see television commercials with vignetting, colors that are off, and maybe streaks and spots popping in and out. I suppose the fad could be nostalgic in origin, but personally, I think it's more of a rebellion against the sterile perfectionism that has become de rigeur in digital photography. Or maybe I'm just projecting.
CB2 won't make the grade as a full-fledged photo editor, but that's not its goal. If you want to do serious editing, use something else. But when you want to have fun, or when you have a snapshot that needs a little something special to make it worth sharing, CB2 might be just the ticket.
Good for: snapshooters, for those who have a bunch of old snapshots that have been digitized, for lo-fi/retro/toy-camera buffs, and for anyone who'd like to to add some fun to their photography.
Not so good for: serious photographers who are absolutely devoted to "quality photography," who can't abide the lo-fi movement, and who have no use for snapshots.