Stairs to the wheelchair-accessible toilet, London, England, 2005.

Filter: "Colorized" and "Dusklight", both adjusted.
Border: "35mm Bleed".

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.

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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.

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