Review: Macrosystem Photo-Studio 2
Posted Mar 27, 2006

If you're a Casablanca user and you do any kind of photo montage work, or are planning on adding photo montages or memorial videos to your services, Photo-Studio 2 ($199, $99 upgrade) is exactly what you need. It's got Casablanca's signature ease-of-use and stability, some excellent functionality, and all the essential elements—except for scanning—to start doing solid photo montage work with nifty collages, 2D motion, and clean images.

At the variety of industry events I've attended over the last 18 months—national conventions, regional events, local association meetings—I've learned two things about Casablanca users: one, there are a lot of them in the event video industry; and two, they do all kinds of editing and postproduction work on their Casablanca systems, ranging from weddings and bar mitzvahs and other personal events to corporate video and local TV commercials.

Macrosystem's line of Casablanca dedicated video editing systems certainly has its detractors, most of whom say its main SmartEdit interface is too simplistic, and that's certainly a valid point if it doesn't meet your professional needs (you could make that same claim about any number of Windows and Mac tools, too, and I'd willingly listen to your argument). One of the more obvious reasons for that criticism is the interface's reliance on some rather blocky icons, and those do take some getting used to if you're not a regular Casablanca user. But the fact is, the Casablanca users that I encounter do professional work on these systems, which is to say they book jobs and get paid for the work they produce.

Some of that work, no doubt, includes photo montage, and the incorporation of still photographs into video productions. Macrosystem addresses these needs with an application called Photo-Studio, which just got a full revision to version 2. Photo-Studio 2 is designed to handle a number of photo-specific tasks, including photo management, re-touching and other visual adjustments, slideshow ("presentation") creation, and pan-and-zoom.

Photo Import
The one drawback of Photo-Studio 2 compared to PC or Mac-based image tools that you may discover as soon as you begin to use it is that you can't scan images directly into the system. This can be a significant issue if you're doing wedding or memorial montages where the bulk of the archival photos you plan to use in your video or slideshow presentation come from prints. The two avenues of photo acquisition are via data CD/DVD or Flash memory card. Most Casablanca systems come with CD/DVD drives installed, and the internal drive should be sufficient for importing photos; to import photos from the memory card in your digital camera, you'll need an external card reader that supports the card format your camera uses.

Importing photos via CD/DVD or memory card is simple and straightforward. Once you have the photos on your hard disk, you can sort them in folders, and view them in various ways: in thumbnail directories, individually, compared four at a time on screen (to choose among similar shots), and in a directory that includes filenames/ descriptions for easier drag-and-drop sorting.

Editing Photos
From the Photo-Studio 2 directories you can go to work on your photos. You can rotate your images, edit and retouch them, crop and re-frame them, animate them, apply filters, and build slideshow presentations. A Magnifier capability allows you to zoom in on and isolate particular portions of an image for closer examination.

In addition to manual controls, a Format button lets you crop and re-frame images to one of several presets, including Video 4:3, Video 16:9, and 3:2 Print, among others. You can also import individual images or slideshows into your main SmartEdit video storyboard/timeline.

Highlights of Photo-Studio 2's photo editing capabilities (accessible from the Control Photo interface) include very usable retouching functions for redeye and blemish removal, easy graphical brightness and contrast and saturation controls, gamma value adjustments, and the ability to add some nifty loadable filters. Click Archive and Load to see your choices; you'll find sepia and grayscale filters (old-brown and old-grey) and more impressionistic tools like evening, heat, silhouette yellow, and warm light. Photo-Studio 2 lets you preview each filter by showing its impact on the right half of the selected image.

Retouching controls include cloning and pencil features and more. Red-eye removal is managed much as in consumer photo-editing tools from Roxio or Nero or Apple. Photo-Studio also includes colorization capabilities via an Alpha slider. Again, these features are very much in accordance with full-featured consumer and photo-editing tools, which are generally quite adequate for cleanup and tinting adjustments, without getting into masks and layers at the Photoshop level.

Slideshow Presentations
Slideshow presentations are one of the primary features of Photo-Studio 2, although when you run the program under SmartEdit, they cannot include synced audio or transitions, so they're genuinely presentation-oriented rather than the types of montage slideshows you would do for a professional event job. You'll do your real montage-type slideshow creation by developing your pan-and-zoom moves or collages in Photo-Studio 2 and then incorporating your work into a SmartEdit project. More advanced features are available in Photo-Studio 2's Presentation utility, but they're disabled as long as you're running the program as a SmartEdit plug-in.

Fortunately, give-and-take between the two programs is as seamless as ever with Casablanca plug-ins. You can ready an image for inclusion in a main project at any time by clicking Create Scene (with the image selected) and assigning a duration.

Pan and Zoom
I found the pan-and-zoom controls particularly usable and effective. If I were switching to Casablanca as my main editing platform (or at least doing significant photo montage work there), I would find it very easy to replicate the workflow I use for montages with 2D motion on the PC: do basic re-touching of images in PhotoImpact (similar capabilities available in Photo-Studio 2), add pan-and-zoom moves in Imaginate (similar manual camera-movement controls available in Photo-Studio 2), add images--with motion clips--to timeline in Premiere (import to SmartEdit) timed for syncing with accompanying audio track.

You use a familiar dashed frame (also used for the Magnifier function) to adjust the frame on the image by both position and size, and you can adjust the focal point within that frame as well. You can also set keyframes and define motion paths between frames. A Camera Settings dialog allows you to set Pause in and Pause out (to hold on a particular framing position), accelerate and slow the panning motion, and set the duration for each move. All in all I found this an extremely effective and usable feature. It's also an important one, given that a certain professional (sub-After Effects) level of photo montage is defined by effective, customized 2D motion.

Another cool feature of Photo-Studio 2 is the ability to create photo collages. You access the Collage interface from the main Photo-Studio 2 menu. You add photos one "box" at a time, and then you can rotate them to position them at different angles to one another, add borders and shadows, and change the background color. You can also move boxes from back to front regardless of when you added them to the collage.

The best thing about collages is that once you've completed one, you can open it in the Pan-and-zoom window. Then you can add camera moves around the collage to create a sort of scrapbook effect. You can get an even more authentic scrapbook feel by grabbing a scrapbook stock image somewhere, starting your collage with that image as a full-screen (4:3 or 16:9) background, and fitting your collage images into it. You can also, of course, use any image from your directory as a background to achieve other types of looks.

If you're a Casablanca user and you do any kind of photo montage work, or are planning on adding photo montages or memorial videos to your services, Photo-Studio 2 is exactly what you need. And if you're primarily based on PC or Mac but considering adding a Casablanca system to your studio for certain types of jobs, and photo montage or other work with still images is among those interests, you'll be well-served in that department by Photo-Studio 2 if you need more reasons to take the plunge. It's got Casablanca's signature ease-of-use and stability, some excellent functionality, and all the essential elements—except for scanning—to start doing solid photo montage work with 2D motion and clean images.

System Requirements:

  • Minimum: Macrosystem Casablanca system with 256MB RAM running SmartEdit 4.1d (Clara: 4.2d)
  • As reviewed: Solitaire with 1GB RAM running SmartEdit 4.2

For more information visit the Macrosystem U.S. Web site, here.