The Monk — Processed with Aperture 3.0 and PhotoCopy 1.0's Custom Wet Plate Preset © Will Wiriawan

This is a fascinating new app, with a new approach on image processing and a reasonable new licensing model[1. One license will allow you to run PhotoCopy in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture if installed on the same machine. Same goes for the video/film version.]. Digital Film Tools’ PhotoCopy:

We have painstakingly analyzed the brightness, color, tone, detail, grain and texture of some of the world’s greatest movies, paintings, photographs and historical photographic processes. The DNA of these masterpieces can now be applied to your very own images with PhotoCopy. The color, tone and brightness of the original work are replicated while the texture, grain and detail are simulated.

As we know, our brain responds differently to colors. The rule of thumb mandates that “hot” colors like red, yellow, or orange would appeal as a bright, mood-lifting sense of emotion, while “cold” colors like blue, green, or cyan would bring a sense of mystery, colder side of your feelings. Overlaying these colors to an image (toning) will bring a touch of mood that could intensify or lessen the image’s impact to the viewer.

Internally, I always refer to movies to communicate my vision on certain projects with my team. Something like The Godfather, Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, Minority Report, or I Am Sam — respectively a code for old-school, vintage, cool-toned and a vibrant colorful tones — would come up in pre- and post-production meetings to previsualize a certain look. Once in a while, something like CSI, CSI: NY & CSI Miami would come in to further associate individual styles each clients are most suited for.

But identifying key characteristics of each brightness, color, tone, detail, grain and texture of some of the world’s greatest movies, paintings, photographs and historical photographic processes are no small task, yet the DFT teams have claimed that they have identified a reusable master formula (photographic DNA) of each of the referenced items, so you can “photocopy” it to your own work.

How well does it work? The short answer: it “kinda” works.

The Interface

Main interface of PhotoCopy 1.0

It’s the usual suspect. Toolbar on top under the menubar, adjustable navigation on the left, preview on the center, and fixed adjustment parameters pane on the right. It’s not pretty (comparing it to the host apps) but, it’s functional.

Presets are displayed on the left as thumbnails + names, grouped under the “Movies”, “Paintings”, “Photographs”, “Processes” and “Custom” sub-tabs, the menubar contains items (File: Create, Import, Export Presets; Edit: Rename, Delete; View & Help) that are not included on the toolbar, and none of the toolbar buttons (Render, Cancel, Reset) are to be seen on the menu.

Under “Movies”, you’ll find presets like 2001 A Space Oddyssey 1, 2, 3, Back to the Future, The Godfather, while on the “Paintings” and “Photographs”, presets are named with something like: “Leonardo, Mona Lisa“, while the “Processes” tab brings you presets with names like “Ambrotype, Alexeev, Man Portrait“.

In concept, the combination of a thumbnail, text & scrollable list with a unique naming convention sounds like a smart, usable solution, but in practice, it sort of loose its significance due to the small, barely-seeable 65 px by 65 px thumbnail, and cool-sounding names that barely gives its user an impression of what the preset is. Luckily, it takes almost instantly for my MacBook Pro to render the preview to select the presets to begin with.

In addition to the list, the “Presets” pane has a search area for us to narrow down the long list of presets, typing “las” on the “Movies” tab reduces the list to Clash of the Titans, The Last of the Mohicans, Splash and The Last Temptation of Christ, it does come handy if you are a movie buff and have a good visual memory, even with a considerable amount of Hollywood flicks that I’ve watched and studied over the years, I find glancing over the thumbnails more efficient.

The Workflow

As generous as the number of presets, PhotoCopy does a good job on showing which parameters relevant to the users to tweak your adjustments.

Once you apply a preset, the “Parameters” pane on the right side comes to life. Except the “Movies” presets that omits the “Texture” slider under “Texture”, the remaining of the sets all have: Color (Brightness Match, Tone), Texture (Detail Match, Grain, Texture) and Vignette (Amount, Size, Softness) — with certain items greyed-out when not relevant; each item has a slider to work the parameters with, and each of them works proportionately well to modify the preset according to our taste, with a catch: The preview image gets pixelated every time we adjust the sliders.

On my test image, the app renders the overall chroma beautifully film-like after some brightness and tone refining (if you’re curious, I began with The Ten Commandments 1923), some minor changes to the grain and texture effect took it to perfection, the vignette part, however, did not quiet live up to my expectation.

The geometry is inorganic, less natural compared to the way it handles color & texture, and It doesn’t respond dynamically to the amount, size, or softness settings like a lens would do. Softness and intensity adjustment step is inexcusably rough, it feels cheap and toy-like I’d rather have them adjusted in Aperture manually.

The Result

Wrapping up, you end the session by the three buttons on the toolbar, “Done”, “Cancel”, “Reset” which are misleadingly shown as a gear (one that looks more like “Settings”, an “x” (prominently huge, usually correspond to “close” and two arrows in six-niner direction (like that “Refresh” button on your browser).

There is another way to close your session, that is by pressing the system-wide standard window close button, which kills the plug-in rather ingloriously; an accidental touch would trigger the kill switch that nullifies your efforts, exits the plug-in without any warning or any of the Save Preset, Render Image, or Continue without Saving confirmation.

You’re safe as long as you don’t accidentally press the window close button, even though processing an image would bring a status window with an ugly windows-style blue progress report (see it in action.), PhotoCopy renders the final image in a timely manner[2. This review is based on a trial copy of PhotoCopy 1.0, Aperture 3.1.1 and a 2.66 GHz MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.6.6.] and saves the finished image like any other plug-ins, according to your Aperture file format setting (Preferences > Export > External Editor File Format).

After multiple attempts on different kind of photographs, there is yet a single case where I can just apply a preset and render the final image without tweaking, as much as the app wants to do to your image, it still requires some intelligent intervention on our part to make it work, there were a few exceptions with some monochrome based preset, but mostly — especially the aptly-named movies set — the app’s imaging engine still needs a tweaking of its own. I have seen similar approach in other product that provides a better starting point for the image, sometimes even requiring no further input or adjustment, not to mention the layer-based multiple presets capability to mix our own custom image formula.

At version 1.0, the DFT team have done a remarkable job bringing a new solution to the table, there are still rooms of improvements and detailing works needs to be done, but they have got most of the big things right.

PhotoCopy works on both still and motion as: $95 Aperture/Adobe Photoshop/Elements plug-in or the $195 Apple Final Cut Pro/After Effects/Avid Systems add-on. Bonus: They also have PhotoCopier, a universal iOS App that seems to do what its desktop sibling does for a mere $1.99 on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch[3. Disclosure: This site is a registered iTunes affiliate, I get a small kickback for every purchase you make.]