CameraBag 2 special effects image editor for OS X review

Sections: Graphics / Design, Mac Software, Reviews

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Provides: Photo editing and special effects
Format: Digital download
Developer: Nevercenter Ltd. Co.
Minimum System Requirements: Intel-based Mac, OSX 10.5 or higher, 70MB hard drive space.
Processor Compatibility: Intel only
Price: $29
Availability: Now

The CameraBag 2 photo-editing and special effects app for Mac and Windows PC from Nevercenter Software has been redesigned from the ground up. The major upgrade now includes a full suite of photo adjustment and correction tools, plus a new interface for finding and creating filters, nearly 10 times as many built-in special effects looks, and a rewritten graphics engine.

CameraBag 2 now pairs a full suite of photographic tools with a selection of effects filters and vintage simulations, but the updated app’s key innovation is its user-friendly approach to image editing tasks like layering, rearranging, and general photo tweaking, thanks to the wide array of adjustments and effects it offers in real time. CameraBag 2’s 100-plus fully-adjustable filters and 25+ professional controls form a palette from which you can find and create, your own styles.

CameraBag 2 starts up reasonably quickly on my 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo Mac—about on par with rival image editor Pixelmator, but a lot faster than it takes for lumbering Photohop Elements to get itself up and running. You can load an image by simply dragging it into the interface window, or use an Open dialog if you prefer. With the Adjust mode selected, you can mouse over the selection of tool links in the right-hand panel and get an instant thumbnail preview with a brief explanation of the tool’s function.

One somewhat disconcerting behavior, at least to veteran Mac users, is that CameraBag 2 unceremoniously quits when you close its last open interface window, making to necessary to reopen the program if you want to continue.

With CameraBag 2, you don’t have to know up front what look you want; the program lets you preview and compare all the various possibilities. Old-school instant film or modern high-contrast portrait, subtle color adjustment or complete artistic overhaul, you can choose from side-by-side comparisons with the fullscreen Quicklooks, and also get instant previews on mouseover.

Once you’ve chosen a filter, its components are displayed in the tray, allowing you tweak and adjust the image non-destructively using CameraBag 2’s large, interactive sliders. The program also features a reasonably comprehensive suite of photographic tools, ranging from simple exposure and cropping, to advanced vignetting, color correction, and curves (my personal favorite correction tool). Because every adjustment appears as a tile in the tray, it’s easy to see everything affecting the image at once. Adjustments and styles can also be freely layered to create new looks that can be saved into the CameraBag 2 interface as custom filters.

Here’s a shot that definitely needed some help, shot in high contrast conditions.

Here’s the same photo after being doctored with CameraBag 2’s adjustment tools.

A MultiTool mode combining Exposure, Contrast, and Saturation adjustments is especially handy when you’re in a rush.

I generally like CameraBag 2’s user interface, which doesn’t take over the entire screen like Photoshop Elements does (I’m not a fan of full screen mode for anything), and is more integrated and convenient than Pixelmator’s “everything in separate floating palettes” motif. However, while CameraBag 2’s piano black interface theme is attractive enough, I do find that there isn’t enough contrast among the background, the (iOS-style minimalist) scrollbar, and the dark gray tool selector buttons. I also found that while adjustments and corrections are applied quickly enough in near real time, the action of the adjustment sliders is a bit rough compared with those of either PSE or Pixelmator, and could use some refinement.

The Styles tab is a CameraBag 2 marquee feature. By default, the various styles appear as a single tile in the tray. You can mouse over the names in the right hand column to see thumbnail previews of the respective effect. Click on one that takes your fancy to apply it to your photo. You can then slide that Style’s infinite “Remix” slider to see its variations.

While in the Styles tab, clicking the Quicklook button will give you a scrolling multi thumbnail preview of the assorted effects using the current image. Mousing over another style and clicking the plus icon on the right side of its button will apply both it and the original style you selected will be applied at once, with adjustment sliders for both styles displayed. Possibilities are virtually endless. If you’re suffering from creative block, you can get inspiration by pressing the spacebar, which will call up the Random Remixed Filter command from the Edit menu. This will choose a random filter from the built-in styles or from your saved favorites and randomly set the Remix value for any tile that has a Remix slider. You can keep pressing it until you find a look you like.

Clicking on the Adjust tab brings CameraBag 2’s suite of photographic adjustment tools forward. If you’ve used image editing software before, employing CameraBag 2’s toolset should be pretty intuitive. But there are some differences. Most image editors oblige you to use just one tool at a time, but CameraBag allows you to combine adjustment tools side-by-side, including Tint, Color Balance, Colorize, Color Filter, and Dye. The Color Corrector tool offers targeted color adjustment, and it’s curve-based, so you can target different brightness ranges using all of CameraBag’s built-in color adjustments.

There is also a collection of Image Borders inspired by classic film photography, which, when applied, crop your photos to fit inside.

At the bottom left of the CameraBag 2 interface window are three small buttons. Click on the Arrow button icon to show or hide the adjustment tray. Click the Power icon to temporarily disable all tiles. Click the X icon to delete the tiles in the tray—once to delete the pure image editing tiles, twice to delete all tiles. Arrow key navigation makes it easy to quickly view lots of photos with different filters. Use left and right to go between files, and up and down to switch filters. Finally, there’s the Favorites tab containing all filters built from the building blocks in the other tabs.

Below is a special trailer that offers a look at CameraBag 2’s editing process in action.

CameraBag 2 has a strong feature set, a convenient and functional interface, and is a pleasant program to use. I didn’t encounter any instability putting it through its paces, and it offers some innovative features not found in other image editors. It’s economical too, selling at the same price as Pixelmator (or five bucks less if you go for the Mac-only version from the App Store) and for substantially less than what Photoshop Elements will set you back. CameraBag 2 is more consumer oriented and user-friendly than either of those programs, and offers a somewhat less-comprehensive range of adjustment and correction tools, especially for advanced image editing functions. However, it’s no slouch power-wise, and for a lot of us it should be all the image editor we need (and then some). My only serious complaint are those sometimes difficult to read quickly, low contrast gray on black menu labels.

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