Extensis Intellihance Pro 4

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Useful instant image enhancement for Photoshop or Photo-Paint users - but the new professional features are less convincing.

The most important photo-editing task is to make photos look their best, but in the industry-standard Photoshop this colour correction can be a seriously daunting task. That’s where Intellihance comes in, providing a single, simple integrated solution. Version 3 was recommended back in issue for offering easy and intelligent image enhancement at the click of a button. Now version 4 is determined to move up market to provide professional-level power.

As with previous versions, Intellihance Pro doesn’t act as a standalone application but rather as a plug-in from within either Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photo-Paint. Once an image has been loaded, however, it’s clear that things have changed. To begin with all the parameters and commands have been moved over to the right of the main image window. Rather more significantly, the image window now offers multiple panes. If you select a double pane option from the new Layout menu, for example, the enhanced version of the image is automatically tiled next to a copy of the original. This certainly highlights the difference Intellihance makes, but I actually found version 3’s use of the Ctrl key to temporarily and instantly switch between full size views of the before and after states more useful.

The second major difference is that at the top of each pane is a drop down list of preset enhancements that can be applied to the image. Extensis provides over twenty of these tailored to different image sources -such as digital camera, digital camera with flash, flatbed scanner and drum scanner - and to different image types - such as vivid enhance, clean up and dark image enhance. With Intellihance Pro’s ability to tile up to twenty-five image panes you can even view all the preset options simultaneously.

With its different presets Intellihance effectively admits that, even given its adaptive approach, one size can’t fit all – or at least not perfectly. Ultimately each image is unique so if you’re determined to bring out its absolute best you’ll have to customise your settings. Using the default "intelligent adjustment" mode you can do this by changing preset targets for each of the eight factors – descreening, contrast, brightness, saturation, cast, sharpness, despeckling and now dust and scratches - that Intellihance handles. Working like this you can quickly choose broad adjustments, such as "emphasize highlights" or "flatten shadows", and if you regularly make the same changes you can save them as a new preset.

For absolute control, however, you need the second "fine tune" mode. This lays bare the full workings of Intellihance so that, for example, you can individually customise the amount, radiation, definition, threshold and smoothness of the sharpness effect. The problem of course is that this is no simpler than using Photoshop’s own commands and, in the case of the crucial control over the image tone map, you actually have less control and less feedback.

Fine tune mode offers more control – but not as much as Photoshop itself.

The suggested solution is to use Intellihance’s all-new "power variations" mode. This takes full advantage of the multi-pane approach to show variations on the current theme. Select the Saturation option, for example, and your image is broken up into a grid in which each area has a different saturation setting applied - all you need to do is choose the preview that looks best and then move on to the next adjustment option. In other words, Intellihance breaks down the complex colour correction task into simple, visual multiple-choice selections.

This pick-and-choose approach sounds great, but in practice there are problems. The first is the default option of splitting up the single image into multiple sections. Most images vary greatly with only certain areas of focal interest and trying to judge an overall contrast setting by how it affects a small area of blue sky, for example, is just about useless. Intellihance does let you preview the entire image separately in each pane but then you hit a new problem – you can’t really judge factors such as sharpness from a zoomed out image. Zoom in to the actual pixels and suddenly you’re acutely aware of how the multiple panes are wasting valuable screen space and processor time on generating fixed variations most of which, by their nature, aren’t of any interest.

Picking and choosing in Power Variations mode sounds great, but isn’t practical.

If you really want to take absolute control of your colour correction you need to be able to work full screen, with the option of instantly and directly checking before and after states, and with full interactive control of all settings. Unfortunately Intellihance’s intelligent adjustment mode is too limited, its fine tune mode too awkward, and its power variations mode misconceived. In other words for professional, in-depth work you’re still better off with Photoshop’s own commands.

Intellihance’s move upmarket towards the professional user proves disappointing, but that’s not the end of the story. As in version 3 you can still bypass the main dialog completely and simply select the Quick Enhance command to apply a default enhancement intelligently based on the current image’s tone map. Even better, you can now instantly apply any of the presets that Intellihance Pro provides or that you’ve created yourself. Working like this is simplicity itself with the intelligent enhancement power of Intellihance effectively applied as a one-off filter. It might be simple but the important thing is that it works and that your image really does end up looking better than it did before. If you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of digital photos this could be exactly what you’ve dreamt of.

Intellihance’s greatest strength is still its single-click image improvement -especially now that this can be based on presets.

Ironically, while the professional user Intellihance Pro is now aimed at has little to gain, it’s the casual user who could seriously benefit from what remains the program’s great strength - its single-click intelligent enhancement.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

August 2000

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