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               Review: ArtEffect 1.5 from Haage and Partner
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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It's fascinating to try and track the image processing market for the
Amiga.

For quite some time, there was AdPro, and all bowed to it.  In the
meantime, GVP was selling ImageFX, taking chunks out of AdPro's market.

Times change, ASDG becomes Elastic Reality and goes on to do lots of film
work, and AdPro becomes little more than the pack-in everybody gets with
their Draco.  ImageFX becomes king, and not without deserving it.  Not long
after, a British company puts out Photogenics, an image processing program
which, while not as powerful as ImageFX, is much easier to simply sit down
at and start playing with.  It's intuitive, works much like a paint
program, and is pretty affordable.

Not to be outdone, the brothers Dean put out a shareware product called
Image Studio, which for a fee about half of Photogenics' gets you a very
capable image conversion and manipulation tool.

That was, more or less, the world we lived in for a good year or two.
High-end stuff got done on ImageFX, those of us who liked our complimentary
Photogenics t-shirts used it to play around with, and if you just needed a
quick task done or a conversion without much hassle, you went with
ImageStudio.

Shoot forward to the present.  Photogenics gets something of a facelift,
which implements a rather counterintuitive GUI.  Not much after, its
original author, Paul Nolan, starts taking legal action against Almathera.
Almathera is now out of business (blaming VIScorp, but who doesn't?) and
rumor has it that their product line (along with company principles Paul
and Jolyon Ralph) is being picked up by Grandslam.  ImageFX is still where
it was.  Image Studio is now in version 2 and has some commercial support
from LH Publishing.  So where does ArtEffect fit in to all this?

Haage and Partner are not afraid to make bold statements.  They call it
Photoshop for the Amiga.  They don't give it a Photoshop-style price,
however.  In the US, ArtEffect sells for about $110, roughly half what
dealers ask for ImageFX 2.6 and a bit less than Photogenics 2 was selling
for, when it was still available.

How valid is their claim?  After all, even the most staunch ImageFX backer
has been known to concede that Photoshop has a leg up on IFX for one thing
or another.  Is ArtEffect the end-all, be-all of image processing?

The Basics
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ArtEffect is designed to work on a decent-spec Amiga, although as is always
the case with image manipulation, the more power you have, the better.  An
020 and hard disk are absolutely required, as is OS 3.x.  You'd be a fool
to try to run ArtEffect without a good chunk of Fast RAM and a processor
above an 020 of some sort, and while ECS is supported, you really should
consider using an AGA machine or one running CyberGraphX, which is
supported as standard.  The test system is a CyberStorm 060/50 system with
a CyberVision 3D running CyberGraphX 3 (recent beta).  The CyberPathcher
tool does not explicitly list ArtEffect as taking advantage of its
capabilities.  (in fact, I couldn't find explicit reference to an FPU of
any kind)

ArtEffect does support HAM8 if you don't have CyberGraphX and want to get a
better color representation than 256.  However, keep in mind that you lose
resolution and also give up a lot of speed to see those results.  You have
been warned...

ArtEffect can open on a public or custom screen.  When loading, ArtEffect
does a mini-benchmark on your graphical capabilities and seems to find
custom screens significantly faster, but your mileage may vary.

The workspace of ArtEffect is comfortable and intuitive.  Your images are
loaded into windows, marked off with rulers by default, and a primary
toolbar and option window follow you through most operations, which are
chosen using the menu bar.  A number of other configurations, such as brush
shape (a very powerful tool, if you know what you're doing) are available
as function-key popups or menu selections.

The toolbar has basic drawing options--draw line, draw open/filled circle
and square and polygon, etc.  You also have some control over brush or
spray, text matting, and the like from the toolbar.  Incidentally, this is
the first program I've seen on any platform to use a nice muted color
palette for its buttons (much like MagicWB).  Typically, paint buttons are
either mono and boring, or garish and ugly.

The variety of paint modes, which range from simply drawing to blurring,
smearing, "impressionisting" and the like, are straightforward, easy to
use, and reminiscent of the Photogenics style.

The real power of ArtEffect is in its filters, though.  You can draw
circles all day to your heart's content, but when it comes to applying
actual effects, the filters are the place to look.  Dozens of filters are
supplied (and more are available as option disks, or occasionally as free
upgrades), and each brings up a quick preview window which lets you examine
what you'll do to the image before committing.  Typically, each filter has
options (for strength, angle of application, etc.) and as you change these,
the preview dynamically re-renders.  There is also a generic "convolve"
filter for inputting your own 5x5 matrix convolution effects.

It's really a snap to get ArtEffect working for you.  As a dealer's ad for
the product says, you really can get by without the manual, although it is
itself competent, although certainly not the most nuanced on the art of
image processing.  (Its English is a bit uncomfortable at times, which
surprises me since I've read the translator's posts on Usenet for years and
his conversational English is flawless.)

Unlike some reviewers who embrace easy to use programs like ArtEffect or
Photogenics, I'm willing to admit the real reason.  ImageFX intimidates me.
I know full well how much power it has (I watched as its most recent demo
tape was built from the ground up), but I can't seem to harness the power
as easily for the more basic things that I'd like to do.  That said,
particularly in light of Photogenics "step backward" in GUI
standardization, ArtEffect offers the best power-to-ease-of-use ratio of
any dedicated image processing program out there today.

That doesn't mean it's perfect, though.

I'm not sure which is the more glaring failing--the poor Undo, the lack of
ARexx, or the lack of GIF saving.  So I'll outline them in that order and
let you decide.

Here's that Photoshop comparison again.  The thing everyone crows about
Photoshop is its "layers".  Photogenics tried to capture this by
implementing a "FIX" system where no change was permanent until you deemed
it to be so.  But ArtEffect doesn't come close.  The minimum level of Undo
is a single-action undo/redo.  The maximum level is that you can undo any
change made with a single drawing tool.  So, you can scrawl all over a
picture or draw several circles, but once you change from the circle tool
to a draw tool, or vice versa, or switch filters, your changes are
permanent.  Needless to say, for serious work this is not the best of all
possible scenarios.

There's no ARexx.  No simple way to integrate other programs.  The
documentation alludes to developer resources to do this, and the program
does support TurboPrint and PrintStudio and ScanQuix, but there's no way to
integrate ArtEffect seamlessly into a suite.  This also removes the
potential for batch processing.  ArtEffect is meant to work with single
images, and that's the way it will stay for the time being.

Finally, while you can load GIF, you cannot save it.  I understand that the
GIF licensing scenario is not the greatest, but I wish developers would
follow Cloanto's example and just bite the bullet and support the standard
that people need for their work, particularly the Web.  Nobody can accuse
Cloanto of knuckling under to Unisys, since they were one of the spearheads
of the PNG movement.  ArtEffect will let you save in PNG, but it's not
quite the same...

But the bottom line is that for the price, ArtEffect is extremely easy to
get comfortable with and put to work.  If you go into it with your eyes
open and know what to expect--an excellent tool for manipulating single
images--you'll be very pleased.

Haage & Partner
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GERMANY

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