What’s new in Web Sharp Pro v3.7?

Web Sharp Pro makes it quick and easy to create gorgeous exports of your images for sharing. It offers much more than just sharpening, with custom templates, blurred borders, custom watermarks, advanced crops, film grain, batch processing, and much more. The best way to understand it is with the short demonstration below, and you can also learn more about the rest of its extensive capabilities here.

Web Sharp Pro v3 has advanced steadily with a series of free updates since its release last year and now v3.7 builds on these great features with secondary borders (under Settings / Quick Export), webP exports, and more. See the release notes for details on the 137 new features, updates, and bug fixes that have come out just since Photoshop 2022 was released in October.

Get Web Sharp Pro here.

Exporting webP files from Photoshop

Photoshop v23.2 just added support for a new file format: webP. In this tutorial, you’ll learn what webP is, why you should consider using it, and how you can easily take advantage of it with Web Sharp Pro.

What is webP and when should you use it?

The webP format is an open standard licensed for free from Google. It is designed to offer smaller file sizes on the web at similar or higher quality. Unlike JPG, it offers a completely lossless format to completely avoid any artifacts (albeit with a larger file size than a high-quality JPG). And unlike JPG, it offers support for transparency, which is critical when you want to allow the background to show around your subject (such as a product being sold on a website). If you’ve been exporting images as PNG to support transparency, webP offers massive reductions in file size (about 30% smaller lossless and >80% when saving in a lossy format comparable with high quality).

It is worth noting that there is an important difference between the lossless format and 100% quality lossy. Very small areas of color detail (such as a red light in a cityscape) may look significantly desatured compared to the lossless version. In general, you’ll probably need to look extremely close to notice the difference, but high-frequency color is one use case where I think the extra size of the lossless format may make sense. I don’t know if this behavior is inherent to the webP format or Adobe’s implementation of it, but I’ve seen differences in several test images. Aside from this narrow difference, I generally find the high-quality lossy version would look identical to the lossless version for most viewers at a normal viewing distance. You only see the differences when you’re pixel peeping pretty closely. And keep in mind that all JPGs are lossy, so we’ve been dealing with this for a long time.

This file format has already been around for a decade, so there is already widespread support including every major browser (Internet Explorer does not support it, but IE will be discontinued in June). So webP is an outstanding choice for sharing images on your website when you need transparency, and also offers useful file size reduction compared to JPG. This is a great way to improve page load times and save bandwidth costs for your website.

In addition to use on websites, webP is a great way to send smaller files for email or otherwise sharing with others. MacOS has native support via its image preview software and there are free tools for Windows. However, as that may require installing or configuring for support on Windows, I probably wouldn’t use webP to email everyone in your list just yet. However, this can be a nice way to hold down the size of your email account, save on wireless data costs, and send images over slow connections. Support for this standard keeps growing, and I expect we’ll see more and more JPG usage migrate to webP over time.

The latest version of Adobe Bridge supports webP, but Lightroom does not at this time. However, as this is a format for export, that shouldn’t matter unless you manage a set of pre-prepared images to share on demand.

This leaves the question of when you should keep using JPG or PNG:

  • Keep using JPG whenever you just want to know something will work. No need to test if you can upload to social media (though sites like Facebook support it) or know if your friend’s computer will be able to open the image. The file size savings are nice, but probably not worth a lot of hassle for most people.
  • Keep using JPG if you see a loss of saturation/detail in small vibrant colors, such as vibrant city lights at night. You can use the lossless webP format to avoid the issue, but the resulting file is larger than a JPG. Using 100% quality with webP will not prevent the issue, all lossy values are at risk. This is unlikely to the vast majority of images (especially when viewed at a normal distance), but it is an edge case to keep in mind. If you can’t see any image at 100%, it’s safe to use even if you can see something when you pixel peep further.
  • Keep using PNG when if you run into the extremely rare scenario where there is visible banding in your output and you need 16-bits to avoid it. You pay a large size penalty for this, but there may be times when it is worth it. Don’t do it because 16-bits sounds good (while 16-bits is critical in your source and working files, it rarely makes a difference for a finished image).

My quick summary would be:

  • Use webP when you have transparency. Even the lossless format is much smaller than PNG and JPG doesn’t work with transparency.
  • Use JPG if you don’t care about optimizing file size and bandwidth or don’t want to have to think about edge cases (with high-frequency color or recipients who may not be able to handle webP). This is the simplest solution for uploading to social media or emailing images to people with an unknown ability to handle webP.
  • Use webP when you want to optimize for fast transfer sizes and minimal storage, except potentially for a few rare cases where high-frequency color may be impacted (such as cityscapes at night). This is most beneficial when you’re hosting the images on your own website or trying to keep your email sizes down.

 

Exporting “webP” with Web Sharp Pro v3.7

Web Sharp Pro makes it quick and easy to create gorgeous exports of your images for sharing. It offers much more than just sharpening, with custom templates, blurred borders, custom watermarks, advanced crops, film grain, batch processing, and much more. The best way to understand it is with the short demonstration below.

Web Sharp Pro v3.7 just added a range of new features, including support for webP. See this quick demo below on how to take advantage of it. If you need to export an image with transparency, this is automatically handled for you. There’s nothing to do (other than checking that you aren’t adding a border, since that wouldn’t be very useful if you want transparent edges.

When exporting from Web Sharp Pro as webP:

  • “ultimate” quality setting will export with the lossless format. This will completely avoid any JPG artifacts, though the final file size will be somewhat larger than a JPG (about double the size). And it will be much smaller than a PNG (about a quarter of the size), though it does not offer 16-bits. This is a great option when quality is your priority and you have areas of very small color detail or want to completely avoid artifacts.
  • “high” is designed to offer quality comparable to similar settings for JPG, but with somewhat smaller final file sizes. This is a great option when quality is your priority. Differences from ultimate are generally very hard to detect without zooming in well past normal viewing sizes.
  • “good” is also designed to offer size savings over a comparable quality JPG. This is a great option when small files are your priority (and the loss of quality at this level will be minimal, usually very hard to detect).

 

Exporting “webP” directly from Photoshop

If you don’t use Web Sharp Pro, you can simply use File / Save a Copy in Photoshop and select webP. I recommend the following settings:

  • Always leave the option to embed the profile checked in the first dialog (before the webP options)
  • Lossless if you need an exact copy of your image. Otherwise 75-90% lossy is a great range to consider. As you get closer to 50%, there is a noticeable loss of quality, but it may not matter for your application and this can really shrink the file size.
  • Embed XMP if you want to keep keywords and other such non-camera data.
  • Embed EXIF if you want to keep camera data (shutter speed, lens, etc).
  • Embed extras if you want to keep paths, guides, and print settings.

Three ways to use mask DENSITY for more natural edits in Photoshop

Layer masks are the key to nearly all great images created with Photoshop. They let you make targeted adjustments, blend images, composite, work non-destructively, and are probably the most important component of using layers. Masks have two properties which are designed to help you get more natural-looking results. You may already be familiar with mask feathering, which allows you to soften the edges of your mask for a more gradual result. But the other property, “density“, is one that I almost never see other photographers take advantage of. It’s incredibly useful in certain scenarios, but it isn’t obvious and most photographers never realize it can help improve their images.

We’ll cover several great ways you can use density, but it’s important to first understand what it actually does. Layer masks control the visibility of individual pixels of a layer (including images and adjustment layers). The basic principle is that as you paint on the layer mask: “black conceals”, “white reveals”, and gray gives some proportional results. There are times when it would be helpful to ensure a minimum visibility (gray) in the layer mask, and that’s what density does. At the default 100% density, the layer mask looks exactly as you painted it. But as you slide reduce density, the dark values in the mask are lightened. If you slide all the way to 0% density, the mask becomes pure white (even if you have true black in your mask)! Let’s explore a couple scenarios where you could benefit from adjusting density.

Using density for more natural-looking transitions

Filters often look best when you apply them in a targeted way that affects some parts of the image much more than others. For example,a noise reduction filter works best if you apply it more aggressively in smooth areas (such as sky and water) than in areas where you wish to retain detail. You can paint a layer mask that will help do that using white to cleanup the sky/water while using darker greys elsewhere to strike a balance of noise reduction and detail. Because you probably want at least some minimum effect everywhere in the image, the mask is going to have a minimal gray – and that’s exactly what density offers. So rather than spending too much time painting a very fancy mask, you can simply paint white on the sky/water areas that need the most smoothing. Then just adjust the mask density to reveal some noise reduction everywhere else. With minimal effort, you’ll get a perfect result with no obvious transition edges. It’s fully non-destructive, so you can readjust the density anytime you need.

You can use this approach when using a layer mask on an adjustment layer, such as for color grading or color overlays. Anytime you want the effect to show more in some places than others but need to show a little bit everywhere to look natural, density is a great solution. I show this in the video to improve a color overlay, which could just as easily been any form of color grading.

It works very well with smart filter masks, such as for sharpening and noise reduction. You could also use it to improve complex filters such as Nik Color Efex Pro or Luminar. Just apply a filter to your Smart Object, invert the filter mask to black, paint white where you need the filter most, then adjust the density to balance out the effect across the whole image. It’s the same workflow I showed in the video above to reduce noise.

One thing to keep in mind is that this control is separate from the master layer opacity, BlendIf, and vector masks. So even if you make the mask white via density, these other factors can still hide your pixels.

 

Using density to help blend a layer

Exposure blending, time blending, compositing and other forms of combining layers with different content typically involve painting white on a black layer mask to reveal each layer. Until you’ve revealed your subject, it can be hard to know exactly where you should brush on your image. In other words, you need a bit of a “sneak peak” to know how to paint the mask. You can <shift>-click the mask to disable it, but this reveals the layer entirely and obscures everything below it. Mask density offers a way to get something in-between to let you see everything at once. Just slide the density to around 50%. This will show the blend layer enough to know where to paint, while showing the underlying content at the same time. And as you paint, the blend layer will become more and more opaque so you still get a good sense of the blended result. Once you no longer need the visual aid, just slide density back to 100%. Be careful to slide all the way to 100%, so that you don’t allow unwanted portions of the layer to create unwanted ghosting.

 

Controlling density via Lumenzia

The sliders in Lumenzia allow you to not only adjust Lumenzia’s previews and BlendIf, but also the sliders for layer masks including feather and density. When you click on a mask to make it active, the precision slider in Lumenzia will show white to indicate that it is ready to adjust the feather on that layer or filter mask. To adjust density instead, just <alt/option>-click the slider and it will turn yellow to indicate that it is ready to adjust the density on that mask.

Making the night sky glow with Lumenzia v10

Thank you for all the enthusiasm and support for Lumenzia v10. Since it was released, I’ve heard a few common questions that I’d like to address here and in the short tutorial below.

 

The v10 interface: Compact (the new default) vs Full (the new default)

One of the more common questions has been around the “new” interface. The v10 interface is actually nearly identical to previous versions. Since v8, Lumenzia has offered a few different interface styles to allow you to choose whether you see a larger range of buttons or a simplified, smaller interface. What’s different in v10 is that the default is now set to the “large compact” instead of the full “large” interface, but these options have been around for a couple years (and you’ll see the compact interface is the one I’ve been using for most videos since v8).

You can change the interface size you like either via Flyout (top-right three bars icon) / Interface Size and Modes, or via the shortcut keys on the X button (such as <alt/option>-clicking X to cycle through all 4 options). Aside from the buttons, this also allows access to a small format, which is ideal when want to make the panel as small as possible (such as when working on a laptop).

The sliders allow you to achieve nearly any of the button values (as well as numeric values between the buttons, such as L2.5). So the compact interface offers all the functionality most users need in a smaller and simpler interface. Here are a few quick tips on how to make the most of the compact interface:

  • Click on “L” and then slide the precision slider down to the specific value you wish to use (such as L3). I strongly encourage the use of this slider with either interface, so that you may achieve the full range of values (for example, there is no button for L3.5 or L7).
  • The alphanumeric zones (such as Zc) include a wider range of tones than the numeric zones (such as Z5). Just slide the precision (vertical) slider down to make something like Zc look more like Z5. There is nothing particularly special about the initial value, so I would encourage you to use these sliders whether you use the compact or full interface.
  • There are more numeric zones than the alphanumeric ones. So if you want to target Z5 when coming from Zc, be sure to slide the value (horizontal) slider a little bit right to make the most selected tone be slightly brighter.

However, there are a few benefits to the large interface. You’ll need it for a few buttons (DM1 and LM1), the LIVE-M and LIVE-S modes (since the sliders do not apply), and the buttons offer an easy way to get specific and repeatable previews (which is particularly helpful if you use the Z0 – Z10 zone previews).

 

v10 modes

In v9 and previous versions, you could use a dropdown to select between modes such as LIVE-M and BlendIf:under. For v10, this has been replaced with a button (as the formatting options for dropdowns in UXP don’t fit the available space). Just click multiple times to cycle through the options. And because BlendIf:this is very rarely used / needed, it is now hidden by default. However, you can go to Flyout / Interface Size and Modes to check it to make it an available option. You can also use this to disable modes you don’t use (for example, uncheck both LIVE options if you’d prefer to quickly cycle between preview and BlendIf modes). The default “preview” mode (which creates the orange preview layers) is required and cannot be disabled.

 

v10 info display

You can now see import document information (color space and bit-depth) by enabling Flyout / Tool Tips & Info / Document & PS Info. By default, this info is shown in the Basics panel and not the main Lumenzia panel, but you can configure however you like. This new info will show right below the bottom of panel, so be sure to click and drag down the bottom edge far enough to see it. If a low quality setting (such as sRGB or 8-bit) is detected, the display will show in color to help call attention to the issue. While these are great settings for exporting to the web, you wouldn’t want to see this in your original/master files. If you are using an M1 computer under Rosetta, a special warning will be displayed, as running PS natively offers much faster performance.

 

Create Special Channels / Layers

This is also available in v9, but I have not demonstrated this feature prior to the tutorial here. This feature allows you to create special channels or layers based on LAB values, HSL, etc. This allows a much broader range of targeting options, as well as new creative effects when applied using blend modes. For the latter, use the layer preview option and try the various blend modes for creative effects. Try varying the fill opacity, as some blend modes respond differently to fill vs opacity (this includes the color burn, linear burn, color dodge, linear dodge, vivid light, linear light, hard mix, difference blend modes).

Options for creating special selections (or channels again) are also available via the “Sel” popup (which is shown when you click the button and there is no active selection). So you could use this for example to help create a selection based on different saturation models (HSL vs HSB).

 

Other shortcuts in the Flyout menu

The Lumenzia flyout menu (top-right three bars icon) now includes helpful shortcuts to the following:

  • Written user manuals. Previously these were separate files in the ZIP download for the panel. With the integrated manuals, you now have access to them at any time.
  • Release notes: Quick access to see the latest version and what’s changed. (Note that you can always see which version you have installed at the bottom of the panel).
  • Check for updates: Quick access to download the latest version. You can always see which version you’re running by looking at the bottom of the panel (click and drag down the bottom edge if you don’t see it).

A photographer’s review of the M1 Max Macbook Pro

I’ve had my hands on the brand new 2021 Macbook Pro (M1 Max) for a few weeks now, does it live up to the hype? Yes, absolutely. I’m stunned by how good this computer is in so many regards. This is unquestionably the best computer I’ve ever used for photography and I wanted to provide a detailed review from a photographer’s perspective, as well as some tips on how to make the most of the transition.

First, some quick background. I’ve been using a fully-loaded 2018 MacBook Pro (MBP). This includes a 2.9GHz 6‑core i9 Intel processor, 32GB memory, Radeon Pro 560X GPU with 4GB of GPU memory, 4TB SSD, and 15″ display. And thanks to a free battery replacement last month from Apple (the original battery was swelling, probably from being continuously charged during Covid), it’s still just like new. But time has moved on and I’ve nearly run out of internal storage, I’ve been eager for a lighter laptop to carry on photography trips, and of course I’m eager to get my hands on anything that will cut down the time I spend waiting while processing images and video. So I’ve been literally waiting to hand my money to Apple the moment they released a Pro version of Apple Silicon.

Within 15 minutes of the machines going on sale, I’d bought mine. It was an easy decision to buy every option except the 16″ as a professional doing photography, software, and video. I opted for a smaller screen and battery life to save some weight. My 15″ 2018 feels hefty at 4.0lbs and putting 4.7lbs on in my photo backpack for a 16″ screen (and some extra battery life) didn’t sound like fun. With all the other upgrades, my 2021 MBP includes the M1 Max with 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB unified memory, and 8TB SSD storage. Of course, it also includes all the standard features like a greatly improved screen, better speakers and mic, upgraded web cam, HDMI port, SDXC card reader, and MagSafe.

The tests below reflect my maxed-out 14″ computer, but I’m using this for business and most photographers should probably just buy 14″ or 16″ with the basic 10-core CPU, 32GB RAM, 2-4TB SSD. 64GB and an upgraded GPU are nice for photography, but the gains are smaller (64GB is nice if you work with a lot of large files and the upgraded GPU is nice if you edit a lot of video).

 

Photoshop benchmarks:

I’ve just released a free benchmarking tool for Photoshop called G-Bench. The gains with M1 are very real and very impressive. Here are a few highlights (all tests on a high-resolution image from a Nikon D850):

  • On average, the M1 Max completes tasks in Photoshop in half the time of the 2018 MacBook Pro (57s weighted test time vs 110s).
  • Filter / Reduce noise takes only 10s vs 25.
  • Surface Blur takes only 9.5s vs 25
  • Field blur takes 2.5s vs 8.5.
  • Brush lag is effectively gone even with a 2000 pixel soft brush.

On the other hand, there are some areas where the gains are very small. Saving smart objects (15 vs 16s) and compressed TIF files (21 vs 24s) is barely changed as the bottleneck here is CPU clock speed, and the M1’s impressive gains are generally other categories of performance. Of course, if Adobe were to optimize file compression for multi-core CPUs at some point, then we could expect to see huge gains as well.

Equally surprising to me was how much of a performance hit was caused when running under Rosetta2. I’ve generally been told there is about a 20% loss of performance, but it’s much larger. The weighted test time nearly doubled (57s vs 112s). That made it slightly slower than my 2018 MBP. It’s impressive that the machine can keep up when running under emulation, but you’ll definitely want to run natively as much as possible.

Note that I’ve run these tests on a 14″ M1 Max. There are rumors of a high-power mode for the 16″ version, which amounts to being able to run the processor hotter (faster) due to better cooling with the larger chassis. If that comes to fruition, I’d love to hear what times you see running the same benchmark. I would be very surprised to see any benefit in Photoshop, as there’s almost nothing I do in Photoshop that drives the fans much above the minimum. Heavy imports in LR, video exports, or other activity that causes loud fans for a long time is the kind of task where I would expect some possible benefit (certainly Photoshop might benefit under a heavy multi-tasking scenario).

 

Other performance tests:

I haven’t created benchmarks for these other apps, but wanted to share some comparisons running identical tasks on both my 2018 and 2021 laptops.

  • Gigapixel AI did the same enlargement in 180s vs 30s (ie, the old machine took 6x longer!), and this was using Gigapixel v5 under Rosetta on the M1.
  • Rendering a 20-minute 1080p video from Final Cut Pro X took 2:02 on the new laptop vs 8:43 (a whopping 77% reduction in the time to export, ie the old machine took 4.3x longer)
  • Rendering a different 19-minute 1080p video from ScreenFlow took 9:06 on the new laptop vs 14:03 (a 35% reduction in the time to export, ie the old machine took 1.5x longer). This project was slightly more complex (many more cuts and a second audio track), but nothing that I believe would account for the different times here. The benefits can’t be explained as simply as “this machine is built for video”. Yes, all video apps benefit greatly, but there is an enormous advantage for apps which have been specifically optimized to use multiple cores, GPUs, and Apple Silicon (in general, probably more than just running native).

As you can see, the there are generally gains across the board. For apps which are optimized for performance, the gains can be truly astonishing.

As a general observation, I generally find that the usage of the GPU is much higher on the Apple Silicon laptop. Some of this is the WindowServer process from MacOS, but some is showing for the apps themselves. Both video apps showed greater usage of the GPU, which may come from the native version of the app, MacOS on Apple Silicon, or both. The GPU still shows a lot more relative downtime  than the CPU, but the gap is smaller than on the Intel machine.

Beyond speed: how is the rest of the 2021 M1 Max?

There is a LOT to love about this new laptop beyond just faster speeds and better battery life. A quick rundown of my favorites:

The silence! This is probably my favorite part of the upgrade. The 2018 laptop routinely runs the fans full tilt, which measures 44dB (sound measurements taken near where my head would be during regular use via the Decibal X app on iPhone). When running my benchmark test, it quickly ramped to around 28-30dB and then the full 44dB shortly after that. This was as loud as I could make it, even when pushing LR full tilt by re-rendering standard, smart, and 1:1 previews for 300 images. The 2018 laptop makes fan noise that I can hear all the time, even when it’s sitting completely idle and registering around 23-24dB, which is the ambient sound of the quiet room in our house.

The 2021 is so quiet that it hardly ever exceeded the 23bB ambient sound. I can’t hear it idle without putting my ear near the keyboard. It only got up to 26dB at the most challenging parts of my Photoshop benchmark. The reality is that so little Photoshop work uses 8-10 cores for extended periods that you just aren’t making it hot. So I did the same LR test to rebuild 3 x 300 previews. This finally got it revved up to a maximum 44dB. So it isn’t that the new machine is more quiet at the maximum fan speeds, it’s that it almost never uses them while the old one routinely does. You are hardly ever going to hear this machine unless you’re rendering video or doing a batch processing of a large number of images.

The battery life! I ran my benchmark test 3 times on each machine starting from 100%. The old machine has a battery that’s only a month old, so I’d say this is a pretty fair head to head. Both were running the latest versions of Photoshop and MacOS Monterey and without apps running in the background. Not only did the new machine finish in half the time, it still showed 95% battery charge vs only 68% by the time the old machine finished. The improvement is astounding.

The screen brightness for me has jumped from a maximum of 500 to 1600 nits. Does it look “three times” brighter? Definitely not, but it is clearly brighter and this will be extremely nice when I need to use the laptop outdoors or in bright ambient conditions. And the quality of the screen is much better with deeper, richer blacks via the mini-LED technology (which only uses a bright backlight behind pixels that need it, so that it doesn’t show through the dark pixels). The blacks are clearly much darker and the whites are clearly brighter, so the contrast ratio on this display is excellent.

There have been concerns about the risk that this new display may show “blooming”, or a bit of a halo around bright pixels isolated against a dark background. I can confirm that I do see this, which is because mini-LED lights small zones (not individual pixels). That said, it’s minimal, I wouldn’t notice if I weren’t looking for it, I can see it sometimes on the old display, its not as bright as the minimum black on the old display, and I already do a lot of my critical editing on a 27″ Eizo anyway. So even if you’re shooting the moon or little stars against a black night sky, I wouldn’t be concerned with this.

There have also be questions and concerns about the notch. I mostly don’t notice it, but it does leave fewer options at the top at times when the menu is really crowded. It also has some quirks where things can be effectively rendered behind the notch, which I assume will be fixed in short order with an update from Apple. But for now, it can be pretty confusing / frustrating, as important system icons may be completely hidden. A quick workaround is to switch apps (as an app with fewer written menu commands will show more icons). Given that the real change here is actually giving you more display at the top corners (rather than taking something away from the top-middle), I’m perfectly ok with it (as I’m sure Apple will fix the glitch with hidden content soon enough).

The thing I miss most in this display is simply the size, which was a conscious decision on my part to save weight. 14″ is noticeably less space one you add in toolbars for LR and PS, but it’s fairly subtle. I’m seeing 20 images in grid view in LR instead of 24. In Photoshop, I can click <tab> to hide and show the side panels quickly to see more of the image in rare cases where I’d want more. I’ll see how I feel after a few road trips, but I suspect I’ll be sticking with 14-15″ sizes over 16″. If Apple were to shave weight by cutting battery weight, that’s a tradeoff I’d happily take. I can reverse that tradeoff anytime by bringing my HyperJuice 130W USB-C, which is an amazing product and good for a full charge on the go.

The new FaceTime HD webcam is amazing. The noise is substantially improved, feels like switching from ISO 1600 to ISO 200 on your camera. The color rendering is much better, with skin tones looking much more natural. And the boosted resolution provides a meaningful improvement in detail.

The sound of the speakers is incredible on both machines. The 2018 is slightly louder, but I’m comparing a 15″ to the new 14″ chassis and I don’t know if the new 16″ performs differently. I would say that the 2021 sound feels slightly more enveloping and less like it’s coming from a little device in a specific part of the room. I’d say I slightly prefer the new sound.

A built-in SD-card reader (SDXC) is awesome to have again – one less adapter to carry, lose, or forget. And not having to worry about forgetting an HDMI cable removes some stress for making presentations.

 

How to get maximum speed and compatibility with Universal / Apple Silicon apps vs running Intel under Rosetta2:

The migration from Intel to custom Apple ARM chips means better performance and battery life, but also the need for new software and some limitations. Apple has done a remarkable job with “Rosetta2”, which allows you to run legacy apps on Apple Silicon. But to get the best performance, you’ll need to run “universal” or native apps. If you right-click an app and see the application kind listed as “Intel”, you’ll be running under Rosetta2 (if you see “universal” or “Apple Silicon”, you’re ready to run native). It’s so seamless that you might easily not realize that you’re running Rosetta2 and missing out on better performance. If you use Apple’s Migration Assistant to transfer all your existing data from your old laptop to the new one, then you’re very likely bringing over Intel apps and will need to upgrade or reinstall.

I found that all of my Adobe apps were all installed as the Intel version, even though universal versions of Photoshop v23, Lightroom v11, etc all exist. This is presumably Adobe installing only the software your machine needed at the time it downloaded, to save space on your computer. To upgrade to the much faster native versions, just uninstall (be sure to keep settings) and then install again. When you install directly on your Apple Silicon computer, the Creative Cloud Desktop (CCD) will install the universal versions of the apps.

I found this was also the case with some other non-Adobe apps. Some of these could be updated to universal apps, and some are only available as Intel apps at this time. There’s an easy way to review everything (without having to right-click for “get info” on each app). Go to the Apple logo at top left / About this Mac / System Report / Software / Applications. Make sure the display is wide enough to see the far right column for “kind”. Click that column to sort it and look for apps listed as “Intel”. If you see anything as “32-bit (unsupported)”, this is so old that it cannot run on any computer running any of the three most recent major versions of MacOS (you’d need 10.14 or older). If you see “Apple Silicon” or “Universal”, those apps are ready to run natively.

One more thing to know about the universal apps is that they contain both the Intel and Apple Silicon versions of the app, which means you can run natively or under Rosetta2. Running under Rosetta2 may unlock some features in the app which have not yet been migrated to the native version. In Photoshop, this includes CEP panels and the Shake Reduction filter. If you’re trying to find an extension panel under Window / Extensions (legacy), you’ll need to run under Rosetta or install a newer UXP version of the same plugin (Lumenzia v10 and all versions of Web Sharp Pro run natively as UXP panels). If you wish to launch a universal app under Rosetta, please see here for details. Adobe also lets you run under Rosetta if you go into the Creative Cloud Desktop app, click the … icon, and then choose “Open (Intel)”. The normal open option there will use Apple Silicon (and is noted in the tooltip). If you don’t see those options, then you haven’t yet installed the universal version of that app.

 

Important photography apps available native for Apple Silicon

  • All my software runs natively on Apple Silicon, that includes Lumenzia (v10+) and Web Sharp Pro.
  • Adobe Photoshop (v22.3+). Just be sure you’ve updated (the Apple Migration assistant will import your old Intel version onto your new M1 computer). If you cannot access Window / Extensions (legacy), the plugins below, or Filter / Sharpen / Shake Reduction, you are running under Rosetta. Just uninstall and reinstall the latest version to replace your Intel version with the Universal build.
  • Adobe Lightroom Classic (v10.3+). Same update comments as Photoshop.
  • Nik Collection. The entire collection (except Perspective Efex) got native support for Apple Silicon starting from v4.2. Aside from providing faster performance, this update is critical if you want to see all the Nik tools without having to run Photoshop under Rosetta.
  • Topaz Gigapixel AI (as of v6). Even running v5 under Rosetta is 6x faster than my old 2018. The gains here are enormous.
    • Note: Gigapixel uses some very interesting optimizations. On the 2018, it runs nearly entirely on the GPU with modest RAM. On the 2021, it runs nearly entirely on the CPU with much higher (2-10x) RAM usage. I’m not sure how much extra RAM matters though, as I deliberately consumed nearly all the free RAM on the computer and Gigapixel didn’t slow down a bit when it had to work with less.
  • ON1 Photo RAW (2022), which includes Resize if you get the ON1 Photo RAW 2022 Ultimate Upgrade.
  • CaptureOne Pro 22 (Dec 2021). This was a very painful update: the license provided to me over email does not work, and customer support had not repied after 7 days until an external person with connections inside the company was able to get them to respond. I have no reason to believe my issues would affect others now that we’re beyond the pre-purchase issues that affected me, but I hesitate to recommend products after such a support experience.
  • NeatImage (as of v9, released Dec 2021)

 

Apps not yet available as native for M1

 

As of the time I’m writing this, the following apps are not native for Apple Silicon, but do run under Rosetta2:

  • Luminar 4. This means slower performance and more importantly, you won’t see the Photoshop Plugins unless you run Photoshop under Rosetta. It is my understanding that no native update is coming for Luminar 4. Instead, Luminar fans are encouraged to update to the upcoming Luminar Neo, which process much more than just Apple Silicon support, including. Preorder now to save, if you are logged in and click the nearly hidden option at top to validate that you are a customer and you’ll be able to update for only $54 (>70% off the normal standalone price of Neo). I’m looking forward to seeing the new AI relight, AI atmostpher, AI sensor dust removal, AI portrait tools like background removal and bokeh, and more.
  • Topaz Denoise AI (as of v3.3). While the software does not run native, the plugin does and that’s all that matters (you’ll be able to launch the plugin when Photoshop is running natively and speed is not an issue).
  • Topaz Sharpen AI (as of v3.2.2). While the software does not run native, the plugin does and that’s all that matters (you’ll be able to launch the plugin when Photoshop is running natively and speed is not an issue).
  • Nik Perspective Efex (as of v5). The rest of the Nik Collection got native support for Apple Silicon starting from v4.2. Be sure to check out my demo to make the most of Color Efect Pro. But you won’t be able to run Perspective Efex as a Photoshop plugin yet.
  • Adobe Bridge (as of v11). See Adobe’s support article for some limitations and tips.
  • i1Studio calibration software. It runs fine under Rosetta and I really don’t see any reason to care about a native build, as there are no speed or compatibility concerns that I’ve come across.
  • CEP extension panels for Photoshop (anything normally loaded via Window / Extensions (legacy) in Photoshop). You can either run Photoshop under Rosetta or update to UXP versions of these extension panels (which will show under the Plugins menu in PS). Both my Lumenzia and Web Sharp Pro software are available already as UXP panels.

Please let me know if you think I’m missing any critical and widespread photography apps from this list in the comments below.

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Greg Benz Photography