onOne's PhotoTools is here to take you by the hand, to bring chaos to order through a simple and sleekly implemented toolset that provides everything required to breathe life into your shots.
At its most basic, PhotoTools is a Photoshop Action Library; a collection of macros designed to transform your images within a few clicks. It is, however, more than the sum of its parts. Rather than simply adding a new folder of actions to the standard Photoshop interface, it has its own full-screen dialog in order to display its techniques in a more accessible way.
After launching from within Photoshop, the standard interface disappears, replaced seconds later with a dark grey window. In the centre is a twin view of your photo. To the right is the stack - a layer system that enables you to remove, reorder and fade the effect of each filter non-destructively.
Beneath that is an extensive list of filters and manipulations, divided by their intended application: 11 Landscape Enhance filters, 26 Film and Darkroom treatments and so on. The latter is one of the most interesting subsets the application has to offer; it enables old darkroom effects and famous film characteristics to be applied to your shots, such as E6 cross-processing, Fuji Velvia and Polachrome.
Though some filters are decidedly cryptic, each one's information panel explains what it does and how and when it should be applied - as well as an example image.
With the professional edition comes a host of actions designed by 2003 Photoshop Hall of Fame winner Jack Davis and revered portrait photographer and Photoshop guru Kevin Kubota.
Many of these have to be seen to be believed; pick the right photo and you'll see it transformed into exhibition-quality material in seconds. Even purists will struggle to find fault, as many of the filters either recreate darkroom techniques or simply combine subtle colour and curve adjustments; all of which fall below the 'heavily manipulated' boundary.
While the actions themselves are impressive, the interface is perhaps what sets PhotoTools apart; it's professional looking, delightfully laid out and very easy to comprehend.
Perhaps the most enlightened move has been to implement a fluid split-view system - place a line directly down the middle of your photo and everything to its left will be original, with everything to the right showing what it looks like with effects applied.
Dragging the image across this line will smoothly transition it, enabling you to see the difference without having to toggle effects layers in Photoshop.
Not designed to educate
Sadly, if you're imagining PhotoTools as a learning aid you're out of luck. Unlike Photoshop's standard action interface, there's no way to see what's being applied behind the scenes. onOne maintains that PhotoTools isn't designed to educate; rather, it eliminates the need altogether.
While this is an admirable policy, it does mean that you'll end up none the wiser as to how Kubota and Davis have achieved worldwide acclaim.
That said, if you've little interest in technical tweaks but you're after a superb result in post production, you can't go far wrong with PhotoTools.