onOne / Playing With Photo Suite 9 Smart Photos

Can you tell I'm excited about Perfect Photo Suite 9? It seems that's almost all I'm blogging about. A little secret about how I blog... what I'm working on, you get to see. Amazing, huh.

So... Smart Photos. In a nutshell, non-destructive editing in the Perfect Photo Suite. That's the draw of this feature. You no longer have to bake a set of sliders, filters or effects into an image. Any module used to stylize an image can be reopened and re-edited. Absolutely awesome. Let's take a closer look.

Note: I am using a pre-release version of Perfect Photo Suite 9. Screen shots are subject to change. Any limitations I mention may or may not be limitations in the final product. We'll all find out in late October! 
Smart Layers are indicated by a gear icon when selected. Layers with modules inset beneath them are also Smart Layers.

Smart Layers are indicated by a gear icon when selected. Layers with modules inset beneath them are also Smart Layers.

Smart Photos Tour
onOne calls the feature "Smart Photos." I tend to think of it as "smart layers." And you see some of that in the terminology in the tool. A single PSD file can have a mix of "smart" and "simple" layers.

Smart Layers that have already been edited are quite obvious. The list of modules used on the layer are inset beneath the smart layer. When a layer is selected, a gear icon is displayed if the layer is a smart layer. (Hey onOne... I'd like that gear menu visible for all smart layers whether or not the layer is selected. It'd be nice to see all smart layers at a glance.)

Detailed masks are completely re-editable with Smart Photos.

Detailed masks are completely re-editable with Smart Photos.

In a Smart Layer, the individual modules used to stylize the layer can be enabled or disabled with the eye icon next to the module. Double-clicking a module within a smart layer opens that module and allows you to re-edit the image. Every filter, every slider, every detailed mask – it's all there.

Any layer can be converted from a simple layer to a smart layer and vice versa. Right click on a layer and select the "Convert to Smart Layer" or "Simplify Smart Layer" option. You can convert multiple layers at once, too, by shift-clicking to select them.

There are some caveats with converting layers. A smart layer that has been stylized in other modules in the suite will be "flattened" and prior adjustments will no longer be re-editable.

Conversely, there are some editing tools that are not available for a Smart Layer. They are grayed out in the tool well in Layers when a Smart Layer is selected.


The Transform, Crop, Trim, Perfect Eraser, Retouch, and Red Eye tools cannot be used on a smart layer. I don't get this. The "cut line" seems to be drawn at tools that modify the pixels of the image vs. tools that modify the mask. This has some workflow implications – do your retouching on simple layers first and then move on to stylizing. It does leave the door open to forgetting to convert a layer to a smart layer when stylizing (and I've done that more than once already).

I can kind of understand tools that would transform the dimensions of the image. There's a technical challenge to maintain that across layers and modules – although it doesn't seem impossible to solve that problem. For the retouching tools like the eraser and red eye – I think those should just work. And it's very odd that the Clone Tool does work. Maybe this is an artifact of pre-beta software. And maybe I'm making much ado about nothing come October. I really hope so.

Launching From Aperture

I'm an Aperture user (until next year sometime when I migrate) and use the Photo Suite as a plugin. If I launch a photo from Aperture directly into a module such as Perfect Effects, the suite asks me if I want to use a Smart Photo:


If you don't use the "Always use this option" checkbox to turn on Smart Photos by default, you can do it in the preferences later. In Aperture, I have my plug-in settings set to round trip files as PSDs. In the Photo Suite preferences, the Plug-Ins pane has options to make Smart Photos the default:

Enable Smart Photos by default for DAMs like Aperture and Lightroom

Enable Smart Photos by default for DAMs like Aperture and Lightroom

Once that's done, each time I launch the suite from Aperture, I am using a Smart Photo. I expect the same approach works for Lightroom. The "Max Compatibility" note raises an eyebrow... I'm intrigued and want to understand more about what this means. Compatibility with older versions of the suite? Photoshop or Photoshop Elements? Something else?

Random Tests
In one of the Suite 9 webinars, I heard it mentioned that file sizes with Smart Photos would actually be smaller than simple layers. I did a trivial test applying a single preset to an image in both PPS8 and PPS9, using a Smart Photo for PPS9. I did not see a meaningful difference (0.03 MB, and the PPS8 one was actually smaller). I need to do more experimentation with this... it may very well be file size savings only appear when multiple modules are used on a smart layer.

I also did experiments opening a PPS9 Smart Photo PSD into PPS8. PPS8 had no problems reading and rendering the file. Of course, there is no smart layer information. Provided no changes are made to the file in PPS8, all of the smart layer information remains intact and re-editable in PPS9. However, any change in PPS8 destroys the smart layer information. Par for what I expected.

Workflow and tool disable quirks aside, I will happily take the Smart Photos feature and make it part of my standard workflow. I've already used the feature to its fullest advantage processing an image for my upcoming book. Being able to revisit and fine tune the processing, including detailed masks, has already been and will continue to be a great time saver.

ON1Scott Davenport2 Comments