At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s the start of a new decade and this, in conjunction with the Technofile celebrating its 5th birthday (albeit slightly belatedly) seems like the perfect opportunity to give out some awards. Unlike everyone else’s awards though, the Technies are not for the best of 2009, or even for the best of the noughties. They are for, what, in the opinion of The Technofile, is the best software and hardware currently available to creative professionals. Whether it was released yesterday or 5 years ago is immaterial, the only stipulation is that you can go out and buy it…or sit at home and download it (legally, of course) now. So, without further ado:
Best Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
One of the most hotly contested and difficult to judge categories has resulted in a tie between three top rated DAWs that take very different approaches and are, as a result, equally good, for different types of user.
Winner (joint): Propellerhead Record
Rebirth was a legend, Recycle, a must have and Reason, one of the greatest bits of audio software ever created, but all of these pale into insignificance when compared to Record, which finally lets you do precisely that, without the baggage of twenty years worth of software and hardware development. Headline features like a built in modelled SSL 9000k analogue mixing desk and Line 6 guitar and bass Pods make it sizzling hot. Total integration with Reason makes it almost perfect. However, the inability to run third party plug-ins prevents it from emerging a clear winner.
Winner (joint): Ableton Suite 8
Live remains almost unique in the way that it works with audio, making it the first and last word in loop based composition and production and ideal for performers and DJs alike. But it’s not just all about the loops. Live is a fully featured DAW and Suite 8, of which it is a part, adds into the mix 10 instruments including synths, drum machines and a sampler, plus a huge library of sounds. Like Reason, Live ranks as one of the greatest pieces of music making software in history, but its natural aptitude for certain genres means it is not necessarily ideal for every type of project.
Winner (joint): Apple Logic Studio
The daddy of the DAWs, Logic has been around since the heady days of the Atari ST (on which it and its forerunners Creator and Notator started life) and as a result offers everything and the kitchen sink, including an awesome array of virtual instruments and effects. Although it’s a somewhat complex piece of software to master, since buying it, Apple have waved their magic wand and made it far more user friendly than it used to be. Whilst it lacks the simplicity of Record, the unique functionality of Live and the cross platformness of both, it is the best of the old school DAWS, the ‘go to’ of all go tos and, as many musicians have discovered, compliments Ableton Live perfectly.
Best Control Surface:
Winner (joint): Akai Professional APC40
Unlocking what’s ‘in the box’, this much in demand dedicated Ableton Live controller has been selling like hot cakes. It’s easy to see why, as it takes Live to a whole new level of immediacy and interactivity, transforming it into the ultimate live performance and remix tool. If you use Live, live, don’t leave home without one!
Winner (joint): Novation SL MkII
Novation’s innovative and award winning ‘Automap’ technology automatically maps the ‘SL’ to whatever DAW or plug-in you are using at any given moment, making it the perfect controller for almost any setup. A range of options includes 25 and 49 key semi weighted keyboards and the keyboardless ZeRO SL MkII. Annoyingly though, there’s no full length keyboard option.
Best Hardware Synthesizer:
Winner: Access Virus Ti Polar
The success of the Virus series is, well…viral! All pervasive in dance music and extending well outside of it into electronica, sound scoring and elsewhere, you’d be hard pressed to find a studio or electronic musician that doesn’t have or aspire to having one…which is hardly surprising considering that its list of celebrity users includes Depeche Mode, The Prodigy, Sasha, Dr. Dre and Hans Zimmer. Ti means Total Integration with your DAW, resulting in sample accurate timing and full automation, whilst studio grade 24/192 DACs with digital and analogue i/o means the Virus can also be used as an audio interface and a multi effects processor. So why the Polar instead of the full size keyboard or desktop versions? Because it looks as good as all three sound!
Best Software Synthesizer:
Winner: Camel Audio Alchemy
Alchemy combines additive, granular, subtractive analogue and spectral (re)synthesis engines with sample playback, the ability to morph between sound sources, a powerful arpeggiator, an innovative effects section, a mind blowing array of modulation options and a library programmed by some of the world’s top sound designers. It can even generate patches from PNGs! But despite all of this, it has a clean, well thought out interface, with advanced and simple modes that make it not just a joy to use, but probably the most powerful soft synth in the world. Most importantly though, it has soul, beauty…and one hell of a bass end.
Runner Up: Rob Papen Predator 1.5
Rob Papen is a legendary Dutch sound designer and musician who, several years ago, turned his talents to soft synth design. The result was a series of highly acclaimed and extensively used plug-ins. Of these, Predator is an absolute dancefloor demon. It’s phat, easy to use, has an FX section that features a vocoder and includes a library of cutting edge sounds made specifically for trance, DnB, breakbeat, glitch, hip hop, hardcore and more. Not that it’s restricted to dance music by any means – it was originally conceived and designed as a general purpose synth. It just happens to be particularly well suited to the dance floor, making it an absolute essential if that’s the direction in which your music making is aimed.
Best Software Bass Synthesizer:
Winner: Rob Papen Sub Boom Bass
Based upon the same engine that powers Predator, this bass synth was originally intended for hip hop and R ‘n’ B. However, Sub Boom Bass does, to use the cliché, exactly what it says on the tin, making it equally well suited to other bass in yer face dance sub genres such as D ‘n’ B and Dubstep.
Best Software Synthesizer Collection:
Winner: Arturia The 10 Year Suite
With no less a luminary than Bob Moog himself (RIP) endorsing their painstaking recreations of his legendary synths, the verdict’s pretty unanimous that Arturia make the world’s best classic synth emulations…which they then feed steroids and train to do tricks the originals couldn’t! To celebrate their 10th anniversary, they’ve bundled all seven of their classic synths – the Minimoog V, Moog Modular V, CS-80V, ARP2600 V, Jupiter-8V , Prophet V and Prophet VS, with their superb ‘Analog Factory 2’ (which offers 3500 sounds derived from these synths) and ‘Brass’, which physically models Trumpets, Saxophones and Trombones. Sweet!
Best Software Sampler:
Winner: E-MU Systems Emulator X3
E-MU Systems’ Emulator was the first relatively affordable digital sampling keyboard. During the 80s, it (and its successive variants) transformed electronic music and sound scoring , gaining it iconic status in the process. During the 90s, its legendary sound library was developed into a series of highly successful spin-off modules that included the ubiquitous ‘Proteus 2000’ and the highly acclaimed ‘Xtreme Lead’. The X3 distils all of this experience and much of this library into one superlative sounding soft sampler that offers a vast range of sound mangling possibilities, thanks to features like ‘Twistaloop’, its advanced beat detection and manipulation engine, ‘Morph Filter Designer’, which lets you construct brand new types of filter that can be morphed between in real time, ‘Xtractor’, which enables the removal, isolation, or pitch shifting of specific instruments/vocals within a stereo mix and the ‘Xplode Beat Slicer’. What’s more, it ships with the complete Proteus 2000 and ‘Xtreme Lead X’ soundsets, putting an extensive range of classic sounds at your fingertips. That’s why it’s the best soft sampler in the world!
Best Reverb Plug-in:
Winner: Audio Ease Altiverb 6
Altiverb is the mother of all reverbs. It uses convolution technology, which ‘samples’ the ambience of a space, by recording its response to an impulse (originally the firing of a starting pistol and more recently the playback of a pure sine wave). This impulse response (IR) is then used to apply that space’s unique sound (its reverb) to audio material. Altiverb includes a huge library of impulse responses, that have been meticulously captured in some of the world’s most famous and unlikely places, from the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House, to underground Maltese caves, an Indian tomb and helicopter cockpits, making it just as useful for foley and audio post production, as for music. Audio Ease are tireless in their quest to create new IRs, all of which, impressively, remain free to registered users and include hardware reverbs that run the gamut from the classic to the gloriously tacky. What sets it apart from the competition though, is not so much its huge library, as just how good it sounds. In short Altiverb it is the most natural and best sounding reverb ever made.
Runner Up: Camel Audio CamelSpace
If you’ve ever wondered what a reverb would sound like if you stuck it in the middle of the Nevada desert for a week and fed it nothing but peyote and skunk, the answer is CamelSpace. Features such as its 128-step ‘trance gate’ sequencer, ‘MM’ filter, LFOs, tempo-synced stereo delay and auto-panner make it the complete opposite of the ultra naturalism of Altiverb. In fact, CamelSpace is so seriously out there, that it’s not so much a plug-in, as a plug-out!
Best Specialist Audio Plug-in:
Winner: Audio Ease Speakerphone 2
This unique and highly addictive plug-in uses the same convolution technology as Altiverb, to record and recreate the characteristics of hundreds of different kinds of speakers, ranging from those found in classic guitar cabinets, to antique telephones, bullhorns, distant transistor radios, walkie-talkies and bad cell phone connections. The Impulse Responses for these can be applied to your audio neat, or with added background samples and artefacts, to build complete audio scenes, making it an incredibly powerful tool for audio post production. You can also mangle your audio creatively with a rack (to use the collective noun) of built in effects, for highly original, different and leftfield musical madness. All of which means that Speakerphone 2 is incredibly useful and completely bonkers in equal measures.
Runner Up (joint): iZotope Trash
Trash is the ultimate distortion plug-in. It features 48 distortion types, 85 box, cabinet and speaker models, 36 filters, 6 delay types, multiband compression and a collection of presets that are the stuff of rock legend. But if you think its presets are good, wait until you start tweaking its parameters…make sure you turn everything down first though, as this baby goes up to 11. Although you can use it on pretty much anything,
Trash is a guitarists wet dream!
Runner Up (joint): BBE D82 Sonic Maximizer v2.0
BBE’s unique and well established process compensates for inadequacies in (even the best) speaker design, by adjusting the timing of and phase relationships between the low, mid and high frequencies of audio material. Retaining the simplicity of the hardware units in which this technology made its debut, the process is applied using three idiot proof knobs and results in a much tighter, more defined bass end, sparkling trebles that some might describe as having ‘air’ and an overall improvement in the clarity of elements within a mix.
Best Live Performance Music Software:
Winner: Ableton Live 8
The clue is in the title! Live is a revolution, a revelation and a whole new paradigm rolled into one improvisationtastic application that has redefined the way musicians perform with computers.
Best DJ Deck:
Winner: Pioneer CDJ 2000
Often imitated, never equalled, Pioneer’s CDJ series have been industry standard for years. Now they’ve taken it to the next level with a bunch of innovations that include integrated WAV/MP3 playback from sticks /hard drives and direct, timecoded discless, USB control of Serrato (and other such software)! Unless you’re still using vinyl, this is the only deck you’ll ever need…though obviously you’ll be needing two of them.
Runner Up: Technics SL-1210M5GEB
Because 3 million DJs can’t be wrong!
Best DJ Mixer:
Winner: Pioneer DJM-800
With 4 channels of 24/96kHz audio, 61 assignable MIDI control channels, ‘Harmonic Mixing’ for pitch correction when changing a track’s tempo, automatic BPM detection/syncing and an arsenal of effects, it’s hardly surprising that this mixer is found in more DJ booths worldwide than any other.
Best Laptop DJ Solution:
Winner (joint): Ableton Live 8
Legendary ease of use coupled with previously unheard of live looping possibilities make this the weapon of choice for new school DJs, producers and everything in between. Use it as is, or hook it up to an Akai APC40 or Novation ‘Launchpad’ for ultimate control of your performances.
Winner (joint): Rane/Serrato Scratch Live
For DJs preferring a more old school approach, Serrato keeps the software paradigm real, by giving you two digital decks that can be scratched, spunback and otherwise manipulated from your CD/record decks, using timecoded discs and a special interface.
Best VJ Deck:
Winner: Pioneer DVJ-1000
Like the new CDJ-2000, it’s peerless and the staple of DVJs across the world. If you want to scratch and cut up DVDs, a pair of these are the only things that fit the bill.
Best VJ Mixer:
Winner: Pioneer SVM-1000
The only mixer in the world tailor made to meet the needs of VJs and audio visual artists, the SVM was developed with input from leading DJs and VJs and it shows. With four channels of 24bit/96kHz sound, MIDI assignability, a stack of audio and video effects, an 11inch LCD touch screen and a build quality that gives the impression it could withstand a direct nuclear hit, this is a stonker of a machine that sits perfectly between a pair (or indeed two pairs) of DVJs.
Runner Up: Edirol V4
Until the advent of the SVM-1000, there was no AV mixer suited to the needs of VJs, forcing them to hack all manner of solutions, many of which revolved around the venerable V4. Still available and still widely used, it remains an excellent alternative for those that can’t afford or don’t have access to an SVM-1000.
Best VJ Software:
Winner: Resolume Avenue 3
Resolume 2 must rank as the most popular and widely used piece of VJing software on the planet, but as its creators, Bart and Edwin, are the first to admit, it has its limitations. That’s why they’ve rebuilt it (they have the technology) from scratch, using a completely different programming language and taken it cross platform (yup, it now runs on Macs too!). The result is an almost completely new program that’s exponentially more powerful, yet just as simple to master. Offering GPU accelerated support for multiple layers of HD in real time, full AV control and support for VST plug ins, Resolume Avenue 3 is a quantum leap that will have VJs and AVJs everywhere salivating (and yes, I hereby claim copyright on the term ‘AVJ’!)
Runner Up: Adobe After Effects CS4
Whilst no one in their right mind would seek to use After Effects for live performance, as a tool for content creation it is second to none. As a result it is extremely popular and widely used throughout the VJing world.
Best Video Camera:
Winner: Sony PMW EX3
Sony’s EX1 marked a watershed moment in digital video by offering 3 half inch chips, recording full HD (1920×1080) at variable (progressive) frame rates, to solid state media, through a real lens with true manual control, for just several grand. The EX3 builds on the EX1’s justified success, by adding interchangeable lenses, a better viewfinder, timecode in/out, a genlock and semi shoulder mountability (albeit at a price) making it a fantastic camera for everything from music videos to long form documentaries to low budget feature films.
Runner Up: Canon 5D MkII
Although it is, first and foremost, a DSLR, the 5D MkII’s ability to shoot full HD (1920 x 1080) video has proved to be a true game changer, thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of Vincent Laforet and Philip Bloom. On release, it lacked manual control in video mode, but a firmware release that corrected this, made it substantially more useable. Although, currently, it is restricted to recording at 30 frames per second, another firmware upgrade, that’s due soon, will add the all important 24p and 25p, which, in a full frame camera that costs less than a couple of grand, is of earth shattering significance. Canon might have been the only people to have been surprised by the 5D Mk II’s runaway success, but now that they’ve embraced this success (as the release of the 7D demonstrates), Sony and Red could end up with huge fight on their hands.
Best Video Accessory:
Winner: Convergent Design Nano Flash
As good as the images from the Sony EX1/EX3 are, the 35Mbps (4:2:0) at which it encodes and records data internally, is below the published standards of some key television networks. Fortunately, it and similar cameras, have HD-SDI output ports, through which they send uncompressed data at much higher bit rates. Connect a Nano Flash to the HD-SDI port of an EX3/1/1r (or similar camera) and you can take advantage of this, recording at 50, 100 or even higher Mbps (in the more robust 4:2:2), with embedded 24 bit (instead of standard 16 bit) audio, direct to relatively low priced flash cards! The result is broadcast (and above) quality video that’s made to withstanding the rigours of post production.
Runner up (joint): Litepanels
Litepanels are revolutionising film and television lighting, thanks to their patented LED technology, which offers infinitely dimmable soft, directional, 5600ºK or 3200ºK output (with virtually no colour shift) at the turn of a knob. They are self contained, cable free, cool to the touch, use a fraction of the energy of conventional lighting, have a stated lamp life of over 50,000 hours and can be powered from snap-on batteries, AC adapters, cigarette lighters and camera batteries. Equally well suited to the needs of still and motion photographers, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes that include the 12” x 12” ‘1 x1’ model (multiples of which can be combined), the AA battery powered hot shoe mountable ‘Micro Pro’ and the ‘Ringlite’ series.
Runner Up (joint): Sennheiser microphones
When it comes to microphones (and, for that matter, headphones) Sennheiser make some of the best in the business. Their vast range of wired and wireless production mics run the gamut from electronic news gathering, to feature film production, so whether you need a single reporter’s radio mic for a location piece to camera, a shotgun mic for a fly on the wall documentary, or a truckload of lavalier mics for a high end costume drama, Sennheiser have the goods. Because every production is different, there’s no such thing as one mic fits all, so this honour goes to Sennheiser’s entire pro audio range.
Winner: Sekonic Dualmaster L-758 Cine
The cinematographer Jack Cardiff might have been able to photograph some of the world’s greatest movies without using a light meter, but we’re not all Jack Cardiff and whilst digital might reduce the need for a light meter, it certainly doesn’t eliminate it entirely. What it does do is to create the need for one that can be precisely calibrated to a camera’s sensor and, with convergence, that can be used for both stills and video work. The L-758 uniquely answers both needs. It is sensitive, accurate and equally at home with still and motion picture film, digital sensors and any combination of flash, continuous and ambient light you might face in the field.
Best Video Editing Software:
Winner: Apple Final Cut Studio
Apparently Apple reckon that 50% of all video editing is done using Final Cut. They’re probably right. Its success over the last few years has been phenomenal, with professionals (and ‘event videographers’) deserting more mature packages for it, in their droves. Without question, the number one editing solution for independent film production and rapidly taking over broadcast television, Final Cut Studio is the gold standard.
Runner Up: Sony Vegas Pro 9
Because Vegas is built using the same technology that powers Acid, it is able to work with AV in a way that none of the other major video editing applications can, making it the secret weapon of many a VJ. Of course it’s a fully featured editing application too and so well worth checking out.
Best Motion Graphics Software:
Winner: Adobe After Effects CS4
Used extensively in animation, post production and VJing, After Effects is substantially more than just a piece of motion graphics software, but at motion graphics it excels and tight integration with other key Creative Suite applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator, enhances its killer functionality still further.
Runner Up: Apple Motion 4
Rumoured, in certain quarters, to have been created by a VJ, Motion offers an alternative to After Effects, that grows in popularity with every release. Best of all, it comes free with Final Cut Studio.
Best Scriptwriting Software:
Winner: Final Draft 8
If you’ve ever tried to write a script on a standard word processor, you’ll know how laborious and creative flow destroying it can be. Final Draft solves this problem by automating the formatting process. Simply pick an industry standard templates for your movie, stage play, sitcom or TV drama and move between its pre-formatted script ‘elements’ (dialogue, character names and scene headings) using the ‘tab’ and ‘enter’ keys. As you write, it formats, simple as. What’s more, it’s packed full of writing aids and its new .fdx format offers tight integration with third party production programs. No wonder it’s the number one selling script writing application.
Runner Up: Write Brothers’ Movie Magic Screenwriter 6
In essence, this does the same thing as Final Draft. Which program you prefer is very much a matter of personal taste, though fans of Screenwriter will point out that it is the only piece of software to have won an Academy Technical Achievement Award and that like Final Draft, it has a long list of successful Hollywood productions to its name.
Winner: Holga 120 GN
For years people have been wrestling with the eternal question ‘Canon or Nikon’? The answer is simple…Holga! It has a plastic lens, a plastic body, takes film…and it’s quite simply the coolest and most fun camera ever made. Until you can shoot, process and print award winning pictures with one, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a DSLR!
Winner: Nikon D3s
This recently released successor to the already excellent D3, offers a redesigned sensor with a top ISO equivalent speed of 12,800, ‘pushable’ to a jaw dropping and remarkably useable 102,400. But it doesn’t end there, built in sensor cleaning, live view, video recording with stereo sound (albeit 720p at a fixed 24 FPS) and improved autofocus make this the best DSLR that (quite a lot of) money can buy.
Runner Up: Canon 5D MkII
The original 5D was the first (and for a long time only) relatively affordable, compact, full frame sensor DSLR. Its MkII successor, which offers a number of improvements, was the first (and remains the only full frame) DSLR to offer full HD (1920 x 1080) video recording. Whilst megapixels certainly aren’t the be all and end all, if you need resolution, it offers 75% more than the D3s, for half the price, in a much smaller and lighter body.
Best Digital Compact Camera:
Winner: Panasonic Lumix DMC GF-1
For a long time, photographers have been asking why manufacturers can’t make a small camera with a big sensor, that thinks and reacts like a DSLR? Sigma almost got there with the DP-1, but technical constraints prevented it from becoming a hit. Olympus captured the imagination of the photographic world with their EP-1, which was widely criticised for slow auto focus and lack of built in flash. Then Panasonic finally gave us what we wanted and more, with the release of the GF-1. Although it uses the same ‘half frame’ sized sensor as the EP-1, it offers significantly better auto focus, built in flash, HD video recording (albeit low bit rate AVCHD lite at 720p) and an optional hot shoe mounted electronic viewfinder. Even without built in image stabilisation (or the superior ergonomics of the much lauded Canon G series) the Panasonic GF-1 is currently the best compact digital camera on the market, but with the Leica X1 soon to be nipping at its heels and rumours of EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens) cameras from Sony et al, expect it to face stiff competition for this title in 2010.
Runner Up: Ricoh GXR
Whilst Panasonic’s GF-1 and Olympus’ EP-1 offer interchangeable lenses as a headline feature, Ricoh take things a step further, by offering interchangeable modules that consist of a lens and a senor optimised for each other. The result is a tiny camera with a big (and a small) sensor, that must rank as one of the most novel compact digital designs of all time. Ricoh’s cameras are already a huge hit with pro photographers, as they offer excellent optics in tiny bodies and the GXR looks set to continue this trend.
Best camera accessory:
Winner: X-Rite ColorChecker Passport
Providing three photographic targets in one conveniently camera bag sized protective case, this absolutely essential piece of hardware is deceptively clever. In addition to offering a white balance target, its boasts an industry standard 24 patch colour chart, that can be used on its own for simple colour correction, or together with the included calibration software, to create custom DNG profiles. It also features a ‘Creative Enhancement Target’ which, used in conjunction with Lightroom, makes precise, repeatable, creative control of colour and contrast, as simple as a click. Brilliant!
Best Photo Editing Software:
Winner (joint): Adobe Lightroom 2
The best thing to happen to digital photo processing and management ever, Lightroom is to Photoshop what Live is to Logic. The king is dead, long live the king!
Winner (joint): Adobe Photoshop CS4
OK, the king isn’t really dead, far from it, in fact, Photoshop is still the king of the image editing applications and indispensable for everything from web site design to film post production, added to which it offers all sorts of photo manipulation functionality that Lightroom doesn’t (yet). Fortunately Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2 integrate seamlessly to offer an unbeatable combination.
Runner Up: Portrait Professional Studio 9
When it comes to beauty retouching, this unique piece if software lets you do in seconds what takes minutes in Lightroom and hours in Photoshop. However, its intelligent algorithms go much further than a simple skin peel and make up job, offering facial reconstruction of a calibre that puts some of the best plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills to shame…and all with just a few simple clicks!
Best HDR Software:
Winner: HDRsoft Photomatix Pro 3
High Dynamic Range photography, which combines several shots of the same scene, at different exposures, to maximise exposure latitude, has famously been described as the marmite of the photographic world…i.e. you love it or you hate it. Whichever camp you’re in, one thing is for sure, when it comes to HDR, this is the piece of software that everyone uses. Sure, it’s capable of creating the now somewhat clichéd in yer face HDR images that have the photographic world split down the middle, but in the right hands, it’s also capable of great subtlety, so leave your preconceptions at the studio door and give it a try.
Best Photoshop/Lightroom Plug-in:
Winner (joint): Nik Silver Efex Pro
For a long time, black and white was the Achilles heel of digital photography, not any more though, thanks to Silver Efex Pro, which does a sterling (pun intended) job of modelling the characteristic looks and grain structures of 18 key black and white films. Used by all the top pros, it is an absolute essential for black and white work.
Winner (joint): onOne Genuine Fractals 6 Professional
Good as Photoshop is at making enlargements, Genuine Fractals is better, thanks to patented fractal based interpolation algorithms that enable it to blow up images to over 10 times their native size, without the loss of sharpness or detail that you would normally expect. That’s why it’s standard across the photographic and print industries.
Best Photoshop/Lightroom Plug-in Suite:
Winner: Nik Software Complete Collection
In addition to Silver FX Pro, Nik make the highly popular Viveza 2, which offers selective control of light and colour within a photo; Color Efex Pro 3, which provides 52 photographic filters and over 250 effects; Dfine 2.0, which offers selective control over noise reduction within an image and Sharpener Pro 3.0, the leading professional sharpening tool. Each of these plug-ins is superb in its own right, bundling all five makes for an absolute killer collection that no digital photographer should be without.
Runner Up: onOne Plug-in Suite 5
In addition to Genuine Fractals, On One make Photo Tools 2.5 Professional, which offers hundreds of professional effects created by top photographers and Photoshop Hall-of-Famers; PhotoTune 3 which optimises the dynamic range, improves the sharpness and corrects the colour of images; Mask Pro 4, which makes it easier to build complex masks in Photoshop; Photo Frame 4.5 which adds virtual frames and surrounds to your photos; and Focal Point 2, which helps you create Bokeh porn. The professional versions of all six of these plug-ins, which, between them, solve the most common Photoshop problems, are bundled together in this highly recommended collection, so if you use Photoshop, get on One!
Best Graphics Tablet:
Winner: Wacom Intuos 4 L
Whether you’re a graphic designer, illustrator, 3D artist, animator, or photographer, a graphics tablet will let you work smarter and the Intuos 4 L is the best of the best. The perfect size to provide a 1:1 mapping ratio for most monitors and to support full arm motion, it offers twice the sensitivity of previous Wacom tablets, boasts OLED displays and is equally at home with the left and the right handers.
Best DTP Software:
Winner: Adobe InDesign CS4
It’s been the future since version 1.5…
Runner Up: Quark XPress 8
A modern interface and tight integration with Adobe’s Creative Suite makes this ideal for anyone whose workflow is Quark dependent.
Best Illustration Software:
Winner: Adobe Illustrator CS4
Illustrator is peerless in its own right and tight integration between it and other programs within Adobe’s Creative Suite, such as Photoshop, After Effects and InDesign, take it to a whole new level, making it standard across many creative industries from print to post production.
Best Web Design Software:
Winner: Adobe Dreamweaver CS4
Dreamweaver has been the gold standard in web design software for almost as long as there has been a web. As web technologies continue to develop and evolve, so does it, whilst somehow managing to get more usable with every version.
Best Creative Software Suite:
This package tightly integrates almost all of Adobe’s key creative applications into an uber suite that will enable you to design, create and produce across practically every medium, from print to video. Included in the box are the latest versions of Acrobat Pro, After Effects, Contribute, Device Central, Dreamweaver, Encore, Fireworks, Flash Professional, InDesign, Illustrator, OnLocation, Photoshop Extended, Premiere Pro and Soundbooth. ‘Dynamic Link’ lets you move audio and video between applications, without the need for intermediate rendering, whilst ‘Bridge’ and ‘Version Cue’ offer powerful browsing and asset management. Best of all though, the price of this suite is substantially less than the cost of buying several of these applications individually, making it not just the world’s most versatile and complete content creation suite, but great value too.
Winner: Apple 15” MacBook Pro (2.66GHz)
For creatives on the move, the 15” MacBook Pro offers the ultimate balancing act between size and power. Whilst the removal of the ExpressCard/34 slot makes it slightly less appealing to musos, a significantly improved display with the return of an antiglare option, makes it ideal for photographers.
Best Operating System:
Winner: Apple OS X Snow Leopard
What can you say about OS X that hasn’t already been said? Put simply, it’s the most stable, reliable, secure, elegant and user friendly OS on the planet…and essential if you want to run Final Cut, Logic, or just to be cool…
Runner Up: Microsoft Windows XP Professional
As a native 64 bit operating system that can address huge amounts of memory, Windows 7 looks set to be a big success for Microsoft and the way forward for PC users. However, until you can be sure that all of your hardware and software will run on it, or have found alternatives that do, you’re probably best off sticking with Windows XP, which, over time, has proved itself to be a better OS than many people would like to give it credit for.
Best Anti Virus Software:
Winner: Norton Internet Security 2010
Anti-virus software cripples system performance and has a nasty habit of interrupting applications at crucial moments, but unfortunately it’s a necessary evil…on PCs at any rate… and this suite offers you the most comprehensive protection there is, by including anti-spyware, bot protection, a firewall, identity protection and anti-spam.
Runner up: AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 9
If you can’t quite bring yourself to pay for protection, AVG offer a free version of their anti-virus software which, while it lacks a few bells and whistles, does a superb job and is, as a result, used by 80 million people!
Best Contact Management Software:
Winner: Act! by Sage 2010
Whatever your creative discipline, if you want to keep track of and effectively manage your contacts and your interactions with them, Act is an essential. This new version significantly ups the ante by adding integration with Social Media and a new layout that’s claimed to significantly increase productivity.
This isn’t a gadget blog, so on the rare occasion that gadgets do appear on The Technofile, it’s with good reason. The ones here are ubiquitous and indispensable for creatives on the move.
Winner: Apple iPhone 3Gs (32GB)
Whatever your creative discipline(s), there’s an app for that. Apparently it even lets you make phone calls.
Runner Up: TomTom Go 950 Live
When it comes to GPS devices, TomTom are at the head of the convoy. The reliability and user friendliness of their units are legendary, as the 950 proves, with a next generation feature set that includes ‘Enhanced Positioning Technology’ for uninterrupted navigation in tunnels and built up areas; ‘IQ routes’, which use local knowledge to ensure the quickest possible journey time; ‘Eco Routes, for ultimate fuel efficiency; voice control, hands free calling and maps of Europe, US and Canada. You also get a month’s free subscription to ‘Live Services, which use live traffic information to automatically reroute your trip, warn you about safety issues, speed cameras (including mobile ones) and to search Google for local shops, restaurants and the cheapest fuel stations. Best of all though, you can download Homer Simpson’s voice to guide you on your journey…presumably turning your TomTom Go into a TomTom Doh! With or without Homer, you’ll never get lost going to a gig again!
Best Mobile Phone:
Winner: Apple iPhone 3Gs (32GB)
Best GPS Device:
Winner: TomTom Go 950 Live
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