Tuesday 12 March 2019

Able2Extract Professional 14 Review

Able2Extract Professional 14 $149.95

Able2Extract is a PDF editing and conversion tool. It can convert files between PDF and a variety of other formats including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, text, HTML and various image formats. Conversion can be done by loading documents one by one or in batch mode on a selected directory.
PDF on the left. Word on the right? Which is the original? Here the PDF eBook is the source document and I have used Able2Extract to create a Word document from it. If you click the image above to enlarge it you will see that the fully-editable Word document is very faithful to the PDF original, including column formatting and images. There are a few minor differences to text styles however.
Editing features include the ability to add and delete text or graphics, redacting (blacking out) selected text, and adding annotations. There is also built-in form support that lets you create editable forms with ‘fill-in’ fields. For an overview of the principal features see my review of a previous release of Able2Extract Professional 12. The main new features in this release are electronic and digital signing and improved “AI-powered” PDF to Excel conversion.

Here I am creating a new digital signature just by entering my name on the keyboard and letting Able2Extract generate a digital (cryptographic) signature image.

When I need to add my signature to a PDF form, I just drag the previously-generated digital image into place.
Electronic document signing lets you add a signature by drawing it on screen, typing it at the keyboard or adding a pre-prepared image.  Even though an electronic signature may not match your hand-written signature, it uses cryptographic techniques so that it can be verified for authenticity.

The other big new feature in this release are the so-called “AI-powered templates” for converting to and from Excel spreadsheets. According to Investintech, Able2Extract 14 has templates that “can be trained to automatically locate and convert PDF tables that match the table structure stored in a template, making tabular data extraction accurate and easy no matter how long the source document is or the position of tables in a PDF document.”

You can also load up PDF documents and auto-extract any tables to be converted to Excel. When this option is selected, all other text and image content of the PDF file is ignored and only the tabular data is extracted. Excel support goes beyond PDF conversion. Able2Extract lets you load up any of its supported formats (for example a Word document) and convert it direct to Excel.
Here I have a long PDF document that contains several tables. I want to extract the table into an Excel spreadsheet. The conversion option lets me extract the tables alone, ignoring the rest of the text.

This is the end result. My tables have been extracted into an Excel spreadsheet, read for me to edit them.
A common format for conversion is Microsoft Word. I tried out Able2Extract with some quite complicated eBooks with multiple columns, styles, box-outs, graphics tables and more. I have to say the conversion between Word and PDF was remarkably good. In my experience, there are occasionally some changes to font styles and  layout that crop up during conversion. But these are generally quite minor. On the whole, the conversion is fast and fairly accurate.

Overall, this is a very capable PDF conversion program. If you regularly need to convert documents to and from the supported formats or if you need to edit and sign PDF forms, this is about as easy as it gets.

Sunday 10 March 2019

DxO PhotoLab 2 review

DxO PhotoLab 2 (Elite Edition) £159 (currently on offer at £119.99)
DxO PhotoLab 2 (Essential Edition) £99 (currently on offer at £79.99)

DxO PhotoLab 2 is an image processing packaged aimed specifically at photographers. If you’ve taken a photograph and the colours, sharpness or exposure are not quite what you want, this software will help you enhance the image to achieve a more satisfactory, pleasing or dramatic effect.

Here I am using DxO PhotoLab 2 to process the original image (seen in the top half of the screen) by setting parameters to improve the contrast, colour saturation and brightness. The processed image is shown in the bottom half of the screen
There is more to creating a great photo than just clicking the button on your camera and saving the results onto disk. Once you have the image, there are all kinds of ways you can process it in order to make it really stand out. And that’s where DxO PhotoLab comes in. It is an image processing program which specialises in enhancing and correcting images, with some features specifically tailored for RAW (unprocessed) images.

RAW images contain more information than images saved in formats such JPG or PNG. Some of that information is lost when it is processed into one of those formats. DxO PhotoLab, however, is able to use the information stored in RAW file in order to optimise the image rendering – for example, by correcting optical flaws, or correcting colour balance and sharpness. While RAW processing is its strength, it can also work with other image formats such as JPEG, though the range of optimisations is more limited with those formats.

The software has built-in support for a number of cameras from major manufacturers such as Canon, Panasonic, Nikon, Olympus, Apple, Sony and others. This helps the software to automate the processing of RAW images from specific makes and model of camera. The company claims that it has analysed no less than 42,000 camera/lens combinations to help to automate the enhancement of camera-specific images. You and can find the full list of supported cameras here:  https://www.dxo.com/dxo-photolab/supported-cameras/

If grainy pictures are a problem, its denoising tools could be a big advantage. Grain is likely to be most problematic in shots taken in low light with high ISO. So if night-time shooting is important to you, denoising could help to add sharpness to your photos. Some of the more advanced features are only available in the Elite Edition. The cheaper Essential edition has the core functionality but lacks dedicated camera support, enhanced denoise and a few other image processing tools. I have been using the Elite edition for this review. You can check the feature lists for both editions here: https://shop.dxo.com/en/photo-software/dxo-photolab

Here I have selected an area (the area above the diagonal line which I have simply drawn and rotated on the image) and I am making local edits by dragging the ‘bar chart’ elements to alter colour, contrast, grain, shadows and black density.
PhotoLab 2 includes an automatic repair tool to remove unwanted elements – everything from a bit of dust to a bird in the sky – with a selective retouching tool to mask and replace areas of the image. The main new feature in the latest release of PhotoLab is a tool to let you may make ‘local adjustments’ – that is, you can selected areas of a photograph and apply edits to them. You can, for example, select the sky and then make in-place changes to its colour and contrast.

DxO PhotoLab 2 also has a PhotoLibrary tool for organising your pictures. This provides the ability to search through directories of images in order to find those that match specific criteria such as date, ISO setting or focal length. This is a feature that is broadly similar (though not quite yet as complete) as the tools provided by Lightroom Classic.

If you don’t want to go to the bother of tweaking individual parameters, you can simply apply one of the ‘presets’ to apply a range of effects and enhancements at the click of a mouse button.
PhotoLab 2 comes with arrange of ready-to-use filters and ‘image fixes’ which can be simply applied to photos. However, to get the most from the software you may need to tweak individual parameters which are available in a set of collapsible panels to let you make adjustments to lighting, colour and geometry. This can be quite a detailed and complex process. This is great for professional users who are prepared to put in the time and effort to learn to use all the tools and options. For amateur or occasional users, however, this may seem intimidatingly complicated. Indeed, for those users a simpler-to-use (and cheaper) program such as Smart Photo Editor might be more appropriate.  For a guide to the principal features of DxO PhotoLab 2 see here: https://www.dxo.com/dxo-photolab/features/

The bottom line: who needs this software? If you want to apply effects and corrections to your photographs, a general-purpose image editing program such as Adobe PhotoShop may be your first choice. Alternatively, if you need a cheaper solution, a program such as Affinity Photo or CyberLink PhotoDirector might fit the bill. For image processing features aimed specifically at photographic enhancement, the obvious competitors to PhotoLab are Adobe LightRoom and Phase One’s Capture One.

Dx0 PhotoLab is aimed at professional photographers who need to make adjustments at the nitty-gritty level of detail. For those users, it provides a solid range of features with dedicated camera support at what, in this range of software, is quite a reasonable price. In short DxO PhotoLab 2 is a good value image processing program for the more serious photographer.