Monday, January 26, 2009

FotoMagico Review and Tips

I follow the excellent TWIP Podcast (This Week in Photography) each week and really enjoy the casual presentation style. They offer interesting perspectives on photographic topics and recently led me to try out a product called FotoMagico.

I came to this product after several false starts in trying to find the ideal Mac product for photographic slide-show production that would retain the original photograph quality. In addition to lacing the images together with various pan and transition maneuvers a big requirement is to synchronize the presentation to a soundtrack.

I tried iMovie HD and Final Cut Express - both excellent programs that offer great control over the transitions (particularly with timing so that you can have the flow of images follow the beat of the music) but in each case, unless you show the slideshow on your own computer using the original program you get a marked deterioration in image quality in the final product.

This has to do with two things. The first that the image resolution has to be adjusted to fit whatever media output you select. In both programs you have the ability to select a base image size, but I found that even when I selected a size that matched the 1024x1050 resolution preferred with data projectors the image was cropped or resized for me in the final production in a way that made it look awful on the screen.

The second problem is that the programs render your still images into moving images which reduces display quality - especially when you apply an effect like the Ken Burns effect - there is a rippling that gets introduced.

I tried producing a DVD (720x480) and found that the software again resized my images with a dramatic loss in quality.

Now to be clear, I suppose I could save my images pre-set to these smaller display sizes and try again but I had already spent two weekends in a row on this without coming up with a recipe that gives consistently good quality resolution for data projection.

Scott Bourne, a TWIP presenter mentioned how useful he has found FotoMagico for slide presentations (for the Mac) so I downloaded a demo version of it to try myself. An aside to Windows users - the software of choice for Windows is ProShow Gold (no contest).

A quick note on marketing for the people at Boinx (and a warning to any reader). The $49 advertised cost for FotoMagico is not much more than a a bait and switch marketing ploy unless you like having an ugly red Boinx marketing watermark ("This presentation is produced by FotoMagico etc. etc.") at the bottom of the highest quality slideshow presentation. So resign yourself to spending the $129 for the Pro version upfront.

When I discovered that the $49 was for a shareware-like product I almost gave up, but I have a presentation that I want to put together and believe me, the production quality that I got with the demo made it worth it for me - particularly since I can see how I will be able to use this in a number of different ways (my wife is an art teacher and what better way to present portfolios?)

Another disappointment (while I am getting them out of the way) was that I had heard that you could produce an application that you can run on Windows machines from FotoMagico - this is not the case. With the Express version you can produce DVD quality - with images that far surpass the quality that I was getting from my novice attempts at iMovie and Final Cut Express with as little as 20min of experimentation. The pro version allows you to produce a Quicktime movie but we forewarned that the file size is large (5Gb for 130 images and a 4min50sec song).

So on to the positive......

I liked the software from the beginning - the first screen you see when you start a new project asks where you want to use this: Digital projection, Monitor or TV? The software sets up the aspect ratio and then behaves much like iMovie does for setting up the images and the sound,

Somewhat irritatingly, your soundtrack is clipped by the length of the images, but you should follow the technique below for figuring out how many images to use (thanks to tips from the very experienced fellow photo club member at the Greater Lynn Photographic Association (Barbara Rozavsky)).

  • Start by playing the soundtrack a couple of times and counting the prominent beats in the music. Remember that you might use a couple of beats for some of the more dramatic images, but this gives you a ballpark of how many images will work with the song. (Use a marker to mark each beat - it will be hard to count otherwise).
  • Once you know how many images you need, import them into FotoMagico (you can drag them from Bridge or put them in iPhoto and bring them in from there). FotoMagico apparently integrates to Aperture as well. Leave the timing set to whatever the default is for now.
  • Now drag the music in from iTunes and add title slides and position the beginning of the music where you want it relative to the slides. I found that it snaps to the begining or end of slides which is also a bit irritating.
  • As the images extend beyond the end of the soundtrack, you can click on the end and widen it (if it was clipped) until it plays the full song.

I really wanted to synchronize the images to the beat of a particular tune and needed to set marks in the soundtrack to use for transition timing. The method for setting this up in FotoMagico is not as slick as in the other two products, but once I had the music marked, telling the program to use those markers was incredibly easy.

In case you want to try this yourself let me save you a little time (this took me a fairly long time to figure out).

If you click on Options on the bottom right and open the audio bullet you will see an audio window that looks similar to the little LCD-like display at the top of iTunes. There is an "M" with a circle around it on the right. If you click on the play button you can click on the "M" each time you want to mark the soundtrack in time to the music.

Unfortunately these marks do not show up in the audio file at the bottom of the images, but you can select the block of images that you want to set to the markers and choose "Markers" from the set of three options for transition timing (Time, Mouse Click and Markers). The advantage of this is that you don't have to fine-tune the transitions like you do in iMovie and Final Cut Express. The photos simply latch onto those markers and transition at each marked beat.

One thing that I found tricky - and they really could have fixed this by allowing you to see and edit the markers in the soundtrack under the photos - was when I wanted to delete or reset one of the music markers. The position in the soundtrack under the Options->Audio panel is not kept in sync with the play head. You can watch as you preview the movie and it gives you the number of seconds into the movie. Then if you didn't start the song immediately (in my case I had 5 sec worth of Title lead-in before the song started) you have to subtract the lead-in time from the time into the movie to figure out where in the soundtrack you are.... a little painful.

1 comment:

  1. Looking back on this a couple of years later I have to report that I no longer use this product. The main reason being that they never bothered to keep up to date with the version that they produced. It stopped working when I upgraded my MAC to Snow Leopard and their response was that I should spend another $129 for the next version (it may have been more, actually).

    Since I was using this maybe 4 times a year it seemed more than a little steep and I was still pissed about how they advertised the non pro version.

    I have Final Cut Express now for my slide shows.