I advised Mike Wong at OnOne Software, Jim Tierney at Digital Anarchy and Steve Nelson at Vertus that I wanted to do a three product head to head comparison review of their transparency ( extraction ) masking software plugins for Adobe PhotoShop. No objections. In fact, all three responded with best wishes.
The three products are:
Vertus’ Fluid Mask; onOne’s Mask Pro; and Digital Anarchy’s Primatte.
So, as promised, here we go. Fluid Mask versus Mask Pro versus Primatte. Head to head.
The 3 benchmarks of the comparison are: Speed; ease of use; and quality of transparency ( extraction ).
Hair, glass and smoke are always the 3 top candidates for doing extraction-transparency demos. However, I am a non-smoker and mostly a non-drinker, so, with no bottle and no smoke, I stuck with hair for Round 1 of the test.
Round 1 utilizes a decent shot of a foreground subject ( photographer John Creighton ) set against a green ( chromakey ) background. The reason for going green screen for the 1st test is simple: Primatte only does green ( and blue ) screen masking. Its a specialty item that comes to PhotoShop and digital photography from green screen film making techniques.
Here is the original ‘yonko shot’ photograph in all of its green glory.
For speed, Digital Anarchy’s Primatte ranked 1st, with Vertus’ Fluid Mask 2nd and onOne’s Mask Pro following behind in 3rd place. It took only a few seconds to specify the backbround and ‘clean’ the foreground with Primatte. With Fluid Mask’s automatic image analyser, the various areas of the image were first defined by the program in about 20 seconds; then, the amount of time required to set the keep and delete areas was about equal to the time consumed to set the background in Primatte. Mask Pro’s keep and delete mechanics take a little longer and, like Primatte, they are not automated. ( Both Primatte and Mask Pro allow for previous settings to be reused on subsequent photos, while Fluid Mask does not. This is not a defect in Fluid Mask, it is owing to the method of establishing what is to be kept or deleted. )
For ease of use, it was Fluid Mask in 1st, Primatte in 2nd and Mask Pro again 3rd. The automatic image analyser function in Fluid Mask really simplifies things.
For quality of extraction, the most important issue for my purposes, Fluid Mask again ranked 1st, with Mask Pro 2nd and Primatte closing out in 3rd place.
Bottom line: my personal Round 1 winner is: Vertus’ Fluid Mask.
Because Primatte is expressly designed to extract the foreground subject from either a blue or green background, I expected that Primatte would have a clear advantage with the test photograph in which the green is uniform and well lighted. However, the results proved quite the contrary. True, Primatte did render its mask within a few seconds of opening the test photo versus more than a minute to produce the mask in Fluid Mask, and longer in Mask Pro. Still, the results were disappointing to me for the Primate extraction.
My test results photos clearly show that Primatte left behind more noise, and it also did more damage to the hair strands, delivering clunky – chunky – blotchy edges where I thought I would find fine detail.
I have to admit, I was surprised. I’ve done hundreds of extractions with Primatte, but, speed aside, both Mask Pro and Fluid Mask produced better results in this test. If the devil is in the details, then Primatte was the bedevilled masker, being bested by both Mask Pro and Fluid Mask.
While the amount of green left behind is virtually the same for Fluid Mask and Mask Pro, Fluid Mask clearly produced significantly better fine details by a factor of 2 to 1, in my rough-estimate-opinion. That is, to my eye, the Fluid Mask hair details are about twice as good as Mask Pro. Single clean and faint strands of hair are easily visible in the Fluid Mask test photo.
Conclusion: in my opinion and under my testing conditions, (out of the box masking, speed and quality without having to become an expert at tweaking), Vertus’ Fluid Mask is the better choice when compared to Mask Pro, and both Fluid Mask and Mask Pro appear to have exceeded the performance of Primatte.
PS: Pros and amateur portrait photographers regularly ask “how can I take green screen photos, make perfect extractions and not have residual green contamination in the hair and skin tones of my subjects?” “What are the best lights, what are the best lighting techniques, what are the best filters, what is the best distance from subject to background, what is the best green screen, etc.”
Answer: For serious portrait photography, forget green screens. Green screening is for movies and catalogs. In other words, masking software is not yet capable of truly getting the green out of hair and skin tones. Try it; you’ll wish you hadn’t. But then, every kid just has to touch the oven to find out what hot means! When you experiment, make sure you use a friend as subject, not a valuable client!
Tune in for Round 2, and maybe Round 3, if necessary. Perhaps even Round 4.
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