Two-step Midjourney from a sketch

Two-step Midjourney from a sketch

Warlord shows how he uses the Midjourney AI to go from “From Scribbles to Images with Midjourney”. Not something I’ve tried before, but I’ll have a go at it with Wombo and see how it works there.

What’s ideally needed here is consistency. If you had that then you could create a ‘sketch-comic’ with multiple frames, and have uniform output in the transformation of each frame. And also have consistency from page to page. The first team to crack that problem will have a winner on their hands.

Adobe’s “Yes”

Adobe’s “Yes”

Adobe has automatically set “Yes” for Photoshop Cloud users, in the setting: “Allow my content to be used by Adobe for content improvement and development purposes”. In other words, to train AI models.

True, they have responded…

“Adobe does not use any data stored on customers’ Creative Cloud accounts to train its experimental Generative AI features.”

However the kicker there is the word “on”. As they admit that they do take it off your personal account, and then use it elsewhere. Because they also say…

“we first aggregate your content with other content and then use the aggregated content to train our algorithms and thus improve our products and services.”

The wording of “train our algorithms” is fairly clear, I think. Not specifically to train the mediocre and already-trained “Generative AI” modules, perhaps, as these currently exist in Photoshop. But possibly to train others, or to develop AI-assisted products as yet unannounced.

All the above is Cloud-only. If you have an old standalone desktop-only Photoshop, no need to worry. Though you may still want to block it from trying to go online.

Fix the ‘black fonts’ problem when printing to PDF from Microsoft Publisher

Fix the ‘black fonts’ problem when printing to PDF from Microsoft Publisher

Hurrah, I finally tracked down my Microsoft Publisher ‘print to PDF’ problem.

Problem: You get a “black fonts” problem when using “Save as” to PDF from Microsoft Publisher. But you have coloured or toned fonts/headlines in your document.

Why you need to use Publisher: Because regular printer drivers don’t save a PDF with clickable Web links. Publisher does.

Solution: After much frustration I finally found that the problem is that adding a new printer driver can cause Windows to set “Fax” as the default printer for the system…

The tick-mark indicates it’s the default. Even though you are not using or going anywhere near Fax to print your PDF with Publisher, something in the Windows system thinks you need to print the PDF in a way that a fax machine can understand. Ugh. To fix this, simply right-click and change the PCs default printer over to a proper printer driver. The problem is instantly solved.

The Sigma DP1, after 15 years

The Sigma DP1, after 15 years

I was asked about my Sigma camera with the FOVEON sensor, something I mentioned here yesterday. I have the Sigma DP1 (aka DP-1) and its viewfinder in very good condition. Technical details, of why the big SRL-sized FOVEON sensors are better for rich colours, and give better tonality in b&w, are easily found elsewhere. But here are some general thoughts and tips on this Japanese camera and its use.

Great for:

* Always having an SLR-quality sensor with you in a pocket or bag. This is the smallest, lightest and most compact Sigma FOVEON-sensor camera they’ve made, even today.

* Looking fab. It looks kind of like a retro camera from 1976. Actually, it’s from 2008/9.

* Avoiding the dangers (hassle, muggers, paranoid security guards) that a big ‘pro’ SLR camera can attract.

* Being low-cost, as they can now be had relatively cheaply (maybe £150 or so for a complete box with standard in-box accessories, SD card and good battery).

The pop-up flash block, see here “up”, can be pressed down.

Good for:

* General outdoors pictures.

* Wide-angle landscapes and skies.

* Large gardens, parks and trees.

* Well-lit still-life.

* Shallow depth-of-field (manual focus, great for optically blurred backgrounds).

* Slow-moving street and middle-distance reportage (outdoors with daylight).

* Architecture and large outdoors machinery/infrastructure (the lens is especially well suited for these).

Also b&w for all these, as the stacked sensor gives a somewhat wider tonal range.

* Night / tunnel work. This is surprising, as it’s so bad in low-light. But you have total manual control, so long-exposure night photography is possible (with a tripod). Exposure times can go to 15 seconds. This feature, and its pocket-size and great colours, may make it suitable for urban explorers who do long exposures with a Gorillapod tripod.

* Rough field interviews. All the reviews ignore this… but it has a microphone and records .WAV audio files as long as you want, and still leaves plenty of room for pictures on a 4Gb SD card. 2Gb = 11 hours of audio recordings.

Average for:

Close-in ‘straight’ portraiture. This is due to the wide-angle lens type.

Not at all suitable for:

* Artificial light or even subdued-natural light indoors (though there is a pop-up flash, seen in the picture above).

* Pointing toward very bright light sources (bright street lamps, the sun, brilliant security lights etc), as the sensor is just not designed for that.

* Kids / fast moving wildlife / action photography.

* Product or archival photography (where you need 100% accurate colours).

And anywhere you need zoom (there’s no zoom, you have to use your legs and get closer). As you can see, it’s not a standard consumer pocket auto-digi-cam for the masses. It’s for people who want specific types of pictures, and who know how to work an old-school camera.

Tips for general daylight:

* Keep it on “Daylight” white balance, even in cloudy weather.

* Keep it on ISO 400, always. You’ll hardly notice the difference, and it’ll be faster. ISO 400 also gives you significantly better range if you ever suddenly need the flash (an extra three feet of reach, maybe 9ft in total).

* Just ignore the LCD preview screen except for information, as it’s a very poor reflection of your RAW pictures.

* Always be set to shoot RAW, three-picture burst mode (i.e. max. three pictures in one second, called “Continuous” mode). Yes, you then have a 9-second ‘write to the card’ wait. Yes, you will fill your card faster. But you may get a shot otherwise missed. If in a more relaxed situation (landscape/cloudscape, still-life), it’s easy to switch back to single-shot for the duration.

* Those aiming for richly tonal b&w landscapes or worried about exposure can also dial in the “Continuous” burst of three-shots + some mild exposure bracketing.

* Set the in-camera sharpening low in the camera settings, and do it in post where you have finer control.

Focus and framing:

* Use the optical viewfinder, which comes in the box. It helps stablise the camera against your head. There is no auto-stabilise.

* Forget the slow autofocus. Dial in the “A” (fixed aperture) mode on the top dial, then dial the small “F8” aperture. Set the focus to manual, then dial it to a fixed 1.5m (5ft) for street photography, and 2.5m (8ft) for general “most things in focus” pictures.

* Camera distances are in Euro metres rather than Imperial (feet and yards). The camera is not that old-school, regrettably.

* There’s no “I can photograph an insect’s eye” type of macro, but it can copy an A4 sheet of text or an open book well enough for “visual note taking” and later reading. This needs to be done in manual focus rather than auto-focus, and even then 30cm (12 inches) is as close as you’ll get. Just turn the manual focus dial all the way down, and get within 12 inches of the paper. You may have to hold the camera very steady in low indoors light, but it should be readable enough to later extract the information.

For best battery life:

* Set the LCD to go off “after 1 minute”, but have the camera power be “always on”. The LCD can also be turned off via a physical button.

* Having auto-focus off and relying on manual or a fixed focus may also help battery life.

* The user should be able to fill a 4Gb card with 260 RAW images, before the battery is drained. Even with 3x burst mode that gives around 84 pictures, enough for users who only photograph for a few hours and who don’t just snap wildly at anything.

* If you want spare batteries in your pocket, BP-31 are the official batteries and SLB-1237 are the generic replacements. Still widely available. The slight differences are:

Original: BP-31 (3.6v 1230mAh)

Generic: SLB-1237 (3.7v 1200mAh)

* Always remove the battery when not in use.

Accessories:

* The slot-on viewfinder (VF-11) is “a must” for the daylight photography that the camera was made for, and using it helps you steady the camera against your head. It comes in the box, and if buying second-hand then be sure it’s still in there. Easy to slot on, far more difficult to get off.

* The strap is also a “must-fit” for reportage, because you can then have the camera carried chest-high and forward-facing for more stable and discreet location photography. No need to have it always waving around in a sweaty hand, or buried down in a pocket. It’s always easily accessible, and both hands are free when it’s hanging.

* There’s no SD card in the box. Get a fast one. Some early reviewers of the DP1 were using slow cards, and complain of 15 second write-times in 3x burst-mode. That should be down to 9 seconds with a better card.

* If buying used from the UK, be aware that here in the UK we have has three-prong wall-plugs for electricity. The battery charger may differ if coming from the continent.

* Firmware update? Yes, there’s a 2.0 firmware update that adds a levelling grid on the LCD, and one or two other changes. Some say it speeds the slow autofocus time a bit?

RAW Processing:

First use the free official Sigma Photo Pro 6.x software (latest version works fine back to Windows 7, at January 2023). It can recover detail in shadows, and damp the highlights, far better than Adobe Lightroom. Once you have a good base .TIF from Sigma Photo Pro, it can go to software such a RawTherapee etc, or just to Photoshop (since you may not actually have much postwork to do).

Optional:

There’s also a lens hood in the box, though keeping it fitted destroys the pocket-ability or even the bag-ability of the camera. The optical viewfinder doesn’t have that problem, and slips in the velvet drawstring bag nicely, along with the removed battery. Also fits in a belt-pouch (see below).

For summer strolling you don’t want to stuff a trouser pocket with a strange huge bulge. And you may not have a jacket or an encumbering bag with you. In that case you’ll need a pouch that has a good belt-loop at the back. The nylon shower-proof and dust-proof Lowepro Rezo 30 fits the camera nicely, a bit of a tight-fit with viewfinder / lens-cap / strap, but it fits. The battery goes in a smaller pocket under the front flap, with space for a couple more and an SD card.

A tiny pot of black enamel ‘toy soldiers’ paint from Games Workshop etc, to make the camera less noticeable. Use it to paint out the bright white “X” logo on the front, after first de-greasing and thoroughly drying it.

Official accessories:

Yes. Here’s the original accessories preview from Japan, with part-numbers…

Time-travel:

No plastic gumminess after 15 years. Some plastic grips and parts on pocket digi-cams start to decay and become nastily sticky after a decade or so. That’s not the case here, as the grip surfaces are built into the metal casing as fields of raised dots. The pure rubber bend-back door over the PC cable-connector slot has however become just a little loose and perhaps slightly dry. Treat this with great care.

The non-nylon part of the original strap (the bit that contacts the neck) will be decayed after 15 years, and could well be shedding very fine granular bits — not good if they shed into the case and then get into the mechanism! The solution is simple. Take a very sharp fine craft knife, and cut the stitching at both of the narrow ends. With a firm grip you should be then able to peel back and tear off the offending fabric strip from the nylon, with the help of a bit of extra fine cutting. Do the same with the Sigma patch on the other side, which is made of the same material. The nylon strap underneath should still be perfectly good for another 15 years — some plastic is more wonderful than others!

Since 2009, we now have AI software such as AI Gigapixel and others. Thus the 4.7 megapixel output from a DP1 is no longer so scary, for those who think 48 megapixels is a must-have.

Since 2009, we now have good quick / free / desktop photo-stitching software such as Microsoft ICE. So provided you have a static subject, take nine pictures and stitch for medium-format resolution.

Since 2009, we of course have bigger and cheaper SD cards. Perhaps also faster, though that can be limited by the camera.


A further Sigma DP1x was produced in 2010, with the only changes touted being ISO up to 3200, the LCD grid overlay (achievable in the original DP1 via firmware), and a possibly-useful “save and recall three settings” preset option. If you won’t use any of those, then get the original and save some cash.

There was later a Sigma DP1s model which was exactly the same except for…

* added a new QS (Quick Set) function to the digital zoom buttons, for quicker manual focus-checking.

* claimed “better pictures of backlit subjects”.

* sensitivity to red light toned down a bit.

* the optional optical viewfinder was renamed from VF-11 to VF-21, though still offered only a plain view with a frame but no grid.

* the latest firmware (again, it puts a grid on the LCD).

There was also a later Sigma DP2, with the only real further change being a faster F2.8 lens (against an F4) paired with a faster processing chip, and a wider ISO range (though in practice you won’t want to go beyond ISO 800, which the DP1 can do anyway).

The later DP1 Merrill and DP1 Quatro are very different beasts, less pocket-able and producing different sorts of pictures. Also a lot more expensive.

Release: Darktable 4.2

Release: Darktable 4.2

The free Darktable 4.2 is now available. This open-source project aims to make a freeware equivalent to Adobe Lightroom, to help in bulk processing the RAW images from your digital camera. It has always been actively developed, but the UI and workflow have been very off-putting to many. It certainly was to me, when I tried it some years back. But it can be fast if your camera has a supported profile, and speed can be important for those with 200 RAW files of an event or field-trip to auto-process. Sadly it doesn’t support my key camera makes…

“Darktable currently only supports regular Bayer style sensors (which probably accounts for 99% of available cameras). This means Darktable will not be able to handle Sigma FOVEON based cameras. A lot of Fuji cameras have weird variations of the standard Bayer scheme which make them incompatible with Darktable, too.”

The other free open source alternative is RawTherapee, which in July 2022 had its first big update after the lockdown years. This does support Sigma’s FOVEON camera sensors (i.e. a quality SRL sensor, but in a pocket-sized compact camera)…

“RawTherapee supports most RAW formats, including Pentax Pixel Shift, Canon Dual-Pixel, and those from FOVEON and X-Trans sensors.”

That said, if you’re using a Sigma with a FOVEON sensor then you should really be using the free SIGMA Photo Pro for processing RAW. That will allow you to recover far more detail from shadows while damping the highlights better, compared to Lightroom. You then take it out to a good .TIF and put that into RawTherapee, Lightroom etc.

Freeware: Creature House Expression 3.3

Freeware: Creature House Expression 3.3

Creature House Expression 3.3 is desktop software best described as ‘vector illustration tools meets natural media’. Apparently made by a Japanese team working with a funder in what was then British Hong Kong. Now freeware, since Microsoft purchased it way back when. Still works fine. I spotted it in a 2022 video by Benjamin Morse, a pro comic-book artist. “What’s that, kind of looks like SAI?” I wondered. I found out.

Great, so it’s good genuine freeware, formerly sold for $100. In which case it’s worth spending 30 minutes making a collection of links for it.

Creature House Expression 3.3 installer download at Archive.org. This is the free version Microsoft gave away after they purchased the company. Confirmed working on Windows 7, 8.1, Windows 10 Compatibility mode.

Creature House Expression 3 user manual as a PDF. No dark mode. Customisable shortcuts. Not an especially loveable UI, but it’s all logical and documented and SAI users will feel at home.

Annie Ford’s structured tutorial lessons, with exercises, for Creature House Expression 3, as a single .PDF file extracted from the Wayback Machine. Often recommended alongside the manual.

Creature House Expression 3 review in PCMag UK.

you paint just as you would with a pixel-based program, but each stroke you lay down is at root a vector line, which can be reshaped at any time … Expression puts enormous power at your disposal

Expression 3 review in Digital Arts magazine.

the real star remains the final rendering [of vector] to bitmap formats at virtually any size and resolution: Expression 3 doesn’t rush this task, and the result is always well worth the wait.

Expression 3 review in CreativePro.

an indispensable addition to any graphic design toolkit

In Microsoft’s hands it later became a buggy Microsoft Acrylic beta with a key former developer at the helm. It wasn’t great. Then briefly it was Expression Graphic Designer, then Microsoft Expression Design. They had to break it apart and try to harness it to Microsoft’s framework-of-the-month and fly-by-night file formats, of course. And then removed non-Microsoft formats. All of which took away much of the charm and functionality. But at least it got a nice dark mode. Expression Design 4 was the last of the Microsoft run, and Microsoft also then made it freeware. It loads the same strokes (brushes) as 3.3 but now stores them at C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Expression\Design\Strokes There’s a YouTube playlist for it.

As for 3.3:

File format: saves to .XPR files.

Stroke (brush) format: .SKS files, copy free brushes to C:\ProgramData\Creature House\Expression 3\Strokes

Plugins: .8Bi format.

Import: Adobe Illustrator .AI, Windows metafile, and bitmaps including .PSD.

Output: Illustrator (apparently version 9), .EPS, .PDF files. Can still save to Flash .SWF vector, though this doesn’t appear to be the type needed for Reallusion’s Cartoon Animator props.

Not many free .SKS brushes around now, though in 2020 Doug S. claimed to have a stash of hundreds. Though a Frill set is still live and free.

Also a nice free Water stroke.

And shipped as standard, things like a set of vector watercolours…

It can also do vectorisation of imported bitmaps, in a very basic way. But I had no success at all on simple line-art rendered from Poser. It always made a total mess of it in my tests, and so did its successor Expression Design 4. It can work with Vector Magic, though if you want to vectorise and creatively transform lineart from Poser then Synthetik Studio Artist 5.5.5 is worth a look (though it’s expensive).

Wombo partly unpremium-ed

Wombo partly unpremium-ed

Now free are some of the Wombo filters that were paid-for “Premium”, when Wombo went commercial at Christmas. These are the ones affected…

Including “Ink”. Which is very nice indeed, and also quick. Sort of ink + rubbed graphite + scraped paint.

Prompt: “H.P. Lovecraft walking in a Brooklyn cityscape in 1926”. No seed image, just prompt.

OK, so perhaps they’re only free for a while. So people can try them, and then they’ll go Premium again. But that’s just my guess. Though in that case… try them out now.

Their Premium “Pixel Art” filter appears to have vanished totally.

Raymond Briggs and Maurice Sendak retrospectives in 2023

Raymond Briggs and Maurice Sendak retrospectives in 2023

British comics artist and illustrator Raymond Briggs, who passed away in August 2022, has a touring retrospective exhibition in the UK. Said to have 100 original artworks, plus display boards and panels.

From Jim and the Beanstalk, 1970.

Several of the show’s venues have been and gone in 2022, but current venues for 2023 are…

* Bowes Museum, County Durham (north of England) until 26th February 2023. Admission fee.

* Cambridge University Library from 29th April to 26th August 2023. Free entrance.

Also, Paris will get the “Let the Wild Rumpus Start!” a Maurice Sendak retrospective exhibition in summer 2023. It’s previously been seen in the USA.