I’ve long said that the best tools are the ones that do one thing well. There are some app categories that really benefit from this, but something I’ve been learning with all my photo-taking tools is that photography apps often benefit the most from it. I love my all-in-one kits like Photoshop and Aperture, but they’re not perfect. There’s certainly room for improvement in certain areas.
One of those areas, at least for me, lies within vignettes and focus points. I like to tinker with them, and they often cause really cool effects, but I never like to keep them — they never turn out well. For the longest time, I thought it was just me, but I’ve come to realize it’s also the tool. It should be no surprise to many that MacPhun, one of the kings of photography apps, has come up with an incredible solution for this problem called Focus 2. Read on to find out what makes this a must-have for photographers who love a little focus in their lives.
The Story Behind Focus
Focus wasn’t originally a MacPhun product, which makes it the standalone app in their roster that they haven’t built up from the ground floor. The PR contact I’m in touch with tells me that MacPhun purchased the app only a bit over a month ago from a company called Coppertino, and hence why it’s called Focus 2. (Coppertino decided to focus on music apps, and the purchase was a win for both companies.)
The original app allowed you to simulate expensive lenses and create great effects with tilt-shift vignettes and other tools that most pro photographers spend a lot of time trying to perfect in their huge all-in-one programs. My understanding is that MacPhun spent the last month bringing it closer to their design language before releasing it again.
Introducing the Sequel
I should note that I never used the original Focus before I say this, but I think MacPhun has nailed it out of the park. My original thought with this was that I knew the exact picture to test Focus on. I have a photo I shot at a wedding of the bride and her grandfather walking her down the aisle, but it sadly didn’t turn out well. The bride was nearly in focus (and that could probably be tweaked), but the grandfather was right out of focus, as it happens when you’re taking a picture on an angle.
Now, I know this wasn’t a great picture to start, but I’ve attempted to apply a slight vignette to it in Aperture, Photoshop, and even Pixelmator to no avail. Nothing could save this picture, but the look on my friend’s face is priceless and I was hoping I could really “focus” in on it. Obviously, I thought that if Focus could make work of this photo, it could probably handle anything.
Lo and behold, the app worked exactly as advertised. I was astonished. Within a split second, I was able to adjust the aperture, apply a bit of a vignette, and kick the photo back into Aperture where it belonged.
I was floored, and began to try it out with as many other pictures as I could. In fact, it’s fair to say that Focus 2 is a little bit addicting.
What makes Focus 2 so great is the different and easy-to-use categories that the app makes use of for your photography edits. You have Portrait, Nature, Architecture, Macro, Tilt-Shift, and Custom. It’s one thing to have all these categories, but I’m impressed they’re so simply named. You know what each one of these does before you use it.
Each category doesn’t disappoint. I tried all of them except the Architecture category, which I didn’t have a suitable picture for, and was able to achieve stunning results every time. This is definitely not because I take amazing pictures — I’m no Annie Leibovitz, but I like to think they’re not bad (and sometimes, people pay me for them) — but because the app has some phenomenal work built in.
Edits happened quickly, and most happened in real-time. If you’re using a MacBook, you’ll probably love how you can use the trackpad to manipulate the place of focus. Pinching makes the area larger or smaller, and swivelling the track pad does exactly that. It’s so cool, and it’s a little touch that separates MacPhun from those other guys (“fun” is practically in their name, and I can’t think of any other company making photo editing as much fun).
The app allows you to manipulate not just the focus point, but also the Aperture, Vignette levels, and Saturation levels. You can do a little bit of cropping in the app too, and the cropping works really well — actually, it’s one of the best cropping tools I’ve ever used as far as detail goes.
The Aperture and Vignette tools are both perfect. They take complicated tasks and reduce them to the point where anybody can do them. The only issue that I have with the app and these tools is that Focus 2 remembers what you set the Sliders to whenever you open a new file, and it keeps them there. In that sense, some adjustments are already made. I’d prefer to start with a blank slate every time I open a photograph.
The only thing that the app is missing, at least for me, is the ability to use it as a plugin for Aperture, Photoshop, or Lightroom. This is because Focus 2 is only available on the Mac App Store. Thanks to the App Store’s sandboxing rules, there’s no way for the app to be used as a plugin, which means all your exporting and file opening will have to be done manually. That’s a small price to pay for the app, though, and I’m not sure it would deter me from purchasing it.
Focus 2 is the sort of app that photographers love to hate. It takes jobs that you’d normally hire a professional to do and puts it in the hands of everybody, making it easy for all of us to get better at taking pictures. It’s a dead simple app to use, which is something that a lot of photographers I know also seem to find irritating.
But in all honesty, I think that Focus 2 might be exactly the sort of app you could use if you’re a professional too. It does one thing exceptionally well, which makes it my favourite kind of app. I highly recommend Focus 2, and think it might be the best MacPhun effort yet.