Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review Fotomagico - Making Still Sequences in Moments

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I must confess my software discovery of the month is the new version of Fotomagico 3.5. My records show that I have looked at previous versions, before I realised its Mac only and rejected it. Now that I have switched all my video production from PC to Mac, I have been re-assessing what I required as a basic set. I soon discovered that I needed Final Cut Pro and that time spent with Final Cut Express and iMovie was both a waste of time as well as frustrating.
Now a similar thing is happening when it comes to the production of slideshows. I use slideshows both as a warming up/countdown to keynotes – as well as for trailers to articles I have written. Stills have the ability to create mystique that is totally different to video. Besides, I have 15,000 photos that I have never printed on paper, yet want to share. Correction, I want to share them with music, as a performance or a narrative. I always felt the Photo CD failed because it had no soundtrack.

Radio with Pictures

I am also going to experiment with illustrating some radio shows, now that screens are starting to appear on some of the digital radios in the UK. I have a situation where I have done a radio documentary about a visit to Radio Prague 20 years ago. I have been back several times to Czech radio and taken pictures to show what’s changed. I found that by adding a slideshow to the audio I gave an enhanced experience, with the captions adding text without disturbing the original narration. You can’t do this quickly without the sort of cross media timeline that Fotomagico provides. Still experimenting, but the sharp pictures make the audio into a theatre experience.

Getting it done fast – building a workflow

Originally I thought iPhoto was the simple solution to making a slide show for a backdrop for a conference and awards ceremony. It worked, sort of, but the music didn’t synchronise and I was forced to use standard fades and cross-overs. I played with Apple Keynote, which was great until the sequence got out of step with the music. I was fiddling with the order as the audience was taking their seats. Been there once. Believe me, never again.

So a month ago it was time to look for something else – and that’s when Fotomagico popped up with its version 3.5. I have to say immediately that there are two versions, home and professional. The price difference is significant  25,00 Euro for the home version in Europe, 140 Euro for the Pro. You can compare the two versions on this page. But I have to say the features on the Pro version turn it into very professional cross-media editor and that was the version I am reviewing here.

I need the multiple (3) audio tracks for different language versions. There’s a teleprompter and voiceover function on the Pro, and I like to be able to break the presentation into chapters. But the home version has a lot of features too and there seems to be no difference in the quality for rendering to most platforms. Some options, like the standalone player, only work with the Pro Version. That said, this is a reasonable price for something that saves so much time which-ever version you choose. People in the US are luckier because the prices are slightly cheaper, 29 and 149 dollars respectively. But that's the case with most software.

What I do in a live situation

When I am live on stage, I simply switch to the live presentation format which means there is no waiting for rendering. I slot in a few photos I have taken of the audience coming into the theatre, drop them into pre-planned parts of the sequence, and off it goes. The impact of seeing photos a few minutes old already folded into a professional presentation adds a surprise element which works every time. I couldn’t do it as easily in other programs without worrying about messing things up. I am using JPEGs for this. You can experiment with RAW files but frankly there is not much point for projection. It just slows things down if you have a lot of transitions.

The program warns there will be quite large loss of quality if you export the slides to YouTube, a DVD, to an iPhone, AppleTv or an iPad. But if you’re using a HD-TV or want to share the slides with PC users you will have to put up with some loss in fidelity. But don’t forget the screen size on the iPhone is smaller and frankly I wasn’t too worried. It looked fine. The Pro version allows you to export to a special stand-alone player that does retain the original quality. The presentation will then play on other Macs but not on the PC platform.

Ease of use

Fotomagico is very intuitive, as its name implies. I played with it for a while, watched the demo and then read the manual to see what tips and tricks I’d missed. I like the fact that you have a lot of the 3D effects you get in Keynote, but these are much easier to combine with titles and sync to the music or narration. I found I could use the program without having to have others open – Fotomagico dips into iTunes, Garageband, iPhoto, folders without you having to have the respective programs open. The only point I would like to see in a future version is the ability to sort or filter some of the iTunes folders from within Fotomagico. So I prepare my soundtracks into to special playlist in iTunes and then open that folder in Fotomagico. You can preview tracks in a little player in Fotomagico though.

You can produce a stills sequence much faster in Fotomagico than fiddling around with the motion control in Final Cut Pro. Basically you make the sequence in Fotomagico and this is rendered dynamically into FCP. You really notice the speed saving when you make a mistake (let’s say a spelling mistake in a title) and the fix only takes a matter of seconds. Note that these links allow quick export of the video only. You lay the audio track in Final Cut Pro.


It works. I’m hooked and can recommend both the software and support service. But don’t take my word for it. Experiment with the trial version by requesting a temporary licence from
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