TOOLS & TOYS: MR. CLEAN GENES

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What makes a good photograph technically great? Color, saturation, hue, depth of field and the intent of the photographer all are part of the mix. Photographers of Edward Weston's generation spent countless hours in the darkroom, dodging, burning and fiddling with a print until their fingernails turned black from stop fix. Photoshop took the image out of the darkroom, but plenty of digital imagemakers still spend hours tweaking Photoshop in search of the perfect image. Now, PhotoGenetics software, from North Bend, Wash.-based Q-Research, promises to deliver the "best" digital image possible in the least amount of time using something they call "genetic algorithms." With jaw-dropping simplicity, and an equally stunning $29.95 price tag, PhotoGenetics can be used to transform technically lousy photos into good ones and good photos into great ones.

By applying a "genotype" from the PhotoGenetics menu box, a preset algorithm will shift the basic characteristics of any digital image toward a predictable result. An interactive slider bar allows fine-tuning of the image, enabling the user to set the next adjustment to deliver results "more like" the previous version or "less like" the previous version. In surprisingly few clicks of the mouse, even rank amateurs can process images that are richly saturated, vibrant and maintain a broad range of detail from shadows to highlights. PhotoGenetics also does double duty as a special effects tool. Apply the "Creative" genotype to an image, and users have the basis to evolve an image that could look like it was shot through a bowl of Jell-o, or on a different galaxy. But the product is by no means a Photoshop killer. Professionals are using it as a quick and dirty image processing tool -- a front end for Photoshop -- that can take an image 80 percent of the way toward completion.Check out the interactive demo at www.q-

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