Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Saal PhotoBook Review

The Internet has changed our lives in so many ways; we are constantly connected, sharing our words and imagery instantaneously with friends and family. It was not that long ago when paper was king, newspapers and books were purchased or loaned out from libraries. Images were printed on photographic paper and lovingly stored in shoe-boxes and albums.
Today we snap more images than ever before and then share them instantly via our phones and tablets, the images are almost ephemeral, liked by many and forgotten by most within the blink of an eye. How many of these images of places and people will be lost to us forever when technology changes?
As a photographer I always offer my clients the opportunity to purchase printed imagery including albums. Yes, that does help to feed my family, but I honestly do believe that printed images are important for future generations
Albums come in all shapes and sizes to suit all tastes. High-end albums can cost hundreds of pounds due to the cost of the product and the man-hours put into its design. However for those that may require a more cost effective option a wide range of suppliers are available.
Saal-Digital is one such supplier. Located in Siegen, Germany they have a UK web portal and a lot to offer. I was recently contacted by Saal and asked to review one of their albums. In the interests of openness I was allowed to create a book from my own work up to a certain value for free in return for writing an honest review.
Photo albums from Saal according to the web site are printed upon Fujifilm Crystal Archive media – this is a true photographic process and guarantees fade resistance for 75 years, keep it away from the sun and my guess is it will last considerably longer. This photo paper is highly popular and has a proven track record with many printing companies.
Lets get started; I decided to create an album using images from three very different cameras to see how Saal coped. The family had recently visited Warner Brothers Studios in Watford – home of the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Cameras ranged from a point and shoot compact, plus one entry level and one pro DSLR body plus a couple of standard zooms. Images had very basic post-production, the point and shoot had none.
 The software was downloaded from Saals web site, my anti virus had to be turned off to allow this. Installation was a breeze; if you do not have Adobe Air it will also install this for you.
The opening screen displays various choices including fine art prints, wall décor, cards and of course photo books. It is important to choose the size and style of book carefully, it is possible to alter these choices later, but you do run the risk of changing the layout. Most books are of a lay flat design so you can stretch an image across the fold without any loss. Work through the various cover options, page numbers and page finishes too. Additional charges are clearly displayed with the total cost of your project being shown at the bottom of the screen

Once all of the boxes have been ticked, you will be asked if you want any help with the layout. Various templates for general use and special occasions are available or you can go with a ‘blank canvas’ and start from scratch. I am not a lover of templates; I find too much time is taken trying to fit the images to the template – many of which are a little too clichéd for my taste, but if you are new to book design it's a great way to start.
The main design screen is divided into three sections and is very easy to navigate. The left hand side allows you to select individual images to add to the page, or an auto fill option will add all images from a specific folder. Once an image has been added to the book a tick appears next to it so you can easily keep track of your progress. Images can be dragged and dropped onto a page or into a page template – which are chosen from the tab on the right hand side of the screen, this is your main area for setting all of the various options associated with the images and pages. Text is well supported with templates ready to go. You can also add your own text boxes anywhere within the page too for total control.
The main screen
If you have never designed a book before, help is at hand with various page templates. Once an image is placed into the template it is automatically sized and a dialogue box pops up to inform you if its quality is good enough to print. It also gives you quick access to resize and cropping tools. I found this dialogue box, when fine tuning my project was in the way a lot of the time. I could not find any way to disable or move it. I would much have preferred a right click menu to access these options as other software providers do or a method to undock it from the image. Other little quirks; cut and paste were not recognised, to move an image to another box involved clicking and holding a button in the middle of the image and then dragging it over, a little laggy and not always successful if you were sloppy with your mouse control.
Options box pops up next to active image
To be fair I have used other software for some years and un-learning my normal work-flow did cause me to curse a number of times as I went for shortcut keys and mouse buttons which were ingrained and automatic to me. Others would probably not have this problem.
No need to be stuck with a white background, customise individual pages with an image of your own or choose from various background templates including single colours or clip art.   Frames can also be customised with border colours and masks to alter the effect. Basic image filters for those that love the ‘Instagram look’ can be applied.
I particularly liked the ability to add or subtract one spread at a time. Some consumer album suppliers’ will only permit you to add a multiple number of pages that can be a pain if you need to squeeze just one more image into a book.
A preview mode and an ‘export to PDF’ is a welcome feature, especially if you need to send a copy of your work to someone for proofing.
When finished an automated check ensures the images are of an acceptable quality; it will even resize images it believes have been placed incorrectly on the page. Your order is then uploaded once you have paid and a confirmation email should pop into your inbox fairly quickly.
Saal keep you up to date too, with a note to tell you that your order is in the post to you.
First impressions when unpacked were pretty good. Albums that I supply to clients are normally lustre or matt and I was interested to see how the default option which was ‘glossy’ would compare, my guess is most people new to album creation would go with this.

Lay-Flat Design allows for the full width of double page spreads for creative layouts

Just personal taste, but I would not normally print on the inside of the front and rear covers. Nice that you have the choice, but it just did not sit well with me.  If I were designing a book for a client these would normally be left white to complement the first page. Easily done with Saal – just don’t add any pictures to it!
The image printed on the outer cover wraps around and under 1st and last page

As expected from the point and shoot camera Saal had done a pretty good job of printing what were admittedly awkward pictures. The studio tour had a wide range of different lighting making accurate colour printing difficult with automated systems. The images were a little on the dark side as I had deliberately uploaded the images in the same way a consumer would, but more than acceptable to the vast majority of people still. Not a criticism as I did expect this. It does highlight the fact that your computer monitor is not going to show you how a paper print is going to look. For more accurate results you need a calibrated monitor and software suitable for the job.
Saal recognises that not everyone wants to purchase additional equipment for the odd book project so they have in their FAQ section lots of helpful information on how to set up your monitor, plus you can order a free test print to check the results before ordering your book. Well-done Saal.
The ‘PRO’ area gives us jobbing photographers’ access to ICC profiles, plug in for Photoshop and InDesign plus a direct upload area.
In conclusion Saal’s offering is ideal for those just venturing into book creation, and for those who require an entry-level album for clients. Results will be as good as the time you put into the project.

For more information hop over to Saal’s website

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