Photography and graphics is such a big deal in SL. Those are 2 key elements that attract people to Second Life. In my experience as a photographer, animator, merchant, and shopper, I have come to understand the importance of creating clear and vivid pictures. But it all starts in a viewer. My viewer of choice is Firestorm. I'll explain why in a bit.
Picture quality can differ from viewer to viewer. A friend told me about this new, ground-breaking tool in the Firestorm viewer, Photo tools. He told me about it before the latest release was made available to the public. It's a set of tools developed by William Weaver (paperwork Resident). He first developed it on his own and did several beta tests himself and with the help of friends. His friend Mobius, encouraged him to submit his work to the Firestorm team, and so he did. What he did was make it easier to people to alter their visual environment in SL...change their windlight setting, shadows, lighting, reflections...by making it easier to access those dialogues, instead of just having to go in the Preferences menu and go to the graphics tab in Firestorm. This is an example of what he did. Those are the settings for windlight and at the bottom is the dropdown for changing anti-aliasing. Anti-aliasing makes the resolution look better so the photo isn't so blocky around the edges. This is a great video where you can see how it works with the sliders, it is a bit fast since it's a time lapse video but you can see just how amazing it is.
To learn how to configure it into the Firestorm viewer, I recommend that you go to the phoenix viewer website and watch the youtube video that Jessica Lyon has inserted into the blog entry about it. The youtube video shows you how to enable Photo tools in your viewer. There are 2 toolbar buttons you'll need to get Photo tools functionality. You'll need to drag and drop the phototool camera button onto your screen and the phototools button. Once you have those buttons on your screen, just click the phototool button to start and you should see 5 tabs for 5 menus. It makes it more convenient to change windlight, one of the key aspects of photography. One of the other options I like is that you can control the picture quality, from normal up to life-like. Note that if you increase up to life-like and enable shadows and reflections, typing and moving around in SL might be significantly different than if you are running on low graphics without shadows. I only adjust the menus and sliders if I am taking pictures; for navigating or chatting with friends, I set my graphic settings as low as I can.
I was fortunate to get in touch with William Weaver and ask him a few questions about Phototools. He was happy and willing to chat with me about his amazing work on this beneficial tool. He developed Photo tools at the beginning of this year. His main reason for creating it was that, he "wanted the control the focus of dof with my joystick...so I started looking at the viewer files to see how the menus are made. AND I could control everything else so I made menu mods." DoF is Depth of focus, by the way. If you tweak it, you can make the background seem blurrier giving the illusion of being farther away or you can bring more sharpness to the background. Here is one menu mod. He takes a lot of photos and he wanted "to control all the settings fast and with fluency." Back in April, William submitted his mods to Firestorm. At first he thought it was too much of a challenge to send the work to Firestorm and work with them on it. But after more friends wanted to test his mods and he talked to Mobius Ryba again, he finally decided to see what the Firestorm team thought of it. Since that fateful step, the Firestorm developers were working hard to incorporate it into the Firestorm viewer.
William Weaver loves photography. He has had some experience using a SLR camera as he was growing up, but most of his experience is with motion pictures and specifically in editing. He was drawn to SL after reading about how SL could be a medium for education. He was so amazed, "I thought it was just some 3D chat service... I had really no idea this thing even exisited!!haha when I logged on I found it was a wondeful too! A lot more than just chat!" We are so fortunate that he joined SL. He also has his own marketplace page! Check it out sometime!
I wondered what he needed to know in order to start the massive project. I was surprised and so amazed that it only took him a few weeks to complete the menu mods. He needed to pore through the LL wiki and understand the menu codes. He had never coded before. While the language is very simple, it was no easy task to find the dictionary. William pointed out to me that while a lot is in the wiki, there is still a lot that is not mentioned or explained there.
I wondered what experience he had with graphics, coding, and software. Things like that have always fascinated me. The work he did for this new tool was like nothing he had ever done. He has some experience with coding and Adobe software. As with anything he uses, he can learn how to use it if he puts in the time or effort.
So what viewer skins is Photo tools compatible with? It can work with all of them. I use Starlight CUI Custom and it works great. With the skin I use, I can make the skin the color I want...that includes the chat tab colors. He assures me that "it should work the same with ALL skins....just pick the color scheme you like most!"
A very big thank you to William Weaver, Ansariel Hiller, and Whirly Fizzle of the Firestorm team! Ansariel coded everything for the viewer integration and Whirly was the project managage and was in charge of the initial testing. In his words, "Both are awesome to work with and very talented and committed to helping improve the SL life for us users."
On a sad note, Phoenix viewer will no longer be developed as of December 31st. This is sad news for all us die hard Phoenix viewer users, but we knew this day would come. The Phoenix viewer has always been one of my favorite viewers. But don't be too sad, Firestorm has a Phoenix/Viewer 1 like skin and the Phoenix mode which you should be able to switch to at the Firestorm login screen.