Boris FX is the maker of many powerful creative tools used by professional editors. You may be familiar with Sapphire or Mocha Pro, but today we’re doing a deep dive into Optics, a Photoshop and Lightroom tool used for lighting effects and color grades, and more. It also comes as a standalone program. Boris FX Optics features 160 filters and thousands of presets, giving you an absolute ton of options. Get 20% OFF Optics annual plan or full purchase using our code: FilterGrade-20 (case sensitive)
How to Install and Activate Optics
Optics can be downloaded from the Boris FX website. Once you’ve downloaded the file, just install it. Now you’ll need to activate Optics. Start Optics either as its standalone program or in Photoshop or Lightroom. Select “Activate nodelock license” in the popup license window, and select “OK”. In the next screen, choose to activate your license now. Then just paste your serial number into the Activate Key field, and click Next. If activation is successful then it will tell you that Optics has been successfully activated. The image shown above reflects the process of activation no matter which method you use to activate Optics.
Once Optics is installed, it’s super easy to use. You can use the standalone program and simply open an image. Or you can use Photoshop. With your image in Photoshop, click on Filters, then Boris FX, then Optics. The Optics interface will open up in a new window.
Applying a single filter is no more complex than putting an Instagram filter on an image. You’ll see the nine categories of filter as tabs on the bottom of the screen, and then you’ll see a thumbnail preview of the effects. To apply one, just click on it. Some of the effects are actually groups of effects. For example, if you click on the Film Lab category, and click on Looks, you’ll see a huge list of preset filters. Just click on any of the presets to see it applied to your image.
But that’s not the end of the story. The truly powerful thing about Optics is the ability to edit the Parameters. Clicking on the Parameters button brings up an extensive controls list. These controls let you adjust and fine-tune the effect. You can adjust color amounts, diffusion settings, gels, grain, and more. The available settings will depend on the chosen effect, and they’re incredibly easy to use. What could be easier than a slider? It’s great that there’s no need to type in numbers on various parameters and wonder what they’re doing. It’s newcomer-friendly by directly showing what each setting changes, while also having a wide enough choice of options that professionals can adjust their images to their exact needs.
Working with Layers
Boris FX Optics also supports layers. On the left side of the interface, you’ll see a layer panel, and it works very intuitively. Once you add a new layer, you can just select a look for that layer. You can adjust the blending mode, using standard Photoshop blend modes, and you can adjust the opacity. Being able to work with multiple layers is a massive upside, and is a reminder that you are indeed working in Photoshop.
When you’re done with your image, you click on the Done button, represented by a gear symbol. The biggest apparent downside to editing in Optics for Photoshop is that when you say you’re done, it means you’re done. The image and all of its filters will be merged down into one Photoshop layer, and re-opening Optics does not bring back the previous workspace.
There is one way you can re-edit images, and that is by saving Setups. When you save a setup, you save the various filter layers and their settings, but not necessarily the project itself. You can save the setup, then load it up later when you bring an image into Optics, then you can adjust the parameters to fit your new image. Considering that Optics works as a Photoshop plugin, it’s a little bit unintuitive at first that you can’t open up an editable project like a Photoshop file. However, considering the fact that you can save your own preset combinations of filters, Optics can have a pass here. You just need to get used to doing it a little differently. On the bright side, this makes it easier to create a fully custom preset in order to apply it to any image.
Working with Masks
You can also edit with masks. These include gradients, among other effects. These modify existing layers. For example, adding a gradient will turn the layer’s effect into a gradient. The layer will have a mask preview, and you’ll see the image in the viewer. Each of these masks is adjustable on the image itself, so drag the visual elements of the mask to change it. You can even create a custom mask path to mask around a more precise area. You can also drag around the points in a custom mask after creating it.
Optics also comes with some great additional masking tools including easy masks that can separate the background and foreground.
Making Optics Work for You
With so many filters, it makes sense that Optics lets you set favorite effects. With a filter selected, you can easily click on the star symbol, and then see it in your Favorites folder to easily apply later.
You can also create fully custom presets. After adjusting the parameters of a preset, simply click a button on the parameters page to save it. Give it a new name first, then it will show up in your custom presets folder.
Optics also has tools to compare images as you put filters on. You can view side-by-side, vertical split, horizontal split, A/B, or snapshot. This lets you see your before and after, which is especially useful on more subtle edits.
The interface in Optics is intuitive and easy to navigate, with standard features like zooming, changing resolution, and histogram.
Optics comes with a detailed PDF instruction manual that not only dives deep into the standard functions of the program but also has a guide for each effect in the program. This is incredibly useful since each effect has specific parameters unique to it. The parameters are pretty simple to understand, especially since they are all on a single sliding scale, with a live preview. However, the extra descriptions are very useful for editing faster.
The Filters Selection
The filters and presets in Boris FX Optics are pretty impressive, especially since they can be infinitely adjusted. There is a filter for just about everything, so it’s worthwhile to go through the included PDF manual. There are so many options in this program that you might never use all of them, or even see all of them.
One of the best filters pack is the Sapphire pack, which brings in effects from Boris FX Sapphire. These effects have been used extensively in TV shows and movies. While they’re not specifically categorized as Sapphire, you can use the search bar and type in “S_”, as every Sapphire effect starts with this prefix.
The Bottom Line
At the price of $99 for an annual subscription, Optics seems like a great purchase for any photographer looking to add professional filters and effects to their photos. That being said, the sheer level of choice is overwhelming. And on top of that, not every effect is a winner. It’s a little like scrolling through Netflix – just because there are hundreds of choices doesn’t mean all of the choices are good. But a talented editor will be able to make any of these effects work for them in the right scenario, whether it’s a simple color overlay or generated lightning elements. And the good effects are worth it, especially for the ease of use. Many of the possible effects in Optics can be achieved in Photoshop or Lightroom. But Optics is specifically designed to be easier to adjust filter masks and generate specific elements. Overall, the interface is fantastic and can help speed up the editing process for certain effects, and the effects themselves are very much worth the cost. Overall, Optics gets a recommendation from FilterGrade!
Click here to purchase Boris FX Optics, and use the coupon code FilterGrade-20 to get a 20% discount! (Code is case-sensitive)
These example images use a variety of types of effects, from simple color overlays and gradients to complete changes of the original photo. All photos have only one single filter applied, and (mostly) stick to default settings, to more accurately show the preset effects found in Boris FX Optics. The first image is the basic photo I worked off of as a reference.