Tag Archives: aurora

Review ~ Nanoleaf Aurora Smarter Kit lighting panels

From Toronto Canada, these smart light panel kits vended here in NZ by MacGear let you integrate the system into Apple HomeKit or just run them from your iPhone or iPad.

Featuring an interlocking PCB electrical tab that lets you quickly attach any of the three sides to another panel, and then the power supply to any spare slot, this 9-panel Smarter Kit lets you create several shapes from the get-go.
Virtually ‘paint’ individual panels or let effects sweep through, and of course brighten and dim, these can be oh-so-subtle or party-garish at the touch on the free iOS app interface.
You’d think this could be gimmicky, but no. Because you can configure them several different ways and because you can get the Aurora panels to play subtle effects and also dim them almost to nothing, seamlessly, they’re refreshingly sophisticated and  effective in many situations. They can display over 16 million colours.

Each panel is 24cm in length and 24cm high, and weighs just 210 grams thanks to a braced plastic structure on the back  (above – all the tech specs are online).

Mounting — If I had any issues with these at all, it would be wall mounting. In the kit, the only option is 3M sticky tabs, although Nanoleaf has been generous, providing 28 (plus an extra PDB connector). The black sides will stick forever to the back; the red side goes n your wall, and is supposed to be removable, but in my experience, this can remove paint. Here’s a great tip, though – you will really need to get it properly lined up on the wall. Since there’s a level in your iPhone already, try that (just open the Compass app and swipe to the side).
To mount the Aurora panels properly on a wall in a placement you want to keep for any length of time, MacGear has various accessories available like the mounting kit with thumb tacks (NZ$60) which has 12 screw mounts, 12 wall anchors, 12 steel screws and four flex-linkers. These sturdier anchors would be preferable for many walls and for many applications once you are sure you have the configuration and placement you want. You could even mount them on come ceilings.
The flex-linkers are also available separately (NZ$40 for 9) – with these you can mount the panels so they go around corners, for example. Also available are more of the straight PCB tabs, a panel expansion kit (3 panels and tabs for $120 – the supplied power supply can handle up to 30 panels!) and the $100 Nanoleaf Aurora Rhythm Module with gets the panels pulsing to sound – how’s that for party coolness? I’d really like to try that.
Another issue for some might be that the white of the plastic the panels are mounted in might clash or just look wrong with some darker wall colours.

Don’t forget white – the panels can produce a bright white, or tone it down and colour it subtly for ambient glows.

The app or not — The power module plugs into the normal wall power outlet. Current gets daisy-chained through all the panels via the connector tabs, and you can pull out a panel and plug it in somewhere else while it’s on. Even without an app to control it with, you can use the Aurora – the power module has an On/Off switch on it plus another that initiates preset lighting programs through the panels – it cycles through the presets with subsequent presses.
However, the app (it’s free, of course) lets you dim the lights and this is a good thing, as they can verge on harshly bright to look at, evenings. Fifty-percent is nice and ambient, but right down to 10% can be effective in a dark hallway or even a child’s bedroom as a night-light.
Beyond that, thanks to HomeKit support, you can add in other products like Phillips’ Hue lightbulbs and change their colour along with the Aurora, should you want all these to be doing the same thing.
But you can also get pretty creative with the app, painting individual panels with colour, or creating your own light transformation effects. You can change the speed of transitions. You can also set a time for them to come on, to automatically light a hallway from 7.30pm.

Voice Control — You can also set a voice control to turn them on via Siri. Power to the panels must always be on for voice or app control to work, then turn the lights off likewise – ie, not with the power button. This will avoid the need for the panels to search for and rejoin the wifi hub (which you set up easily via the app when you first load it up – it’s the most painless Wifi setup I’ve ever used). This has to be done each time the Aurora loses power.
Room and individual light names are set by you within the Nanoleaf app. This must be done before using voice control, or else Siri won’t really understand what you want it to do. Nanoleaf has a list of commands you can use.

Power — These aren’t going to suck your house dry of power. The most all panels together will draw is 20 watts (.5-2W per panel depending  on brightness and 2W for the controller module, and up to 60W with the 30 panels that the one power module can control. They’re rated for 25,000 hours of use.

Conclusion — They’re great, I love them! Consider this for the home, but also for effective controllable lighting in commercial applications like bars, cafés and shops for flashy pizazz right down to subtle ambience. I think the price is pretty reasonable, too, considering how configurable they are. And here’s an additional benefit: shifting lights against your windows and curtains can look like someone’s home and doing stuff.

What’s great — Subtle or flashy, very controllable, this is effective, easy to use and configurable. The accessories already available add a lot more to the equation.

What’s not — Getting your configuration right, in the right place, can be a test. But since the 9 panels come with protective paper between them, these come in handy for practicing layouts with Blu-Tac for example.

Needs — Those with sophisticated, malleable lighting needs.

Nanoleaf Aurora starter kit, NZ RRP $339.99 (You can see this in operation at iStore in Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore). 

System — any place with mains power. The app is for iOS, and it has HomeKit and Siri support too (you can turn it on and off by voice.) I feel it’s almost hard to describe in words and pictures but there are some good videos online, and I suggest you check them out: Here’s Nanoleaf’s, Apple has posted one, and here’s 5 Minutes for Mom’s.

More information — MacGear NZ.

Black Friday online sales


CreativeTech in iBooks — Black Friday pre-Christmas sale on all CreativeTech books until Sunday 27th November.
Prices are across all 51 territories with discounts commensurate to the following in local currencies:
Parcels From Home: The Prisoner of War Parcel Scheme and the New Zealand Red Cross in World War Two, now NZ99¢/Australian-US99¢/UK49p (usually NZ$11.99)
Parcels From Home: Jack’s War by Steve Bolton (historical graphic novel telling the NZ WWII Red Cross Parcel story) now NZ$1.99/Aus-US 99¢/UK49p (usually NZ$17.99)
Parcels From Home: The Prisoner of War Parcel Scheme and the New Zealand Red Cross in World War Two (Trainspotter Edition), now NZ$2.99/Aus-US$1.99/UK99p (usually NZ$17.99)
Friendship, Foes and Feathers: June, Anne and the Great War by Lynda Johansson Nunweek, now NZ99¢/Aus-US99¢/UK49p (usually NZ$7.99)
Four Immeasurable States and What Is Nirvana? Traleg Rinpoche, now NZ99¢/Aus-US99¢/UK49p (usually NZ$9.99)


MacPhun — Luminar (offer available until December 1st)
Price for Macphun Users: US$49
Price for New Users: US$59
Buy before December 1st to receive the following Black Friday Bonuses:
Africa with Athena Video by Athena Carey ($60 value)
Cameras in the Wild ebook by Contrastly ($29 value)
Making the Image ebook by Dan Bailey ($25 value)
Luminar Presets pack ($25 value)
Aurora HDR 2017 (offer available until December 1st )
Upgrade Price for existing Aurora HDR Pro Owners: US$49
Price for existing Aurora HDR Owners: US$79
Price for New Users: US$89
Buy before December 1st to receive the following Black Friday Bonuses:
The Essentials of Street Photography & The New York Photographer’s Travel Guide by James Maher (US$25 value)
20 Minute Video Training from Trey Ratcliff (US$20 value)
Holiday Preset Pack (US$25 value)

Review ~ Aurora HDR software for Mac


Images tend to be perfectly exposed in the middle range of tones, or if you’re unlucky, at the light or dark end. One way or another, images can often be perfectly exposed in one of these ranges leaving the other two to suffer. The midtones might be fine but the shadows all ‘filled in’ and showing no detail, or the highlights (sky can really suffer) can be washed out.

Oddly, perhaps, digital cameras actually capture more detail than they can actually show, meaning skilled operators can regain detail, especially in the dark end, even with standard exposures. Aurora HDR Pro from MacPhun (thanks to a collaboration with Trey Ratcliff) puts these capabilities more squarely into the hands of you and me.

Since digital cameras allowed photographers to ‘bracket’ (take multiple exposures of the same image), photoshoppers started sandwiching multiple exposures into one image: the one with the perfect sky with another that was perfect in the midtowns with another that showed all the detail in the shadows. The resulting image, once amalgamated, showed what was called ‘High Dynamic Range’. An HDR image can look ‘super-real’: markedly better than a simple single exposure, since shadows are detailed, the mid-range is comprehensive and the sky is still blue with fluffy, detailed clouds. You can actually load your bracketed shots into Aurora HDR, and the app will combine them into a single image. As it does so, Aurora will correct for alignment, ghosting and chromatic aberration if you tick those boxes (your camera might move slightly between shots).


Using HDR — Since HDR became a thing, cameras (even iPhone cameras) started offering HDR capabilities in-device to better take advantage of the image-sensing capabilities inherent in digital cameras. The resulting HDR image files are bigger, since they have – literally – recorded more data. The iPhone 6 and 6s can decide when a scene is problematic enough to benefit from the more complex exposure required and automatically turn it on – you can also choose to have it on or off for any scene. In this case, the exposure sandwiching is done within the iPhone thanks to its processor, and you end up with a more detailed image in the sense of better across-the-board exposure.

Aurora’s options — Where Aurora comes in is not just generating HDR data into ‘ordinary’ digital images so you can get better looking pictures, but it can extend the parameters into highly-stylised realms. When you open an image – even a single image – Aurora shows a preview of the image and offers you the option of opening it as an HDR or to cancel. If you OK this, the software maps the tones  A checkbox lets you reduce Chromatic Aberration.


Once the image is opened, there are presets along the bottom as thumbnails and more complex tools on the right. The most immediately useful tool is the split screen – you can either view before and after images side by side or have a wiper line you can drag.

WipeYou can ‘wipe’ for before (left) and after views right), dragging to see more or less of either.

This is vertical only – I’d love a horizontal as well– but it’s really good being able to see how your adjustments are going to affect the image you wish to improve. The first preset, Realistic, offers a lovely clarity to images. Realistic Vivid brightens bright areas by comparison to the rest, Bright goes further, HDR Look 1 is more like a traditional Photoshop effort, HDR Look 2 is a more contrasty version, Detailed is harsher, Dreamy ads something like a Gaussian Blur, Dreamy adds more pale mist, and Smooth lessens contrast all over. The Preset thumbnails at the bottom include the image and are big enough really get an impression of what they do (Aurora calls this the Real Time Preview Filmstrip).

You can choose to push images to their extremes
You can choose to push images to their extremes

More power — The controls on the right give you lots more flexibility. In the first Tone Mapping section, you can play with the highlights, midtowns and shades selectively, or use the overall Smart Tone slider above that, which generally gives a darker (to the left) or lighter (to the right) look while it balances off other tone ranges around your selection to still make the picture work without becoming so dark or light as to ruin the picture.

Usefully, the presets below change the sliders over on the right so you can both start with a preset them manipulate sliders to accentuate or detract from effects, or see how the presets are achieved for future reference. Underneath the three basic tones are sliders for whites, black sea contrasts, and beneath that is the Structure section. In here is a Clarity slider (like Definition in Apple’s Photos app), and ‘HDR Look’ which has Amount, Softness and Boost. When you start pushing parameters in the tonnes of images, the underlying structure becomes accentuated, and this is where you control this.

Below that is HDR Detail, HDR Denoise (Amount, Smooth and Opacity, for dealing with any artefacts the HDR process might produce), then Image Radiance which works like an overall exposure with Amount, and also has Smoothness and Brightness sliders to play with, then there;s smart Colorise, Warmth (a good thing to be able to add in, as HDR effects can make an image look overly high-tech and processed).

Then there’s Color (Saturation, Vibrance, Color Contrast), Details (you can change Global, or just the Highlights or just Shadows, with Small, Medium and Large sliders beneath that.

Then there’s Glow, which adds a kind of light-bloomat the extreme end, with Amount, Smoothness and Brightness sliders plus Warmth, the Top and Bottom Lighting (with Top, Bottom and Blend sliders for mixing the light ranges) to help seperate the foreground from the background, an Orientation section with Shift and Rotation, a Tone Curve section Like Photoshops mappable Tone Curve tool – you can build your s-curves here the same way) and then, as if all of the above is not enough, a comprehensive Color Toning section with, further, Vignette , (Amount, Size, Roundness, Feather, Inner light and tools to move the vignette’s centre) and finally, a customisable Presets section so that one you have mixed up our sliders to perfection you can save your own presets to apply to other images.

In this Presets section are even more, in sets for basic (the set I already described) and for architecture, landscape, indoor, dramatic, favourites, user and all.

BrushBrushes — But wait, there’s more. What sets real imaging apps apart from the general stuff (iPhoto, Photos) is being able to selectively effect parts of the area. In Photos, for example, you can click Enhance to improve the whole image, but what if you only want to make one part of the image stand out? One of Photoshop’s strengths  is that it has multiple tools for different kinds of selections.

Aurora isn’t as able as a behemoth like Photoshop on this regard, but you can brush on whatever the preset is selectively using your trackpad or mouse, and make the brushes bigger or smaller by right-clicking (or holding down the Control key on your keyboard and then clicking) on the image, which then displays a contextual menu. There are f=different brushes and you can control how ‘soft’ or ;’hard’ they are.

File formats — Aurora has its own file format, so you can save images with layers and other features. To use the images you have  changed with Aurora for anything else, even Photos or iPhotos, you’ll have to export it back to JPEG, which will flatten the image. (Or TIFF, or RAW.)

Conclusion — This image software offers an extensive range of tools  that will thrill experienced users, but also allows everyone else to make any image look better – sometimes extraordinarily so.

What’s great — Aurora has an impressive toolset to really bring even lacklustre pictures to life. Good pictures, well … they’ll end up awesome.

What’s not — It’s not the fastest at processing, even on well-specced Macs. I’d like a horizontal wipe option as well. An Extension for Photos would be good too, but perhaps there are too many tools inherent in Aurora for this to be feasible.

Needs — Those who want to take their pictures to the next level – and maybe even to a couple more after that.

MacPhun Aurora HDR Pro, US$89 (about NZ$137), on sale from 19th November (available now for preorder, which gives you a training video, HD wallpapers, sample photos and HDR presets). A cheaper version, Aurora HDR with less features, will be available in the Mac App Store.

Available — Online only, but the site has cool feature where you can see how HDRs get generated, and Allina from developer MacPhun asked me to add “in case any questions or concerns arise, just reach us 24/7 via support@aurorahdr.com“.