My Official Favorite Plug-in of 2009

I thought it’d be fun to find out what everyone’s favorite Lightroom plug-in is. Now, I’m going to kick it off by giving you a very specific one because saying I love Nik’s Color Efex Pro, isn’t very specific. Its got a ton filters in it. So I’ll take it one step further by saying my official favorite most-used plug-in of the last year is the Brilliance/Warmth filter from Nik’s Color Efex. I use it on everything. Seriously, I find the Brilliance part of the filter to work like Vibrance (but just, well, better in most cases) and I like the warming part of it as well. I use it on every single landscape and outdoor photo I have because it just takes the photo that one extra step. Here’s a sample:

brilliance_beforeafter

OK, so that’s my favorite plug-in. What’s yours? Try to be as specific as possible though. If you love onOne’s PhotoFrame, which frame do you end up using the most, or something along those lines. Thanks!

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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63 Comments

  1. Hey, Matt:
    Happy Holidays! I love onOne Software’s PhotoTools, and it is really tough to choose my favorite filter but the two that I use most often with greatest impact are Daily Multivitamins from Kevin Kubota which really gives the image a nice snaps and the Magic Eye Fixer which pops the eyes beautifully. Thanks for all the great Lightroom info!

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  2. My favourite pulgin has got to be Portraiture. Gives amazing silky smooth skin complexions and tones. I use it on nearly all of my portrait images. I love it!

    Merry Christmas everyone!

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  3. Lightroom has plugins? Did I miss this because I’m still using version 1.x?

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  4. I also love Nik’s Colorefex Pro software, my most used tool seems to be tonal contrast – careful though – it could totally be overused. But that’s what the sliders are for – I use it to add some depth and dimensionality to lots of shots and the selective controls means I can remove it’s effect on areas too!

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  5. I personally love Nik’s Silver Efex Pro Lightroom plug-in. The ability to give my digital pictures a grainy B&W feel easily is great.

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  6. I’m with Justin… Tonal Contrast. I almost always use it, but you do have to be careful with it. I’ve got 4 custom adjustments set up for different shots that act as good starting points. I also use the + and – selective point controls alot to control what i’m effecting too.

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  7. My all-time favorite is Topaz Adjust, Simplify and DeNoise….They are fantastic….

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  8. I use Tonal Contrast regularly, as well. And, i agree, it can be overdone. Unless, of course, you’re going for the “Bad HDR” look! Tonal Contrast just seems to bring out a lot of the details in clouds and textures. the first time i used it, i felt like a “film” was removed from the image. I couldn’t believe it. Very cool. Of course, Matt, i’m going to have to pay more attention to the Brilliance/Warmth filter now, too. thanks!!!

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  9. Tonal Contrast is the best. I use it on almost every image. Usually just locally using a layer mask. Matt, Happy Holidays to you and all the PS Guys.

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  10. I have the onOne Plug-In Suite, but keep hearing nothing but awesome reviews about the Nik Suite. Anyone use both? I am not sure if I need it or not, it just sounds like people really love it.

    Hit me up if you have / use both, and which one you prefer and why. Thanks!

    B

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  11. I have a couple of add-ons onOne, Nik, Alien skin and a couple more plug-ins. The hardest thing with all that add-on is which one to pick for the special effect. However my favorite plug-in is glamor glow from Nik. I especially use that effect in all most all my wedding shots.

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  12. Hi Matt… I also use the Brilliance/Warmth filter in CEP, but I’ve found that only certain images really benefit from its use (I guess that’s true for all filters, tho). But my ABSOLUTE favorite filter is the Darken/Lighten Center filter in CEP…. I use it on 70-80% of my images. It’s uber-adjustable and does a fantastic job of drawing the eye to the subject. Of course, I can achieve a similar effect in PS with a selection and curves adjustment, but this filter is soooo much easier and faster. If you haven’t tried this one, give it a shot and I can almost guarantee you’ll fall in love all over again. :)

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  13. I’d probably have to say Topaz Adjust, I can’t give a specific preset from within it because I always adjust it manually. I like to use it in a more subtle way, essentially instead of output sharpening, and I often mask it on the background but try to not let it touch skin tones too much. It’s amazing on architecture! Here’s a sample http://jonmark.smugmug.com/Weddings/Katie-Darrens-Wedding/10516882_yKVWS/1/#730335536_9oLDD-A-LB

    I’m curious to try Colour Efex Pro though! Looks great!

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  14. This post brings me to my number one video request; Plug-in workflow.

    Do you make a TIFF copy of every image you edit in, say, the Nik Suite? Do you keep them afterward? What about getting back and making edits later? Are those edits done to the TIFF file, and does that alter the quality of the image? When do the plug-ins come into play in your workflow, at import or just before export?

    Sorry for all the questions, but those are actually just some of them. Plug-ins in Lightroom confuse me as it seems you have to edit an exported version of your image. Any way I twist this around in my head it just seems very destructive to workflow. I can see editing a special image that goes on the wall or something, but to incorporate something like the above mentioned Brilliance/Warmth filter from Nik’s Color Efex really comes off as a big burden for a somewhat small adjustment? It might be better than the Vibrance slider but unless I missed something the extra work involved would seem to demand a bigger difference than what seem to be the case.

    I would LOVE some more info on this (you see Matt, careful what you “tip” about – the floodgates get busted!).

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  15. My fav plugin is also Nik’s Tonal Contrast. As other have said it could be overdone, but controling the beast :) you can achieve great results!

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  16. I’m also a big fan of this filter. The other one that gets constant use is the Skylight. Just a dash of that does wonders for people pics. The Nik suite is fantastic, but ain’t cheap.

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  17. I’m also a big fan of this filter. The other one that gets constant use is the Skylight. Just a dash of that does wonders for people pics. The Nik suite is fantastic, but ain’t cheap.

    Matt, I should also add that you’ve captured an amazing image there.

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  18. I like most of the Nik software, but my favorite plug-in is Viveza. The control-points are a fantastic supplement to the LR tools.

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  19. I’m a long-time fan and user of all the nik software tools and the CEP filters are probably my most used plugin in both LR and PS. But, I guess my vote for favorite (at the moment :)) would have to go to the CEP Tonal Contrast filter. As others have said, it’s easy to overdo things, but when ya nail it there’s nothing like it!!

    Happy holidays to you and all the PS Guys…

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  20. I have looked at the Nik products…a bit pricy for me. I feel Topaz does a great job, but as you point out, you must apply the sliders to get the effect…not as many presets as Nik, but again, too pricy for me…$300 is quite a price for one plug-in….

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  21. I use the Tonal Contrast filter all the time. I send everything from LR as a Smart Object; often I think that I will never want to change anything, but then find that I do. After I apply Tonal Contrast, I almost always reduce the Opacity (another reason for doing this in PS). Sometimes I use a Blending Mode.

    In PhotoFrame 4.5, I use Jack Davis’s 2i frame all of the time.

    I’m really looking forward to getting into Viveza 2. When I downloaded it, in addition to PS, it went into LR3 Beta rather than LR2; go figure.

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  22. Mine is not a “Develop” plugin but the one I use most is LR2/Mogrify from Timothy Armes.. I use it generally with Jeffrey Friedl’s Flickr export filter or just to get JPG out of my RAW with borders, text and that stuff. Really a MUST to have.

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  23. Emil, I think you are correct in your assessment of destructiveness of the image, but if it is the FINAL image for print, what’s the big deal? If the print looks good I don’t understand all this bizness about “non-destructiveness”.

    I’m not a professional photog, but I fail to see the relevance of a “non-destructive” workflow if the print is good.

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  24. I’d have to say Nik’s Silver Efex Pro. I have yet to see anything come close the quality of their black and white conversion. The presets are great too, but I love the manual tools and create my own presets all the time.

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  25. My favorite plugin has to be Topaz simplify. It allows me to take a very complex photo and simplify it in a way that with less detail adds to the quality of the image.

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  26. I agree with Emil that it would be interesting to see Matt actually working with some filters, one of those before-after videos. Since Matt is a big PS user he probably doesn’t use NIK’s stand-alone LR plug-ins. But for me personally that’s something that is way more interesting because, as often preached by Adobe, Lynda, Kelby et al, if you own LR you might get away with not owning PS. Especially now with all these interesting filters.

    BTW, Emil and others, NIK have a few videos on their site but they kinda lack the start-to-finish workflow you’re requesting and will probably only answer some of your questions. Still, I wish all software companies would realize the great benefits of posting video tutorials.

    /AC

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  27. Totally agree about Colorefex Pro and in no particular order … Brilliance/Warmth, Pro Contrast, Tonal Contrast, Polarisation, White Neutraliser, Darken/Lighten Centre and Polaroid Transfer … but Brilliance/Warmth … yeah !!

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  28. I have tried Nik Brilliance/Warmth (it comes free with my Bamboo tablet!) and like it, but frankly I can’t tell the difference from what I can do with Vibrance within the LR workflow.

    My favorite plug in is Photomatix. HDR is a bit too much work for me. I usually find a great result by just exporting one photo and using the Tone Mapping only. It has a nice effect that I just can’t describe, especially in stormy landscapes.

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  29. I don’t use any Develop plugins, I’ve found that since LR2 and local adjustments, I do about 98.5% of developing in LR only… very rarely I’ll take something to Photoshop (I even do the majority of minor clone-stamping in LR if I can).

    For me, I’d say any and all of Jeffrey Friedl’s metadata and “Export to…” plugins. If I had to pick ONE it would be the Geoencoding plugin. I use some or many parts of it on every single photo in my catalog. Very close second would be the Export to Flickr… it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of the LR3b “Publish” feature, and unless they completely overhaul it for the final release (doubtful for a brand new feature), I can’t see me ever using it in favor of Jeffrey’s plugin.

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  30. Looks like I might need to check out Nik’s. Seems to be quite popular. My most favorite plug-in is apparently going to be obsolete with LR3, but that’s ok. I love it now and will forever be greatful for the time it has saved me. It’s Mogrify. What I love in particular about it, is that it applies my graphic watermark upon export. I don’t have to go into PS to watermark my stuff and I get to use my actual logo rather than just text as LR2 would have me do on it’s own. I hear LR3 does graphic watermarks, though.

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  31. I’m doing a trial of Color Efex Pro. What I can’t figure out is how to apply more than one of the filters at the same time. Is that possible? The only thing I’ve been able to do is choose one filter, save it (which closes the image), then re-open it from LR to apply the second filter. There has to be an easier way – right?

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  32. In reference to Corbins post I may be missing something but in the case of OnOne I thought you still needed the basic PS package to enable the plug-in. I think it is an LR plugin because the package launches PS and then the plugin in one menu click, it doesn’t bring the PS adjustments in to LR
    Mike

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  33. Chris, I’ve noticed this too and if there’s an easier way to apply multiple filters in CEP, I haven’t found it. I think it’s a shortcoming when compared to the “stackability” of the filters in OnOne’s PhotoTools.

    But given the high quality of CEP’s filters, I can live with it.

    Good Luck.

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  34. I too am a fan of onOne software’s plug in suite. Version 4.5 was great but i’ve been impressed even more by version 5. I’d have to say that FocalPoint 2 is my favorite plug in from the suite.

    Cheers,

    Jared

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  35. Viveza is just awesome…

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  36. Murali, Can’t you essentiallly get the same results (as Viveza) by using the selection features (brush and gradient) in Lightroom? I’m just curious, as I know Matt likes it too.

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  37. Matt,

    My most used plugin is cep- Darken/lighten. I do mostly portraits and I love the subtle vingnettte while hightlighting the face.

    Well it may be close to a tie because I use the Portrature plugin on most all images as well.
    I have just started using the tonal contrast a little use the subtract feature so as not to effect the face.

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  38. Seems most of you are just listing PS plug-ins?

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  39. One of my favorite Plug-ins is Nik CEP Bi-Color Filters, I use the Cool/Warm #1 filter and modify it depending on the photo. I don’t know how to use it in Lightroom, I take the photo to Photoshop and then back to LR. Look forward to trying a few of those suggested above. Thanks to everybody for the ideas, and Happy Holidays!

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  40. I use Lucis art…all the time and people cannot figure out how I achieve the sharpness and detail.
    I have Nik but only use dfine and sharpener…but I’ve uncorked CEP now based on your comments…THX!

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  41. - One of my favorite plugins is Silver Efex Pro, and more specifically the high-structure preset.
    - Because it uses the same, incredibly user friendly U-Point Technology, my second favorite plugin has to be Viveza, also from Nik Software.
    - And finally, as far as ‘organisational plugins’ are concerned, I would not want to go back to a Lightroom world without LR2/Mogrify.

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  42. Tough choice. It’s definitely in the NIK packages though. Id’ have to say Silver Efex Pro.

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  43. Michael and Chris, I actually wrote to Nik about the ability to apply multiple filters at one time and was told it is not possible at this time. They did say they would pass the request on to the development team. ;)

    My favorite filters in CEP are Pro Contrast, Darken/Lighten Center and Tonal Contrast. All very adjustable and effective. And, I love Dave Cross’ frames in OnOne’s PhotoFrame.

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  44. I’ve checked out the demos of all the plug-ins mentioned and I have to say that there isn’t much that I can’t replicate using free (or at least very cheap) LR presets. The advantage to presets of course is that you don’t have to leave LR, all of the adjustments are done on the RAW file, and you don’t have to clutter up your file structure with TIFFs or PSDs stacked with the RAW files.

    OnOne ProTools has some cool effects that I haven’t been able to reproduce with presets, so I’m considering buying that. I use Photokit Sharpener Pro and Noise Ninja for NR when I have to, but rarely. Otherwise I just don’t see the point of leaving LR.

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  45. Hello, I have a question pertaining to Lightroom, but it doesn’t have anything to do with plug-ins. Would it be appropriate to ask it here or is there a better place on this site to ask a miscellaneous question?
    I just want to be considerate to the site and the posters.

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  46. Niks Viveza is definitely my favorite!!

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  47. Eddie – just leave a comment here. That’s the best place. There’s lots of people that usually see them and jump in to help answer.

    Thanks.

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  48. Oh wow, great!
    I’m in the process of watching your Lightroom movie.

    My question concerns the use of .dng
    I fully understand the concept and it theoretically makes complete sense, but how many people exclusively import raw to dng into Lightroom and then leave them in that format for archival purposes?
    Are you really using dng or do you still use raw and consider dng to be a thing you COULD do if you wanted to and just feel compelled to mention that option? I want to clean up my mess on my HD and just wanted to know what the pros do as well as think about it.

    Thanks.

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  49. Eddie; As far as I’ve gathered the majority of photographers using LR convert to DNG and simply discard their proprietary raw files. Some keep both just to be safe and a minority don’t convert to DNG at all.

    One reason to keep your original files are that you might want to use your cameras proprietary program (such as Nikon’s CaptureNX or Canon’s Digital Photo Professional) at a later occasion and if you (like me) discarded those original files you’re cooked.

    The two big advantages of DNG in my opinion is that the files are slightly smaller (by loss-less compression) and with a huge library it adds up to quite a lot of disk space. The other reason is that your edits can be saved in the DNG file, no need for a separate XML file to go along with your RAW file (note that this is not done by default in LR though).

    The most thrown around reason to use DNG is the idea that Adobe will always support DNG while your camera manufacturer might abandon support for their proprietary format. To me that doesn’t really make sense to me. If I can convert to DNG today, and Canon abandon CR2 (or Nikon NEF) why wouldn’t I be able to convert these files tomorrow?

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  50. Emil i Lonneberga:

    Answer to your last question:

    If Adobe no longer supports CR2 in Lightroom it’ll be a whole lot more complicated for you to use your pictures in Lightroom.

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  51. I like many of the CEP filters but I believe my most used is Viveza. I prefer using the filters from Photoshop to retain masking and more importantly opacity adjustments but that has become such a hassle since I went to 64 bit Photoshop that I generally use them from Lightroom. I also like Topaz filters after going to edit in Photoshop. They all work in 64 bit Photoshop. I am not aware of how to access Topaz filters directly from Lightroom.

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  52. I have both but I probably can’t help you much. I have used Genuine Fractals for several years and decided I wanted Focal Point. The sales person offered sufficient discounts to make buying the entire PhotoSuite cost very little. I had sufficient problems with speed and crashes that I do not use Photo Tools, Photo Tune, or Photo Frame. I use Windows.
    Get the free trial of Viveza and Color Effects Pro and give them a try. I can’t imagine using Lightroom/Photoshop without Nik. I would bet you will feel the same after the trial period.

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  53. NIK has many nice plugins as does OnOne. I like Viveza to begin, followed by CEP and then found a very interesting result from using Silver Effects then converting to Luminosity instead of Normal for mask style at the end before Define and Sharpen. The difference between that and using curves luminosity provides an interesting alternative. One OnOne plugin not to forget is Focal Point for great DOF.

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  54. Me too, Nik’s Silver Efx Pro. Very darkroom like.

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  55. Thank you Emil.
    I was waiting for a few more opinions before I replied, but I guess that is not to be. I will take your post into consideration and try somewhere else to get a better idea of the pros and cons of converting to .dng.
    Once again, thanks!

    eddie.

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  56. Tomas; First of all sorry for the late reply! But you seem to have fallen in that very logical trap I was referring to in my post. First of all you flipped the topic around completely (I’m referring to the statement by Adobe that today’s files might get abandoned by their creators (camera manufacturers) in the future – you’re saying Adobe might abandon them). But the logic is the same.

    If you can convert your raw files of today you will be able to convert those same files forever. If your camera manufacturer discard their current format you would still be able to convert those older files (the files of today) to DNG because the converter is already freely available today. Adobe would never suddenly decide to stop supporting your current raw files because that would make their product obsolete for every camera that followed that decision. I’m assuming you meant that Adobe would stop supporting the native raw files but still offer the converter. In that case you would be forced to convert. But even if they did that would have no bearing on whether or not you should convert to DNG today (because those files can still be converted at a later date.

    Sincerely,
    /Emil

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  57. I love using many of the CEP filters already mentioned, but one that really Rocks is the COLOR CONTRAST RANGE – this will improve an image so much and almost gives a 3-D look – you have to play with the sliders, but the results are awesome!

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  58. Does anyone have a LR pluging for noise reduction?

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  59. Hi Dave,
    I’m going to jump in here and suggest Nik Software’s Dfine 2.0 which is a great Noise Reduction plug-in that works with Lightroom. Try it out for free for 15-days at http://www.niksoftware.com under the Downloads tab.
    –Laurie
    Nik Software

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  60. The OnOne Pro v 5. Its absolutely fab! I use it on alsmost all of my wedding pics and it makes them stand out and get that little extra ompfh ;-) if uoy know what i mean.

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  61. High resolution full framers,great glass,why would anyone use anything but NIK just to get a fast fix? Each image has it’s own light/shadow problems of course, but selectivity of all points should be selective, not global!

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