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If you are new to 3D and want to get started with Poser/DS, this is a guide to help you pick the software and figures that will better do what you want.
Let's start with the software: Poser or DAZ Studio? For the sake of simplicity, whenever you see "DS", read "DAZ Studio 4.6" or later version. When it comes to Poser, I will refer to features available in the latest Poser Pro 2014.
Both programs have strong and weak points, so your choice will depend on which are more important to you. For example, Poser is stronger on material editing, lighting, and rendering, while DS is best for content creation. Conversely, it is now possible to render with new external renderers such as Lux and Octane, so material editing and rendering can become less important since both of these would be done entirely in the external renderer plugin. Nonetheless, I find the external renderer plugins for Poser better supported and updated than the ones for DS, so take that into consideration.
If you are into more advanced features, such as dynamic hair, dynamic cloth, and soft/hard body dynamics, Poser Pro already ships with everything included and integrated natively with the program. On the other hand, DS requires a number of third party plugins to add each functionality, and the quality results tend to vary wildly. There is also the fact that Poser uses industry standard cloth simulation, while DS uses a proprietary one that only supports itself. This means you can convert virtually anything into dynamic cloth in Poser, but in DS you can only use whatever the plugin makers offer, which is not much. In the manual, the DS cloth sim claims it should not be used with animations, while in Poser it was actually created for that purpose.
Poser has the most advanced and easy to use material editing tool: the "Material Room". It can be used in simplified or advanced mode, where I only use the latter. The advanced mode allows creating really complex shader node materials visually, by dragging and dropping boxes and setting their properties. I consider this one of Poser's strongest selling points, because the Material Room can rival even professional-grade material editors, such as the one in Autodesk 3DSMAX, which has been considered an industry standard in 3D media production for many decades. But here again, if you intent to use an external renderer such as Lux or Octane, none of this will matter since the materials will be created and edited outside Poser.
Therefore I personally believe Poser provides the best material editing, lighting and rendering of the two, while DS offers the better tools for creating new contents. If you are not a content creator, but don't care much for lighting, materials and rendering, DS may still be the better option for you because:
1. It's free, so it's entirely risk-free to try.
2. It already ships with Genesis, a modern weight-mapped figure.
3. Conforming clothing, viewport performance, and morph management are superior in DS.
On the down side, creating contents with DS can be stressful because the software is mostly undocumented, so the learning curve can be quite steep. It's not like it's difficult to use, but it can be quite difficult to figure out HOW it works before you can get anything done. On this side, Poser is quite well documented and there are countless tutorials all over the web, though the tools for content creation are not as good as the ones from DS. It is also worth noticing that Genesis only works natively in DS, and trying to use it in Poser (using DSON) can be a pain (more on this below).
As you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons for both sides, so which one you will pick will depend entirely on what is more important to you. Anybody claiming that either software is superior in every possible way is either oversimplifying the matter, or haven't really tried the other option, which is the most common case. The important thing to realize is that both programs do basically the same thing: they help simplifying the work when dealing with 3D human figures.
One major dividing factor has been the split between Poser and DS, which has created quite a stir in the market. DAZ3D decided to abandon Poser compatibility when they released DS4 and the Genesis figure. To help silencing the criticism, they released DSON, which is a way to force Genesis to partially work in Poser by means of emulation, meaning really slow feedback and not all features are supported. There is also the fact that content creators not always release DSON-enabled products, and in many cases, not all parts of the product are DSON-enabled.
I have a reasonably powerful Core-i7 PC, but DSON emulation still drags Poser performance down considerably, killing good part of the fun of working with Genesis in Poser. DSON also requires creating an additional content runtime to store its supported contents, making it even more cumbersome and confusing to work with and install new contents. From my personal experience, I consider DSON more of a marketing gimmick just to allow them to claim that Genesis is "Poser-compatible". Personally, I am not falling for that anymore.
There is also the fact that Poser users would still have to download and install DS in their computers if they want to use DSON. Genesis first needs to be exported from DS before it can be used in Poser, where only one set of UVs can be exported at a time, and Auto-Fit will stop working in the exported version. If you need two different characters that either use different UVs, or require Auto-Fit, you will have to first set these in DS, and export Genesis twice, once for each character. For those who have never used DS before, they will *first* have learn how to do all this, so for those who didn't believe when I said DSON was cumbersome, there you have it.
Now, when it comes to figures, there is no lack of options. Poser/DS have an infinity of different figures in all shapes and styles. What really matters is the style you are looking for, and how well supported the figure is. For example, if you are looking for Anime style, a realistic figure won't do the job, or only do it to some extent. But if you find a perfect figure in the style you are looking for, how much contents exist for it? In other words, it's no use to have a figure that has no morphs, clothing, hair and accessories. That's why it's best to adopt mainstream figures that have plenty of contents created for them.
And here we have a dilemma. Older figures like Vicky4 are very popular and have plenty of contents, but they use legacy rigging (no weight maps), so they pose as realistically as a plastic pipe. In some cases the poor posing is not too evident, and that will depend mostly on the pose. More extreme poses will make it quite evident. By "extreme" I mean things like sitting, kneeling, crouching, and in some cases, simply sticking both arms up can be enough to show some pretty bad deformations.
Most of that was solved with the release of weight-mapped figures such as Genesis and Dawn. Genesis has been around for years now, but was quickly replaced by gender-specific Genesis2 (male and female as separate figures), which happens to be incompatible with Genesis1 contents, and that made a lot of people mad because of the invested money. Many still do not understand why DAZ3D did this, but it's enough to say that it was because of technical issues for content creators to deal with creating clothings for a genderless figure - they didn't fit well in both genders because of gender-specific anatomical features. Imagine yourself having to create a bra that fits a woman, a man or an elephant (LOL).
The original Genesis was quite an innovation. It comes in androgynous shape that can be morphed into either genders, and also into all sorts of creatures. The idea was much appreciated by the public, since one single figure could be reshaped into a wide variety of characters of varied ages and genders. It was the kind of idea that looks great on paper, but the technical drawbacks only showed up when put into practice. Customers loved it, but it was blowing on the faces of content creators. It is hard enough to create clothing that looks good on a woman, and more impractical to make it also look good on a man, a werewolf, and a heavy muscled giant troll.
So the decision to drop Genesis for gender-specific versions was quite appreciated by content creators, but not so much by the customers, who still wanted the genderless versatility and don't care how impractical it can be for content creators to make that happen. The conflict didn't end there - DAZ3D also decided to improve the rigging in Genesis2, which made it incompatible with the genderless version. This means clothing people bought for Genesis1 will not work with Genesis2. As a result, there were some who decided to boycott Genesis2 altogether and stick to Genesis1, so they could keep using their existing contents.
There is also the fact that Genesis1/2 only work in DS 4.5 and later versions. People who didn't like DS4 (for whatever reasons) would not use Genesis in any version because it doesn't work in older DS versions, and it also doesn't work in Poser. This is important because DAZ3D has historically created all the Poser figures that became mainstream, and Genesis was the first of their figures to break that line.
DAZ3D was a company that was originally supported by Poser users who opted for DS mainly because it was a free alternative to Poser. After DS4/Genesis, all these users were alienated, and they still represent the market majority. That is, perhaps, why it was so important for DAZ3D to push the DSON gimmick out the doors, as means to claim "Poser compatibility". In a poll I ran for several months, Poser users claimed it to be unusable, which is basically the same conclusion I came to on my own experience.
Now back to the mainstream figures subject, I would consider Vicky4 as the most used figure because:
* It has been in the market for many years, way more than Genesis.
* It has become the most supported figure ever, so there is no lack of contents for her.
* It uses legacy rigging (pre-Genesis), so she works in either Poser or DS.
* It is one of the best figures ever made in terms of built quality.
* Many years have passed before Genesis came out, so people have accumulated tons of contents made especially for her. This alone makes people want to stick to the figure, even if just to protect their investment.
The main disadvantage of Vicky4 is obviously her inferior posing quality comparing to modern weight-mapped figures such as Genesis and Dawn. There was a weight-mapped Vicky4 version released at some point, but it was incompatible with all of her existing contents, which made its use less practical for the general user. There are ways to convert the clothing, but it requires more advanced tools and knowledge.
To compensate for the poor posing, many vendors have created correction morph packages that attempt to fix the bad deformations that are common in legacy figures. This again tends to elevate Vicky4 back to popularity, but it's still more of a patch than a solution. Conforming clothing and morph quality also suffer in legacy figures, and that cannot be compensated by correction morph packages.
That's why the future lays on modern weight-mapped figures. Many have been holding up to older figures like Vicky4 because there was a lot of money invested in morphs and contents, so all of their assets only work with that figure. Both Genesis and Genesis2 still can't compare with Vicky4 when it comes to the sheer amount of Vicky4 contents we find in the market. Not to mention Vicky4 is not tied up to DS only. Just to be fair, Genesis1 and Genesis2 still need third party correction morphs to pose properly, so Vicky4 is not alone on that.
This is where a new company called HiveWire3D emerged in late 2013, showcasing a brand new weight-mapped figure that exists natively in both Poser and DS. It is no longer necessary to be tied up to DS just for that. Dawn is a modern weight-mapped figure that ships (for the first time) in native Poser CR2 and also in native DS DUF formats, and can be downloaded for free in the base version. Today HW also offers a male figure (Dusk), and a very realistic horse (I love the toon version, too). Those are all figures built over the same base mesh, similar to the approach used in DAZ3D "Unimesh" figures (Genesis, Vicky4, etc). This allows reusing texture maps and other resources between figures.
HW was founded by ex-DAZ3D employees, to include its co-founder (Christopher Creek) and marketing director (Steve Kondris). The new HW figures were modeled by Chris Creek, who has also created the original Vicky and Michael figures for DAZ3D. The built quality is such that they don't need third party correction morphs to pose properly for most cases, and a major feature is certainly the fact that all HW figures exist natively in both platforms, which is a more democratic approach.
In addition, HW was the first company to open development doors to the general public. I was able to submit feature suggestions when the figure was being upgraded to SR-2 version, and all of them got incorporated into the final version. Chris Creek was even kind enough to send me temporary morph targets so I could use them a month before the official release. Since 2004, I have worked with several other companies, but I was never allowed to actively participate like this. Not only me, but anybody in the HW forums was invited to participate, which was again, a quite democratic approach - if not unprecedented.
So when it comes to figures, on one hand we have DAZ3D trying to split the market, and on the other we have HiveWire3D trying to bring it back together to democracy. By that I mean, let the user decide which software they want to work with, instead of that being dictated by figures that only work in one software. That's why all contents I have created since 2013 were for HiveWire3D figures - I am a big fan of democracy! All products I have created since then were released natively for both Poser and DS, allowing the user to decide which they prefer to use. In practical terms, that makes me work in double, but sales also happen in double since I am not alienating either sides. I believe that's the "correct" way to do business.
That is not to say that I have never used Genesis or Genesis2. I keep doing paid commissions for these figures, though in my gallery I have almost dropped Genesis1 altogether since DAZ3D has "retired" it so early. The original Genesis went from mainstream to legacy in less than a year, and that made me rather skeptical about adopting DAZ3D figures. Not only they are tied to DS only, but they keep making the next figure incompatible with the prior, which is bad for the pocket. There are third party technical hacks to allow converting Genesis1 contents for Genesis2, which again, demonstrates that DAZ3D could had made these figures compatible if they really wanted to. Meh. :/
Genesis2 Female looks great, and has been in the market for long enough to have a number of expansion morph packages, to include toon and Anime styles. Unfortunately, she doesn't pose as well as one would expect for a weight-mapped figure, so here again, third party correction morph packages are necessary in more extreme poses. I am saying this after having played with HW3D figures, like Dawn, where the posing quality is superior, and has become even better after SR-2 was released.
So for mainstream figures we have:
* Legacy, but extremely well supported Vicky4.
* New versatile but already retired Genesis1, which was tied to DS only.
* Newer Genesis2 that looks great, but has some posing issues, and is tied to DS only.
* New Dawn and Dusk from HiveWire3D, with better posing and work in both platforms.
There are also the default Poser figures that ship with the software, but historically they never became mainstream, so take that into consideration because you won't find much contents created specifically for them. There are also those who only want Poser/DS to create references for 2D drawing, so maybe they won't mind the lack of clothing after all. If you only want to create references for human anatomy, perspective, shading and proportions, even the default Poser figures might do the job for you. Each Poser release bundles its own figures, plus all the ones from previous versions, so there is a wide variety to choose from. The last couple of versions have also included weight-mapped default figures, too, both male and female.
As you can see, both programs and figures have gone through some rocky ways, and there are many pros and cons to consider. Here again, it all depends on what you want to do with them. Legacy figures like Vicky4 might need some postwork or correction morphs to make up for the poor posing. Newer figures pose better but don't have as much supporting contents from the vendors. If you want the ultimate level of realism, consider investing on either Lux or Octane as external renderers. Both Poser and DS support them through third party plugins, where [I think] Poser still has the better ones.