Home PC Photo Editor Buyers Guide 2009

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By: Dustin Sklavos

Believe it or not, there is photo editing software available between the price and functionality extremes of Adobe Photoshop CS4 and MS Paint. We’ve given four consumer-grade image editing applications the once-over. Whether you’re an aspiring design professional or just looking for the perfect app to spruce up your family photos, we’ve got the scoop on which software is right for you.

THE CONTENDERS

Here at the end of our reviews series, I have to say the landscape of consumer video editors is a lot smoother than it is for video editors. Out of the four pieces of software I’ve tested, only one of them can I officially say is not worth your money: Serif PhotoPlus X3. Serif’s entrant offered less than the competition and generally cost more. Serif has a lower-tier product, Digital Photo Suite, which includes some of the features missing from PhotoPlus X3, which makes us wish that the two apps were combined into one.

The remaining three image editor apps all have their own merits but they also all cover the same basic functionality. Honestly, any of them should serve you very well. The distinctions are based on what you intend to use these applications for, and how much you’re willing to spend.

To that end, I’ll be making my recommendations based upon who might best use of each image editor listed below.

FOR THE BUDDING PROFESSIONAL: ADOBE PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 7

The student or amateur image editor looking to eventually graduate to using full-on Photoshop CS4 is the intended customer for Photoshop Elements 7. While Photoshop Elements 7 does have some decent wizards and is able to directly upload to Flickr, its real draw is the slightly stripped-down version of Photoshop proper hidden under the hood.

If you were considering making the jump to Photoshop but weren’t sure you were ready to drop a couple hundred on what could just be a hobby, try cutting your teeth on Elements 7. It’s still pricy compared to the other pieces of software in this roundup, but if you feel like you may want to pursue image editing a little more seriously — as a graphics designer, web designer, or photographer — you owe it to yourself to make your stop here.

Unfortunately, if “future pro” doesn’t describe you, Adobe’s abstractions and interfaces may leave a lot to be desired. The way Photoshop Elements 7 splits up tasks can feel kind of goofy, and despite being able to upload directly to Flickr, it’s not as user-friendly as its competitors. Grandma Millie is going to want to avoid this one.

FOR THE FRUGAL SHOPPER: ACDSEE PHOTO EDITOR 2008

The big factor recommending ACDSee Photo Editor 2008 compared to the others is its low price, but that’s not all this app has going for it. If you want an image editor that is willing to trade a little bit of functionality for a whole lot of user-friendliness, ACDSee’s entry is going to be your software of choice.

I personally really liked ACDSee’s interface much more than the others. The software more or less cribs Microsoft’s burgeoning ribbon interface — as seen in Microsoft Office 2007 — and it’s really a perfect fit. ACDSee’s application of filters and adjustments is also very user-friendly.

Unfortunately, Photo Editor 2008 has issues that do make it a bit difficult to recommend. My biggest complaint is the How-To window, especially when compared to the outstanding Learning Center panel found in Corel’s software.

As far as the overall interfaces go, I like ACDSee’s ribbon-style menus and tabs the most of all the image editors I’ve reviewed, but there are plenty of users out there who are still adjusting to the Office ribbon, and the ACDSee How-To windows won’t solve that problem. Photo Editor 2008 is still a cut above Adobe Photoshop Elements 7and a mile ahead of Serif PhotoPlus X3 in ease of use, but I’d hesitate to buy it for a high-maintenance or reluctant user. Again, this one’s not for Granma Millie.

OVERALL BEST CHOICE: COREL PAINT SHOP PRO PHOTO X2

I have to be honest, this was a tough call for me, but what ultimately earned Corel my top grade was Paint Shop Pro’s aforementioned Learning Center. Simply put, the Learning Center includes the same basic tutorial functions as ACDSee’s How-To windows but enhances them with multiple full-on wizards for handling basic tasks (and even some more complicated ones, too).

Frankly I didn’t think Corel had this level of quality in them after test-driving the train wreck that is their VideoStudio X2 Pro, but they seem to have a much better handle on image editing software and it shows. I’ve had more than a couple friends use older versions of Paint Shop Pro as cheaper, low-rent alternatives to Photoshop and I now understand why.

Ultimately what makes PSP Photo X2 work for me is that I can call my mother or grandfather (or Grandma Millie) up and tell them to buy it, confident that they’ll be able to figure out how to use it. I can’t honestly say that about the other applications in this series.

CONCLUSION

My big takeaway is that any one of these image editors is probably worth your time and money. Your purchase choice will come down to personal comfort and aspiration. My personal favorite is still ACDSee Photo Editor 2008 for its intuitive interface, but I’m not interested in using the tutorials so much as just jumping in and editing. In making a recommendation for less tech-savvy consumers, I have to go with Corel.

Mercifully, you don’t just have to take my word for it. All four of these have free-to-try demos available on their respective websites so you can decide on your own which trade-offs you’re willing to make, and which photo editor makes the most sense for you overall. (Hey, you might love Serif PhotoPlus X3 after a test drive.)

At the end of the day, if you’re just looking to buy something without wading through demos, my ultimate recommendation is Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2. But believe me when I say it was a photo finish.


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