Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio Review

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  • Pros

    • Solid image editing features
    • Filters include a histogram
    • Detailed tutorials
  • Cons

    • Feature-light
    • Tutorials can feel obtuse
    • Not very user-friendly

By: Dustin Sklavos

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio is only a few months old, making it one of the most up-to-date image editors on the market. Does being novel make X3 cutting edge or just more of the same? We break it down in this review.

We’re now on the fourth entry in our series of consumer image editor reviews with Serif PhotoPlus X3, and one thing has become pretty clear: Unlike the video editing software we’ve reviewed, image editors seem a lot more mature, robust, and uniform. So uniform, in fact, that the differences aren’t so much in terms of power as they are in terms of unique features and ease of use. Just about any piece of software we’ve reviewed can do rudimentary image editing and even some more complex work. So what does Serif bring to the table?

EASE OF USE

When you first open Serif PhotoPlus X3, you’re greeted with this screen:

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio first open

It’s a little bit of a doozy compared to the competition. The interface looks like a fairly straight lift from Adobe Photoshop CS4. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — if you’re going to imitate software you may as well imitate and industry heavyweight — but it also doesn’t do the program any favors in the consumer market. CS4 is very powerful, but very complex, and consumers generally want something simpler to work with.

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio tutorial

So far, most of the other image editors on our list have offered varying degrees of complexity, starting from simple and then getting gradually more complex and robust as the need arises. PhotoPlus X3 inexplicably works in reverse, and the only indicator user-friendliness is the tutorial window open on the left. I can’t bag too much on this approach because I found it acceptable in other software I’ve reviewed, but it did feel a little obtuse and reaffirms a sense that Serif doesn’t intend their software for the neophyte.

When I opened an existing image in PhotoPlus X3, there are three options at the top of the screen that present strikingly similar options: QuickFix, Instant Artist, and Filter Gallery. They could’ve easily been merged into one option since they share an identical interface and many options are shared between QuickFix and Filter Gallery.

Exporting an image offers you two options: Export and Export Optimizer.

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio export

Export is pretty much your generic saving dialog window; not a whole lot of excitement going on here. What you should probably use instead, and what the software really ought to default to, is the Export Optimizer.

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio export optimizer

When you export your image into some kind of compressed format, the Export Optimizer can at least show you how it will look. This option explores the variety of formats the basic Export dialog provides while also offering fine-grained control over compression.

Unfortunately, in our journey to export our file we came upon a glaring omission: No means of directly uploading your image to any web services. Flickr has been a regular guest on the other software reviewed, so it’s disappointing to note its absence in PhotoPlus X3.

FEATURES

Let’s start with PhotoPlus X3’s simplest feature first: Instant Artist.

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio instant artist

The Instant Artist option applies a series of filters to make your photo sort of look like another type of art, usually a particular style of painting. It’s mostly for fun, but most of them don’t look very good. I liked the Watercolor and Pencil filters, but the remainder of them didn’t seem to do the image any favors. The Giger one seemed like a cute idea until I actually used it. While the concept of a Giger filter is comedy gold, and the potential to make my sister’s cat look somehow creepily sexualized or at least full of tentacles seemed awesome, alas, all the filter really does is just produce a series of lines that highlight contours in the image. Bummer.

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio quick fix

The QuickFix Studio is pretty much as advertised, allowing the user fine-grained control over colors and offering a histogram; the default to the histogram should be a clear indicator of who this software targets. A checkbox next to the filter you want to use brings it online, but I found the crucial and basic Red Eye filter to not only be difficult to use (by virtue of having no walk-through and no automatic setting), but just plain ineffective.

One feature I did enjoy was the option to view before-and-after images by toggling the buttons at the bottom of the window. The Chromatic Aberration filter is also a lot of fun if you’ve been playing too much Crysis: Warhead lately (like I have).

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio filter gallery

Moving on to the Filter Gallery, I started to feel a little redundancy from the other modes. Wasn’t I just applying filters in the QuickFix Studio? Well, yes. In this menu, as if to somehow differentiate it from the others, you choose a filter, tweak it, and then click Add Filter at the bottom of the screen to add it to the list. By the time I’d gotten here I’d played with three different modes that essentially performed the same functions in completely different ways. Even if you accept the mostly useless fun of the Instant Artist option, the Filter Gallery and QuickFix Studio are redundant.

CONCLUSION

I don’t want to give the impression that PhotoPlus X3 is bad, because it isn’t. Serif’s software just isn’t particularly great either. If the image editor software market were as messed up as the video editors are, it would be easier to give Serif a thumbs up. Unfortunately for Serif, image editors — even at the consumer grade — are held to a higher standard.

PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio is robust for general image editing, but it lacks the accouterments found in competing consumer-grade image editors. PhotoPlus X3 is nowhere near as user friendly, is more expensive than some (at $79.99), and doesn’t offer direct uploading to Flickr or any other web service. While I saw no indications that PhotoPlus is even intended for consumer market, the price tag puts it in that bracket, and every other consumer-targeted photo editor offers the same functionality as PhotoPlus X3 but with additional improvements in user interface and the ability to upload pictures online.

Serif PhotoPlus X3 Digital Studio isn’t bad software; it’s just not good enough.

PROS

  • Solid image editing features
  • Filters include a histogram
  • Detailed tutorials

CONS

  • Feature-light
  • Tutorials can feel obtuse
  • Not very user-friendly



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