Big test

Can Pho­to­shop and Light­room re­ally be beaten at their own game? Find out in our in-depth round-up

NPhoto - - Contents -

The fact is that Adobe’s Pho­tog­ra­phy Plan, which in­cludes Pho­to­shop and Light­room, is now such a com­pelling propo­si­tion that we can’t ask if Pho­to­shop is any good, but rather if any of its ri­val pro­grams do enough to tempt peo­ple away from what looks like the ob­vi­ous photo edit­ing choice.

Adobe’s Pho­tog­ra­phy Plan is terrific value for money. For less than £9/$10 per month, you get the re­spected im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion and photo cat­a­logu­ing pro­grams, plus per­pet­ual free up­dates and all the ad­van­tages of Adobe’s Cre­ative Cloud shar­ing and mo­bile tools. But Adobe’s prod­ucts don’t do ev­ery­thing per­fectly, and there are gaps in their fea­tures. We’ll prise those gaps open to see if there is room for al­ter­na­tives.

Can I save some money?

First, are there any pro­grams that achieve the same things for less money? We’ve got a cou­ple of can­di­dates for this, no­tably Serif Affin­ity Photo and Corel Pain­tShop Pro. At less than half the price of an an­nual Adobe Pho­tog­ra­phy Plan sub­scrip­tion, they de­serve a proper look.

Is there some­thing eas­ier?

A com­mon com­plaint against Pho­to­shop is that it doesn’t ap­pear very user-friendly. In reality, though, once you get to grips with a hand­ful of ba­sic tech­ni­cal­i­ties, it can be more straight­for­ward than so-called ‘be­gin­ner’ soft­ware. Be that as it may, Pho­to­shop El­e­ments and Corel Pain­tShop Pro are both de­signed for non-ex­perts and could well pro­vide novices with an easy route into im­age edit­ing.

Can I get bet­ter qual­ity?

Adobe Cam­era Raw, Pho­to­shop’s RAW en­gine, is cer­tainly pow­er­ful, but its con­ver­sions aren’t the sharpest, nor the most noise-free. Two strong ri­vals here are DxO Op­tics Pro, which de­liv­ers high-qual­ity op­ti­cal corrections and RAW con­ver­sions, and Phase One Cap­ture One Pro, which can pro­duce sharp­ness and clar­ity that you may not have re­alised was pos­si­ble from your cam­era.

Vive la dif­fer­ence

Not ev­ery­one is a fan of Adobe’s work­flow, ei­ther. Pho­to­shop re­lies on you know­ing ex­actly what you want to cre­ate and know­ing ex­actly how to do it – whereas many of us would rather browse through a se­ries of dif­fer­ent ‘looks’ for our pho­tos, choose one we like and work back­wards from that with man­ual tweaks. Alien Skin Ex­po­sure X2, the dark horse in this line-up, is not es­pe­cially well-known, but it has evolved rapidly from an in­ter­est­ing but spe­cialised ana­logue ef­fect plug-in into a fast and pow­er­ful stand­alone edit­ing ap­pli­ca­tion.

Chalk ver­sus cheese

We’re test­ing a di­verse range of photo edit­ing tools, so we’re com­par­ing some pro­grams that don’t re­ally do the same things. Some are rel­a­tively spe­cialised but ex­cep­tion­ally good, while oth­ers aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the most pow­er­ful but do of­fer their own unique and re­ward­ing ap­proach. So our rat­ings are based on how con­vinc­ing they are as al­ter­na­tives to Adobe’s Pho­tog­ra­phy Plan.

Not only but also

So can these pro­grams com­pletely re­place Adobe’s of­fer­ings? Maybe, maybe not. You may find you need two or more pro­grams to cover all the tech­niques that you want to try, and to suit the way you like to work. It would be nice to say there was a sin­gle, per­fect so­lu­tion for ev­ery­one, but in your quest for the ul­ti­mate pho­to­graphic qual­ity you may need more than one set of tools.

We’re test­ing a di­verse range of photo edit­ing tools. Our rat­ings are based on how con­vinc­ing they are as al­ter­na­tives to Adobe’s Pho­tog­ra­phy Plan

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