Best photo ed­i­tors for pro­fes­sion­als

Adobe is no longer king when it comes to im­age edit­ing. Keir Thomas looks at the best Mac photo ed­i­tors for pro­fes­sion­als

Macworld - - Contents -

Few peo­ple would dis­pute the near-mag­i­cal fea­tures of Pho­to­shop, as well as an­cil­lary apps like Light­room and Cam­era RAW, but there has been crit­i­cism about its high sub­scrip­tion fees. How­ever, there are plenty of chal­lengers for the photo edit­ing crown, es­pe­cially on the Mac.

We take a look at some pre­tenders to the crown here, and their ben­e­fit is chiefly in terms of

value for money – most charge one-off pur­chase prices, rather than monthly sub­scrip­tion fees, and some are ridicu­lously in­ex­pen­sive con­sid­er­ing.

Adobe, on the other hand, charges an arm and a leg. True, you can get just Pho­to­shop and Light­room for around £120 per year via the Pho­tog­ra­phy sub­scrip­tion, but even this is con­sid­ered by many to be a form of ex­tor­tion.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, there are two cat­e­gories of apps re­viewed here: ac­tual im­age ed­i­tors, and im­age pro­ces­sors. The lat­ter cat­e­gory includes apps de­signed to take im­ages straight from a cam­era and im­prove them by fix­ing things like dis­tor­tions in­tro­duced by lenses, or cor­rect colour bal­ance. Some might in­clude ba­sic im­age-edit­ing tools, but the are not about un­bri­dled cre­ativ­ity.

Many im­age-pro­cess­ing apps fo­cus on im­prov­ing RAW files, which is the data taken straight from the cam­era’s im­age sen­sor prior to any pro­cess­ing tak­ing place within the phone or cam­era it­self. This of­fers the most scope for improvement be­cause as much of the im­age data as pos­si­ble is present and none has yet been dis­carded or ma­nip­u­lated.

For this group test we were only in­ter­ested in pro­fes­sional prod­ucts aimed at the photo ed­i­tor who needs power and flex­i­bil­ity.

Affin­ity Photo

Price: £48.99 inc VAT from

De­spite be­ing in no way con­nected with Adobe, there’s a strong whiff of Pho­to­shop about Affin­ity

Photo. This is, of course, no bad thing – es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that the ap­pli­ca­tion’s one-off price of just un­der £50 is a lot cheaper than any­thing Adobe of­fers. In fact, it can be for­ever yours for the equiv­a­lent of less than half a year’s sub­scrip­tion to the Adobe Cre­ative Cloud Pho­tog­ra­phy pack­age.

Although this pro­gram might be priced at a level where ama­teurs can snap it up, its mak­ers are keen to stress a pro­fes­sional fea­ture set. You get CMYK and Lab colour space sup­port, for ex­am­ple, which is a ne­ces­sity when work­ing ac­cu­rately in the print de­sign in­dus­try.

RAW im­age sup­port is built in, with sup­port for all mod­ern cam­eras, and the app claims the best

sup­port for Pho­to­shop’s ubiq­ui­tous .psd file for­mat out­side of Adobe’s app it­self.

If any­thing, it feels as if Affin­ity Photo is a cousin of Pho­to­shop, in that it looks sim­i­lar, and you’ll find the ev­ery­day use­ful func­tions found in Adobe’s ap­pli­ca­tion. How­ever, this pro­gram oc­cu­pies its own branch of the fam­ily tree, with its own idio­syn­cra­sies and use­ful fea­tures that might cause its Adobe rel­a­tive to look on en­vi­ously.

First among these, and vi­tal for any Pho­to­shop switcher to learn, is the con­cept of Per­sonas. In essence, these switch Affin­ity Photo between var­i­ous op­er­at­ing modes, which means a dif­fer­ent tool­bar, menu op­tions and side pan­els.

Ar­guably, the two you’ll spend most time us­ing are the Photo per­sona, which of­fers ac­cess to the main tool­kit, and the De­velop per­sona, which is de­signed for the pre­pro­cess­ing and triv­ial ad­just­ment of RAW im­ages (although it can also be used for any im­age file for­mat).

The other per­sonas of Liquify and Ex­port are self-ex­plana­tory, although Tone Map­ping re­quires some ex­pla­na­tion and lets you play around with the im­age tone, bright­ness, ex­po­sure, shad­ows, high­lights, curves and more to pro­duce some in­ter­est­ing one-click fil­ters.

In essence, the Tone Map com­po­nent is like a DIY In­sta­gram fil­ter tool and if you’re the kind of per­son who likes to make their snaps look like washed-out 1970s film, then you’ll be in sev­enth heaven.

The lay­ers fea­ture is also dif­fer­ent to Pho­to­shop be­cause just about any ad­just­ment or fil­ter can

ex­ist as its own layer. You might, for ex­am­ple, add a curves ad­just­ment on its own layer, and a de­noise fil­ter as an­other. The ben­e­fit is that you can then edit any of what Affin­ity Photo calls ‘pixel’ lay­ers con­tain­ing the ac­tual im­age data with­out hav­ing to aban­don these ed­its.

When brows­ing through the tool­bar and menu op­tions it’s easy to feel like a child in a sweet shop.

Par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive is the In­paint­ing brush tool. Just draw over an ob­ject you want to re­move from a pic­ture – an ir­ri­tat­ing tourist, for ex­am­ple, or a tele­graph line – and Affin­ity Photo will mag­i­cally re­move it. This can also be used to re­store parts of an im­age that are miss­ing – for ex­am­ple, re­mov­ing a tear within a scanned-in pho­to­graph.

Then there’s the stacks tool that al­lows you to com­bine sev­eral shots of the same sub­ject or scene, au­to­mat­i­cally align­ing them and let­ting

you merge them into one com­pos­ite photo in in­ter­est­ing ways.

To get an idea of what you’ll find in Affin­ity Photo, we rec­om­mend you take a look at the video tu­to­ri­als, all of which last a few min­utes only. Some hugely im­pres­sive stuff is pos­si­ble.

In­deed, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to crit­i­cise the pro­gram, though if forced we’d sug­gest that it’s a lit­tle too bi­ased to­wards cre­at­ing new im­ages, or mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant ad­just­ments to ex­ist­ing ones.

It re­ally is a power tool. Although Affin­ity Photo can in­deed make sub­tle tweaks, just like any im­age ed­i­tor, do­ing so feels like you’re us­ing a Bu­gatti Vey­ron to go to Sains­bury’s. Al­ter­na­tives such as Pho­to­shop or Pix­el­ma­tor some­how man­age to hide away all their power un­less you specif­i­cally seek it out, which is cu­ri­ously user-friendly.

With an ask­ing price of £48.99, Affin­ity Photo is a bar­gain. For semi-pro and even pro-level edit­ing it re­ally is a com­peti­tor for Adobe Pho­to­shop.


Price: £28.99 inc VAT from­hby1

Pix­el­ma­tor has a lot of fans in the Mac world, where its com­bi­na­tion of amaz­ing value for money plus ex­ten­sive fea­ture list makes it the most likely can­di­date for a swap-in Pho­to­shop re­place­ment.

In fact, it’s hard not to no­tice the in­flu­ence of Adobe’s prod­uct when work­ing within Pix­el­ma­tor. You’ll cer­tainly find most of the key tools that have proven use­ful across the decades, and all within

an in­ter­face that looks beau­ti­ful and fits in en­tirely with the macos aes­thetic. The in­te­gra­tion with macos is more than skin-deep – the ap­pli­ca­tion also uses macos’s un­der­ly­ing Cor­eim­age and Opengl tech­nolo­gies, mean­ing the re­sults ap­pear vir­tu­ally in­stan­ta­neously when you’re ap­ply­ing ef­fects or even mak­ing heavy ed­its.

This is not to say that ev­ery tool you might be used to is present in Pix­el­ma­tor. For ex­am­ple, while Clone and Heal tools are present, there’s no Patch tool, or Con­text-aware Move tool, or His­tory Brush. There are ac­tu­ally quite a few other omis­sions that come ap­par­ent the more you use Pix­el­ma­tor. De­pend­ing on your level of im­age-edit­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion, these ab­sences might be an­noy­ing.

Sim­i­larly, when it comes to fil­ter tools you typ­i­cally don’t get a huge num­ber of op­tions for

each be­yond a slider to con­trol the strength of the ef­fect. This is nearly of­ten all you need, though – aside from those mo­ments when you’re look­ing for that lit­tle ex­tra cre­ative free­dom.

How­ever, none of this is an ac­ci­dent. Pix­el­ma­tor keeps things sim­pler than Adobe’s ef­fort, and it also lacks the legacy re­quire­ment to make older users feel at home by keep­ing ob­scure slid­ers and switches in place. This means that Pix­el­ma­tor has found a home with am­a­teur and semi-pro­fes­sional im­age ed­i­tors who use it oc­ca­sion­ally, rather than daily. It’s also pop­u­lar among peo­ple who cre­ate orig­i­nal art, with an ex­tend­able and easy-to-use brush tool.

It’s hard to overem­pha­size the sim­plic­ity of the in­ter­face. Want to ad­just the lev­els of the cur­rent layer? Just find the Lev­els thumb­nail within the Ef­fects Browser win­dow, and drag it on top of the im­age win­dow (or dou­ble-click it). Then ad­just the slid­ers in the di­a­log box that ap­pears. Want to re­move a zit from your model’s face? Sim­ply click the Heal tool on the tool­bar, and then draw over the blem­ish.

Although there might be the most mar­ginal of learn­ing curves, if you’ve used any other im­age ed­i­tor over the past 20 years then there’s noth­ing dis­rup­tive in Pix­el­ma­tor.

Alas, there are some weak­nesses. Although it’s com­pat­i­ble with the same ex­ten­sive list of RAW im­age files as macos, it can only open them for edit­ing just like it would a JPEG or TIFF. In other words, Pix­el­ma­tor is not a RAW im­age pro­ces­sor.

You can’t eas­ily cor­rect for no­table cam­era de­fects, for ex­am­ple, be­cause the im­age has al­ready been pro­cessed in or­der to ren­der it within Pix­el­ma­tor and some data lost dur­ing the process.

Among some of its most no­table omis­sions com­pared to Pho­to­shop, Pix­el­ma­tor also lacks a his­tory browser, so you can’t see what ed­its you’ve al­ready made and switch back to an ear­lier one – although you can, of course, sim­ply keep hit­ting Cmd+z to undo your re­cent changes.

Sadly, the omis­sions listed above def­i­nitely nudge Pix­el­ma­tor into the en­thu­si­ast rather than pro cat­e­gory. To use it daily for pro-level im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion will lead to reg­u­larly push­ing against its lim­i­ta­tions. Nonethe­less, the pro­gram’s de­vel­op­ers re­main com­mit­ted to the prod­uct and very re­spon­sive to the needs of users. Ver­sion 3.7

as re­viewed here is per­haps the first third-party im­age ed­i­tor to sup­port the HEIF im­age for­mat, as in­tro­duced with IOS 11 and macos High Sierra.

DXO Op­tics Pro for Pho­tos

Price: £9.99 inc VAT from

Most peo­ple are likely to rec­og­nize DXO for its Dx­o­mark web­site, which re­views cam­era and lenses, in­clud­ing phone cam­eras such as the iphone 8 Plus. How­ever, the com­pany also makes its own phone cam­era add-on mod­ule, the DXO One, and among pro­fes­sional and semi-pro pho­tog­ra­phers its tri­umvi­rate of im­age edit­ing apps are even bet­ter known.

DXO Film­pack aims to rein­tro­duce the “magic of ana­log film”, while DXO View­point spe­cial­izes in fix­ing lens dis­tor­tions. But it’s DXO Op­tics

Pro that of­fers the most cre­ative free­dom when work­ing with im­ages, and of­fers an ex­ten­sive im­age pro­cess­ing tool­kit.

With a tag line of “Re­veal the RAW emo­tion”, there can be lit­tle doubt where the ‘fo­cus’ of DXO Op­tics Pro lies (ex­cuse the pun). While RAW im­age data can vary between mod­els, DXO Op­tics Pro sup­ports over 300 cam­eras (plus over 950 lenses), and the DXO Op­tics Mod­ule Li­brary en­sures that new mod­els are eas­ily sup­ported and down­loaded au­to­mat­i­cally upon de­mand. For RAW file for­mats that don’t al­low the sav­ing of im­age tweak­ing meta­data, DXO Op­tics Pro uses its own ‘side­car’ file for­mat. This means you’ll end up with two files

post-edit­ing. How­ever, DXO Op­tics Pro is also com­pat­i­ble with the pop­u­lar Adobe DNG RAW for­mat for com­pat­i­bil­ity with other apps (with a hand­ful of mi­nor pro­vi­sos), and this does al­low the com­bi­na­tion of RAW and im­age meta­data.

No­tably, DXO Op­tics Pro isn’t just about RAW im­ages, and can handle JPEG too, although this will mean some fea­tures aren’t avail­able.

The DXO Op­tics Pro in­ter­face is the fash­ion­able black colour that ev­i­dently all im­age-edit­ing apps must use nowa­days. The im­age you’re work­ing on sits in the mid­dle of the win­dow, while to the left and the right are docked pal­ettes of­fer­ing im­age tweak­ing con­trols. Each pal­ette can be ex­panded or con­tracted by dou­ble-click­ing, although you need to be quick be­cause in our tests of­ten the app in­ter­preted the ini­tial click as a de­sire to move the pal­ette. These pal­ettes con­tain a range

of con­trols that can be mixed and matched via click­ing and drag­ging from one pal­ette to an­other, and new con­trols can be added by click­ing the menu icon at the right of the pal­ette. Pal­ettes can also be dragged away from the left or right of the screen to be­come float­ing win­dows. There’s cer­tainly a lot of flex­i­bil­ity in how you or­ga­nize the screen, and you can save any ar­range­ment via the Workspaces menu.

The bot­tom of the screen shows the con­tents of the project folder you have opened for edit­ing, but this can be shrunk by drag­ging the di­vider, or even elim­i­nated en­tirely if you don’t want it.

Upon open­ing any im­age for the first time, DXO Op­tics Pro will au­to­mat­i­cally cor­rect any lens dis­tor­tion based on the afore­men­tioned cam­era and lens pro­files. This can be over­rid­den us­ing the Dis­tor­tion tool within the Ge­om­e­try pal­ette, although we didn’t find it nec­es­sary to do so in our tests. Other tools let you cor­rect chro­matic aber­ra­tion and fix any lens soft­ness.

Although there are a great many tools on of­fer to cor­rect all kinds of light­ing and colour is­sues, DXO Op­tics Pro’s biggest shout-outs re­volve around its noise re­duc­tion (DXO Prime), clever one-click light ad­just­ment (DXO Smart Light­ing), and its abil­ity to re­move haze (DXO Clear View). All are in­tended to be easy to use, with very few set­tings to ad­just.

DXO Prime is the rather con­fus­ing name given to the noise re­duc­tion fea­ture (‘prime’ usu­ally in­di­cates a type of lens, of course), although there’s also a HQ (Fast) ver­sion of noise re­duc­tion

too – and this is present for those who might get frus­trated wait­ing a num­ber of sec­onds for Prime to do its magic each time you drag the im­age to fo­cus on a dif­fer­ent area. This was ev­i­dent even on the rel­a­tively pow­er­ful 2.8GHZ quad-core i7-pow­ered Mac used dur­ing test­ing. How­ever, DXO Prime has a huge ap­pre­ci­a­tion within the pho­tog­ra­phy world, where its abil­ity to res­cue high-iso grainy im­ages is al­most leg­endary. In our tests it worked very well, re­tain­ing im­age data with­out too much blur­ring, and it’s cer­tainly go­ing to be bet­ter than the ver­sion of noise re­duc­tion built into any cam­era.

DXO Smart Light­ing had a sim­i­larly mag­i­cal ef­fect, some­how giv­ing the im­age the ap­pear­ance of hav­ing been shot in en­tirely dif­fer­ent light­ing con­di­tions. This pri­mar­ily works on the ba­sis of de­tect­ing faces in the im­ages and op­ti­miz­ing the im­age for them. Glanc­ing at the his­togram

be­fore and af­ter ap­ply­ing the ef­fect shows not too much data is lost, which is ad­mirable.

DXO Clear View did in­deed cut through haze in pho­to­graphs, although per­haps needs to be used ju­di­ciously be­cause it can also in­crease the con­trast.

There’s a lot to like in DXO Op­tics Pro. Our com­plaints are slight and re­volve around the time taken to process the im­age when drag­ging it around while zoomed, as one ex­am­ple. Typ­i­cally, this was a cou­ple of sec­onds, and on slower com­put­ers might be even longer. Ad­di­tion­ally, there doesn’t ap­pear to be a zoom tool for quick zoom­ing in and out, with the max­i­mum zoom level capped at 200 per­cent, too.

Out­side of the world of Adobe apps, DXO Op­tics Pro’s near­est com­pe­ti­tion is Cap­ture One Pro (see page 78), but DXO Op­tics Pro is much cheaper and a lot eas­ier to use too, re­ly­ing largely on one or two slid­ers within each tool for the sake of sim­plic­ity. True, you don’t get the in­cred­i­ble con­trol over fine de­tails that you do with Cap­ture One Pro, but do you re­ally need it? For sim­ply push­ing your RAW im­ages so that you (rel­a­tively) quickly get the best out of them, DXO Op­tics Pro is a win­ner.

Cy­ber­link Pho­todi­rec­tor 9

Price: £39.99 inc VAT from

Pho­todi­rec­tor 9 is some­thing of a dark horse be­cause, ini­tially, you might no­tice only its or­ga­niz­ing and shar­ing fea­tures. How­ever, dig

a lit­tle deeper and you’ll find pow­er­ful tools for edit­ing im­ages, de­spite the app avoid­ing a tool­bar-style ap­proach and mostly es­chew­ing the use of Pho­to­shop-style pen/brush tools.

Launch the pro­gram and you’ll find it’s split into six sec­tions. ‘Li­brary’ is where you im­port, view, rate, tag and gen­er­ally or­ga­nize your pho­tos. There are plenty of time-sav­ing tools on hand (face tag­ging, the abil­ity to ex­clude du­pli­cates when im­port­ing), but it’s all very straight­for­ward and easy to use.

The ‘Ad­just­ment’ sec­tion pro­vides man­ual and fully au­to­matic tweaks for colour, white bal­ance, tone, sharp­ness and more, as well as crop and ro­tate tools, var­i­ous heal­ing brushes and a red­eye re­mover. The Man­ual tab of­fers slider-based con­trol, in­clud­ing a his­togram, while the Presets

se­lec­tion lets you click to ap­ply ready-made fil­ters. For many this could be the main work­ing area within Pow­erdi­rec­tor 9, be­cause you can ad­just lev­els and curves, and make ad­just­ments like lens cor­rec­tions. These tools aren’t to­ken ef­forts ei­ther, be­cause most tools of­fer a great deal of spe­cific con­trol via slid­ers.

How­ever, the ‘Edit’ tab ramps up the cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties with a range of more pow­er­ful tools. The Peo­ple Beau­ti­fier pro­vides op­tions to whiten teeth, re­move wrin­kles, per­haps re­shape your sub­jects for a more slim­line look. The pro­gram can re­move un­wanted ob­jects from pictures, au­to­mat­i­cally fill­ing in the back­ground. There’s a bracket HDR tool, panorama cre­ator, fil­ters, frames, a wa­ter­mark­ing tool, and more.

New to Pho­todi­rec­tor 9 is the abil­ity to work with 360-de­gree im­ages, and a lot of power is on of­fer. How­ever, it can get very ‘clicky’ as you work through each of the op­tions, which are ar­ranged as a menu-like list on the side of the screen, and we longed for a more in­tu­itive tool­bar-ap­proach.

The ‘Lay­ers’ tab sup­ports up to 100 lay­ers per photo, which you can ma­nip­u­late with var­i­ous tools (Pen, Eraser, Add Shape, Text, Se­lec­tion,

Fill, and Gra­di­ent) and 14 blend­ing modes.

When you’re fin­ished your work, the Cre­ate sec­tion helps turn your pho­tos into a video file, or a slideshow you can share di­rectly on Youtube. The Print tab pro­vides a great deal of con­trol over any print­outs you might want to make, and your projects can freely be saved

and shared on­line via Cy­ber­link’s Cloud Ser­vices (you get 20GB free for one year).

En­hanced RAW sup­port means the pro­gram can handle more file for­mats than ever, and 100+ lens pro­files al­lows it to au­to­mat­i­cally fix a host of com­mon lens flaws.

Po­si­tioned firmly in the semi-pro­fes­sional area, Pho­todi­rec­tor 9 takes a fresh ap­proach that means it’s packed with fea­tures but op­er­ates un­like most other apps re­viewed here. Rather than take a tool-based ap­proach, the app prefers to walk you through tweaks and ed­its.

You can al­most cer­tainly achieve the same things as you might with some­thing like Pho­to­shop – and per­haps more, such as the abil­ity to tweak 360-de­gree pho­tos – but it can be a lit­tle frus­trat­ing get­ting used to the app and find­ing where ev­ery­thing lives.

Cap­ture One Pro 10

Price: €279 from

The price of Cap­ture One Pro 10 – €279 for up to three com­put­ers – in­di­cates we’re in pro­fes­sional ter­ri­tory, an as­sump­tion backed up by the all-black user in­ter­face (some­body some­where clearly de­cided that grey or white just weren’t se­ri­ous enough for pro-level Mac apps). The pro­gram’s pro­fes­sional chops are also em­pha­sized by the fact it’s made by Phase One, a com­pany that man­u­fac­tures se­ri­ously high-end cam­era sys­tems – although it’s im­por­tant to note that Cap­ture One Pro is de­signed to work with im­ages pro­duced by the ma­jor­ity of DSLRS re­gard­less of man­u­fac­turer.

The app de­scribes it­self as an as­set man­ager and RAW con­verter, which means it can cat­a­logue your im­ages. It also spe­cial­izes in ready­ing RAW im­ages for con­sump­tion by other apps like lay­out soft­ware or even ri­val im­age ed­i­tors. Cap­ture

One Pro boasts that it’s com­pat­i­ble with the

RAW im­age out­put of more than 400 cam­eras.

There are two ways to im­port im­ages into Cap­ture One Pro. The first is to cre­ate a ses­sion. This is in­tended to be a quick and dy­namic way of deal­ing with im­ages straight from a cam­era. You can prune out the duds, for ex­am­ple, and ap­ply tweaks to those you’d like to keep. No­tably, a ses­sion lets you cre­ate sev­eral dif­fer­ent file types in ad­di­tion to an orig­i­nal. You might de­cide to out­put some high­res TIFFS for email­ing to a client, for ex­am­ple, and a lower-res set for up­load­ing to Face­book.

Once you’ve set­tled on the im­ages you want to keep, you can move them into Cap­ture One Pro’s sec­ond type of im­age li­brary, which is re­ferred to as a cat­a­logue. This is in­tended to be a more per­ma­nent home for your im­ages, although you can still do things like edit im­ages if you wish – and in­deed, you can en­tirely ig­nore the ses­sion func­tion if you wish and im­port straight from the cam­era into a cat­a­logue.

When it comes to im­age edit­ing, Cap­ture One Pro is about pol­ish­ing the diamond. It ex­pects you, as a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher, to be im­port­ing im­ages that you’re al­ready happy with be­cause you spent time think­ing about the likes of com­po­si­tion, fo­cus­ing and light­ing out in the real word.

In other words, you won’t find in Cap­ture One Pro tools like clone or heal brushes be­cause the

app isn’t in­ter­ested in help­ing you turn a mun­dane im­age into some­thing in­ter­est­ing, or cre­at­ing an en­tirely new im­age via com­posit­ing sev­eral im­aged to­gether or ap­ply­ing a fil­ter. For that kind of thing you’ll need a tool like Pho­to­shop.

How­ever, if your im­age isn’t per­fectly ex­posed, or fea­tures chro­matic aber­ra­tion (dis­tor­tions cre­ated by the lens), or has some other an­noy­ing fault un­avoid­able when the im­age was cap­tured, then Cap­ture One Pro can help. Its de­vel­op­ers de­scribe it as the most precise tool you’ll find, but this won’t re­ally mean much un­less you’ve had your screen and out­put de­vices prop­erly cal­i­brated.

Its tools are unique in de­sign and func­tion to re­flect this ac­cu­racy. As just one ex­am­ple of many, Cap­ture One Pro is mas­sively more ad­vanced than sim­ply swip­ing a slider to boost sat­u­ra­tion. Here you get a pie chart of the colour spec­trum and can click within it, and then ad­just smooth­ness, hue, sat­u­ra­tion and light­ness of just that in­di­vid­ual colour. You can re­ally dig down into de­tails to get the im­age per­fect, although if you’re switch­ing from a com­peti­tor prod­uct, then there will cer­tainly be a learn­ing curve (a great many guides are pro­vided to al­le­vi­ate this).

Again, some of the edit­ing tools an­tic­i­pate work­ing with RAW im­ages. It’s not pos­si­ble to use the lens cor­rec­tion tools on a JPEG file, for ex­am­ple. These let you fix the likes of dis­tor­tion and chro­matic aber­ra­tion caused by cer­tain lenses. How­ever, in ad­di­tion to tweaks, Cap­ture One Pro also includes high-dy­namic range

ad­just­ment and vi­gnetting, that can be used to add viewer fo­cus to an im­age.

Use­fully, the app lets you con­nect your Mac di­rectly to your cam­era to cap­ture im­ages, which stu­dio pho­tog­ra­phers will ap­pre­ci­ate. In­deed, this is where it makes most sense be­cause as soon as an im­age is cap­tured, a pho­tog­ra­pher can eval­u­ate it and see what scope there is for improvement.

Cap­ture One Pro ex­ists to help those se­ri­ous about pho­tog­ra­phy cre­ate work­flows that let them quickly eke the most from pro­fes­sional-grade im­ages, as well as pro­vide a per­ma­nent home for them. It has the feel of a re­li­able and sturdy tool – a kind of Bosch of the im­age-edit­ing world – and we doubt you’ll find any­thing more pow­er­ful. How­ever, the sheer num­ber of con­trols and the sub­tle de­grees of ad­just­ments can feel like a labyrinth.

For the more ca­sual day-to-day im­age ed­i­tor – and for pretty much any­body be­neath scrupu­lous pro­fes­sion­als who need to en­sure per­fect im­ages – it’s hard to rec­om­mend Cap­ture One Pro. The price is high and you’ll need top-end colour-matched equip­ment to even be­gin to get the best out of it.

Acorn 6

Price: £28.99 inc VAT from

There’s a the­ory that most pop­u­lar apps used to­day, such as Mi­crosoft Word or Adobe Pho­to­shop, reached their zenith a decade or two ago. Since then their de­vel­op­ers be­hind them have been pack­ing in new fea­tures, but ul­ti­mately it’s a game of di­min­ish­ing re­turns and, for most users, the apps are as good as they ever were.

In many ways Acorn feels and even looks like a snap­shot of Pho­to­shop all that time ago – with a se­lec­tion of the more mod­ern and use­ful Pho­to­shop tools mixed in too. You get all the tools that made Pho­to­shop so use­ful in the first place, such as lev­els and curves to ad­just an im­age’s bright­ness/ con­trast, as well mask­ing and lay­ers, and var­i­ous fil­ters – not to men­tion a tool­bar with stan­dard brush and se­lec­tion op­tions.

All of these are in­dis­pens­able when edit­ing im­ages. How­ever, while you avoid the mod­ern­day cruft, you also miss out on the rare use­ful in­no­va­tions that have come along, such as the heal and patch tools, or ad­vanced se­lec­tion tools that let you se­lect by colour range, among other things.

If you make heavy use of these then their ab­sence in Acorn can be frus­trat­ing.

As you might ex­pect some tools are not where you’d ex­pect if switch­ing from Pho­to­shop. To ad­just the colour sat­u­ra­tion and vi­brancy of an im­age, for ex­am­ple, you’ll need to use an en­try on the Fil­ters > Color Ad­just­ment menu. Ad­di­tion­ally, ef­fects and fil­ters are ap­plied as soon as you se­lect and ad­just them, with­out the need for an in­ter­me­di­ate stage wherein you click the Ap­ply or Cancel but­tons. How­ever, within five or 10 ses­sions us­ing Acorn you’ll get used to this.

Acorn is also a ca­pa­ble draw­ing tool should you want to cre­ate art­work from scratch. There’s a brush de­signer tool, as well as the abil­ity to im­port brushes de­signed for Pho­to­shop. The shape gen­er­a­tor tool does ex­actly what it says on the tin.

De­spite Acorn’s some­what retro feel there’s sup­port for RAW im­ages in that the app uses macos’s own im­port fil­ters, which are com­pre­hen­sive in their in­clu­sion of most makes and mod­els. Im­ages are opened in a spe­cial RAW im­port win­dow that lets you ad­just things like ex­po­sure and colour tem­per­a­ture, although no­tably miss­ing are any tools to cor­rect for lens dis­tor­tions, as you’ll find with most RAW pro­cess­ing apps. Once you click OK the im­age is opened in the main Acorn edit­ing area, af­ter which you can save it out in the usual file for­mats – but not, alas, as a RAW im­age.

If you’re one of those peo­ple who long for the days when soft­ware was sim­ple and kept out of the way, then Acorn is for you. The price is com­pet­i­tive too. How­ever, it’s hard for us to rec­om­mend Acorn when some­thing Affin­ity Photo and Pix­el­ma­tor of­fer sub­stan­tially more im­age edit­ing flex­i­bil­ity and power, yet are also still eas­ily within the bud­get of pro­fes­sional or en­thu­si­ast users. Ul­ti­mately, Acorn is very good, but its com­pe­ti­tion is sim­ply bet­ter.

Fo­tor Photo Ed­i­tor

Price: Free from £4.49 monthly plan, £17.99 an­nual plan

The BBC has re­port­edly claimed that Fo­tor Photo Ed­i­tor is “lite Pho­to­shop”, so we found our­selves hav­ing to in­clude here in our guide. The fact it’s free of charge made us even more ea­ger.

So, is this a Pho­to­shop clone? Or even a Pho­to­shop wannabe? Nope. Not even close on

ei­ther count. How­ever, there are some pow­er­ful tools built in that be­lie the free price tag, and con­sid­ered for what it is – which is an im­age tweaker and im­prover like those count­less apps for your iphone – then it’s very good.

The main dif­fer­ence between Fo­tor Photo Ed­i­tor and Pho­to­shop is that Adobe’s app uses a tool­bar and lay­ers ap­proach, of­fer­ing tools that let you di­rectly work on the im­age. Fo­tor Photo Ed­i­tor, by con­trast, only lets you ap­ply ef­fects and ed­its to the en­tire im­age. There isn’t even a se­lec­tion tool, and you can for­get about things such as lay­ers.

How­ever, don’t think it’s ba­sic. Click on the Ad­just icon, and there are curves and lev­els tools. Else­where there are ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal dis­tort tools that can help fix per­spec­tive, too. But there’s no get­ting away from the fact that, for the most

part, Fo­tor Photo Ed­i­tor takes its in­spi­ra­tion from apps such as Snapheal. In other words, one-click fil­ters and fixes are the or­der of the day.

Of­ten these pro­duce ter­rific re­sults, and can cer­tainly make for strik­ing im­ages, but it’s less about sub­tle cor­rec­tions and more about mak­ing some­thing stylish for your Face­book wall or In­sta­gram feed. Most, if not all, fil­ters have just one ad­just­ment slider to al­ter the level of in­ten­sity although a hand­ful did catch our eye, in­clud­ing Bokeh, which in­tro­duces sub­tle and at­trac­tive lens leak­age into the im­age.

Rather ir­ri­tat­ingly, sev­eral very use­ful fea­tures re­quire you up­grade to Fo­tor Pro. If you don’t a wa­ter­mark is placed over the im­age when you use the tool in ques­tion. Up­grad­ing costs £11.49 per year, or £3.99 if you want to pay monthly, but un­til you pay for the pro­gram use­ful tools such as noise re­duc­tion, lens cor­rec­tion, de­fog­ging and HSL ad­just­ment re­main out of bounds.

Whether you’d want to spent £11.49 on an app like this is ques­tion­able, es­pe­cially if you’re look­ing for high-level im­age cor­rec­tion and edit­ing. Although Pix­el­ma­tor is nearly three times the price, it’s still less than £30, and that’s a one-off pay­ment that means you can keep the app for life.

Mo­vavi Photo Ed­i­tor for Mac

Price: £29.95 inc VAT from­jdn

Adobe Light­room, along with the now-de­ceased Aper­ture app, showed that there’s space in the

pro­fes­sional-grade im­age-edit­ing mar­ket­place for apps that of­fer quick fix so­lu­tions, whether that’s to cor­rect triv­ial er­rors like less-than-per­fect ex­po­sure, or to do things like sub­tly ad­just an im­age’s over­all his­togram plot.

Of course, there are many Mac im­age- edit­ing apps of a one-click na­ture out there, but typ­i­cally they are aimed at the lower-end of the mar­ket. Mo­vavi Photo Ed­i­tor has one foot in this camp but has some tools that could make it a use­ful in­stal­la­tion for pro­fes­sion­als.

Chief among them is Ob­ject Re­moval, which lets you de­fine an area of the im­age that will then be deleted. Ev­ery­thing from fa­cial blem­ishes to tele­graph wires to pho­to­bomb­ing seag­ulls can be erad­i­cated by us­ing the pro­vided brush tool to draw over the ob­ject, although there’s also lasso and magic wand se­lec­tion tools for this pur­pose. The end re­sults are im­pres­sive, pro­vided you make

good use of the Vari­a­tion slider to avoid the tool be­com­ing too ag­gres­sive (or tame). There’s also a stan­dard clone brush tool to fix any mis­takes, or in­deed re­move ob­jects man­u­ally if you wish.

Alas, the sec­ond big hit­ter within the app – Back­ground Re­moval – was less im­pres­sive in our tests. This sup­pos­edly iso­lates a sub­ject from its back­ground, and re­quires you de­fine not only the ob­ject you want to keep but also the back­ground you wish to re­move. Re­sults in our tests were messy and very likely to be un­us­able. We’re sure if you spend time zoom­ing in and finely defin­ing the ob­ject and its back­ground you might have bet­ter re­sults, but if we have that kind of time and en­ergy avail­able for edit­ing then we’d fire up a ‘proper’ im­age ed­i­tor like Pho­to­shop in­stead.

The tools un­der the Re­touch­ing tab un­for­tu­nately aren’t much bet­ter. In the­ory they of­fer a va­ri­ety of sim­ple yet ef­fec­tive tools to

im­prove an im­age, es­pe­cially when it comes to por­trait pictures. For ex­am­ple, you can re­move the shine from cheeks, and even iron out wrin­kles. Un­for­tu­nately, many of these op­tions turned out to be sim­ple brush tools that had no in­tel­li­gence built in. Us­ing the Lip Color tool sim­ply at­tempted to ap­ply a colour tint to where we clicked within the im­age, for ex­am­ple, and if we strayed be­yond the lips then Mo­vavi Photo Ed­i­tor sim­ply didn’t re­al­ize and coloured the skin a dif­fer­ent colour, too. Again, we’re not sure what this of­fers above and be­yond us­ing a ‘proper’ im­age ed­i­tor.

Other tools pro­vided with Mo­vavi Photo Ed­i­tor in­clude the usual slid­ers to ad­just bright­ness, ex­po­sure, sharp­ness, and so on, as well as the abil­ity to ro­tate, crop, and re­size. There are fil­ters but these are no bet­ter (or worse) than you’ll find in most In­sta­gram-style apps, and it’s hard to imag­ine a pro­fes­sional ever us­ing them. We no­ticed that some of them took sev­eral sec­onds to be ap­plied, too, which is un­ac­cept­able.

There might be prom­ise in this Mo­vavi Photo Ed­i­tor’s one-click ap­proach, but it’s not there yet. Its price puts in the same bracket as the likes of Pix­el­ma­tor or Affin­ity Photo, both of which are sim­ply sev­eral times more im­pres­sive and use­ful, and are to be rec­om­mended in­stead.

Affin­ity Pho­tos lets you cus­tom­ize the size of its brushes

You can du­pli­cate parts of an im­age us­ing the Clone Stamp tool

The Re­pair tool lets you delete un­wanted ob­jects

To the left and right of the im­age you are work­ing on are docked pal­ettes of­fer­ing im­age tweak­ing con­trols

The Smart Light­ing fea­ture can change an im­age’s ap­pear­ance

The Edit tab of­fers a range of pow­er­ful tools

You can turn your pho­tos into a video file us­ing the Cre­ate sec­tion

Cap­ture One Pro’s tools are unique in de­sign and func­tion

The app of­fers a twoweek trial, so you can test its fea­tures be­fore you buy

GIMP’S old-fash­ioned in­ter­face can take a lit­tle get­ting used to

Ob­ject Re­moval lets you get rid of un­wanted areas of an im­age

The app lets you re­move an im­age’s back­ground

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