“Make certain you work on a copy of your image and not the original,” were the words of advice usually given to newcomers to digital photo editing. That was the first non-destructive editing method. Not really true non-destructive. But true non-destructive editing is here, and it’s changing the work habits of professional and enthusiast photographers.
Previously I’ve reported in this blog on two non-destructive editors aimed at the photographers among us who don’t rely or at least prefer not to rely on expensive and bloated Adobe software. I’ve done extensive work with each in the last week, and in this post I will compare the two software packages: Corel AfterShot Pro and Cyberlink PhotoDirector 3. A reminder – PhD3 is Windows only, while ASP is available for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.
These two medium-priced, non-destructive editors are similar in many ways, but each takes a slightly different approach to getting the job done, and each targets a slightly different audience. AfterShot Pro is going after both the professional photographer and the serious amateur or enthusiast photographer. In a description of PhotoDirector, CyberLink says the target audience for its product is the enthusiast.
The company product summaries suggest each can play a role in digital asset management with the ability to enter, store and search EXIF and IPTC data. But the inclusion and search potential is extremely limited in each. If you have a large image collection and many of those are proprietary to external image editors, you should plan to use another program for organization and search of your picture files.
Both of these applications recognize JPG, TIF and various camera RAW format files, and they export files in either JPG or TIF. In addition PhD3 also works with transparent PNG files in its cutout and composite tools sections. ASP has a provision for opening an external editor – Corel’s PaintShop Pro X4 or X3 is the default, however others can be used, too. PhD3 lacks that feature, but it’s not really necessary.
Here’s a look at the primary user interface of AfterShot Pro:
AfterShot Pro interface. Columns on both the left and right of the image contain tabs for various application functions. In the Windows version, the filmstrip of thumbnails is at the top.
And here’s the same for PhotoDirector 3:
In PhotoDirector 3, virtually all of the major functions are displayed in the left column underneath key tabs above. The thumbnail filmstrip is situated below the workspace showing the selected photo.
As you can see, both editors have a multi-tone dark gray layout, an environment that makes images pop. Most of AfterShot Pro’s adjustments are contained in a series of tabbed roll-downs on the right side of the screen. On the left side of the screen is another tabbed section for importing, accessing and printing files. Both of these tabbed sections will fold away, providing a less-obstructed view of the image being evaluated or edited.
PhotoDirector 3 groups all of the major functions on the left side of the screen with access controlled by Library, Adjustment, Edit, Slideshow and Print Tabs. In my opinion, Cyberlink’s application has the more logical organization of the primary adjustment tools.
PhotoDirector 3, full thumbnail display for quick review and initial evaluation of imported images. The size of the thumbnails can be easily changed.
An alternative to filmstrips to quickly review a mass of RAW files is to switch to all thumbnails. Above is the way that view looks in PhD3. The left column of adjustments remain. In Corel’s non-destructive editor, you can either fold the left and right columns or keep them in thumbnail view. Both applications allow you to change thumbnail sizes and designate Keep or Delete, apply Ratings and assign a coding Color.
Selecting the Standard tab in AfterShot Pro gives you access to basic adjustments for correcting the image.
To begin adjustments in AfterShot Pro, you first work with the Standard tab, above, which contains controls for making basic adjustments. In many cases it will be unnecessary to go beyond this set of adjustments. In this example, the histogram shows clipped highlights and shadows, so more tools accessed from the other adjustment tabs will be needed.
This is a good time to point out the business strategy of Corel. It’s primarily a marketing company, acquiring or licensing excellent software technology from innovative firms, rebranding it, then marketing to a much larger universe of consumers.
AfterShot Pro was developed by Bibble Labs. Here on the Standard tab you see two other external technologies incorporated in ASP. Perfectly Clear is an automatic correction option licensed by Athentech Technologies. The version in AfterShot Pro is a stripped-down adaptation of the much more powerful plugin Athentech makes for Adobe Photoshop and LightRoom.
The noise reduction filter is Noise Ninja, licensed by PictureCode, Inc. What you get with ASP is the standard version. If you already have the pro version of Noise Ninja, AfterShot Pro will recognize that configuration and make additional controls accessible on another tab. Otherwise, for the advanced level of noise reduction, you have to buy it from PictureCode.
One of the tabs in AfterShot Pro showing some installed third-party plugins. Notice the presence of non-descriptive names, absolutely meaningless to new users of ASP.
One very nice tool found in AfterShot Pro is the Magnifier. It is among a group of miscellaneous gadgets located both at the top and bottom of the work area. The magnification can be adjusted, and the Hand cursor provides an easy way to accurately position the magnifier. It’s fare superior to the tiny box PhD3 uses for magnification.
The Magnifier, a very useful and well-designed tool in AfterShot Pro.
But the location of these miscellaneous tools and the main adjustment tabs contribute to the overall willy-nilly feel of AfterShot Pro layout. Among the confusion are third-party plugins, not standard 8b3 filters, but plugins that run only on ASP in its non-destructive editing environment. So far, the only ones available have been ported over from Bibble. They often are assigned non-descriptive names – names that might have some special meaning to the creator or the Linux world, but not beneficial to a PaintShop Pro user or anyone else trying to learn ASP.
In contast, PhotoDirector 3 organizes adjustments in a more logical way. Like AfterShot Pro, there’s a histogram at the top. Down the column follow collapsible sections for Regional Adjustment Tools and Global Adjustment Tools. The histogram has a button to mark clipped highlights and shadows, a valuable feature.
In PhotoDirector 3 you can easily spot clipped highlights and shadows by clicking the button in the Histogram window. Highlights are shown in red, shadows in blue.
The Global Adjustments follow in a logical order of application. Then there’s a set of tools under the Edit tab. These are designed for finishing touches on some photographs. The user can clean up facial features in a portrait, create cutouts and composite images, and design professional-look watermarks.
Clicking on the Edit tab in PhD3 brings up a set of finishing tools for the image.
So now we come to using the finished photos.
Both applications produce slideshows. But ASP’s slideshow is for internal display of selected images. PhotoDirector 3 produces a video slideshow with music and titles if you choose to be saved in one of several video formats or uploaded to YouTube. I suspect the code was borrowed from some of CyberLink’s other products.
If you need to work on an image in an external editor Corel AfterShot Pro creates a TIF file, which it sends to your designated editor. The default editor is Corel PaintShop Pro (must be version X3 or X4). After editing in the external application and saving, you come back to ASP, and your edited TIF is now among the imported images in your set. As I indicated earlier, PhD3 does not have a function for sending an image to an outside editor. But you can still export as a TIF or JPG and then open with an external editor. For many amateur photographers just moving to shooting RAW, PhD3 would be all they need.
Likely because it also targets professional photographers, AfterShot Pro has no provision for sharing the photos you’ve edited with friends. PhD3 easily links with Facebook and Flickr:
In PhotoDirector 3 it's easy to share your images on Flickr or Facebook.
For exporting images, both applications treat this function as a batch application. ASP opens a complex batch window that fails to conform to the interface design. Perhaps it was one of those things that could not be changed due to pressure from marketing to get the program out the door in time for the Consumer Electronics Show last January.
For batch output, AfterShot Pro brings up this window. It's complicated, prone to produce mistakes and does not fit the design of the main part of the program. It needs to be reworked.
PhotoDirector 3, by contast, uses a neat column of selection options, a scrollbar on the right to take the user through the list. It is much simplier, and the design looks like the rest of the program.
When it comes time to export images in PhotoDirector 3, you get a well-designed column of input options, accessed in order through use of the scroll bar on the right.
There is a minor bug in the PhD3 export process. The application does not permit the insertion of leading “0′s” to begin file numbering. Thus a batch of 45 images, for example, will not sort properly in an external browser if it contains files with the numbers “1,” “2,” “3,” and “4.”
Both applications have sections to control the printing of the edited photographs. It’s likely, however, professional photographers owning expensive printing hardware would use better software to produce print copies of their work.
Finally, brief comments on other categories of comparison:
Full Screen – both claim to have it, but neither has a genuine full screen view. Full Screen should show only the image and a black or dark gray border, if necessary. No distracting parts of the program GUI should remain;
Virtual Copy & Stacking – Both have the ability to produce virtual copies, but only ASP has stacking, a necessity for keeping things neat. It would be a helpful addition for PhD3;
Presets – Both;
Batch application of image settings — Both. One of the features that speeds up processing of the large number of RAW files we tend to produce on a single shoot and makes a a non-destructive editor like these programs a necessity for today’s digital photographer.
Base for Imports — Both. ASP calls theirs a Catalog. In PhD3 it’s termed a Project. These can be changed if desired, but it appears storage of image metadata is tied to specific catalogs/projects, which is unsatisfactory for digital asset management of your entire collection of images.
Keyboard Hotkeys – Both, but only ASP has the ability to customize the shortcuts;
Speed – Both are very fast, particularly when compared to traditional photo editors;
Zoom – Both, but PhD3 wins for innovation. In addition to a drop-down selection of images sizes for selection with the left mouse button, Ctrl+Mouse wheel easily zooms in or out through those settings, then the spacebar takes the image back and forth between the last zoomed in position and the image Fit position;
History/Undo — Both;
Full Layers — Neither;
PDF Manuals — Both, but ASP is more detailed;
Training — Corel is doing webinars for ASP; CyberLink has a limited number of introduction videos on YouTube;
Forums — There’s not a large enough universe of contributors for forums to be of significant help. Both companies have online forums run by volunteers. Although there is a knowledgeable volunteer moderator who answers questions in a timely way and relays to company support any bug reports he can verify, the PhD3 forum is virtually dormant. No sign of any company representative posting there. The AfterShot Pro forum is a minor subforum on Corel’s large site for many products. Very little of help to first time users has been posted. It’s been mostly complaints from users of the forerunner program, Bibble. The marketing director for the product line has posted there twice – to announce an upcoming webinar and to report a patch with bug fixes, features and RAW definitions for new cameras.
When I first tried these programs, I imported thousand of files and crashed each one numerous times. During those crashes I noted PhotoDirector 3 was running a monitoring applet that recorded details of each crash and asked my permission to report to CyberLink. That was encouraging.
I finally uninstalled both programs and eventually did clean reinstalls for this test, adding only small groups of RAW files at a time. So far, PhD3 has not crashed again. ASP has crashed, but my suspicion is at least one or more of the third-party plugins I added may be responsible. We assume that both programs will eventually issue patches to correct significant bugs reported and verified.
What is my bottom line? As an enthusiast photographer I prefer Cyberlink PhotoDirector 3. The operational layout is more logical, and PhD3 appears to have been through better quality control before its release. I do believe however, with better quality plugins and cleanup of interface inconsistencies, Corel AfterShot Pro has the potential to be the better program for professional photographers.
But for the average amateur shooting RAW and the amateur enthusiast photographer, CyberLink PhotoDirector 3 is better. I do hope the file numbering problem will be fixed in a patch. If we’re lucky, CyberLine might also decide to add stacks and to redesign its tiny magnifier.