Over the years I’ve tried a lot of Windows software for processing images — organizing, editing and post-processing. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. Most of it was too expensive. The new applications are better and faster but still frustrating in some ways.
Since so many other web review sites and blogs do software lists, I’ve decided to create my own list — a list of cowboy boot awards — Shiny Boots for image software and features I like and Dirty Heels for features I dislike. (If you get that far, I have an explanation of the award names at the end of this blog entry.)
My evaluations are from the perspective of an amateur user and thus were made on non-Adobe software I follow. Adobe products are too expensive. I admit I still use Adobe Photoshop Elements for a couple of plugin features that won’t run on non-Adobe editors, but the application is not eligible for these awards.
Category 1 — 64-Bit Processing
Shiny Boots to PhotoLine 17, FastPictureViewer Professional 64, and Paint.net. Why is it 64-bit innovation is left to the Europeans and a group of hobbyists?
Dirty Heels awards to all the other companies who continue to produce no true 64-bit versions of their programs, thus denying us use of all that extra RAM we get on our new computers these days.
Category 2 — Best Non-Destructive Editor for Photographers
Shiny Boots to Corel AfterShot Pro and Cyberlink PhotoDirector 3. Both are Adobe LightRoom competitors, and they take advantage of new chip technologies to improve speed. ASP is aimed at professionals and serious amateurs. PhD3 targets enthusiast photographers. Each was released in January and each has recently released patches to address bugs and improve its product.
Dirty Heels to Zoner Photo Studio Pro 14 for issuing a 64-bit version with good Digitial Asset Management capabilities, but failing to make its editor non-destructive. Maybe in version 15?
Category 3 — Most Innovative Software Application
SageLight 4.2 gets the Shiny Boots award. A new kid on the block that will amaze you! An editor that processes all RAW, TIF and JPEG pictures as 48-bit, best for post production to make those images pop. Innovative modules with sliders to easily adjust light and color produced by a one person shop. Any enthusiast photographer who spends time tweaking the final product should have this application.
The Dirty Heels award in this category goes to PhotoLine 17. Once a leader and innovator, the publisher of this software seems to be hanging on to old approaches and failing to plan for the new direction editing for digital photography has taken.
Category 4 — Best Digital Asset Manager for the Amateur
ACDSee Pro 5 takes the Shiny Boot in this category. Clunky and slow, ACDSee Pro 5 still offers the best way to search among many different types of images with its own database and EXIF and IPTC data. In addition, ACDSee Pro 5 produces thumbnails for more image types than any other program I’ve tested. Finally, it allows the user to open images in numerous editors the user may select.
Dirty Heels to AfterShot Pro and PhotoDirector 3 for hinting, but not delivering on DAM. And more Dirty Heels to all those photo editors that don’t allow standardized access to EXIF and IPTC data, if they even store it.
Category 5 — Best Video Tutorials
With the availablity of YouTube, video seems to be the growing choice for teaching and learning operation of a software package. Shiny Boots to both SageLight and the plugin company Topaz Labs. SageLight has 36 tutorials on YouTube, ranging in length from 30 seconds to more than seven minutes. To both promote sales and teach use of its plugins, Topaz has an aggressive schedule of webinars featuring both famous photographers and Topaz Labs employees. Most of the live webinars are archived on YouTube.
A Dirty Heels to Cyberlink, publisher of PhotoDirector 3. The company has a massive amount of videos about its other products available on YouTube but less than a handful of videos in English for PhotoDirector 3.
Category 6 — Most Valuable Editor Overall
I have to do sub categories here. Shiny Boots to PhotoLine 17, the choice for the enthusiast photographer willing to put in the time to learn the English version of this German software. Powerful with ability to record actions, speed from its 64-bit version and the ability to customize are among its attributes. For the other amateur photographers with little time or patience for learning software, the Shiny Boots award goes to Serif’s PhotoPlus X5. Feature packed, simply to learn and lots of tutorial tools make this package a winner.
PaintShop Pro X4 gets the Dirty Heels in this category. Despite being much speedier in this version, PSP has really done nothing to add to its value since version 9 when Jasc owned the program.
Category 7 — Best Spot Removal Tool
From bad to good, PaintShop Pro X4 continues to excell in this category, getting the Shiny Boot award for its Blemish Fixer, a tool that’s been around a long time. No one has done it better. The tool replaces a spot with intelligent selection of pixels surrounding the place to be fixed. With two circles, the tools shows you the area for replacement and the surrounding area supplying the new patch. Not only that, but with each replacement size, there are two settings for the new source area. PhotoLine gets the runner-up here for its Removal tool, coming closest to the Blemish tool in efficient operation.
In this category, the Dirty Heels award goes to all those other photo editors using a “healing brush,” which requires the user to drag to to a new area for replacement.
Category 8 — Best Scratch Remover Tool
Paint Shop Pro wins another Shiny Boots here. Thanks to the engineers from Jasc.
Dirty Heels to the companies requiring manual selection of a replacement area for scratch removal.
Category 9 — Best Straighten Tool
All the software packages using the simply approach of drawing a line — most of them — to get the image to straighten. Now a standard for virtually all good editing applications.
PhotoLine 17 gets the Dirty Heels in this category for sticking with its antiquainted approach of using selections and a difficult-to-manipulate rotate icon at the corner of the picture.
Category 10 — Best GUI Design
PhotoDirector 3 wins the Shiny Boot for its layout of the steps involved in the developing of a RAW image. All these operations appear in a panel on the left side of the screen in a logical order of use.
Dirty Heels to those editing packages using browsers as separate modules, requiring the user to switch from the edit mode to the browser and vise versa..
Category 11 — Most helpful operational feature within a GUI
Sagelight 4.2 wins the Shiny Boots for its use of the recessed window housing slider settings as a cusor location option to activate the mouse wheel to change the slider settings. It’s easy to get accurate settings this way.
A Dirty Heels to PhotoLine 17 for dividing its cutout operation into two tools – Quick Cutout and Border Matting. It’s not only confusing, but it pairs the best cutout tool for objects with most edges –Quick Cutout — to the worst tool I’ve found that supposed to be used on hair, bubbles and other edges that are semi-transparent.
Category 12 — Best Cutout Tool
Shiny Boots to Topaz ReMask 3. There are a number of applications that do a good job on complicated cutout operations. ReMask is the easiest to learn.
Object Extractor in PaintShop Pro X4 is the recipient of the Dirty Heels. As the technology race goes in this area, PSP is far behind.
Category 13 — The Most Valuable Plugin
No contest here. Topaz Labs Adjust 5 wins the Shiny Boots. An 8b3 plugin that provides numerous ways to improve and manipulate an image. Many presets make it a breeze for beginners to start, but with a little practice, they’ll find the sliders allow them to find their own desired settings. Can be run in actions in PhotoLine 17, PaintShop Pro X4 and other editors that allow use of third-party plugins in actions/macros/scripts.
Splat! gets the Dirty Heels. When’s the last time you used one of the plugins in that no-longer marketed Alien Skin set?
Category 14 — Best Bargain Price
Shiny Boots to SageLight 4.2. Right now you can buy a lifetime version of SageLight for $39.95 US. The author’s intent is to split the product, with a higher price for the “pro” version. The current low price offer will end then.
Dirty Heels to Cyberlink for overpricing PhotoDirector 3. Cyberlink released their latest version of PhD about the same time Adobe released LightRoom 4. Unfortunately for Cyberlink, Adobe cut the price of LightRoom in half, making it about the same as PhotoDirector 3′s list price of $149.95 US. The company is actually selling PhD3 at a lower price of $119.95 US.
Category 15 — Best Best Photo-Related Codec
A special Shiny Boots award here. FastPictureViewer Codec Pack 3.2. provides 64-bit and 32-bit RAW codecs and thumbnail extensions for Windows 7. The pack covers many photo programs and more than 380 digital camera models RAW formats. This makes it possible to use Windows Explorer as a true image browser.
And now, about by choice of award names:
People in other parts of the US and around the world tend to think all Texans wear cowboy boots. Certainly not all of us do – I’ve never owned a pair – but I’ve chosen the name of my awards from this stereotype of Texas.
Polished Boot Award – only city slickers here wear polished boots, but it’s my choice of a metaphor for an excellent idea.
Dirty Heel Award – A dirty heel usually means a cowboy has stepped in cow dung. Obviously not very desireable.
Both AfterShot Pro and PhotoDirector 3 now have new patches. And SageLight is allowing users with licenses for the software to test new HDR and CLAHE panels. They look very promising.