14 Great Image Editing Programs for Still Photographers
October 24, 2017
Flying Meat Acorn 6
This inexpensive Mac editor offers several non-destructive tools including filters, curves and levels. You can create and save custom preset filters and access numerous photo effects such as tilt shift, drop shadow, vignette and more. Version 6 features a new Path Text Tool so you can place and manipulate text in your photo—even emojis, because it’s 2017 and we speak Emoji now. Acorn 6 supports layered editing, metadata stripping on export and RAW image processing.
Phase One Capture One Pro 10
With version 10, Capture One Pro now enables OpenCL hardware acceleration by default to keep the program humming along. Image sharpening now occurs over three stages with a step to tackle sharpness lost to lens diffraction, a step to make global or local tweaks and finally a user-defined output sharpening tool. Before you commit an image to print, you can use Pro 10’s new on-screen proofing tool to simulate the finalize size, resolution, color, compression artifacts and sharpening. Since the launch of version 10, there’s newly added support for reading and displaying Photoshop PSD files plus improved handling of Fuji X-Trans files, including the ability to use the Focus Mask, suppress purple fringing and tap into OpenCL processing. Phase recently added the ability to add preset filters, called Styles, to your images. The Styles are available in a variety of themed packs (Cinematic, Black-and-White, Matte, etc.) and cost $69.
PRICE: $299; $15/month (subscription)
Adobe Lightroom CC
Adobe has made a major overhaul to Lightroom this year, retiring the perpetual license version and spinning off a cloud-centric version called Adobe Lightroom CC. The original, desktop-based Lightroom is now Lightroom Classic CC. Lightroom CC offers much of the same functionality as the “classic” version only it is organized around cloud sharing. Users store full resolution files in the cloud and access them either via Lightroom CC on the desktop, through a browser or via a mobile app. You’ll get 1TB worth of storage with your subscription.
ACDSee Photo Editor 10
For the tenth edition of this image editor, ACD Systems revamped the interface with a customizable set of toolbars and panes so you can create the workspace of your choice. Photo Editor now supports non-destructive (and GPU-accelerated) layered editing and offers a selection brush with automasking. Tools such as skin tone, dehaze, gradient map and color overlay have also been added to the mix. If you goof, a new Undo History pane lets you walk back edits. The company also recently updated its RAW processor and asset manager program, Photo Studio Professional, with mobile syncing, smart erase tools and more.
A Mac-only app, Pixelmator (v. 3.6) has been updated with a tabbed workspace so that photos are separated in their own tabs. You can cut-and-paste changes between tabs and pop out tabs so they become their own window. There’s also support for the Mac Touch Bar and wide color gamut displays. Pixelmator is loaded with tools for retouching, digital painting and designing vector graphics.
MacPhun Luminar Neptune
Luminar is an adaptable editor that lets you hide away functionality you don’t want and intelligently suggests workspaces based on the type of photo you’re editing. You’re also free to create your own custom workspace to suit your needs or import workspaces from other Luminar users. The Neptune release adds a new Accent AI filter, which is basically a one-click fix that uses artificial intelligence to analyze an image’s contents and apply a range of edits and fixes automatically. Luminar can act as a host program for Macphun’s other editing tools such as Tonality, Snapheal and Intensify. As of this writing, MacPhun had released a beta version of the software for Windows in advance of a Windows-compatible version. Luminar doesn’t have image browsing or cataloguing, but can work as a plugin to Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop.
DxO Optics Pro 11
Optics Pro is built on thousands of camera and lens profiles to automatically apply corrections to RAW images. Now on version 11, OpticsPro has a faster PRIME de-noising engine and sliders that, according to DxO, are twice as responsive as the earlier build. There’s a new spot-weighted option for its Smart Lighting tool, which automatically finds faces in an image and adjusts the lighting to accentuate them. With the tool, you can also manually select faces if they’re turned sideways or aren’t picked up automatically. You’ll also find a new automated red-eye removal tool and a micro contrast tool to enhance fine details. The program now supports a full-screen display mode, an extended white balance range and new keyboard shortcuts. Unlike other programs that start you off with a blank slate, OpticsPro automatically generates an image that’s auto-corrected by its algorithm. If you opt for the cheaper Essentials version of the program you won’t get PRIME Denoising, Clearview, the anti-moire tool, preset editor and few other tools.
PRICE: $129 (Essentials); $199 (Elite)
Serif Affinity Photo
This Photoshop competitor offers RAW development, PSD support, support for multiple color spaces and compatibility with Windows. Version 1.5 is replete with new features including 360-degree image editing, HDR merge (including RAW file merges with auto alignment), focus stacking, support for the new Mac TouchBar and a new color picker. Other goodies include PSD write-back and recordable macros so you can save editing actions and apply them to future images. Affinity Photo can batch-process multiple images and run the job in the background, freeing you up to continue working on other images.
on1 Photo RAW 2017
The latest update to on1’s RAW processor adds a lens correction mode to import lens profiles to correct distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. Lenses are detected and corrections applied automatically, but you can also go in and tweak the sliders yourself. The clone stamp tool can now be applied non-destructively. Sharpening and noise reduction can be applied globally and are now located in the Details pane. Organizationally, there’s an improved metadata search so you can search by more than one criteria and refine the priority of each. There’s also an improved Compare mode that lets you compare up to 15 images at once—and pan and zoom in on them simultaneously. On1 Photo RAW can work as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom or as a standalone application.
PRICE: $100 (standalone)/ $150 (annual membership)
If you relish the idea of never paying for your editing software and working with the open-source world, GIMP is for you. (For the curious, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program—it’s not an homage to a certain leather-clad basement dweller.) It offers a customizable interface, lens corrections, retouching tools and color channel mixing. You can run GIMP on a Linux computer, a Mac (OS X 10.6) or Windows.
CyberLink PhotoDirector 8
PhotoDirector bundles some of the functionality of more sophisticated editors in a more approachable format. For instance, you can add layers to images and blend them but there are also layer templates that do the work for you. PhotoDirector 8 has a content-aware removal tool to pluck objects from a photo and have the space filled in automatically. There are also tools to create multi-exposure images, isolate still frames from video, intelligently swap faces in a portrait and retouch skin. The software can decode RAW files and has a modest library of lens profiles to correct optical aberrations. The Suite edition of PhotoDirector delivers all the above features and includes ColorDirector 5 for color grading.
Update: CyberLink has launched PhotoDirector 9. Among other things, the update adds tools for editing 360-degree stills and video as well as the ability to create GIFs and still images with moving elements in them.
PRICE: $40 (Deluxe); $50 (Ultra); $75 (Suite)
Photolemur uses photo recognition and machine learning to scan your images and make automatic changes to color, exposure, image noise and more. Rather than a blanket auto-correct, it uses image recognition to identify the components of an image and target corrections accordingly (for instance, amplifying the green in foliage or targeting faces for gentle retouching). It can handle RAW files and can batch process up to 40 images at a time. According to the developer, the software learns and improves the more you use it. Every time you save or share a photo, it takes note of the changes it made (and the kind of photo it was making it to) so that it can recall those changes for future images. If you don’t save or share the photo, Photolemur notes that as well.
Alien Skin Exposure X2
Exposure’s X2 update delivers a raft of new features touching on editing, organizing and image effects. One of the more significant changes is a new, non-destructive layered editor that enables you to create an unlimited number of layers plus work on layers on multiple images at once. There are now lens profiles to correct optical distortions plus PSD support, allowing you to browse Photoshop file thumbnails and add Exposure’s effects to Photoshop images. The organizer gains a full text search to help you find images quicker, plus new selection and sorting options. You’ll also find a new adjustable histogram and a new history panel to retrace your editing steps and quickly undo unwanted changes. The program, which works standalone or as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom, continues to offer a wealth of film presets and now supports placing effects only on select portions of an image—not globally.
PRICE: $149; $199 (with Blow Up, Snap Art plugins)
Corel PaintShop Pro Ultimate 2018
The update to Corel’s image editing and visual arts program delivers a 50 percent faster boot time and speed improvements across a number of tools. Another major change is the user interface, which is now completely customizable. You can turn on and off tools in the tool bar, change icon, scrollbar and workspace sizes, background colors and more. The arsenal of creative instruments has also been expanded with the addition of 30 new brushes, 30 new gradients, 30 new color palettes and 15 new textures. When purchased with the Ultimate bundle you’ll also get Corel’s AfterShot Pro RAW processor, Painter Essentials 5, Perflectly Clear 3 SE and Corel’s Creative Collection, which includes brushes, textures and royalty-free backgrounds.
PRICE: $80; $100 (Ultimate)