Software Review: Corel AfterShot Pro 3
August 4, 2016
The Greek philosopher Plato was famous for (among other things) the concept of a “Platonic realm” where things exist in an idealized form. If there is such a realm, what would the Platonic ideal of an imaging program look like? To judge by a number of recent introductions, it would blend RAW processing, non-destructive editing and image organizing into a coherent whole.
That’s definitely the ideal Corel is striving for in AfterShot Pro. Now in version 3, the program takes a major leap in processing speed and adds new tools to tackle more editing tasks.
AfterShot is a RAW processor, non-destructive image editor and organizer. Version 3’s new features are mostly concentrated around the first two missions. Some of the major additions include the ability to add watermarks to images and a blemish remover. Another marquee new feature is a set of lens profile correction tools to fix barrel and pin cushion distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. If your specific lens isn’t there, you can create and save your own corrections for future use.
Another new feature we really appreciated was the camera profile updater. Rather than do a massive update every time a new camera hits the market, Corel puts updated camera profiles in a little tab off to the right. There, you can browse and add camera profiles on an a la carte basis. This isn’t all that important if you’re faithfully holding on to a single camera, but for anyone with gear acquisition syndrome or the need to process files from multiple cameras, it’s a godsend.
Also new, and also quite welcome, is a plugin marketplace where you can browse and quickly add tools to the software—some free, others not.
These new features join an already robust program capable of layered editing, local contrast corrections, selective edits, red-eye removal and tools for creating HDR images. If you need to do more detailed work, the program exports an 8- or 16-bit TIF file in a number of different color spaces to an editor of your choice. The TIF is flattened, so you won’t be able to make individual layer edits after export.
AfterShot Pro 3 puts most of what you need into a single screen—there are no modules to flip between when it’s time to edit, but you will bounce between tabs to access plugins and some of the more detailed edits. The UI is very intuitive—even if you’ve had zero experience in older versions you’ll be up-to-speed very quickly.
AfterShot has two main modes of image organization: a catalogue system (similar to Lightroom) or a file browser, which lets you navigate drives and folders directly. You can add stars, flags and color ratings plus keywords and use them to filter images, but only images organized in the program’s catalogue system can be filtered by metadata attributes (aperture, ISO, etc.) or keywords.
AfterShot Pro 3 offers a strong set of editing capabilities including a heal/clone brush, red-eye removal, blemish corrections and the usual tools for adjusting exposure, color, and white balance. Noise removal and automatic image correction tools from Athentec (of Perfectly Clear fame) are also incorporated out of the box.
For our test, we knocked off 2 EV of an over-exposed image in both Lightroom and AfterShot and exported them, making no other changes. The colors tended to look much more natural coming from Lightroom.
Noise removal using both the Perfectly Clear plugin and the AfterShot’s standard slider were not as effective as Lightroom, either. We placed RAW noise removal at 100 percent in AfterShot and Lightroom’s noise removal to 50 and found cleaner, less noisy results from the Lightroom files despite the fact that half the amount of noise reduction was applied. Similarly, setting the Perfectly Clear plugin to 50 vs. Lightroom’s noise reduction at 50 and Lightroom removed considerably more noise. AfterShot’s noise removal tools are also a bit more difficult to preview accurately, there’s a magnifier but it’s free floating and ends up following your mouse as you move it to the editing rail, obscuring the tools.
AfterShot has a modest set of presets for image effects (bleach bypass, cross processing, etc.) that work well enough. You can create a custom preset, but it’s for edits like noise removal, not creative effects. Fortunately, there’s an integrated marketplace for creative presets so you can easily add more if you desire.
Corel has touted the fact that AfterShot 3 is up to four times faster than Lightroom when exporting RAW images to JPEGs with the quality level set to 80 percent. In our tests, involving batches of RAW files from primarily Fujifilm, Sony, Nikon, Canon and Olympus cameras exported at 100 percent quality, we found a considerable speed advantage for AfterShot 3 on our Mac (2.7GHz Core i7, 16GB RAM). Exporting just six Olympus RAW files took Lightroom 1 minute and 14 seconds. The same batch took a mere 14 seconds in AfterShot 3. That was the outlier, but in all cases AfterShot Pro 3 won the race. It was typically faster for image previewing (generating thumbnails) as well. Whatever’s going on under the hood, it’s incredibly efficient.
But that’s not the entire story. When we were working with files on a network drive, and not files stored locally on our computer, Lightroom was significantly faster. We were able to export four files in Lightroom from a networked drive before AfterShot 3 finished just one. Indeed, AfterShot didn’t handle image browsing on networked drives nearly as swiftly as Lightroom did.
There are some areas of the AfterShot Pro 3 workflow that aren’t as fluid as exports. It won’t automatically recognize that a memory card has been removed and a new one inserted unless you manually refresh the file system. Scrolling down through the editing tools using a mouse’s scroll wheel, we frequently and inadvertently began adjusting values we didn’t want to touch. You have to take real care to position the cursor away from any settings before you start to scroll. Finally, the export menu doesn’t automatically constrain dimensions—so as you adjust the height, the width of your image doesn’t change accordingly, forcing you to calculate it yourself and disproving the time-worn adage that no one uses math after high school.
We hit a few other odd quirks along the way: our initial version had a bug that prevented the program from minimizing on our Mac (though this may be fixed by the time you read this).
While AfterShot is indeed faster than Lightroom in many scenarios, it wasn’t always. Nor was it as effective in rendering colors or reducing noise. And while it has its arsenal of presets, they’re not as diverse or as easy to apply/tweak as they are in programs like Exposure X.
At $80, though, AfterShot Pro 3 is an excellent value—less expensive than a year’s worth of Creative Cloud or a perpetual license for programs like AlienSkin’s Exposure X or DxO’s Optics Pro 11. It delivers on the promised speed gains, and the ease and convenience of adding new camera profiles and plugins is definitely appreciated. What’s more, we liked the flexibility of having both a catalogue and a file tree-based approach to organizing. On a feature-per-feature basis, it holds its own with other market leaders despite costing less.
PROS: Great feature set for the price; integrated plugin marketplace; fast processing and export on local drives; camera lens profiles; easy camera profile updates.
CONS: Noise removal trails competitors; can be sluggish on networked drives; file system won’t automatically refresh.
PRICE: $80 (new); $60 (upgrade)
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