Monday, January 28, 2013

Software Trial by Photo Editing

In the past I have purchased several software packages from and have been generally satisfied with the products. They have repeatedly tried to sell me their PhotoPlus software which I have never before bothered to look at because I have been using Photoshop since version 7 and since the introduction of Lightroom I use and recommend both Lightroom and Photoshop. All my initial processing is done in Lightroom and I use Photoshop for images that require the use of layers, advanced selections or photo-merging.

This morning however I got an email from Serif offering limited time free trial versions of their software so I thought it would be interesting to see how PhotoPlus X5 compared with other image editing software I have used. I undertook this as a matter of personal curiosity and a recognition that not everyone wants to or can pay the cost of Photoshop. I have no affiliation with Serif beyond having bought a couple of pieces their other software several years ago.

The first thing I discovered after installing Photo Plus was that it does not play well with Adobe DNG files. It will open them but with a wide black band on one side. You can't simply crop off the black band because it falls within the frame of the image, not covering but compressing and distorting the image into the remaining space.

Since my current standard practice is to convert all RAW images to DNG upon import, this problem alone is sufficient to remove it from consideration by me. Looking at older files however I note that PhotoPlus will properly open CRW and CR2 files. I'm guessing that the difference lies in the fact that most RAW files write the EXIF data to a sidecar XMP file whereas Adobe DNG incorporates the EXIF and IPTC data into the DNG file itself and PhotoPlus can't separate it from data describing pixels so it represents the EXIF & IPTC sector as a band on one of the long sides. Don't quote me on that though. I could be wrong.

PhotoPlus does open JPG, PSD& TIFF which are the only other file types I use or have used and have to test with. I cannot vouch for its ability to work with any other proprietary camera RAW files or other image file types.

The layout of controls closely follows Photoshop's interface including a lot of (if not all) of the same keyboard shortcuts, i.e. left & right bracket keys to change brush size and Control Z to undo the last command. The Tools (brush, cropping, clone, etc.) are on the left and the Studio Tabs (their equivalent of Photoshop's palettes) are on the right side. There are a good range of tools and controls including layers. I did not find any photo-merging capacity except for bracketed exposures to create HDR images and that is disabled in the trial version so I could not test it.

The Adjustments palette on the right includes Levels, Curves, Color Balance, Brightness/Contrast, Hue/Saturation/Lightness, Colorize, Vibrance, Selective Color, Channel Mixer, Gradient map, Lens Filter, Black & White Film, Threshold filter, Posterize and Negative image. They appear to closely mirror Photoshop's set of Adjustment layer tools. The Warp, Line, Shape and Node tools on the left were shaded pink indicating that you'd have to buy the full version to get them. The same was true for the Organizer, Tablet controls, Photo Fix, Filter Gallery and Cutout Studio on the top menu.

Overall the interface is very similar to Photoshop. There are a few differences in layout but if someone wanted a less expensive software to begin photo editing they could go to Photoshop later if the need arose without suffering “interface shock”. In the past I have used Paint Shop Pro which I can't say the same for. I actually began image editing on PSP3 long before Corel bought it and continued to use it for a couple of iterations past when Corel changed the interface. PSP is a powerful program, Photoshop on a budget, but with a significantly different interface that I stopped using because I found it to be nearly the opposite of “intuitive”. That could be just me however.

I discovered while trying to save an image that I edited in PhotoPlus that you can only save layered images in PhotoPlus' proprietary .Spp format. Aside from .Spp the only other format offered to save in is JPG. I suppose you could save all your work files in .Spp and your output files in JPG but I frequently use TIFF for images that need to be saved in a non-lossy format. Whether any other editing software will recognize the .Spp files should you want to do further editing in other software or switch to another editor in the future is an open question.

My conclusion on Serif's PhotoPlus? As I said at the outset, it is not for me. The incompatibility with my preferred RAW format, inability to save to layered TIFF and the fact that I am already invested in Photoshop and Lightroom make this a non-starter for me. I am impressed by the clean interface and range of tools however and for those who shoot JPG or a RAW format that PhotoPlus is compatible with, at $89.99 this could be a real budget friendly alternative to Adobe's much more expensive software as long as you don't plan on stitching panoramas, merging photos for DOF or a handful of other advanced features from Photoshop.  

The top photo was shot with my Canon SX50 in JPG. I was able to do levels and vibrance adjustments to it in PhotoPlus but had to merge the layers to re-save it. I could not test the sharpening tools. They were one of the "pinked out" features in the trial software. The second picture is a screen capture of how a DNG file looks when opened in PhotoPlus. I tried several, all with the same result. The black band is always on a long side, on the left with a vertical image and on the bottom with a landscape format image. The image itself is always 'squished' on the right/top.

May 2, 2014 Upon receipt of the comment  thanking me for the review I revisited the Serif website thinking I should review the most recent version (#7) however it appears they no longer offer limited trial copies of their software. There is a free "basic" version but there is no indication of how it relates or compares to the current paid version in terms of features and capabilities. The only comparisons on the site are to Corel's Paint Shop Pro and Adobe's Photoshop.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)