It’s probably fair to say that there are a lot more Adobe customers than there are Adobe customers who are happy about the take-it-or-leave-it rental model the market leader in image editing software has imposed on its customers.
Until now the path of least resistance has been to grin and bear it; annoying, but hardly a show-stopper. While our reader’s poll last year indicated the majority of pollees regarded the perpetual rental agreement as a rip-off, the challenge of first choosing and then learning how to work on a new image editing platform seemed too time-consuming, too much hassle. Having sunk hours into learning to drive Photoshop and/or Lightroom, busy photographers are the classic ‘captive audience’. Consequently, the Adobe share price is among the few relatively unscathed by the Coronavirus meltdown!
But now the show has pretty well stopped anyway, and with Adobe asking anywhere from $150 to $1000 per annum to rent some or all of its creative editing software, perhaps the enforced down-time most of us are contending with can be put to good use in breaking free of Adobe’s financial shackles. Reading various reviews it seems that Adobe’s image editing and management software is neither the best, certainly not the cheapest, and not even the easiest to use – its just that it has a massive installed base, and so many of us have invested so much of our time on it.
There are a few contenders out there, with some of the most suitable to the Inside Imaging readership having recently upgraded to new versions with significant improvements. They all offer a 30-day free trial and there are even 90-day trials currently on offer from some software houses.
Here’s a quick overview of four of the alternatives more likely to appeal to professional photographers and dedicated enthusiasts…
CAPTURE ONE PRO 20
Capture One software comes from the same technology house which manufactures Phase One medium format cameras and backs, and already has a strong following as a professional-grade editing tool. Adobe products to one side, Capture One is seen as the gold standard for professional imaging workflow/editing software.
Released back in December, the latest upgrade, Capture One Pro 20, has a new user interface which is said to be easier to learn and use – so a less challenging, shorter learning curve for those contemplating a switch.
It features a redesigned Basic Colour Editor that now works on Layers; a new advanced crop tool; a new HDR tool that adds White and Black point sliders, an improved Noise Reduction tool, and new scrolling tools.
In reviews its RAW processing engine gets special mention, with some arguing that it produces higher quality images than Lightroom. It is also well-regarded for its tethering support.
Cost: Capture One has recently begun offering a rental option a la Adobe, but continues to offer a full (one user, three computers) licence ownership option. Not cheap at around $400 (on special!), or $176 for the Fujifilm and Sony versions, but with a loyal legion of professionals using it. The custom Fujifilm and Sony versions point to a close working relationship with those camera makers. There’s a free 30-day trial direct from the Phase One website.
Here’s a short video outlining the new features:
ON1 RAW 2020
A 2020.1 version has just been announced, with ‘many new user interface updates, some new features, and plenty of performance enhancements along with new cameras and lens support.’ An extended 90-day trial period provides ample time to get one’s head around the new software.
Like Capture One, ON1 claims the latest version is easier to get up and running, with a dialogue box guiding you through the process of finding your photos and making your first edit.
With criticisms in the past that ON1 Raw is if anything too fully-featured and consequently can be sluggish, perhaps ‘many new user interface updates’ (whatever that means) isn’t what the new version needs, but nonetheless ON1 claims 2020.1 boasts ‘professional grade speed’.
New features include: Improved highlight recovery (‘the gold standard’); more control of focus stacking; single image edit mode (just drag the photo onto the app and start editing); Browse vs Catalog Tabs (fast browse mode and cataloged folders mode have been separated into their own tabs in Browse); and faster browsing of large folders.
The latest version supports an extensive range of the latest cameras and lenses. This year, On1 Photo Mobile and ON1 Sync will flesh out the range.
A 30-day free trial is always on offer, but is currently extended to 90 days. A single purchase of ON1 Photo RAW 2020.1 includes Windows and macOS versions and allows for activation on five computers. It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, customer support based in Portland, Oregon USA, and hundreds of free video tutorials,
Cost: Without any special offers price for a 5-seat licence is US$99, but there’s a half-price special launch offer on the website – even though it is supposed to expire
at the end of March on April 7. Those who move fast might still be able to secure that price, along with a money-back guarantee also extended to 90 days.
Here’s a ‘new features’ video from ON1:
DxO PHOTOLAB 3
The marriage of DxO Photolab software with the Nik Collection of image enhancement tools makes for an impressive package. PhotoLab 3 is available in two versions – Essential (US$129) and Elite (US$199). Both include the Nik tools but the Elite version is more professionally-oriented with features such as Prime de-noising (claimed best in class), ClearView haze remover, camera-calibrated ICC profiles, custom palettes, and editable presets.
The ‘ColorWheel’ (click on the video above) is a colour adjustment tool that you can use to select colour ranges from eight separate channels, including orange and purple. DxO PhotoLab 3.2, released in March, has made local adjustment mask management more flexible, optimised its Repair Tool, and improved PhotoLibrary keyword support.
DxO excels in auto-correction, based on thousands of shots (‘in the DxO Lab’) on test patterns at different lighting conditions to create lens and camera profiles for each camera and lens supported. It’s ‘best guess’ correction based on the specific lens, camera and exposure settings used, is said to be much better than most photo editing software, so should be a great time-saver.
There’s a 30-day free trial available, and a special offer on both the Essential (US$99 down from US$129) and Elite versions (US$149 down from $199). Essential version is a two-computer licence while Elite gives you a licence for three computers.
SERIF AFFINITY PHOTO 1.8
Serif Affinity is perhaps the closest alternative image editor to Adobe Photoshop in the way it is set out and used, with adjustments, brushes, healing tools, layers, etc. ‘Live Filters’ allow users to apply Filters non-destructively from the Layers panel. It isn’t as fully-featured (bloated?) as Photoshop, but then most users only use a small fraction of Photoshop’s capabilities and at a sale price of just $40 for a perpetual licence, it is the least expensive of the viable alternatives. Reviewers have noted that some features are complex in use. (Then again, Photoshop is hardly a doddle.) And it’s a ‘pure’ image editor – it doesn’t have a lot of asset management smarts.
UK-based Serif has clearly designed Affinity Photo for the professional market. There are also Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher products.
The latest updates is compatible with Canon’s new CR3 Raw file format and delivers improvements to lens correction tools, including manual correction. It includes support for the Nik Collection for those considering mixing and matching their editing tools. PSD files with Smart Objects Layers can now be imported and edited. Unlike in Photoshop, images with layers can be directly re-sized with no loss of quality.
Serif is offering a 90-day free trial and the 50 percent discount on purchase as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. Smart move.