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Photoshop vs the world

This is part one in a series exploring some of the photo editing software available.

How many alternatives are there to Photoshop?  Well I’ve just counted 4 reasonable contenders, and there are a whole lot more out there if you don’t need the heavyweight pixel crushing features.  Each software package does a different job, so it really depends on what job you want to do.  I’m in the process of looking at around 23 software options at last count, so if you’re new to this, let me try and simplify the choices a little.

The Pixel Editors

Pixel editors like Photoshop specialise in making anything possible, they can take images further or combine them together, but they’re not the fastest or simplest way, especially if you have a lot of images.  I’ll call them ‘pixel editors’.  The focus of this article.

I’ve created a pdf summarising some features of the pixel editors here.

The All Rounders

These guys do a bit of everything, possibly everything you’ll ever need, and they’re usually more efficient than pixel editors, and can help you manage and process hundreds of images at a time.  Some of these options are ’rounder’ than others.

The Basics

Don’t offer much but are usually kept simple.

The Specialists

Do one thing and do it well, like panorama software.

I’ve easily counted 30+ options fitting these categories, but this article is about the pixel editors and where they sit with photographers.

First sort out your boxes

We’re not storing photo’s in cardboard boxes anymore, most of us end up with thousands of digital images that need some kind of organising.  A few of these end up selected for a greater purpose, maybe a print, a book or facebook (cough), or something like that.  So the dilemma with straight out pixel editors is they won’t help tidy up the shed, well kind of….  some come bundled with organisers and others don’t.

My point for now is that you’ll want to consider both photo editing and management, so the options below aren’t the full picture if you still need to manage your mess, or apply similar changes to multiple images simultaneously, below I look at some pixel editing specialists, which are best paired with an ‘image managing specialist’ for a complete package.

So here are the Pixel editing contenders ……..please don’t shoot me, my comments are based around a photographers use, and there may be some similar options out there I didn’t review.

The pixel Editing alternatives

Note: The All-rounders will be highlighted in another article, they will provide a better option for many photographers, and usually work well as a companions to the pixel editors.

Adobe Photoshop

Since Photoshop was born 28 years ago it’s become an industry leading giant, capable of amazing things.  Need to tidy up the shed?  It’ll help with that, not sure what to keep?  It’ll help, need to delete the shed? It can do that too.  Photoshop installs with Bridge and ACR, a trio combination that can cover all bases, together they can edit, manage, rate, and apply basic adjustments across multiple images.   So it’s well refined, feature rich and with lots of help available.  What more could you want?

Well lets see…. Photoshop takes a bit of getting into, so be prepared for a learning curve.  In fact this trio became so huge it left room for another Adobe special – Lightroom.  But more on Lightroom in another article (the all rounders).  Secondly and sometimes controversially, you can’t actually buy Photoshop anymore, you rent it, as part of the Adobe subscription model for about AU$15 per month.  This brings the cost of ownership into the realm of most considering an outright purchase used to be over $1000 a few years ago, it’s just that you’ll need to keep on paying to keep on using.

John’s recommendation:

The go-to pixel editor if you don’t mind the cost model

Who’s it suited to:

Pro’s
Enthusiasts
Students
Beginners willing to learn

 

Serif Affinity photo

Affinity is the game changer, here to shake up the industry, or so I hope.  25 years AP (After Photoshop) and finally Serif provided an excellent Photoshop alternative, or almost a clone if you like.  Not that I believe for a minute that Photoshop is all it could be, it’s foundations were built 28 years ago, and we could do better now, but things are what they are.

Some features are better than Photoshop’s and some a little less refined.  It doesn’t yet have a companion for image management but I’m sure that’s in the works too, and as with all these choices you can use any other software you choose to help manage your images.  There’s a lot of similarity with Photoshop commands which makes an easy switch between the two and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with its features,  and it comes with a better cost model than Photoshop at about AU$80 outright.

John’s recommendation:

The go-to pixel editor if you don’t like the Adobe cost model, and don’t need Photoshop’s commonality with the industry.  It might not be compatible with as many 3rd party addon’s as Photoshop is, but I expect that will improve.

Who’s it suited to:

Pro’s
Enthusiasts
Students
Beginners willing to learn

 

Gimp

A free Photoshop alternative.  It’s less refined features can feel a bit dated but it’s good enough for many.  No image management features built in, but there are lots of add on’s available.

John’s recommendation:

Worth trying since it’s free.  It doesn’t support 16 bit files, which is an issue for anyone shooting raw to maximise image quality.  A 16 bit version is in the works.

Who’s it suited to:

Enthusiasts
Students
Beginners willing to learn

 

Corel Paintshop Pro

Combines image management with a Photoshop like editing suite.  Feels slower and more clunky than Photoshop with less to offer on the whole.  The interface may be a little simpler to get into than Photoshop or Affinity, and the image management is kept simple.  It’s kind of a cross between Photoshop Elements and Photoshop.

John’s recommendation:

Affinity seems like a better non-Photoshop choice in my book.  Paintshop is a bit slow and awkward and doesn’t have quite as many features useful for photographers, and the cost is about the same as Affinity at AU$100.

Who’s it suited to:

Enthusiasts
Students
Beginners willing to learn

 

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Like the name implies, Elements has many Photoshop features and dumbs down editing for beginners.  It’s really a bit of an all-rounder, so I wasn’t sure whether to include it here, but it’s a pixel editor at heart.  It adds some interesting organisational features like a map view, and the ability to output images straight to email or facebook, but lacks many of the more advanced photo editing options.

John’s recommendation:

Elements has some good points but I find it hard to recommend, especially at cost that comes in at AU$150.  Its specialty is being a simplified all-in-one package for people wanting a simpler road to photo editing, but this compromises the ability to take images further if you become more advanced.  It may be an OK choice if you’re happy with simple editing tools and if you don’t shoot raw since it doesn’t support 16 bit editing.

Some of the ‘all-rounders’ (review’s coming) may be a better choice for people who are interested in Elements for its simplicity.

Who’s it suited to:

Those who prioritise automation and a ‘Photoshop for dummies’ entry point over n depth features and max quality.

 Pixel Editors PDF

 

Conclusion

Choice is good, so what job do you want to do?  At the end of the day it’s best to choose what suits your priorities best, my recommendations are based more on the needs of a keen photographer, and I’ll review more options in a separate article.