Photography / Buying Guide

Best Photo-Editing Software

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Becoming increasingly more important, photo editing or post-production is now an integral part of photo hobbyists’ and pros’ workflows, and is often the second most critical step to producing a photograph after taking the shot itself. With such importance, it is crucial for photographers to find editing software that can fulfill and support all of their needs, ranging from basic editing control to adjust brightness and contrast, to more complex solutions for performing non-destructive edits with layers and masks, as well as manage an entire library of images. Here’s a look at some of the most popular options out there for handling your photographs post-capture.

Adobe Photoshop

Beginning with the most recognizable photo editing software around, Adobe Photoshop is a product so well-known that its name has been transmogrified into a verb. There is little to say that hasn’t already been said for years about the king of photo-editing software; Photoshop is an incredibly well-rounded application that covers anything from making slight brightness and contrast adjustments, processing raw files, or retouching images all the way up to producing multi-layered, stitched image composites rife with selections and masks. Photoshop is available as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud; however, for photographers, the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan bundles Photoshop with its younger brother, and second most well-known photo-editing software.

Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Introduced almost exactly 16 years after the birth of Photoshop, Photoshop Lightroom is a slightly scaled-down, more specialized image editing application. Intended more for photographers than all creatives working with “imagery,” Lightroom is best-known for its non-destructive editing environment, raw file processing capabilities, and file organization and management capabilities. Lightroom is also better tailored to digital photographers in particular, due to the inclusion of several tools for performing batch, repetitive, and synchronized edits. In addition to being available within the Creative Cloud Photography Plan with Photoshop itself, Lightroom is also still available as stand-alone software under the name Lightroom 6.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6

Capture One Pro 9

Arguably the strongest competitor to Adobe’s offerings in terms of professional workflows and file management, the Capture One series of software gained popularity early on as an apt solution for shooting tethered. Beyond its vast support for various cameras and raw file types, Capture One is also a very capable image editing solution, especially in regard to color management, as well as file organization, through the use of Catalogs and Sessions.

Phase One Capture One Pro 9

onOne Photo RAW and Photo 10

A pair of complementary applications to suit an entire photo editing workflow, onOne’s Photo RAW and Photos 10 allow you to process raw files, make basic edits, apply creative effects, and manage a photo library. Photo RAW is the newer of the two, and is meant as a single application for developing raw files and applying basic edits without the complexity of cataloging or importing. Photo 10 picks up where Photo RAW leaves off, and allows for more advanced editing controls using layers and various editing modules for producing creative results. Additionally, both of these can be used as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

onOne Software Photo RAW

Topaz Photography Collection

A truly well-rounded suite of 16 different editing applications, as well as a stand-alone navigational program, the Topaz Photography Collection includes something to tackle just about every type of creative editing situation in which you could find yourself. Dedicated applications are available for converting images to black-and-white, improving detail and clarity, reducing noise, simulating lens effects, and even producing painterly, artistic results. Many of the programs can be used as stand-alone apps; however, all can be used as plug-ins with Photoshop or a handful other editing applications. Additionally, this suite also includes the stand-alone photoFXlab for navigating all of the plug-ins, as well as managing an image library.

Topaz Labs LLC Topaz Photography Collection

DxO OpticsPro 11 Elite Edition

Offering a similar set of post-production capabilities, DxO’s OpticsPro 11 Elite Edition also offers a range of photo-editing controls, as well as file management and exporting functions to suit a variety of applications. Differing from many other applications, though, OpticsPro benefits from DxO’s extensive testing and research on various cameras and lenses to generate specific profiles for more accurate optical corrections, as well as enhanced de-noising for improved clarity. Smart Lighting, Spot Weighted, and ClearView are a trio of additional modes that also help to improve brightness and contrast for more accurate image rendition and greater detail. Beyond DxO’s flagship software, they also offer the unique FilmPack 5 Elite Edition app, which serves a specific purpose to simulate the look of numerous black-and-white and color film types, as well as ViewPoint 3, which is used to correct perspective distortions and other deformed proportions in images often taken with wide-angle lenses.

DxO FilmPack 5 Elite Edition

Perfectly Clear 2.0

A dedicated plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Corel’s PaintShop Pro, Perfectly Clear 2.0 is an ideal tool for enhancing the look of portraits through the use of its Beautify set of features. This series of tools utilizes facial detection to identify age, gender, and key facial features to allow 10 unique retouching tools to smooth wrinkles, remove blemishes and shininess, adjust skin tone, improve the look of eyes, whiten teeth, and more. Additionally, the plug-in can also be used to perform automatic global adjustments to imagery to affect brightness, contrast, and color.

Perfectly Clear 2.0 Plug-In Bundle for Photoshop and Lightroom

Corel PaintShop Pro X9

Last in our look at editing tools for photographers is a bundle from Corel: PaintShop Pro X9 Ultimate. The base of this suite, PaintShop Pro X9, is a non-destructive editing application fitted with raw file editing capabilities, a layers-based workflow, and numerous templates and other creative assets to kick-start your creative process. A range of text tools allows you to introduce elements of graphic design to imagery, and photographers also benefit from HDR tools and content-aware fill technology. In addition to PaintShop Pro, this bundle also includes Perfectly Clear 2.0 SE, Corel AfterShot 3, and Live Screen Capture.

Corel PaintShop Pro X9 Ultimate

Have you a favorite photo-editing program? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.

19 Comments

For some reasons I just don't like photoshop. I tried to find something simple and multifunctional. So, that's why I started to use Movavi Photo editor. Changing background is one of the best it's feature, too easy!

Bjorn,

Or anyone else, I was wondering if there is a decent editor out there that has the capability of comprehensive automatic editing for someone that is colorblind?

Thanks...

I guess I'm just old and have lost the fight, to the consumer market - but to me, 'editing' is the culling of images, in order to select the final image for publication. So is a Photo Editor, now a Photoshop expert? :(

I'm still using NIK software but every time it is getting harder and harder to operate since Google dropped it and does not provide updates matching  PS CC. 

Is there anyone out there in my situation? I have been looking at Topaz but not made a decision yet. 

As you have already guessed, I shoot in RAW but I still find come ultra sophisticated editing programs a bit threatening. 

Hello Olga, I use NIK software with CS5 no issues at all. Im not sure above the CS5. BTW few months ago DxO Optics brought the rights from Google, I believe the new release of NIK software is schedule Sept also it will be a charge  (dont know the price yet ) The great news is in hands of DxO. Hoppe it helps!!!

Nice article in the first place. I also recommend PhotoViewerPro coz it's easy to use and learn to edit images or photo and many more.

Hi Bjorn, 

thanks for such an interesting article. I have tried some of the programs you mentioned, but I ended up with Zoner Photo Studio. Have you tried this one? To me it seems pretty nice and primarily universal. 

Mathilda

I will continue to believe that Phase One's Capture One is by far the best photo editing software out there. Although it is not an all-in-one solution like Photoshop, I feel that everything from the interface to the details inside each tool is better designed and the results you want are easier to achieve. 

You should mention that DxO OpticsPro does not support Fuji X sensor cameras.  This is unfortunate, since the program does a number of things very well indeed.  DxO's camera testing equipment and software cannot accommodate the non-Bayer sensors, and the Fuji market is too small for DxO to invest in the changes necessary to test the Fujis. DxO OpticsPro apparently relies on the tests they do of cameras, so Fuji is out in the cold.

Thanks for taking the time to put the above article together; I ask that you clarify some of the content though.

As mentioned by Two rails above, the entry regarding the On1 software packages is incorrect. The current software, On1 Photo 10 will be upgraded with the release of On1 Photo RAW, so I'd like to sugest it would be worthwhile clarifying with On1 whether they intend to run Photo 10 alongside Photo RAW or whehter it will be a replacement program. If Photo RAW replaces Photo 10 then the above article will be completely incorrect in 2 days time when Photo RAW is released.

Regards,

Grant

Hi Bjorn,

I own and use several of the product above and feel they are all great products.  My overall favorite is ON1’s Photo 10.  I love that program and have been using it since version 3 when it was known as the Perfect Photo Suite by OnOne.    Perfect Photo Suite became Photo 10 after Perfect Photo Suite 9.   Photo 10 is getting a new name, too, and will be called Photo RAW with the next release.  The name change is appropriate as while Photo 10 can ‘work with’ RAW images, it is not a RAW editor/converter.  Photo RAW will have all the power and functionality of Photo 10, and a lot more.  As the new name suggests, Photo RAW will be a RAW editor/converter.   I say ‘will have’ as Photo RAW has not been released yet and I’m assisting with BETA testing at the moment.  The public release of Photo RAW is scheduled for December 19th.

Sincerely,

TwoRails

Is anyone familiar with software from Serif?  They were publishing PhotoPlus, but that's now been redeveloped from the ground up (according to them) and is now Affinity Photo.  I'm interested in knowing how this compares.  I'm certainly not interested in paying the Adobe tax (annual subscription fee) and this looks to be quite capable.

As a pure hobbist, I started out with a program called picture publisher by micrografx which was eventually brought by Corel it had a masking system that was simple and easy to learn and use but quite powerful. Now I am using ACDSee pro 10 anyone out there using ACDSee, what do you think of it

The title should be : Best of WINDOWS editing software. Hopefully, you a lot of free software that made the same job !

Hi Marc-

With the exception of Corel's PaintShop Pro, all of the other mentioned software is compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems.

     When discussing all the various options, at least some mention should be made (for the cheapskates among us :-) of the freeware available.  GIMP is certainly worth a look as are the freeware programs put out by the camera companies.  Concerning the latter, this Nikon shooter only has experience with Nikon's Capture NX-D. For casual editing like a bit of cropping or exposure correction or occasional dust-spot removal, it is all that's needed, is easy to use, and the price ($ zero) is certainly right.

What do you think about Affinity Photo? In my experience it is better than Capture One.

Hi Ad-

I've yet to try Affinity Photo, but have read nice things about it. How do you feel it outperforms Capture One? I really enjoy using Capture One when shooting tethered, and for file management and organization, which seem to be areas Affinity does not address. But for raw file editing, I'd be curious to hear how Affinity compares to Capture One.

I ended up with Corel Paintshop Pro/Aftershot Pro almost as a default.  An early version of Paintshop Pro came bundled with Wordperfect Office when I updated my word processing and spreadsheet program at work a number of years ago.  Now I have expanded it to include Paintshop Pro, Aftershot Pro and Video Studio.  The programs work efficiently and turn our great images and videos.  They are also less expensive than the Adobe programs.  The only problem with the Corel programs (and all non Adobe programs) is the lack of training opportunities.  For example, B&H has a ton of videos on Photshop/Lightroom, but I have never seen one on any other program.   There are some training videos for Corel out there, but you have to look for them.  Also, some of the Lightroom videos help with Paintshop and Aftershot, you just have to convert some of the language.

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