These applications excel at importing and organizing your photo library, but they do a lot more, including RAW processing and the essential adjustments you’ll make to most images.
ACDSEE PRO 5
ACDSee has a variety of features to help you import and organize your images, and add ratings, keywords and color labels to make it easier to find your best shots later. It also has tools to correct lens-perspective distortions and ACDSee’s Lighting and Contrast Enhancement for HDR effects from a single image. List Price: $139.
ADOBE PHOTOSHOP LIGHTROOM 4
Lightroom was designed for photographers as a RAW workflow solution with everything you need to manage, optimize and output your photos in a streamlined, clutter-free workspace. New in version 4 is support for GPS metadata for finding images by location, as well as the ability to import and organize video clips. List Price: $149.
Apple’s pro photo application offers a streamlined RAW workflow for Mac users, with a complete toolset for organizing, processing and exporting images. In addition to global adjustments, nondestructive brushes allow you to apply most image enhancements to specific areas of an image. It supports your HD video clips, too, and you even can make multi-media slideshows with your clips right in Aperture. List Price: $79.
CAMERA BITS PHOTO MECHANIC
Photo Mechanic is a unique application in that it’s strictly focused on photo management—no image enhancements here—but it has some powerful tools toward that end, like the ability to import from multiple flash cards simultaneously. It also allows you to really dig in and edit IPTC metadata. For pros who manage large photo libraries on a daily basis, Photo Mechanic may be the app you didn’t know you needed. List Price: $150.
COREL PAINTSHOP PRO X4 ULTIMATE
Don’t let the name fool you—this is a photo application, and it’s a good value, too. In addition to a broad range of native capabilities for managing and editing your photos, it includes Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3 filters built in. Also new in this version are nondestructive Adjustment Layers and a cool Selective Focus tool for simulating the look of tilt/shift lenses. List Price: $99. GENERAL EDITING
For everything from basic enhancements to more precise and intensive retouching, these all-purpose photo editors excel at handling the little details.
ADOBE PHOTOSHOP CS6
Photoshop doesn’t need an introduction. It’s arguably the most advanced and full-featured photo editor available, getting new capabilities in some cases years before the competition, though you’ll pay to be ahead of the curve, both in terms of price and complexity. Along with a new, darker interface, CS6 adds a new Content-Aware Patch and an Adaptive Wide-Angle tool to fix fish-eye and wide-angle distortions. List Price: $699.
ADOBE PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS 10
Adobe recognized that there’s a lot in Photoshop that most photographers don’t need. Photoshop Elements answers that by offering many of the most popular Photoshop abilities, but in a simplified package. New in version 10 are Guided Edits, which walk you through the steps to do things like simulate reduced depth of photo, and crop guides for better compositions using the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Ratio. List Price: $99.
ARCSOFT PHOTOSTUDIO 6
Another option for common photo edits, PhotoStudio 6 offers the basics like Magnetic Lasso selections, a cloning tool and support for multiple layers. It can work with most RAW file formats and offers an HDR option for combining three images for expanded dynamic range. It also includes handy features like the Magic-Cut function, which makes it easier to clip your subject from the background, and Face-Beautify to smooth skin for flattering portraits. List Price: $79.
CYBERLINK PHOTO DIRECTORE 4 SUITE
This combo includes PhotoDirector 4, a comprehensive photo editor, along with ColorDirector, which provides tools for enhancing video clips. PhotoDirector 4 has a robust feature set, including RAW support, brushes to apply local adjustments, plus portrait-retouching capabilities and more. ColorDirector makes it easy to correct the exposure color in your video clips so all of your clips will match in the final movie. List Price: $149.
DIGITAL LIGHT &?COLOR PICTURE WINDOW 6
This application has been a Photoshop competitor for nearly 20 years, offering a complete set of tools for pro photo editing, including lens-correction capabilities, HDR compositing and RAW file support. There’s also output features for making prints, page layouts and multimedia slideshows. New in version 6 is full 64-bit processing support, a noise-reduction tool and the ability to "drag and drop" adjustments from one image in a series to another. List Price: $89.
This application is only available for Mac OS, but if that’s you, definitely check out Pixelmator as a Photoshop alternative. Practically every photo-editing feature you can imagine is here, including intelligent retouching brushes, support for layers and a variety of special effects. There’s also text, shape, painting and drawing tools—it’s a very complete package. For all of the power of Pixelmator, it’s also incredibly affordable. List Price: $59. EFFECTS & PLUG-INS
Going beyond basic photo processing, these applications make creative enhancements and specialized adjustments easy, fast and fun.
ALIEN SKIN BOKEH 2
Alien Skin makes several great Photoshop plug-ins, including Bokeh 2, which lets you easily apply a variety of lens effects, such as simulating tilt/shift lenses and realistic depth-of-field reduction. New in this version is the ability to apply multiple effects to an image in different areas of it and grain matching to replace the grain structure that’s normally blurred after applying these types of effects. List Price: $199.
ANTHROPICS PORTRAIT PROFESSIONAL 10
If you shoot a lot of portraits, check out Portrait Professional, an incredibly powerful tool for smoothing and perfecting complexions and refining facial features quickly and easily. A step-by-step process walks you through the adjustments. Three versions are available: Standard, Studio and Studio 64. The Studio version adds RAW file support, 48-bit color and batch processing; Studio 64 also adds optimization for 64-bit operating systems and unlimited file sizes. The Studio editions are offered as a standalone and as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Aperture. List Price: From $62.
ATHENTECH PERFECTLY CLEAR
This plug-in is a set of 12 one-step corrections you can quickly apply to improve exposure, reduce noise, remove color tints, improve skins tones, adjust contrast and sharpening, and more. Designed to deliver ideal enhancements automatically, you can tweak the results using simple slider controls, if you prefer. List Price: $199.
NIK SOFTWARE SILVER EFEX PRO 2
Nik Software is another leading plug-in maker, with an array of popular titles, including Color Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro. Silver Efex Pro 2 is one of our favorites; it’s a powerful, highly controllable application for converting your color photos to black-and-white images that pop
. Forget the basic conversion tool in your photo editor; if you like to work in black-and-white, this is one application you should definitely try. List Price: $199.
ONONE SOFTWARE PERFECT MASK 5
Perfect Mask takes a lot of the pain out of isolating your subject from the background, letting you do in a few minutes what could otherwise take much, much longer. New in this version is a library of backgrounds you can use for your portraits. onOne makes a variety of other great Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture plug-ins, and standalone applications, too, including Focal Point for simulating lens effects and Perfect Portrait for retouching people. List Price: $99.
TIFFEN DFX 3
Tiffen Dfx 3 Digital Filter Suite simulates dozens of classic Tiffen optical filters, but it does much more than that. It also can re-create the look of specialized lenses, lab processes, film grain and more. Plus, it includes tools to fix common photo problems like red eye, compression artifacts and noise. It’s available as a standalone application or as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. List Price: $169 (standalone); $229 (Photoshop).