Buyer's Guide 2008: Photo-Processing Software
Today’s software offers us a big range of choices in how we work and play with our images
Digital Light & Color Picture Window Pro 4.0
Picture Window is a low-priced, full-featured image-processing program that offers Photoshop-like controls at a fraction of the price. This includes full 16-bit processing, curves and histogram adjustments, color-management controls, advanced sharpening with noise reduction, batch processing for automated processing workflow and built-in RAW image support. Batch processing even runs in the background so you can continue to work on images in the program itself, though it requires that you have a significant amount of RAM for it to run at its fastest. The program has an extensive set of controls for helping improve lens quality, correcting for such things as chromatic aberration, barrel distortion, pincushion distortion and light falloff. A new feature is the Image Review slideshow function, which lets you quickly review large images that you can mark to keep or reject as you go (this is common in more expensive programs, but not in programs at this price). Picture Window Pro is Windows-only, with an estimated street price of $89.
Nikon Capture NX
For a long time, Nikon Capture was simply Nikon's RAW-conversion program. It was a very good conversion program, but that was essentially it's primary use. NX changes everything and is now a program that's worth examining by photographers shooting any brand of camera. NX uses U Point technology from Nik Software, which offers a radically different way of processing images than any other program on the market today. Just click a control point on the photo and begin adjusting such things as exposure, contrast and color. But the cool thing is that the program smartly looks for other tones and colors in the photo to adjust them similarly. You can tell it to look for those tones and colors nearby or over all of the photo and how restricted it must be in looking for them. The program then smartly finds the colors and tones. The result is that you can adjust individual areas of a photo, both tonality and color, just like using layers and layer masks, but without using either. You can do this to RAW (Nikon NEF only), JPEG or TIFF files. Once you get used to the idea of clicking on specific points and defining their parameters, this method of image processing is very fast and easy to do. Capture NX has an estimated street price of $129.
Ulead PhotoImpact 12
PhotoImpact may be last in this alphabetical list, but it's certainly no slouch in capabilities. PhotoImpact has been around a long time, gradually developing to its present state over many years. It has useful one-click fixes in its Express Fix mode that work quite well. The program has always had full-featured image editing, but now it includes 16-bit and RAW. One feature PhotoImpact has always been known for is its very strong automated effects. Ulead was one of the first programs of this type to offer photographic-like automated controls to mimic such things as colored filters or processing for special color and tonal effects. This is still one of the best places to find special effects such as snow, fireworks or lightning-all special effects are easily controlled for unique looks. And, finally, this is the only program of any listed here to offer full, 3D graphics effects for text. PhotoImpact 12 is Windows-only, with a street price of $89.