In the Windows world, photographers looking for an alternative to Adobe Photoshop that will save them cash without skimping on power typically have turned to Corel’s PaintShop Photo Pro. The program has consistently kept pace with the evolving needs of shutterbugs over the years and the latest “X3” version (US$99) of the software continues that tradition.
Among the new features in X3 are a number of improvements to enhance a photographer’s workflow. Workflow is important to shooters because once an image is captured, they are going to want to find it again eventually.
With X3, photos can be displayed in multiple views for quick scanning.
When a photog makes changes in one photo that he or she wants to apply to many images, it can be done with X3’s new batch processing feature.
Express Lab, a feature that permits an imagesmith to apply multiple editing tools — noise removal, sharpening, contrast adjustment and tone mapping — with a single click has been enhanced to make it easier to use.
Local tone mapping is new to X3. It allows a shooter to modify the dynamic range of a photo. It’s useful for recovering detail in a photo with large discrepancies between the light and dark areas in it.
Better RAW Support
Past versions of PaintShop Photo haven’t been as friendly to RAW image formats as they should have been. RAW is a common format used by professional photographers. RAW images contain more information than other formats, which ditch data to keep their files smaller.
A problem with RAW files, though, is they vary from camera to camera. Nikon has its own RAW format; so does Canon, Olympus and other camera makers. With X3, Corel has boosted its RAW support to more than 20 formats, as well as more than 50 other image file types.
Better yet, X3 allows lensslingers to edit RAW images while they’re being loaded, an enhancement that will definitely improve workflow for the program’s users.
In addition, the batch feature works on RAW files so groups of them can be converted into the other formats supported by the program.
Corel is claiming speed improvements for X3 over its predecessors. Although in Windows 7, the main program did seemed to be peppier than previous versions, its “project creator” ran lethargically by comparison.
Project Creator is a standalone program that can be used to spawn things like photo books, greeting cards, photo collages, calendars and slide shows.
With video becoming de rigueur for digital still cameras these days, Corel has beefed up X3’s slideshow capabilities to include HD video. The slideshow application may satisfy photogs interested in quick and simple production values, but the program is pretty primitive compared to other offerings in the market.
Project Creator also contains modules for sharing photos and slideshows on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
Another nice addition incorporated into the Project Creator is a backup utility for saving photos to an optical disc.
Knockouts to Die For
A number of editing tools have been introduced in X3, too.
Objects can be removed from an image with “Smart Carver.” This feature can also be used to expand or contract objects without distorting them.
There’s also a new vibrancy tool that permits a shooter to enhance the saturation in image areas where the color appears weak.
A big challenge to photo editors is “knocking out” objects from a photo. The task is even more challenging when the object has fine detail on its edges like hair or fur. Corel has removed much of the travail in creating sharp knock outs with its new Object Extractor feature. Its abilities are remarkable.
Artistic and Plug-in Bonuses
An irritating aspect of past versions of PaintShop Photo was the way it handled text on a image. Text was created in a separate window, which made it difficult to assess the placement and look of the letters on the photo.
That’s changed in X3. Now everything about the text — font, size, color, placement, position and wrapping — is done directly on the image where it can be instantly visualized.
If an editor leaves the image and dislikes the text when he or she returns, it can be reselected and modified. That’s so much easier than previous versions of the program.
In addition to X3, Corel is including as a bonus Painter Photo Essentials 4. It gives a photog an artist’s smock and lets him or her turn a photo into “art” with artistic effects. Some of those effects — brush strokes, charcoal, colored pencils and such — are built into X3, but Photo Essentials has greater variety.
Another extra included with X3 are KPT plug-in filters. They enable offbeat effects to be applied to photos such as smearing colors like fingerpaint and adding artificial lens flare.
Although some of its new “creative” additions lack the robustness of their standalone competitors, Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 is strong where it counts for advanced photographers. Its workflow improvements and powerful new editing tools make it a worthwhile upgrade for many users of its previous versions.