Adobe is planning to unleash another version of Photoshop in the form of Adobe Photoshop CS6 on us. It’s an industry-standard program, but at almost $900, that’s more than quite a few DSLRs and some great lenses. There’s no denying that it’s the best imaging editing program out there, but the price only really makes it viable for professionals and high-end enthusiasts who earn out of it, to take full advantage of the controls it offers. Every two year new versions comes out and we are tempted to upgrade. I wanted to search for an able alternative in free software world. Here are the few I chose from a vast list of software out there. This will not be an extensive review but a brief feature survey for you to assess which software is suitable for your need.
Here are my picks of the best free software applications for photographers like GIMP 2.6.12, Picasa 3.9.0, Photoscape 3.6.1, Raw Therapee 184.108.40.206, Serif PhotoPlus starter Edition 220.127.116.11. I also tested few purely online photo editors like Photoshop Express, Pixlr, Fotoflexer.
GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. If you are looking for a free and equally impressive featured alternative to Photoshop then GIMP will satisfy you well. Even though it looks like pre-CS version of Photoshop it has a basic layout which will be familiar to all Photoshop users. From basic cropping and resizing to correcting barrel distortion, GIMP is an all-encompassing piece of software that will solve a number of issues for those unwilling to shell out on a more expensive application.
For starters PSD files (layered files from Photoshop) can be opened and altered, making it incredibly useful as a converter. A Histogram, which can be divided in red, green and blue channels, is also present and can be utilized to alter exposure and color balance. The interface can be moved around, adapting to the available space on your monitor, making it perfect for the likes of net-books and desktop computers. A clone tool, healing tool and perspective clone tool are present for more in-depth photo fixes, as is the ability to create and manipulate Alpha Channels and multiple layers. Because GIMP is multi-platform there are no restrictions on using a Linux setup, nor Windows or Mac GIMP is an excellent solution for those not wanting to pay for Photoshop, as the functionality is extremely close.
An organization and editing package, aimed at sharing your images through the various internet options that Google hosts. Picasa gathers your images for easy upload, and even offers some basic editing functionality. The editing is essentially a number of customizable filters, each with a few sliding controls to alter the severity of the effects. There are also a number of corrective settings to utilize, such as brightness, as well as the ability to re-size or save into other formats. An impressive number of formats can be imported, from JPEG to PSD and a whole host of Raw files.
The links to Google are apparent from the get-go, with their Google+ social networking site prominent as an export option. This doesn’t mean other social networking sites are excluded though, as Twitter can be exported to directly and Facebook via a third-party plug-in. The interface is friendly, with large buttons and simple icons. Because Picasa isn’t particularly concerned with the likes of layers and Alpha Channels there isn’t a massive amount of clutter either, which is especially helpful for rapid alterations. Unlike GIMP, Picasa is perfect for absolute beginners, as the program needs far less time spent fiddling with settings. That being said there is a lack of frequently-used functions, such as a clone tool which I soaringly missed in Picasa. Picasa is available for both PC & Mac platforms, but no Linux version released yet.
More of a converter and organizer than a photo editor, this Windows-only program displays images in a friendly manner and offers some basic editing.
Editor allows very few correction as compared to other editors I have reviewed. There are tools for resizing, brightness and color adjustment, white balance, back light correction, frames, balloons, mosaic mode, adding text, drawing pictures, cropping, filters, red eye removal, blooming, paint brush, clone stamp, effect brush. The layout and manner in which the tools are selected (drop-down menus rather than icons) seems a touch archaic.
Raw Therapee 18.104.22.168
A Raw processing program with the ability to make the kind of on-the-fly adjustments that Lightroom is capable of, from simple level changes through to tinkering with the white balance and cropping. It is a multi-platform tool which works on PC, Mac as well as Linux. Looking much like a low-rent version of Lightroom the layout is very straightforward, with tools to the right, images placed centrally and the browser on the left. Moving the window to fill a larger space can cause the icons to merge into one another, showing the homemade nature of RawTherapee.
Thankfully the program churns through the majority of tasks with relative ease, making opening a number of different Raw files extremely simple. The lack of presentational flair also seems to be to the benefit of the start-up and processing times, as both are impressively rapid. Any alterations are saved within a selectable history and viewed side- by-side with the original. There are a few gimmicky features but most of the controls are aimed towards correcting and tweaking – and with Raw files this is a good level of control. The ability to do batch conversions will be perfect for an aspiring pro photographer. There is considerable learning curve as a number of the tools are poorly labelled. It is an excellent and able alternative to Lightroom.
Serif PhotoPlus starter Edition 22.214.171.124
A scaled-down version of Serif PhotoPlus X4, which offers the same interface with a few tools locked out. As the program is now on the X5 version you get a decent impression of how the software will work while being able to import, edit and export images. As a result of the restricted version of the software, PhotoPlus Starter can import but only perform basic Raw file editing, misses out on HDR photo merge automation and no dedicated extension programs for fixing or cutting out images.
The likes of the clone and select tools are still very much present within the software. What bugged me most was the registration process and the insertion of license key which is sent via e-mail for this restricted software. This is available in PC only version. The installer file tries to install ad-ware, and my antivirus software was going berserk when I was trying to download software from their website. 128MB download is not resume-able and I failed once to download fully, another time due to antivirus alert to the ad-ware. Finally after asking my antivirus to shut-up, I could download it. My advice is better stay away from this good but crippled software as there are many other able alternatives exist.
Photoshop Express can be accessed as online editing tool, can run on IOS hardware’s like iPhone & iPads after downloading via app market. There is an Android version too which can be downloaded via Google Play Store. It is an online version of very basic Photoshop, albeit a stripped-down variation with more concentration on organizing and sharing. The usability of this program depends heavily on your internet connection speed, but once uploaded is reasonably rapid. The first step in the process is to upload files which, once again, is affected by the available connection. For this reason it’s worth keeping the files you edit below 5MB, and not more than 10MB at once. Files larger than 5Mb are not editable. There’s a 2GB limit on the number of images stored, and only JPEGs can be uploaded, meaning that this isn’t for Raw shooters.
Once the files do make it online, Albums can be made, and basic editing performed. The likes of exposure can’t be tweaked in fine detail, with the adjustments in a handful of steps instead. What is there is fairly powerful, though, with each image accompanied by an adjusted preview thumbnail of your photo. Once the edit has been completed the program can print direct or download, with several sharing options on offer. Moving past the restrictions of using an internet connection, Photoshop Express is incredibly useful when you’re traveling without a laptop, or if you’re at a friend’s house wanting to access some images. It recently got an upgrade in IOS & Android environment to a paid app called Photoshop Touch with some more functionality.
As online photo editors go, Pixlr is pretty impressive. Not only is there no sign-up involved in order to start editing, but it has the same functionality as plenty of installed programs. The interface is extremely familiar and the options plentiful as well. Pixlr combines image design and paint tools with photo editing and adjustment features more convincingly than any other online image editing program.
Pixlr is equally capable of producing results on par with many of its software-based counterparts. It beats most of the installable post-processors hands down on feature capability. Yet, despite its deep feature-set, Pixlr remains facile, intuitive and, most importantly, user-friendly. There is a fully customizable user interface with movable and scalable windows. Navigation-free drop-down menus featuring all filters, adjustment and layering options. Design is intuitive and paint features with a dedicated history window for reference and quick undo/redo. I was very impressed with its functionality and it scores as the one of the best online editors available now since closure of other two contenders – Picnik.com & flauntR.com
Another web-based program, much like Photoshop Express, with the ability to import and edit from the likes of Facebook. Impressively featured, but a touch basic-looking, this site is useful for those wanting to access images from social media sites and edit them. It has Layering feature also contains lots of visuals effects. But it lacks novice-friendly hand holding for advanced features.
You can’t simply click an image and open it in FotoFlexer. Hi-res mode slows performance. No printing option. FotoFlexer has parts that would satisfy the casual and hardcore image editor, yet manages to alienate both by not giving the former enough hand-holding, nor the latter enough freedom to save files as they wish, or send to printer.
Corel Aftershot Pro
Bonus: In fact I also reviewed the new entrant into the field which is trying to give a stiff competition to Adobe Lightroom, Corel Aftershot Pro. New, first-generation app from Corel, After Shot Pro draws on technology from the company’s acquisition of Bibble Labs and from its own PaintShop Pro. This is not a free software like the others ($99.99) It has most of the features similar to Lightroom with fast display of large raw files, good auto-correction.
It accepts and includes industry-standard plug-ins. Unfortunately import feature is week, interface could be friendlier and there is no dual-monitor support. Very limited camera and lens profiles. No red-eye correction. No Web or e-mail sharing features. With Adobe cutting Lightroom’s cost to $149, Corel needs to step up its game if it wants a serious contender in the photo workflow space. Only positive feature I felt was that it is multi-platform software being produced for PC, Mac & Linux as against the Lightroom.
So after all these, which is my favorite software? I liked almost all of them. Rawtherapee & Pixlr both scored very well among these. I have missed quite a few softwares in this review like Photo.net,Irfanview and FastStone Image Viewer. Many online services like Picnik.com, flauntR.com are closing down. What I advice you is to try all these tools and keep what you like and discard what you don’t like. Have a Happy Ugadi and a great photo editing experience.