ACDSee Gemstone Photo Editor 12 is a handy program that combines an intuitive design, layer-based editing, and RAW processing into an affordable package.
But given the bevy of editors available in 2022, is Gemstone really worth buying? That’s what I explore in this review.
I’ve spent weeks putting ACDSee Gemstone through its paces, and I share all my findings below. So if you’re ready to discover whether Gemstone is a top-notch photo editor – and more importantly, whether it’s right for you – then let’s get started.
Gemstone Photo Editor 12: the basics
On the surface, Gemstone Photo Editor seems to have it all. For significantly less than a hundred dollars, you get:
- A powerful RAW editor
- Layers and masks
- Adjustment tools to rival Photoshop
- Handy filters
- AI-based quick actions
- A handful of helpful tools, including brushes and selection wands
- Graphic-design tools capable of producing text and shapes
In fact, you can use Gemstone to cover your entire photography – and even graphic design – workflow, from RAW editing and color grading to advanced masking and more.
Is it too good to be true? Are there major flaws hiding beneath the simple layout?
Surprisingly, no. Sure, Gemstone Photo Editor 12 isn’t perfect – it lacks digital asset management capabilities, and it’s missing a few advanced features – but it performs where it counts, thanks to an intuitive interface, excellent RAW-editing capabilities, and impressive responsiveness. (If DAM is important to you, consider grabbing one of ACDSee’s other programs, such as Photo Studio Home, to work alongside Gemstone; these options offer top-notch photo-organization for reasonable prices.)
So while I explore the program’s feature set throughout the rest of this review, if you’re a beginner in need of a fast, easy-to-use, powerful editor, then I highly recommend you check out Gemstone. It’s currently available for a free trial, though you can also grab a lifetime license for just $79.99.
Now let’s take a closer look at Gemstone’s individual features, starting with:
Layout and ease of use
ACDSee Gemstone boasts a simple layout and an intuitive set of tools. If you’re new to photo editing, you’ll be up and running in no time, while veteran editors can expect to learn the program in less than an hour. It took me about 20 minutes to familiarize myself with all of Gemstone, including both the RAW editor and the Gemstone editing interface – it really is that easy.
When you first open Gemstone, you’ll see the home screen, which lets you create documents and browse for files:
Files created there will open in the standard Gemstone editor, though you do have the option to open images – including JPEGs – in ACDSee RAW, the program’s RAW editor, by tapping File>Open in ACDSee RAW, then selecting the relevant file(s).
ACDSee RAW will also open automatically if you select a RAW file to edit.
The RAW editor is simple and responsive. Images are displayed in the center of the screen, and tools for tonal adjustments, color adjustments, sharpening, and more are located on the right-hand side:
Most tools offer easy sliders, and if you’ve ever worked in Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, Luminar, or ON1, you’ll feel right at home.
You’ll also discover several additional tabs in the upper right-hand corner, which give you access to each file’s editing history, a slew of built-in presets, and a neat Snapshot functionality:
Head over to the core Gemstone editor, and you’ll find a relatively minimalistic interface. It’s similar to what you get in Adobe Photoshop or Serif Affinity, but it’s much less overwhelming; the panels don’t jump out from every corner, the tools don’t overflow, and the whole program just feels more manageable.
On the right-hand side, you’ll find your Layers panel, which allows you to stack and blend layers for high-level edits and beautiful composites.
And on the left-hand side, you’ll find a reasonable number of tools, including several selection tools, a text tool, a brush, and a gradient tool.
Making adjustments in Gemstone Photo Editor is easy. Hit the Adjustment icon, select from the list of options, then apply changes in the panel that appears:
Note that Gemstone is a multiple-document interface, or MDI, program. In other words, you can open several documents at once, which display as tabs by default but can also be arranged into split-screen (and other, more complicated) designs.
Bottom line: While Gemstone features plenty of tools for professionals, the sparse design creates a smooth editing experience that’s perfect for beginners, while the MDI functionality lets you adjust the interface to fit your requirements. It’s a capable program, but it remains simple and unintimidating enough to appeal to users of all stripes.
As I mentioned above, Gemstone technically includes two editors: the core editor, with its tools and adjustment layers, and ACDSee RAW, designed to process RAW images.
In this section, I evaluate the editing features offered by these two modules.
The ACDSee RAW editor offers everything you need to prepare your RAW photos for online sharing or further editing – whether you’re an absolute beginner or a serious professional.
Right off the bat, you have a General editing panel, which lets you fine-tune the exposure, adjust the contrast and clarity, and tweak the saturation and vibrance. Directly below is the White Balance panel, perfect for efficient color correction.
I’ve always been impressed by ACDSee’s color-editing tools – they’re miles beyond the tools offered by other programs – and Gemstone continues this trend; Color EQ, Color Wheel, Split Tone, Color LUTs, and Tone Wheels offer various degrees of color-adjustment freedom (my personal favorite is Color Wheel, which lets you carefully target specific colors in your images for saturation, brightness, and contrast adjustments, among others). If you’re into color grading, and/or you hope to one day create color-graded images on the level of top professional photographers, then Gemstone’s color-adjustment tools will give you a huge boost.
The advanced tonal adjustment tools are nice, too, plus ACDSee tacks on a few extra panels for good measure, including a Soft Focus panel (which creates a beautiful glow effect) and a Post-Crop Vignette panel (great for adding finishing touches to your work). Then there’s the Detail tab – for sharpening and noise reduction – the Geometry tab – for fixing lens and perspective distortion – and the Repair tab – which features a Heal tool, a Clone tool, and a Blended Clone tool, perfect for removing unwanted blemishes and objects from your photos.
What’s more, many edits can be applied locally by way of a Develop Brush, Linear Gradient, or Radial Gradient (and these local adjustment tools are highly responsive, especially compared to some of the sluggish RAW editors on the market).
At the end of the day, ACDSee RAW is more functional than most of the other RAW editors on the market and highly capable of pro-level editing, yet it never becomes overwhelming. The one drawback of Gemstone’s RAW editor compared to editors like Lightroom and Capture One is the lack of digital asset management. In other words, it doesn’t allow you to organize your files – though you can always get this done via ACDSee Photo Studio Home or with desktop folder structures (though I generally wouldn’t recommend the latter!).
The core editor is where Gemstone really shines; here, ACDSee has packed in genuine power without sacrificing on ease of use (see above!). Editing takes place via adjustment layers, and there are a lot of them: Exposure, Curves, Split Tone, Gradient Map, and so much more. Serious editors can have fun with advanced color grades, local adjustments, and compositing, while beginners will enjoy exploring the array of handy tools.
And where layer editing isn’t feasible or desirable, Gemstone offers Filters. These adjustments are applied directly to an image, and while many overlap with Gemstone adjustment layers, some do not. For instance, the Repair Tools Filter lets you quickly cut out background distractions and/or remove blemishes, and the Liquify Filter lets you carefully sculpt your image for effect.
Are you interested in graphic design? Then you’ll love Gemstone’s text and shape tools. You can add text to create website banners and posters, plus you can have fun with shape creation. Seasoned graphic designers may find the tools lacking in flexibility, but they’re perfect for graphic-design beginners and design-savvy photographers.
Of course, no layer editor would be complete without selecting and masking, and I’m happy to say that Gemstone offers a satisfying array of select-and-mask tools. You can make selections via the Lasso tool, the Magic Wand tool, the Brush Selection tool, and plenty more (including a cool Luminance/Color Range selection tool hidden in the dropdown menus). The Brush Selection tool is my favorite, which – when combined with its neat Smart Brushing feature – is highly accurate, and can easily handle complex selections for sky-swaps, background-replacements, and more.
Masking is well implemented, too, and lets you display or hide portions of your layers to create stunning composites, target adjustments, and add beautiful effects.
If all that sounds a bit daunting, don’t fret; ACDSee has included an extra panel in the top-right corner, called Quick Actions, which uses AI technology to make quick selections and adjustments to your photos.
For instance, tap the Remove Background action, and Gemstone will vanish the background of your selected image:
And tap the Select Subject action to automatically select your main subject.
The tools do a good job even if they aren’t always perfect. And to be fair, AI-based tools never are (at least, not yet!). Plus, some of the selections can be modified after the fact for even better results.
After experimenting with Gemstone’s core editing features, I’m genuinely impressed. The program isn’t packed with tools and extra options, but it has plenty of power, it’s easy to use, and the AI tools are a very nice touch, especially for beginners.
I’m always apprehensive when trying a new photo editor, especially one with layer- or AI-based features. While post-processing programs are more comprehensive than ever, plenty of editors suffer from serious lag – and for me, that makes them essentially unusable.
Which is why I’m happy to report that ACDSee Gemstone Photo Editor offers excellent performance.
Your experience will depend on your computer specs, but I tested every aspect of the program, from RAW editing and smart selection to brushing and layer creation, and I rarely ran into issues. The tools were snappy, my brushes never lagged behind the cursor, and I was able to apply selections and masks instantly. The Quick Actions did require a few moments to work, but that’s to be expected and won’t massively slow down your workflow.
ACDSee indicates required and recommended hardware and software on the Gemstone page, which includes:
- RAM: 4 GB (8 GB is recommended)
- Processor: Intel or AMD (Intel i5 and above is recommended)
- VRAM: 512 MB
- Screen resolution: 1024×768 (1920×1080 resolution is recommended)
- Storage space: 2 GB
- OS: Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or Windows 11
Note that ACDSee Gemstone is a Windows-only program, so if you’re a Mac user, you’re out of luck.
Gemstone Photo Editor is available for a one-time payment of $79.99. There are no monthly or yearly subscription costs, nor are there any paid upgrades, so once you’ve paid, that’s it – you have access to the editor for life.
It’s a pretty sweet deal. For comparison, a year of Lightroom costs $120, a lifetime Capture One license costs $299, and even Photoshop Elements costs $99.99. Luminar Neo is priced on par with Gemstone (it’s $79), but it’s nowhere near as flexible and suffers from major lag issues.
If you’re on the fence, ACDSee does offer a free 30-day trial; that way, you can download the software, test it out, and see what you think.
Gemstone Photo Editor review: verdict
Gemstone Photo Editor may not be the flashiest post-processing program on the market, but the simple design, intuitive interface, and great set of tools make it an excellent option for beginners, and it’s both powerful and flexible enough to satisfy serious editors in need of a responsive, no-nonsense program.
You can use the ACDSee RAW editor to process your RAW files – and then, as you gain in skill, you can enhance your photos further with layer-based adjustments, Filters, and even compositing.
The price is great, too, so if you’re looking to get started with photo editing (and even a bit of graphic design), I highly recommend you give Gemstone a shot. Grab a license or download a free trial, then start making edits! Gemstone is impressively easy to use, so you’re bound to see stunning results in no time at all.
Finally, to learn more about Gemstone, check out this video:
Disclaimer: ACDSee is a paid partner of dPS.