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ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 Review

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It’s not unusual for photo-editing software to be multifunctional. Any combination of browser, raw processor and pixel editor is normal. ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 offers a slightly different blend of digital asset management (DAM) and pixel editing. In this article, we’ll see what this combo can do for you.

ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 - View Mode
View Mode in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020

What is DAM Software?

Many programs that help you organize photos are, rightly or wrongly, described as DAM software. An example of this is the now-discontinued “Picasa.”

With that popular program, you could browse photos, edit them, add metadata, assign keywords, create albums, mark photos as favorites, and so on. It was comprehensive. But was it DAM?

What is DAM?

A defining feature of real DAM software is its ability to create a database of your photos. Lightroom does that, as does ACDSee Photo Studio Home.

These products aren’t just an extension of your OS. They record things, like the location of your photos and all the metadata attached to them. And they create thumbnails so you can fly through your collection at high speed whether you’re connected to it or not. This is what separates DAM software from fancy browsers.

First three modes for browsing and DAM

In ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020, the first three modes are for browsing and DAM. The modes are as follows:

  • Manage Mode is where you can browse folders, filter out photos, create stuff like slideshows and contact sheets, and send images to various photo platforms. You can switch between photo editors from here, too, in case you have other software with different functionality. Manage Mode is the hub of the software. You can even add geographical data to photos from here using the Map tool and reverse geocoding.
  • Photos Mode is great if you want to see everything on your drive within a short space of time. Let’s say you need to root out photos without any keywords or identifying data—this is the place to do it. This mode lets you see all content at once, whether it’s in folders or subfolders, so there’s no hiding place when you’re trying to find specific pictures.
  • View Mode gives you a nice big preview of your photos one-by-one, and it’s quick. This is a good place for assessing the content of your photos and grading them. (In another article, I suggest a workflow for this software). You can scrutinize the technical quality of TIFFs and JPEGs* in this mode, too. A nice feature of View Mode is the set of experimental tools it gives you, which you can apply to the picture without committing to the edit.

*Note that View Mode is not a good place for assessing critical sharpness in raw files, as the software displays the embedded JPEG to maintain speed. This JPEG looks especially poor at 100%, but it’s fine for assessing content and composition.

Fast photo browsing in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020
Photos Mode. This mode shows all images, whether in folders or subfolders.

Importing and Cataloging

When it comes to importing files into ACDSee software, you don’t need to do it at all.

The software accesses the folder system of your OS, so it’s enough just to copy and paste the files onto your hard drive. They are added to the ACDSee database automatically when you browse them later. That being said, you can import files via the software if you want and adjust filenames or add metadata while you’re doing it.

If you need to catalog lots of pictures without browsing them all first, you can do that too in Manage or Photos modes. This is especially useful when you first start using the software, though you must wait a while for the process to complete.

Getting organized

It’s all very well cataloging your photos, but there’s still a way to go before they’re genuinely searchable.

In Manage and View Modes of Photo Studio Home 2020, you can open the Properties panel to the right-hand side. It’s here that you add keywords, captions, ratings, color labels, and categories to your photos.

ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 - IPTC data
I advise working on keywords in the ACDSee Metadata tab, then copying and pasting them into the IPTC field if you want them to be readable elsewhere. Alas, there’s no button to make this task quicker.

You can use any or all of these features to make your photos searchable, grade them, and track them in your workflow. In a recent sponsored article, I suggested using ratings to grade the quality of your photos and color labels to mark your workflow progress. This is a common use of these tools.

Keywords

Keywords make your photos searchable using a variety of criteria. For instance, you can add different photographic techniques to keywords as well as describing the subject of the photo. How thorough you should be in keywording depends on your needs, but you can import keyword lists to avoid having to create them yourself. That’s a new feature in 2020, and it saves loads of time.

Keywords
This was a raw file developed in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020. The conversion is fine for non-problematic images that you want to quickly get online or share without changing your camera settings.

To Tag or not to Tag

To the top left of the properties panel is a check box for “tagging” images. This is a good way to highlight your keepers and reject the rest (or vice versa).

It’d be nice if ACDSee added the ability to proactively reject photos with a dedicated reject flag. As things stand, an untagged file could be one that you’ve simply missed.

Image Baskets

A favorite ACDSee feature of mine is the image basket. This is like a virtual folder, where you can gather image files from various places without physically moving or copying them. It’s very handy for working on quick projects without cluttering up your drive with duplicate files. You can use image baskets for purposes of viewing, editing and sharing.

Face Detection and Recognition

ACDSee software is good at detecting faces, at least when they’re not obscured, and it’s impressively good at recognizing them thereafter.

Often, you only have to name a person once for the software to learn facial features. There are obvious limitations. It won’t necessarily recognize faces across several decades, for instance. But this feature is decidedly useful for cataloging pictures of friends and family.

Face detection technology - face recognition technology
ACDSee software asks for confirmation that this is Marcel Proust. It’s seen one picture of him at this point, so that’s pretty good going.

Edit Mode

Two-thirds of ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 is DAM software, aimed at getting your photos organized and being able to find them with ease. If that was all you got for your money, it’d already be good value. But there’s also an Edit Mode where you can work on rendered files (e.g. JPEGs, TIFFs) and get them looking good.

What about raw files?

You can open most types of raw files in Photo Studio Home 2020, but there’s no develop module like there is in ACDSee Ultimate, for instance, so you don’t get to choose the processing parameters.

If you want to benefit fully from shooting raw, you should link this ACDSee software to a raw editor and switch between programs. That, theoretically, would be a higher-quality workflow than having to address technical issues after conversion. And you still have the DAM side of the software for cataloging and grading your raw files.

ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 - raw files
This is why you can’t judge the technical quality of raw files in ACDSee View Mode (where they’re best viewed at low magnifications). The inset shows the same file at 100% in Edit Mode.

Edit Mode features

A bit like Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop CC, there are things missing in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 that aren’t missing in ACDSee Ultimate. For instance, there’s no 16-bit color support, no layers, no perspective tool, no dehaze, no dodge and burn, and no Color EQ™. But these absent features are all forgivable since there’s a ton of stuff you do get.

Photo watermarks and logos - ACDSee Photo Studio Home
Using the watermark feature in Edit Mode to place a logo (quickly created elsewhere) into the corner.

Color and Tone

For basic work on color and tone, there are the usual levels and curves tools.

In fact, these tools are nicely implemented by ACDSee, with a built-in histogram and an exposure warning that tells you when you’re losing detail with your edits. You also get a basic version of the proprietary Light EQ™ tool, which lets you adjust shadows, mid-tones, and highlights separately.

Given that many people only use the basic version of this tool anyway, this is a valuable inclusion.

Photo exposure warning - clipping display
The levels tool in Edit Mode. The exposure warning draws attention to blown highlights and blocked shadows.

Cloning and Healing

I should mention once more that the clone tool does not work for me in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 (nor its predecessor). I just get a black screen. That seems trivial when set against everything that does work, but it’s still a tad irritating. I can use the heal tool a lot of the time instead, though its pixel-blending function is a bit different.

Creative Tools

ACDSee could be forgiven for providing the bare minimum of Editing tools, but they go beyond that. You get a cross-section of some of their most creative features. Under the “Add” filter menu, for instance, you’ll find Special Effects. And there are many of them for you to try.

I like the “Orton” effect, which smooths details for a dream-like appearance.

ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 - special effects
The Purple Haze special effect at 50% opacity. Try experimenting with blending modes to see what else you can achieve with these effects.

You can modify all edits with blending modes, opacity, gradients and the Edit Brush. This means you can adjust localized areas of your photo a bit like you can in Adobe Lightroom and other programs. What you can’t do is work on multiple edits at the same time, but this is still useful versatility.

ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 Review - radial gradient
A radial gradient placed over a black and white LUT, causing color to fade out towards the edges. You can make this kind of localized edit using gradients or the Edit Brush. (Not all LUTs are color, despite ACDSee’s nomenclature.)

The Tilt-Shift filter appears under the “Add” menu.

The temptation with this is always to dig out high-angle views and create that miniaturized effect where buildings, people, and vehicles look like toys.

However, you can try this filter out on other subjects, altering their depth of field and bokeh. It works quite well on close-ups of flowers, for example.

tilt-shift filter on flower - ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020
An atypical use of the tilt-shift tool, creating a very soft “bokeh” outside the center of this flower.

You’ll find the Convert to Black & White filter under the “Color” menu.

This lets you fine-tune your black-and-white conversions by adjusting brightness and contrast in all the colors that make up your picture. Also present here is the equivalent of Photoshop’s Channel Mixer, where you adjust the red, green, and blue (RGB) sliders to achieve your conversion, making sure the total value is at or under 100%.

convert to black and white ACDSee
Simple use of the Convert to Black and White filter. I’ve lowered brightness in greens and increased it in yellows and oranges to create pleasing contrast in this picture.

Color LUTs are found under the “Color” menu, too. These have become popular in recent years, allowing users to mimic the world of movie production by applying color grades to their pictures. The effect is often radical.

ACDSee comes with some color LUTs built in, but you can download more from various sources on the Internet.

Color LUT - orange and teal - color grading - ACDSee Photo Studio Home
The ACDSee “Film” color LUT adds a classic orange and teal look to pictures as well as increasing contrast. This color grading is often seen in movies or TV series.

Summing it up

Genuine DAM software, the kind that catalogs your photos, often costs well over $100. Or it’s part of a subscription plan that locks you in annually. ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 is appealing not only for its affordability but because it’s a great photo manager, period. On top of that, it’s a raw opener and pixel polisher with plenty of scope for creativity.

Orton special effect
“Orton” special effect, faded towards the top using a gradient.

If you’re sold on the benefits of shooting and editing raw files, you could pair this software with RawTherapee or DarkTable without spending more cash. Whatever you choose to do, rest assured it’s impossible to waste money on ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020. This software is easy to use but has a depth that far belies its price.

Have you tried this software? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

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Glenn Harper
Glenn Harper

is a writer, photographer, and all-around good guy. For almost 20 years, his photos have been licensed and syndicated through European photo libraries, resulting in publication all over the world. In the early 2000s he dabbled in writing for UK photo magazines, but then lost track of time. He’s okay with a camera, knows a fair bit about stuff and is here to help.