ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 was released recently and it has a lot of options included in a single software program. It offers a combination of features covered by the likes of Lightroom, Bridge, and Photoshop in one setup at a competitive price.
Depending on your skill level, it caters to beginner through to advanced users. This new 2018 version combines previously standalone programs into one with some new features added. Development for future versions is also underway, so it’s an option that is undergoing improvement.
For the purposes of this article, I will be using Lightroom and Photoshop as the basis for comparison as those are the tools I currently use.
Let’s work through the usual steps that this software would be used for, from the point of view of a beginner photographer and someone new to the software as well.
- Setting up the program
- Basic layout
- Import images
- Raw image editing
- Edit mode with layers, etc.
- General comments
1. Setup and Install
Setup and installation are fairly standard. You are required to set up an account as part of the install process (I tried to skip out of it but it canceled the Install when I did) which then requires an extra registration step with an email confirmation. However, once that is done there are no other impediments to using or starting up the program.
It does allow you to choose which drive/directory/folder you want to install it into as well if you want to use a non-standard install path.
2. Basic Layout
This is the default setup upon opening up the program. It’s set to view the Pictures Library and is in Manage Mode. The modes are on the right-hand side at the top of the screen and take you to the different functions available. The Modes we will be looking at in detail are Manage, Photos, View, Develop and Edit in this article.
On the left-hand side under the File menu, are three tabs. First is the Folders tab which is the default file structure. Next is the Catalog tab which appears to allow you to view/sort images that have been rated with numbers or colors. It did pick up the color labels I had previously applied to images within Lightroom, which was interesting.
By going back to the Folder tab to select the folder and bring up the images, you can then go back into Catalog. If you select an image you are then able to rate it with a number or color.
View and Manage Modes
Back in the Folders tab in Manage Mode, if you select an image it comes up with EXIF data and a histogram in the bottom left panel. The right-hand panel pops up with all the metadata and also allows you to rate the image there as well.
Photos mode offers three different ways to view your images. In the bottom right-hand corner it has three numbers; 7, 31, and 365 – these allow you to sort by week, month or year. The above image shows the images sorted by year. You can scroll visually through all your images.
While you can move easily between Photos and Manage Modes. But if you want to go to View mode you have to click on an image within Photos Mode to open it. Double-clicking on an image in Photos mode will automatically open it in View Mode.
View Mode is similar to Adobe Bridge, where you have a filmstrip to view images at the bottom and some basic edit functions on a toolbar on the left just above the thumbnails.
Given that at this point in time no image editing has happened, and the tools are basic automated functions, you may not want to do anything here.
Develop Mode is the Raw Editor. It is laid out very similar to Lightroom except the edit panel is on the left. However, it can be customized and moved to the right if you prefer.
Edit Mode is the advanced edit functionality. This is where you find layers, masks, text, and other features generally found in Photoshop. The tool palette on the left-hand side originally went along the top of the image but I moved it.
The 365 mode offers options for subscription licensing which is probably not relevant if you bought the perpetual license.
The Dashboard Mode
The Dashboard Mode offers interesting ways of interrogating your database for information – how many files you have, what camera is used most often. It doesn’t appear to be editable beyond the data it provides so you can’t find out things like your most commonly used lens focal lengths or apertures.
The last mode is a Message Center. I had no messages to view.
In summary – there are three different ways to view your images, a raw editor, an advanced editor and other functions of less relevance.
3. Importing Images
As I have been a Lightroom user since LR3, I have several years of images already stored on my computer. I store my image files on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) so I was interested to see if they would be found and accessible, as some programs have issues with NAS functionality.
The good news is ACDSee happily found the images on my NAS and I was impressed at how quickly it loaded them up for preview. It was significantly faster than LR usually imports images and loads previews.
Therefore doing an image import test was also necessary.
File > Import >From Device found my CF card plugged into my computer and an Import Panel allowed a preview of the images, selection of images, destination choice, and file renaming. Again the image preview was very quick.
On clicking Import, a light grey box opened up in the bottom right-hand corner, with a progress bar and it flicked through all the images as it was importing them. I imported 28 images and it took less than a minute.
Once it’s finished you are asked if you want to view the imported images. Clicking Yes takes you to the image folder for viewing all the images.
4. Raw Image Editing in Develop Mode
Develop Mode is laid out very much like Lightroom. The editing panel by default is on the left-hand side but I moved it over to the right as that is my preference. The histogram is visible with the different elements of it in different colors, but you can’t click on them and move/edit them within the histogram itself.
The main edit panel is Tune, and the others are Detail (sharpness, noise reduction), Geometry (perspective, lens corrections, and crop) and Repair (Heal and Clone).
It’s not entirely obvious but the white bits with the triangle out the bottom are the sliders, and you move them to make your adjustments. You can also change the numbers or click on the arrows. It does not appear to reset to zero if you double click on the bar as the whole bar is active.
The above image has been edited with the settings visible, plus a few other panels. In general, I found it a bit more aggressive than LR would be in comparison so if you prefer a more subtle approach, be delicate with your application of the sliders.
The main blueberry in my image had a mark on the front so I decided to test out the Heal function. While it was a bit slow to apply and appeared to do it in stages, I was quite surprised at how well it worked. Upon viewing at 100%, there are some blue color blotches that would look a bit unnatural if this image was printed, but to the casual glance (or online viewing) it’s not obvious this image had been healed. A much better job than my LR6 can do.
I also experimented with other things in the Develop Mode. There is an option to copy and paste settings between images, you can apply a vignette, and tweak its settings.
To save the image there are several options. Done opens up a dialog box to Save or Save As like a standard file-save function in Windows. Save gives you a drop-down box to Save As, Save a Copy, or Export.
The Export option opens up this window which allows you to choose things like destination, change the name, format, and size. Similar to the standard Export functionality in Lightroom.
5. Edit Mode – Layers and other options
Edit Mode is where you can do the kind of editing for which Photoshop is often used. It has support for Layers, Masks, Adjustment Layers, Text, etc. I moved a few panels around to make the workspace more familiar but otherwise, the above screenshot shows the basic Edit Mode setting.
One of the new features of Edit Mode is the Actions – which seem to be a combination of LR Presets and PS Actions. They are only available in Edit Mode under Tools. There are several different categories and a Preview Browser offers an idea of what the final outcome will be.
To apply hit Play. The effect is applied directly to the base layer which is a bit limiting as you cannot edit the effect in any way and it is applied with quite a lot of enthusiasm. Adding a blank layer and applying to that didn’t work, which was a shame as you could have applied edits to the action layer that way.
For comparison, I edited my image manually by adding a couple of texture layers and masked off the heavy texture with a soft brush to have a more gentle effect.
One limitation in adding texture layers manually was not being able to drag them across from an open instance of Windows Explorer, which I can do with Photoshop.
Once you’re ready to save the file you have File>Save/Save As/Save as a Copy/Export to choose from.
6. General Comments
Looking at this from a beginner’s perspective, someone new to photography and new to editing, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 has a lot of benefits:
- It’s available as a perpetual standalone license or a subscription.
- It offers image management, RAW editing, and advanced editing features.
- For a novice, it has all the functionality you are likely to need in one program.
- Image editors are not the easiest programs to learn and use but this doesn’t make it any more complicated.
- It looks familiar in comparison with other popular programs in the market.
As an advanced user of both Lightroom and Photoshop, there are a few things that I’d prefer worked differently as follows:
- Visually the dark grey tone in the background is darker than I prefer and I was unable to easily find an option to change it.
- When adding other images or textures, it’s easier to find them in a second monitor via Windows Explorer and drag it onto my image – this is easy to do in Photoshop but ACDSee didn’t allow it in the Develop mode, only in Layers. It does have an “Add a File as a Layer” button which is a good workaround.
- In Develop Mode I was able to select a second monitor for viewing my image, but it stayed static on the original image view and didn’t reflect any of the changes I made to the image which was a bit baffling.
- If you are in Edit mode and have applied Layers to the image you cannot go back into Develop mode unless you save the flatten it. Not a really a complaint, just that it works a bit differently than I was expecting.
The full price of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 is $149.99 USD for the standalone perpetual license and there is also a free 30-day trial. It also offers a monthly (or annual) subscription which allows use on up to five devices, updates, and cloud storage as an alternative. Prices for the subscription vary depending on Personal or Business use.
At less than $150 USD for an upfront one-off cost, it offers an image management feature, a RAW image editor with a lot of features and functionality and advanced editing via layers, masks, adjustment layers and other extras.
For a beginner to either photography or editing, there is a lot on offer with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018. Yes, it has some quirks and annoyances in comparison to other programs but nothing that renders it difficult to use.
As a package to get a beginner started and provide everything you are likely to need, this is a competitive software solution for the general purpose user. Strong contender both on price and the fact it offers everything you are likely to need in one place, making it consistent and easy for a beginner to use and manage.
Disclaimer: ACDsee is a dPS advertising partner.