A question seen frequently on photography groups is “What software do I get to process my images in?”. There is the usual flurry of recommendations for the familiar choices and a few random ones thrown in. One option that doesn’t get mentioned as often as it should is ACDSee. In particular the Photo Studio Ultimate 2019 bundle is worthy of consideration for both beginners and more experienced users.
The 2019 version with the newly included Face Detection and Facial Recognition features is a step up from the previous 2018 program, indicating an intention towards AI-based digital asset management.
For anyone wanting a one-stop shop to manage, view, process RAW files, and edit with layers, etc, PLUS only having to pay once for a perpetual licence, ACDSee offers a compelling option in the marketplace.
My background is in Lightroom and Photoshop which is the basis for comparison in this review.
Let us assess this software from the point of view of what it offers a beginner.
- Getting Started – installing and setting up
- Layout and Features
- Importing and Viewing Images
- Editing your RAW Image
- Advanced editing with layers
- New Features in 2019 version
- General Comments
1. Install and Setup
Setup and installation are fairly standard as per most software. ACDSee does require you to set up an account as part of the install process (it’s mandatory and cancels the install if you try to opt out), which then requires an extra registration step with an email confirmation. However, once sorted, no further registration is required. If you have registered before, you can use the previous login details.
It does allow you to choose which drive/directory/folder you want to install it into, as well as if you want to use a non-standard install path. As per the splash page below that opens on Startup—you can auto select the folder to open when the software starts.
Also new is the next screen, which helpfully shows you what the key functions and features are, and where to find them. Both of these can be turned off if desired. You can click on any of the words on the left panel and it will take you to the appropriate screen. Or click through on the NEXT button. Or close it.
Once you have navigated the splash pages, you will be taken to the Manage mode screen.
2. Layout and Features
ACDSee has five main modes in separate tabs for each function—Manage, Photos, View, Develop, and Edit. There are some extra features but these are key ones used in general.
Summary of the features:
Manage mode has access to your computer, direction to find images where they are stored on the computer, and the default option is to view your images in thumbnail view (similar to Grid in LR). It shows EXIF data, histogram, and shot information for a particular image. You can colour code or rate images in Manage Mode.
Photos mode is similar to Manage. It allows a more comprehensive way of viewing image files on your hard drive, and you can drill down to specific day/month/year views.
View mode allows you to view a single image in full-screen mode (similar to a single image view in LR) and has some basic editing functions included.
Develop mode is where you edit your RAW image files (similar layout and functions to LR or ACR).
Edit mode is where you can do advanced editing with layers (similar to PS).
There is also the 365 tab, the ‘Dashboard’ tab, and the ‘Messages’ tab. 365 is where you have access to your subscription information if you opt for it. The Dashboard shows graphical data on image/camera information—if you want to know your most commonly used ISO setting, type, and the number of files, it is visible here.
3. Importing and Viewing Images
Importing is not required with ACDSee. The software will read folders directly off your computer, displaying and respecting its existing folder structure, just like Explorer. However, users can import off of external sources if they wish to achieve other organizational goals at the same time, such as culling, tagging, renaming, etc.
Once imported, you will then want to view them, cull, tag, and select the best ones for editing.
I have all my images stored on a NAS and it found those with no issues. Above is the Manage page showing the hard drive directory structure and images in thumbnail grid view.
You can rate your images either using numbers or color tags. In the above image, it has picked up the color rating I gave one image in LR. If you select the Catalog tab on the left-hand menu, you can further refine your search parameters with selecting a specific rating or color tag. In the below example it has used the Red color tag to select images to view.
Also visible in the above image is the histogram (color graph below left) with camera settings above it for the selected image. The fine print at the bottom of the window has the name, file format, date/time taken, and file size information.
The full Manage mode window above, with directory tree/histogram/camera data on the left-hand menu, and EXIF data for the selected image on the right-hand pane, and all the images on display.
Other Image Viewing Options
ACDSee has two other image viewing options included. Photos mode and View mode
Photos mode opens with a splash screen explaining what it does.
It offers another way to sort and view your image files and has some granular control. You can get it down to a specific day quite easily and just see the images shot on that day. Probably very helpful for wedding or event photographers.
Below is an example where it shows all the shooting days, with a blue bar that gives an idea of how many photos are stored under that day.
View mode is where you can see just a single image using the full screen size. You can zoom in to check the image quality using various zoom features. There is a floating Navigator panel you can activate and use that to ensure you are viewing the correct part of the image. Similar to the Navigator in LR/PS.
There are some very basic editing tools available here, but better functionality is had in Develop mode.
4. Editing RAW Files
RAW image editing is done in Develop mode and it is laid out very similarly to LR. By default, the Editing tool panel is on the left but it can be moved.
While not immediately obvious, the active slider is shown by the white section of the grey bar ending with the triangle cut out at the bottom. You move the light bar to the desired settings. Or type in a number or use the Up and Down arrows on the end.
There are 4 main tabs in the Tool Panel:
- Tune – The usual tools for editing a RAW file, exposure, etc. Very similar to LR
- Detail – Sharpening, Noise Reduction, and Skin Tuning
- Geometry – Lens Correction, Cropping, Perspective adjustments
- Repair – Heal/Clone and Red Eye adjustments
In general, I found the sliders a bit fiddly to operate; it wasn’t smooth, but apparently, it is easier to incrementally adjust sliders with a mouse wheel. My perception of the program is that its application of the settings is quite harsh, so careful use of the sliders is necessary.
While you can activate a second screen in Develop mode, the only purpose is to maintain a view of the unedited image for comparison.
The Tune tab also has some spot editing features—Develop Brush, Linear Gradient Tool and Radial Gradient Tool—the equivalent of Adjustment Brush, ND Grad, and Radial Tool in LR.
5. Advanced Editing With Layers
Edit mode gives most of the expected features you would find in Photoshop and other programs that offer layer/mask functionality. The Filmstrip is visible (similar to Bridge), although you can turn it off to gain the screen real estate back.
Edit mode offers quite a few extra or useful features. Adjustment layers for Color LUTs (a recent new feature brought into LR) is included in the 2019 version.
A new feature in the 2018 version was an Actions Menu—a range of preset creative edits you can apply with one click. The 2019 update to this allows you export and import actions as well.
Some of the actions have a really harsh effect like overdone HDR or similar, which was quite noticeable in the 2018 version. In the 2019 version they have toned down the effect in some of the actions, but not all of them. So it pays to pick and choose as it does depend on which action you choose as to what outcome you get. Also, it applies it directly to the image so you can’t do it as a layer and then blend in, unless you duplicate the base layer and blend back which has its own issues.
One of the features that did impress me in both the 2018 and 2019 versions was how good a job the Heal tool did in tidying up spots and other issues. On the above image, I have removed several spots and imperfections. On the right-hand side, the long black mark on the petal (near the small curved one), in the center of the flower, has been seamlessly removed.
An oddity also visible in the above image – in View mode I applied a LOMO preset and liked what it did, and further edited the image to mute the tones and lower the saturation. However, when you use the Navigator tool, as per above, it shows the original RAW file in its unedited state.
Finally, I drag some texture layers, (can be dragged from a second monitor into the Layer Palette), apply some blend modes, adjust the opacity, and soften areas with a mask to reach the final image.
New Features in 2019
Several new features have been included in the 2019 edition, but one key one is Face Recognition. A short video explains how to use it HERE.
Generally, I don’t shoot people/portraits but had a few tucked away to test. The Face Recognition functioned, however, it didn’t automatically find all the other images and assign them correctly. This may be because I have all my images on a NAS and not in the usual directory. If I clicked on each image individually, it did recognize the face and the person.
There are some things I find odd about how the program functions; three different ways to view the image can be a bit confusing. The second monitor view in Develop mode that only holds a copy of the unedited file for a comparison seems like a major waste of screen real estate.
While many new features were included in the 2018 version, the ones assessed in this review of the latest version have been further enhanced and improved – I am guessing in response to user feedback.
This 2019 version adds a lot of nice new mature touches, and helpful splash screens to introduce you to different features. More accessible help options is a vast improvement: there are links in the Help menu to a Support Community, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.
Any new software program takes a bit of getting used to, but once you understand it, ADCSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2019 offers any beginner (and more experienced users) a compelling package. It has all the features you need for image management, RAW editing, and more advanced editing in one place, with the advantage of a ‘pay once and it’s yours’ option instead of a subscription. Although a subscription option is available if desired.
At $149 USD for the single purchase perpetual license, you get a LOT of capability all wrapped up in one software program.
8.5 out of 10
Disclaimer: ACDSee is a paid partner of dPS