Photo Editing Alternative - An Overview of ACDSee Ultimate 10

Photo Editing Alternative – An Overview of ACDSee Ultimate 10


As more and more people take up digital photography and want to get started editing, many are asking the question, are Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop my only options? ­­­At ACD Systems, they have their own editing software called ACDSee Ultimate 10, which allows you to do many of the same functions as the former.

Adobe’s subscription model—membership and monthly payments—is a big turn off to many, particularly because if the price becomes too high, it will become unattainable, and then they will be left with nothing. We have already seen some price hikes recently. ACDSee Ultimate 10 could be perfect for those looking for an alternative to what Adobe offers.

Please note: this product is available for Window’s only.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Starting Up ACDSee Ultimate 10

Without a doubt, you will scratch your head as you try to work out how to do things in ACDSee Ultimate 10, but this can be said for any new software you try. If you have used Lightroom, then much of it should be easy to work out, and there are a lot of similarities. If you have not used it or any other photo editing programs, then you will find a wide range of videos on their website to take you through how to use ACDSee Ultimate 10 and understand it.

One of the biggest problems with Lightroom is how you must import your photos into it. With Ultimate 10, there is no need to import your photos as they are read directly off of your hard drive and displayed in the exact same folder structure you see in Windows Explorer (or Mac Finder). This saves you one step altogether, however, there is also an import function available, which you can use to apply some batch functions, such as renaming while extracting the photos off of your device.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

What Manage Mode first looks like when you open ACDSee Ultimate 10.

Parametric Processing

As you work your way through the videos, you will hear a lot about parametric processing. If you are like me, you have never heard the term before. It is another way of saying non-destructive, or in easy terms, you can save all your layers so you can go back to it and work on it some more, later.

Using ACDSee Ultimate 10

There are obvious differences between ACDSee Ultimate 10 and Lightroom, but you are also going to find a lot that is similar—perhaps even better. When you open it up, you can see in the top right corner the different modes that are available: Manage, Photos, View, Develop, and Edit. We will take a look at each mode and see how they compare with Lightroom and a little of Photoshop.

It is fair to say that Photoshop does offer a lot more than this program. However, as many people prefer using Lightroom, this could be a really good alternative for them. You can certainly do all the same edits that you can do with Lightroom. However, it’s when you start getting into the more advanced image manipulating where you would normally use Photoshop that you may find limitations withACDSee Ultimate 10.

See a feature comparison between Lightroom and ACDSee Ultimate here.

Manage Mode

The Manage Mode is very similar to the first window you find when you open Lightroom, the Library Module. On the left, you see a column with all of the folders on your computer. It displays the folder structure you have on your hard drive, so there is no searching through unfamiliar territory. The way Lightroom does this can be confusing and it can be hard to find directories.

ACDSee Ultimate 10 - manage mode

Taking a look around to see what is in Manage Mode.

Underneath the above, you will find details about the selected image, such as the camera model, the size of the image, and what your settings were. Then under that, you will find a histogram of the image.

The middle section is where you see the contents of the selected folder and any subdirectories that may be in it. Each thumbnail indicates what type of file it is, RAW, PSD, etc. It is still possible to put ratings and labels and such on your images. There are categories and keywords that Lightroom users will be familiar with, which can be used the same way in Ultimate 10. This section works like a proofing sheet, which allows you to see all of the images in the folder.

In Lightroom, you can get a preview of the image by pressing the spacebar, however, in Ultimate 10 you use View mode to get a larger view of your images. To get there you can double click or press enter with the desired image selected. In the right-hand column, all the EXIF data that is available in the image is found there. There is the same additional information that you find available in Lightroom.

Photos Mode

In this mode, you will get a small preview of every image that you have on your computer. It is almost like a list, in order. The images will be sorted by the date they were taken, and you can do rearrange to sort by day, month, or year. It is a great way to help you find photos when you can’t remember where you put them, especially if you’re like me and don’t use categories or keywords.


How Photo Mode appears.

In Lightroom, you could only do this with the photos that you have imported. In Ultimate 10, it doesn’t matter; it will show every image that is on your computer.

View Mode

In View Mode, you will get a larger view of the selected image. Underneath the image, there is a filmstrip with all the photos in the selected folder so that you can navigate between them. There are also some basic functions you can apply to the image if you want to make some changes. However, this mode is more for viewing your photos and figuring out which ones you might want to work on.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Opening View Mode.

In this mode, you can add ratings, labels, and set your categories. To rate an image, click Ctrl/Cmd plus the number you want to assign to it, or to label an image press Alt/Option then the number according to the color you want to apply. You can do many other things to the image as well. There is a small menu on the left just above the filmstrip, or you can right-click on the image to get options as well.


Some of the functions you can do in View Mode.

Develop Mode

This is the mode that seems to most resemble Lightroom and is your workspace. It is laid out differently and you will find all the adjustments in the left-hand column. Many of them are the same, though to get to each of the sections you will find these modes; Tune, Detail, Geometry, and Repair near the top that you click for various adjustments. Each one of those modes have different tools you can use to make the various changes to your images.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Opening an image in Develop Mode.

A lot of the processes are set out differently, but they often have the same names. There are titles for each one which, like Lightroom, are menus and when you click on them new adjustments can be accessed. The plus sign means it is closed and when it’s opened, it turns into to a minus sign.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Looking around Develop Mode and the Tune Mode.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

What is available in Detail Mode.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

What you can do in Geometry Mode.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

A quick look at Repair Mode.

Develop Presets

In ACDSee Ultimate 10, you can save your develop settings as presets, either globally by mode (Tune, Detail, Geometry, Repair) or by tool group.  You can then apply saved presets to a single image, or a batch of images in Manage Mode.

Develop Brush, Linear Gradient, and Radial Gradient

These three tools similar to Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter. They can seem a little strange at first if you are used to Lightroom. The Develop Brush doesn’t have an erase button, so how do you remove the parts you did by mistake? By right clicking and going over the part you no longer want. This is actually much better, and makes your workflow much faster.

In Lightroom, when you want to use the Graduated and Radial filters, you click on them and then draw a line on your image. With Ultimate 10, once you click the Gradient button, the Gradient will appear on your image, and then you move it, enlarge or shrink it, or rotate it to where you want. There are specific places on the gradient to do that. The cross in the middle is used to move it, the hook from the cross rotates it, and the squares on the dotted lines are used to resize it. It is different but doesn’t take long to get used to. If you want more than one gradient, you will find a section with the icon and a blank square above it. To apply another brush, just enable the next checkbox.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

How the Graduated Filter works.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

How the Radial Filter works.

To make them disappear once you are done, click on the icon for the tool and the program will unselect it.

Edit Mode

Edit Mode is very similar to Photoshop, however, again, it is set out a bit differently. In this mode, you can do a lot of fine-tuning. You can use layers and make adjustments.

The tools are along the top under the menu bar, and the edits that are available are down the left side. On the right, you will find your layers panel, and the layered adjustments are down the bottom of that panel. Underneath those, you will find where you can add new layers, masks, or duplicate layers.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Opening up into Edit Mode.

When you have different layers, you will also find the rubbish (trash) button will appear there. Highlight the layer you want to delete, and press the button. Though you could simply press delete on your keyboard as well.

The feathering option is different and you don’t set how much you want to feather until you have added the mask. You press the mask button and the settings for it will appear at the bottom of the layers panel.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Adding layers in Edit Mode.

Edit Presets/Actions

While you can also save presets in Edit mode, perhaps even more useful is the tool they developed to address the general limitations of batch editing. ACDSee Actions allow you to “record” any and all adjustments you make in Edit mode, and then to apply them to other images, (individually or to a batch), by “playing” them back (like Actions in Photoshop). It’s as simple as pressing a Record button before you start editing, pressing Stop when you’re done, and then choosing a name to save the action under.

If you forgot to begin recording before you started editing, you can simply use the Undo button, press Record, and then press the Redo button. You can even preview the effect that an action is going to have on an image before applying it. This really speeds things up and ensures that you can apply anything in a batch.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

Using Actions.

Overall Impressions of ACDSee Ultimate 10

Without a doubt, ACDSee Ultimate 10 is a good alternative to Lightroom. It has a lot of similar functions, and many of the things that you do in the first, you can do in the second. How you use it is always going to be different and finding your way around the settings and functions will take time, but that is the same with any software.

If you are someone that doesn’t use Photoshop but you would like to start working with layers, then Ultimate 10 could be a good way to start.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

The final image.

Owning or Renting

With the latest release of Lightroom, everyone was told that it would be the final one that you would be able to buy outright. All future releases will come under the Creative Cloud subscription plans. This has made a lot of people nervous. Meanwhile, many are frustrated that while they have purchased it, there are still functions that are only available if you subscribe to Adobe.

At ACD Systems, they understand this frustration, and you can buy all their products so you own them. Or, if you want the benefit of getting updates and having the latest version, you can also subscribe. The choice is yours.

If you are unsure of what to do, their Live Chat is available, along with email and phone numbers for you to call as well. To take a look at the Ultimate 10 follow this link, ACDSee Ultimate 10.

ACDSee Ultimate 10

A quick look at the website where you can find videos.


ACDSee Ultimate 10 is a great program for anyone who wants to get into photo editing. While there is a learning curve, that is true for any other editing software that is available. For most photographers, Ultimate 10 will have everything they need to do the image adjustments they would like. Give it a try and tell us what you think.

Disclaimer: ACD Systems is a paid partner of dPS

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Leanne Cole graduated from the VCA with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Melbourne, Australia. She has since been working as a practicing artist and teaching people how to be Fine Art Photographers. She also teaches long exposure photography and runs workshops around Melbourne. Click here to download her 10 tips for Long Exposure Photography in the City. You can find her on her website.

  • dabhand

    I personally don’t like Adobe’s subscription model and am currently looking at alternatives to CS6 / LR6 , unfortunately your incorrect assertions regarding LR undermine the review.

    Eg: “Library Module. On the left, you see a column with all of the folders on your computer. It displays the folder structure … on your hard drive, so there is no searching through unfamiliar territory. The way Lightroom does this can be confusing and … hard to find directories.” – Nonsense LR opens in exactly the same way displaying your computer’s folder structure.

    “In Lightroom, you can get a preview of the image by pressing the spacebar, however, in Ultimate 10 you use View mode to get a larger view of your images. To get there you can double click or press enter with the desired image selected.” – Exactly the same in LR

    You don’t use keywords or categories !!!!!!!! Use visual search only !!!!!!!

  • Andreas

    Why on earth are you not mentioning right at the top that this is Windows – Only Software???

    I could have immediately skipped the whole article, that is simply a NoGo for me and prolly for a large group of other creatives as well…

  • Yes, perhaps we should have done that, but being a Windows user, it didn’t really occur to me, I apologise for that, I know how annoying it is when you are told about products and want to try them and then find out they are only available for Apple.

  • Your version of LIghtroom must be very different to mine then, as I find it very hard to find folders at times, it is doesn’t display them as they are on my computer and seems to do things in a different way, I’m still not sure how, but it is one thing I don’t like.
    As for the preview they do work differently, if you press the space bar to get an image in Lr you get a larger image, if you do the same in Ultimate 10 nothing happens, so you have to press enter, I thought that was different.
    Seriously that last bit, no I don’t use them, I transfer all my images onto a secondary NAS system for storage when I am done working with them, from what I can work out those things don’t go with the transfer, so I don’t see the point using them. I am sorry that I use the system slightly different to you, but I think that is okay, isn’t it.

  • dabhand

    Purely as an FYI’s

    In LR you can press the space bar, double click or press Enter to get the larger image.

    I too use a NAS drive for backing up LR (and my entire system for that matter) – if you also (and you should) backup the LR catalog to the NAS drive too, recovery would be so much simpler and/or you could connect the NAS drive to some other computer, do the configuration and just pick up with your work.

    If one is going to replace the management of large numbers of images by LR with something else it needs to be a grown up application – that is what I’m looking for and I guess so are many others who are discontented with Adobe’s direction.

    For a review to be of value it should focus on maintaining integrity, speed of operation, search / report on criteria, backup/recovery etc rather than nit picking minor issues.

  • I wrote the review as I was asked to. I’m sorry it doesn’t meet your standards. I can’t say any more than that.

  • Hi Andreas – thank you for that. I have added a note at the top so others can take note.

  • jmollenauer

    I’ve been an ACDSee user for many years and find it much superior to Lightroom. I tried Lightroom for 30 days, then took it off my machine.

    This review misses what I think is the best feature of ACDSee: the Light Equalizer, which has 9 sliders to vary the lightness of different parts of the image. There seems to be a bit of spacial localization also. The Light Equalizer gives much the same effect as working with tone curves but is much easier to use. The effect can be refined by selecting the colors it will be applied to in Pixel Targeting, and also with a brush.

    Also, ACDSee is very fast to start up. There is no need to import anything: it works directly from a list of the folders and subfolders in the computer.

    BTW, there is a Mac version, though I haven’t used it.


  • It is great to hear from someone who has been using it for a long time Jim. I am very new to it, but could see a lot of benefits with it.

    That is great to hear about the light equalizer, I am sure will appreciate you recommending it.

    Yes, I thought it was great to how you don’t have to import images, I really liked the way it displayed the folders as well, I found it very easy to find my images or folders of them because it used the same system I do.

    That’s good to know, I have a PC, so I didn’t look for a Mac version.
    thanks Jim

  • pete guaron

    Leanne, I am currently using an ACDSee Beta version of one of their products, which seems to me to be similar to the Ultimate 10 version you describe. It is a MAC version, I think of the Ultimate 10 product. Maybe I’m quite wrong and someone else can explain it better than I can – I’ve only just downloaded it onto my MAC and haven’t the background knowledge to comment, really.

    I must admit, I am enjoying the ACDSee Beta program.

    The catalogue system in LR drives me nuts (and as you note in your article, ACDSee avoids that problem, offering a sensible alternative method of accessing files) – its functionality for post processing is limited, and I find myself moving photos on to other software programs to finish off the post processing that LR cannot handle. And already, I find I can do things in ACDSee that I’ve never been able to do with any of Adobe’s products.

    I am also fed up with Adobe’s attempts to bully everyone into getting involved with their Cloud (the devil will arrive at work on ice skates, before I put any of my photos on anyone’s Cloud – Adobe’s included!). And their non-Cloud versions of LR and PS are primitive – yet another attempt to coerce people into buying the more expensive subscription version.

    That’s fine for their Financial Controller and their annual accounts. It has no appeal to me whatsoever. And one of the things all these companies need to realise is that once you become reasonably proficient, you don’t need to spend endless hours fiddling with your photos. And while we might not have hit the limit yet, I suspect there’s a limit to the extent to which innovation can improve the software significantly enough to induce anyone to upgrade it anyway.

    Early days yet – but I’m working through post processing the best part of two thousand photos right now, and already I am beginning to think this is going to end up in ACDSee’s lap. Capture One is also an interesting program, and occasionally I have managed to overcome difficult problems with Luminar, that were impossible to sort out with any of Adobe’s.

  • Good to hear about this Pete, I only use windows so I wasn’t sure if it was available for Mac, have to admit I didn’t even look.

    I also happy to hear I am not the only one that finds the way Lightroom displays the folders annoying. I often have so much trouble working out where some are. I also find Lr limiting and usually just go straight to Photoshop to process my images. I liked that you could do so much more in Ult 10.

    I don’t put my photos on the cloud, we don’t have the internet connection and there is that worry about who will have access to them if you do. I do subscribe, but, I hope, my photos all stay on my computer.

    That is great to hear that you like the software and am enjoying it. I was really amazed with what you got for your money. It is impressive software. I’m sure it will be developed a lot more as time goes on as well. Thank you for sharing your experience with it Pete.

  • Someone has just written that there is a Mac beta version available, so you can try that if you are interested.

  • Hi Pete – if LR is taking a really long time to open it could be that your machine doesn’t have enough space or memory to run it properly. How much hard drive space do you have left? How much RAM do you have? If your drive is more than 80% full programs like LR and PS will lag and run very slow. RAM you want as much as you can get – 16GB would be minimum for running LR.

    As for opening images – if you have 100s to add do that all at once with an import of your full set of images. Once they are imported into LR it should have no lag time.

  • pete guaron

    The first problem is “opening” the LR program, which takes WAY too long. The other is adding images – I do not have any use at all for LR’s cataloguing function, it’s a complete pain in the butt – and there’s no way I’d ever consider bulking files to it.
    Each to their own – but Adobe’s products are becoming less appealing IMO and it’s a strange way to “move forward” in a competitive market.

  • As you said, to each their own. For me LR cataloging and sorting,archiving and managing photos is THE biggest benefit of using it. I can find images on old hard drives not even connected to my current setup because they’ve been archived in LR and it knows where the original lives. I can see images on my main hard drive at home even when I’m on the road. I can even sort, flag and process them if I use Smart Previews. I’ve had a past portrait client ask for a reprint from a session about 5 years ago. Their files were in LR, I located them by a quick search of their name – LR told me the drive to find on my shelf where the originals lived. I plugged it in and 3 minutes later I had their print ordered. You can’t do that with Bridge or any other program that I know of.

  • Darlene, you can go all that in Ultimate 10 as well. You can use all the keywords and cataloging too.

  • pete guaron

    You might need that – I don’t – I developed my cataloguing system long before Adobe developed LR, and it works fine for my purposes. Seems to me LR’s cataloguing system is aimed at pros, with quite different needs from mine.

  • Okay good to know. Including drives that are not connected to your computer?

  • That’s possible. If you have a solution that works for you, then keep doing that.

  • LR goes back to 2006. I have been using it since the first beta version. So it’s pretty engrained for me.

  • merry mas

    This application is used in a stable, best-of-breed process and scale, which also creates a lot of special features, creating more rich patterns.

  • LFC4SB

    The big advantage I’m seeing to stick with LR CC is the syncing ability with cross platforms like my PC & my iPad /iPhone. If that’s not an option on any new software program I wouldn’t be changing.

  • Well I suppose if you have all of those it can be, I don’t use any Apple products, so it doesn’t matter to me, I think for most people it would matter. Thank you for your comment.

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