I am in the middle of evaluating different photo editors. I use Capture One Pro for almost all my photo editing work. It does a great job and in most cases I don’t need any other program. But Capture One Pro can’t do more advanced work like merging multiple exposures or frequency separation. Adobe’s Photoshop is of course a very popular choice for a lot of people. I’m not going back to Adobe since they introduced their “creative cloud” concept with a monthly fee though. If I pay money for software I want to own it. So Photoshop is out of the question for me. There are a number of other candidates to choose from.
I already have used Pixelmator for a while. It’s a nice program with a great user interface. For me it’s great for simpler photo editing tasks. It does have nice repair tools and such. For more advanced work it simply doesn’t have the needed functionality. For example, I don’t know if it’s even possible to do frequency separation. I did see on a forum that a guy had created a tutorial for this but the link to that tutorial was long gone. There is no auto alignment when working with multiple exposures for example. It’s really a pain to try to align the images by hand.
Operating system: Pixelmator is Mac only.
Price: € 30
Just like Pixelmator this is a great program for simpler photo editing tasks. There are minor differences between Pixelmator and Acorn. There are some differences in the tool palettes for example. I really enjoyed using the Instant Alpha tool in Acorn. I evaluated both Pixelmator and Acorn a couple of years ago when I had to be able to create some assets for a computer program. That time Acorn drew the shortest straw based on the GUI. I liked the GUI in Pixelmator more.
Operating system: Acorn is Mac only.
Price: € 30
Gimp is very competent. Unfortunately the user interface is a bit daunting for me. I’ve never really learned how to use it, sad to say. I’ve given it (or me) lots of chances though. I always keep it installed on my computers just in case.
Operating system: You can get Gimp for Linux, Mac and Windows.
Price: Free as in beer
Corel PaintShop Pro has been around forever. Almost as long as Photoshop. Corel has two bitmap software in their portfolio, PaintShop Pro and PHOTO-PAINT. As I understand it from this post PaintShop Pro focuses on digital photography editing while PHOTO-PAINT (which is part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite) is aiming for more graphics design workflow. Since I’m only interested in photo editing PhotoShop Pro is the software to choose. After trying this software out I can say that it has a lot of options and functionality. But again, the user interface is not the best for me. Often I don’t really know what to do to achieve what I want. PaintShop uses its own lingo when naming stuff so you need to learn some of that lingo right away. Corel lets you try the software for 30 days, though. That should give you plenty of time to get used to it. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t even feel that I wanted to use the program and that really prohibits me from experimenting and learning how to do stuff myself. That’s an important aspect for me since I don’t want to spend a lot of time reading how to use my photo editor of choice. And of course it should be joyful to work with it.
Operating system: Windows
Price: € 60
This is the new kid on the block, and he’s very cool. It’s really a professional tool for photo editing. Most of the editing tasks (if not all) I would like to do are possible to do in Affinity Photo. It’s actually often intuitive and simple. One great example is frequency separation. By simply applying a filter on the image high and low frequency layers are created automatically. Photo stacking with automatic alignment is also extremely simple to do. There’s not many negative things to say about Affinity Photo. Except maybe that it’s Mac only, for the time being.
Operating system: Mac only and will stay that way for a forseeable future. According to their FAQ; if a Windows version will be developed a new license will have to be purchased for this.
Edit: Serif has announced that Affinity Photo is coming to Windows as well. I am enlisted for beta testing so I’m pretty excited to try it out.
Edit2: Affinity Photo beta is now available on Windows (since 2016-11-12). It’s working very well as far as I have tested.
Price: € 50
As a bonus I’m evaluating HDR software. I often like a subtle natural HDR look on landscape photos.
Aurora HDR Pro
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Aurora HDR. That Trey Ratcliff has been involved in the development process must be regarded as a plus as well. After trying it out it really gives you great HDR images and you can tune them exactly how you like them. The possibility to add layers and masks makes it a very powerful HDR tool. A negative point is that there is no control over the deghosting processing. Actually with my test exposures (a landscape scene with trees) the deghosting did not work at all. This is something I hope will be improved in future versions of Aurora HDR.
Operating system: Currently Mac only but there is a Windows version in the pipeline. According to their customer support the Mac license will be valid for the Windows version as well.
Price: € 90
I’ve read that this is an easy to use software that gives you great results. After trying it out I found that it is easy to use indeed. The user interface is nice and intuitive to use. The results are OK but I did not manage to get as good results as with Aurora HDR. Deghosting can be made either automatically or with more manual control like marking the areas with ghosting by painting over them with a brush. Since I use both Windows and Mac it is a clear advantage that the software is available for both operating systems.
Operating system: Windows and Mac
Price: € 29 for home use and € 49 for commercial use.
I did not like the user interface of this software. The results I managed to get out of this software was not as pleasing as the results I got from Aurora HDR and EasyHDR either. I’ve seen great (and horrible) HDR images from this software on the web so maybe the reason I didn’t get satisfying results is the bad (my opinion) user interface. The deghosting functionality works fine. It’s possible to either let the software do the deghosting automatically or mark the areas with ghosting manually. For me it’s important that I like to work with a program. This encourages me to experiment and try different techniques and approaches. I did not get this feeling with Photomatix Pro.
Operating system: Windows and Mac
Price: € 110