ACDSee Pro v. 5 For Windows: Raw Conversion, Image Editing Plus Free Online Storage

Jill Rahn's picture
Many of us continue to look for a Raw converter or image-editor that is easy to work with right out of the box. ACDSee Pro version 5 for Windows (www.acdsee.com) may offer the solution you seek. It’s a no-nonsense Raw converter that also offers image-editing under one roof—if in a semi-detached house.

ACDSee Pro 5 for Windows.

The latest iteration of ACDSee Pro for Windows presents a slightly revamped interface, with 5 key modules, each with its own set of Menu commands. You enter the program in Manage mode where you can import images from any media or device onto your working drive and catalog them at that time or catalog and work with existing files in place, without importing them. All popular formats, including 16-bit Raw from numerous cameras, are supported for import and export, but not DNG export. If you move image files after cataloging or working on them, do so from within ACDSee to ensure that all linked files, notably XMP metadata, are moved together.

The Manage screen is essentially the jumping off point. Select a folder from the panel on the left; view the thumbnails and select images for subsequent processing by dropping them in to the Image Basket (images can be added to this panel from any location). You can define what information attaches to the thumbnails. I chose EXIF data. Too much information and it becomes overly cluttered while limiting how many thumbnails can be seen at a glance. Additional data is optionally shown on the right. The program lets you assign and search using user-defined categories, ratings, color-coded labels and tags. Searches can be even more extensive.

Manage Mode: The Manage module is the launching pad in ACDSee Pro 5 for Windows, where you organize and prioritize images for processing. You can pull together images from various locations and drop them into the Image Basket for later processing. You can also assign batch processes from this module. Here, in the main panel, you see the White Ibis image I plan to work on along with a magnified view at the cursor position. It’s also in the Image Basket below, and can be seen on the left, with accompanying histogram and key EXIF data. On the far right are the Organizing tools, with the option to view key data instead.
All Photos © Jack Neubart

Develop Mode, Nondestructive Raw Conversion: Develop mode proved to be a surprisingly capable and versatile Raw converter, with practically every critical adjustment tool you’d need—all at your fingertips. Shown are the initial screen (with several parameters in view), the HDR settings (“Lighting”) panel and resulting histogram, and the final image after cropping. You’ll note the hot spot on the post the White Ibis is standing on. We’ll deal with that at the next stage, Edit.

Pixel-Level Edit Mode: You’ll find many of the Develop tools here, plus a few extras, such as selections, retouching and the various blended effects.

Edit, Special Effects: When you click on Special Effects, a matrix of sample images revealing your choices is presented. I used the Mirror effect, adjusting it to get the needed degree of mirroring for my two-headed White Ibis. The adjustments I made left the image unbalanced, so I had to crop out the palm tree on the left. Using the “Dodge-And-Burn” tool, I burned in the hot spots on the post afterward.

You can also burn CDs and DVDs from here, geotag images, create PDFs and slideshows, print images and contact sheets, as well as upload images to an FTP site or several popular image sharing sites and e-mail images (register the program to enable the online features). Or you could even send the image to an external editor.

If you double-click on an image, you’re whisked to the View module, where you see a larger view. Options (preferences) can be found in any module, under the Tools menu. So far, so good.

The Raw Converter
The heart of ACDSee lies in the Develop module, which is a fairly robust Raw converter. There are many key groups of settings, beginning with Tune. To reveal settings under these respective panels, you can click on and expand individual groups (keeps the screen tidy), or expand all at once.

The Tune panel addresses exposure, contrast and color. We first encounter the General group. It consists of the usual opening volley for tonal control: exposure, highlight enhancement (recovery), fill light, contrast and vibrance. Two other group settings, White Balance and Tone Curves, are par for the course. There’s also a Split Tone group (new to v.5), which I used to selectively warm up shadows in overcast scenes, rather than artificially distort tones.

But what really caught my eye are the Lighting and Advanced Color settings. Lighting is ACDSee’s brand of single-exposure HDR to control tonal contrast. There are 3 ways to approach this. Basic simply governs highlights, midtones and shadows via sliders. The Advanced mode is a graphic representation, also with sliders. Be careful of the Auto button in Lighting: it has a shadow bias and tends to overexpose.

I often prefer the Light EQ settings. This is analogous to a graphic equalizer for audio (hence the “EQ” designation), with a choice between 2 and 9 “channels” (tone bands) each for brighten and darken, via sliders, plus a graphic representation. You can adjust tones directly on the graph—or the image itself—via a context-sensitive controller, by mousing up/down to brighten/darken values. You can also input numerical values.

(Tip: Use the Light EQ sliders first, look for highlighted areas in the graph denoting clipping along with the clipping indicator above the histogram. Then adjust individual bands as needed. I use this together with Tone Curves and the General group of settings to control tonal contrast—all in Develop mode.)

Advanced Color lets you adjust Saturation, Brightness and Hue. Here you can adjust all colors uniformly as well as individually and, as in Lighting, you can mouse over areas of the image to be adjusted.

One thing you’ll note is that each group features 3 icons: one to reset to default settings; one for Presets governing that group; and one to turn the group on or off (a quick and easy way to temporarily undo without actually negating your efforts). There is also a Menu Undo (Redo) function, but this gets grayed out after you switch pictures or modules. Undo (Redo) is still the only option to retrace your steps while working on any picture in Develop mode.

The next 2 groups are Detail (sharpening, NR, color fringing) and Geometry (distortion, rotation, perspective, cropping, vignetting). Here you find the usual fare, with a couple of exceptions. While chromatic aberration appears to be adequately addressed, the Defringe settings could have been simplified with a straightforward check box for purple fringing. And NR settings are minimalist, if effective (but only to a point at this stage). I found the vertical/horizontal shear adjustments to be a welcome addition to perspective control.

Barrel Distortion: The fountain in the Lustgarten leading to the Altes Museum (Berlin) suffered from serious barrel distortion, and keystoning affected the museum. I used Develop mode for all the key adjustments: lens distortion, perspective, lighting and color. The panel shows the color adjustments. It was all expeditiously executed.

Contrast, Perspective & Borders: First you’ll notice the highlight clipping (red areas), although shadow clipping was minimal. After dealing with tonal contrast, I had to take care of perspective distortion—all in Develop mode. ACDSee Pro gives you many options, among them something called “Vertical Shear.” Between that and the more basic vertical perspective adjustment, I was able to square the background building into the camera without adding further distortion. Then I went into Edit. I didn’t find the painting effects adequate to render this as an oil painting, but I still wanted to frame this image in an interesting manner, so I used the Borders effect—3 times, picking up the colors from the image and adding a drop shadow to give it more of a 3-dimensional, frame-like look.

Presets are always a useful tool, though few are provided. Still, you can fashion your own to govern a broader group of settings or for individual palettes/groups. I found it best to exclude geometric settings, as well as NR and chromatic aberration/defringing from the overall Presets (but I did include sharpening). Those excluded settings should be addressed as needed or in Presets targeting specific lenses/focal lengths.

Set preferences in Options to automatically save the nondestructive Raw adjustments in Develop mode. Even before using Save As, as a further precaution against losing your work, click “Done”, which stores all Develop settings. (Note: The program sometimes lost settings when I failed to take this step—so better safe than sorry.)

Using Presets: I had worked on another storefront image moments earlier. Since I liked the result there, I created a Preset from that—for tonality, and applied that Preset to this image, later adding geometric corrections so that we’re looking squarely at the storefront. I also used Custom WB, directing the eyedropper to the tiled floor inside the store to improve color balance. (Note: another option is to simply copy and paste selected settings.)

Pixel-Level Editing
There is yet another facet to ACDSee Pro 5: where the fun takes place, and some serious editing as well. Once you start to make adjustments in Edit, you can’t simply leave without either saving or discarding the changes made. While there are no Presets governing all actions in Edit mode, this module does let you customize Presets for individual settings (but Presets don’t cross over between modules).

Many of the parameters are similar to their Develop counterparts, but may vary in degree. And you’ll find tools here that are not provided in Develop, for instance, the Repair tool for healing and cloning, and the Selections tool, which offers a Magic Wand, Freehand Lasso and Marquee, but lacks a Magnetic Lasso. The program does not highlight the Magic Wand selection effectively, so the best recourse once a Magic Wand selection is made is to hit the Preview button to see the selection more clearly. To facilitate editing the image, you can render the selection invisible by clicking on the “Hide Selection” icon that appears to the left of the zoom settings toward the bottom of the screen (highly recommended when using the Magic Wand).

NR: The interior of Aachen Cathedral (Aachen, Germany) was quite dark, and I didn’t want to blow out detail in the stained-glass windows, which left the interior largely in shadow. Now I wanted to bring out the beautiful details in these underexposed areas, but that also meant increasing digital noise. So after making tonal adjustments, I used noise removal in Develop mode, but that proved insufficient, so I removed more noise in Edit mode. The good news is that the image didn’t get all syrupy-looking, but it still looked a bit gritty when viewed close up.

Adding text, watermarks, vignettes, special effects and borders should be the very last steps, since any subsequent editing will affect these enhancements. For instance, changing distortion or perspective after adding a border or vignette would distort the entire image.

Select Edit settings can be undone by clicking Reset. In some instances, you can click Apply to lock in the changes made, so you’re free to experiment further without doing any lasting damage. Reset won’t affect the image afterward, but you can still Undo these changes in their entirety.

High Contrast: I wanted to capture the detail in the foamy water, but that meant underexposing the surrounding landscape. So I brought the image into the Develop module and restored the tonal values using the various tools. However, bringing out detail in the cave below introduced noise, which had to be dealt with first here, then in Edit mode. While in Edit, I also retouched out a dust spot.

Conclusions
There is no mystery to using ACDSee Pro 5. It’s largely straightforward and doesn’t try to overwhelm you with a hodgepodge of vague settings. Print support extends to contact sheets—a nice touch, seeing that Photoshop has hidden or discarded that option. Add to that all those nice refinements I already mentioned, especially those that control local tones and colors.

Edit mode adds some spice with, among other things, text and watermarks that blend into the image. And the generous array of special effects goes a long way toward grabbing the viewer’s attention—definitely worth exploring.

Although I was disappointed by the dearth of starting Presets, I found it easy enough to create my own. In the end, I had Presets tailored to most lighting situations, to the point where I could click on any picture, select a Preset and move on. If it wasn’t the final step, it at least put me in the ballpark so that I could return and finesse the image later, selecting it from the Image Basket.

ACDSee Pro lacks support for layers, so you can’t create composites or do complex blending operations. And I’ve encountered memory problems that forced me to close and relaunch the program to free up resources. Faster operations would also be appreciated.

Vivid Sunset: I wanted to capture both the intensity of the sunset on Curacao and the shadow detail in the foreground. A few tonal and color adjustments later and voila! The scene I remembered.

The Noise Removal algorithms leave something to be desired. Images remain gritty despite cranking up NR Luminance levels as high as they will go in both Develop and Edit. That said, at least the image doesn’t turn to mush as you do so.

One of my favorite Lightroom/ACR tools, Clarity, is missing. And there is no graduated filter or adjustment brush, although the Dodge-And-Burn tool in Edit could work toward that end, if applied carefully (but keep in mind that you’re now working on a TIFF or JPEG, not on the Raw image).

Perhaps I’m expecting too much, but I really would have liked lens profiles to automatically deal with lens corrections. Lens profiles are not always perfect, but they’re a useful starting point—and certainly a time-saver.

Despite a few misgivings, I found ACDSee Pro 5 for Windows to be an admirable imaging application. Pro 5 is fundamentally uncomplicated, with a user-friendly, largely intuitive interface and has the basic essentials. It also adds some intriguing tools that you can really sink your teeth into. And the palette of effects adds an entertaining side. Best of all, Raw conversion and pixel-level editing are practically all under one roof, so there’s no need to buy two separate applications.

In the final analysis, ACDSee Pro 5 certainly helped me reinterpret and bring out qualities in images that I missed before. This may not be my ultimate choice, but for those of you who want to get going right out of the gate, this is a good starting point.

Price: $239. More info and system requirements: (www.acdsee.com)

ACDSee Pro For Mac And ACDSee 14 For Windows

ACDSee Pro For Mac And ACDSee 14 For Windows ACDSee Pro for Mac ($169) is a very basic Raw converter—and little else, even falling short in the workflow management department. It lacks the depth and sophistication of its Windows counterpart. There are easily more capable and more powerful Raw converters for Mac. But if you want simplicity, this is your ticket.

ACDSee 14 ($79) is a scaled-down version of ACDSee Pro for Windows. It lacks the Develop mode, but will work with Raw images (in 8-bit color). It offers many of the pixel-level image-editing tools found in its big brother, plus the Online module. Best of all, you have a full range of special effects at your disposal. This is definitely a good way to go if you want to keep it simple yet get the job done to your satisfaction, while sharing images at the same time.
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