Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2; Powerful, Easy, And Affordable Image-Editing Software

Image-editing applications that run on a Windows PC have been available since the early 1990s. In that decade and a half digital photography has grown and changed dramatically, requiring new and different kinds of image-editing support. One of the applications that has been around for most of that time is Paint Shop Pro, now under Corel's ownership. Over the years it has undergone a metamorphosis to become quite contemporary in features and functions, with a comprehensive toolset and menu that establish it as a strong and effective image-editing application. In this latest version, Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 has taken on the challenge of digital camera file processing and image management, and also added even more powerful image adjustment and manipulation technology.

A Rich Mix Of Tools And Processes
When Corel took over Paint Shop Pro it was like many other Windows PC image editors in that it did not provide support for color management. Using it was like taking a shotgun to target practice--you would probably hit the target but scoring a bull's-eye (reproducing accurate color fidelity predictably) was not very likely. Now, with the Photo X2 version, full professional-level color management support is provided, including specifying a calibrated display/monitor profile, as well as selecting any one of the standard work space profiles like Adobe RGB (1998). The result is that what you see is what you get in an output file that can be reproduced exactly as intended.

The Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 work space interface is both easy on the eyes and efficiently laid out, providing an unusually effective editing environment.
All Photos © 2007, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Corel's Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 provides a direct and transparent support for processing digital camera files, whether the file is a JPEG or raw. Either format is opened directly by the application without the need to perform any intermediate conversion steps. A user can choose any option for color correcting and adjusting digital camera files from the easy, all-in-one Express Lab interface. This provides the most basic, required tools to crop, rotate, and straighten; apply Smart Photo Fix options to remove a color cast, adjust brightness or saturation; do a makeover with easy-to-use retouching tools; and, of course, remove redeye. The files can also be opened in the primary work space and a full set of manual adjustments, processes, and corrections can be applied. You can also choose the automated Smart Fix dialog to make progressive, additive, all-in-one adjustments.

All of these new and established processes and features are now chosen and applied in a new screen environment. This new Graphite Interface is a definite navigation advantage, making Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 easier than its predecessors. Images displayed stand out with less visual competition from the now subdued background and window/palette. While an improvement, a slightly lighter, mid-tone gray would have supported a more neutral and better environment for images displayed on screen. The dark surroundings on screen tend to make images look brighter and more colorful, so adjustments applied may not be as precise in terms of how the image would appear in a print or a website screen environment.

Express Lab makes accessing, color correcting, and adjusting newly made photo files, including raw format files, more of a pleasure and less of a challenging drudgery, especially for more prolific shooters. All of the basic adjustments are in sliders on the right, and most of the "fixes" needed can be handled with tools having icons.

Of all the new features, HDR Photo Merge, used to expand the dynamic range of a set of bracketed images, is a real plus. Corel's Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is the first intermediate, affordable image-editing application to offer this capability with an easy-to-use and effective process that has just two slider controls--Brightness and Clarify. In short, two or more bracketed images, with at least one with good exposure for the highlights and another with good exposure for the shadows, can both be opened in the HDR Photo Merge dialog window. The process then merges the two images into one, and by adjusting Brightness and Clarify an ideal balance of tones can be achieved.

I used a set of bracketed exposures to test HDR Photo Merge. Once loaded, I clicked on Align Images, even though these were shot with a tripod. I then clicked on the Suggest Settings buttons to begin blending. After adjusting both the Brightness and Clarify sliders back and forth a little, I settled on a blend that provided natural-looking detail tonality in both highlight and shadows, and clicked OK. The output file results were entirely satisfactory, as if shooting on an extremely extended exposure range film or sensor.

The Clarify slider control also does double duty in the Process dialog to convert color to black and white. It enhances image brilliance and contrast by obtaining the same effect as using color filters with black and white film.