Ulead’s PhotoImpact 12; A Powerful Photo Editor At An Affordable Price

Adobe's Photoshop is unarguably the most popular photo editor in use today, although not everyone needs its myriad of features or is willing to spend the money to get them. There are options out there, among them Ulead's PhotoImpact 12. It's a feature-packed photo editor that may well offer you both the power and efficiency that you need, and do so at a very affordable price.

It may surprise you to learn that Adobe's Photoshop and Ulead's PhotoImpact have a shared history. When the first Photoshop was released it was Macintosh-only software, as there was not yet enough demand for such a product among Windows users. As demand for a Windows version grew, Adobe's software engineers, accustomed to designing graphic software for the Mac, were running into delays in creating a Windows version. At the same time, Ulead had already created a successful Windows photo editor, marketed under the name "Aldus PhotoStyler 2.0." Adobe purchased PhotoStyler, along with the source code used to create it, and used this information to help create the first version of Photoshop for Windows. Ulead, now operating under a limited (and long since expired) non-compete contract with Adobe, made some changes to PhotoStyler 2.0, and reintroduced it as Ulead's PhotoImpact 3.0.

Unique Interface Options
The first thing you'll notice when PhotoImpact 12 opens is a set of interface options, with eight available. These include:
1. ExpressFix mode (for making quick fixes to images)
2. Full Edit mode (all of PhotoImpact's tools and features are available here)
3. Web mode (for designing web pages)
4. Video & DVD mode (for creating DVD menus with PhotoImpact's Menu Maker Plug-in)
5. Manage Photos (opens Ulead's photo management program, Photo Explorer 8.6)
6. Get Photos (opens an interface for downloading photos from digital cameras and card readers)
7. Create New Image (starts PhotoImpact with its New File dialog box already opened)
8. Photo Project Wizard (opens a wizard-guided interface for designing greeting cards and CD/DVD labels)

I'll take a closer look at the two most commonly used interfaces, ExpressFix mode and Full Edit mode.

ExpressFix Mode
ExpressFix mode opens with a before and after view of your photo. Available features include two single-click auto adjustment filters (Reduce Noise and SmartCurves), thumbnail-guided access to six adjustment categories (Overall Exposure, Subject Exposure, Color Cast, Color Saturation, Focus, and Beautify Skin), and full access to all of PhotoImpact's photo-editing adjustments and filters (#1).

#1 PhotoImpact 12 in ExpressFix mode.
All Photos © 2007, Anthony L. Celeste, All Rights Reserved

The thumbnail-guided adjustments provide a convenient method of correcting common problems, particularly when working with large numbers of photos. Each of the six categories provides thumbnail examples of suggested changes; clicking on a thumbnail applies the changes to your image. If the thumbnails did not produce exactly what you had in mind, there's a "Customize" button that gives you access to more detailed slider controls. Images #2 and #3 demonstrate an image adjusted with just two thumbnail clicks in ExpressFix mode.

#2 Except for the sun, which obviously has sufficient exposure, the rest of this image is seriously underexposed.

#3 The problem was corrected in ExpressFix mode with a single thumbnail click in the "Overall Exposure" category. A color adjustment was then performed with another single click, this time in the "Color Saturation" category.

Full Edit Mode
Full Edit mode is where PhotoImpact's true editing power comes to the fore. Well over 100 adjustments and filters are made available in PhotoImpact's "Adjust," "Photo," and "Effects" menus. With almost every adjustment or filter, thumbnail samples of modifications are provided. The thumbnails are not designed to replace fine-tuning, but to make the process more productive. When clicking on a thumbnail, slider controls are automatically adjusted to show the changes that you've just made. This provides an instant visual reference as to exactly how the filter works. You can then fine-tune these changes as much as desired, to get the exact look that you have in mind (#4 and #5).

#4 PhotoImpact 12 in Full Edit mode, with the Layer, Histogram, and Color Panel displayed on the right (panels can be hidden to allow for maximum screen space).

#5 Instead of just being able to click "OK" when you're done, you can also select "Preview," which opens this small panel under your image. You can now undo and redo your changes on the actual full-size image (not just a sample image in a filter window). You can then "Continue" (return to the filter dialog box for more fine-tuning), or click "OK" to accept your changes.

Digital Camera Raw File Support
PhotoImpact 12 includes a module for opening raw files in a variety of formats, including Adobe's new DNG (Digital Negative) file format. Features include a group of "Scenarios" (As Shot, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom) which are used to set critical white balance values such as Temperature and Tint. In addition, there are controls available for setting Exposure Compensation, Brightness, Saturation, Shadow, Sharpness, Luminance Noise, and Color Noise. Files can be imported into PhotoImpact in both 24-bit and 48-bit RGB mode. A Batch Processing option, which applies your settings to all of the raw files that you're importing, is also available (#6).

#6 PhotoImpact 12's raw import module.