If you want to get the very best results from your digital camera then you need to shoot raw format images.
The downside to this is that the images need to be processed before they can be printed in a lab or shared via email or on websites and social media sites.
Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 (£8.78/$9.99 per month)
Photoshop CC is the industry standard image editing software and it comes with Adobe Camera Raw for editing and converting raw files.
Photoshop is an excellent editing package and while the browsing software that comes with it (Adobe Bridge) doesn’t offer the file organisation power of Lightroom, Adobe’s photography plan includes Lightroom 5 as well as Photoshop CC 2014 in the price (£8.78/$9.99 per month).
There’s an impressive array of controls within Camera Raw and the graduated filter and selective adjustment tools are superb when you need to make local adjustments.
A minor downside is that Camera Raw isn’t fully integrated into Photoshop and it opens as a separate window whenever you attempt to open a raw file.
Adobe Lightroom 5 (£99/$135.85)
Lightroom 5 uses the same raw processing engine as Photoshop CC, but it’s completely integrated so using it is seamless.
Lightroom is also an impressive image cataloguing program.
This means you can organise, view and edit your images within the same program whether they are JPEG, TIFF or raw files. What’s more, like Camera Raw in Photoshop, the adjustments are non-destructive.
The localised editing tools of Camera Raw are also found in Lightroom, but you can’t work with layers like you can in Photoshop or create layer masks and selections.
Given the price of Adobe’s photography program (see Photoshop for more information) there seems little point in buying Lightroom by itself.
If you subscribe to the plan you can use the organisational capability of Lightroom along with the full editing power of Photoshop.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 (£62/$64)
Photoshop Elements 12 is more than just a cut-down version of Photoshop, it’s completely reconfigured to make it easier to use and more understandable to less experienced image editors. It is divided into two sections, the ‘Organizer’ and the ‘Editor’.
As you might guess, the Organizer is an image cataloguing system while the Editor is where the image processing takes place with ‘Quick’ and ‘Guided mode’ options being available as well as the more powerful ‘Expert’ mode.
Elements uses a simplified version of Adobe Camera Raw for raw file processing and the Curves adjustment, lens correction, perspective correction or localised adjustment tools of the Photoshop CC and Lightroom versions are missing.
It’s generally fine for adjusting brightness, contrast and colour of raw files, but anything else has to be done once the file has been opened in Elements’ Editor – which allows the use of layers.
DXO Optics Pro 9 (£119/$149 Standard, £239/$299 Elite)
Although it can be used to adjust JPEG images, the main purpose of DxO Optics Pro is working with raw files.
It uses DXO’s analysis of lens and camera performance to correct optical aberrations, distortions and corner shading or softness and reduce noise visibility using lens and camera profiles.
The profiles available vary depending upon the version you have, high-end and pro camera owners need the Elite version, so it’s important to check which package is correct for your camera.
It’s worth noting that the Lightroom and Photoshop versions of Camera Raw also come with camera and lens correction profiles, but they aren’t produced with the same scientific rigour as DXO’s.
Noise control is one of Optic Pro’s strengths, but you’ll need a separate editing package for image organisation or if you want to work with layers or make localised adjustments.
Phase One Capture One 7 (€60 Express, €229 Pro)
Capture One comes from medium format specialist Phase One, and it’s often used by studio photographers for capturing images via a computer (tethered shooting), but it’s also an excellent raw processor and image-adjustment package.
There’s also a good image cataloguing element and lens correction profiles, making it comparable with Lightroom.
These adjustments are made using non-destructive adjustment layers and masks, which can be edited and either painted on or applied with a gradient tool.
Fans of Capture One praise the quality of its raw conversions and it has excellent shadow and highlight recovery tools.
In the past many photographers have opted for Adobe Lightroom as a more affordable alternative to Photoshop, that brings the advantage of greater image organising power.
However, Adobe’s photography plan, which has now been made a permanent feature, puts Photoshop CC 2014 within reach of many more potential users and it includes both Photoshop and Lightroom.
It’s an excellent combination at a very attractive price and it gets our recommendation.
However, if you object to pay a monthly subscription, Lightroom 5 is the way to go – at least for the time being, though it seems likely that this will become a subscription service at some point in the future.
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