What is the best photo editing software? Photoshop has long been the benchmark against which other image editing programs are judged. So, here we put Photoshop CC and seven popular alternatives head-to-head to find out which is the best photo editing software, offering photographers the most complete package of features and ease of use along with value for money.
Photoshop CS has long been regarded as the world’s best photo editing software, and the yardstick for all other photo editors.
But the market has changed. Photographers don’t just need image-manipulation tools any more, they also need programs that can organise, search and share an ever-growing library of photos.
And as more and more of us shoot RAW files, the quality of the RAW conversion process and the tools you can bring to bear become ever more important.
SEE MORE: 7 things you didn’t know about RAW
Even though Photoshop might still be the best photo editing software, an image editor in itself may not be enough for the things we want to do with our photos today.
So we’ve rounded up eight different image editing tools to cover all these different jobs, from regular photo editors to image cataloguing specialists like Lightroom and all-out RAW converters like DxO Optics Pro.
What’s becoming increasingly obvious, though, is that one program alone may not be enough, and you may find you need to use two, or maybe even three, to get all the features you need.
Photoshop is not enough
For example, Photoshop is brilliant at image editing, but offers no tools at all for organising, searching and collating your photos.
You can use Adobe Bridge, but that’s really just a file browsing tool, and relies on users creating a rigid folder-based filing system.
The larger your image collections become, and the more you want to find, use and share your photos in different ways, the more difficult it becomes to use folders alone. That’s why many photographers use Lightroom alongside Photoshop.
Lightroom tackles the complex image management jobs that Photoshop is not designed for and makes light work of day to day enhancements and RAW files, while Photoshop takes care of the advanced image editing tasks that Lightroom can’t do.
It’s no accident that Adobe is bundling both together in its current subscription-based Creative Cloud Photography plan. They complement each other perfectly and, in many ways, they belong together.
Photoshop Elements is a more complete package, coming with its own Organizer app to look after your photo collection. But it is designed for amateurs and enthusiasts in a way that’s very obvious and sometimes a little irritating.
It does have limitations for more advanced work, and while once it cost a fraction of the price you paid for Photoshop, the gap is now effectively very narrow indeed.
Lightroom does not have the image cataloguing/RAW conversion market to itself.
Cyberlink PhotoDirector 6 offers many of the same tools but with a more amateur-orientated twist, while Capture One Pro 8 is bearing down on Lightroom from the professional end of the market, with its own image cataloguing tools and a highly competitive set of RAW image adjustments.
It’s actually very interesting to compare the results from these different RAW conversion tools.
Adobe Camera Raw, as used by Photoshop and Lightroom, is by far the best-known and most widely-used RAW converter. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best.
DxO Optics Pro takes RAW conversion quality to the extreme, using lab-developed camera and lens profiles and constantly-developing raw conversion technology to deliver results you may not have realised your camera is capable of.
Old software versus the newcomers
Digital imaging is going through some exciting times, with higher-resolution sensors, sophisticated software lens corrections and advances in RAW data conversion and noise reduction.
So where does this leave old favourites like Corel PaintShop Pro and Serif PhotoPlus?
Both have proved highly popular with PC owners looking for lower-cost photo editing solutions, but times are changing.
And let’s not leave Photoshop Elements out of this either, because it’s another very traditional application in its approach.
So, which photo editing software is ahead of the curve, and which is just trading on past glories? And can any of them topple the mighty Adobe Photoshop from its perch?
We test Photoshop CC and 7 alternatives in a bid to find out…
PAGE 1: Why you might want a Photoshop alternative
PAGE 2: Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 review
PAGE 3: Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 review
PAGE 4: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 review
PAGE 5: Corel PaintShop Pro X7 review
PAGE 6: CyberLink PhotoDirector 6 review
PAGE 7: DxO Optics Pro 10 review
PAGE 8: Phase One Capture One Pro 8 review
PAGE 9: Serif PhotoPlus X7 review
PAGE 10: Verdict & How we tested this photo editing software
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