PCC Photos

Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2

Ease Of Use Included

The Bullet Points:

Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is Corel’s latest incarnation of Paint Shop Pro, slanted toward digital photography. It is a professional grade digital image editor with enhancements to aid digital image import and management.

What’s In The Box:

1 software CD-ROM, 140 page User Guide.

The Review:

Paint Shop Pro has been around for a long time, and I am a long time user. The original Jasc product was brought out originally as a low cost alternative to Adobe Photoshop, offering nearly everything that Photoshop did except for the highly technical service bureau support. It was a screaming bargain then, and it is a screaming bargain now.

I’m a heavy user of digital graphics software, both vector drawing and bitmap. I regularly use Adobe Creative Suite 3 (wherein lies Photoshop) and the Corel Graphics Suite X4 (wherein lies PHOTO-PAINT) [mostly as part of my consulting business]. I have always been a fan of Paint Shop Pro for offering professional level tools at a hobbyist’s price. Photo X2 continues that tradition.

Corel’s acquisition of Paint Shop Pro was a mystery to me when they did it. At the time, they had their own bitmap editing program, the professional grade PHOTO-PAINT, and they had acquired artistically oriented Fractal Painter program, so what did they need with another bitmap editor? Now I think I understand it as the consumer level product that Corel was lacking, and Photo X2 fits that profile admirably. It remains one of those rare bargain programs that seems underpriced for its capabilities, particularly when you run it off against the professional grade competition.

Photo X2 is still slanted at digital camera users, as was its predecessor, Photo X. (For those unfamiliar with Corel, the product line got renamed when CorelDRAW hit version 13. It looks like they just couldn’t bear to brand their flagship product “13”, so they recast it as “X3”, and have applied “X” branding to the rest of the product line.) Users of Photo X will recognize most of the tools, but there are a few new additions, and the whole program is more user friendly, with much simplification of the interface and many more wizard-driven and automated tasks.

Installation is straightforward, and is accompanied at the end with an offer to scan your hard drive and gather up whatever images that it finds. This turned out to be undesirable for me, as I have hundreds of images on my computer, organized the way I want, and I don’t particularly want a new way of organizing them. I declined the kind offer, and instead used the task pane to select just the images from my digital camera.

The first time I opened the program, the interface seemed a bit overwhelming. There are the standard menus, a couple of toolbars, a task pane on the left side of the screen, and an image preview bar on the bottom. The interface is very flexible, though, so it is a simple matter to go to the View menu and turn toolbars, taskbars and toolboxes on and off, leaving on screen only the tools you want to work with in each task.
The feature list is extensive, so I won’t try to explain everything, but I will point to the Learning Center taskbar as the best gateway to most tasks. Tasks are grouped, so each category on the top level leads to a set of related tasks: for example, opening the Adjust task puts a selection of automatic and manual adjustment tools in the taskbar. Each task can invoke step-by-step instructions and guidance for the casual user. Tasks are described in non-technical terms, such as Improve Lighting for adjustment of gamma, brightness and contrast. One of the improvements in the automatic adjustments is that they seem to work smarter than those in the previous Photo X.

Most of the automatic tools are in the taskbar where they can be easily found and used; this is most helpful for the new user, and the terminology is mostly non-technical, an aid to the casual user. The experienced user is not left out, though, as many of the tasks are accompanied by things like histograms to aid the technical user in refinement. Most of the twiddly stuff is on the menus, just as it was in the early Paint Shop Pro days. If you’ve used the program before, you will find the menus familiar.

Nits: 

  • Not all the tools have the granularity of adjustment that I would like, though admittedly it’s only about one in twenty pictures where it wouldn’t do precisely what I wanted.
  • The interface still seems cluttered to me, though this is a matter of personal preference.
  • Not enough is said about color profiles. One of the largest complaints I encounter from casual users is that printed pictures don’t look like they do on the screen. Some experience with these programs is required to make printed pictures come close to what they look like on the screen, and this program is no different. The Help files treat this topic tersely.
  • The Object Remover tool is crude, and points to the fact that masks in the program are weak in general.

Picks:

  • Most of the automatic tools work very well for most photos, in many cases faster and easier than those in Photoshop or PHOTO-PAINT.
  • The Red-Eye tool is the first that I have encountered that works on the “green-eye” found in most flash photos of pets. Photo X2 has become my default editor for pet photos.
  • I’m fond of saying that the camera has a cruel eye, faithfully enhancing every human defect in a photograph. The Blemish Fixer, Wrinkle Fixer, Suntan Fixer, and even a Toothbrush tool are easy, effective, and even fun to use.
  •  In the “why don’t the other programs do this?’ category, tabbed documents in the image window. If you work with multiple image files in other programs, you know what a pain it is to manage screen space. At long last, Tabs in a bitmap editor.
  • HDR Photo Merge lets you take two different photos of the same subject at different exposures and merge then getting the best highlight and shadow details of each into a single image. Works better than all of the brightness, contrast, and gamma adjustments that you can apply to a single image and encourages the old fashioned technique of bracketing exposures. Digital cameras are good, but you can still encounter highlight burnout and loss of shadow detail. HDR Photo Merge allows you to bracket exposures and put the good parts together.

Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is a versatile, easy to use photo manager and editor that you can ease into and learn to take to professional levels. It’s simple enough for the casual user and contains capable tools for the serious photographer. Its largest single advantage is the competence of its automatic tools which will save the serious photographer hours of image adjusting. Corel has made Paint Shop Pro into what is probably the best all around photo manager and editor out there at just about any price. You can’t find anything nearly as good at the price. If you are a casual user, it will easily manage your digital camera needs. If you are a serious photographer, it will handle 90% of your imaging requirements easier and faster than anything else. Highly recommended.

Product Information:
Paint Shop Pro Photo X2
Web Price $70
Corel USA
46430 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538
877-582-6735
www.corel.com

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