Photo editing comparison 2021: This is what current photo tools can do

We like to snap and collect photos with our smartphones, but only a small part of them is viewed and edited. But when it comes to post-processing photos, powerful image processing is a must. Adobe Photoshop CC sets the bar very high in terms of functionality but loses users due to its high price, the sometimes complicated operation, and a subscription model that is a deterrent for many users. The good news: There are strong alternatives at low prices.

Image editing programs for Windows

Post-processing pictures on the PC is one of the standard tasks such as writing texts in Word or surfing the Internet. But there are big differences in the requirements. You can quickly trim screenshots using standard Windows tools, but spicing up photos for your own blog, Instagram, photo book, or for school and work often requires significantly more creative tools. Then paint & Co. are no longer enough. The opposite pole to this simple image processing is Photoshop. For more than 30 years this has been the professional top dog in companies and among creative hobby photographers and image processing with the most functions.

But Photoshop has some disadvantages: Adobe only makes its professional software available as a subscription, which is not for everyone. In addition, the functions are incredibly diverse, but Photoshop is a world of its own that you first have to find your way around. And finally, the price is an argument. Adobe wants around 24 euros per month for Photoshop CC, with an annual subscription, mind you. So the competition has some levers that can be used and that is what it does.

Best image editing – Adobe Photoshop CC

If you look at the overall package, the bottom line is that Adobe Photoshop CC is the best image editor. The main reason for this are the many functions. So it’s no wonder that Photoshop is primarily used by professionals. It can be found in creative agencies, with artists, designers, photographers as well as in the marketing and advertising departments of companies. No other image processing system brings as many tools and detailed functions with it, and Photoshop adds new highlights to AI functions with every update.

The downside: Photoshop has become a thick ship, which is also only cumbersome to have via the Creative Cloud. The consequences are long loading times and delayed starts. Don’t get it wrong, if companies or users use several Adobe tools, it is an advantage if they work together seamlessly, if you only want Photoshop, you have to live with the overhead. Unfortunately, Photoshop is only available as a subscription version. So you can always switch to the latest version, but you also pay a lot of usage fees every month. Watch out for the trial, after only 7 days Adobe will ask you to checkout.

Photoshop is an image processing with many strengths, such as RAW processing or an image retouching. The tools are mature and not everything is complicated anymore. For example, you can easily correct a person’s facial expression, age or posture, or swap the sky for landscape shots. But there are no big extras beyond image processing; if you want image management, you should add Lightroom.

Photoshop is not particularly suitable for beginners because it takes a long time to familiarize themselves with them. There are simpler alternatives, such as the Photoshop Elements shown below. Professionals who have set themselves up with all the trimmings in Photoshop will be difficult to get away from there. Recently, Photoshop has also been doing a lot to make it easier to get started. There is the possibility to find tutorials or quick actions via the menu.

Budget Option – Affinity Photo

In the high-end area, you may only want to use image processing with the most functions, but beyond Photoshop there are enough programs that do a lot of image processing tasks and have a few other good arguments. Affinity Photo is a good example. Affinity Photo’s current price is just over a monthly rate for Photoshop. You can’t just ponder, you should think carefully about whether it really has to be Photoshop. In terms of functions, Affinity Photo is already very close.

The graphical user interface is based on Photoshop, so anyone who has already got used to certain workflows should find their way around quickly. One difference is the colored icons, but that is a matter of taste. Of course, you can also edit Photoshop files with Affinity Photo, and the software can be tailored for various tasks using Personas. Image processing works quickly in practice and GPU acceleration has recently also been available under Windows 10. The RAW processing did not completely convince us, there is still some catching up to do and the performance could be better. The provider has that on the screen and has already closed one or the other construction site.

It is interesting that there is also a plug-in interface that allows the integration of some Photoshop plug-ins. There are no interfaces for social media or the cloud. Otherwise, you can let off steam creatively with Affinity Photo, for example creating HDR images, composing panoramas, or using batch processing. Those who work a lot on portraits also get good tools, for example for clipping hair.

For Beginners: Photoshop Elements

Adobe has long recognized that full-blown Photoshop is not a tool for everyone. For beginners, there is Photoshop Elements, a stripped-down Photoshop version without a subscription. The fixed price of less than 100 euros is one of the central arguments. Users land on a clear start screen and can head in their desired direction from there.

Practical, with the Organizer simple image management, is included so that you no longer need your own software. The image processing itself is divided into three categories, “Fast”, “Assistant” and “Expert”. The expert view should be refreshed, it looks old-fashioned but allows direct access to image editing tools, a kind of Photoshop Light. But don’t underestimate the features, there are some really cool functions, such as opening eyes, coloring pictures, smoothing skin, whitening teeth, and other automatic functions.

What must good image processing be able to do?

Good image processing has to manage the balancing act between many functions and ease of use. At the same time, the image manipulations should also be carried out quickly and not create unnecessary resources. You may already notice that this is easy to write, but it is difficult to achieve in practice.

Photoshop is the prime example of a great variety of functions, but the operation suffers. The other image edits in the test also offer a lot of functions but pay more attention to picking up less experienced users. Photoshop Elements has image management on board, as does ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021. CyberLink PhotoDirector 12 Ultra integrates a very simple express mode, but allows you to switch to a mode with all tools. Also Paint Shop Pro delivers with a very simple workspace “photography”, but users can also switch to full view.

Image editing needs to support users in the most frequently listed processes, such as portrait and landscape editing. That means beautifying, correcting, removing objects, straightening horizons and selecting objects quickly. Working with layers, colors and filters are also one of the basic functions.

Beginners should make sure that there are good automatic functions, for example, to remove red eyes, improve brightness and contrast, remove objects or sharpen images. Filters can also be used to quickly create cool effects in photos.

Interesting additional functions for image processing

Current image processing works with AI algorithms, for example to color scenes with simple sliders or to remove scratches with just a few clicks of the mouse. In practice, it is important that processing is quick, that as many steps as possible can be undone and that the number of supported file formats is high.

Working with camera raw data is no longer an exclusive way of playing for professionals, but opens up a wealth of new possibilities for all users. Here it is important that the image processing supports as many cameras as possible, since the raw formats differ depending on the manufacturer and model. Often, raw photos are referred to as “digital negatives”, which you then have to “develop” with the appropriate software. It is important here that the programs work quickly and that they offer enough simple tools even in this special mode.

What do I have to spend on good image processing?

In this post we compare Photoshop with purchase image processing around 100 euros. If you look at the result, you can only orientate yourself on the price tip Affinity Photo, which currently offers great image processing for a mere 27.99 euros.

But it’s also free. We have put together the best free photo editors in this article . Tip: You can also test GIMP & Co. If you can handle it well, stick with a free photo editor. Otherwise, use the trials of the image processing presented here. With the exception of Photoshop, there is a 30-day test period everywhere. Affinity Photo even allows you to extend the trial period to 90 days.

Then you should know whether the respective image processing meets your requirements. If not, just try the next software until you find the right one.

Image processing: subscription vs. purchase version

Subscription or purchase version, this is no different for image editing than for office packages or other software. First of all, purchase versions have a better reputation with many users because you pay once and then you can use the software indefinitely. A subscription doesn’t require that much money at once, but you have to pay for it every month. There are users who fear that such subscriptions will continue to run unnoticed even if they no longer use the software. This can of course happen, you have to explicitly cancel the subscription.

Photoshop CC is only available as a subscription version, which is advantageous for companies because of the manageable amounts. In addition, you always get the latest version. When the next Photoshop comes, all subscribers can download it immediately. When buying software, you usually acquire a certain version, the next major version then at least requires the purchase of an update.

When it comes to image editing, only Photoshop CC relies entirely on the subscription and does not offer a one-off purchase. All other image processing in this comparison can be paid for in one fell swoop and all Photoshop alternatives are less than 100 euros. ACDSee and CyberLink also offer subscription versions. ACDSee couples Photo Studio with other creative programs as part of a subscription. CyberLink’s PhotoDirector 365 provides advanced image processing, including a Shutterstock connection, for example.

Be careful with the Photoshop CC trial: First, it expires after seven days, and second, Adobe selects an annual subscription. If you forget to cancel within the first week, you have an annual subscription. You can of course cancel this, but it will be expensive fun. If you are not sure that you want to keep Photoshop, you can switch to a monthly subscription at this point.

Which photo editor is the easiest to use?

Our tip for beginners is Photoshop Elements, but CyberLink PhotoDirector 12 Ultra and Coral PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate also try to make it easy for beginners. If necessary, you can always switch to views with more tools. With PaintShop Pro we were a bit disappointed at this point, because we received reproducible crashes when changing views. Numerous other users also report this problem, but only the provider probably knows why there is no remedy here.

The system requirements for current image editing are relatively high: It should be a 64-bit Windows, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements have completely focused on Windows 10, the other image editing runs from Windows 7. The two Photoshop variants also have 8 GB with the RAM requirements set the bar high. The other programs are more frugal, but you should already have 4 GB under the hood.

If you still have a 32-bit Windows, the latest image edits are not for you. The best thing to do is to take a look at the free alternatives .

Image processing vs. image management

It is more of a historical development that image processing sometimes comes with and sometimes without image management. On the one hand, it is consistent if you want to edit pictures, then it is about creative work on photos. Another construction site is then the management of larger photo databases with keywording and additional functions such as face recognition. On the other hand, many users want a solution for everything to do with their images and many image administrations also come with basic image processing equipment.

Photoshop CC, Affinity Photo, CyberLink PhotoDirector and Corel PaintShop Pro are pure image processing. With Photoshop Elements and ACDSee Photo Studio, in addition to image processing, image management is also on board. For Photohops users, Lightroom is a great addition.

How to find the perfect photo editor

The comparison shows that the quality of image editing is high. Don’t just get Photoshop just because it has the most feature set. The most important thing is what your requirements are. Photoshop requires a lot of training, and the Affinity Photo price tip is not self-explanatory either. But that’s perfectly fine if you want to let off steam creatively with the programs.

Our tip to anyone who is undecided: Just try out the image processing. Each of the six solutions presented offers a trial version. Photoshop, unfortunately, only a meager seven days, the standard is 30 days. Affinity Photo can currently be tested for 90 days without obligation.



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