I was wondering for a while whether there is a decent alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I mean a serious photographer shooting always in RAW, who doesn't want to loose any of the data captured by the camera - i.e. processing the files in 16-bit until the last save.
Remark: To outline my photo editing needs:
- minimum: Full 16-bit editing, including layers, noise removal plugin, curves/levels, blurring, cloning, color adjustment;
- optional: Support of Canon EOS 40D RAW format;
- important: easy to use interface suitable for intensive workflow
Recent version of Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 looked promising, so I decided to give it a try.
Unfortunately it isn't suitable for people like me. I will list the limitations in the order I experienced them, not in the order of importance:
- PSP X2 can't open RAW files from my Canon EOS 40D - not critical;
- PSP X2 can't properly handle TIF files saved with ZIP compression - not critical;
- PSP X2 can only save 8-bit and/or flattened files in common formats (TIF, PSD), and can only save multi-layer 16-bit picture in it's own format - not critical;
- Most filters/effects only work in 8-bit mode as it was with photoshop several years ago. - not critical, as long as layers, curves, levels and blur work in 16-bit mode;
- Some tools only work in 8-bit mode, e.g. clone - this is critical for retouch;
- Using on the same PC, PSP X2 works much slower than Photoshop CS2 or CS3 - may be critical, but probably can be addressed by a faster PC with more memory.
However, considering limitations altogether, and considering intensive workflow my conclusion is that Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is not a decent replacement of Adobe Photoshop CS+ for serious photographers. Perhaps one of the next versions will make it suitable...
- GIMP isn't - not only it is very uncomfortable to use but it still doesn't support 16-bit editing.
- Photoshop Elements 6 isn't an alternative either because of very limited 16-bit support - only a few filters supported in 16-bit; and adjustment layers don't work in 16-bit mode.
- Googling for 16-bit programs I found Picture Window Pro 4.0. Tried that one - yes, it supports full 16-bit editing, but the interface isn't convenient and no layers supported at all.
GIMP isn't too bad, but lacks 16-bit support and has non-friendly interface
PSP X2 is actually quite good, the only serious missing point is lack 16-bit editing.
Remark: 16-bit editing is very important in case of intensive digital manipulation. Editing in 8-bit will result very quickly a non-continuous color representation. You can easily see that effect as a comb when executing Levels command. This might not be an issue for personal photographs or for minor editing, but this is not acceptable in most professional use.
Remark #2: I've got impression that PSP X2 beats Photoshop Elements 6 if you compare them. Actually PSP X2 is positioned in the same market area as PS Elements and isn't competing with the "real" photoshop. However, adding 16-bit support and keeping it low-price would make it a serious alternative to Photoshop itself rather than just Elements.