Corel AfterShot Pro

      Photo Review 7.5
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      Rating

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Features: 8.5
      • Performance: 7.5
      • Interface Design: 7.5
      • Ease of Use: 7.5
      • OVERALL: 7.5
      In summary

      Corel’s AfterShot Pro, which was announced on 10 January, has been developed as an alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture. Fully multi-threaded and optimised for multi-core and multi-CPU computers, it’s built around the raw file processing engine developed by Bibble Labs, which Corel purchased last year

      Full review

      Corel’s AfterShot Pro, which was announced on 10 January, has been developed as an alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture. Fully multi-threaded and optimised for multi-core and multi-CPU computers, it’s built around the raw file processing engine developed by Bibble Labs, which Corel purchased last year. 

      AfterShot Pro is Corel’s first product based on the core Bibble technology and like the latest Bibble 5 (the final Bibble product) supports Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Corel has also enabled direct transfer of files from AfterShot Pro to its PaintShop Pro photo editor (RRP $99) in much the same way as files are transferred between  Lightroom or Aperture and Photoshop.

      AfterShot Pro appears to combine most of the best features of  Lightroom and Aperture and its price tag is certainly competitive. The Australian price is the same as the US price at $99 and users can download a free 30-day trial version from www.corel.com/aftershotpro.

      Existing users of Bibble Pro or Lite, PaintShop Pro, Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture are eligible for slightly cheaper upgrade pricing ($79). Current Bibble 5 customers who upgrade before the end of January, 2012 can buy AfterShot Pro for $19.99.

      Installation
      The downloadable version of AfterShot Pro is a 33.2MB file that takes just under three minutes to install on a PC running Windows 7 (64-bit). The application opens within a second or two and most operations we carried out with the trial download were relatively fast.

      If you haven’t used Bibble software before, make sure you download the User Guide (available in PDF format on Corel’s website)  when you download the application. It’s well laid out and indexed, although it focuses on explaining what the software can do rather than how to do it and a few functions aren’t covered adequately. Nevertheless, it’s a must-read if you want to understand the software.

      A key feature lacking in the user guide is a Troubleshooting section, which is necessary because the download we used had several really irritating bugs. There were times when adjustments were very slow to take effect and it was difficult to tell whether anything was happening. (Sometimes nothing did!)

      Occasionally everything disappeared from the workspace preview panel inexplicably. A couple of times this happened the status indicator at the bottom of the Browse panel indicated ‘Hidden’ files. However, nothing in the guide or in the software’s GUI enabled us to recover the files we were viewing or working on

      AfterShot Pro Workflow
      One feature many users will welcome is that AfterShot Pro doesn’t take over image files when you connect a camera to a computer or upload images via a memory card reader. It’s easy to open your photos from existing folders or import them from a network or memory card and start editing straight away.

      However, when saved images are automatically catalogued within the Library. This is required if you want to take advantage of the digital asset management tools and add to or organise your image collection as it grows.

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      The AfterShot photo workflow: 1. Transferring photos from camera to computer, 2. Importing the photos into AfterShot Pro, 3. Editing photos to creating one or more versions, 4. Outputting each version to a JPEG or TIFF file.

      Unlike Lightroom, AfterShot Pro doesn’t provide separate views for organising, editing and printing. Instead, all program features are available at all times as in Aperture 3. Like its rivals, AfterShot Pro can work with multiple images, providing Batch operations for generating JPEG and PDF files and producing contact sheets or standard-sized prints.

      The non-destructive editor can handle raw files from many popular digital cameras, although it doesn’t support several cameras that were released in the third quarter of last year, notably Canon’s PowerShot S100, the Pentax Q, Sony’s NEX-7 and Panasonic’s FZ150, GF3 and GX1. Fujifilm cameras aren’t listed at all and cameras announced at CES 2012 haven’t been included yet.

      The Workspace
      The AfterShot Pro workspace is straightforward, with a large preview panel in the centre, flanked by a browse panel on the left and tools panel on the right. The browse panel contains tools for searching, cataloguing, metadata browsing, organising and outputting images with three vertical tabs covering Library, File System and Output.

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      The AfterShot Pro workspace showing small thumbnail images in the preview window.

      A menu bar with tabs for File, Edit, View and Help dropdown menus sits above the browse panel on the top left side. Below it is the top toolbar containing tools for filtering and rating images on the left side and layer and viewing commands on the right.  

      A slider for adjusting the size of thumbnails is located on the bottom left edge of the preview panel, while tool icons for pan, white click, crop and straighten are on the lower right edge of the preview pane. Brush and toggling tools can also be found here.

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      The AfterShot Pro workspace with enlarged thumbnails and the RGB histogram and Standard tool set in the tools panel.

      The tools panel contains five sets of editing tools, indicated by vertical tabs on the right side of the panel. The Standard section of the right side panel is topped by an RGB histogram

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      An image opened in the preview pane with the Standard section and Basic Adjustments tools displayed.

      One interesting addition to this panel is a checkbox labelled ‘Perfectly Clear’ just below the histogram. This function comes from Athentech Technologies and is designed to provide a simple way to quickly optimise images on a pixel-by-pixel basis.

      Three settings are available: Tint Max, Tint Min and Tint Off. It appears to work by tweaking brightness, contrast and colour saturation slightly, which is often beneficial and provides an easy way to make small global corrections to colour casts and lighting. We found it made little difference to the correctly-exposed images we tried it on but provided some benefits when images were taken in difficult lighting and for shots that were low in contrast and slightly under-exposed.

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      Perfectly Clear settings in the Basic Adjustments section.

      A Presets panel opens below the Basic Adjustments tools with 20 default settings that create specific adjustments. Included among them are several options for B&W and sepia conversions, cross processing and bleach bypass filters, fisheye effects, contrast curve adjustments and fill settings, all saved as XMP files. These presets aren’t adjustable but users can create and save presets and share them across different computers.

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      Some of the pre-set effects provided: top row – original image and Deeper Shadows; second row – Pseudo-Fisheye and Bleach Bypass; bottom row – B&W simple and Sepia – Light with colour.

      Some tools in the Basic Adjustments set appear in other sections of the tools panel. For example, the Fill Light is found in both the Basic Adjustments and Tone section. But on the Tone page there’s a Range slider that lets you fine-tune the Fill Light adjustment. Each time duplicated controls are adjusted, the changes are updated across the board.

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      Fill Light and Fill Range adjustments in the Exposure panel on the Tone section.

      The Colour tab accesses a full range of colour adjustment tools, topped by a histogram-based Curves box that combines Curves and Levels tools. There’s also an Auto Contrast button (which auto-adjusts highlight and shadow based on the RGB histogram) plus pickers for setting black, grey and white points.

      Below it is a panel for colour correction that lets you adjust image colours selectively. based on primary colours or colours set via the colour picker. The top row of colour wells are preset to the primary and secondary colours. Below them is a row of wells that can be set to any colour you choose.

      This section of the panel can be used to change individual hues in an image. Below it are adjustments for colour balance and white balance adjustment, the latter including Click White and Custom Kelvin settings, plus a Colour Management panel for selecting ICC profiles. 

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      Colour adjustments provided via the Colour tab.

      Clicking on the Auto Contrast button sets the output white and black points based on image content and uses the AutoLevel values  to perform a one-time adjustment to increase contrast. This can work well with some images and for those where it’s less successful there are reset buttons to restore the unedited image. 

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      Before and after examples of Auto Contrast adjustments.

      The Basic Adjustments tools also include sliders for Sharpening and Noise Ninja noise reduction. Both tools are expanded in the Details section, which also includes Lens Correction to fix distortion and chromatic aberration caused by the lens.

      To access the full range of Noise Ninja adjustments you must purchase a Noise Ninja license and register with its developer, PictureCode (http://www.picturecode.com/). In the Noise Ninja Standard section, the check box enables or disables Noise Ninja noise reduction.

      The Lens Correction section can identify the lens used and focal length and aperture settings from the image metadata. It provides automatic correction for rectilinear distortions plus sliders for adjusting Chromatic Aberration and Vignetting. Manual adjustments are also available.

      The Detail tab has settings for sharpening, noise reduction and lens correction as well as Mirror and Invert buttons for duplicating and flipping images. Most of these are extensions of settings provided in the Basic Adjustments.

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      The Metadata tab contains tools that let you view and edit metadata associated with image files, including camera data, EXIF and IPTC data. Some metadata, such as camera settings, is read-only, while other metadata is editable. For examples, you can add information to the Caption, Rating and Date fields. (Much of this metadata is also available in the Browse panel.)

      The Plugin tab lets you access plugins, which are distributed as Corel AfterShot Pro *.bzplug files. You can also install plugins developed by third-party developers. AfterShot Pro comes with a Black & White Plugin that lets users choose from several colour mixing options (shown below). 

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      There are also two Spot Colour settings that can be used to restore one or two colours to a black and white image. A box beside the Hue slider opens a palette of Basic Colours and you can set the range for colour restoration based on how close the hues are to the selected hue.
      Asset Management
      Although you don’t have to import images into the Library to work on them, cataloguing image files with AfterShot Pro has a few advantages. The Library stores information covering links to the original (master) files, metadata for searching and browsing, a complete history of image adjustment settings, previews and thumbnails and other catalogue-specific settings, which are not available to stand-alone files.

      When creating catalogues in the Library you can choose to import an entire folder, a folder and all the subfolders it contains, or just import one or more files within a folder. And images can be imported from CDs or DVDs or external drives as well as the computer’s hard disk.  Duplicate catalogue entries won’t be created when photos are imported from the same source more than once.

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      AfterShot Pro keeps track of folders as they are added to the catalogue.

      As you add files and folders to the catalogue – or multiple catalogues to the Library – the panel to the left of the preview pane is updated. AfterShot Pro can also be configured to keep metadata up to date as images are edited and you can apply keywords and presets to photos by checking the Apply Import Settings box and entering the relevant details.

      The Library section lets you keep track of different versions of images and also move, copy, rename, and delete one or more files or versions at a time. You can also group versions of one or multiple master files into stacks. The screen grab below shows some of the options available.

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      Batch editing of metadata and keyword tagging enable users to organise collections of images without having to create endless folders-within folders. The Library section’s Metadata Browser lets you search the catalogue by keywords, colour label, photo information, IPTC data, rating or flag or via shooting information captured in the metadata fields.

      It can also locate images shot on a specific date or with a particular camera. The catalogues must be open in the Library to use these features. Because AfterShot Pro stores the first set of adjustments found for every image that’s imported, it’s easy to revert to these settings at any time.

      The File System section lets you access and edit uncatalogued photos without needing to import them into a catalogue. It’s handy for checking images you may not keep but prevents you from using some cataloguing functions listed above by resetting the edit history between each session. However, you can import images adjusted in File System mode into the catalogue later.

      Edits to photos may not be visible if you edit the same file in both File System mode and Library mode because the information is written to the file in different ways. This problem is avoided by always accessing files for editing from the Library. However, file management can be carried out from either mode.

      The Output section lets you specify file types and sizes for batch processing and also provides six options for printing photos, including contact sheets and multi-image layouts.

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      One of the Contact Sheet options. Note the file names printed below each thumbnail.

      Editing Tools
      Clicking on a thumbnail opens an image in the preview pane and allows it to be adjusted with any of the available tools. Like its rivals, AfterShot Pro edits non-destructively, which means adjustments made to images aren’t applied to the image file. Instead they are stored either in a sidecar XMP file, within the AfterShot Pro catalogue database, or both.

      Each time an image is edited, a new version of the edits is created containing the adjustments you’ve made. This data is stored in the catalogue. The system allows users to produce multiple copies of an image with different adjustments.

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      Options for saving sidecar XMP files containing editing adjustments.

      Corel says its AfterShot Pro XMP files are slightly different from those of its rivals so they can’t be over-written by – or over-write – settings applied in other applications. Users can also create standard XMP files that other applications will read.

      Most editing tools are available as slider controls in the Standard section of the tools panel, although some are in basic form. Like rival applications, AfterShot Pro provides adjustments for colours, light, shadows, tonality, sharpening, noise reduction as well as corrections for vignetting and lens-specific aberrations. Within their limitations, they appeared to work reasonably well.

      Some editing tools can only be applied to raw files. Among them are highlight recovery, the Temp and Tint sliders for Custom White Balance, the white balance presets (Sunny, Cloudy, etc.)  and Noise Ninja adjustments (only Auto Profile is available for other file types).

      Selective editing tools are limited when compared with those available in a dedicated image editor like Photoshop Elements or GIMP. AfterShot Pro includes tools for creating adjustment layers and regions, the latter covering a small section of an image. Layers can be added, deleted, duplicated, inverted and rename via the tools provided in the Layers panel.

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      The Layers tools.

      A layer can contain a single region with one or more adjustments or many regions and adjustments. Adjustments are applied globally within a layer, which means all regions in that layer will receive the same adjustments.

      Regions can be selected with one of the region tools, of which four are provided: circle, polygon, curve and brush. The curve tool creates an irregular curvy shape, the boundaries of which are determined by clicking the image to set points which are connected by curved lines.

      The brush tool creates a freehand shape and the width of the boundary is adjustable. Tools can be combined to provide complete coverage of the area being selected. The transition between inner and outer parts of a region is the feather area, which is also adjustable. Regions can also be inverted.

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      A region selected with the curve tool. Note how the tool keeps selecting after the selection is complete. It was difficult to escape from the selection mode to begin editing the region.

      Some adjustments and editing tools (including image rotation and straightening, lens corrections, colour management, auto levels and metadata settings) can only be applied to the image as a whole; not to layers or regions. Otherwise, you’re supposed to be able to use all the controls in the tools panel on selected layers and regions.

      We found the selection tools rather crude and very frustrating to use. The fact that the instructions in the user manual are difficult to follow and don’t produce the results you expect complicates matters unnecessarily.

      Practice is required to learn where to position the cursor when outlining a selection and there are no facilities for selecting by colour or tone. In addition, although the borders of selections are shown while you make a selection, they can vanish as soon as you start to adjust the image.

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      An example of one of the main problems we had with selective editing. Despite having selected the sky in this image as a region and clicking on the Adjust Layer 1 or Curve 1 layers, moving the exposure slider to -3.00 has had no effect on the intensity of the selected area. Other adjustments affected the whole image; not the selected region.

      The Layers panel provides no provision for viewing the image content of selections as separate layers so you can’t see easily if you’re working on the selected region. We also found adjustments we wanted to apply to a selected region were often applied globally, instead of just to the selection – or not applied at all, as shown above. 

      In addition, we found feathering adjustments were limited and relatively slow to take effect. On the whole, we’d recommend carrying out any editing the requires use of layers or creating precise selections with a dedicated image editor.

      The Heal and Clone tools are similar to their equivalents in most image editors but based on the layers and region tools. Each version can only have one Heal/Clone layer. The limitations of AfterShot Pro’s selective editing tools also apply when using these functions.

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      Heal and Clone tools use the selection tools provided in the Layers panel.

      Cropping and straightening operations, in contrast, were easy to carry out and generally successful.  Clicking on the Edit tab in the top toolbar let you undo adjustments that weren’t successful. The application appear to support a good number of undo levels via this menu or the History palette.

      AfterShot Pro makes it easy to keep track of edits and flags by posting icons around image thumbnails in the thumbnail display. Operations shown include duplication, flagging as pick or reject, cropping, adjustments, rating, colour labelling and the position of the version in a stack.

      Outputting
      The Batch Output tools in AfterShot Pro let you save final images quickly and provides a choice of JPEG and TIFF output options, including 8-bit and 16-bit TIFF and full-size and proof-size JPEGs. Batch Conversion lets you take advantage of multi-image processing. You can save to a predefined folder or specify new file names and folders to produce back up and archive catalogues.

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      Output options for batch processing of collections of thumbnails.

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      Settings available for organising image batches.

      Gallery output creates Web galleries from batches of images and saves them as HTML files for uploading to a website. Users can choose a name for the gallery, set the image type and size, the output location and what metadata will be shown with the pictures.

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      Setting up a template for Custom printing of a collection of images.

      The Continuous Printing setting is handy for printing batches of images as it will holds off processing a print job until enough images have been added to fill a page. Users can specify the size of the images and the number of images per page. Printing batches can be duplicated (and subsequently modified), saved, renamed and deleted.

      Conclusion
      At $90 (RRP), photographers looking for an alternative to current workflow management software don’t have much incentive to stray from Photoshop Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture. Corel’s AfterShot Pro sells for $37 less than Lightroom and $14 more than Aperture and both competitors have slicker, more developed, user interfaces.

      If you simply require a capable raw file converter, AfterShot Pro can do the job as long as your image files aren’t from a recently-released camera. But we feel most photographers will find Adobe’s Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop easier to use, even with the restrictions imposed by Photoshop Elements.

      Photoshop Elements can be downloaded for $132.50 from Adobe’s local website or purchased online for as low as $126 (ex. delivery charge). Camera Raw is downloadable free of charge to users of the latest versions of software in the Photoshop ‘family’ and the latest version includes support for the Canon PowerShot S100, the Pentax Q, Sony NEX-7 and Panasonic FZ150, GF3 and GX1.

      Once the bugs are fixed, the user interface has refined, raw file support for the latest cameras is added and the user manual contains a decent Troubleshooting section, we feel AfterShot Pro can take its place as a worthy competitor to the current products. We’ll check on this software in coming months to see how well these issues have been addressed.

      Specifications

      Systems compatibility: Windows XP, Vista and 7 with the latest service packs installed (32-bit or 64-bit editions); Mac OSX v 10.5 and higher; Linux Fedora Core 10 or Ubuntu 8.04 or later (32-bit or 64-bit distributions)
      Disk space requirement: 250MB
      Minimum RAM: 2GB
      Interface: Mouse or tablet
      Display requirements: At least 1024 x 600 dot resolution
      Computer interface: DVD-ROM drive for loading software from disks
      Supported file formats: JPEG, TIFF and RAW files from most leading camera manufacturers