Adobe Lightroom has ruled the roost for raw processing suites, with Capture One in pursuit. But a new and tremendously deep alternative is looking to overhaul your work flow: ACDSee Photo Studio 2019.
I wasn't familiar with ACDSee's software, so when I was given the opportunity to review it, I decided that put me in a useful position. I have only ever used Adobe Lightroom, and while I've tried other options, Lightroom seemed the most efficient for my workflow. From the moment you open ACDSee, it's obvious there's tremendous depth to it. In fact, being unfamiliar with the software allows for a pure first impression and initial review, but it's a double-edged sword. I ought to caveat this review by saying that as with any photo-editing software, they take a lot of time and effort to master, and so, the nuances and deepest reaches of functionality of ACDSee may go untapped. With no further ado, let's begin unpacking.
Like most raw processing software, ACDSee Ultimate is split into modules. The first is manage mode, which is your image library, where you can index with ratings, categories, color coding, and so on. The organization functions once photos have been categorized is strong, with the user being able to find images by date, ratings, and the other user assigned tags, but also filter by aspects of the metadata.
There is everything you would expect to see in this module with regards to batch processing and then some. It's simple to make a host of wholesale changes and alterations, as well as create slideshows and apply presets.
Photos and View Mode
Now, this is a module I can get excited about. It's such a simplistic idea, but highly effective. In essence, this mode creates a mosaic of thumbnails of all of your images in chronological order. I often want to dive into my archives and pull out a specific photo, and when you're taking tens of thousands of images every year, that's trickier than it sounds. You either have to remember the date or scroll and wait over and over. With this, however, it very quickly shows you thumbnails just big enough that you can tell exactly what the shot was and locate anything in seconds. This is a real selling point for me and anyone who has large libraries of images.
The view mode is a more thorough section, where you can go through images one by one with the files at a far larger size. This is a typical function for processing software, but it edges the competition by again employing impressive speed with little-to-no buffering in the tests I run.
Develop mode is the backbone to all raw, non-destructive editing software. This is where you get to fiddle with all those sliders, agonizing over whether a little more clarity and a little less vibrancy will make all the difference. In ACDSee Ultimate, you can make all the sweeping changes to your images you could want, as well as the localized alterations using masks. There are also tools for sharpening, noise reduction, and a specialized skin tuning section. It isn't going to be particularly useful for beauty retouching, but for weddings and large batches of images with people or even multiple people, this can be a useful timesaver.
The Edit mode is where the all-in-one solution comes into effect. For me, with Lightroom, I would always import batches of images, fine-tune each image, then export them for Photoshop. With ACDSee Ultimate, you never need to leave the one program and can do nondestructive editing with an impressive complexity. While it might not be Photoshop, it can do an enormous amount and everything many photographers require.
There are many familiar functions for those who are used to Photoshop. You have an array of adjustment layers complete with masks, as well as action sets for completing the more common tasks. One noteworthy feature is Pixel Selector, which is similar to a blend of a few different Photoshop functions you may already be aware of and use. However, it is significantly easier, more intuitive, and quicker to use, allowing you to alter colors and areas of your image.
The User Interface
The interface of any software in this area has a lot to do. There are enormous quantities of information and organization going on, and so, keeping the program clean and intuitive is no small task. ACDSee does it well by keeping it as simple and as clinical as it can be. In fact, if I were to be pushed for a criticism of it, that would be it: it looks a touch dated. However, what it might lack in shine, it more than makes up for in customizability. One bugbear with Lightroom is how little control you have over the UI's layout, but ACDSee's Ultimate allows enormous amounts of control.
Anything that speeds up a photographer's workflow is going to be valuable. One of the benefits of ACDSee that I saw mentioned regularly was the speed. I have always considered Lightroom to be sluggish even on my PC, which is above and beyond what is needed.
One side note on performance — and I must stress this is a layman's observation for the most part — is the resources ACDSee draws upon compared to Lightroom. Lightroom has always drawn heavily on memory (RAM), whereas ACDSee uses around one third of the memory. However, while Lightroom uses very little CPU, ACDSee was using around 50-70 percent of my Intel Core i5-8600K Coffee Lake CPU, 6 Cores, 3.6-4.3GHz. Now, I always have 100 Chrome tabs open, as well as a plethora of other programs running and I noticed no slow-down or stress, but for older and lower-end machines, this shift in resource requirements could potentially pose an issue. However, in the same light, it could be the genius behind the smoother and quicker workflow with significantly less memory required to run.
My experience on ACDSee Ultimate is anecdotal evidence, but it's a verifiable and honest commentary. So, what was my experience of the performance? Good. Really good. The speed at which everything works, from preview generation through to batch processing, is quicker than I'm used to. The importing felt the same sort of speed as Lightroom, perhaps marginally quicker, but I think that's gated by a number of factors outside of software (like card reader, card, USB, and so on).
This is arguably the most fundamental and important difference between Lightroom and ACDSee Ultimate: you don't have to import files. That is, ACDSee accesses your drives directly and bypasses importing the files into a catalog. ACDSee still has an import function, but that is merely copying your files from your card reader over to your local hard drive, and not storing duplicates of the files in its own database.
This is such a tiny feature, but its quality-of-life impact has been sizable for me. It's not technically in the ACDSee client but an added functionality outside of it. All it does is add an extra section to the dropdown menu of your operating system's right click, which shows a small (but high-quality) preview of the file and the EXIF data. The EXIF data is always useful, but you could argue the preview is superfluous unless you have your files listed in folders without preview icons generated. But where it comes in to its own is with raw files like CR2 and ARW, where it can still generate a preview and display the EXIF data.
Face Detection and Facial Recognition
This technology is becoming more and more prominent in not only software but cameras too. It has a wealth of applications and can drastically smooth and speed up your workflow. It can be used for weddings to ensure you categorize and track images of guests or the couple themselves or even make images of a model you've used more than once searchable by name. It's a very powerful way of indexing images.
This is an important topic with most artists not having huge disposable budgets to dish out for software. Pricing is also an area to discuss that's becoming more and more frustrating, particularly with Adobe. I pay for an Adobe CC subscription, which covers lots of software. Some people prefer to buy the software outright, which isn't an option for Lightroom CC, and so like many others, I was forced to pay monthly. Then, when I wanted to add another piece of software, they demanded another £30 per month. It's thoroughly infuriating. Fortunately, with all of ACDSee's products, the pricing is easier, and cheaper.
It's worth noting that the "+extras" is far more interesting than it sounds there. It's not a few filters a presets, it's four other pieces of software and cloud storage. Also, their business plans don't go up in price tenfold like their competitors, but only a couple of dollars per month, per user.
There isn't a great deal I can say on price; it's good value.
What I Liked
- Potential to be an all-in-one solution
- The ACDSee PicaView when you right-click a file
- Navigating libraries and file management feels markedly quicker than Lightroom
- Photos mode is fantastic for tracking down a photo in your library
- Significantly cheaper than competitors
- Customizable UI
What I Didn't Like
- UI is dated and lacks any polish
- All-in-one only viable for up to a point; high-end retouchers will still want Photoshop
- Skin Tune in Develop Mode is heavy-handed
There's a lot to like about ACDSee Ultimate 2019, both large and small. The file management and presentation of those files, coupled with the impressive speed at which the software works are a huge draw to it. This can be an important difference when you're working with large batches of images or many batch of images. If the price of the software was around the same as Lightroom CC, I'd focus on this as almost its USP over the all-in-one image processing, but it's great value means it has appeal to a wide range of photographers. Change is uncomfortable, particularly when you're so used to a certain way of doing things, but time saved is money saved, and money saved is... well, more money saved. ACDSee have been flying a little under the radar, but it's time we started paying attention to the little blips they are making, because they're getting bigger and for good reason.