Zoner Photo Studio X is a powerful and affordable editing suite that doesn't get the attention it deserves. Now they have improved the speed of the Develop module along with some other new features, increasing its viability as an all-in-one post-production and digital asset management tool.
In early 2021, I was aware of Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS herein) but I hadn't tried it. When the company reached out for me to review the software, I was keen, but I'll admit, I didn't appreciate many of its strengths until they were right there in front of me. For those of you who are unaware of what ZPS is all about, I will do a quick rundown before going over the details of their latest, Fall update.
What Is Zoner Photo Studio X?
ZPS is a comprehensive tool for photographers, combining digital asset management with post-production. It isn't unique in that regard, but it has numerous strengths that make it well worth your attention if you are looking for an alternative to Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. It's hard to condense all the benefits of using ZPS into a brief overview, but I'll do my best in bulletpoint form:
- Comprehensive Tools: There is an editing module with layer support, raw editing, retouching with AI, presets, and automatic edits like portrait retouching.
- Price: The price for ZPS is more or less unrivaled: $4.99 per month or $49 for the year.
- Video Editing: You are able to create and edit videos, including making a time-lapse, without leaving the software.
- Asset Management: A brilliant digital asset manager that even allows you to work on images without importing them to a catalog.
- Color and HDR: There are powerful color grading tools and an effective HDR panel in the Develop module.
The Fall 2021 Update
ZPS receives regular, sizable updates that tend to add significant enhancements. The features tend to come in one of three flavors in my experience: brand new features, familiar features, and improvements. That is, they add new, innovative functionality to ZPS, they add tools you may have seen in other software, and then they hone and refine performance. The Fall 2021 update has something from all three columns.
Noticeably Faster Editing
One of the most frustrating flaws of editing suites for me is speed. If loading a high-quality preview, making wholesale changes, changing module, and exporting images take too long, I'm ready to start a war. Speed is central to the philosophy of ZPS, with singular features like working on images without having to import them all to a catalog. Now, some major changes under the hood have increased the speed at which you can complete edits and many of the tools within the holistic software.
Expansion of Exposure Adjustments
There are few adjustments anyone makes to files more frequently than exposure. Although many will primarily use the exposure slider, there is a lot of depth to how you make these basic adjustments and their effectiveness. ZPS has a strong HDR module and now their exposure adjustment plays into that too. There are Lights and Shadows sliders which can control the intensity of the dynamic range in your image. Remember, use these sorts of tools sparingly; less is more!
Introduction of the Texture Slider
The Texture slider is new to ZPS, but it will be familiar to many people who have experience in other software and editing suites. It is also one of the most misunderstood additions to editing. Most people gravitate towards Clarity, but Texture can often yield better results. Generally speaking, Clarity is far more a heavy-handed and invasive tool, affecting everything from sharpness to saturation. Texture is a little more subtle in how it increases or decreases the smaller details of an image and doesn't impact things outside of detail — like color — anywhere near as drastically.
Revamp of Noise Reduction and Sharpening
On the note of details, ZPS has improved their Noise Reduction and Sharpening tool. Its strange, 10 years ago I didn't really think about noise too much as I didn't ever push my ISO very high. Now, ISO performance is so good on modern cameras, I regularly opt to shoot deep into the thousands. I conducted a recent commercial shoot where the brief was to keep everything natural, which meant using no artificial lighting (for a few reasons beyond look, like the shots being candid). Most of the shots were great as-is, but some of the darker images had some heavy noise.
This is where the Noise Reduction tool comes in and an effective one can make working in higher ISO ranges a dream. I find that my most common issue with noise is not the shadows, but luminance and color noise. This update to ZPS's tool specifically targets that functionality.
While the above are the highlights of this Fall update, there are a number of other improvements too. Besides already handling 4K files, the Video editor has seen a number of adjustments and improvements like live preview of changes to the timeline.
If you are looking for a new digital asset manager, image editing suite, and cost-effective all-around solution to post-production, ZPS is worth a look. They won both the TIPA and EISA awards for best photo software and that they've revamped the free and unlimited online gallery Zonerama. The value for money is staggering given just how comprehensive a set of tools ZPS offers for a fraction of what its rivals would charge.