Saturday, February 26, 2011

Zoner Photo Studio 12 Professional

Verdict: A very good package for beginners but certainly not for experts.

For: Lots of features, good user interface, RAW editor is good.

Against: No non-destructive editing, slightly sluggish, some average results.

Zoner photo studio 12 professional offers more than just an image viewer. It offers an image manager as well as an editor in one package and presents them in a slick user interface. The program comprises four components, which can be accessed via tabs on the top right corner – Manager, Viewer, Editor and RAW.

At startup, you’re taken to the Manager module which is meant for organizing your photos. The UI is very neat with a folder navigator, preview panel and browser, which are all you require for browsing your photos. The images can be sorted by name, file size, extension type, date and all the parameters present in the EXIF information. On top of the browser is a tiny tool bar that provides instant access to functions such as Quick fix, Levels, Curves, Enhance colors, color temperature and Resize. Each of these, when clicked, opens up a dialog box with a preview and sliders for adjusting parameters. You get fine grain control over the parameters, and you also have the automatic button if you wish to let the program suggest the optimal value. But be warned that once you hit Apply, you cannot undo the changes in this module; a dialog box pops up displaying the warning. It would have been better if the user could undo undesired changes, especially while tinkering with the parameters. The preview box is too small to judge the overall outcome. It would have been even better if there was support for nondestructive editing (like in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom), where the original files isn’t overwritten, but results have to be exported.

The important functions of the module are present in the menus. The Acquire menu lets you import images from storage devices, digital cameras, scanners, websites and even PDF files. The Edit menu has all the functions related to resizing, rotating, effects, etc. which is repeated in the Editor module. No doubt it provides quick access, but we feel it’s in the wrong place. The information menu has a common but very useful tool – the keyword editor. You can assign keywords to images, which makes searching for specific photos easy. The Batch Edit EXIF is another useful tool, which lets you add information such as author, description, copyright message; location, date and time to the selected images in one go.

The publish menu has the most interesting function such as Slideshow, Panorama, 3D images, HRD, Create web gallery, Upload via FTP and DVD slideshow. Using these functions is a cakewalk. It’s as simple as selecting the images, applying the parameters and saving the result after processing.

The viewer module is the simplest out of the four. You can use the arrow keys or mouse wheel to view next/previous image. Pressing the middle click button toggles full screen mode. Shortcuts for zooming are [+] and [-] on the numeric pad. Zoom steps are large and the zoom percentage isn’t displayed anywhere on the screen. The only thing we liked here is the slideshow function, which is very customizable. There are lots of transition effects to choose from, the background music can be specified, and you can add header and footer text.

The editor isn’t as elaborate as Photoshop, but you get a good set of features for basic editing and enhancements. The vertical toolbar to the left of workspace has buttons for cropping, panning, alignment, red eye reduction, selection tools and gradient. On selecting a tool, its parameters are displayed above the workspace with buttons for increasing or decreasing value. The edit menu has tools for advanced resizing wherein you can set custom image size (in pixels or percentage), set values for longer/shorter side while maintaining proportions, resampling method, etc. The adjust menu has tools for enhancing colors, levels, exposure, noise reduction, chromatic aberration and vignetting. We tried the noise reduction tool, but the results were average. The effect menu has filters and tools for an added punch to your pictures. Options such as Equalize Histogramand Mix Channels come in very handy for color correction, while effects like Explosion, Oil paint, Pencil drawing and Emboss are fun. We would have liked built in presets for each effect, but you can save the values you’d like to recall as custom presets.

The editor also supports layers and blending modes. The RAW module offers a slew of tools for processing RAW files. These are more advanced than the tools in the adjust and effect menus of the editor and they’re all grouped under various categories – Exposure, white balance, sharpness, Tone curve, Color, Noise reduction and Rotation. You just have to drag the sliders to change the parameter values, but the effect isn’t as spontaneous as in Lightroom. So it actually takes a while to arrive at the desired value, especially after trial and error. The processed RAW file can be sent to the Editor for further editing and enhancements.

Final Words 

Considering the number of features you get for its price, Zoner Photo Studio 12 Professional is a very good package. It’s very easy to use, doesn’t hog system resources, and most of the functions deliver good results. We recommend this software to those who are new to image enhancement and management, but if you’re an ace photographer who has thousands of photos to manage and is meticulous about getting pro quality results, you should consider Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture instead.

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