A lot has happened since my original series, and I’ll try to catch up on some of the developments here.
Possibly the biggest news in the alt-photoshop world is the recent release of Gimp 2.10, which includes 16-bit processing and also 32-bit processing for HDR images. It also has improved the color management function. I will download this and try it soon. Right now I am in the middle of a big digital restoration project using Gimp and I don’t want to mess with my workflow.
Picassa is no longer available as a stand-alone photo manager/editor, and actually hasn’t been since not too long after my first article.
Lighroom is no longer available as a stand-alone purchase. It must be purchased by subscription, and there are two “flavors.” Classic mode acts very much like the older stand-alone version. Lightroom CC is a mobile, web-based version that requires your photos to be uploaded and stored on Adobe servers.
Picture Window Pro
The developer of PWP, Jonathan Sachs, has stopped work on this program and has released the last version as freeware. It is well worth the price for three of the tools, 3-tone processing, luminosity masking, and color correct.
3-tone uses a semi-automated system of masks to divide a photo into shadows, mid-tones, and highlights, each of which can then be adjusted independently to extend the dynamic range of a photo. It is a semi-automated application of the Brightness Curve in the Mask tool. The brightness curve implements luminosity masking in a much easier and more understandable way than Photoshop.
Color correct is better called color transformation. Click on your picture and that pixel shows up as a dot on a color wheel. Drag that dot to any other color and the change happens instantly in the photo.
Sachs is working on a new project and it will probably be pretty interesting to see.
I have been using Photoline for a couple of years. It is a strong program but probably useful only if you are already familiar with photo editing. They have their own vocabulary, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it would be difficult for someone not already familiar with editing tools to make the translation. The authors are German and they do not feel their English is good enough to make a detailed English guide. There is an English pdf available and it seems pretty good to me, so I think they should try. I learned by trial and error but I think the program could get a wider audience with more documentation. There is also a nice user forum where folks are pretty helpful.
The one feature that I use is called “Placeholders.” They are, among other things, an analog to Smart Objects in Photoshop and I can use them to revisit plugins (yes, it works fine with Nik and Topaz) and it remembers the previous settings.
Since I wrote the first article, Nik plugins have become free and then abandoned by Google. Now DxO has acquired them and put them back into development. They are still free but one report hints that may change. So far, the Google versions continue to work well (at least in Photoline) even without further updates. I saw a comment over at DxO to the effect that these are broken in Adobe software and the Apple OS, and a new version to fix this is due out in June.
Raw Therapee is a free RAW converter. I looked at it for its implementation of deconvolution sharpening. This is not a program for the faint of heart. The interface is busy and it has a formidable choice of processing options that appear to implement just about any RAW processing tool out there. The learning curve looks to be quite steep.
Russell Cottrell Plugins
Russel Cottrell publishes a set of plugins for the bargain price of $5 USD. One of them, Fine USM Sharpen/Deblur, allows you to apply deconvolution sharpening along with the standard unsharp mask.
Corel has done a lot with the Paint Shop Pro line in the past five or so years. I had given up on it after the initial acquisition from Jasc because it seemed to dumb down the program to the point where features for a serious photographer were either buried or non-existent. But they have changed this and try to position themselves as a Photoshop alternative. And they are, to an extent. It is 16-bit and has layers and some blend modes, as well as something that resembles Blend-if. And they offer a RAW converter. But the color management is not that advanced. I wrote some tutorials for their blog, and the artistic effects they wanted to duplicate from Photoshop were not quite duplicates as the filters and blend modes are not as extensive as Photoshop. But you could get a similar effect, if not a duplicate. If you are thinking of Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro could be an alternative. It is similar in price and can do 16-bit, unlike the 8-bit in Elements, and it seems to have a lot of the crafty, scrap-book type of features that Elements has.
Capture One Pro
This is a very powerful, credible Lightroom alternative but at $300 or $20 per month I won’t be trying it any time soon. It was originally released to use with Phase One medium format cameras but works with most RAW files except for Hasselblad. If this program is satisfying photographers who go through the expense of shooting medium format it must be very good.