Serif PhotoPlus X4: Enthusiast Editing Software Gets More Powerful
At a Glance
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Serif PhotoPlus X4 offers significant improvements in nondestructive editing and 16-bit support, but it still needs better control over RAW conversion for its photo enthusiast market.
Serif PhotoPlus is designed for photo enthusiasts who seek more creative control and functionality than what novice programs offer, but who aren't ready to graduate to the depth, complexity, and expense of Adobe Photoshop. The latest iteration, PhotoPlus X4 ($90, price as of 9/1/2010) offers significant improvements through the addition of nondestructive editing, greater support of 16-bit images, and interface changes that help smooth workflow.
One of the strengths of PhotoPlus is the quality of its help and guidance. From the opening splash screen, you can access useful, online video tutorials. In addition, when you hover your mouse over the list of recent files, a thumbnail preview now pops up. The How To help panel in the main screen still provides intelligent advice, as well as step-by-step instructions, with links to commands rather than just descriptions of them.
The redesigned PhotoPlus Organizer is now integrated with the main program, which makes it easier to organize and use your photos. But getting a photo into the Organizer is a two-step process, rather than a simple double-click. The Organizer will watch folders for changes; however, it failed to be able to connect to our external or network drives and watched only those hard drives that are installed in the local computer. On the other hand, it was able to access and work with image files on network and external drives. Organizer can now use geotag metadata from your camera or phone to place your photos on an integrated Google Map, or you can manually drag and drop a series of photos onto the zoomable world map. The Organizer also now has direct export of photos to Flickr and Facebook. Unfortunately, the Organizer can be sluggish, especially when tagging or geotagging groups of pictures. For instance, after selecting about 15 photos of our cat Rascal and dragging to tag them with his name, the program became inaccessible, not allowing us to tag an additional dozen photos of our other cat Teddy.
The customizable interface of the PhotoPlus main screen is highly accessible, with the default workspace docking How To on the left and the edit panels to the right. [Insert PhotoPlux X4 screen capture 1.jpg] Some of the most significant changes with X4 are the changes in those edit panel. For instance, the new adjustments panel (for exposure, color and similar edits) is more accessible and versatile than the old menu dialog, and the new Filter layers function like Photoshop's Smart Filters, as part of X4's greater commitment to nondestructive editing.
Leveraging existing Serif technologies, PhotoPlus X4 now includes the Cutout Studio (for masking), and the full Panorama Plus X4 program for stitching photos together from the Organizer (or as a standalone).
The one area that hasn't been improved but should be for the photo enthusiast market is the RAW Studio. While PhotoPlus supports a wide range of RAW file formats, it sometimes automatically adjust the color temperature of the image (often related to the export color model chosen), and doesn't provide color tools before the RAW conversion for controlling the image colors.
Under the hood, PhotoPlus X4 now supports multi-thread processing, such as with the new dual, quad- and six-core systems. It also finally retains and exports all EXIF image metadata, rather than throwing it away. More obvious is its much better support of 16-bit images, with a larger number of its tools and filters now enabled for 16-bit editing. In addition, screen rendering of your images is improved, using a new pixel sampling.
While the improvements in PhotoPlus X4 tend to be catch-ups rather than innovations, this version marks a clear step up in power, accessibility, and enabling features. PhotoPlus X4 makes it possible for photo hobbyists to do sophisticated editing without the expense of Photoshop.