Serif PhotoPlus X3 Review
Mac users, we're pleased to announce Macphun's all-in-one photo editor Luminar is now available for purchase with special launch pricing. (Existing Macphun customers get a further discount.)
We rated Luminar as "Highly Recommended", and you can now visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.
Although the user interface will look familiar to anyone that has used the previous version of PhotoPlus, closer examination will reveal some improvements to the layouts, and more intuitive buttons and controls. The how-to guides have been expanded upon, and the previously mentioned tutorials go a long way towards making this an easy program to learn.
PhotoPlus X3 adds some new functionality as well. The Raw Studio component (Figure 3) is an example of this. Where the previous version of PhotoPlus would allow you to work with RAW images, it only did so by converting the image behind the scenes - there were no editing options prior to conversion.
By Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) standards, the converter is very basic with white balance, exposure, noise reduction and chromatic aberration adjustments as the primary tools. Comparing the output of Raw Studio with ACR shows that Raw Studio has a way to go before it competes as a solid conversion choice. In particular, Raw Studio has difficulty working with bright highlights, often clipping details far before other converters (Figure 4). Performance here is also not up to standards. A refresh after any adjustment took about 3 seconds on my machine, compared to the instant feedback in ACR. In a converter for the target audience, I would expect to see an Auto adjustment option similar to that in ACR.
Also new to this release is Print Studio (Figure 5). PhotoPlus has combined the standard printing dialog with a layout tool that is easy to use and very functional. A number of presets are included for contact sheets, print packages, and single images, and in a nice touch, you can add or delete images from within this dialog rather than returning to the application window. I also like the ability to crop from within this dialog, making it easy to adjust your image for the specific layout if needed.
Along with these new components, PhotoPlus includes support for HDR imaging with a Merge feature (Figure 6). I have to give props to Serif on this tool. The results with HDR Merge far exceed what Photoshop is capable of doing on it's own. Yes, you can get the grunge look more readily with something like Photomatix, but if you're looking for a realistic HDR conversion, PhotoPlus does a very good job (Figure 7).
Quickfix Studio (Figure 8) has undergone some changes for the better as well. Performance on adjustments made in this mode is improved over PhotoPlus X2, and the layout of the QuickFix Studio makes it easier to find the adjustments you're looking for.
In the example above, I used the channel mixer directly to make this into a black and white image. You can also access the Black and White Studio via the How-To menu for some help in making this conversion, including presets for some common types of images.
In the previous release, I was high on the Instant Artist module (Figure 9). That hasn't changed with X3. Like the QuickFix Studio, performance is improved, with the application of effects taking about 1/3 less time than previously.
For anyone that's been frustrated by extracting elements from an image, the Extract option will be a welcome tool. It's one of the more simple tools I've used, and the default settings are very good. By painting a line around your selection (Figure 10), and then filling it with the foreground color, you can quickly remove unwanted areas. As you can see in the after version (Figure 11), the tool does a good job around Kathy's hair. For clean-up, there are Edge Cleaner and Touchup brushes available.
PhotoPlus X3 includes a Filter Gallery with about 50 different filters to select from, including many of the same effects you'll find in Photoshop like textures, blurs, patterns, and lighting.
PhotoPlus also adds support for the new HD Photo format from Microsoft. HP Photo gives you better quality and smaller file sizes than standard JPG, as well as support for 16-bit files and transparency.