Among photographic editing apps, Adobe’s Photoshop is not exactly strides ahead of the competition, particularly not in terms of the features required by the average user. Yet it holds the majority market share, mostly due to the Photoshop brand’s early establishment as the go-to image editor. Nowadays, it is a brand name we even use as a verb.
But the competition is catching up. OnOne is not as well known as Adobe, but it is a development company dedicated to photographic apps. Perfect Photo Suite 8 is the latest instalment of its flagship series, and it has just been unveiled in a pre-release beta. It is a package that is designed to work as a comprehensive standalone editor, but it is also happy to work alongside the likes of Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture.
But can OnOne’s latest offering tempt long-time Adobe customers away from their beloved ‘shop?
It would be very harsh to describe the interface of Perfect Photo Suite 8 (PPS8) as a clone of Lightroom, but it certainly looks very similar. The UI is entirely painted in that familiar dark grey. There is a left-hand sidebar which holds folders and metadata, and adjustments are made over on the right. Adobe fans will certainly feel at home.
However, PPS8 takes an interesting approach to editing. Rather than simply throwing you in to the traditional all-in-one editing environment, PPS8 takes you on a step-by-step progression through file browsing, layers, enhancements and effects, before finally offering to output your end product. You can, of course, skip unnecessary steps, but for those who do choose to follow along, this is a system that puts the “flow” in “workflow”.
The file browser in PPS8 is smooth and fast to load. Selecting the right file is a task made easier by the quick-time retrieval and presentation of basic metadata in the sidebar. After choosing whether your upcoming edits should be applied to the original file, a copy, or just a layer, you’re ready to start editing, but it should also be noted that 16-bit colour depth and PSD file creation are both supported.
The Layers workspace is the entry point into PPS8 editing. A thin, vertical tool palette inhabits the left-hand side, and it includes all the basics. There are a couple of more unusual, nifty options, though. For example, the Trim tool crops only the currently selected layer, and the Masking Bug offers easy access to the creation of mask gradients, which camouflage the transition from one layer to another.
Meanwhile, over on the right, below the Lightroom-style image Navigator/Loupe/Histogram window, is a run-of-the-mill layers palette. Due to the specific role of this editing area, the controls for managing each layer are quite large — a positive in terms of usability.
The Enhancement area of PPS8 is easy to operate, but it is somewhat understocked – and a touch disappointing as a result.
The Quick Fixes take precedence, and for edit-and-go expediency, they are fine. In terms of more detailed control, however, only basic stuff is on offer.
For the adjustment of tone, the choice is essentially restricted to Brightness, Contrast, Shadows and Highlights, while colour can only be adjusted in terms of Temperature, Tint (a.k.a. hue) and Vibrance (a.k.a. saturation). A basic vignetting menu is also provided, but the range of three different styles is, once again, hardly comprehensive.
The bright spot here is the sharpening menu, which provides surprisingly good control over both what is being sharpened, and what sort of sharpening should be applied. Particularly helpful is PPS8’s presets library, which makes it easy to apply the correct type and amount of sharpening for your chosen output medium (print, screen, etc.).
Although solid in most departments, PPS8 does have a couple of areas of true excellence. The Portrait workspace is one of them.
PPS8 automatically detects faces, and once the app has locked on, numerous sliders make the airbrushed look fairly easy to replicate. Skin tone can be adjusted, blemishes smoothed, and eyes and teeth can be lifted and made to sparkle. The results, I might add, are highly impressive.
The Effects compartment of PPS8 contains adjustable preset styles. However, unlike the menu of the same name in Elements, the choices here are focused on photography, rather than graphic design.
The number of Blur types on offer is impressive, as is the quality and variety of the Texturizer‘s styles. Many realistic photo filter emulations are included, and a very, very long list of nice looking borders is also available.
Another outstanding area of PPS8 is the B&W area.
Toning is the most notable strength here — individual colour sliders and a tone curve are both at your disposal — but glow and vignette can also be added and modified.
My personal favourite feature, however, is the option to add film grain. Imitations of Fuji, Illford and Kodak films are present, each offered at several different levels of ISO. Most importantly, they look great, although the apparent realism of these grains will be welcomed by traditionalists.
The importance of selective adjustments in modern image editing is made clear by the separate Mask workspace in PPS8.
A diverse tool palette awaits you here, providing pretty much every method of mask application and refinement under the sun. The option to use a mask for background removal is made easily accessible, and the colours marking what is masked, and what isn’t, can also be modified.
The other section of PPS8 that really stands out is the Export workspace.
Resizing isn’t usually a particularly noteworthy feature. But OnOne owns Genuine Fractals, a technology which used to be sold as an industry-leading standalone resizing app. As a result, the quality of the upsizing on offer in PPS8 is superb.
Equally, there are some extremely useful presets provided. These include the print media of all the big printer manufacturers, the screen sizes of iOS devices, and tricky stuff like gallery wraps.
An app with the depth and quality of Perfect Photo Studio 8 is hard to mark down. It provides a wealth of editing options, it runs smoothly, and it is happy to play ball with software you might already have installed on your Mac. It is certainly a solid purchase, no matter what kind of photographer you are.
This is a $79.95 app (the standalone version, after the beta phase), though, so it must be judged against similarly priced competition. In this light, it starts to look a fraction weaker. For the application of hands-on manual edits, Photoshop Elements is clearly more proficient, and efficient. Equally, some users of Perfect Photo Studio 8 will find the segregation of editing workspaces to be a significant drain on productivity, due to the loading time that must be waited out as you move between them.
However, Perfect Photo Studio 8 does exceed the abilities of many similarly priced apps in certain categories, such as portraits, and black and white. Therefore, for photographers whose style regularly coincides with these specialities, I would quite seriously recommend Perfect Photo Studio 8 over and above Adobe’s offering, or indeed, anyone else’s.