Corel AfterShot Pro
Friday, 03 February 2012
A late entry, perhaps, into the market of after photo cataloguing and care is Corel AfterShot Pro, up against the well-established Adobe Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture.
CorelDraw was a Mac image editing program a long time ago, from the Canadian Corel Corporation, then it made PC versions, then kinda disappeared for Mac, but has been making noises in the Mac space again for a year or two as Apple rises and rises.
More Apple machines sold means more potential software buyers for Corel, after all.
Corel AfterShot Pro is for professional photographers and photo enthusiasts, and was created by Bibble Labs.
Funnily enough, I was just talking to one of the lecturers on Unitec’s excellent photographic program yesterday, and he was saying that many students think they can get away with just Lightroom or Aperture and not Photoshop these days.
Wrong! For one thing, they don’t have layers, but Photoshop has many more tools for fixing problems in photos compared to these ‘cataloguers-with-frills’, so while the temptation is to use the tools in any of these packages for all your needs, they don’t go anywhere near as Photoshop goes. This is particularly important when you use a cataloguer for scanning in older images that might have scratches and other damage, and colourisation and contrast issues.
I imported a folder of 6419 pictures to get the ball rolling (which took eight minutes 40 seconds). It took another 12 minutes or so to process the preview thumbnails, which it began doing at the same time as the import started but finished later, at 20:01 minutes for both operations overall.
Even so, I notice a perceptible lag in drawing the preview images down the thumbnail strip as I scroll through.
One advantage over Aperture is that AfterShot has round-tripping – I like Aperture a lot, but its retouching tools aren’t anywhere near as good as Photoshop’s. It’s quite tedious to export the image, find it, import it into Photoshop, work on it, get it back into Aperture ... From AS Pro, though, you can boot images directly into Photoshop (or any other editor), make some changes, save and carry on with the changed image inside Corel’s application.
And in general, I don’t like being forced into catalogue systems that are foreign to me. iMovie, iPhoto, Aperture and many other contenders do this, giving you easy access to the files but only via the software and not in the Finder, and Adobe messes with cataloguing and file directories via Bridge and various other bits of interface software, too. Yuk to all of them.
But Corel fancies you might know where your files are and how to handle them. This is quite refreshing, in this day and age – whether a photo is in an existing catalogue, in another folder on your system, or still on a memory card, AfterShot Pro lets you work with it.
Up against Lightroom, I’m relieved there’s no process to step through. I used to work in an analogue photographic darkroom and I have absolutely no wish to use the same process in the digital realm. Digital liberated me from a set process (not to mention dark rooms, dull red light, chemical vapours and alchemy) and seriously, I don’t want to even pretend to go back there.
Up against Aperture, the advantages of Apple’s product for me, wrangling a cache of precious family photographs scanned in, some up to 100 years old, are the Faces feature, Places geo tagging and the ability to put albums online via MobileMe. These are great features, despite Faces being grindingly slow sometimes (note that iPhoto has facial recognition, too, for the hobbyist genealogist).
AS Pro sits in between the two approaches. The first stage is asset management, quite naturally I guess, where you can catalogue, name and rate your shots. You can catalogue images as master files and view, add and search photo metadata.
The next stage is photo editing, with adjustments and corrections. These can be added to whole images or selected areas via adjustment layers.
The last stage is output generation, tailored to your needs. But as you work, basically the catalogues are on the left and the adjustment options and stages are on the right, so you can dive in at any stage and work how you like.
Like the aforementioned, AS Pro offers non-destructive editing, so you can make adjustments and then just turn them off, and reconsider and turn them on again, and adjust them further. Adjustments, likewise, can be made on one image and pasted to others as a time saver.
A histogram display is oh-so-important and de rigeur even for amateur software these days. AfterShot displays a histogram of image tone and colour values as you'd expect – but you can’t drag the sliders directly on it to make changes, which is really annoying.
But you can on the Curves dialogue … why have both?
Of course, the histogram changes to reflect contrast, colour, tone, saturation, vibrance and other adjustments, but while you drag these sliders, the image you are working on degrades like a lo-res JPEG until you stop, then redraws in full quality. It’s quick enough, but annoying if you like to stare at the image, as I do, while adjusting. Aperture seems to have nailed the display as I never notice this working degradation.
Presets might be handy, for quick and dirty batch-changes, and there are 21 of them, from useful (B&W IR Simulation, Sepia) to obscure (Pseudo Fisheye), but these won’t please the finicky pro, who will probably just ignore them.
Other tools, like Noise Ninja, seem effective enough, but who needs heavy noise on images shot on good cameras these days? And the Sharpening seems pretty retro and rough compared to Smart Sharpen or even Unsharp Mask in Photoshop.
The straighten tool (bottom left of the display) is quite effective – it’s not immediately apparent how it works, but drag on the screen and you’ll get the idea. And there is also a brush icon there, but this didn’t work. (Aperture has a brush too, and it’s great for getting, say, a seagull out of the sky, but pretty useless beyond that.)
The supplied Black and White plug-in does a good job, and it accepts other industry-standard plugins.
I like the way you can just roll your scrollwheel when it’s over the image to zoom in and out (or two-finger slide on a trackpad), but it zooms arbitrarily on the centre-point, not on the cursor. Considering you will normally want to zoom in on a certain detail, this seems like a misplaced convention.
Conclusion — a little rough around the edges and it sells online for NZ$138 – Aperture is NZ$104.99 in the Mac App Store and has Faces and Places. (Lightroom is A$124; about NZ$160). It will be interesting to see if Corel perceives a future in this. If so, it might develop into an important package, but it needs to add a couple of features either much better than, or different to, features already in the heavyweight.
At the end of the day, with the display issues, this feels like a port from a PC version and not like natively-written Mac software.
What’s Great — Quick display of large RAW file
What’s Not — Some strangely implemented features.
Needs — Someone with a great liking for Corel, methinks.
System — Mac OS X 10.5, 10.6 or 10.7; all Intel Mac models are supported as long as they have 2GB RAM, 250MB free hard drive space and minimum display resolutions of 1024x600 pixels and a CD-ROM drive.
There are also versions for Windows and Linux.