Index World Press Photo
January 2006 | Edition Three     

In Cool Kit, we look at one aspect in each issue of what's on the market for the professional photojournalist and provide links to information and independent reviews.

For this edition, it is something which few photographers these days can do without - computer software for photo-manipulation and post-production, otherwise known as the "digital darkroom".

You can spend a great deal of money - but affordable options are appearing all the time.

It is also the one area of digital activity in which a single computer program, Adobe's Photoshop, dominates.

Photoshop is now in its ninth version, released last year. Called CS2, it fully integrates with the company's Creative Suite of programs which also includes Illustrator and Indesign.

It is used by the vast majority of professional photographers and has an unmatched range of features though mastering its complexity involves a steep learning curve. It costs upwards of $500 to buy though upgrading from an earlier version is much cheaper.

“Photoshop CS2 is a tour de force, packed with innovations that will make your images better and get you home faster,” says Macworld. “(CS2) is the most significant Photoshop upgrade in quite a while, and if you're serious about digital imaging, you need it.”

One wonders just how many improvements there are left to incorporate into each new version of Photoshop and CS2 comes with many new tools to help with correcting perspective, image quality and workflow. But are there viable and cheaper alternatives to Photoshop for the pro?

Apple Mac users now have the option of Apple's own Aperture. Released right at the end of 2005, its strength, according to Apple and reviewers, is the ability to work faster and more effectively with RAW, the unprocessed digital data file format photographers increasingly shoot with.

“Until now, RAW files have taken so long to work with,” well-known sports photographer Heinz Kluetmeier told online magazine LetsGoDigital. “What amazed me about Aperture is that you can loupe and stack them and it's almost instantaneous - I suspect that I'm going to stop shooting JPEGs. Aperture just blew me away.”

But is Aperture, which matches Adobe's application for price, a replacement for Photoshop?

Apple Aperture Product Manager Joe Schorr explained to “Depending on your workflow, there may be a need to use tools that go beyond Aperture. One of the things pros do is launch Photoshop, so we integrate with Photoshop.”

Adobe itself offers an alternative in its cut-down version of Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, now in its fourth iteration. Generally, it costs around ten per cent of the full Photoshop product but how reduced is it?

“The program incorporates automatic image enhancements and extremely intelligent selection tools that are missing in Photoshop, “says the reviewer at “I actually prefer Elements 4 for editing photos - it's a bit easier to browse around and perform quick fixes.”

“Version 4 of Photoshop Elements adds a number of new tools and refines some of the old ones,” says “The unmatched integration between these top-notch components still makes Photoshop Elements the best choice for an all-in-one editing/organizing package.”

Elements is in an area of the market in which there are a number of sophisticated yet reasonably-priced editing packages. Probably best known is Paint Shop Pro, which was free at one time when owned by Jasc. Bought recently by Corel, it now retails at around $100 or less.

“It's a very good choice for enthusiasts, business users, and even pros who need image-editing muscle without the high price of Adobe Photoshop, “says of Paint Shop Pro, now in its tenth version.

The reviewer at says of Paint Shop Pro: “Affordable, yet full-featured and flexible. It combines photo editing, retouching, painting, drawing, and image management into one package.”

But, continues the reviewer: “Some functions perform sluggishly. Dialogs and tool options tend to be crowded and often confusing.”

There is one relatively-new product on the market which is much cheaper than most others with advanced features - Google's Picasa 2. The fact that it is free might suggest to serious photographers that it couldn't possible be up to the job.

But the reviewer at says: “After almost thirteen years of reviewing software for the PC I can honestly say I don't run into many programs today that make me go "Oh My God!" However, Picasa from Google …. makes me go "Oh My God!" Picasa is feature packed. (It) has a wonderfully friendly, attractive and clean interface. It is free!” says “(With Picasa 2), you can instantly adjust highlights, shadows, fill lights, and color temperature. You can add all sorts of effects, including sepia, black and white and soft focus. You can crop, straighten, remove red-eye, and more”

Concludes the reviewer: “Novices may be intimidated by the breadth of tools on offer, but when they get over that hump, the app is wonderfully easy to use.”

For professionals, Picasa 2 is unlikely to do the whole job but at zero cost, it could fulfil a role as the quick-fixer of choice.

Photoshop CS2

Digital Photography Review on Photoshop CPS2
Artstechnica on Photoshop CS2
MacWorld on Photoshop CS2

Photoshop Elements 4 on Photoshop Elements 4 on Photoshop Elements 4


Artstechnica on Aperture
LetGoDigital on Aperture
Photoshopsupport on Aperture

Paint Shop Pro on Paint Shop Pro on Paint Shop Pro

Picasa 2 on Picasa 2 on Picasa 2


Paint Shop Pro X

Photoshop CS2

Photoshop Elements 4

Picasa 2

Copyright © 2006, all rights reserved by the photographers