Software for Image Processing and Management


If your principle photographic interest is posting to the web or making small prints for an album then image processing or "post processing" may hold little interest for you. You will be using JPGs straight from the camera and camera processing (which can be very good) has already been applied.

Those to whom the best image quality is important will probably be using something better than a shirt-pocket camera and will want to supplement  in-camera processing with imaging software running on their computers. They might even shoot RAW images optionally produced by more sophisticated cameras and do all the processing themselves. This isn't as time-consuming as it sounds because most imaging software includes batch features to automate large volume work. Besides, it's fun. If you are serious about your photography you will enjoy making your pictures look the best they can be. In-camera processing is always a "one size fits all" compromise.

There's a lot of good "digital darkroom" software out there these days and the choice depends - like camera choice - on what you want to accomplish.

Image Editing

Paintshop Pro (by Corel who acquired it several years ago as a result of buying out JASC): Comprehensive image processing with excellent sharpening algorithms and sophisticated noise reduction. This is the product most frequently compared to Photoshop and it's 1/10 the cost or less with a more generous license. Many similarities to Photoshop, including much of the user interface. If you already know how to use Photoshop or Paintshop, you have most of the skills needed to use the other. Straightforward and intuitive in operation although could be improved with more slider based controls.   A fantastic template feature makes it trivially easy to size images to any required print format, shape and position (wonderful for greeting cards). There's a powerful scripting and batch feature for dealing with large numbers of images - better than Photoshop "Actions". The system can "learn" any series of keystrokes and then save these for later automated use. Very nice. Has recently (late 2011) been extensively improved to provide asset management and 48 bit image support for all photographic functions. Provides text and drawing functions. Numerous special effects such as posterization, embossing etc. Compatible with .8bf plug-ins (32 bit only) designed for Photoshop. Has a potentially very useful facility for user designed filters if you understand something about signal processing. Supports RAW and an astounding number of additional image file formats so it's great for conversions. Unfortunately, RAW support can excessively lag introduction of a new camera. The template driven print facility is worth the price alone.

IMPORTANT: Corel has since 2010 been making a serious effort to overcome its poor history of support for Paintshop. They are listening to their customers and acting on the commentary. The results are impressive to say the least. The product is now so good it has become my clear favorite, displacing Photoshop. That ought to raise a few eyebrows but the fact is I can do everything photographic I can do in Photoshop - all at a small fraction the cost.


Adobe Photoshop: Sometimes regarded as not just "The Standard" but "The Environment". If most of the literature can be believed you would think 99% of photographers are using Adobe Photoshop in one of its various incarnations - the full pop $1500 conglomeration with all the extras or less costly "Elements", CS4, etc. Most of the time when people refer to "Photoshop" it is CSx (CS2, CS3, CS4, etc.) that they mean and that will set you back nearly $1000 with a license that supports only 2 machines. The full Photoshop suite is a massively comprehensive (and very expensive) package catering for graphic and commercial artists, web designers, illustrators and, yes, even photographers. Quite frankly, it is overkill in many situations, difficult to learn, easy to forget. It can, however, do just about anything and has come to dominate the image processing environment in much the same way Wintel dominates the PC market. This is not to pick on Photoshop (well, just a bit). Until late 2011 when Paintshop finally got the attention it deserved from Corel I had been using Photosop. It's a fine product but the cost is outrageous. There seems to be a bias out there that this is the only software the serious photographers should consider having. That's a costly misconception. Unless Corel falters I won't be keeping my Adobe license up to date.

The version of Photoshop most familiar to photographers is currently CS5 (with CS6 in Beta). The user interface is remarkably similar to Paintshop but not nearly as attractive or natural in use. I can't identify any real photographic advantages over Paintshop except that color management is more flexibly implemented.

There are good alternatives if you do not need all the bells and whistles. The following is a list of ones I have tried and/or use day-to-day. You can learn more from the vendors by clicking the links. The first five products are fairly general purpose while the rest are accessories for advanced noise reduction and presentation assembly of images. You may want/need more than one product but the cost is modest. Paintshop Pro is the most comprehensive and capable alternative but consider carefully observations concerning Corel's support. Unless the situation changes, you might want to steer clear:

SILKYPIX Developer (Ichikawa Soft Laboratories):  Intended primarily as a RAW developer this program provides sophisticated controls for sharpening, noise reduction, chromatic aberration removal and much more. Has a good batch feature. Processing profiles can be saved in a library and recalled later. Supports 48 bit images in all functions. It can crop and print but the print facility is a bit bare-bones. Not just for RAW format files. Also handles TIFF and JPEG. Noise reduction feature could be improved - it's not the most suitable for really noisy images but fine for mild noise reduction. Very easy to learn and use. The manual is in laughable "Japlish" but you probably won't need it. Absolutely stunning, flexible user interface supports having as many function windows visible as you want and have room for. Continuous zoom control is a pleasure to use. Ships free with some Panasonic super-zooms. Bug-free so far as I can tell.  Excellent lens distortion and perspective controls. Has a powerful highlight controller, histogram adjustments and much more.


Picture Window (Digital Light and Color): This might be all you ever need. More deserving of attention than it gets. Full 48 bit support, print templates (almost as good as Paintshop), good sharpening and slick workflow management utilizing unique "pipeline" concept. Could use much more sophisticated noise processing - not very good for noisy images. Can draw text. Supports RAW. I find the user interface a bit awkward but most love it. Looks and feels as if designed by a photographer for photographers. Prompt, expert online support from the developers by means of vendor forum. Very solid, no important bugs discovered so far. Almost no additional features such as comprehensive drawing functions etc. but why pay for these if you don't need them?

DXO: This is a very interesting product because the developers model specific lenses and camera bodies, then design algorithms to "back out" any distortions and imperfections ... all automatically because it identifies lenses used and settings from the EXIF file produced by the camera and stored with each image. For the most part, this works and is a time saver although the effect can be duplicated in other products with a bit of effort.  I don't own this but have worked with the demo. The interface takes some getting used to and it's annoying how it does not provide a thumbnail preview of images while clicking through a folder. Furthermore, the various processing effects are inconveniently not invoked unless you zoom in on an image past about 80%. Rather large number of glitches like preview images sometimes not appearing, panning control mysteriously de-activating and a couple of application crashes. Quirky command responses such as double-clicking an image name does not automatically load it - you must click "Add".  Very good keystone correction and noise reduction. No print facility(?).  I was always able to achieve a visibly superior result using other products (especially Silkypix) but in fairness to DXO, cannot say I used it long enough to truly master all its capabilities. Definitely worth a try, especially if you interchange lenses often and would benefit from having distortions automatically fixed in batch processing of a large number of images. A possibly significant drawback to the product is shortage of manual/generic correction controls for use with unsupported lenses and cameras. If your camera and/or lens are not specifically supported you may not be able to apply more than a few very basic adjustments. DXO appears to target the high volume pro photographer who needs automated processing of a huge number of images taken with a multitude of supported lenses and cameras the developers have chosen to model. Outside this need you may find something else far more flexible and useful. Unless I have really missed the point, this is a rather specialized product.

Capture NX: This is for Nikon owners and often highly recommended. I have tried it a couple of times and it is excellent but could find no advantages over what I already use and enjoy. Capture NX has lately been included free with some high-end Nikons so if you don't already have a good RAW converter/processor you should give this a try.

Other Software for working with Images

360DOF: Panorama generator and much more (virtual tours, etc.). For example, take three slightly overlapping images and this program will stitch them together into a single panoramic view. It does a superb job of cleaning up the overlap, maintaining sharpness, balancing exposure, etc. Provides optional user control over alignment points and produces flawless results time and again. Great fun challenging someone to spot where the stitching has been done. They can't do it ;-) There are other stitching/panorama products but have not found one anywhere near as good. Most competitors leave tell-tale remnants of their work readily spotted by the careful eye. Give this program half decent material and it won't disappoint.

NeatImage:  Fantastic noise reduction program. Can be installed as plugin for popular image processing software such as Photoshop and Paintshop or used stand-alone. I prefer this to Noise Ninja but that may be only a matter of having obtained it first and being more familiar with the settings. Give Ninja a chance. Remarkably effective while having minimal effect on image detail. Works with 16 bit/channel TIFFs and various other formats, including JPEG. No RAW support (although if using as a plugin it will process RAWs opened by the host software).

Noise Ninja: Another popular noise reduction program.  Provides (and allows you to build) noise filters matched to specific cameras, lenses, sensors and camera settings. The developer understands and makes proper use of advanced signal processing theory. Works with 48 bit images. Drawback: cannot process RAW files - needs TIFF - so you have to convert first from RAW.

PixelFixer: If you have bothersome hot pixels this product does what its name suggests. It's free but don't be a leech - send the author a donation. PixelFixer is fast, easy to use, supports a large number of camera bodies and incorporates a data base for pixel maps so you can easily use it with multiple camera bodies. Also supplied is a pixel map editor for making manual corrections.

Focus Magic: Unusual and sometimes very useful piece of software. Supports 48 bit images in Photoshop (but not Paintshop). FM employs proprietary algorithms to "back out" focusing errors and motion blur. (This is not the same thing at all as conventional sharpening.) Providing the correction needed is not too large this can work surprisingly well. You can sometimes even salvage a quite respectable image from one you might otherwise discard because it is hopelessly blurred. Principle weaknesses are a rather primitive interface and supports only JPEG in standalone mode (for best results give it an uncompressed JPEG from your TIFF). Display manipulation (zoom, etc) essentially non-existent. Can be installed as a plug-in for Adobe and Paintshop. In this mode it supports any file format, of course, but only 24 bit images in Paintshop - unfortunately.  Most useful on images where focusing and/or stabilization just slightly off but ... I once used FM to correct a 30 second unguided comet image for quite long star-trails resulting from rotation of the earth. It worked almost to perfection. Not quite the miracle worker the company claims it to be and needs development to flesh out file support for stand-alone use. Inexpensive and very well worth having in your photo toolkit for those occasions when nothing else can save the day.

JAlbum: Slideshow/gallery generator for the Web. Platform independent (JAVA based). Free (although they appreciate donations)! Includes some useful image processing. If you want to present slideshows and galleries of your work on the Web this is a great way to do it. Dead simple to use yet produces slick looking results. You will find examples on this site. Remarkably good at maintaining appearance of your images despite compression needed for Web. This is important because it's very easy to lose image quality when preparing for network distribution. Includes library of attractive styles and presentation modes with numerous options to enhance the appearance and accessibility of your work. It even includes a visitor guestbook and hooks for selling your pictures. You generate and test your slideshow locally, then publish it to a web site. If you are using MS Expression Web you simply drag the slideshow album from your local h/d to anywhere appropriate on your open Web site and make a link to the index page. Couldn't be easier and looks fantastic. Challenges the theory "you get what you pay for".


Backup and Recovery

Not doing regular, disciplined backup risks losing your life's work.

There are numerous choices in backup software. If your needs are simple and you don't have many image files then simple drag-and-drop from one drive to a backup may suffice. The problem is that this soon becomes tedious with all the requests asking if you want to replace existing files having the same names as those you are dragging. Backup software is inexpensive and a big time-saver. I have used the following. If you want to know more, follow the links:

Genie:  Popular, highly rated


  • Backs up open files
  • Network capable
  • Not needed to do a restore (you can drag files using Explorer)
  • Numerous options for encryption, event triggered backup, etc., etc.


  • If doing "mirror" backups (the type I usually need), cannot handle the situation where the target drive letter has changed and will produce a whole new backup from scratch rather than just backing up changes to an existing set. Drive letters are apt to change if you are using external USB units.

Fileback PC: You don't hear about this nearly as often as other backups but user experience is generally very favorable.


  • Very Similar to Genie in capability but ...
  • Uses device serial numbers to help track location of backup sets and can deal with drive letter changes.
  • Faster than Genie but not by a spectacular amount.
  • Has a very handy retention period option which supports keeping files on the backup for a period of time you specify even if they are removed from the source. This is an excellent supplement to keeping back versions of the backup set by providing what amounts to a simple "undo" for deleted files.


  • User interface less intuitive and not especially attractive (you get used to it).
  • Setting up to use a remote (LAN) source a bit tricky compared to Genie.

I am using Fileback because of the "changing drive letters" situation. Otherwise, there would not be much to choose between Fileback and Genie. Genie is generally easier to configure and use. They are both fine products. "Acronis" is said to be good but have no experience with the product.

General Advice:

Choose something that can produce a conventionally structured backup that's the same as your original folder structure. That way you don't need the backup program to restore parts or all of your source. I understand some backups provide only an encoded output which requires the backup software for any restore. The advantage is that they can provide more options/automation for restore but the drawback is you might be stuck if you lose the program itself. There should, at least, be a "native structure/format" option. Being able to backup open files is important, at least as an option. This avoids the nasty surprise of no backup at the expense of possibly having backed-up something you don't exactly intend. Being able to handle changed drive letters for the target (backup) drive may be essential if you use external drives. If you don't use externals or never re-plug your USB devices this is a non-issue. If you have a LAN, make sure the product supports network acces and/or network drives. Most do but some only if you purchase a higher-end version.

The folks at Fileback recommend you purchase a specialized package if you want to mirror your operating system drive for restore in case of a complete disaster. A product like "R-tools" might be an example. Genie can backup your system and many others can too. My take on this is that it's almost always better in such a disaster to re-install the OS on a new drive. This subject is beyond the scope of a discussion on photo needs. 

There's much, much more as any web search will show you. The products described here are either ones I own and use or have tested over a significant period of time. Adobe Photoshop is a great package but to me just not good value because you can get as good or better results at far lower cost with a couple of the products in the list above. Stripped versions of Photoshop often ship with cameras, printers and other computer products and are worth evaluating. After all, they are free (until time comes to upgrade so be careful). But if you need all the extras, plug-ins and gew-gaws there's nothing to compare with Photoshop and it is, after all, "the environment".

I mostly use: Silkypix, Paintshop Pro, 360DOF, NeatImage, JAlbum and Focus Magic (on rare occasions, to be sure, but when you need it you need it).

For the very casual photographer or snapshooter there's plenty of freeware out there. Google offers "Picasa" and under GNU license there's "GIMP". I have tried and do not like either. There's not much in these for the advanced photographer but they do offer basic editing functions, slideshows and album builders. Worth a try if you really do not want to get involved with extensive "digital darkroom" activity and - the price is right. Picasa offers a great service for image sharing on the Web. You will certainly run into the popular "Flickr" and its competitors. I don't care for the advertising or image presentation properties of these services but they obviously respond to a need and many are happy with them.


About RAW Formats

RAW (or NEF in the case of Nikon) is an unprocessed image format straight from the camera's sensor and is specific to the particular make and even model of camera. The appearance of a RAW image is determined only by the exposure (shutter and aperture settings) and the native characteristics of the sensor itself. All in-camera processing is bypassed (exception: Sony "Alpha's" apparently apply some noise reduction - a controversial decision). Cameras providing RAW do so as an option and will usually produce in-camera processed JPEG or TIFF images simultaneously. That way you have all the bases covered although it does chew up memory card storage.

Photographers interested in producing the very finest images from their cameras process RAW to their taste. When a new camera comes out its RAW format may take some time to find its way into the support list of a particular piece of imaging software if it has unique properties. SILKYPIX is very fast to respond (a few days) while Paintshop can take forever. Photoshop users report good response and Picture Window is prompt. Cameras providing RAW always ship with an included RAW downloader/converter (typically to TIFF) but its best if your software can work with the RAW prior to any format conversion.


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