Evaluating Photoshop Lightroom and ACDSee Pro Photo Manager

I tried out the trial versions of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and ACDSee Pro Photo Manager recently. I was particularly interested in seeing how they would work for a photography workflow, such as basic image adjustments to curves, sharpening, dodging and burning, fixing minor problems and cropping. For more serious manipulation I can always use Photoshop or the GIMP, but I kind of like the non-destructive process on these two new products I’m trying out below.

Last time I used ACDSee there was no such thing as ACDSee Pro Photo Manager. Of course, there was also no such thing as Photoshop Lightroom.

Problems with Photoshop Lightroom:

  • The user interface is annoying slow and unresponsive. It’s not ridiculously bad, but it is jerky enought to annoy. I can tolerate that all the calculations required to apply filters to an image take time and processing power, but any significant delay or slowness in simply expanding, collapsing, or resizing panes or windows is quite unnecessary. Is it due to their use of non-native widgets (ie, skinning)? Probably, though that doesn’t mean an interface needs to be slow – take recent versions of Firefox on Windows for example.
  • It lacks the ability to correct for barrel/pincushion distortion, and to do perspective correction. I need to do barrel/pincushion distortion correction fairly often – for example on any photos containing buildings or straight lines. This means it would be necessary to bring images into Photoshop a lot of the time for what should be a basic correction, even though more advanced corrections like primary colour adjustments and chromatic aberration correction, which I would probably need less often, are included. Note that I couldn’t find this feature in ACDSee either, but based on price I had higher expectations of the Adobe product.
  • The noise removal was not too useful to me. On a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is no noise removal and 100 is maximum, 0 is not enough and even 1 is too much – especially for chroma. There is no setting in between 0 and 1. Then again, noise removal was not too good on ACDSee either, but in a different way.
  • Using Lightroom to simply browse photos on the hard drive was not very intuitive to me. I usually prefer browsing my existing file heirarchy, and there seemed to be no way to do that – I had to ‘import’ images into ‘albums’ or similar, where albums didn’t necessarily correspond to their locations on their hard drive. It’s an extra layer of confusion and it means I can’t be sure that I’m grabbing the right images if I go back into an Explorer window and just drag and drop.

Problems with ACDSee:

  • In any other colour mode than sRGB, everything seems about ten times as slow. Instead of dragging a slider and seeing the colour on the image change as the slider is dragged, now you start dragging the slider and wonder why the program seems to have stopped responding for ages. Then a few seconds after you’ve let go of the slider and are starting to click randomly on the screen to see if anything you are doing is having any effect, the colour finally changes in the preview. This means that practically, it’s not possible to do any adjustments with a colour space other than sRGB loaded. No problem, that’s fine – except that it’s a bit of a hassle. If you forget and leave it loaded, and make further adjustments, it goes all slow again. It’s also slightly disappointing that a piece of software for professionals would assume its users will all be using sRGB. Notwithstanding the whole sRGB vs colour management debate, there are a lot of photographers that do value wider gamut colour spaces.
  • The sharpening feature is decent, but not as good as in Lightroom. The sharpening radius is only selectable as a whole number of pixels, so sharpening using a radius of 0.6 is not possible. Furthermore, there is a ‘threshold’ for sharpening detail, but it represents a sudden cutoff – unlike Lightroom’s ‘detail’ slider which allows a smooth transition between the sharpening applied to high contrast edges vs smoother surfaces. As a result, sharpening an image with lots of grain cannot look nearly as good.

Of the two, it is still hard to choose. Lightroom has better sharpening and smoothing so for quality it would win for me, but I prefer the file selection approach of ACDSee. Then again, the ACDSee product is not really usable when doing adjustments using colour spaces other than sRGB; while I don’t expect to be doing this often, I might want to eventually. And yet, the ACDSee product is still cheaper.

17 Replies to “Evaluating Photoshop Lightroom and ACDSee Pro Photo Manager”

  1. I have been a user and advocate of ACDSee Pro for some time now, and I believe the reviewer here is mistaken about the capabilities of this great piece of software. ACDSee Pro 2.5(latest version) has substantial controls for dealing with pincushion and barrel distortion, and also for making perspective corrections. I use these tools all the time. Also, the program has very robust support of color management — you can easily use a custom monitor profile, and even run the program in soft-proofing mode, to emulate the look of printer output using a printer profile. I have not had any issues with speed — regardless of the working color space I use. I routinely convert all of my photos to Adobe RBG with no slow-down in processing time whatsoever.

    One of the most under-rated strengths of ACDSee Pro 2.5 is its RAW image processing capability. I have tried them all (figuratively speaking), and I now use ACDSee Pro 2.5 exclusively for RAW processing. The interface is intuitive and straightforward, the controls are excellent, and it possesses a very robust batch-processing mode whereby RAW presets can be applied across a broad range of photos. This is a great feature.

    ACDSee is getting ready to introduce their new version 3.0. They will have a public beta program that should be starting any day now, and I have signed up to participate in that program. Check out the new features included in the new 3.0 by visiting their website. I believe this software will continue to give Lightroom a run for its money — and at much less cost.

    One thing I would like to see — which ACDSee does not have — is the ability to use Photoshop-compatible plug-ins.

  2. While ACDSee Pro has some good features until it allows the use of Photoshop plugins it is useless to many of us. And one cannot even consider it at this time. I had hoped version 3 would allow their use but I guess ACDSee is not listening.

  3. ACDSee Pro and Light Room will always fall into the shadows of Phase One Capture One as far as RAW processing is concerned.

  4. I’ve been using ACDSee Pro 3 on Vista. Two big problems. It freezes Vista if you try to import photos. And it makes CMYK images look hideous (yes I know they can’t be renderd 100% correctly on a monitor anyway, but ACDSee gets nowhere near close).

  5. I love ACDSee. I have been using it for a long time. I tried photoshop lightroom, but I really hate not being able to browse my photos and having to imports my photos to lightroom. I tried it for a week and that alone frustrated me more than anything else. I don’t expect ether of the mangers to be like photoshop. For the price I’m with ACDSee all the way. For what I use it for it works really good. I really do hope that there next update is adding photoshop compatible plug-ins.

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