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.