Wednesday, September 20, 2017

An Experienced User's Notes on ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018

ACDSee can carry a BIG load!
There's a LOT to like about this new version of ACDSee, and overall, it is a worthy upgrade I think.

Let's first discuss the elephant in the room, the name change.  The next version coming after ACDSee Ultimate 10 is now called "ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018".  I understand why they did this, the various ACDSee still photo products were getting seriously out of sync in terms of version numbers.

The original ACDSee browser/viewer/Dam product, which all subsequent still photo products are built around is on on version 21.  ACDSee Pro is on version 11, and even though it used the same naming convention as ACDSee Pro, ACDSee Ultimate was really only on version 3.  It was getting confusing to new users, some were thinking one product was "older" than the other when in fact, they were a part of the same generation and build of software.  I know I frequently fielded questions from confused users.

By calling the product line "ACDSee Photo Studio {year}and then either Pro or Ultimate, I think it will be clearer, in the long run at least, that all three products share the same generation of programming and only differ in the extras each title provides.

The New products are:
  1. ACDSee Photo Studio 2018 - the Basic DAM tool and browser/viewer
  2. ACDSee Photo Studio Pro 2018 - The same as ACDSee Photo Studio 2018 with the addition of a first class raw development tool.
  3. ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 - The same as ACDSee Photo Studio Pro 2018 with the addition of a layers capable bit mapped editor which supports Photoshop plugins.
One of the strong features of the ACDSee line has always been that it is possible to upgrade to a more extensive ACDSee title without having to relearn the things you already know, or reconfigure the DAM database since all 3 products use the same catalog and database system.

The New Features

Most of these tools are in both ACDSee Photo Studio Pro 2018 and in ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018.  My comments are intentionally directed towards Ultimate 2018, since that is the program that does the most.

Smart Erase

This "Edit Tab" tool allows the user to quickly delete objects based on the ACDSee masking brush technology.  Basically to use Smart Erase, you click on the Smart Erase Tool button in the "Edit Tab" toolbar, or press Ctrl-E, adjust the size of the brush to your satisfaction, and draw a mask on the object to be erased.  Then the tool tries to figure out the best place in the photo to automatically clone data from, and replaces it with that data.

Removing these power lines were problematic with
Smart Erase.
It works better on some photos than on others.  I've found that powerlines that cross a variety of trees, and other highly detailed background can confuse it a bit.  The places where it works best is erasing an object against a plain background like the sky, a wall, or a beach.

I've discovered that brush size and magnification size of the photo, can make a big difference in how well Smart Erase works. I think repeated passes can also make the erasure more natural looking.  Some erasures will still need to be done, or at least supplemented, with a manual clone.  Even so, it can make the old tedious methods of erasure much faster and easier.


Liquify is a distortion filter capable of great subtlety, or over the top effects.  I haven't played with it much, as I am mostly a landscape and nature photographer, but I found it pretty capable.  For instance one can make a child's eyes just a bit larger than they actually are, or make the brim of a hat just a bit larger or smaller.

There are four types of distortion tools, Shift, Pinch, Bulge, and Restore.

Shift moves the point represented by the center of the brush in or out of its normal position.

Pinch creates a 4 sided pincushion effect from the center of the brush.

Bulge creates a 4 sided barrel distortion from the center of the brush.

Restore is NOT a traditional 'undo' feature!  Instead, it appears to allow the user to 'walk back' the strength of the other 3 distortions so that the optimum distortion effect is achieved.

Frequency Separation

This is an automated layers based function that is particularly useful for portraiture and other photos where minimization of blemishes is desirable.  It creates a high pass and a low pass version of the photo.

High Frequency contains all the texture information, while Low Frequency contains the tones colors and shadows.   This allows the user to adjust them separately and then merge them into a useful combination. 

Actions Browser

This is a pretty useful enhancement to the recorded action scripting tool.  It allows you to record a series of actions and more easily select those action scripts and apply them to photos either one at a time or in batch mode.  There are 125 pre recorded scripts that come with the tool.  Don't confuse Action scripts with presets, these are two different things.  Presets are tool specific, while action scripts cross the boundaries of the various tools.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Shortcuts have been created for virtually every function within ACDSee, so for the power users, it is possible to control your workflow without searching with your mouse to find the proper icon to "click on".  This should speed things up significantly.

Mobile Sync

This tool, along with the previously released root level support for Microsoft OneDrive, in my eyes, indicates strongly that ACDSee Systems is thinking about the future of photography and the growing importance of mobile photography to photography as a whole.

As a reminder, root level support for OneDrive means that managing and incorporating photos uploaded to Microsoft OneDrive can be treated by ACDSee like just another folder on your internal hard drive.  You don't need the sync folder or store the images to OneDrive in the sync folder.  Instead you just navigate to OneDrive and manage the photos you find there just as if they were in your "pictures" folder on your HD.  I can't begin to tell you just how much easier it is to manage remotely stored photos now.  I was so impressed, I paid for the 1 Terabyte OneDrive upgrade.

Mobile Sync is fast and EASY!
Mobile Sync is an alternative way of getting your photos from your Android or iOS device to your hard drive where ACDSee resides.  What it does, is connect your phone to the WiFi router that your PC is on, and sends the photos you select from your device and imports them into the mobile sync folder inside of the ACDSee database.  Both the PC and the mobile device must be on the same network, and the mobile device must have the Mobile Sync app installed and running.

You might ask, "Why can't I just connect the phone by wire to my PC and drag and drop the photos into whatever folder I want?"  Well you can, but this is much easier.  It's easy to set up, and very easy to use day to day and I think a bit faster overall.

You also might ask, "Why can't I setup my mobile device to automatically upload my photos to my online storage and download the photos I want to ACDSee?"  Again, you can do that.  But that eats up your mobile GB upload limits, and that makes it impractical on an ongoing basis.

Besides, with root level support of MS OneDrive, I find I'm now only loading new photos to my hard drive, and once they are "done", I am moving the source files and the "Done" photos to OneDrive.  ACDSee is making that easy to do, my photos are backed up to OneDrive and the only photos I have at risk of an HD failure are the most recent which are protected by a conventional back up.

I'm not a huge mobile photography fan, but there are times when all I have is my mobile phone, and I want to take some serious photos.  And these products are a BIG time saver in my mind.

A LOT of other, more subtle changes as well.

ACDSee claims a lot of improvements in performance, lens correction, selection,  Pixel targeting, and split tone layers.  so my advice is to schedule your free trial download for a time when you can devote a thorough test of this product.

My Conclusions

On the whole, if you are interested in only the DAM portion of the ACDSee tools, there probably isn't a strong reason to upgrade from an earlier version.  The DAM tools are mature and there probably isn't a lot of room for improvement in what is probably the strongest Digital Asset Management tool on the market.  (Though there is always SOME room for improvement!)

However, if your intentions are to rely more heavily on the bit mapped editor tools, either to replace or supplement another editor like Photoshop or PaintShop Pro, then an upgrade to either Ultimate or Pro makes a great deal of sense, in my mind.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

New Video on The Histogram

This is my first attempt at a Video Tutorial.  Feedback on overall watchability would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The General Controls - Getting the basics right.

These “General” controls are the single most important segment of raw development.  Often times called the exposure controls, they deal most directly with the information stored in the raw file.  They control how much of the captured data we have available to work with, they are an important influence on how we perceive our photos overall. Getting this section "Right" ultimately controls just how successful your photo will be.

I will discuss the controls From the top of the controls window to the bottom. Note this is part 2 of an ongoing series of articles. This article will cover only what ACDSee calls the "General" controls and White Balance.  The rest of the Raw development tools will be covered in subsequent articles.

Color and Black and White Sub Tabs

These tabbed controls don’t really do all that much other than desaturate or re-saturate the image with whatever color controls were current at the time the B&W tab was activated. Getting Killer B&W Photos with ACDSee

Curiously though, I have found this tab useful for luminance noise control. I suggest you review my article entitled "A Quick and Easy Noise Reduction Technique"


We all understand this control brightens and darkens a photo, but what this slider control actually does is allow you to adjust exposure to as much as an EV of -2 of under exposure, to an EV of +2 on an over exposure. The value settings on this control appear to be a 1:1 comparison of the EV numbers, though ACDSee never says that directly. In my tests, sliding the control to the left to a - .5 corresponds to setting an EV of -5 on the camera that the difference is irrelevant in my eyes.

Two points you need to remember regarding the exposure control.

If you need more than an EV spread of -2 to a +2, your ability to set your camera accurately for your desired effect must be questioned. If you are THAT far off on your exposure you have done something wrong, or your camera is broken.

If you find yourself setting this control consistently to, say, an EV of -.5 (or whatever value), then maybe you should consider adjusting your camera to always underexpose to a value of -.5. Getting it right at capture time is always better than adjusting it later.

Yes we understand that it makes the photo brighter, but what does Exposure actually DO to the photo? 
Try an experiment look at this Histogram of our test photo.  I refer you to the first article in this series for an explanation of the Histogram

NOTE: With all photos, just click on them to see larger versions
Examine the histogram of the photo we are working with. Note how the shadows mostly reside about 20% to the right of the far left, and that the highlights, while fewer (curve is shorter), also reside about 20% to the LEFT of the far right.  This indicates that there are few shadows and highlights that are so dark or light that there is no detail showing in them.  And it is a well exposed photo with not much contrast to it.

Now, slide the Exposure control to the right, note that everything the curve represents slides to the right, and what appears to be the left most anchor point for the start of the shadows also moves to the right. If you move the slider to the left, everything moves to the left, including the shadow anchor point.

Highlight Enhancement - This control is somewhat misunderstood. What it does, is darken the highlights while ignoring the mid-tones and shadows. It allows you to set the exposure control properly for the shadows and mid-tones and then selectively darken the highlights only so that you don’t lose the detail in them.

Try a little experiment. Take a photo that you want to work with, and move the EXPOSURE control a bit too far to the right. Notice how the brightest highlights start to go completely white. Also take note of the Histogram. Note how the curves are sort of pushed to the right. The part of the curves that represent shadow (the left side) in the histogram stay about as tall as ever while the mid-tone curves get a bit shorter. But in both cases, the shadow and highlight portion of the curve gets “fatter”as it slides to the right. Also note how the highlight portion of the curve not only is pushed too far to the right, but that portion of the curve gets skinnier and taller.

What you are seeing is ACDSee trying to brighten the shadows and mid-tones by pushing them to the right of the histogram, Naturally, since we are using the overall exposure control this forces the highlights to an ever brighter position. Leave the Exposure control at the ‘too far to the right’ position you have selected.

Now, let’s look at the Highlight Enhancement control. By sliding the control to the right, the highlights start to darken a bit, though the shadows and mid-tones don’t change all that much. In the Histogram, notice that the portion of the curve on the far right starts to get shorter and fatter as it moves back to the left. But curiously, while the shadow and mid-tones portion of the curve change shape a little bit, the ‘anchor point’ on the left where the shadow portion of the curve starts to take shape doesn’t move at all. Basic black is already set and isn’t going to change. Any changes to the photo will have to work around that anchor point for the shadows.

So, what we have demonstrated is that Highlight Enhancement tries to shift the Histogram BACK to the left without adjusting the left most anchor point, and the net effect is that the shadows and mid-tones are affected less by this adjustment than are the highlights.

Fill Light Control - Oddly, this control is very similar to the exposure control, BUT what it does is respect the shadow anchor point as set by the exposure control. So in other words, the leftmost anchor point as set by the exposure control never changes as you slide the Fill light control to the right, everything else is pushed to the right.

Contrast Control - This is an interesting control from a Histogram perspective. What it does when you slide the control to the right (i.e. increase contrast) is squeeze the middle portions of the curve down and push the extreme left and right sections of the curve to their respective edges of the histogram. In other words, it decreases the intensity of the mid-tones and increases the intensity of the shadows and highlights.

When you slide the control to the left (i.e. Decrease contrast), what occurs is that the intensity of the shadows and highlights decreases and the intensity of the mid-tones increases.

Saturation Control - This control is similar to brightness but deals with color purity, instead. When you slide the control to the left, the color seems to go away, when you slide the control to the right, the color becomes deeper. In a photo there are 3 colors that combine to make all the other colors. Red, Green, and Blue. if there are a lot of pixels in a given primary color, that curve will be tall. Each color has a value from -100 to +100 with the default of zero (0) .

A value of +100 for a given color means that as much of that color has been added as possible, and the curve for that color gets fatter.

A value of -100 means the all the color for a given color has been reduced to nothing, so the color channel curves start to merge with the overall luminance curve set by the exposure control. As a result, the photo now appears to be black and white.

When set to -100, the curve doesn’t go away, because the pixels set to zero are still designated as belonging to one of the 3 primary colors. they just happen to be set to -100 and all that remains is the relative luminance.

Changing the saturation value of a primary color won’t change the number of pixels assigned to a given color, it will just change the level of saturation, so the height and width of each color channel moves closer or further away from the curve representing Luminance.

Vibrance Control - The ACDSee Pro help file claims that Vibrance adjusts the intensity of the colors in the same way as saturation, but that skin tones are less affected. The text doesn't really mention other already lightly saturated objects though many people have always assumed it worked equally well on any lightly saturated object.

It does seem to protect skin better than non skin objects in a photo, but I'm not sure if that is some sort of illusion. Logic tells me it should work equally for any lightly saturated object, but I just don't know for sure, since the difference is most noticeable for protecting skin when increasing saturation overall.

Vibrancy seems to work LESS, on less saturated colors, but the effect is much less noticeable when moving the slider to the left (DE-saturating) than it is moving to the right (adding saturation). Its effect is SO much less noticeable when de-saturating that it fooled me into thinking it wasn't working. If I were to want to de-saturate more than just a VERY tiny bit and still prevent significant change to skin tones, I might consider using a development brush to protect the skin tones completely.

I tested the Vibrance control on a series of photos where the range of skin tones was very wide, from the palest 'white', to the darkest 'black', and everything in between. Apparently, even the darkest skin isn't all that saturated overall, because I felt Vibrance protected very dark skin about as well as the lightest skin. But again, when de-saturating the protection effect was minimal

The effects of the Vibrance control is VERY subtle. You will want to be very careful and selective in its use.

Clarity Control - This is both a useful tool and an incredibly sweet confection! What Clarity does is add or remove contrast to the mid-tones only, leaving the highlights and shadows alone.

Many people think of it as a sharpening control. I know this because when I was writing about sharpening earlier, LOTS of people wrote me asking why I didn’t include Clarity in the discussion.

True, Clarity can increase the illusion of sharpness, but so can contrast in general. In fact Sharpening is really no more than the technique of adding contrast to the edges of the objects. So why ISN’T clarity considered a sharpening tool instead of a general or exposure tool? Primarily, in my eyes, that is because it simply doesn’t care about the edges of objects. It will increase or decrease contrast to every mid tone it sees, edge or not.

Let’s take another look at our sample photo and its histogram:

Note how there aren’t a lot of highlights or shadows in the photo. It is mostly mid tones. Now look at the histogram, almost nothing of the curves actually reach the extreme left or right of the chart. The area of the most shadow is roughly 20% closer to the right edge of the chart than the left. And it seems the highlights don’t really even make it to the right edge! They stop about 80% of the way from the left edge to the right. I would say, that for the most part, this is a photo with very little washed out highlights or solid blacks. Just about everything resides in the mid tones area.

Just for fun, try a little experiment. With your favorite photo, invoke the clipping view (That little triangle icon just above the Histogram and below the word “Tune”) and slide the Clarity tool all the way to the right. Notice you won’t see much clipping, if any. (In my sample photo I don’t see any.), Now reset the Clarity slider and move the Contrast slider all the way to the right.

There’s a huge difference, isn’t there? What is happening is that by concentrating on just the mid-tones, very little of those mid-tones are forced into either the highlights or shadows. And THAT is what makes Clarity such an important and useful tool. We can either add or remove contrast in just those tones that carry most of the photo’s information.