The Extract tool is a useful extra to have
and works well in isolating and cutting out
Well okay, the X2 doesn’t mean you get two copies of PhotoPlus in the box, it follows the Corel naming convention for their venerable program to make version 12 sounds more sexy by calling it X2. Same here. In case you’ve never come across the program before I can sum it up quite simply for you. Photoshop 6. Or maybe 7. Plus some fun stuff for home users. This isn’t a derogatory comment, or an accusation of plagiarism on Serif’s part, it’s more a recognition that people want the core Photoshop functionality – the photo editing tools and adjustments – but not the overbearing complexity, useless extras that you’ll never understand and the exorbitant cost that you get when eating at the master’s table. Now, Adobe recognised this themselves, hence the Photoshop Elements, but that’s still a few quid more expensive than PhotoPlus.
Serif PhotoPlus photo editing
As a digital photographer, or a film and scan man, what you want to know is does it have the basics – Curves and Levels. The answer is yes, though even with preview selected, this is not live, it doesn’t update as you make the adjustments, only when you let go of the mouse. Now, for Curves this doesn’t matter, but for Levels it makes it a bit more hit and miss with numerous small adjustments. Okay, so that’s those, you also want hue and saturation adjustment and these are present, throwing luminance in to the mix as well.
There’s Photoshop CS3 file compatibility but smart objects and smart filters aren’t handled quite accurately
These are all good and well but you need layers toperform them on and yes, there’s a Layers palette, tabbed with paths, macros and channels, and PhotoPlus has adjustment layers as well. Layers can be masked, grouped or turned into filter layers. Ah yes, knowing smile time, Photoshop CS3 has the new feature of smart filters to go with smart objects. This basically allows non-destructible, editable filters to be applied to layers. PhotoPlus doesn’t have smart objects and smart filters, it has Filter layers, on which you can add the usual filters, but this makes them editable and non-destructive. Same kind of thing in other words, and a real nice bonus to get here.
PhotoPlus can read Photoshop CS3 PSD format files so I gave it one with smart objects and smart filers to read to see what it made of it. The bottom layer was rasterized to a bitmap so the Gaussian Blur on it became final. The other layer was turned into a Filter layer and while it lost the Stroke effect, it retained the Drop Shadow layer style correctly. Now that’s not bad considering this is one of the new features in CS3.
Instant Artist is the fun side of PhotoPlus, turning this picture into a watercolour.
Serif PhotoPlus look and feel
The reason why I mentioned Photoshop 6 in the first place is because there’s a nice, clean look to PhotoPlus, with tools down the left, drop down menus, adjustable, tabbed palettes on the right. One other feature is that if two pictures are loaded, a Documents bar appears along the bottom of the workspace, making it easy to switch between them and saving on trying to fit them onto the screen together. You can also muck around with the workspace to arrange it how suits you best, and then save that arrangement for use next time.
A lot of the common Photoshop functions are in the same or similar places in PhotoPlus which makes moving from the big program to using this very easy. If there’s a learning curve it’s more like a downhill slope. The tools are fairly standard, with a healing brush, clone stamp tool, text, boxes, lines, dodge and burn, fill and also some warp meshes and a lens distortion filter. All the fun of a fisheye lens with none of the cost.
Lots of the filters will be familiar with Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask present and correct, plus there Lighting and long time favourite Diffuse Glow. It’s not all 80s cover band material though, PhotoPlus has a couple of original tunes to play, including Instant Artist, the Extract tool and QuickFix Studio. These are fun extras for those who like to correct images then let their hair down and make them into artworks. The Extract tool is a nice extra as well, working on the usual premise of outlining the edge with a big marker, filling the middle as the bit you want and then hitting Extract to pull it out onto a new layer. This wasn’t bad at all and a potential time saver.
Serif PhotoPlus Verdict
Inevitably there are going to be the odd fly in the soup moments and yes, some filters are a little slow, the Clone tool needs care and the Blemish remover could be a bit better. The History palette with the undo function isn’t clever either. But these are small concerns against the bigger picture which is that it offers the right kind of toolset for the digital photographer with a clean interface and Photoshop-friendly layout that you’ll appreciate. There are automated functions too and quick fix studios and makeovers that will have the first time photo editor cackling with glee, but what impressed me was that the program offered an efficient, compelling alternative to Photoshop Elements and the increasingly muddy Paint Shop Pro.
At a penny under £60 for the Studio pack it isn’t dirt cheap, though it undercuts the main rivals easily. If it was £40 then there’s be a stampede of sales, but even so, PhotoPlus offers a clean, compact, workable interface, with plenty of great features and usable tools. It’s like the John Smiths bitter of photo editing – no nonsense and gets the job done.
Serif PhotoPlus Plus points:
Cheaper than rivals
Layers, adjustments, groups, Filter layers
All the usual tools
Photoshop file compatibility of sorts
Automated help too
Batch conversion is neat
Extract tool very handy
Also includes AlbumPlus SE PRO
Serif PhotoPlus Minus points:
Some filters and tools slow
Blemish removal a bit wayward
CS3 file compatibility not 100% accurate
History palette basic
VALUE FOR MONEY:
Serif PhotoPlus X2 Studio Pack costs just £59.99 and is available from the Serif website .