Thanks to inexpensive little digital cameras and cell phones with photo capabilities, nearly everyone nowadays is a snapshooter. For most there is no need to do anything with pictures once they are shot except take the files to the corner drugstore for prints, or store them on a computer hard drive for viewing and maybe post a few in a blog or on a social networking site. Snapshooters are an easy lot to please and if some of them have the desire and wherewithal to make minor adjustments to their image files, there are lots of basic software programs out there, many of them freeware, that fill the bill nicely.
But what about the serious photographers? They’re the folks who visualize the image they want in their heads before snapping the shutter. The photographer thinks in terms of composition and lighting— and sometimes style, mood and meaning. The problem is, a camera, no matter what its cost, is often not capable of producing the photographer’s exact desired result, so a certain amount of manipulation and experimentation in the darkroom is frequently called for. These days the darkroom is computer software, and the Gold Standard of that software is Adobe’s Photoshop, a program that retails today at $650 or more. My guess is that a good many Photoshop users have purchased a far bigger program than they’ll ever need, and that a smaller, arguably easier to use program like Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 could yield image enhancements comparable to those they are getting from Photoshop, and at a fraction of the cost.
Does the reasonable price indicate that Corel’s product lacks powerful capabilities that a serious photographer would find useful? Absolutely not. I’ve used Corel’s excellent bitmap image editing program, Photo-Paint, since it was first bundled with CorelDraw 3 in 1992, and have currently been using the version that was bundled with CorelDraw 10 in 2000. I’ve used Photoshop in the past, but my preference has always been the Corel product because photo enhancing or retouching for litho and web was my thing and using Photo-Paint just seemed easier and quicker to me.
So how does this shiny new Paint Shop Pro X2 stack up with its ancestor, my tried and true Photo-Paint 10, for doing the things I usually use an image editor for? Some experimentation with the program was called for to answer that question. I started with a scanned jpeg my brother sent me a while back, asking if I could do something about the serious emulsion cracking that had developed in the original print. Here’s a detail of the image’s problem area:
I know, it’s not a good picture to begin with, but it has sentimental value for my brother and the big ’scratches’ bugged him. Using my old Photo-Paint, I did some serious pixel editing and sent him back something he was very happy with. With Photo-Paint it took me well over an hour to get rid of the scratches. Using the Photo X2 ‘Adjust’ tools that were not available to me in Photo-Paint, I redid the exercise and got a better result in less than 15 minutes. This involved a little freehand area selecting, X2’s Scratch Removal Tool and Auto Scratch Removal feature, some blurring, X2’s Smart Photo Fix, and a smidgen of sharpening.
Here’s an easy one. Let’s get rid of the two guys on the airplane.
Photo X2’s tools make simple retouching easier and rather quick to do. The Selection Tool, Dropper Tool (color picker), and Paint Brush are all that were needed to remove the two figures from this photo, then tidy up the sky’s wispy clouds. Anyone could easily learn to do this and get a usable image intended for web use. Doing something similar to an image intended for print would require a bit more time and skill, but Photo X2 has the tools to do the job.
Let’s move on to something else. Here’s a photo I took from the backyard of B’s Backyard Barbecue Restaurant late one afternoon shortly before dark. The result is nothing like I imagined it when I snapped the picture. I could blame that on the martinis but the truth is that the tonal range a digital camera is capable of capturing is several steps short of the actual tonal range of most sunsets. That, and the fact that I was too lazy to make appropriate readjustments to the camera’s exposure settings for the lighting situation, resulted in this unimpressive image where the shadow detail is acceptable, but the sunset’s lighting has lost its pop. The camera’s light meter had done what light meters are born to do: average everything to a 50% gray. Many little digital cameras come with an EV (Exposure Value) adjustment, and that’s how the sensible snapshooter overrides the light meter’s decisions. I wasn’t sensible that night.
The ideal way to shoot a scene like this is to put the camera on a tripod and then make some careful exposure adjustments to capture the reality of the light and color in the sky, and then a few more for detail in the dark land areas. Then, using Photo X2’s nifty capability to combine the best images, a much improved result could be attained in the ‘darkroom’. Unfortunately, I only had this single, sad, undramatic picture, so it was necessary to improvise a second exposure to try out the photo combining process in Photo X2.
Photo X2’s ability to rotate the cropping rectangle made it a snap to straighten the original image out a bit before trimming down its size for this exercise.
Perhaps you noticed the power lines running across the image. The first thing I wanted to do was eliminate those pesky power lines. Photo X2’s Scratch Removal feature got rid of them nicely with a minimum of fuss. Because the dark areas contained enough detail to satisfy me, the image would suffice as the first needed for the combining process.
To get a second image for the exercise, I applied some saturation enhancement to the first image’s sunset using Photo X2’s Smart Photo Fix which allowed me to make various adjustments while evaluating the results. I killed as much detail as I could in the dark areas because the first photo had all the detail I desired, and doing so sorta simulated the result I’d have attained had I exposed for just the light in the first place. I then saved this as my second image.
I then used Photo X2’s HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photo Merge function to combine the two photos. This is a simple process that includes a few adjustment controls so that various results can be considered. I finally settled on this one:
Not bad for just a quick run-through. I felt it now contained a bit of interest and drama, but the coloring had strayed considerably from the color of the actual sunset as I remembered it. Fiddling a bit with Photo X2’s RGB color adjustment sliders enabled me to give the scene some warmth. Yes, the cloud structure has changed from the original. Had I actually used a tripod and bracketed a few exposures when I first photographed the sunset, the resulting combined image would have been much more faithful to the cloud structure, lighting, and colors of the actual sunset.
For these exercises I’ve utilized only a few of the many tools included in Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2, but these are the tools I most frequently use. There’s a great selection of other tools in the program that once I get accustomed to using them will certainly be handy now and then; and some features I consider unnecessary for a program meant for use by the serious photographer. Scrapbooking and inserting cutesy clipart into images are capabilities I feel bloat the program unnecessarily, and are better served by other programs. For a complete listing of Photo X2’s features and capabilities, visit the Corel product page using the link below.
Included with the package is a slim user’s guide that should adequately familiarize the user with the many tools and capabilities available with the program. Anyone already comfortable with image editing programs will require little time with the guide, but a newbie would benefit considerably by giving it careful study while trying out the software. This is not a lightweight program, so someone new to higher end photo editing software may find the interface a bit overwhelming at first.
I’ve been happy with the old Corel Photo-Paint products for more years than I care to count, but there’s no denying that this new incarnation has a better selection of powerful tools, and is superior in most ways except speed and compactness. It ain’t a sports car. It loads way too slow to be useful as a go-to program for quick basic tasks like crop and resize, and it has frozen up on me a few times. I had to trash the ‘trendy’ gray Graphite Workspace theme because my tired old eyes were struggling to read the toolbar labels on my 1024 x 768 display. Even with the more traditional workspace theme, some toolbar labels and info are smaller than I’m comfortable with, and I’ve yet to find a place where that can be changed.
Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is certainly a program worthy of consideration by those who are looking for a feature-rich image editing program with many capabilities found in pricier products. Its affordable price makes it a practical choice for photography hobbyists and professionals who expect great results from their image editing efforts.
Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2
Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $89.99
Amazon’s price as of this writing: $69.99
Visit Corel’s page for this product
- Microsoft® Windows Vista™ or Windows® XP, with latest service packs installed
- 512 MB RAM (768 MB recommended)
- 768 MB RAM required if using Windows Vista
- 1 GHz processor (2 GHz recommended)
- 500 MB hard disk space
- 24-bit color display, 1024×768 resolution
- Microsoft DirectX® 9.0c or higher (included in Windows Vista and XP)
— Bill Flanagan
Bill is a Big Bear Computer Club Board Member, and maintains the Club's website which he created. His primary background is in technical art and graphic design, and he operated a printing/graphic design company in Long Beach for twenty years before retiring to Big Bear. Long before cameras became digital, Bill was involved in photography, both professionally and as an avocation, and he knows his way around an actual darkroom.