TWO YEARS AGO, Corel produced its first digital media focused package, Paint Shop Pro X. This was from the then recent acquisition of Jasc Software, maker of the then shareware-based software. Since then there has only been a single update in the form of XI - until now. We were privileged enough to be at the launch of Corel Paint Shop Pro PHOTO X2 last week, which ships to the world on September 18th. This comes with a whole heap of new features aimed at the aspiring photographers, enthusiasts and workplace users.
Corel Paint Shop Pro PHOTO X2
We had for review a press CD from the launch which we believe is to be the final version. This comes with the software and some extras. These are in the form of Lynda video tutorials and a trial version of Ulead VideoStudio 11 amongst others. It's now been confirmed the UK product will be shipped with the next version of the Corel Snapfire code, MediaOne Plus. We're unsure if this will be the same worldwide, but we assume so. The bundled CD is just one way of showing it's comparable to the Adobe range and shaking off its shareware shackles of yesteryear.
The software installs effortlessly and quick, an improvement already from the previous downloadable version that we used to run. Beforehand, it used to take it's time to completely install, for some reason, in both Windows XP and Vista.
Snapfire we have always found a troubling application as it tended to be slow and cumbersome in operation. This could be down to the code not being 100 per cent Vista friendly as it had been around since mid 2006. We hope this will be rectified in the next version, which we didn't have to use as yet as it's only available from the 18th.
The interface to Paint Shop Pro has been updated, in a number of ways. The first we came across in all its splendour was the colour scheme, or color scheme, depending which side of the Atlantic you float upon. They've changed the overall appearance to a near dark-grey Graphite theme. It was listed as a new feature, rather than just a cosmetic change for aesthetic purposes - which puzzled us. This was until we began seeing photos inside Paint Shop Pro PHOTO X2 and began working upon on them. It's here the images as shown up to their best quality, in both Corel and our opinion. The contrast between the graphite scheme and the images really empathise the photos. One you can't really see if it's a black theme or if it's white, we guess it's something that they-who-shall-not-be-named were trying to get with their grey feel. Corel however, have hit it off here.
The Graphite Interface
The second change to the appearance is the inclusion of what Corel have called Express labs. This is a selectable alternative to the main screen, allowing easy access to the most common features used and frequently accessed in past Paint Shop Pro versions. It also provides quick fix solutions, instead of the scalable options that require a little experience and time. All of these functions can be used and applied to multiple pictures at once. The foundation of all this comes from customer feedback, market research and focus groups. It's aimed at those new and experienced users to grow with the software's abilities over time. Much unlike the chief competition which throws all types of users in at the deep end, scaring the bejesus out of them.
They've included some nice tool sets in the Express laps. This ranges from the usual importing from camera, cropping and colour adjustment to the not-so-usual image manipulation. Here Corel have added a few good tools to touch up that image that you're not 100% happy with. These new abilities come in the form of Eye Drop, to remove that blood-shot look and Thinify to remove those extra pounds. This is besides the Sunblush and Blemish fixer. All of which can make the good, bad and ugly even better looking than before. No need to settle for the face you have anymore or fork out money for cosmetic surgery - just improve it digitally. Just to justify that case; we've aesthetically adjusted the image below for your viewing pleasure.
Before Express Labs treatment
After - Suntan and Eye drop treatment
HDR PHOTO Merge is a new feature from Corel which could prove to be very useful. It's the ability to merge multiple exposures taken or multi-shots, depending on what the camera chooses to call them. It combines them into one shot for the best possible image. A nice idea, for those that aren't David Bailey (or some other great photographer) and don't the Eye which is ever-so-needed in great photography. Not every photo taken has it, but perhaps one or two out of the 9 that can be used does. Pooled together, they could have that quality of a great image. As with most tools in Paint Shop it's aimed to make the not-so-good photographer even better. This one goes above and beyond and certainly could do that.
HDR PHOTO Merge
They've added a watermark creation-function inside this new version. This enables the user to copyright their images with their own mark, in several different ways. Ensuring that upon uploading to the plethora of picture-hosting websites that the work is protected or at least known where it came from. We had trouble getting this to work well, the first hurdle we found in the new software. If we had the time, we're sure we could have resolved this in the end.
There are a great deal of features, far too many to go into, we've just touched on the most useful ones we came across and could be commonly used. The last few we'd like to highlight are the Auto-Preserve Original feature and the Save for Office. The first is an automatic function that kicks in when you try to save an image, offering the initial image to be preserved. Ideal for those trigger-happy savers, which this reviewer is guilty of too. The next is just a simple easy-to-use feature for resizing images, reducing resolution for office use. This removes all the guesswork, trials and tribulation from the task of where it's going, will it fit, can others access it easily - by providing preset formats for use. It's a good option for those who just use PaintShop Pro for simple tasks, which once again this reviewer was guilty of just that.
Save for Office
There's market research from InfoTrend showing that at year-end 50% of Western Europeans will own digital cameras. Also research of late that stating that most camera users, both the aspiring and enthusiast rely heavily on post-production effects. As these users do not know all the functions on the actual photographic device that could produce them. Corel's aim is to offer professional looking photos to all those out there, without the necessary hardware or skill sets - which is coming off well in this version.
Adobe Photoshop runs in at nearly six times the cost, with six times the complication and with most features balancing out. If you're not six times the idiot, you'll know which product to go for.
New simple to use interface and theme, greater feature set, excellent price
Reservations over Snapfire, some features didn't work for us
Will always be in some people's eyes, unfortunately, overshadowed by those-who-shall-not-be-named