Image Editing on the Cheap

Since I replaced the main drive in my machine I’ve been going through the process of reinstalling all my apps. It’s been a good time to take stock of the programs I’m really using and try to find some cheap alternatives to some of the apps I was on the fence about. Here’s a list of the graphics apps I find myself using. I now have these installed at home as well as at work. A couple are free and some are alternatives to much higher priced products. You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars to make simple adjustments to your photos and get them on the web. There are some amazing free graphics programs out there that are easy to use and work like a charm.

Free

Irfanview – Nearly a staple in graphics software. Small and powerful, not only can this program view dozens of file formats and media types, it can take screenshots, crop images, adjust colors, bulk rename and convert files, grayscale, works with red eye, reads EXIF data and even works as a thumbnail viewer. And best of all, the power and usability won’t cost you anything; it’s free
www.irfanview.com

FastStone Image Viewer – Until recently I’ve been using the free version of Firehand Ember as my thumbnail viewer of choice. However, that program is no longer supported and the features in the free version are pretty anemic. FastStone Image Viewer has all the functions of the full version of Ember but still remains free. It’s a fast image viewer that does a lot more. It can crop, rotate, remove red eye, adjust colors, resize, sharpen and load your image into an external editor. This is my new choice for scanning through my images. It’s fast, efficient and loaded with features.
www.faststone.org

FastStone Photo Resizer – Another free tool from FastStone that allows you to resize and watermark your photos en masse. Very handy for scaling images for use on a website, blog, or photo hosting site. I first used this last year at the Porsche Parade to resize and watermark the images before they got uploaded to the site. We marked each photo with the event the picture was taken from, the photographers name and the year. You can use it as a simple way to get your name and website on all your photos. It’s easy to use and very fast.
www.faststone.org

Low Cost

Paint Shop Pro – While it isn’t free, this is my choice in editing software. Yes there are free programs like Gimp and Paint.NET but I haven’t worked with those. GIMP actually confused me when I did give it a try.

I’ve been using Paint Shop since the 2.0 days. I actually remember the 3.x upgrade which swapped out DLL’s to make it a 32-bit application. It’s always been easy to use and full of features. It supports layers, sharpening, masks, palettes and dozens of drawing tools. I use it for all my web editing because of it’s ease. It’s not Photoshop, but at $40-50 (if you wait for a special) it’s cheaper than Elements and in my opinion just as good.

The only real drawback is the RAW support, which in actually is pretty non-existent. The serious amateur will find this a pretty glaring limitation. However, I counteract this with Lightroom which handles the job nicely.
www.corel.com

Adobe Lightroom – Probably the next generation in photo editing. Adobe took all the power of Photoshop and actually made it easy to use. Using the simple sliders you can see exactly how your adjustments are going to look in real time. I’ve been able to drastically correct images that were too dark, overexposed, and had clipped highlights. It can’t work miracles but it does a fantastic job or tweaking images. Plus, it’s probably the best choice in RAW converters on the market today. Additionally it’s a great image catalog program that can find, sort and organize those thousands of images you have. It’s not cheap, but it’s far less than Photoshop and so much easier to use. Plus if you shop around you can find quite a few deals online.
www.adobe.com

Probably Not

DxO Optics Pro – I still have mixed feelings about this program. On the one hand it does a great job with restoring highlights and correcting images. And it has a good RAW importer. On the other, the lens support for many models is totally lacking; only two of the Sigma lenses I use are actually supported even though they have been on the market for years and are supported for previous models of Canon cameras. I also don’t like the anti-piracy measures used which makes bogus registry keys and fake files all over the drive. I think this shows a complete disregard for a user’s machine.

I reloaded this program after the upgrade because I still use it, but I haven’t upgraded to the latest version and I have doubts I will. Looking forward, this is probably the only version of this program I’ll buy. Lightroom will take over these duties and will be my main RAW converter and image enhancement tool. Maybe later versions of DxO will be better, and if they are I would be happy to look at it again and consider the upgrade. But for now, there is too much lacking for my model of camera and many of the features can be found in other apps.

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