Arcsoft PhotoStudio has a well-earned reputation as a cost-effective alternative for correcting, manipulating and using your photos in a variety of creative ways. With the introduction of PhotoStudio 6, Arcsoft upholds that reputation while adding some high-powered features and increasing the program's versatility. And at $80 ($20 less than Adobe's Photoshop Elements 7, and far less than Adobe's full-blown Photoshop), it's a bargain.
Since PhotoStudio's interface follows familiar standards, you'll find it easy to jump into if you've had any past experience with photo editing. Absolute novices, however, may regret its perfunctory online Help menu and its lack of a search engine. Also, only a handful of effects dialog boxes have convenient links to tutorials and explanations about the various commands and options in that specific window.
PhotoStudio 6 provides a full set of enhancement tools for correcting exposure, color, and so on. The new Image Levels Adjustment works well for precise control over highlights, midtones, and shadows, and the Auto Exposure command lets you leave precision to the programmers.
PhotoStudio 6 adds four new filters to its sizable library of special effects. Though they have lots of promise, the newcomers are uneven in their execution. For instance, Beautify does a lovely job of automatically recognizing a face in a portrait photo and smoothing out skin imperfections, but it failed to recognize the face in one of our portraits, because (as Arcsoft explained) Beautify works only when the person faces directly into the camera--and our test subject was at a slight angle to the camera.
Another important new filter, Magic Cut, does a reasonable job of removing backgrounds from pictures, so you can paste your subject into another picture. It works by drawing lines through the area you want to keep (your foreground subject) and other lines through the area you want to remove (the background); PhotoStudio automatically does the rest. Unfortunately, the dialog box doesn't save your work. So if--after returning to the main program--you notice some tweak you should have made, you'll have to start over from the beginning.
To achieve good results, Magic Cut often demands concentration and effort--but that's true with all masking programs, especially for complex subjects. (For instance, flyaway hair is a problem even for expensive professional-level programs.) Still, we were impressed that PhotoStudio now includes such an advanced tool.
PhotoStudio 6 has added three other tools designed for serious photographers: support for most camera RAW file formats; 48-bit images; and very large image files (up to 30,000 by 30,000 pixels). Unfortunately, PhotoStudio 6 still can't use the many third-party Photoshop-compatible plug-ins.
One of our biggest complaints about PhotoStudio is relevant to nonprofessional imagers. The program includes nearly all of the tools and commands that a hobbyist could want, but many of them are superficial and missing that little extra that defines imaging power. For instance, the preview windows in the effects dialog boxes can't be enlarged, and the windows' internal zoom tool is coarse, both of which hamper your ability to change viewpoints quickly when making editing decisions.
Of course, PhotoStudio is no Photoshop. But PhotoStudio 6 remains a gem of cost-effective photo editing, and it handles the tasks of greatest interest to consumer photographers fairly well.
Note: This link takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.
--Sally Wiener Grotta & Daniel Grotta