ArcSoft PhotoStudio Darkroom
Every year, people take billions of photographs with digital cameras; and when you're looking for one particular picture--say, the one of a beautiful flower you saw at the beach during your vacation two years ago--it can feel as though you're sifting through all of them. That's why you need a digital asset management program, a visual database that helps you catalog, organize, and sort and find your pictures more easily. The new version of Darkroom, Arcsoft's photo-centric image editor, now includes a browser that tries to do the job for you.
Darkroom's well-designed interface has three modules: Browser, Process, and Layout. Navigating among them is intuitive from the start. Unfortunately, the deeper you dig into the program, the likelier you are to consult the disappointingly superficial Help menu.
The new Browser module can sort and search your pictures, based on such criteria as star ratings that you assign; the day, month, or year a photo was taken or imported into the program; and keyword tags that you create. You can associate ratings and keywords with single photos or to groups of pictures by means of a simple right-mouse click. And creating new keywords in a branching tree structure requires little more than two mouse clicks. But the ratings system and calendar search won't work unless your pictures reside locally on your hard drive; if you store your photos on another computer in the family network, the browser will be crippled
Darkroom is reasonably priced at $100, considering that the Process module offers just about every important editing tools for processing, correcting, and using digital photos that you'd expect to find in a much more expensive program. This includes professional-style sliders, levels, and histograms for adjusting white balance, color, exposure, sharpness, tone, and more. The enhanced Before and After views (which can be left and right, or top and bottom, or a split screen of either) provide excellent visual feedback as you work. If you like the collection of edits you've applied to one picture, you can save that procedure as a Recipe, and subsequently use it on other photos.
One new feature (which is also found in Arcsoft PhotoStudio 6) is Beautify, which automatically detects and smooths out wrinkles and other imperfections in a portrait--as long as the person is facing directly and fully into the camera. Darkroom's editing of RAW, JPEG and TIFF files is nondestructive, so you can revert to the original picture and start over if you want to try other kinds of edits.
In the Print module, just drag and drop your pictures into a layout template to fit one or many pictures into a single page. The number of templates is limited to seven, however, and you can't create custom layouts. The print engine includes support for a printer's ICC profile, for better, professional-style color management.
Arcsoft PhotoStudio Darkroom 2 is an uneven program. It offers some great editing tools in the Process module, but the Browser and Print modules are limited, as if they were afterthoughts on the part of the software designers.
--Sally Wiener Grotta & Daniel Grotta