Corel AfterShot Pro Review: Image Manager and Editor in One
At a Glance
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AfterShot Pro has a lot to offer enthusiast photographers, but it lacks tools that serious photo pros consider important, like catalog backups and a healthy plug-in ecosystem.
Corel's AfterShot Pro tries to challenge Adobe's reign as the king of digital workflow software, and it makes a strong showing. Priced at $100, AfterShot Pro's strengths lie in what it does differently from Adobe Lightroom 4.1, and its approach may appeal to photographers interested in an alternative.
Like Lightroom, AfterShot Pro specializes in lossless editing: Nothing you do in AfterShot Pro ever touches your actual photo files; instead everything is stored as metadata. That means you can recompose, crop, adjust exposure, and even mask part of a photo without changing a pixel of your original file.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Lightroom and AfterShot is the way AfterShot catalogs your collection. Lightroom forces you to import images into its catalog before you can preview a photo, but AfterShot offers additional options. You'll probably want to use the AfterShot catalog, which lets you take advantage of the program's superb search tools; but if you just want to browse a batch of new photos, AfterShot lets you do that quickly and easily, saving the importing for later.
It's easier to move around AfterShot than Lightroom, too. Lightroom is burdened by a sluggish transition between the Library's file management and lightweight editing tools, on the one hand, and the full-powered Develop view, on the other; but AfterShot puts it all out there in a single (admittedly visually intimidating) mode. A half-dozen tabs divide the editing pane into manageable sections for standard editing tools, adjustments, tone, details (sharpening, noise, and lens corrections), and metadata. Many tools reflect a deep understanding of how photographers like to work. The straighten tool, for example, lets you dial in the exact rotation with giant grid lines that simplify the task of making even subtle corrections. And whereas Lightroom's cropping tool is a frustratingly backward experience (the mouse moves the photo rather than the crop box), AfterShot works intuitively and naturally.
AfterShot also offers elegant layer control. You can apply a wide array of changes to your photo globally, or in an adjustment layer via a host of selection tools. Adding multiple layers and switching among them is a snap--the program even lets you invert a layer, a common trick in full-featured photo editors, but somewhat unexpected in a more focused program like AfterShot. In fact, you have access to all of the usual selection options, including brush size, intensity, and add/subtract blending modes. Still, as nice as these controls are, you might find yourself looking jealously at the magnetic lasso and gradient filter selection tools in CyberLink's PhotoDirector 3.
Corel includes a few interesting plug-ins with AfterShot Pro. Athentech Imaging's Perfectly Clear is like a one-click histogram optimization tool that adjusts lighting throughout your photo without clipping or blowing out any of the extremes. And in contrast to Lightroom's somewhat anemic noise reduction, AfterShot includes a basic version of PictureCode's Noise Ninja, which you can register to unlock advanced noise-reduction capabilities.
It's a good thing that Corel includes a few plug-ins to get you started. Corel is banking on an all-new plug-in architecture, and at the moment you have only about two dozen choices online. It'll take some time for this ecosystem to grow. Of the existing plug-ins, some--like the architecture perspective correction plug-in--are useful but not especially easy to operate.
As you'd expect, AfterShot lets you send your photos to an external editor, but there's no way to export a set of photos for stitching into a panorama or an HDR composite and then automatically reimport the final image.
AfterShot Pro is a robust photo editor and library for serious photographers, and it's priced low enough to appeal to enthusiasts. Only a few shortcomings give us pause. There's no in-program mechanism for backing up the previous catalog file, for example; so if it gets lost or corrupted, you may lose all of your edits. And there's nothing here for handling videos that your digital camera shoots.
Those are small quibbles, though. AfterShot Pro has enough attributes we like that we're nearly ready to leave Lightroom and move in with AfterShot.