High quality RAW processing, but the unambitious updates mean Adobe Lightroom is still the better buy
OS Support: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1, Mac OS X 10.7.3 or later, Linux Fedora Core 10 or Ubuntu 8.04 or later, Minimum CPU: Pentium 4 or Athlon 64, Minimum GPU: n/a, Minimum RAM: 2GB (4GB for HDR function), Hard disk space: 400MB
AfterShot Pro is photo-management and RAW-processing software, and a direct rival to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5. AfterShot Pro 2 is relatively light on additional features, with no video support, mapping, slideshow creation or book design, and only basic HTML export facilities. However, in our review of version one we rated it highly for the flexibility of its management features and the quality of its RAW processing. This strong foundation of core features bodes well for AfterShot Pro’s future.
AfterShot Pro 2 looks reassuringly similar to its predecessor. Everything happens from within a single-screen interface, with library management on the left, editing on the right and photos appearing in the centre. As before, the Metadata Browser can locate photos by a huge range of criteria, from camera settings to file specifications to user-generated keywords, ratings and labels. We particularly like the ease with which multiple filters can be combined, such as searching for a photo rated three-to-five stars, taken with a specific lens within a range of dates. As the user defines search criteria, the lists of available matches to other criteria are updated, making it easy to keep track of what’s in the library. It’s also possible to search within a specific folder, multiple folders or the entire library. Rival software packages offer similar functions but none is as streamlined and efficient as AfterShot Pro.
AfterShot Pro 2 makes light work of filtering photo libraries by multiple criteria
Other areas of the software are impressively quick, too. Exports are invoked simply by dragging images onto the name of a preset export template. Default RAW processing settings can be defined separately for JPEG and RAW files, and even for specific camera models. The software has made the jump to 64-bit code, and in our tests was between two and three times quicker than Lightroom for processing and exporting RAW images.
The interface isn’t perfect, though. We found that it sometimes stopped responding for around 10 seconds, most often when crunching through complex search criteria. The Metadata Browser presents everything as a single, expandable tree-view list, which can get a little unwieldy when there are lots of matches to multiple search criteria. There’s no option to jump to the folder location for a photo, either. The software can reveal its location in Windows Explorer but not in its own library.
Camera support could be better, too. AfterShot Pro can handle RAW files from a wide range of cameras, but the list isn’t as up-to-date as Lightroom’s, with various new models such as the Nikon D3300 and Fujifilm X-E2 currently unsupported. Even some slightly older cameras are unsupported too, such as the Fujifilm X-M1, Nikon Coolpix A and Panasonic FZ72.
Of course, RAW processing quality is what really counts, and AfterShot Pro performs extremely well. There’s precise control over the tone curve and colour balance, sharpening and noise reduction, plus lens-distortion correction based on a database of lens profiles. It excels in its ability to process limited areas of the frame. Regions can be defined using a Circle, Polygon, Curve or Brush, or any combination, and processed using virtually any filter, with just a few exceptions such as noise reduction and lens correction. These local editing features are a little more flexible than Lightroom’s equivalents.
There are various ways to process limited areas of the frame, but note the slight banding of colours in the sky
However, in most other areas Lightroom’s RAW processing quality comes out on top. While AfterShot Pro’s Clone function makes it easy to define complex shapes to clone, it can’t adjust colours to make the cloned material blend into its new surroundings, and heavily processed highlights are more susceptible to banding. There’s a new Local Contrast tool that boosts the contrast relative to nearby pixels for punchier details, but the results aren’t as successful to our eyes as Lightroom’s Clarity control. Frustratingly, Local Contrast is greyed out when processing limited areas of the frame. While lens distortion correction is based on lens profiles, chromatic aberration and vignetting correction must be applied manually to each image, which is a painstaking process. There’s a new noise reduction algorithm in this update, but it still can’t match Lightroom for detail retention in moderately noisy images, and struggled to clean up very noisy ones.
Elsewhere, there’s a new module for creating high dynamic range (HDR) images from a set of bracketed shots, or from a single RAW file. It’s not really new, though; it’s the same module that appeared in Paint Shop Pro X4 back in 2011. It’s reasonably effective, but control over image quality doesn’t have the refined precision of other parts of the software. This is especially true when creating HDR-style images from RAW files, as the module appears to use PaintShop Pro’s inferior RAW processing engine.
There’s much to admire about AfterShot Pro 2, but its best features were already available in version 1. The new features, such as the HDR module, new noise reduction algorithm and local contrast control, don’t exhibit the same refined quality as existing features. Ultimately, it’s only the lower price that’s likely to tempt people away from Lightroom.
|Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1, Mac OS X 10.7.3 or later, Linux Fedora Core 10 or Ubuntu 8.04 or later
|Pentium 4 or Athlon 64
|2GB (4GB for HDR function)
|Hard disk space
|Price including VAT