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ACDSee Ultimate 9 review

ACDSee Ultimate 9 layers
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £99
inc VAT

An ambitious update, but ACDSee 9 isn’t as integrated or as elegant as it could be


OS Support: Windows 7 (SP1)/8/10 (64-bit only), Minimum CPU: 2GHz, Minimum GPU: 512MB DirectX 10, Minimum RAM: 2GB (6GB recommended), Hard disk space: 2GB

ACDSee’s photo management and processing suite incorporates non-destructive RAW editing, map plotting and online sharing. Adobe Lightroom offers the same features and handles them brilliantly, so any rival has its work cut out to compete.

Where ACDSee differs is in its Edit module, where photos are edited destructively, changing the pixel data rather than saving a list of editing decisions. Destructive editing means it’s not possible to go back and tweak or undo settings at a later date, but it usually comes with a broader range of editing tools.

In version 9, Edit mode receives a big boost in power. It now supports layers, masks to hide pixels without deleting them, and adjustment layers for applying filters non-destructively. This runs the risk of adding to the confusion of which parts of the software are destructive and non-destructive, but the prospect of full layer-based editing alongside RAW processing is appealing. Lightroom users must fire up Photoshop when they want to manipulate images on multiple layers.

Sadly, the reality didn’t live up to expectations. ACDSee’s layer-based editing functions lack the sophistication and finesse of Photoshop, and the controls were often slow to respond. I like the idea of RAW processing and layer-based destructive editing in a single application, but Develop and Edit modes feel too much like two discrete applications. Adjustments made to RAW files in Develop mode must be saved as an 8-bit file before they can be brought into Edit mode. Taking an image with layers from Edit to Develop mode isn’t allowed at all.

Dehaze is new in version 9, and offers to bring out details in hazy, low-contrast areas of the frame. A feature with the same name in Lightroom 6 does a great job, but ACDSee’s implementation tended to make less hazy areas of the frame too dark. One of the main reasons to shoot in RAW format is the ability to bring out subtle details, but because ACDSee’s Dehaze filter appears in its Edit mode, it can’t access the RAW data. The result was a tendency towards colour banding, noise and odd colours.

ACDSee Ultimate 9 dehaze^ The Dehaze filter can struggle because it doesn’t have direct access to the RAW image data

ACDSee can filter the photo library by a wide range of criteria based on photos’ metadata, but while some options, such as lens model, give a list of specific lenses that appear in the library, others are unhelpfully predefined. For example, it can filter to show all the photos in Canon, Nikon or Olympus RAW format, but not Panasonic RAW. Selecting Sony RAW reveals no matches. The software is able to work with these RAW files – it’s just that the library filter doesn’t seem to know it.

I’ve previously criticised gaps in RAW file support, with Fujfilm cameras and a few others being notable omissions. This has now been largely addressed, and the software recognised RAW files from all the cameras we’ve reviewed in the last 12 months.

Another long-standing issue is the lack of lens profiles for automatic correction of lens distortions. This is offered by Lightroom, and while useful for SLR lenses is absolutely essential for an increasing number of CSC and premium compacts. These lenses exhibit heavy distortion so it’s down to software – either in camera or in RAW-processing software – to correct it. Lens profiles are now included in ACDSee 9, but while the database of lenses looks pretty thorough, there are still a lot of gaps. Profiles aren’t applied to RAW files by default, and the software seemed unable to read metadata correctly in order to pick out the correct profile automatically.

ACDSee Ultimate 9 photos view^ The new Photos View packs the screen with thumbnails, and is impressively quick to browse

Navigating the library is seriously quick, and I really like the new Photos View that packs the screen with small thumbnails. However, Develop and Edit modes aren’t so responsive, and manipulating images in Develop mode is seriously slow when noise reduction has been applied. This is particularly troublesome when using the Develop brush to target small areas of the frame for colour correction, whereby applying brush strokes caused the preview to disappear completely as the noise reduction was reapplied. A new Snapshots function saves and recalls specific processing settings in Develop mode, but I really miss Lightroom’s full Undo history to jump back and forth through.

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There’s still a lot to like here. Library management is impressively fast and mostly straightforward, and there are some impressive colour correction filters, such as Light EQ, which gives surgical control over the brightness and contrast of images. However, Lightroom has the advantage in almost every other area – for its integrated non-destructive workflow, comprehensive RAW support and lens profile library, and for noise reduction quality. Overall, it feels more polished and in tune with photographers’ needs. When paired up with Photoshop CC as the Creative Cloud Photography Plan, it’s a force that ACDSee Ultimate can’t compete with.

System requirements
OS SupportWindows 7 (SP1)/8/10 (64-bit only)
Minimum CPU2GHz
Minimum GPU512MB DirectX 10
Minimum RAM2GB (6GB recommended)
Hard disk space2GB
Buying information
Price including VAT£99

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