It’s not unusual for photo-editing software to be multifunctional. Any combination of browser, raw processor and pixel editor is normal. ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 offers a slightly different blend of digital asset management (DAM) and pixel editing. In this article, we’ll see what this combo can do for you.
What is DAM Software?
Many programs that help you organize photos are, rightly or wrongly, described as DAM software. An example of this is the now-discontinued “Picasa.”
With that popular program, you could browse photos, edit them, add metadata, assign keywords, create albums, mark photos as favorites, and so on. It was comprehensive. But was it DAM?
A defining feature of real DAM software is its ability to create a database of your photos. Lightroom does that, as does ACDSee Photo Studio Home.
These products aren’t just an extension of your OS. They record things, like the location of your photos and all the metadata attached to them. And they create thumbnails so you can fly through your collection at high speed whether you’re connected to it or not. This is what separates DAM software from fancy browsers.
First three modes for browsing and DAM
In ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020, the first three modes are for browsing and DAM. The modes are as follows:
- Manage Mode is where you can browse folders, filter out photos, create stuff like slideshows and contact sheets, and send images to various photo platforms. You can switch between photo editors from here, too, in case you have other software with different functionality. Manage Mode is the hub of the software. You can even add geographical data to photos from here using the Map tool and reverse geocoding.
- Photos Mode is great if you want to see everything on your drive within a short space of time. Let’s say you need to root out photos without any keywords or identifying data—this is the place to do it. This mode lets you see all content at once, whether it’s in folders or subfolders, so there’s no hiding place when you’re trying to find specific pictures.
- View Mode gives you a nice big preview of your photos one-by-one, and it’s quick. This is a good place for assessing the content of your photos and grading them. (In another article, I suggest a workflow for this software). You can scrutinize the technical quality of TIFFs and JPEGs* in this mode, too. A nice feature of View Mode is the set of experimental tools it gives you, which you can apply to the picture without committing to the edit.
*Note that View Mode is not a good place for assessing critical sharpness in raw files, as the software displays the embedded JPEG to maintain speed. This JPEG looks especially poor at 100%, but it’s fine for assessing content and composition.
Importing and Cataloging
When it comes to importing files into ACDSee software, you don’t need to do it at all.
The software accesses the folder system of your OS, so it’s enough just to copy and paste the files onto your hard drive. They are added to the ACDSee database automatically when you browse them later. That being said, you can import files via the software if you want and adjust filenames or add metadata while you’re doing it.
If you need to catalog lots of pictures without browsing them all first, you can do that too in Manage or Photos modes. This is especially useful when you first start using the software, though you must wait a while for the process to complete.
It’s all very well cataloging your photos, but there’s still a way to go before they’re genuinely searchable.
In Manage and View Modes of Photo Studio Home 2020, you can open the Properties panel to the right-hand side. It’s here that you add keywords, captions, ratings, color labels, and categories to your photos.
You can use any or all of these features to make your photos searchable, grade them, and track them in your workflow. In a recent sponsored article, I suggested using ratings to grade the quality of your photos and color labels to mark your workflow progress. This is a common use of these tools.
Keywords make your photos searchable using a variety of criteria. For instance, you can add different photographic techniques to keywords as well as describing the subject of the photo. How thorough you should be in keywording depends on your needs, but you can import keyword lists to avoid having to create them yourself. That’s a new feature in 2020, and it saves loads of time.
To Tag or not to Tag
To the top left of the properties panel is a check box for “tagging” images. This is a good way to highlight your keepers and reject the rest (or vice versa).
It’d be nice if ACDSee added the ability to proactively reject photos with a dedicated reject flag. As things stand, an untagged file could be one that you’ve simply missed.
A favorite ACDSee feature of mine is the image basket. This is like a virtual folder, where you can gather image files from various places without physically moving or copying them. It’s very handy for working on quick projects without cluttering up your drive with duplicate files. You can use image baskets for purposes of viewing, editing and sharing.
Face Detection and Recognition
ACDSee software is good at detecting faces, at least when they’re not obscured, and it’s impressively good at recognizing them thereafter.
Often, you only have to name a person once for the software to learn facial features. There are obvious limitations. It won’t necessarily recognize faces across several decades, for instance. But this feature is decidedly useful for cataloging pictures of friends and family.
Two-thirds of ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 is DAM software, aimed at getting your photos organized and being able to find them with ease. If that was all you got for your money, it’d already be good value. But there’s also an Edit Mode where you can work on rendered files (e.g. JPEGs, TIFFs) and get them looking good.
What about raw files?
You can open most types of raw files in Photo Studio Home 2020, but there’s no develop module like there is in ACDSee Ultimate, for instance, so you don’t get to choose the processing parameters.
If you want to benefit fully from shooting raw, you should link this ACDSee software to a raw editor and switch between programs. That, theoretically, would be a higher-quality workflow than having to address technical issues after conversion. And you still have the DAM side of the software for cataloging and grading your raw files.
Edit Mode features
A bit like Photoshop Elements vs Photoshop CC, there are things missing in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 that aren’t missing in ACDSee Ultimate. For instance, there’s no 16-bit color support, no layers, no perspective tool, no dehaze, no dodge and burn, and no Color EQ™. But these absent features are all forgivable since there’s a ton of stuff you do get.
Color and Tone
For basic work on color and tone, there are the usual levels and curves tools.
In fact, these tools are nicely implemented by ACDSee, with a built-in histogram and an exposure warning that tells you when you’re losing detail with your edits. You also get a basic version of the proprietary Light EQ™ tool, which lets you adjust shadows, mid-tones, and highlights separately.
Given that many people only use the basic version of this tool anyway, this is a valuable inclusion.
Cloning and Healing
I should mention once more that the clone tool does not work for me in ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 (nor its predecessor). I just get a black screen. That seems trivial when set against everything that does work, but it’s still a tad irritating. I can use the heal tool a lot of the time instead, though its pixel-blending function is a bit different.
ACDSee could be forgiven for providing the bare minimum of Editing tools, but they go beyond that. You get a cross-section of some of their most creative features. Under the “Add” filter menu, for instance, you’ll find Special Effects. And there are many of them for you to try.
I like the “Orton” effect, which smooths details for a dream-like appearance.
You can modify all edits with blending modes, opacity, gradients and the Edit Brush. This means you can adjust localized areas of your photo a bit like you can in Adobe Lightroom and other programs. What you can’t do is work on multiple edits at the same time, but this is still useful versatility.
The Tilt-Shift filter appears under the “Add” menu.
The temptation with this is always to dig out high-angle views and create that miniaturized effect where buildings, people, and vehicles look like toys.
You’ll find the Convert to Black & White filter under the “Color” menu.
This lets you fine-tune your black-and-white conversions by adjusting brightness and contrast in all the colors that make up your picture. Also present here is the equivalent of Photoshop’s Channel Mixer, where you adjust the red, green, and blue (RGB) sliders to achieve your conversion, making sure the total value is at or under 100%.
Color LUTs are found under the “Color” menu, too. These have become popular in recent years, allowing users to mimic the world of movie production by applying color grades to their pictures. The effect is often radical.
ACDSee comes with some color LUTs built in, but you can download more from various sources on the Internet.
Summing it up
Genuine DAM software, the kind that catalogs your photos, often costs well over $100. Or it’s part of a subscription plan that locks you in annually. ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020 is appealing not only for its affordability but because it’s a great photo manager, period. On top of that, it’s a raw opener and pixel polisher with plenty of scope for creativity.
If you’re sold on the benefits of shooting and editing raw files, you could pair this software with RawTherapee or DarkTable without spending more cash. Whatever you choose to do, rest assured it’s impossible to waste money on ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2020. This software is easy to use but has a depth that far belies its price.
Have you tried this software? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.