Zoner Photo Studio 16 Review

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Zoner Photo Studio 16 Review

Zoner Photo Studio 16
Text and images © Ian Pullen

In this review, I'm taking a look at the recently released Zoner Photo Studio 16. This is a pretty fully featured photo management and adjustment application aimed at enthusiast photographers.

It's more closely akin to Adobe Lightroom than full image editors like Photoshop and GIMP. However, the question is how well does it perform and can really be considered as a realistic alternative to Lightroom?

Before moving on to answer that question, I must clarify that this is a Windows application only, so it isn't an option for Mac OS X users. However, if you're a Windows user, then hopefully the next few pages will help to make it clearer as to whether this is worth you taking a closer look at.

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Zoner Photo Studio Raw Module

Zoner Photo Studio Raw Module
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Raw Module

Anyone who has tried out a few raw converters will know that they can be a pretty overwhelming environment to spend some time in. Something that I feel Adobe Lightroom has done very well is to present users with an easily understood interface that encourages them through a logical work flow.

More advanced users may feel that it lacks the fine grained control of some other converters, but for most users, I'm sure that it's probably the optimal approach. Zoner Photo Studio's RAW module won't feel too strange to any Lightroom users, which can't be a bad thing. The overall layout of the interface is very similar, with the editing history tracked on the lower left of the window and the editing controls ranged down the right hand side.

By default, the editing controls are grouped into five tabs, but you can also choose to view them all simultaneously which feels rather like the default behavior in Lightroom and which I find lends itself well to developing a consistent work flow. Do be careful if, like me, you use your mouse scroll wheel to navigate up and down the controls as it seems very easy to mouse over a control and change its setting while doing this.

The controls are generally pretty logical and intuitive and if you've worked with a raw converter before, you'll probably be able to jump in and develop your photos effectively without needing to refer to the Help files, though they're always just a click away. Each group of controls has an option to turn them on or off, making it very easy to see what effect your changes have had on the original and if you ever feel that you've lost your way a bit, you can easily reset a group to its defaults and start again.

One control that I thought of particular interest was the Color Shift settings. My first thought was that it would be more intuitive if it was presented with sliders for the different colors. However the presentation of it on a color spectrum background means it is more obvious how your changes to one color value will also influence the hues either side of it.

Once you're happy with a conversion, you can develop it straight away or add it to a queue for developing later. This helps to keep you productive as you don't need to be interrupted after each image while the development process is carried out. However, if you're concentrating on a single image, you have the option to develop it and open it in the Editor module for further work.

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Zoner Photo Studio Editor Module

Zoner Photo Studio Editor Module
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Editor Module

At first glance, the Editor module looks very encouraging, with a wide range of tools that you'd expect from an image editor. By default, the Quick Edits controls are displayed in the right hand side of the window and, true to their name, they do make it very easy to make quick adjustments. If you're looking to make final edits to a large number of photos, the controls here should offer enough flexibility for most, meaning you don't have to head off elsewhere around the interface. There's also a Quick Fix option which will automate the job and it usually does a reasonable job.

Very quickly, however, I realized that while Zoner Photo Studio has a Layer menu item, it doesn't handle layers like Photoshop or GIMP. There's no layers palette and Zoner's layers have to be of a specific type, such as Text or Shape, selected when the layer is activated. Also, you need to ensure that you're happy with your layer's settings, such as color and opacity, before you apply the layer, because once applied, there's no going back and editing. You can use the undo option to remove the layer and try again, if necessary.

This initially made me have some doubts about the Editor module, but once I focused on the fact that this is a photo editor aimed at enthusiast photographers and not a full blown image editor for creative professionals, I started to see that this limited feature did offer some extra flexibility to Zoner users, without the application losing its focus.

All told, the Editor module offers its users a very wide range of editing options and has a number of tricks on offer that Lightroom users don't enjoy. For me, the most important of these were the retouching tools, with a genuine Clone Stamp and Healing Brush, plus a few others too. These offer a degree of power and control that Lightroom can't match and it reduces the possibility of ever having to take a photo out of Zoner and into an image editor to remove difficult objects.

You also have a range of selection tools that allow you to apply local adjustments, including a Magnetic Lasso and Magic Wand, which will make it easy for all users to make quick and accurate selections.

While I learned to love the Adjustment Brush when I spent a month or two using Lightroom, it never offered the versatility of the tools available in Zoner Photo Studio.

Distortion is a common problem for photographers and you'll find tools for handling problems thrown up by lenses, such as barreling and pin cushioning, as well as fixes for natural world distortion, such as converging vertical lines. Corrections are guided by positioning lines on the photo that align with the distortions that you want to correct, which is a very easy way to get accurate results.

Correcting such distortions usually results in a smaller image, but you can always turn to the Content Aware Resizing tool to make up for this. In my limited tests, this performed generally very well, though it took a little time on my low end laptop.

The rest of the features here are too numerous to mention, but there's plenty of one click filters for the Instagram generation and all the effects and adjustment tools that you could ever need to get the best creative results from your photos.

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Zoner Photo Studio Manager Module

Zoner Photo Studio Manager Module
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Manager Module

The name of this module is quite self-explanatory and allows you to keep in control of your full catalog of photos.

It's easy to add titles and descriptions to your photos and also give them rankings and colored labels. There's also a keywords system that comes with some popular keywords preloaded, but it's easy to add your own and to also group them into relevant sections.

You can also apply image adjustments here without needing to switch to the Editor module, which could be handy if you find something that you want to quickly edit, without breaking your work flow or train of thought. There's also the option to compare two or four images alongside each other, which can make it more obvious which images require work or stand out from the others.

If you take a look at the Create and Publish menus, you'll find a few interesting options beyond the image management functions of this module. Among others, you can create HDR images, with alignment correction in case you had to shoot hand held and also combine multiple shots to create panoramic shots.

You can also turn selections of your photos into slideshows, calendars, web galleries or upload directly to Facebook, Flickr and Picasa.

One issue that I did encounter in this module was when attempting to assign GPS data to an image, the dialog that opened was unable to connect to Google. It's possible that this may be a result of our currently temperamental internet connection, though it may be a bug in what is a pretty new application at this time of writing.

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Zoner Photo Studio Import and Viewer Modules

Zoner Photo Studio Import and Viewer Modules
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Import and Viewer Modules

The Import module is a handy feature that can smooth the transfer of images from your camera to your photo catalog. It allows you to easily add naming conventions to your photos that will fit in with the way that you archive your images. You also have the option to save a second copy of each image to a backup drive, which is a great way to reduce the possibility of ever losing a precious shot.

The Viewer module is a bit weaker and I wonder if it would be better of merged with the Manager module. However it does make it easy view all the images in a folder or to display shots to family and friends or perhaps clients.

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Zoner Photo Studio Conclusion

Zoner Photo Studio Conclusion
Text and images © Ian Pullen

Conclusion

All in all, Zoner Photo Studio 16 puts in a strong performance. While it hasn't set my world on fire or got my heart skipping beats, it is a very powerful and well-rounded application for enthusiast photographers.

The image management tools and features will help you keep on top of large and growing collections of photos. You can also take advantage of the creation and publishing tools to share your work with others in a variety of ways.

Perhaps more importantly is how Zoner Photo Studio deals with editing and adjusting photos and the bottom line is that does a very good job in this department too. It has, perhaps, taken some inspiration from Adobe Lightroom in the way that the user interface is organized and that's certainly not a bad thing. It presents a sensible set of raw conversion tools which will make it relatively easy for most users to develop their raw shots to a good level. While it doesn't have the convenience of a single unified interface for working with both raw and jpg images, it does compensate with a feature set that I'm sure many Lightroom users will be jealous of.

The retouching tools really do remove the need for moving to an image editor to airbrush out more challenging aspects of your photos. While it would be nice to have full layers support available, I do accept that that does rather fall outside of the brief for a photo management and editing application like this.

Something I haven't touched on yet is the price and at the time of writing, the Zoner website lists the price at $89 which sounds pretty competitive.

I'm generally reluctant to award full marks to review products and have only done it once or twice to date. In most cases, applications usually have aspects that do leave room for real improvement. However, with Zoner Photo Studio 16, I'm struggling to find areas of weakness, other than a possible bug with connecting to Google for adding GPS data, which I'm sure, if it is a bug and not a problem with my set-up, will be quickly fixed.

For that reason it walks away from this review having scored a full five out of five stars.

You can buy Zoner Photo Studio 16 from the Zoner website.