Earlier this year Corel released the newest version of its image editing suite, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2. The new “X2” gives enthusiast digital photographers an entirely new set of tools to unlock their creative potential. Packed with applications for downloading, viewing, sorting, and editing/processing images, is X2 a digital photographer’s dream come true or worst nightmare?
Corel promises in their advertisements that X2 is an easy-to-use, powerful image editor at an affordable price. Retailing for just $99 or less, X2 is certainly a viable option for consumers who are also considering products from Adobe. What sets X2 apart from the competition is a wide array of old and new features (some of which are unique to Corel).
Below is an overview and review of some of the new and existing features in X2 along with sample images to illustrate the pros and cons of this exciting application.
This new streamlined mode in Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 helps users quickly view and fix multiple photos in the same amount of time it used to take to edit just one. Common tools such as crop, rotate, red-eye removal, makeover/blemish removal, brightness, saturation, and other quick fix tools are available inside this interface.
Express Lab interface (view large image)
HDR Photo Merge
If you hate over-exposed highlights or under-exposed shadows in your images then X2 comes to your rescue with the High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photo Merge tool. With this tool, users can combine two or more bracketed exposures in order to produce one perfect exposure. In other words, X2 takes the shadows from one image and combines with the highlights in another image to create one image with the best shadows and highlights.
HDR Photo Merge (view large image)
Corel previously included a selection of “makeover tools” in earlier versions of Paint Shop Pro Photo, but X2 includes several new tools to make portrait editing quick and easy. In addition to the standard red-eye removal, blemish remover, toothbrush, and suntan tools, X2 adds “Thinify” which (as the name suggests) makes people look thinner and the “Eye Drop” tool which whitens the white part of your subject’s eyes.
You can now easily apply effects such as embossing, drop shadows, or even reflections that will automatically update whenever the underlying layer is edited.
This useful feature allows you to “stamp” your images with a watermark of your choice. This is perfect for protecting your copyright when uploading images online.
Watermark sample (view large image)
You’ll never lose your favorite photos by mistake again thanks to a feature that automatically preserves the original photos when you save an edited version … giving you a way to get the original image back in case you make a mistake during the editing process.
Selective Color Replacement
Now you can change the color of any object in a photo with just a few clicks of your mouse! If you ever wish to change the color of a flower (or of your wife’s bikini) the color of your dreams is just a click away. Unlike similar editing tools in other programs, the selective color replacement tool in X2 preserves the shading and texture in the original image … so if you select a “normal” color then the new color looks perfectly real.
Selective color replacement (view large image)
If you’ve ever taken a photo of a tall building from up close and noticed how the top of the building looks thinner than the bottom then you’ve probably wished there was a way to “straighten” those lines in the building. Well, X2 gives you a fast and simple tool to correct perspective in your images. Just click on the four corners in a photo that should be square, double click, and magically your buildings look the way they should. No other image editor does this type of correction so easily.
Perspective "fix" (view large image)
One of the common problems with compact digital cameras is the lack of shallow depth of field (DOF). In other words, if you take a portrait of someone standing in front of a building with a compact digital camera then both the subject and the background will look sharp and in focus. In that case, the background is distracting and takes attention away from your subject. With a shallow DOF you can “blur” the background while leaving your subject in focus. X2 gives you the tool to draw attention to the main subject in your image by creating this simulated DOF effect.
DOF Control (view large image)
Photo Aging Tools
A unique and easy-to-use feature in X2 is the ability to apply aging filters to your images and make them look like film images from decades long ago. The “Time Machine” feature gives you a choice of seven different historical periods to give your photos some creative effects. You can also customize the preset options to give your images a unique look ... such as combining saturated colors with a late 1800's style vignette.
Time Machine effect (view large image)
Every photographer has taken at least one photo with one or more objects in the frame that you wish could be removed. Maybe it’s a “bunny ears” that your cousin put behind your head in the last family portrait, or maybe it’s that annoying kid on the beach who ruined that wonderful photo of your wife and daughter playing in the sand. With the Object Remover tool in X2 you can quickly and easily remove unwanted objects and people from your photos.
One small warning with the Object Remover tool is that complex textures tend to confuse the tool. For example, if you want to remove something in the wavy sand on a beach then the Object Remover tool might not seamlessly replace the sand.
Object Remover (view large image)
Purple Fringe Remover
Another common problem with compact digital cameras (particularly ultra-zoom cameras) is chromatic aberration (also known as “purple fringe”) around high contrast areas in an image. With two quick clicks of your mouse you can instantly remove purple fringe from your images.
Infrared Film Simulator
Similar to the “Time Machine” feature that I mentioned previously, the Infrared Film effect in X2 simulates the ethereal effect of infrared photography by adding flare, film gain, and a unique black and white process to the image.
Infrared effect (view large image)
Import and Export of CMYK Images
This is one of the most often overlooked features in affordable image editors … the ability to work with four-color printers. Most professional printers for book and magazine publishers still require images to be submitted in the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key/Black color format (CMYK). Corel’s X2 is the only sub-$100 image editor we know of that provides the option of importing or exporting CMYK images.
RAW Image Editing
One of the major additions to the Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo program in recent years is the ability to edit RAW image files. Unlike compressed image formats like JPEG, RAW images record more color, greater dynamic range (more shadow detail and more highlight detail), and allows you to easily change the white balance during post-processing in case you used the wrong white balance when you took the photo. X2 supports a wide range of RAW image formats including “unofficial” support of the Adobe DNG open standard RAW format.
Unfortunately, the RAW image editor built into X2 is not as functional as it could be. Corel currently only supports RAW image formats from a handful of cameras, and we also discovered during testing that not all DNG images could be opened by this application. For example, X2 couldn’t open a DNG format RAW file from a Pentax K10D, but it could open the PEF format RAW file from the same camera. Beyond this, X2 also lacked the functionality to change the white balance settings before opening the image. So, if you “need” to edit a variety of RAW images then X2 may not be the best program for you to use at this time.
Compatibility with Photoshop Plug-ins
An excellent feature in Corel's Paint Shop Pro Photo series that doesn't get much attention is compatibility with “most” Photoshop plug-ins and filters. Many creative plug-in filters such as those from Nik Software or Imagenomic are 100 percent compatible with X2 ... so you can use many of the same creative tools used in Adobe Photoshop. However, not all plug-ins are fully compatible with X2 ... and X2 cannot use Photoshop Actions or Scripts. Bottom line, check with the plug-in manufacturer to confirm X2 compatibility.
Minimum System Requirements
Corel lists some pretty standard minimum requirements in order to run X2. That said, even though you don’t “need” a newer computer to run this software you may want to consider an upgrade after you read our speed comparison section later in this review. The minimum system requirements are:
One of the common criticisms of the Paint Shop Pro Photo series is that the application is slower than similar image editors from Adobe such as Photoshop Elements or Photoshop Creative Suite. However, our tests suggest that X2 processes images roughly as fast as Photoshop, with some exceptions. We tested the X2 program on three different systems: a notebook with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of RAM, a desktop with an older AMD Athlon 64 3500+ (2.38GHz) single core processor and 2GB of RAM, and a newer desktop with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ (2.8GHz) dual core processor and 3GB of RAM. Corel’s X2 provided similar performance to Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS2 on both the dual-core notebook and the dual-core desktop. However, X2 was noticeably slower than either Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS2 on the older single-core desktop. There was also some variation in processing speeds depending on the type of editing. For example, sharpening an image was faster in X2 than in the Adobe programs, but ISO noise removal was much slower in X2 than in either Adobe application … even when using the same method of noise reduction. Bottom line, if you own a newer notebook or desktop then X2 should be fast enough for most needs, but if your computer barely meets the minimum system requirements listed then this application will run very slow.
Overall, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is an impressive image editor with a wide selection of powerful tools that are easy to use. In some ways X2 is a much more capable image editor than the similarly priced Adobe Photoshop Elements application. Features such as the ability to work in CMYK, add instant DOF effects, convert your images to infrared or simulate old film, and quickly use makeover tools make X2 a much easier to use program than anything the competition has to offer.
That said, the limited RAW support and overly slow processing with older computers makes Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 less useful for many consumers. Ultimately we think Corel has a winner on their hands ... but there's still some room for improvement.