Paint Shop Pro
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Update: 3/2017. We are now up to X9 and although it is a bit better then X7 the performance is still the same as it has been for years. PSCC is way faster and smoother when using a lot of layers with 24mp files. I use PSCC now plus PSPX9.
With Paint Shop Pro’s X6 64 bit version now available there’s even less reason for most photographers to have to pony up almost $700 for PSCS6 which won’t be updated anymore according to Adobe (at least with new features) or to pay a monthly charge for using the latest version for the rest of your life. At a retail of $79 or $59 (I paid $29 on sale without the plug-in. $39 with the plug-in) to upgrade for the ultimate version of PSPX6 which comes with the excellent plug-in called Perfectly Clear makes this is a very well priced software. Check out the mobile version of Perfectly Clear at only a couple of dollars, I think you will be impressed at how often you prefer the output of the app compared to your own or the camera’s editing, I know I was. Even if the effect is subtle It’s often better. You won’t get it in the free trail as you have to purchase the Ultimate edition and get the extra download to use it. There’s not a whole lot new from X5 in X6 except for some performance updates. You also can drag and drop images into layers now instead of the time consuming copy and paste method. The Speed performance is just noticeable and not a huge step up.
Update #1: Someone has made a script that allows PSPX6 users to use the whole Google Collection (Nik) of software. Works great. http://forum.corel.com/EN/viewtopic.php?f=56&t=51492#p275433
If you already have X5 installed with NIk’s Color Efexs Pro 3 installed X6 will see that plug-in if you get the 8bf file out of the X5 folder and put it in your plug-in folder. Although it will only be usable in the 32 bit version (you install both just like Photo Shop).
There are a lot of angry fans of Adobe these days and X6 is probably looking pretty good to these folks. There’s still a long way to go IMO but X6 64 is a step in the right direction. If you have a raw convertor like Adobe Lightroom or? then PSPX6 makes a really nice compliment. For raw shooters I don’t really recommend PSP as a one stop solution. Most of your plug-ins will probably work with X6, all of mine do except for the ones mentioned above. In fact many of the higher end features found in PS can be accomplished with plug-ins if not with X6. Higher end pro photographers already used to using PS and actually making a living with photography will probably go with CC or just keep using what they already have but a whole new generation of users will probably bulk at the Creative Cloud commitment and long term expense and go with PSP X6 or?. Actually there’s no reason that PSCS6 can’t be used for the next 5+ years unless some SW conflict arises or some new “I can’t live without it” feature comes out in a future CC version of PS. If money is an issue X6 should suffice, if you can afford it go for the CC Photo Shop only solution which will cost you about $20 month annually or $30 on a monthly basis.
Corel’s PSP is just on the edge of being a true replacement for PS for the majority of photographers but there’s still work to do. Many of the filters need to be reprogrammed to respond much faster like the Adobe versions do now that we have all these high mp cameras. More tools need to work in 16 bit mode. Some kind of Auto Align would be nice too. The selection tools could still use some Adobe PSCS6 type of advanced capabilities. A version of Lab mode would be nice too. More options for text shaping like CS6 has and Better utilization of multiple cores. PSP is not that far from being a true competitor. Certainly Corel is capable of bridging the gap some more. The question is why aren’t they doing it? They could certainly charge a bit more as well. Maybe have 2 versions of PSP, a standard Pro version and a Elite / Ultimate version that means more than just including a plug-in. I suspect there is a long range plan for PSP by Corel and it involves a limited budget each year for development. I expect version 7 to be a bigger jump though. At least the upgrade costs are just a fraction of what Adobe charges for each PS upgrade. I typically pay $39 for the ultimate version every year (regular version is $29 on sale) and each version is better IMO except for X3.
Update: . PSCC is $9.99 a month as a regular price not a special deal.
Update: 9/14 I have been using PSCC for the last 6 months or so and can say that he speed and smoothnees of using layers and brushes really outshines PSPX6 in speed. PSPX6 just can’t handle 24mp files smoothly using layers and large brushes for example ( actually on my 4yr old quad its almost unusable). PS on the other hand hardly bats an eye so full size files are no longer problem for me. Corel really needs a performance boost that uses all cores and a Graphics card memory etc. Corel really hasn’t done all that much with PSP except add more features and make a 64 bit version. They really better be working on a faster version and some more updated selection tools etc to take advantage of PSCC and appeal to the more serious photographer that wants out from Adobe.