ACDSee Pro 6 Review

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ACDSee is a fast, reasonably priced and powerful pro-level image organizer and editor, but it falls short of Adobe Lightroom in some important capabilities.

4 stars
(4 out of 5)


  • Very deep and precise set of photo organizing and editing tools
  • Fast operation
  • Online galleries and upload to popular web photo sites and FTP
  • Batch operation
  • Plug-in support
  • Geometry correction


  • No face recognition
  • No Facebook direct upload
  • No lens profile-based corrections

ACD Systems’ venerable pro photo-workflow app has come in from ever more serious competition from the big guns Adobe and Apple, with extensive improvements in Lightroom 4 and Apple Aperture 3.3. But the latest ACDSee Pro 6 offers a lot for pro and serious amateur digital photographers, including integrated maps that work with geo-tagging, local adjustment brushes, and support for 64-bit CPUs for faster performance. And it is a responsive, enjoyable, and powerful pro photo tool that’s less expensive than its nearest competitor, Lightroom. Despite all this, ACDSee Pro simply can’t keep up with advanced features that media software giant Adobe includes in its digital photo workflow application.

Getting Started
You can download a free, fully functional 30-day trial of ACDSee Pro 6 to see whether it’s your cup of photo-editing tea. It’s Windows-only (sorry, Mac users), working from XP SP3 to Windows 8. Once you download its small installer, which handles the actual large download. The program size showed up in Control Panel as 177MB, compared with Lightroom’s 835MB, so it will put less of a dent in your disk space. When you first run the app, a Quick Start Guide appears over the interface, offering to take you through a tour of its modes and tasks. This is a great help, considering the extensive number of modes, features, and tools in the program.

Like Lightroom, underneath ACDSee builds a database, or catalog to save all your image file preferences and edits. This means the originals, or negatives, are left untouched, so you can always revert to the photo’s original state; you can save files containing your edits with the Export command.

Both editors also offer plug-ins, but there’s a wider range of offerings for Lightroom—in fact, Adobe maintains an online plug-in-sharing section on its site for this. One important set of plug-ins that you can use in Lightroom, Photoshop, and Aperture, and Corel PaintShop Pro are those from Nik Software, which do things like precise sharpening and color effects and are a standard among pro photo editors.

ACDSee’s interface always feels fast and fluid. Everything just works the way you expect it to, making switching between different activities intuitive. I had no trouble getting back and forth between organizing, viewing, and editing; even large camera raw files displayed quickly. Like Lightroom, ACDSee uses a modular approach: All this means is that there are big buttons that set up the app for the different types of tasks involved in the photo workflow process—importing and organizing, adjusting, enhancing, and outputting. Since I last evaluated ACDSee Pro, the module selection has changed, with Manage, View, Develop, Edit, and Online the current choices. Previously Develop and Edit were combined within the Process mode.

I mostly like ACDSee’s mode options, especially splitting the manage and view modes, though I think a more generic output mode that included Print, rather than just online, would be preferable. And Lightroom outdoes ACDSee in the modes department by letting the user choose which modes should be available; that way if you, for example, never print photos, you can remove the Print mode.

Aside from this mode lock-in, the application’s interface is very flexible: You can undock any panel so that it floats freely on your desktop, customize toolbars, and view in full screen.  It also makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts for quick operation. You can change the photo background shade from the default dark gray, but not the overall interface from that same shade. Reset icons are everywhere, so if you goof, it’s a cinch to get back.

Import and Organize
The Manage and View modes are where all your importing and organizing happen. Manage’s left panel simply shows folders on your computer, with My Pictures selected by default. You can switch this left panel to Events view, by clicking the Calendar button on the bottom. Missing are a couple organization helpers: There’s no entry for Last Import, and no  You can however, choose the Group dropdown above the grid to show all photos from a particular camera, or with a particular rating, keyword, or date.

In the import dialog, you can view thumbnails to select which image you want included in the import, add metadata (even presets), tags, captions, IPTC, and tell the program to apply auto rotate. But you can’t apply corrections and adjustment presets during import, as you can with Lightroom and Aperture.

The Catalog panel along the right side offers more organizational tools, such as Albums, People, Places, and “Various.” You can create your own subcategories or even top level ones here. You can select a bunch of thumbnails and drag them to your album or do so from a nested menu under Edit, but there’s no right-click choice on the thumbnails for doing this.

Lower down on the right panel are your ratings, color labels, auto categories, saved searches, and “special items” such as image well, embed pending, uncategorized, and tagged. Similar to other programs’ “smart collections” ACDSee’s Auto Categories create groups of photos that match criteria like rating, date, filenames, and even particular EXIF data such as lens used or focal length.

In the center of the window, a grid of thumbnails of your folders appears. This main center view area can be switched to filmstrip, icons, list, or details, but I think the default thumbnail view makes the most sense.

Hovering the mouse pointer over a thumbnail in Manage mode enlarges the underlying photo to snapshot size, and double clicking opens it in View mode.

A helpful tool is the Image basket, which lets you quickly gather images you want to work on further. Also, you can throw up a multiple image view with the Compare images button. The hierarchical keywording tool is a help, letting you apply multiple tags at once. For example, I have a lot of photos of birds, and with the ACDSee’s keyword tool I can just drag a group of sandpipers to the Sandpipers sub-keyword, and they’ll also be tagged Bird and Shorebird in one fell swoop. The program also includes five color labels, for those who organize that way.

New since my last look at ACDSee Pro is its map support. The program lets you either drag selected photo thumbnails onto an embedded map, and will show the position of photos with embedded GPS data, such as most smart phone photos. As for People, it’s just another category you can assign images to—there’s no face detection or recognition like that in Adobe Photoshop Elements and Apple Aperture. Just as with keywords, you can manually create subcategories for specific folk.

Developing Digital Photos
ACDSee has all the control over lighting and color that you could possibly want. The Develop mode’s General section of controls includes Exposure (which nicely shows eV equivalent), an effective Highlight Enhancement slider, Fill Light, Contrast, Saturation, Vibrance, and Clarify. White balance offers Auto, As Shot, and custom settings. The Auto did a nice job on my test photos, but I’d like to see values in degrees K.

Let’s get a couple of disappointments out of the way: there’s no overall Auto button that takes the program’s best guess for all adjustments, from which you can proceed to fine-tune. There are Auto options under White balance as mentioned and Lighting, however. Another disappointment was the lack of a side-by-side Before and After view offered by most photo workflow apps, letting you see the effects of your adjustments. Compensating for this, however is a Show Original button, and each adjustment group can be enabled and disabled with a click.

The Lighting section of controls not only offers the standard Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights adjustment, but adds a very cool Light EQ mode, which looks like an audio equalizer and gives you finer control over tone levels without the frustration curves tools can introduce (ACDSee does offer a standard curves tool, too, that let me add over 20 control points). Strangely, the Auto button in the Basic, LightEQ and Advanced (a totally adjustable histogram) all picked different settings.

I could do an estimable job at removing chromatic aberration with ACDSee Pro, on another left-panel tab in Develop mode. Its controls were better than most I’ve tried, though DxO Optic and Lightroom offer automatic corrections specific to camera and lens models, which is hard to beat. Image noise reduction in ACDSee was quite satisfactory, too.

In the Develop mode’s, Geometry tab, you’ll find cropping and straightening (including rotating, which is also available from a Manage mode toolbar), lens corrections for barrel and pincushion distortion, and and some nifty perspective adjusters. These last let you simulate a tilt-shift lens, changing perspective: For example, you can make building you shot from below look like you shot it straight on. Photoshop has a tool like this that actually lets you draw lines on the photo to get perspective just right, but ACDSee’s tool can be used to good effect. Finally,

The only adjustment in Develop mode’s Repair tab was for red-eye correction, and this worked decently but wasn’t as automatic as it is in Adobe and Apple applications.

Edits and Embellishments
Red-eye correction also makes an appearance in the next mode, Edit, as does geometry, exposure, color, and detail. I’m not really sure why an additional mode is needed, with all this duplication. Some local corrections like Dodge and Burn are added here This mode is basically a list of the tools down a left panel, and does add some of its own options like Repair, for blemishes, text, watermarks, borders (just plain mattes, no fancy Louis 14th frames), effects, and basic drawing tools.

The effects include artistic filters, things like Lomo and Orton—there are enough to make Instagram jealous—and each is nicely customizable. A couple of popular effects are missing though—”tilt shift” (actually a miniaturizing selective blur) and an overt HDR tool, though you can create extended dynamic range photos with the program’s lighting tools.

Output and Sharing
From either Manage or View mode, you can summon the Print dialog, which offers standard layout options, though no custom ones. Printer color management is supported, as is soft proofing based on your printer’s color capabilities with gamut warnings for colors it’s not capable of.

The Online mode emphasizes ACD System’s own online photo hosting. This gets you 10GB of free online storage space and direct, synced uploading from the program. Nowhere on the Online module are Facebook or Flickr, where more people are likely to want to upload their photos, but you can do this directly from ACDSee Pro from the File/Send/Upload to… menu option. But Facebook isn’t included, only Flickr, SmugMug, and Zenfolio. As with most photo software, you simply sign into your account, authorize access to the program, and then choose upload settings like resizing, naming, and privacy. I could even add tags for Flickr, but it unfortunately those hierarchical keywords I’d applied were mashed into a single unusable long keyword. I was, however, pleased to see that my geo-tagging was preserved after uploading.

There’s a lot to like in ADCSee Pro 6. Its speed and fluid interface makes navigating through your image collection and getting to the stuff you need a smooth process. Its organization and image adjustment tools are sufficient even for pro photographers. But for just $50 more, you can get the even more powerful, more flexible and equally intuitive Adobe Lightroom, our Editors’ Choice for digital photo workflow software.

By Michael Muchmore, PCMag


    • Type: Business, Personal, Professional
    • OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7
    • Tech Support: Web form and knowledge base.

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