With the major changes in the latest release of Zoner Photo Studio, it is understandable that the company has dropped its previous numbering scheme. While this release would have been version 19, it is officially named Zoner Photo Studio X, or as Zoner is dubbing it, ZPS X. Along with program changes, there’s also a business model change. With ZPS X, the program is only available with a $95.88 yearly subscription license. The license is per user, not per computer, so a single user can install ZPS X on multiple computers. A family plan for multiple users and upgrade pricing for users of previous versions are also offered.
ZPS X is available only for Windows computers running Windows 7 or better, either 32- or 64-bit operating systems. I reviewed ZPS X version 19.1701.2.14.
Changes, updates and new features are found throughout ZPS X. Most noticeable to users of previous versions is a cleaner, more intuitive interface. The number of modules is reduced to four (Manage, Develop, Editor and Create) with the interface consistent across all four. The Manage module is an Adobe Bridge-like browser that is quick to load previews and is updated with new sorting options. Non-destructive editing of all file formats, including most RAW formats, is accomplished in the Develop module. The ability to easily process RAW files is a significant new feature in ZPS X. Other new abilities in the Develop module include a dehaze tool, gradient and radial filters, a perspective tool and smart (selective) noise reduction.
Editing done in the Editor module is destructive but includes a long shopping list of enhancements as well as an updated Layers panel that now allows true image composition with layer masks. Also new in the Editor are smart-sharpen and smart-blurring tools, and dodge and burn brushes.
The Create module is entirely new, providing the ability to create and order photo books, postcards, canvas prints, calendars and prints, all from within ZPS X. You can also create videos in this module.
With the revised interface, ZPS X looks more familiar than ever. The left panel includes navigation tools, the center is dominated by an image preview and the editing tools are found in the right panel. Be warned, though, that there are duplicate tools in the Develop and Editor modules, so you must be careful where you make edits such as exposure, contrast, etc. as they could be applied non-destructively or destructively depending on the module.
The Develop module workspace is much cleaner-looking and friendlier than the Editor module, with its lists of adjustments in four subpanels. You do have to do a bit too much scrolling as neither module allows a “solo” mode where opening one subpanel closes others. And the new Layers subpanel seems to be less integrated into the right panel as the other subpanels. It is situated at the very bottom of the right panel in the Editor, requiring you to close other subpanels and drag the Layers up in order to see the layers.
What We Liked
Non-destructive RAW file processing is the most welcome new feature for me in ZPS X, and it functions very well. All of the exposure sliders you expect are available and the ranges of adjustment are sufficient. The ability to compose images using selection tools and layer masks, as well as painting onto the layer mask, is fairly well executed, although not up to Photoshop standards. The ability to use the output options in the Create module should be welcome by many enthusiasts.
Batch-processing operations are also nicely handled, although this is not a new capability. With multiple files selected in the Manager, a Batch Operations panel opens, allowing you to batch-rename and edit metadata, as well as process panoramas and HDRs. You can also adjust an image and apply those adjustments to other images in the Develop module, but not in the Editor.
One final capability in ZPS X that I really like is the ability to open many different image formats, including Photo CD, for which Adobe ceased support years ago, and now it seems even Corel has ceased supporting. (Someday soon I need to archive all those Kodak Photo CD images of mine.)
What We Didn’t Like
While initial image importing and browsing goes as quickly as its competition, ZPS X is not as speedy when switching back and forth between the Develop and Editor modules. And if you have made non-destructive changes in Develop, switch over to the Editor to remove dust spots and then decide to do something else in Develop, you lose the non-destructive changes you initially made.
While the Develop module allows lens corrections and the application of a camera profile, it relies on them to be contained in the Adobe Camera Raw database and they must be first loaded from ACR before you can apply them.
The ability to composite images with layer masks is new to ZPS X, so it is unrealistic to expect it to be fully implemented when compared with Photoshop and On1. I look forward to later releases that allow for more precise selection tools and the ability to refine the masks you generate.
How It Compares
With the addition of RAW file processing, ZPS X becomes more of a competitor for Lightroom, On1 and similar programs. Some of the destructive tools in the Editor need to be moved to the Develop module, leaving the Editor for layers, quick edits and effects presets. These would promote Zoner Photo Studio X from a very good program for enthusiasts to one that professionals could embrace.
Stan Sholik specializes in still-life and macro photography. His latest book, Shoot Macro, for Amherst Media is available now.