Recently, we spent over 50 hours testing five Mac photo editing programs. We compared the programs' editing capabilities by importing the same group of photos into each one and applying the same edits. We also took into account how easy each program is to use, preferring those that are powerful as well as easy to learn. We further evaluated each software’s photo organizing features, including how many categorization and search options it offers. After all our testing was said and done, CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra 10 stood out as the best Mac photo editing software. We think it is a good fit for users of any skill level, but it has features that make it especially good for beginners. To find out if this software is a good option for you, check out CyberLink’s 30-day free trial.
CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra 10
PhotoDirector not only offers some of the easiest-to-use editing tools, it also offers one of the best photo organizing systems we've seen.
Pixelmator 3.3 is easy to learn and costs less than many other programs. It is compatible with a wide range of file types and offers editing tools to enhance your images like a pro.
This software's tools are comparable to Adobe Photoshop. One of the biggest differences between the two programs is Affinity's lower-cost.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Editing Tools||Organizing||File Compatibility & Sharing||Trial||Ease of Use Score||Filter Presets||Editing Tools Score||Photo Organizing Score||Supported Image File Formats||Sharing Options Score||Help & Support Score||Minimum OS X Supported|
|CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra 10||View Deal||4.5/5||6.8||9.5||10||9.5||30 Days||100%||42||100%||100%||7||100%||84%||10.9|
|Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018||View Deal||4/5||6.5||9.3||7.8||9.8||30 Days||100%||98||96%||86%||10||100%||100%||10.11|
|Acorn 6||View Deal||4/5||9.5||10||2.3||10||14 Days||90%||139||99%||29%||12||100%||84%||10.11|
|Corel AfterShot Pro 3||View Deal||4/5||7.8||6.8||9.5||5||30 Days||100%||21||86%||86%||4||80%||100%||10.9|
|Pixelmator 3.3||View Deal||3.5/5||9.5||7.5||4||8.8||30 Days||90%||126||89%||43%||10||80%||84%||10.6.6|
|Affinity Photo 5||View Deal||3.5/5||8.5||9.8||1.8||9.3||10 Days||90%||36||100%||29%||10||90%||92%||10.7|
|PhotoPad Photo Editor||View Deal||3.5/5||10||6.5||4||5.3||Unlimited||90%||15||86%||43%||6||70%||92%||10.4.4|
|DxO PhotoLab Elite Edition||View Deal||3/5||5.8||5.3||8.8||5||31 Days||85%||37||76%||86%||3||80%||92%||10.11|
|ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac 4||View Deal||3/5||6.8||3||9.5||5.3||30 Days||90%||2||68%||86%||6||60%||92%||10.12|
|Luminar 2018||View Deal||3/5||8||6.5||1.8||7||14 Days||90%||67||81%||29%||6||80%||84%||10.1|
CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra is one of the easiest programs to use, which makes it ideal for beginners.
Experienced users will also find that it offers the tools needed to edit and organize their work. You can arrange your photos using a star rating system, color labels, keyword tags and even by tagging specific people's faces. There is a wide range of editing tools and we found that they work super well when making changes. The object removal tool was especially impressive, removing unwanted elements and replacing the space believably. We also found an easy HDR feature and lens distortion correction tools. Unfortunately, there were no vector graphics tools.
The interface is built differently than many other photo editing programs. Instead of displaying toolbar icons, the program is split into category tabs, which contain various editing tools. Instead of simply clicking on the cloning brush icon in the toolbar, you'll need to click on the "People Beautifier" tab in the "Edit" section to access this feature. PhotoDirector works with the most common image file types including PSD, JPG, TIFF and RAW files. This software also makes it easy to post your favorite images directly to Facebook or send your photos to loved ones using email from within the program. You'll find tutorials and a FAQs page on the website. While emailing the company is free, you have to pay for a phone support plan if you want to get technical help.
Pixelmator 3.3 is a less-expensive photo editor with advanced editing capabilities. Considering all included tools, this is a very good value.
You get all the basic tools such as red-eye removal, selection tools, and color management, along with more advanced tools like background removal, creative filters and automatic editing options. Unfortunately, while the program works in layers, you cannot apply layer masks to your images. You also cannot easily fix lens distortion, create HDR images or stitch together panoramas with this software. There is no organizing system, so you will have to purchase a dedicated program if you want that capability. You can, however, view your photos' EXIF information.
Pixelmator works with the most common image files, including RAW, JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, PSD and PDF. It can also help you optimize your photos for online usage. You can post photos directly onto social media sites such as Facebook, or email photos from within the program, but there is no online photo gallery. Also, you cannot make animated GIFs with this software.
If you want help with Pixelmator, there are various video tutorials, FAQs and even a user forum to help you learn and find answers. If you want to contact a representative, you can do so via email.
Best Alternative to Photoshop
Affinity Photo is one of the most powerful photo editing programs we tested. It didn't score as high as other program since it lacks a photo organizing feature.
You'll find that many of the tools you use in Photoshop are also in this program. In fact, it uses many of the same hotkeys. We were quickly able to remove unwanted objects from our photos with the content-aware fill tool. We counted 42 preset filters in the program that you can quickly add to your images.
We also found it easy to work with and manipulate the various layers as we worked. The program will help you create HDR photos and panoramas using simple step by step windows. There is no lens distortion tool per se, however, you can use the perspective tools to fix any warping caused by your camera. This program can be bought for a one-time purchase of roughly $50, which is much cheaper than Adobe's monthly or yearly subscription plans.
Affinity does offer a free demo of the software, but you'll need to use it quickly as it only lasts for 10 days. There is no photo organizing system built-in to this software so if you're specifically wanting a program that can sort your images, this might not be the best choice for you. We didn't find any printing project resources within the program. It will only allow you to make basic print requests.
Best for Learning Adobe
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018 is one of the best Mac photo editors on the market. You navigate through the interface by choosing between the Guided, Quick and Expert modes. As expected, Guided mode helps you become acquainted with the various tools. It even offers tutorials and written instructions to fully explain everything.
Quick mode allows you to automatically make common adjustments to your photos, which can save time when you know your enhancements won't take long. You can adjust contrast, brightness and color. The Expert Mode gives you access to all of Photoshop Elements' tools.
There are more than 90 filters that can quickly add artistic effects to your favorite images. It also features advanced tools like content-aware fill, which gets rid of objects in an image and fills the space believably.
Photoshop Elements comes with Elements Organizer 2018, a separate program dedicated to organizing your photos. You can tag photos by time, date, name and rating. While Elements Organizer 2018 allows you to organize and catalogue your photos in a variety of ways, it can get tiresome jumping between the two programs. You can use Elements Organizer 2018 to store your photos directly in the cloud so you can access them anytime, anywhere.
This program is compatible with all the common image file types, including RAW, PDF, PSD, PNG, GIF and TIFF. You can also choose to share your photos directly onto Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. Should you need help, there are dozens of video tutorials online along with user forums and a FAQs page.
Best for Making HDR Images
Use the tools to alter the hue, brightness and contrast of your images to make them look the way you want them to.
This software also works in layers to quickly view and select various elements when making changes. You can create both HDR and panoramic images using this software. The HDR guide steps you through the process making it easier to combine two or more images into one for a vibrant and lively finished product. Since it works with HDR images, it's not surprising that the software is compatible with RAW images, in addition to the most common file types. There is no photo organizer, so you'll have to purchase another one separately if you're wanting to manage your images. Fortunately, it does include a batch processor to make changes to multiple images at once and save you time. The cloning tool can help you eliminate unwanted objects from your images whether that be acne from a portrait or phone wires from a landscape. It also happens to be one of the least expensive programs in our comparison, selling for roughly $30.
Why Trust Us?
We have been testing Mac photo editing software for the past seven years. Whenever we evaluate products, we use the same testing methodology on each product to get fair and honest results. Our testers are often a mixture of experienced and inexperienced users, so we can gauge how different audiences react to a piece of software. With photo editing software, we look at every feature, tool and capability to determine how useful and intuitive each program is overall. Our testing helps us determine whether or not a program is best for beginners, advanced users or a mixture of both. We prefer to recommend programs that help you grow from a novice to an experienced artist while offering all of the best editing tools and sharing capabilities.
We contacted Brooklyn Parks - a graphic designer of 6 years – and Lisa Dixon – a professional photographer of 4 years to get more insights about photo editing programs. We also reached out to John Yoo, Head of Sales at CyberLink to learn more about PhotoDirector Ultra.
How Much Does Mac Photo Editing Software Cost?
You'll find that the best Mac photo editing software ranges between $30 and $100. Usually, programs costing $50 and up will give you more creative freedom and control over your work. The excessively expensive programs that cost more than $100 aren't always worth the cost, since you can usually find a program that fits your needs for less. Determine the tools and features you want most and then choose a program that offers them.
How We Tested
This year alone, we spent 50 hours testing 10 products. Our testers are graphic designers and photographers with a range of photo editing software skills. To determine which programs have the best editing capabilities, we uploaded the same images to each piece of software and applied the same edits. We paid attention to the intuitiveness of each product and compared the edited images side by side.
When the programs allowed, we also shared images to social media sites to see how well the sharing process worked. Programs with more editing features scored higher, while programs with fewer features scored lower. Our ease-of-use score was determined by the number of tools each program offered combined with the effectiveness of applied edits and the intuitiveness of each program's interface. Programs that were well organized and offered plenty of help tools scored higher.
We looked at file compatibility and awarded programs with more points when they worked with a wider range of common image file types. This also included the ability to optimize images for use on the web. The best software also comes with extensive resources, especially online video tutorials. Programs that offered a larger quantity of quality video instructions, a FAQs page and a user forum scored higher in our review.
What to Look For
When we spoke to Parks, she told us that the best programs are the ones with intuitive tools. "The name makes it obvious for what [the tool] does and it's easier to find what you are looking for," she said. We score programs higher that were easier to use, this included making it easier to find the specific tools you need. What you need from a photo editor depends on what you intend to do with your images. Any true photo editor should offer basic editing tools like red-eye removal, cropping, color management, shape tools and the ability to add text to images. More comprehensive programs also have background removal software and a variety of brushes. Advanced tools help you make fine tweaks to your photos like touching up skin blemishes with touch-up or cloning tools.
It's also nice having a program that can fix lens distortion and create panoramas and HDR images. Batch processing is a super-convenient feature that allows you to make the same edits to several images at once. If you plan on taking dozens of photos at a time on a frequent basis, it's worth finding a program that offers it.
Yoo told us that if you can take the time to correctly adjust your camera before taking your photo, you will save yourself some hassle. "The biggest lesson I learned that saved me time in post-processing was to take the extra time to compose the photo and light in the beginning when shooting. A well-composed photo will save you a lot of time later." So, it's worth taking the time to prepare your scene.
As far as Mac photo editing software goes, you should be able to find a basic editing program for under $100, typically starting for as little as $30. Paying more than $100 will often land you a professional editing program with additional editing tools and presets compared to the basic versions. It's good to note that you don't always have to pay the more expensive prices to get the specific tools you need. Before making your purchase consider what you think are the most important tools and find a software that offers them. If content-aware and cosmetic brush tools are most important to you, you can get a relatively cheap program that still includes those options like Affinity Photo. Programs generally have a trial period as well, so use this to try out the software and see which ones work best for you.
Not all photo editing programs come with built-in photo organizing systems. While this isn't a critical feature, it can be incredibly convenient and save you time. The most common systems organize by location, faces, dates, times, titles, ratings and color labels. Categorization options vary from program to program.
Since file compatibility is an important factor of a program's usability, we gave more points to programs that covered the most common image files such as RAW, JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, PSD and PDF. Make sure you choose a program that works with the file types you use most. Yoo told us, "I always shoot in RAW since it keeps the most light information in case I need to edit." RAW images give you the most control over the editing process when they are imported into editing programs, which is why many photographers prefer to work with them.
Being able to post photos to Facebook or email them to family and friends directly within a photo editing program is a nice feature. Many companies offer online photo gallery accounts for you to use for free, but some cost extra. This can be a good place to back up your photos in case of computer failure.
If you plan on printing your photos or designs, Dixon told us it's best to work with 300 dpi, which is short for “dots per inch”. "You can print pretty much anything," she said. Many photo editing programs allow you to determine the resolution and size of new files or adjust the resolution and size of current images. This high resolution allows you to print images the size of movie posters and larger without getting blurry or pixelated imagery.
Parks told us that a super simple thing to help you when using photo editing software is to know the size of your project before you start. "It will save you headaches later on," she explained, "otherwise when you transfer your files it can look like garbage." Pulling a small image onto a larger file can make the small image pixelated and blurry so it's best to know the size of your end goal project when you start.
Help & Support
Advanced photo editors have so many features that you will likely need help learning how to use them. Video tutorials, FAQs pages and user forums can go a long way in helping you become an editing expert. Look for companies that also offer customer service in the method that you most prefer, whether through email, live chat or phone.
Parks told us that "the biggest resource for learning is YouTube." She further explained that she loves using it to find multiple ways to solve the same problem. If you ever get stumped jump on the web and see what other users have figured out.
Tips from the Pros
- If you're wanting to add vectors and symbols to your work, Parks suggests you use The Noun Project, a royalty-free icon library. "You pay for vectors or PNG objects and symbols. It saves you a lot of time."
- "There are a billion artists and YouTube tutorials out there. There are things out there that already exist, there are pictures for you to use. Don't steal things outright, but use things to help you make something." Many professional artists and graphic designers use imagery that already exists but combine it in a new way to make something unique. As long as you aren't stealing someone else's work, this can be a good method for enhancing your own photography.
- As parting thoughts, Parks explained, "When looking for a job, it might not be something you imagined, but you can get something using [photo editing] skills." We couldn't agree more. Being able to use this kind of software opens doors to many different job opportunities, from freelance work to positions within a company.
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