First Exposure: CyberLink’s PhotoDirector 4 Ultra
by Stan Sholik
All Photos By Stan Sholik (unless otherwise noted)
One of the fun tools in the Adjustment module is HDR Effect. You can create HDR-looking results (like in the image above), or use the tools to recover more information from RAW files.
March 14, 2013 —
PhotoDirector 4 Ultra, a recently upgraded photo editing application from CyberLink Corp. offers advanced amateur and professional photographers features not available in competing products. These features are coupled with CyberLink’s user-friendly interface and a look that mimics Lightroom 4. PhotoDirector 4 is also CyberLink’s first Mac-compatible program, providing an option for those users who aren’t happy with the cost or options of Adobe and Apple photo-editing software on their platform.
PhotoDirector 4 loaded seamlessly on both my 64-bit Windows 7 and iMac computers. The Windows version is still a 32-bit application, so, unlike recent Adobe products, it is compatible with Windows XP with Service Pack 3.
When you open the program, you may think you’ve opened Lightroom 4; it has five modules, with tabs to access them in the menu bar: Library, Adjustment, Edit, Slideshow and Print. As with Lightroom (and unlike Photoshop Elements), browsing and editing are done in a single program with a common interface.
In each module, a large image preview dominates the interface, larger than that in Lightroom since PhotoDirector 4 lacks a right-side panel. The left panel shows appropriate options for each module. A filmstrip of images in the active folder runs below the image preview toolbar. Other options and tools are available throughout the interface. You can adjust the background behind the preview image to various shades of gray (I preferred the darkest). The rest of the interface is friendly and uncluttered, with white type and icons easily legible on varying tones of gray. And, although I don’t use a dual-monitor setup, PhotoDirector 4 accommodates one.
When you first open PhotoDirector 4, a set of sample images opens. As with Lightroom, to view your own images you must import them using the Library module, either individually, in folders, or from your camera or camera card. I wanted to import from folders on my hard drive, but was disappointed to find that I could not select multiple folders. Each folder must be imported separately. Rather than deal with this inconvenience. I imported my entire photo directory of 10,000-plus images. This went surprisingly quickly. When I checked back after 10 minutes, PhotoDirector 4 had finished importing the files and creating the previews. The software program also added them in the correct directory structure in its Folders tab of the Library module, along with the number of images in each folder.
PhotoDirector 4 supports a wide range of RAW file formats as well as TIFF and JPEG on import and for non-destructive editing. CyberLink licenses the RAW file conversion SDK for the latest Canon and Nikon cameras to achieve results identical to those you would obtain from the manufacturers’ software.
While importing, you can rename files, add copyright, keywords, tags, and apply adjustment presets, but there is no auto-tone preset, which I found strange. Once you’ve imported photos, you can rate, label and flag them in the Library module, or move to the Adjustment module to make global and local adjustments.
Tabs in the left panel of the Adjustment module allow you to apply manual or preset adjustments. Twenty-nine presets are available by default, but hundreds more are available for download. CyberLink encourages users to create and save their own presets, then upload them to DirectorZone to make them available to other users. Unfortunately, no one edits the uploads to separate the gems from the junk, but there are gems there.
Above: With the manual Body Shaper tool, you add control points to the areas that you want to adjust, then drag the control points to make the adjustment. Before and after views let you compare your changes to the original.
For most users, the manual adjustments are the place to begin, and the available tools exceed those available in any other rival image-editing program with which I am familiar, including Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. All of the usual suspects are included, laid out much the way they are in Lightroom: white balance; tone, with five different regions and auto-tone (which could use some work); levels; curves, with regional adjustments; HSL/color; sharpening and noise reduction (which is very good); and manual correction sliders for keystone removal, fisheye distortion correction, chromatic aberration correction, vignette removal, and vignette adding. PhotoDirector 4 lacks the automatic tools of Lightroom 4, DxO, and other programs for these latter corrections.
What PhotoDirector 4 includes in the Adjustment module that most other programs omit is an extremely well-executed single-image HDR Effect panel. In combination with the other adjustments, it is possible to create images with an HDR look in postproduction, or to simply recover more information from a RAW file.
The local adjustment tools in PhotoDirector 4 are also more comprehensive. Along with all of the options available in Lightroom 4, you can also apply white balance, tone and HSL adjustments, sharpening, and noise reduction locally, either with a brush or to a selection. And the Intelligent Selection tool works as well as Photoshop’s magic wand. There is also a readily accessible red eye removal tool, which most of the competition lack or bury somewhere.
The Edit module is the one that portrait, event, senior portrait, and wedding photographers will be happy to see. It includes tools for brightening eyes and teeth, smoothing skin, removing wrinkles, and body shaping. The face retouching tools are not as extensive as you find in standalone software, but they are adequate for the vast majority of family, group and business portraits. The Skin Smoother and Wrinkle Remover are very good and quick to use, but I wish the Wrinkle Remover had a strength slider like that found in the Skin Smoother for the times you want to leave the hint of a wrinkle in a smile.
The new Body Shaper tool applies a mesh over the image automatically, or you can apply one manually. Either way, you have complete control over the size of the mesh, and can apply a mask to protect areas you don’t want to change. The Body Shaper is intuitive to use and works well. Of course, a little goes a long way, and you need the right subject (no striped shirts) and the right background.
Also new in this version of PhotoDirector 4 is an excellent Content Aware Removal tool. You simply select the area to remove with a brush and click the Apply button. The process is slow, but I have had better results with the PhotoDirector 4 tool than with the Adobe equivalents. There is a straight-line tool for removing power lines and phone poles. I used it to remove the curved chain in a photo by selecting short straight-line segments in one continuous selection. The result, even across the hood and tire of a car, was nearly perfect.
Even though there are no layers as such, the Edit module also includes tools to extract images from one photo and compose them into another. Again, the Intelligent Selection tools are excellent and the process is quick and easy.
The Slideshow and Print modules are straightforward, although both need work. For example, in the Print module there is no way to enter a custom paper size. Super A3 (13 x 19 inch) is not an option, so I can’t print on Epson Signature paper with my Epson 3880. And there are only three possible transition effects in the Slideshow module. PhotoDirector 4 does make it easy to output the slideshow as an MPEG-4 video or upload it to YouTube. There are also clear buttons to output photos to Facebook and Flickr, but no option for setting up other services such as SmugMug or to email them.
Despite these few quibbles, PhotoDirector 4 is a welcome addition to the list of photo-editing software, especially for Mac computers where the options are more limited than for Windows machines. A 30-day trial version is available from www.cyberlink.com, as well as more information and a free downloadable tutorial book. MSRP for the full version of PhotoDirector 4 Ultra is $89.99. Upgrades from previous versions are available for $62.99.
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