PhotoDirector 7, CyberLink's digital photo workflow and editing application is quick and powerful, and it has a clear, pleasing interface. Version 7 maintains those characteristics and adds Photoshop-style layers, drawing tools, and gradients, along with face-beautification tools, blur effects, and more camera-and-lens profile-based corrections. These join advanced features this photo-editing software already included, such as face-tagging, corrections for chromatic aberration and geometry, content-aware object removal, and even a body-slimming tool. The result is an affordable tool that gives Adobe a run for its money in photo editing software, though it lacks some of the most powerful features found in Lightroom and Photoshop.
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Pricing and Setup
PhotoDirector 7 is available for both Windows and Mac OS X. The two versions for PCs are Deluxe ($59.99) and Ultra ($99.99; the version I tested). Only the Ultra level is available for Macs, but it adds some high-power tools such as bracketed HDR, auto lens corrections, split toning, photo stacks, and 4K video slideshows. You can get PhotoDirector 7 as part of CyberLink's $194.99 Director Suite, too, which includes our Editors' Choice consumer video editor, PowerDirector. The suite is also available as a subscription for $99 per year.
A full-functioning 30-day free trial for either version of PhotoDirector 7 is available for the price of your email address; each is a 273MB download for Windows and 261MB for Mac, so expect it to take a few minutes if your Internet connection isn't very fast. Once installed, the program takes over 600MB on disk, so keep some disk space available. PhotoDirector supports high-DPI monitors, such as the one on which I tested with, a 4K touch-screen Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC all-in-one PC. And there's a complementary Windows tablet photo-editing app that lets you edit photos on the go.
PhotoDirector is a 64-bit application, meaning you can take advantage of more than 4GB of RAM—something you'll want when you have a lot of high-res photos open and are doing heavy image manipulation.
First I'll discuss the new stuff in PhotoDirector, followed by some of the other impressive tools in the software package. After that, I'll discuss the standard interface and tools.
People Beautifier. This new tool has three subsets: face tools, skin tools, and body tools. The first includes Face Shaper, Shine Remover, Eye Bag Remover, Wrinkle Remover, Tooth Brush, and even Eye Blinger, which brightens the whites of the eyes. Note that anything you do here can be undone, since a working copy is created. On my test image, the Face Shaper basically tucked in jowls.
Layers. Showing its ambitions to be more than just a photo workflow application competing with Lightroom, the new version of PhotoDirector adds layer editing. And why not include them, as long as they don't clutter the interface? PhotoDirector's don't—unless you consider a Layers mode button atop the interface to be clutter. When you enter the mode, a dialog tells you it's best to complete all overall photo adjustments (lighting, white balance, and the like) prior to working with layers. If you don't want to spring for Photoshop CC, here are your layers.
These tools let you draw on top of your images and superimpose text, as well as add shapes, fills, and gradients. You can select areas with a lasso and a smart lasso, but PhotoDirector's selection tools are not as smart as Adobe's. This program offers a lot of the layer-blending modes found in Photoshop, including darken, multiply, difference, and exclusion—14 in all. You can drag layer entries to change their order. You can even go in and adjust any layer separately with the standard lighting, color, and detail tools.
Blur Tools. The new Blur Tools section in Editing mode makes it easy to add not only blur but also bokeh, zoom focus, and tilt-shift effects. It's as fun, powerful, and interesting as Photoshop Elements' motion-blur tool.
Noise Reduction. This tool does a good job of cleaning up a noisy shot, and makes doing so a snap. Often this kind of feature make you tinker with sliders to deal with chrominance and luminance noise, and PhotoDirector does offer these sliders, but its magic wand de-noising button did a great job of reducing noise from my test images' dark areas. At full zoom, my results did look a tad blurred, but when viewing the whole photo, the smoothing was a big improvement.
Bracket HDR. I've long been impressed with PhotoDirector's single-shot HDR (high dynamic range) effect, but this true HDR tool is no less remarkable. It's accessible in Edit mode, and you can drag up to five photos shot at different exposures of the same subject from the tray to the main editing area. A merge button combines all the images, which took about 15 seconds on my five-shot test. The merge lined up the images well, and a checkbox let me remove "ghosting"—in the case of my shot, traffic that differed from shot to shot. The end result is pleasing, and you can tinker with it even further by adjusting Glow, Edge, Detail, and Tone, or by choosing a preset look. These include Colorful, Detail, Light, Natural, and Surrealistic. It's fun to see the dazzling artistic effects all these choices enable.
Lens Profile Correction. This tool has been a feather in the cap of programs including Adobe Lightroom and DxO Optics pro for a while. The idea is to fix issues introduced by the lens the photo was shot with, such as warped perspectives and darkness around the edges (aka vignetting). The technique, as with most photo adjustments, works best with RAW files.
The problem with lens-based correction is that a program has to have a lot of lenses in its database to be useful for most photographers: PhotoDirector has 100 lenses, Adobe has about 600, and DxO claims over 17,000 camera-body-plus-lens combinations. You can manually adjust the distortion, but Adobe actually lets users create their own lens profiles. PhotoDirector didn't have my Canon 18-135mm EF-S in its database. Tapping a globe icon took me to CyberLink's profile download page, which said it would soon be available.
I finally found a lens with a profile in PhotoDirector: The kit Canon 18-55mm EF-S. The program automatically chose the correct model, but I was disappointed to see that chromatic aberration was actually made worse. (For excellent results, try DxO Optics Pro.) Lightroom and DxO Optics Pro are still way ahead of PhotoDirector when it comes to lens profile corrections, for both geometric distortion and CA (chromatic aberration).
Version 7 of PhotoDirector doesn't include any drastic changes to the program's interface, which was clear and attractive already. It's less intimidating than those of competitors, and it's less cluttered and friendlier than consumer-level competitors such as Corel PaintShop and Photoshop Elements. PhotoDirector bypasses the annoyance of Photoshop Elements' separate Organizer app, too: You can do everything in PhotoDirector.
As is common among pro- and near-pro-level photo workflow apps, PhotoDirector uses modes. That means there are global tabs or buttons that switch the interface among different functions, usually organizing, editing, and sharing. PhotoDirector has six modes: Library, Adjustment, Edit, Layers, Slideshow, and Print. Unlike Lightroom, PhotoDirector doesn't let you choose which of these mode buttons appears. So for example, if you never print, you still can't remove the Print button.
Switching modes is as simple as it is in Lightroom. Within each of PhotoDirector's modes, a left-side panel offers mode-appropriate options. In the Library and Adjustment modes, the panel is further broken down into two tabs, Project and Metadata for the first, and Manual and Presets for the second.
The main viewing area is flexible, with a few options of its own. In Library mode, a large view of the photo sits above a filmstrip-style look at other pictures in the folder. Alternatively, buttons at the top let you see just the photo, a gallery browser of thumbnails or filenames, or a full-screen view of just the current photo. In addition to viewing one large image, you can also compare two or several in Library mode.
The gallery view can be filtered by photos you've flagged or color labeled, or those you've edited. I'd like to see more filter options, such as camera model and lens, as you can in Lightroom. Hover the mouse over a thumbnail in gallery view, and you see star-rating and flagging buttons for easy rating and selecting. When you're viewing one large image, the same choices appear along the bottom with color labeling added; optionally you can add controls for rotation and back and forward arrows.
In Adjustment mode, you can see a split view showing an image before and after your edits. Flipping through images was snappy and delay-free, as was overall program response—even on a less-than-stellar 2.5GHz dual-core laptop. Like Lightroom, PhotoDirector lets you zoom only to preset sizes—25 percent, 33 percent, and 50 percent, and so on—rather than offering a full-range slider like ACDSee Pro's. But a single click switches between zoomed and unzoomed, which is convenient.
You can't detach the program's panels to float anywhere on screen, as you can in ACDSee. Undo is well implemented, and an excellent adjustment-history panel shows not only all previous tweaks but also a thumbnail at the top displaying a mini view of those tweaks' effects. Clicking on any history entry applies that point to the full image view. In all, PhotoDirector gets high marks for its interface.
The photo-import dialog groups zoomable thumbnails of images on the card by date. As with Lightroom or Aperture (and better than with Photo Mechanic), you can select photos for import from these thumbnails. You can even apply effect presets, such as B&W Cool, Faux HDR, or Fantasy Pink. Oddly, you can't apply basic adjustments such as auto-exposure. You can, though, apply keyword tags, renaming, and a copyright notice.
The program can import RAW camera files, of course, in formats such as Canon's .CR2 and Nikon's .NEF. But when I imported images from a newer camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II, the images were pinkish, telling me that the format hadn't yet been calibrated. For formats that were fully supported, RAW conversion detail and color were excellent, though Lightroom brought out more colors and Capture One Pro more detail. And import speed was inconsistent; it went faster if I waited for the thumbnails to load into the import dialog. Another type of importing is tethered shooting, which still isn't supported by PhotoDirector, making it inappropriate for some pro photogs.
The program offers all the expected organizational tools with easily accessible ratings, color coding, and flagging tools in the Library interface. And as I'll show in the next section, it even offers face tagging—a powerful organization tool that's been available in Photoshop Elements (but not Lightroom) for a few years. Geotagging and maps, however, are still absent.
Basic Photo Adjustments and Edits
PhotoDirector offers all the basic adjustments you'd expect, including exposure, contrast, white balance, and sharpness. And the ubiquitous fixers—red eye and blemish removers—are added to the local adjustment brushes. Cropping and rotating follow the brilliant approach of Lightroom and Photoshop, showing you the final result rather than an outline of your intended crop. PhotoDirector also has pro image-editing tools, such as curves and levels. The latter lets you manipulate highs, lows, and midtones with controls on a three-color histogram, with optional quarter-tone controls, too. The tone-curves tool gives only three control points.
When it comes to pumping up or cutting down on overly dark or bright areas, PhotoDirector adds a couple levels in between the standard brights, midtones, and darks. You get five sliders—Brightest, Bright, Midtone, Dark, and Darkest. This setup lets you use the histogram's "Show over/underexposed areas" tool and then correct these areas with a more appropriate slider. PhotoDirector's "Auto tone" magic wand button, like similar tools in every photo app, worked beautifully for some photos, but not so well for others.
The program's geometry adjustment tools let you fix the barrel and pincushion distortion of telephoto and wide lenses. The Keystone correction tool's vertical and horizontal controls let me straighten distorted lines at the sides of photos of buildings. As mentioned above, I'm not impressed by the program's lens-profile-based geometry corrections, and there is no equivalent of Lightroom's Upright feature, which corrects perspective issues.
To get started with face tagging, select some photos in Library mode, and hit the Tag Faces button above the thumbnail grid. This starts an Analyzing dialog, which goes through each photo one at a time. 129 photos took just under 3 minutes. As with all face-recognition software, there were a few false positives—bushes were identified as faces, for example. But I was impressed that it picked up profiles as well as full faces.
The interface for assigning names to faces is, as with much of PhotoDirecter, clear and simple. Once you assign one name, it becomes a button for one-click assignment to other photos with faces. After this, you can just click Faces on the Library's left panel Project tab, and then click on a name to display photos only of that individual. You can also choose "Find more Faces of this person in the selected photos," but the program doesn't do as good a job of suggesting names that belong to a face as competitors do.
Fancy Photo Effects
PhotoDirector's single-shot HDR effects, in combination with its other tools, can produce some spectacular results, particularly where dramatic clouds are involved. Other editing tricks include content-aware object removal and a body shaper, which trims off some pounds the easy way. These tools have a wizard-driven process that makes creating the effects simple. I had mixed results with the content-aware removal, but I did manage to convincingly replace a swimmer in the ocean with more waves. The body shaper, too, worked well only in certain cases—not with striped clothing.
The application also includes Photo Composer for combining photos, watermarks, and black-and-white options. You can brush tints onto specific areas of the photo and combine multiple images. And you can download other users' editing presets from CyberLink's online exchange, DirectorZone.
Sharing and Output
PhotoDirector offers clear buttons for sharing directly to two of the services you're most likely to want—Facebook and Flickr—after an initial sign-in. Email sharing is also now available from the button dropdown. You can generate slideshows for instant viewing, saving to an MPEG-4 video file, or direct uploading to YouTube. Lightroom goes beyond this, though, with actual video-editing capabilities. PhotoDirector's dedicated Print mode offers every imaginable paper size, custom grid settings, and watermarking, but it has no presets for standard sizes and no soft proofing, like that in Lightroom.
A Good Direction for Photos
You can have a lot of fun at a reasonable price with CyberLink PhotoDirector 7. Its interface is well thought out, and it has all the standard photo-editing tools, along with a bunch of cool extra goodies. But faster import, geotagging, and much more effective lens-profile-based corrections combine to keep Adobe Lightroom our top pick for pro photo workflow. And for pixel-level photo editing you really can't beat our prosumer Editors' Choice, Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 (or Photoshop CC for more serious photographers).