Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Olympus Viewer 3 vs ACDSee Pro 9

ACDSee are a well established company in the photo management business. I can remember using a very early version of ACDSee when I first started using computers for graphic design (and that was a long time ago). They've come a long way since then and now offer a vast range of design and photography related products - as well as version 19 of the original Digital Asset Management (DAM) programme I used all those years ago.

What I'm currently interested in testing is ACDSee Pro 9. ACDSee are marketing Pro 9 as "the most complete solution for the enhancement and control of your image production". That's a fairly lofty claim. But with tools like Batch Editing, Lens Correction, Smart Collections, Non-destructive image editing, Photo Management, 4k monitor support, Photoshop plug-in support and slick metadata controls (they are DAM specialists after all), ACDSee Pro 9 really could be the perfect replacement for Adobe's Lightroom. Currently, it's also exceptional value - only $58NZ (for a limited time).

Because their suite of products is so vast, they also offer subscription-based plans where you can get a range of software for a monthly fee. I'm trying to move away from this subscription based model, so this is less appealing. But the option is there for those who like this kind of system.

To see exactly how well AC9 works as a RAW conversion programme, I will be comparing unaltered Tiffs exported from AC9 against Olympus Viewer 3 Tiff files. The original RAW files are Olympus .orf's from an OM-D E-M5 MkII.  I've already compared the same files with Adobe's Lightroom CC and Corel's AfterShot Pro 3 (see previous posts) and found the Olympus Viewer 3 (OV3) files to be superior (IMHO).

ACDSee Pro 9 Tiff on the left and Olympus Viewer 3 Tiff on the right. Not much in it really?
I have to admit, that having gone through this process with Lightroom CC and AfterShot Pro3, and not being impressed by either, I didn't really expect anything different from ACDSee Pro 9. Well, I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised. Just looking at the comparison above, you can see that there's not much in it. The OV3 file is perhaps slightly lighter and has slightly less noise. But colour-wise it's very close.

ACDSee Pro 9 Tiff on left, Olympus Viewer 3 Tiff on right.
Above is a comparison with OV3 at its default settings of '0' (which actually does apply sharpening, contrast etc). You can see that the Olympus file is sharper, but again, the colours are almost identical. The ACDSee Pro 9 file may even have a touch more detail remaining in the highlights - perhaps again due to Olympus's tendency to apply contrast for a more 'finished' result? It's really the colours that I'm more concerned about being rendered accurately though.  And in the files I'm seeing, ACDSee Pro 9 is nailing the colour perfectly.

Colour rendition with unedited 16bit Tiff files from all 4 RAW conversion programmes
I've been using a sunset photo as my critical example of colour rendition and 'accuracy' for all of the programmes. The OV3 file is my 'master' file - the one by which all other conversions are judged. Surprisingly, Adobe's Lightroom CC (version 2015.4) is the worst of all of them. It's a very flat and dull rendition as a starting point, with a complete lack of colour in the highlights. And while some may argue that RAW files are supposed to deliver flat files for post-processing, I know which files I'd rather be working with as a starting point for further editing. The less time spent having to fiddle with sliders the better.

Corel Aftershot Pro 3 is better, although still not as good as the OV3 file. The files are quite 'soft' (you can even see this from the example above), and  have a very definite red/yellow 'cast' in all the images I processed. It was as if the software struggled to get the white balance right in all the images.

Of all the RAW conversion programmes I've tested so far, ACDSee Pro 9 is the clear winner. In fact, when I compare it to the Olympus Viewer 3 'master' file, I actually think I prefer the ACDSee Pro 9 image! It has exceptional colour quality and image definition - especially considering it's a straight, unedited conversion. I'm very impressed with ACDSee Pro 9's RAW processing capabilities, far and above the likes of Adobe's Lightroom. It's also a fairly powerful, yet intuitive programme, with a very good UI.

I have about 6 months left on my 'student' subscription to Adobe's entire Creative Suite, after which the price skyrockets to beyond my budget. Besides which, I'm too old and set in my ways to want to use a subscription-based model for software. Just let me pay for it, own it, and then I'll decide when and how often I want to upgrade.

ACDSee also offer an 'Ultimate 9' version which includes the ability to work with non-destructive adjustment layers. Ultimate 9 looks like a "one-two" punch designed to become a Photoshop/Lightroom all-in-one replacement. Unfortunately, it's also almost 3x more expensive than Pro 9. I'm definitely going to download the trial version and give it a very serious look. For someone wanting to eventually jump off the Adobe subscription band-wagon, ACDSee Ultimate 9 might just be the solution I'm looking for? And in the meantime, ACDSee Pro 9 has me seriously, seriously interested.


  1. Hi Wayne, Im loving the comparisons of RAW processors, but have you thought about Capture 1 by Phase one? I know i have a couple of customers here who use it and LOVE it, especially after exiting the Adobe ecosystem, Phase One also offer the option of subscription or outright purchase

  2. You may want to give DXO optics pro a try I have been using it in combo with Lightroom cc and am very happy with the results. It is on sale at the moment and a free trial is available. I particularly like the lens correction feature and the noise reduction is very good.

  3. Yes - both DXO Optics Pro and Phase One's Capture One are on my radar. Capture One looks incredible - but also rather expensive from what I can remember?
    Have also been using ACDSee 'Ultimate' 9 which is a Photoshop AND Lightroom replacement!

  4. I am also enjoying these comparisons. I don't have an Olympus camera at the moment, but I miss those Olympus colors and I've longed for software that converts raw files of other cameras with that same "true to life" feeling. ACR/Lightroom has always been the worst color performer, especially when it comes to saturated yellows and orange highlights. I think that this is well known.

    Beside DXO and Capture One, some other interesting ones to look at are:

    For MAC:

    Hasselblad's Phocus - Good color and most natural exposure compensation of any software, in which highlights roll off in a natural/pleasing way without obviously blowing out. It uses Apple's internal raw codecs for initial conversion and then its own algorithms after that. Ironically, in some ways I think it actually does a better job with third party cameras than its own.

    Iridient Developer - Good sharpening options and noise reduction algorithm. A bit complicated with so many sliders that do same things in different ways, but worth a try.

    Raw Photo Processor (RPP) - Bare bones processing with nice film simulations and interesting features, but also has a big learning curve. If you shoot a colorchecker chart, this software will give you the most accurate results of any - for better or worse (because accurate is not always what we want, but pleasing).

    AccuRaw - Like RPP, another bare bones conversion software. Gives scene referred (flat) results but has bad highlight recovery. Sometimes worth it when you really want to dig up the shadows but it's hit or miss for me.

    For Windows:

    Sagelight - Good color and contrast rendition when you can get the white balance right. The software has plenty of options but a huuuuge learning curve because the interface is different from anything else out there. Requires a good exposure because highlight retention isn't that great. The software is no longer updated so raw files from newer cameras should be converted to DNG first, either through ACR/Lightroom or through Adobe DNG Converter.

    Qimage Ultimate - Another software with a wonky interface. Sometimes it gets it really right, other times I have to fight with the sliders. Worth a try though.

    Picture Window Pro - This one has the most complicated interface of all of them. Advanced software but capable of pretty good results.

    nama5 - Extracts the most detail out of reds than any other software. Very good sharpening algorithm. The color wheel really helps with getting rid of residual casts after white balancing. The only problem is that the conversion can sometimes look flat or too "digital" looking. But sometimes it really gets those Olympus colors right too. It's hit or miss, but worth experimenting with. The software is no longer updated so raw files from newer cameras should be converted to DNG first, either through ACR/Lightroom or through Adobe DNG Converter.

    For Linux:

    darktable (free) - Very complete with tons of features, and fun to experiment with

    RawStudio (free) - This one really saturates the colors, where they can sometimes look too digital or cartoonish. At the same time, it can really bring out the colors in otherwise flat scenes. It has bad highlight retention though. Currently stalled in development.

    For ALL systems:

    RawTherapee (free) - Very complete with tons of features, but has the same problem as Iridient - lots of sliders that do the same thing in different ways.

    LightZone (free) - Fun to experiment with if you like the zone system. A unique converter.

    Photivo (free) - Has a complicated interface and a big learning curve, but also some interesting options that others don't. Very slow for processing though.


Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on this post. I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Thanks again