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Cyberlink PhotoDirector 4 Ultra Review

by Josh Root, November 2012


One of the nice things about the evolution of digital photography in the past 5-10 years has been the increase in availability of programs to both edit and organize your images. It wasn’t all that long ago that Photoshop was one of the only games in town for editing and organization was limited to subfolder after subfolder with names like “Julie’s 5th birthday” and “July 2002 trip to OR”. But then came programs like Aperture, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, ACDSee, Paint Shop Pro, and so on offering a range of features at every price point.

in 2010 Cyberlink jumped into the fray with PhotoDirector. The organization/editing program was well received, particularly at its budget price point. But it was lacking some of the features of its older more established competition. 2012 Cyberlink brings us PhotoDirector 4, an impressively featured and more polished update to the original. Just an image organizer? Not really. With an improved suite of editing tools, PhotoDirector moves squarely into the “Photoshop Elements” realm for many users. In addition, PhotoDirector 4 also marks the program’s first appearance for the Mac OS, a welcome addition to the list of photo software for Apple users.

Interface/Layout

PhotoDirector 4 uses a fairly intuitive layout where images inhabit 3/4 of the pane on the right hand side and selection/editing/adjustment/etc tools live in a left hand sidebar in the remaining space. The image area can be set to view a single image, a single image with a “filmstrip” of other images below, or a standard “lightbox” view of thumbnails. There are four major modes of operation for PhotoDirector: Library (import, tagging & organization), Adjustments (levels, white balance, sharpness, etc), Edit (effects, “filters”, etc), and Print (printing, sharing, Facebook/Flickr export). There is also a “Slideshow” mode that has it’s own area, but should for all intents and purposes be included in the “Print/Sharing” group. All modes are accessed by clicking on headings at the top of the pane.

Importing/Organizing/tagging

You can import into PhotoDirector 4 directly from a digital camera or single images or complete folders from your hard drive. You can choose to keep the image in its current location make a new copy for the program to work from. While importing, you can rename, add tags, and apply processing presets. Once imported into the PhotoDirector library, you can make use of the various organizational tools. There are the standard rating, color-coding, and flagging tools. In addition, there is a fairly robust facial tagging system. While it’s absolutely not perfect, once you have tagged faces and it has started to learn them, you can get some surprisingly accurate automatic tagging out of it. While perhaps not as useful for all professional or even artistic work, this sort of thing can be a godsend for family/friends snapshots and events. Is your sister bugging you to get all the photos from the yearly summer picnic that her daughter is in? Now you can teach PhotoDirector 4 what your niece’s face looks like and easily group and process the images for export. You can, of course, also add face tags in manually and remove incorrectly tagged people.

Adjustments

The Adjustments pane is where you will find all your basic image editing tools. Just about every tool you might have used in another editing program is here. White balance, tone, curves, levels, hue/saturation, sharpening, and so on. There are a few nice bonuses as well, a faux-HDR tool is fun for those who enjoy that look for photos but don’t (or can’t) make true HDR images. A lens distortion/vignette tool is nice and works well. However, it is not as automatic and quick as other programs’ lens-data based tools. And the chromatic aberration feature seemed a generation or so behind the current capabilities shown by PhotoDirector’s competition.

Noise reduction was quite good in my experience. Given that a program at this price point may have users pulling lots of images from cell phones and “gopro” type devices that may not have the best low-light/high-ISO performance, that is a good thing. The hue/saturation tool has a very neat feature that allows you to mouse over the image click-drag to change the hue, saturation, or lightness of whatever color your mouse was over. It’s a feature that I wish more tools had in just about every photo editing program.

I actually very much like the layout of PhotoDirector’s Adjustments pane. All the tools are in a row on the right hand side with all the sliders and options available. You can simply scroll your way down the tools and make adjustments as you go. I was surprised to find that I like this much better for quick adjustments than I do the Photoshop style menu-submenu-choice popup that I’ve used for so long. PhotoDirector has two classes of tools in the Adjustment pane and for some reason they are called “global” and “regional”. The Regional tools are cropping, spot/heal/clone, redeye removal, adjustment brush, and multiple types of adjustment masks/brushes that allow you to apply the Global tools to specific areas of your image. The Global tools are white balance, sharpness, levels, and the rest. I guess the idea is that the Regional tools are just being used on a specific area of the image (a “region”) rather than the whole image (“global”). Not exactly the way I would have labeled them, but easy enough to remember.

There are also a whole list of “presets” to choose from . These are something like filters and something like Photoshop “actions”. For the most part, they will remind people of the effects that you see on mobile image processing programs like instagram. Many of them have names like “soft & dreamy”, “80’s”, and “Lomo”. But they are actually pretty neat and quick ways to add some style to your images. I think they will be popular with the intended market for the program. You get more than 25 of them and there are more available via Cyberlink’s “DirectorZone” website. However, it’s a little frustrating that you can’t just download the new presets from within PhotoDirector itself.

Editing

The Edit pane is something like PhotoDirector’s version of Photoshop’s filters but with more of an interactive aspect. Or perhaps a better way to describe it would be effects crossed with tools. For example, there is a “tooth brush” tool that allows you to brush away any yellow tooth color. There is also a “body shaper”, which is a specialized distortion tool that allows you to trim a few pounds off of a subject (it is fun, but not 100% successful). Other tools include a skin smoother, a wrinkle remover, and even a watermark tool. There’s a pretty clever content removal tool that allows you to cut out drunk uncles or ex-girlfriends from images. It’s not 100% successful and really needs the right background to work well. But when it works it really works amazingly well. Happily, even when it doesn’t work perfectly, the Smart Patch tool can save your bacon (if your bacon relies on being able to remove an ex-girlfriend from an image). Overall, everything in the Edit pane works pretty well, but some of the tools are more for “fun” and some are actually useful.

Exporting, Sharing, & Printing

PhotoDirector 4 has two easy export options to Flickr and Facebook. A good move considering those are two of the most popular online destinations for photos (aside from Photo.net of course). Strangely, you cannot export to email, which has to be one of the most popular ways to share photos ever. I would think given the intended user base that there would have been a simple “export to email” or “save for email” type feature. You can also export images to a video slideshow which can then be sent to youtube or burned to a DVD. However there are no true video editing features. PhotoDirector’s print mode offers a vast array or print/paper sizes and does a fine job with making contact/thumbnail sheets. But there aren’t any presets or soft proofing. I think it is fair to call the print capabilities somewhat rudimentary as compared to other photo editing programs. That having been said, for the vast majority of photographers who output digitally most of the time and make a few prints once in a while, PhotoDirector will be up to the printing task.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m really pleased with PhotoDirector 4 Ultra. That is something that surprises me given the fact that Cyberlink isn’t a company with a long history in the photo software world. With a strong set of standard organizational and editing tools (with a few original features as well), PhotoDirector is a powerful program and a great value given it’s price. The program’s interface is surprisingly good and perhaps more importantly, would be easy for the beginner/average digital photographer to grasp and work with. There are some weaknesses that expose the fact that Cyberlink isn’t Adobe or Apple. But on the other hand, to have made a program this useful and full featured while NOT having the resources of an Apple or Adobe is pretty impressive. And considering the speed of innovation between PhotoDirector 4 and the previous version, I would say that we shouldn’t expect Cyberlink to slow down its pace of improvement either.

The bottom line is that I would have no problem recommending PhotoDirector 4 Ultra to anyone looking for a basic organizational and editing program.


Text and photos © 2012 Josh Root.

Article created November 2012