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ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 Review

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 Review

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 is a superb all-in-one Photo Management and editing suite for Windows 10 PC. Ultimate enables you to easily organize a growing photo collection whilst offering powerful editing functionality.

With excellent ergonomics, powerful functionality, and an affordable price tag, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 is an easy recommendation. Jump to Conclusion | Buy ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Note, ACDSee Photo Studio 2020 has now been replaced by ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 (Read Review)

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ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate Photo Management

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 features Photo Manager helps you organize your growing photo collection through its Manage Tab.

Unlike other applications, ACDSee will manage your collection from their existing file locations instead of importing them into a propriety location.

The manage tab allows you to browse your collection much like you would if you were using Windows Explorer. However, to make browsing more efficient, you can tag your photos with custom keywords or assign photos to collections of your making.

You can apply tags and categories in bulk or on a photo-by-photo basis. A single photo can feature many tags and/or categories.

Alternatively, you can organize your collection using your photo metadata. For example, you may create smart categories that list photos that fall within a certain date range.

The Manage Tab. Images are browsed via the options on the left pane and organised via the options on the right. Select multiple photos to apply keywords, categories and ratings in batches

ACDSee Face Detection

ACDSee Photo Studio features automatic face detection enabling you to tag a persons name. Once ACDSee can sufficiently recognise a person, it will crawl your photo archive automatically adding that person’s name to every photo they appear.

Whilst ACDSee Ultimate’s Face detection is remarkably accurate, it is also inconsistent.

On occasion, it will fail to recognize the presence of a face within a photo or identify a face but assign the incorrect name. Fortunately, you can manually override and correct.

Moreover, Face Detection impact performance. For instance, browsing from one photo to the next via the View tab is lighting-quick but becomes a slower, choppier ride with Face Detection is activated.

Additionally, if you try to delete the image you a reviewing too soon, ACDSee responds with a message that the file is in use and cannot be deleted. As a result, you must wait a few seconds until Face Detect has finished accessing the file – then delete it.

However, I take more photos than most and small waits to add up to significant delays. In contrast, you may consider the virtues of Face Detection to be worth the wait. In any case, preemptive Face Detection can be turned off entirely and triggered on-demand on a photo-by-photo basis.

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Accessing your Photos via ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate presents a few different methods to browse your photos.

Catalog View

The Manage tab features the Catalog Pane providing quick access to photos that share common data. With a single click, you can browse all the photos you rated a 5 or those with a particular keyword.

If you are using Face Detection, you can click on a persons name to return the photos in which they appears

Alternatively, you can set up your own search filters to retrieve photos based on multiple criteria. If you want to see all photos of your Dad that have also been tagged with the keyword ‘Christmas’, you can.

Once you have created a Search, it remains accessible forevermore (or until you delete it). There is no limit to how complex or vague your search can be.

Folders View

Searching via the Folder View is much like browsing your collection with Windows Explorer. If you organize your photos in folders – you might prefer this view.

Calendar View

ACDSee Photo Studio returns photos based on a specific day, week, month, or year.

The Calendar View set to Month (left Pane).

Photo Tab

ACDSee’s photo tab provides a highly visual view of your photos grouped by day. You can select a specific day or just continue to scroll. It’s a nice way to idly browse photos without intent

The Photo Tab is a simple chronological viewer. You can select an image and open it in Manage, View and Develop Modes.

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ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate Export Tool

Whilst reviewing a photo or a batch of selected photos – you can export them to email and other destinations such as SmugMug and Flickr.

Alternatively, you can convert your raw files into TIFFs or JPEGS and export them to a folder of your choice. Read about Raw versus JPEG.

You can save different preferences into any number of presets. You may have a preset that automatically retouches photos or makes smaller photos for emails. The conversion tool can also be used to batch name your photos.

The export tool is simple yet powerful. You can automatically rename files based on filenames or meta data, and covert the files in to different file-types with variable compression rates. You can resize the images and automatically apply ACDSee Actions and your own Develop tab presets.

Viewing your photos in ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020

The View tab enables you to view your photo full screen or surrounded by information such as histograms and exposure data. The Viewing is very fast and even when dealing with 14-bit Raw files, moving from one photo to the next is all but instantaneous.

The Magnifying glass is particularly useful since you can determine the sharpness of a photo without the burden of zooming and panning.

With a histogram on display, it takes only moments to separate the photos worth keeping and those with a one-way ticket to the Recycle Bin.

The View Tab does have functionality beyond viewing your photo. For example, the Actions Browser allows you to add ACDSee filters and adjustments in much the same way you can with Instagram and is ideal for those who enjoy filters more than editing.

Additionally, the View Tab provides another opportunity to apply face detection and assign ratings, keywords, and categories.

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Editing your photos with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020

The Develop Tab in ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate is what Adobe Camera Raw is to Lightroom and Photoshop. Develop’s Tools are divided across four tabs – Tune, Detail, Geometry, and Repair.

Tune Tab

The tune tab features everything you need to alter your photo’s aesthetic. The tab is sub-divided into tools with General giving you access to adjustments such as exposure (-/+ 4 EV), contrast, saturation, vibrance, and clarity.

Also, you can toggle between Colour and Black and White with a single click. Other tools include Tone Curves, White Balance and LUTs. An Effects tab makes it easy to apply wholesale filter effects to your entire image.

Cropped, Radial Grad (Vignette), Tone Curves and Saturation. You can change the layouts of the Panes but I do wish I could add a second develop tab to the right hand side of the screen as an overflow for the tools on the left.

Special praise must be given to ACDSee’s implementation of Colour and Brightness editing. Adjusting a tones’ brightness, contrast and saturation is as easy as dragging your mouse over it. If you prefer to use traditional sliders, you can.

Whilst I find the Grads effective, the Brush is somewhat poor. For instance, the Smart Brush feature is supposed to highlight parts of the image that fall within an edge or a particular tone. Unfortunately, I have found it unreliable in comparison to similar functions found in alternative products.

If you do a lot of selective editing – ACDSee may not be for you.

Using Radial Filters on the Develop Tab. The Red mask illustrates what parts of the image will be effected by adjustments. Note the organization Pane has been removed to provide more room for the photo.

ACDSee Presets

If you find yourself making similar adjustments repeatedly – you can save them to a preset. Presets can be saved for adjustments made by a single tool – such as a specific Tone Curve.

Alternatively, you can save every setting you have applied across the whole tab or development module. Presets can then be applied to individual photos or an entire batch of photos via the Manage Tab.

Presets can also be applied automatically when using the export tool.

Detail tab

The detail tab features Sharpening, Noise Reduction, Chromatic Aberration Correction, and Skin Tone. The latter providing a sort of de-aging, vanity effect I’m far too self-righteous to use (I may change my mind in a few years).

Each works as expected and can be applied to the photo outright or to specific parts of the image using the Develop Brush and Grad Filters. Like all tabs and tools, you can save your adjustments as Presets.

Geometry Tab

Geometry tab offers automatic lens correction to counteract pincushion and barrel distortion as well as chromatic aberration.

If your lens is not included in the ACDSee Photo Studio library – you can select a similar lens or perform the correction manually.

The Geometry Tab provides access to Cropping, Perspective, Rotation and Straightening, and Vignette Correction. ACDSee’s presets come in handy here as you will be able to save your favorite crop ratios.

Repair Tab

Here you can remove Red-Eye from portraits or remove/add elements with the Clone and Heal Brush. Brush diameters can be adjusted by scrolling your mouse wheel.

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Develop tab – performance

Overall ergonomics are good and the interface could hardly be more simple given the amount of functionality on offer.

I do lose time jumping between the four Develop tabs. A Capture One Pro-style custom tab where I could stack my favorite tools would be advantageous. Alternatively, an option to place additional development tools on the right-hand side pane would provide similar efficiency gains.

Processed photos look very nice – comparable to the far pricier Capture One Pro. Speed-wise, the Develop Tab runs well with little-to-no latency during adjustments. Moving from one photo to the next takes a moment – a delay perfectly acceptable during development. However, the lighting-fast View tab is a better place to QA a day’s shoot.

The brush tools are somewhat of a let down. The Smartbrush often ignores edges and tones. Those who frequently perform highly localized editing may grow frustrated with its misplaced strokes. Similar functions in Capture One and Nikon’s Capture NX work much better.

Overall ACDSee Photo Studio’s Development module feels like a mature, premium product available at a mid-range price. The presets work great and integrate well with the rest of the Photo Suite.

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High Dynamic Range (HDR)

HDR is new to ACDSee Photo Studio and is evident in its implementation. Although the user can only choose from four presets – none of them are particularly attractive. Natural is under-sharpened and the other three are overcooked.

ACDSee’s HDR feature can do the job so long as you don’t look at the results too closely. This example uses the ‘Detailed’ present.

Even if you do like the presets – the final results may suffer abnormalities. For the record, the same HDR image turned out fine in Affinity Photo.

This looks like a case of severe user error but its not.

Nether-the-less, I am pleased ACDSee Photo Studio now includes HDR. Hopefully, ACDSee will continue to refine it and add other computational-style tricks to the product.

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Editing Photos with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020

If you still don’t think you are getting value for your money – ACDSee Photo Studio includes an Editing suite. It features much of the functionality of the Develop tab but includes layers and the ability to create vectors and text.

In functionality terms, it is more GIMP than Adobe Photoshop but that should be of little surprise given the disparity in price. If you are looking to craft memes or produce graphics for your blog – ACDSee Photo Studio has what you need and more.

The Edit tab is also home of the Watermark feature – handy if you are looking to protect your IP.

The Edit tab gives you access to Layers. Here we have a photo with 3 adjustment layers (Vignette, Vibrance and Tone Curves). On top, there is a transparent text layer.

Layers are a great way to apply none-destructive edits to a photograph. I do hope that ACDSee follow Capture One Pro’s lead and incorporate Layers into the Develop tab.

Stat Attack

Almost completely pointless yet absolutely wonderful is the Dashboard. If you want to see a pie chart listing the proportion of shots taken with each Camera in your database – you can! How about how many shots you take each Month or how often you shoot at ISO1600.

Who does not want to see a Pie chart listing their most used cameras.

I found it all very compelling and I would ask ACDSee to include some stats and graphs on Focal Length (35mm) equivalent so I can justify to the wide why I should be buying another over-priced lens.

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Perhaps more than any other Photography application I’ve used – ACDSee Ultimate is a solution that can stand alone. Its photo management system is the best I have used and offers huge scope for organization whilst seamlessly integrating with the View, Develop, and Edit tabs.

The View tab is perfect for viewing/scrutinizing an individual photo and is fast enough (with Face Detection off) to wiz through a whole day’s shoot without inducing frustration.

Ease of Use

Developing photos could not be much easier given the functionality on offer. The ease in which you can make light and colour adjustments is particularly impressive.

If you find yourself getting bored with repeating the same-old adjustments – ACDSee Presets makes it easy to create and recall your favorite settings.

Ergonomics is a strong point for ACDSee Ultimate – right down to the little things such as being able to return an adjustment to its default position with a mouse right-click.

Opportunities for Improvement

Bouncing between the four tabs in the Develop tab can grind a little – especially if you have hundreds of photos to process. Therefore it would be advantageous to have single Capture One Pro-style custom tab to which you can allocate your favourite tools.

Although Face Detection works well to ease the process of retrieving your favourite photos, it can be invasive if you need to work at a faster pace.

HDR is new to ACDSee and sadly it shows. If HDR is important to you, you could supplement ACDSee with an affordable HDR tool like Affinity Photo.


ACDSee Ultimate is much cheaper than Capture One Pro and Adobe’s Lightroom. Both of these applications have their strengths but not to the extent where the price difference will feel justified to many. Buy ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate

Corel’s Paintshop Pro (see review) is an application similar in scope but fails to execute its potential due to a poor, laggy interface.

If you are looking for a lot for nothing, you can also have a look at these best free photo editing apps for Windows 10.

Final Word

I consider ACDSee Photo Studio the people’s champion. It caters to the needs of the casual user whilst having more than enough to satisfy advanced users.

Its friendly interface is outstanding for managing photos and the Develop tools could hardly be easier to use. If you have never edited raw files before – ACDSee Ultimate is a great place to start.

Have you tried ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate, what’s your favourite Photo App, and what would you like to see reviewed next?

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4 thoughts on “ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 Review”

  1. Thank you! Content insightful as ever. After months of analysis, I commit my workflow to ACDsee. It has everything! It’s got all!
    But I don’t want to start the monthly subscription mainly by moving from Lr / PS. Adobe makes sense for a pro, for what we get is not a lot of costs.

    1. I consider them very different products. Photoshop is far more extensive and is outstanding for merging photography with graphic design but is absolute overkill if you just want to tune your raw/jpeg files. On the other hand, ACDSee is simpler, cheaper, and is excellent for tuning raw files, and is capable of basic graphic design. But if you want pro-grade graphic design and advanced layer functionality, it’s Photoshop.

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