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ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 Review

ACDSee Ultimate 2021 Review

With its world-class photo management, non-destructive layer-based photo editing, and bargain price; ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 remains one of the best all-in-one photo studios on the market today.

Having personally used ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate for the last 3 years, I know how good it is. But is ACDSee Ultimate 2021 for you and is it worth buying if you already own older versions of Ultimate or Professional? Jump to Conclusion

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On Sale: US$149.99. Now $99.99

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Table of Contents

1. What is ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 is an all-in-one photo studio combining efficient photo management with powerful, non-destructive layer-based photo editing.

Of all three ACDSee Photo Studios, ACDSee Ultimate 2021 is the most advanced and the only ACDSee Studio to feature layer-based photo editing.

If you are only interested in photo management, ACDSee Home 2021 is much cheaper and just as good as Ultimate. However, ACDSee Home is severely limited in terms of photo editing.

In contrast, ACDSee Professional 2021 features photo management and the same photo developing capabilities as ACDSee Ultimate 2021. As a result, ACDSee Professional represents great value for photographers.

Yet, only ACDSee Ultimate will allow you to add adjustment, text, and vector layers. Not only does this provide additional headroom for creative effects, but it also makes ACDSee Ultimate a viable option for a little graphic design.

2. What can ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 do?

ACDSee Ultimate 2021 delivers face-detect photo management, photo editing, and a dash of HDR.

2.1. ACDSee Ultimate Photo Management

ACDSee’s Photo Studios are well known for excellent photo management and ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 is no exception. You can rate your photos, place them into categories of your making, or assign to them any number of keywords.

Browsing photos and adding keywords in the manage tab

And thanks to ACDSee Ultimate 2021’s Face Recognition system, you can sort your photos by those who appear in them.

Not only is ACDSee Ultimate 2021’s photo management system effective, but it’s also easy to use.

2.2. Reviewing Photos

In my opinion, ACDSee Ultimate’s lightning-fast View tab sets the standard for all others to follow. Thanks to its speed, responsiveness, and on-screen aids such as the magnifying glass and histogram, I can check a photo’s exposure, focus, and sharpness in mere moments.

Reviewing photos using the view tab

As a result, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 is my favorite photo management tool for reviewing large batches of photos. Furthermore, the View tab provides you another opportunity to add keywords, assign categories, and run face recognition.

2.3. ACDSee Photo Editing

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 features three tiers of editing. The most simple is the Actions Browser which offers one-click fixes and filters.

If you prefer to get hands-on, ACDSee Utimate’s Develop tab delivers comprehensive raw editing. Alternatively, head over to the Edit tab for layer-based photo editing and graphic design.

Actions Browser

With the actions browser, you can browse ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021’s catalog of filters and apply them to single or multiple photos. The Actions browser offers plenty of filters and is very simple to use.

If you think your needs will be met by Actions alone, you should save some money and buy ACDSee Home instead.

Applying filters using the Actions Browser

Develop Tab

ACDSee Ultimate 2021’s Develop tab is ACDSee’s equivalent to Lightroom and Capture One Pro. Here, you can make your own adjustments to exposure, contrast, and color.

Playing with the new Color Wheel in the Develop tab.

As with many photo editors, you can save your adjustments as presets, thus creating your own library of filters. And thanks to ACDSee Ultimate’s new Preset tab, it’s never been easier to manage your presets or test their effect on your photo.

Also new to ACDSee Ultimate 2021 and Professional 2021 are the Color and Tone wheels. Both of these tools allow you to make highly targeted changes to specific colors and tones without masking.

Of course, you can still edit specific areas of your photo using traditional brushes and linear/radial gradient filters.

The new color wheel in action

Editing with Layers

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021’s Edit Tab is a lightweight equivalent to Adobe Photoshop. Instead of applying your adjustments directly to your photo, adjustments can be applied to layers stacked above the original photo.

Using layers and text in ACDSee’s Edit tab

As with Photoshop, you can alter the opacity and blend of each layer, changing the way it interacts with your other adjustments and creating unique compound effects.

And thanks to the inclusion of vector and text layers, ACDSee Ultimate 2021 is a viable option for casual graphic design.

You should note that Layer functionality is exclusive to ACDSee Ultimate. Neither ACDSee Home 2021 nor Professional feature Layer-based editing. Read Is ACDSee Ultimate worth it


Unfortunately, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021’s HDR has not improved since it first arrived in Ultimate 2020. In other words, it’s in needs work.

In fact, ACDSee’s HDR was producing such poor results that I assumed I must be doing something wrong. Therefore, to prove it wasn’t me, I ran the same photo stack through Affinity Photo and got good results.

To conclude, don’t buy ACDSee Ultimate for HDR.

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3. Is ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 good to use?

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 is excellent to use. It is responsive to commands and is quick to load photos.

3.1. Performance

Although ACDSee Ultimate Photo Studio 2020 was fast, Ultimate 2021 is faster still. For instance, ACDSee Ultimate 2020 tends to drag its feet when loading up a photo into the Develop tab. In contrast, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 loads photos almost instantaneously.

As mentioned earlier, the view tab deserves special praise. Not only can I move from one photo to the next with zero lag, but I can instantly zoom to 100% to check sharpness. As a result, ACDSee Ultimate is a great choice if you routinely QA large batches of photos.

Download ACDSee Ultimate 2022

On Sale: US$149.99. Now $99.99

3.2. Ergonomics

In general, ACDSee Ultimate’s ergonomics are very good. Let’s take a look at the useability of Ultimate’s tools, presets, and workspaces.


ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 is full of nice, thoughtful features. For instance, right-clicking on a slider returns it to its default position whilst other apps force you to recenter it manually.

Processed in ACDSee Ultimate 2021

And with targeted adjustments, altering color and brightness is as easy as placing and dragging your mouse on the area you wish to adjust. Thanks to the new color and tone wheels, you can manipulate the contrast, saturation, and brightness of a specified color range without the need to mask.


After you have finished processing an image, you can save your adjustments as presets for redeployment to future edits. Alternatively, you can create ‘micro’ presets for singular settings such as tone curves, noise reduction, and white balance.

By saving your most common adjustments, you can reapply your previous efforts to future photos (single photos and batches) saving a huge amount of time in the process.

And thanks to ACDSee Ultimate’s new Preset tab, navigating and testing your presets effect has never been easier or faster.


The workspace in ACDSee Ultimate 2021 is well thought out, with photo management and photo editing divided into different tabs.

Furthermore, you can choose what information you see on each tab. Information is presented on Panes and includes a histogram, a magnifying glass, and photo management information.

If you activate a Pane, you can either let it float or pin it to the left, right, or bottom of the screen.

Ultimate 2021 feature a few new Panes. The Presets Pane makes it easier to browse, preview, and commit your presets. Whereas the history Pane makes it easier to save snapshots and backtrack through your previous adjustments to an earlier iteration of your image.

However, the Develop Tools tab remains a bit of a grind as editing a photo still requires you to bounce between tune, detail, geometry, and repair tabs.

To be fair to ACDSee, this approach is commonplace amongst photo editors. Yet Capture One Pro allows you to create a custom tab and stock it with all your favorite tools eliminating the need to go looking for them.

As a result, there’s less mouse mileage and editing is quicker.

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4. Is ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 good for beginners?

Relative to other photo editors, ACDSee Photo Studio is reasonably simple to use. Of course, if you only want to apply filters and presets, you can get far simpler photo editors for free. Read Best Free Photo Apps for PC.

However, you can find an ideal middle ground in Luminar AI and Luminar Neo as both are extremely powerful yet easy to use. Unfortunately, neither features decent photo management, but you could consider using ACDSee Home for management and Luminar for editing.

5. How much does ACDSee Ultimate Cost

Download ACDSee Ultimate 2022

On Sale: US$149.99. Now $99.99

Although ACDSee Ultimate is not a free photo editor, it offers the best value of all all-in-one photo studios except ACDSee Professional.

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ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 remains one of the best-value photo editors on the market today. With ACDSee Ultimate, you get Face Recognition-powered photo management and a photo editor on par with more expensive rivals such as Capture One Pro.

Even if all prices were equal, it would be easy to recommend ACDSee Ultimate 2021. However, Ultimate costs much less than either Capture One Pro or Lightroom making it somewhat of a steal.

However, owners of ACDSee Ultimate or Professional 2020 should pause for thought. Whilst Ultimate 2021 is superior to either; the differences may not be quite enough to justify the cost.

But if you are on Ultimate 2019 or older, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021 is a giant step forward. Not only will you get the latest features found in 2021, but all the features introduced in 2020, including Face Recognition.

Although I have tried many different editors, I have stuck with ACDSee for more than 4 years because it does so much, so well, for so little. Therefore, I absolutely recommend Ultimate 2021 for beginners and experts alike. Return to Introduction.

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Download ACDSee Ultimate 2022

On Sale: US$149.99. Now $99.99

My Affiliation with ACDSee

If you buy ACDSee Photo Studio via Silent Peak, I may earn a small commission. For my part, I’ve been buying and recommending ACDSee products long before I became an affiliate so my recommendation is entirely genuine.

Besides, with so many great products out there, there’s little reason to burn my integrity and recommend a bad one.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is ACDSee any good?

ACDSee is excellent value. Having used photo editors such as Capture One Pro and Luminar AI, ACDSee Ultimate remains my photo editor of choice.

Is ACDSee Ultimate free?

Although ACDSee Ultimate is not free, it is one of the best value all-in-one photo studios on the market today.

What is ACDSee Ultimate

ACDSee Ultimate is an all-in-one photo studio incorporating photo management, photo processing, and photo editing. Ultimate is available for Windows PC as a one-of-purchase or as part of a monthly subscription.

What’s the difference between ACDSee Ultimate and ACDSee Home

ACDSee Home is cheaper and mostly limited to photo management although it does have the actions browser for applying filters to your photos. On the other hand, ACDSee Ultimate includes photo management, raw processing and non-destructive, layer-based photo editing.

ACDSee vs Luminar

Both are very different. Beginners will appreciate Luminar’s effortless approach to photo editing and its block-buster AI effects. However, ACDSee offers superior photo editing if you’re willing to apply the adjustments yourself. Personally, I use both.

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