Yesterday Jasc made available a public beta of their latest generation of the excellent paint / photo package Paint Shop Pro. Version 7 sees a maturity of what has become a truly excellent and amazingly feature packed application. Of special interest to Digital Photographers should be some new features aimed directly at enhancing and correcting digital camera photographs. Watch out Photoshop 6....

This is a first look at just a few of the hundreds of features in Paint Shop Pro. The tools I've selected will be of most interest to Digital Photographers.. My recommendation, if you've got a PC download the beta version today (28.5 MB) and try some of these features out for yourself!!

From their own literature: Photo Features

  • Automatically adjust color, brightness, and saturation
  • Remove redeye with one-click - it works on all eye colors and even on animals!
  • Easily remove noise, scratches, dust, or specks
  • Bring out details without losing information with the Adjustable Histogram
  • Enhance video, scanned, or compressed images
  • Quickly improve crispness and impact

New Effects / Enhance Photo Menu

Under the Enhance Photo Menu we have several new features:

  • Automatic Color Balance
  • Automatic Contrast Enhancement
  • Automatic Saturation Enhancement
  • Deinterlace
  • JPEG Artifact Removal
  • Moiré Pattern Removal
  • Automatic Small Scratch Removal
  • Clarify
  • Fade Correct
  • Manual Color Correction
  • Redeye Removal

Below we've examined just a few of these new features. Original images reduced to 50% size for ease of download before being processed by PSP 7, dialog boxes also reduced to 50% size.

Menu: Effects / Enhance Photo / Automatic Color Balance

This new feature allows you to correct for slight colours casts (often a problem with digital cameras) or even correct for wrongly selected or wrongly calculated white balance. The slider bar allows selection between light colour 2500K (warmer than incandescent) and 9300K (very blue)... I found the Automatic "Remove color cast" to work extremely well, results below.

Original image, Nikon Coolpix 990
Image resized 50% (1024 x 768)
Image after "Remove color cast" option, strength of "30". Grey sky is now grey, white door indicates correct white.

Menu: Effects / Enhance Photo / Automatic Contrast Enhancement

This feature is a quick shortcut to a curves adjustment, it automatically alters the balance of the image to provide a more bold contrast (zingy) or a flater image (my personal preference). Samplse below show automatic contrast enhancement of both natural and flat.

Original image, Nikon Coolpix 990
Image resized 50% (1024 x 768)
Auto Contrast Enhancement: Neutral Bias, Normal Strength, Natural appearance.
Auto Contrast Enhancement: Neutral Bias, Normal Strength, Flat appearance.  

Menu: Effects / Enhance Photo / Automatic Saturation Enhancement

This feature has two rather interesting uses, one is to enhance colour (useful for natural looking Coolpix 990 images) and another to tone down colours to make them look more natural (Sony DSC-S70 is a perfect candidate). There's also a rather interesting "Skintones present" checkbox, haven't yet been able to tell the difference but I've provided a skintone example for reference.

Original image, Nikon Coolpix 990
Image resized 50% (1024 x 768)
Auto Saturation Enhancement: Bias: More colorful, Strength: Strong.
Original image, Sony DSC-S70
Image resized 50% (1024 x 768)
Auto Saturation Enhancement: Bias: Less colorful, Strength: Normal. Skintones present checked.

Menu: Effects / Enhance Photo / JPEG Artifact Removal

Original image, Nikon Coolpix 990
Image resized 50% (1024 x 768). Saved as a heavily compressed JPEG (just 104KB), detail cropped and blown up 200%

JPEG Artifact Removal run on heavily compressed JPEG, same detail cropped and blown up 200%. Impressive results.

Menu: Effects / Enhance Photo / Clarify

The Help menu describes Clarify as "Adds a crisp, focused look to an image so that objects stand out. Another Sharpen tool.", to my eyes it applies a contrast enhancing curve and a slight unsharpen mask.

Original image, Nikon Coolpix 990
Image resized 50% (1024 x 768)
Clarify: Strength effect 2.

Menu: Effects / Enhance Photo / Manual Color Correction

Manual Color Correction allows you to correct an image based on reference colors from built-in color charts, these range from grasses to metals and skintones. You simply select an area of the image then choose the reference colour and color wil be corrected based on the difference between the selected area and reference color. The color chart for skintones is shown above as an example.

Menu: Colors / Histogram Functions / Histogram Adjustment

I threw in the Histogram Adjustment just for interest, it allows the normal linear adjustment of low, mid and high tones as well as non-linear curves over the same image. Neat.

Menu: File / Preferences / Color Management

Yep, you heard it here first, PSP 7 now supports color profiles for both Monitor and Printer, you can set profiling to "Basic color management, specify how colors appear on your monitor and printer", or "Proofing, see colors on your monitor and/or printer as they would appear on another device". This is essential for serious work on Digital Images and a welcome addition to PSP 7.

Overall first impressions

Wow! I'm impressed. The enhancements seen in Paint Shop Pro 7 push it above Photoshop 5.5 for pure ease of use and number of features for digital photographers, lots of user interface tweaks make it a joy to use, it's fast and has lots and lots of neat touches which will keep you smiling... For every day digital photography correction it seems invaluable, my only comment would be.. check it out!!

Here's some other features I like in PSP 7:

  • GIF, JPEG & PNG Export Wizards (A bit like ImageReady's optimize side-by-side)
  • Load / Save Workspaces
  • Guides & Snap-to Guides (available in Photoshop for ages, but new to PSP)
  • Batch conversions (ages old, but still solid)
  • Large amount of configuration (preferences, toolbars, autosave settings)
  • Paste as.. almost anything (new images, new layer, transparency, vectors)
  • Vector lines as special layers (raster and vector layers kept separate)
  • Combine / Split to RGB, HSL & CMYK
  • Align & Distribution
  • Digital Camera support for downloading from Kodak cameras (though serial only :()
  • Lots more...

Still missing

  • Digital Camera EXIF header comprehension