What is processing software

Photo software - the 10 best photo editing programs 2021 in comparison

Regardless of whether layer composing or high-precision retouching - a full-fledged image processing program is required here. We have tested ten photo software, some of which have been promising the perfect picture for decades. Surprised: This time two candidates share the winners' podium.

Photo software Adobe Photoshop, Skylum Luminar & Co. in the test

Already 30 years are PaintShop Pro and Photoshop on the home computer. Gimp celebrated 25th anniversary and Photoshop Elements turns 20 young.

The possibilities that were sensational at the time are now at most worth a side note in the toolbar. The further development in terms of image optimization is unstoppable. The next big stage of development is now artificial intelligence and machine learning.

What is already possible now shows Photoshop with his neural filters based on the Portrait correction. Instead of just delivering smooth skin, the neural filter can even Change facial features - not always perfect, but surprisingly realistic. All of this is calculated online via the cloud.

But that too brand new Luminar AI relies on artificial intelligence, anchored in the name. Photo corrections are reduced to simple sliders, the rest is done by the “machine”, which automatically recognizes objects and motifs.

Classic image processing: which program is convincing?

Of course, one also has to say that the advanced tools are a support for complex projects and composings.

Nevertheless, craftsmanship and know-how are still in demand here, and of course the good idea itself. In our comparison test of ten current image processing programs, we bid here Photoshop, Pixelmator, Affinity Photo and PaintShop Pro the most extensive tools and possibilities.

Also Gimp provides neat tools, but the operation takes some getting used to and a lot of specialist knowledge is required. If you don't go all the way into the depths, there are also Luminar AI or the Cyberlink PhotoDirector Worth a look.

Attention: Differences in the RAW editor

Just Pixelmator, Photoshop, Luminar and the PhotoDirector deliver a really good one RAW editor With. With all other candidates in the test, you only get basic equipment, which technically sometimes lags years behind.

Conclusion: the best photo software in 2021

Not surprisingly Photoshop CC at the forefront of classic photo editing - however, the top dog has to take the first place Pixelmator share. The software - unfortunately only available for Mac - not only offers the most beautiful user interface, but also shines with great tools, intuitive operation and a top price-performance ratio.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2021

Adobe | www.adobe.de | Windows / macOS | 12 € / month

Pros & Cons

+ Most versatile processing options

+ RAW photo editing

+ Selection tools

+ iPad app

- No photo management

- Only available with a subscription

Overall rating: SUPER, 5/5 stars

► Here you can test Adobe Photoshop for 7 days free of charge

Adobe Photoshop has been synonymous with photo editing for decades, the tools are mature and the benchmark by which competitors have to measure themselves.

This year the image processing is stepping up and brings an almost fully automatic selection tool, neural filters and with it Sky Select the possibility of the Swap sky in the photo.

The latter, however, was already included Syklum Luminar seen several months ago. In the case of some complex functions, Photoshop automatically loads the motif in the background to Adobe, where it is quickly edited and saved. It's amazing how, for example, portrait retouching is about to start a small revolution with a slider and just a few clicks.

Here not only the skin is smoothed, but also age and facial expression are adjusted. The new object selection is not only a real help for professionals - even complex motifs are simply marked by selecting a rectangle, the software does the rest.

In the test of our image processing programs, this function was completely convincing and saves a lot of time and effort in practice. Just as practical and new is the option of automatically storing any number of versions of your projects in the cloud.

A access is on it up to 30 days long possible.

This is a greatly expanded undo log that is no longer emptied after the file is closed, but remains permanently. But it is also clear: Without web access and cloud connection, the Adobe Photoshop actually nothing more.

If you wish, you can also work seamlessly with the Photoshop app on your smartphone or tablet - however, this mobile version cannot yet be compared with the desktop version in terms of functionality; the functionality is currently limited to basic tools.

Overall is and remains Adobe Photohop CC 2021 the standard for ambitious photo editing and is a subscription with around 12 euros per month and in combination with Lightroom by no means overpriced. It is gratifying that Adobe is also continuing to pave the way for professional editing for Photoshop newbies with tool tips and explanations.

► Here you can test Adobe Photoshop 2021 free of charge for seven days

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021

Adobe | www.adobe.de | Windows / macOS | 97 € (RRP)

Pros & Cons

+ Good photo organizer

+ Helpful creative assistants

+ Creative project for social media

- Outdated user interface

- Back-up and import function obsolete

- Resource-intensive image analysis

Overall rating: GOOD, 4/5 stars

► Order Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 directly from the manufacturer

For years, Adobe has been following the development of the Hobby photo editing Adobe Photoshop Elements Furthermore, innovations are at most packaged and integrated in wizards.

The "real" image processing is therefore almost unchanged in the current version - visually and functionally: The operating elements no longer correspond to today's standards and functions such as photo backup or import have been good since 8 years at all no longer updated.

Thus, for example, importing photos directly from the iPhone under Windows is feasible, but extremely confusing. Even the most innovative one years ago Photo organizer Photo management is getting on in years and blocks a lot of system resources for image analysis under macOS.

In matters Assistants Elements remains true to itself, however, and so there is also in Version 2021 from that several new ones of which: The function of replacing the sky and optimizing landscape shots worked well in the test, but is just a tired and imitation of the powerful Photoshop CC tool.

Well however, they are made Instructions and Step-by-step explanationsthat make every assistant and every project understandable, even for beginners. For creative gimmicks, new templates are available in Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021, which are primarily aimed at social media posts.

Overall, the formerly "little Photoshop" left a mixed impression in the test of our photo editing programs and is only suitable for occasional photo retouching.

In addition, there is the comparatively high purchase price of almost 100 euros - the much more powerful duoLightroom and Photoshop"Is only available as a subscription, costs but calculated on the year only 45 euros more. Here it remains to be considered whether reaching for the professional package is not more worthwhile, even if one does not exploit the full potential.

► Order Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 directly from the manufacturer

Serif Affinity Photo 1.8.5

Serif | www.serif.com | Windows / macOS | 60 € (RRP)

Pros & Cons

+ Lots of editing functions

+ Great clipping tools

+ Easy switch from e.g. Photoshop

+ Cheap price

- RAW editor only with basic functions

- Few automatic functions

Overall rating: VERY GOOD, 4.5 / 5 stars

► This takes you directly to the Affinity Photo software

Serif has been able to stir up the market with Affinity Photo in recent years. In addition to the positioning as a Photoshop replacement, the low price without a subscription and almost 1: 1 identical key combinations certainly plays another role that the software is extremely popular with ambitious photographers.

In fact, photo editing is well positioned in many areas and has all the tools on board to create even complex photo montages or detail corrections: layer masks, layers, selection tools and retouching brushes leave little to be desired.

The RAW editor, on the other hand, would benefit from more functions and better results - here you quickly reach the limits of the possibilities, there are simply too few detailed setting options.

Despite the division into different areas of responsibility, those who switch can quickly get along with Affinity Photo. The so-called personas contain suitable tools for all tasks. Beginners, on the other hand, have a harder time, as there is hardly any help or assistant available in the program itself.

If you look back on the past few years, Affinity Photo got off to a strong start, but you are looking in vain for any real innovations in the latest updates or in this version. It is to be hoped that you will feel the vigor of the first updates again in the future.

For a purchase price of around 60 euros, you can always get a solid photo editing that also meets semi-professional requirements.

► This takes you directly to the Affinity Photo software

Ashampoo Photo Commander 16.2

Ashampoo | www.ashampoo.com | Windows | 50 €

Pros & Cons

+ Good photo management

+ Lots of creative options

+ Clear photo information

- It is difficult to make detailed corrections

- Without level function

- RAW editor only with basic functions

Overall rating: GOOD, 4/5 stars

► Here you get directly to Photo Commander 16 from Ashampoo

Photo editing starts at Ashampoo Photo Commander in the image management. This is well done, provides quick preview images and offers all the detailed information of the EXIF ​​data with a click, i.e. values ​​such as exposure time, camera and lens used and much more.

Ultimately, the operation is based on a file browser, preview images are created very quickly, even with RAW motifs. The optimization of the photos relies on classic correction tools and is housed in a separate area.

The color correction is based on a mixture of slider and gradation curve, which delivers good results despite the lack of automatic. It is a pity that the repair tool does not work adequately when removing objects and that a layer function is completely missing.

On the other hand, the output wizards are good for quickly creating a photo collage or calendar of your choice. There are many creative possibilities here. Ashampoo Photo Commander 16 is recommended for beginners who want to get started quickly and easily and who are primarily interested in the results such as cards, invitations or collages.

Not least because of the purchase price of 50 euros, the photo editing available for Windows can set accents here. However, ambitious photographers reach their limit too quickly with this software.

► This takes you directly to Photo Commander 16 from Ashampoo

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021

Corel | www.paintshoppro.com | Windows | 70 €

Pros & Cons

+ High program speed

+ With photography work area

+ Lots of editing tools

+ Good layer and mask function

- Disappointing RAW editor

- Confusing menu structure

Overall rating: VERY GOOD, 4.5 / 5 stars

► Here you can go directly to the photo software PaintShop Pro 2021

Corel PaintShop Pro has been around for over 30 years. At that time, photo editing came up with almost sensational functions and was even available as so-called shareware.

When opening a RAW file with the current version 2021, you technically feel like you have been transported back into these times. The RAW editor only offers basic functionality and delivered disappointing results in our test with sometimes extremely falsified colors.

After all, current RAW formats are easily supported and read out.

On the other hand, the new, very clear photo area for photo optimization with extras for Underwater and Drone motifs. In the somewhat hidden full editing, the tools for retouching, composing and color adjustments are convincing.

The level function is fully developed and offers extensive options, the learning studio offers extensive assistance for beginners. Sometimes you would want a little more structure in the menus - these seem simply overloaded due to the numerous options, the sorting of the individual tools does not always seem logical.

Corel PaintShop Pro is a good choice for ambitious beginners with quite successful functionality, if you can do without RAW correction. In terms of price, the software is in the mid-range with a purchase price of 70 euros and is only available for Windows.

For 20 Euros there is more PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate in the package with Painter Essentials 7, an extended creative package and the unfortunately now completely outdated RAW editor AfterShot HDR 3.

► Here you can go directly to the photo software PaintShop Pro 2021

CyberLink PhotoDirector 365

CyberLink | www.cyberlink.com | Windows / macOS | 55 € / year or 99 € one-time (RRP)

Pros & Cons

+ Versatile RAW editing

+ AI photo effects

+ Guided corrections

+ Good photo management

- Illogical tool sorting

- High price of the purchase version

Overall rating: VERY GOOD, 4.5 / 5 stars

► This takes you directly to the PhotoDirector 365 photo software from CyberLink

Why the Cyberlink PhotoDirector 365 the toolbar has to be placed on the right side of the screen, remains a mystery for the manufacturer.

The operation, which is based on the usual competitors in photo editing, is less puzzling. What is unusual, however, is that many classic tools such as the repair tool are sorted under the “Guided Tools” icon and run in a separate window.

Here you will also find the right helpers for smooth skin or content-sensitive deletion of image elements. Thanks to this division of tasks, even beginners will not be puzzled.

We like the upstream RAW editor with very good functionality and the sophisticated HDR function for bracketing and single images. The AI ​​styles are also successful in transforming a motif into individual works of art with well-known and popular painting styles - creative “gamblers” get their money's worth here. A well-designed file browser is available for the photo management itself.

It is a shame that the purchase version, at around 100 euros, is at the top of the DigitalPHOTO image processing test. It is cheaper with the subscription variant, for which 55 euros per year are due.

► This takes you directly to the PhotoDirector 365 photo software from CyberLink

Gimp 2.1

Gimp Foundation | www.gimp.org | Windows | 25 € (RRP)

Pros & Cons

+ Free

+ Diverse tools

+ Precise detail corrections

- No automatic functions

- RAW editor only via RAWTherapee

- Slow speed

Overall rating: GOOD, 4/5 stars

► This takes you directly to Gimp

25 years old and only version 2.1? In fact, the free photo editor Gimp is meticulously "versioned" with decimal places and has been developed in parallel by committed programmers for decades for the macOS, Windows and Linux operating systems.

The user interface and controls appear familiar and the basic functions are quickly explored. If you put Gimp aside years ago because of the bulky user interface, you should definitely take a fresh look.

You will still look for assistants or intelligent functions in vain, Gimp is really a classic image processing system, but it offers countless setting options and detailed corrections. A beginner will therefore have to prepare for quite a learning curve in order to understand the operating principle and the many technical terms.

A RAW editor is not directly integrated, here you rely on the RAW Therapee tool, which is also available free of charge. This has to be installed separately and then takes over the previous conversion of all common RAW images with ease.

It's a shame that the performance in Gimp, for example with the clone brush, leaves a lot to be desired. If you can do without "bells and whistles" and want pure photo retouching, Gimp is the best choice, and since image editing is available free of charge, it is worth trying the tool.

Beginners should rather choose a different software, otherwise frustration is inevitable.

► This takes you directly to Gimp

Pixelmator Pro 2.0

Pixelmator | www.pixelmator.com | macOS | € 21.99

Pros & Cons

+ Stylish user interface

+ Lots of selection tools

+ Top price-performance ratio

+ With vector graphic functions

- Available for Mac only

- No direct CMYK processing

Overall rating: GOOD, 4/5 stars

► Here you can go directly to Pixelmator

Right self-confident describes itself Pixelmator as the "most beautiful image processing". We can only sign that in the test. The user interface is extremely clear and simply beautiful.

In addition, the extensive editing tools meet professional standards, but are also very intuitive to use. Regardless of whether it is retouching or a layer function: Despite the different operating concept, you immediately feel at home even when switching from other software.

The selection tool follows a principle that is as unusual as it is practical and delivers excellent results with minimal effort in the photo editing test. The RAW processing is simply integrated as an additional tool and offers fantastic correction options, all common RAW formats are supported.

Pixelmator also dares to move towards graphics software with its tools for vector paths and shapes. The software is also well-suited for small graphic projects; similar functionality can only be found in our comparison of image editing programs in Adobe Photoshop CC 2021.

Pitythat the beauty and excellent functionality of Pixelmator Pro 2.0 is reserved for Mac users, a Windows version is not available.

The image processing is ideal for beginners as well as professionals and with a price of a little over 20 euros it is also the cheapest software in the test.

► Here you can go directly to Pixelmator

Skylum Luminar AI

Skylum | www.skylum.com | Windows / macOS | 99 € (RRP)

Pros & Cons

+ Good photo management

+ Great AI features

+ Perfect sky exchange

+ Intuitive operating concept

- No layer editing

- Pretty high price

Overall rating: GOOD, 4.5 / 5 stars

► Here you can go directly to Luminar AI

Skylum Luminar AI is not a new version of Luminar 4, but is offered separately.

However, the roots are unmistakable and the overlap of the functions is enormous. The focus of this software is clearly on intelligent image processing. The optimization and correction is actually highly intuitive and delivers very good results without much experimentation.

Luminar AI does not offer any levels, but many corrections can be partially transferred without any effort. The retouch brush as well as the clone tool work very well. A highlight is the correction for photos of people - here common beauty problems are corrected and body contours are adjusted.

However, changes that are too strong are no longer as natural as a result.

With Heaven AI you swap the sky with a click - and here Skylum Luminar AI beats the competition, respectively Adobe Photoshop, by far in terms of quality. You can not only use the sky stored in the photo software, you can also upload your own images.

The adjustment in terms of color and brightness to the rest of the motif is either fully automatic or, if desired, with numerous options using a slider.

The placement of objects, which is also available in this context, should rather be rated as a gimmick - in a library, for example, migratory birds or the moon are available, which can then also be integrated into the horizon in an astonishingly realistic manner with a click.

Luminar AI clearly shows the competition where the journey is headed in terms of photo editing, even if the differentiation to Syklum Luminar 4 is not quite obvious.

This also includes the pricing, at almost 100 euros the software is not only at the upper limit in comparison, but also 30 euros more expensive than Syklum Luminar 4, which comes up with almost identical functionality.

► Here you can go directly to Luminar AI

Skylum Luminar 4

Skylum | www.skylum.com | Windows / macOS | 67 € (RRP)

Pros & Cons

+ Operating concept

+ RAW correction

+ Sky exchange

+ Retouching tools

- Performance for complex work

- Not all functions of Luminar AI included

Overall rating: VERY GOOD, 4.5 / 5 stars

► This takes you directly to Luminar 4

♦ Save now: Buy Luminar 4 for only 39.99 euros

Luminar 4 is the "big brother" of Luminar AI and offers in large parts 1: 1 the same functionality. In other words, many corrections are intelligently done with just one slider. However, you can go into more detail with Luminar 4.

This is ensured, among other things, by the sophisticated level processing and the option of partially applying each processing by masking. In practice, however, one misses an intelligent masking that at least recognizes contrasts.

Nevertheless, even the manual brush masks surprisingly well in the test and will be sufficient for most motifs. The retouching tools to remove image errors, as well as the many creative options, are without blame. The tools for RAW post-processing offer everything a photographer's heart desires.

The very simple photo management can be used on request, but is not absolutely necessary - individual images can be loaded and edited without any problems. At the end, however, there is always a photo export, as the photo software nondestructively saves the corrections outside of the image.

Overall, Luminar 4 is the more professional tool compared to AI, but several practical functions from Luminar AI are missing. Overall, the Luminar operating concept is ideal for both beginners and professionals - without any technical jargon, but strictly task-oriented and with time-saving, excellent automatic functions.

► This takes you directly to Luminar 4

♦ Save now: Buy Luminar 4 for only 39.99 euros

RAW converter or image editing program?

Our test candidates are more or less classic image processing programs. In other words, you edit a photo and perfect it, create elaborate composings or retouch down to the last detail.

The programs are usually not intended for processing large amounts of images. However, almost all applications have an integrated RAW editor to import the camera raw data.

If you also want to use the full power of RAW and use it to quickly correct all of your vacation photos, you have to buy an additional RAW editor such as Lightroom, DxO Photo Lab or Luminar. We show you ten current RAW editors in comparison and present the pros and cons of the respective programs.

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