Ashampoo Photo Commander 11 review

This photo-editing software piles on the features in a pleasant interface, but falls short in some important ways.
Photo of Ashampoo Photo Commander 11

For a company not a lot of people stateside have even heard of, Ashampoo certainly has its fingers in a lot of software pies. The German firm sells antivirus, all kinds of system utilities, screen capture (Snap), audio- and video-editing software, CAD…they even have an Office Suite! Photo Commander 11 ($49.99 direct) is the firm’s entry in pro-sumer level photo editing software, but can it hold its head up against giants like Adobe and CyberLink and specialists like DxO Labs? Let’s find out.

Installation, Setup, Signup
Ashampoo Photo Commander is available for Windows from XP through Windows 8.1 in both 32-bit and 64-bit options from Vista on. You can download a free full-function trial version that works for 40 days if you supply an email address. The installation wizard has you agree to an unseen user license, and then choose a folder destination, shortcut option, and auto updating. You can associate the program for all file types it handles (including video), just images, or nothing at all. You can also choose one of the 32 supported languages, from Arabic to Chinese to Turkish.

Interface
The interface of this application is mostly appealingly designed on the surface, though longer use shows some illogicalities and clutter. On first run, Photo Commander launches a wizard that takes you through its major features—much better than just dumping you into the interface and leaving you to your own devices. I also like how the program is populated with sample photos so that you’re not left in an empty interface. The standard folder tree graces a left panel, but you can choose other layouts—a filmstrip or the Photo-Edit layout, which gives more space to the image preview window. At the right are thumbnails of any media found in the selected folder on the left, grouped by date.

Five modes were at my disposal via large buttons near the top of the program window: Common, Quck-Fix, Objects, Create, and Organize. The latter offers batch processing for rotation, exposure and color, resizing, and file type, but not for applying presets—even auto optimize. The program window still keeps the standard Windows File, Edit, View menus above the mode choices, which can make for a bit of clutter, but it does mean you always have access to every one of the application’s features.

In Quick-Fix mode, pleasingly designed icons for frequently needed functions like photo rotation, zooming in and out, sharing and file info. Double-clicking gives the photo most of the screen, removing the sidebars—a nice touch. I also liked how you could zoom in and out using the mouse wheel without a control key. The full-screen button brings a true full-screen view of your image, but moving the cursor up to the top or bottom edge reveals latent control buttons.

Import and Organize
The program has no import function per se: You simple navigate to the folders where your images lay and open them. The program had no trouble opening raw camera files from Canon and Sony DSLRs, though it wasn’t very quick in doing so, and the white balance looked a bit off (though the program lets you adjust this). For quicker photo loading, look to ACDSee. Below the image preview appears useful info like F-stop, shutter speed, ISO, filename, a histogram, and more. Drag this area’s boundary up to make it bigger and you can access the full EXIF set.

Just below the image and above the preceding are blue buttons for adding a title and tags, and there’s also a star rating selector here. Comparison views let you split the window to show your current edit versus the previous one or versus the original—nice.

Though program doesn’t import your photos, it does keep your originals, only making copies (oddly defaulting to JNG format) after you’re done editing. It would also be nice, though, if there were a “save snapshot” type button, which would let you save a copy at any point in the editing process. There’s also no history panel, which would let you step back to any point in the editing process, in case you go too far with corrections.

Basic Editing
The first thing to try when you load a photo into Photo Commander is its Optimize button. This offers several choices, from full—including color, contrast, and more—to separate optimizations for each of these. The full optimization did a nice job mostly, adding contrast to washed-out images, without removing detail from dark areas. But like any of these tools, it isn’t going to improve every image, and it doesn’t seem that Ashampoo has optimized corrections for thousands of human-analyzed photo types the way Adobe does for Lightroom.

To go a step further and tweak lighting and colors you tap the Contrast/Colors button which opens a dual pane before-after view spanning the width of the screen, below which you’ll find nine sliders for color and lighting controls, a tone curve, histogram. One slider control I don’t usually see in photo software is gamma; this did a nice job of darkening or brightening a photo without removing detail. If none of this is enough, the program lets you adjust tone curves, a la Photoshop, for a custom lighting look.

There’s button that looks like a “refresh” button, but it actually reverts your image back to its unedited state.

The cropping tool is nicely implemented, with lots of resize presets; the same holds true for the Resize feature. You can also adjust the leveling of your photo with a tool that superimposes a grid, but don’t expect automatic leveling like you get with Adobe applications.

Fancy Photo Work
Ashampoo Photo Commander, like lots of photo software these days, includes some canned Instagram-like effects. Available from the effects dropdown button, these range from blur and sharpen to color intensifiers to Photoshop-like effects such as emboss and solarize. One thing I missed was a single-shot HDR effect, like the one in CyberLink PhotoDirector.

An interesting capability not found in every editor is a pen for applying effects to specific areas on an image. Lightroom 5 offers similar local adjustment options, but not for effects like oilpaint or wood carving.

Other options in Quick-Fix include an effective red-eye fix (both “automatic” and manual, but the automatic requires you to outline the eye); a clone tool that lets you replace objects in the photo by blending in texture selected elsewhere in the photo; an eraser, a floodfill tool for solids; a focus effect tool to simulate bokeh; a “tilt-shift” effect that can make a scene look miniaturized (which was harder to use than in other apps); and a scratch correction tool.

The program offers three levels of de-noising—fast, slow, and very slow. These last two really live up to their names, but still don’t provide de-noising on par with what you get from DxO Optics Pro and Adobe Lightroom.

A couple of correction types I didn’t find in the program were those for chromatic aberration, lens geometry, and vignetting, but those are probably only to be expected in professional level software.

Objects and Text
Beyond photo adjustments and edits, Photo Commander offers some Photoshop-like drawing tools and text overlays. These are gotten to via the Objects mode, which places a toolbar for shapes, text, bitmaps of your choice, and more. Text options are plentiful, with shadowing, gradients, reflection, and other effects available; but it’s not WYSIWYG—you have to add text in a separate dialog box. You can move objects up and back a layer, but I didn’t see an actual layer view.

The Create mode is mostly about output options (see the next section), but it does let you merge two photos, create panoramas, and apply cutesy frames. The first option has you choose a background and foreground image that will have some transparency that’s unfortunately not adjustable. I couldn’t get the panorama feature to work effectively: It just placed images next to each other! You’re much better off with the panorama feature in the free Windows Photo Gallery program.

Sharing, Printing, Output
Once you’re done mucking around with the actual appearance of your images, Photo Commander offers a wealth of output options spread out between the Common, Create, and Organize modes. In Create mode, you’ll find slideshows, HTML albums, calendars, collages, cards, contact sheets. This mode also lets you output to PDF, animated GIFs, TIF, and multipage DCX formats.

In Common mode, you can save to many common file formats, print, and share via email and Facebook, but not to Flickr, as you can in Lightroom, Aperture, DxO Optics Pro, and just about every other desktop photo editor I’ve tested.

The program offers a generous selection of print layouts in Easy, classic, thumbnail, and batch modes, but pro photogs will miss Lightroom’s soft proofing capability.

Commanding Photos?
I’m on the edge about how strongly to recommend Ashampoo Photo Commander. On the one hand, it gives you a lot of photo editing tools for a fairly low price. It costs half of what you pay for Adobe Photoshop Elements, but that app includes a much more powerful set of editing tools. Pro photographers will probably want to steer clear of Photo Commander, since its raw conversion isn’t up to what you get in Lightroom or DxO Optics Pro, the lack of chromatic aberration correction and inferior noise reduction; it’s also noticeably slower than most of the competition, and actually stopped responding a couple of times during testing.

If the program has the features you need—it certainly boasts a lot of them, and you can find this out for yourself with its free trial version—you’ll likely be satisfied with its pleasant interface. If it’s between Photo Commander and Photoshop, and the former has all the tools you need, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. But don’t fail to check out the cheaper ACDSee and the free Windows Live Photo Gallery for an even better bargain.

Specifications
Tech Support FAQ, Forum.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
Type Business, Personal, Professional

Verdict
This photo-editing software piles on the features in a pleasant interface, but falls short in some important ways.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc