One of the best and most complete solutions to post-processing is somewhat of a well-kept secret. Zoner Photo Studio X is growing in popularity and it's easy to see why.
There has been an interesting expansion in post-production software in the last ten years or so, but that isn't necessarily because a wealth of new software has started to pop up. Rather, some new software has popped up and has people realizing that Adobe isn't the only name in town. Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS X) is a program I had heard of, but knew little about. The company, however, has been around since 1991, and they have learned a few things along. They were recently announced as the "best imaging software expert" from the TIPA association.
ZPS X is an editing suite, image library, digital asset manager, video editor, and so much more. In fact, it has so much going for it, I was surprised it wasn't more prevalent. That said, it has millions of users worldwide, and now I've had a chance to review it, it's easy to see why.
What Is Zoner Photo Studio X?
ZPS X aims to be an all-in-one solution, catering to any need a photographer might have. While it is certainly feature-rich, it isn't prescriptive with how you use it or the order of your workflow. It also boasts some features which if they aren't completely unique, are certainly uncommon. Let's start with an overview of some of the flagship features.
An Import System With a Twist
There are two areas that make loading your photos into ZPS X interesting. The first is that you can copy photos directly from your computer or camera and it will create folders for the images, and can automatically sort them, rename them, location tag them, and back them up. The second and arguably more interesting feature of the import system is the "twist": you don't have to import your photographs into a catalog as you do with Lightroom, for example. This can be both a huge time saver and a hard drive space saver too.
Digital Asset Management
The management and organization of your photos are paramount to the success of this type of software, particularly one that is striving to be a complete solution. ZPS X has a lot of impressive features in this regard. Along with the basic sorting, keyword searching, and metadata support, it also offers a map view of your images, batch metadata edits (for example timezone shifts or daylight savings time alterations), and tracklogs from your trips. With GPS and location data almost a staple of modern cameras, this sort of functionality will become a basic feature for every software of this type sooner or later and ZPS X is ahead of the curve.
Quickly and Simply Create Videos
This is another simple and rather obvious feature that just isn't that common. ZPS X has a built-in video editing section to the Create module. While it isn't the deepest of video editors, it isn't trying to be either. ZPS X clearly wanted to make a straightforward tool that allows the user to compile clips with transition effects, text, and audio. The export options are more impressive, however, with everything from 640 x 480 to 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) and then a choice of framerate from 15 to 60 fps.
Powerful Color Grading Tools
The Color Shift tool in the Develop module is complex enough for almost any color grading or color editing use you might have. The Basic section covers most of what you will be used to with hue, saturation, and luminance, but the Advanced section is where it comes into its own. There is a visual representation of 9 colors that can then be tweaked to within an inch of their lives. You can also use an eyedropper to pick a certain tone in your image to fine-tune it, as well as adding masks to your colorwork to localize adjustments.
As great as the Color Shift tool is, I haven't seen ZPS X promote the other supplementary color control options in the module. For example, there is also Split Toning and Tone Curve. Though these are pretty standard in editing suites now, the combination of all the color grading utility is thoroughly impressive.
A Retouching Module To Keep You in Just One Piece of Software
As you might expect from software that aims to be a complete solution to post-production, there is a built-in module that allows you to do more detailed and intricate editing. If you imagine that you have imported your image to Lightroom, edited the raw file, and then exported it, you will likely open it in Photoshop after. The Editor module is the second leg of that process, except you don't need to leave ZPS X. There's no doubt this speeds up your workflow, but my worry was that it wouldn't be able to hold a candle to the industry-standard software; it can. In fact, it had features I didn't expect it to, like face detection and automated liquify of facial features. The list of adjustments you can apply is so long you have to scroll to get to the bottom and I couldn't spot anything missing that I would ever use or have ever used.
The problem with software is it is rarely cheap, particularly if it's good. Don't get me wrong, it pays its way if you use it enough, but it's still an expense that can be hard to justify if you're starting out. For example, Adobe's Photography Package, which includes Lightroom and Photoshop is $9.99 per month, or $119.88 per year. ZPS is $4.99 per month, or $49 per year — a significant saving. You then need to factor in that you also get the physical product tools, the video creation module, and myriad features that come in the all-in-one package. It isn't a like-for-like comparison because that's not really possible, but if you wanted to cover most of what ZPS X can do, but with Adobe products, you're looking at between $30 and $52.99 per month, which will end up around 10x the ZPS X price per year.
Overall, it's an interesting a well fleshed out piece of software. I have focused on what I believe to be some of the real highlights, but there are lots of smaller features that are being developed, like their Create module which is a work in progress currently. It will allow the creation of physical products from inside the client; another job you don't need to leave ZPS X to complete.
In terms of bang for your buck, you'd be hard-pressed to find better than ZPS X and I can see it fitting a lot of photographers very well indeed.
What I Liked
- Great color grading tools
- Effective HDR panel in Develop Mode
- Unbeatable price
- Speeds up overall workflow
- Impressive Create module for physical products
- Strong digital asset manager
- You don't have to import photographs into a catalog.
What Could Be Improved
- Automatic image sorting into folders was hit and miss at times
- Realtime previews of changes are low quality until you let go which defeats the point of the preview
- Double-clicking on the actual slider doesn't reset it, but double-clicking on the name does
- Calendar view didn't work well for me despite the EXIF data showing the dates taken.