Zoner Photo Studio X (ZPS X) is an all-encompassing post-production suite and file management system that has been quietly growing into something truly impressive. In the latest update, ZPS X has seen some major user experience upgrades, making it faster and easier to use than ever before.
When I first was tasked with trying ZPS X, I hadn't heard of it. My first impression was decent with ZPS's primary draw being how affordable it was and still is: Adobe Photography subscription is $239.88 per year for Photoshop and Lightroom, whereas ZPS X is $59 per year and includes video editing.
However, in the past few years, it has visibly evolved, improving in all directions. In fact, the rate at which the software receives major updates and improvements is staggering and the scope of ZPS X has broadened far beyond the initial client I tried. Every Spring and Autumn, ZPS X receives a plethora of new features and optimization. There are also a selection of rather nice perks included with your subscription, such as free photo prints straight from the software, 20GB cloud storage, presets, a Zonerama Premium account, and so on.
There is an issue with continually adding features to software though, and it is twofold: complexity for new users and lower performance. It is impossible to layer on feature after feature and not see your software less beginner-friendly and more demanding for the computer running it, and ZPS has had to contend with both. The latest update attacks these with some clever tweaks, with one, in particular, having a profound impact. In fact, let's start there.
1. Harnessing the Power of GPU Acceleration
One route for increasing the speed of your editing workflow, from a software perspective, is to allow the user to harness their graphics card. Many of us — myself included — have powerful graphics cards for video work and other non-photographic uses. Enduring a sluggish Develop module that doesn't properly utilize your hardware is a tough pill to swallow, therefore. ZPS X was by no means sluggish, but I previously felt it could have been slightly quicker.
The latest update allows users to turn on GPU Acceleration which increases the speed of editing in the Develop module by up to 200%. That is, you could halve your editing time!
2. Optimized Performance for All Computers
The optimization portion of this update is not reserved for those looking to turbocharge their workflow with high-benching graphics cards though. The other side of the optimization coin is catering to those working on lower-end machines. The update has improved the client in two ways beyond just speed. Firstly, ZPS X now runs smoother without any loss in quality. Secondly, editing at the highest quality does not compromise the speed of the client.
3. 3D LUT for Color Grading Images
For those unfamiliar, LUTs or Look-Up Tables are akin to presets, often used in the filmmaking arena. They allow users to set and tweak the color and tone of images, but with an added layer of flexibility. This addition allows a completely new approach to presets for your photography and includes:
- Custom LUTs: Download and use any custom LUTs you like.
- Universal LUT Format Support: ZPS X is format-agnostic, offering support for all LUT formats.
- Adjustable Effect Intensity: Control the strength of your LUT effects with ease
4. Introducing the New Navigation Panel and Toolbar
ZPS X's new navigation panel and toolbar, available across all of its modules, improve the user experience significantly. All of your most used functions will be automatically to hand on the toolbar, but if that doesn't suit you, it's fully customizable anyway. You might be surprised how much time a carefully curated user interface can save you over the course of a year!
5. Enhanced Local Adjustments for Precision Editing
All adjustments can now be made locally, rather than blanket across the whole image. This includes all of the most popular adjustments in the Develop module, such as Radial Filter, Gradient Filter, and Filter Brush. There aren't many occasions where I want to make adjustments across a whole image, so this is a great change.
6. Set and Forget: Default Settings for Raw Files
We all know that repetitive adjustments can be tedious, particularly when you're editing many images from the same shoot. ZPS X now offers a solution by letting you set default adjustments from the Develop module for each camera you use. These defaults remain even if you reset other adjustments. This will be a particularly powerful option if you have a distinct style or always shoot similar styles.
Bonus Noteworthy Features:
- Speed Ramping for Videos: Control your video speed with keyframes.
- Simplified Keyframing: Select and alter multiple keyframes with ease.
- Never Lose Track With the Print Module: Moving projects between folders will no longer break access to the photo (this drives me mad in Lighroom!)
- Live Editing in Print Module: Real-time reflection of Develop module adjustments in ongoing projects.
- Natural Vignetting With Lights Protection: Achieve organic vignetting effects in the Develop module that takes into consideration the light in the frame.
- Granular Control With Curves Selection for Raw: You can now use linear curves when processing raw files.
In the 1960s, two car rental leaders in the U.S., Hertz and Avis, were having a public rivalry through advertising. Hertz was the market leader and Avis hired an ad agency to try something new. The agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, made advertising history with the bold tagline "When you're only No.2, you try harder." There were lots of variations of this over the next few years, but the "We Try Harder" ads, as they were known, were highly effective. Why am I mentioning this? It feels as if it's mirrored with Adobe and Zoner Photo Studio.
ZPS X is undoubtedly an impressive suite of editing and file management tools. It pitches itself as an alternative to Photoshop and Lightroom, and while that's always been true, it might have been a stretch to call them rivals. Now, I think it's a fair comment and given that ZPS X is a quarter of the price of the Adobe Photography subscription, second place is looking pretty competitive to me; they just try so much harder.