The only serious rival to Paint Shop Pro has had a major upgrade. Cliff Smith fires up the PC and takes a look

uleadPRICE: £60

*TYPE: Image Editing Suite

*SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Microsoft Windows 98 SE, 2000, Me, or XP, Intel Pentium III compatible or faster/ CD-ROM Drive/128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)/600 MB hard drive space

*Contact details: www.ulead.co.uk

If you?ve got a home computer, chances are that you?re one of the 95% who have a Windows PC. Despite the best efforts of Apple and the growing army of Linux fans, the Windows operating system is still the first choice for most computer users. One of the main reasons for this is the much wider choice of software available for Windows PC owners. When it comes to full-spec image-editing software, there is of course Adobe Photoshop, but that?s really expensive. For those on a tighter budget the second choice has usually been Jasc Paint Shop Pro, now in its ninth edition. However, there is a third choice often overlooked, which is cheaper than both but has just as many advanced features.

Ulead PhotoImpact is now in its tenth edition, and is powerful enough to be considered a serious rival to the two market leaders, despite costing less than half the price of Paint Shop Pro. The latest version has a huge list of improvements and enhancements, including features such as the Touch-up Brush, which does much the same as Photoshop?s Healing Brush, painting over minor blemishes in a photo with a selected background texture. It also now incorporates an improved Mask mode, again replicating the Quick Mask mode in Photoshop, allowing mask selections to be made using painting tools.

Not all of the features in PhotoImpact 10 are mere copies of Photoshop features. It has a vastly improved interface, including a new basic mode for simple, quick photo editing, and an improved tool menu with clearer icons and tool tips. Previous PhotoImpact features, such as its excellent text handling and red-eye removal tool, have been improved and enhanced.

Other new features include a digital camera import wizard to acquire photos with a single click, new autoprocess commands for automatically fixing common photo problems such as balance, contrast and white balance, an object extraction wizard for easier creation of montages and composite images, new artistic effects filters with an improved drag-and-drop interface. Making selections is now easier thanks to a new Multiple Node Editing function, which allows points on a selection path to be selectively adjusted. Once a selection has been made, a powerful Transform tool allows it to be adjusted to fit any size and position.

One unique function first seen in the previous version of PhotoImpact is the High Dynamic Range feature. Up to five bracketed exposures of the same scene can be automatically combined using auto-registration into one image which spans the entire exposure range of all five images. No longer do digital images have to suffer from less dynamic range than their film counterparts. There are many more new or enhanced features which space does not permit me to list.

There?s no doubt that PhotoImpact 10 is an extremely capable image editing tool. It?s not quite a match for Photoshop CS, but it is certainly superior in many ways to Photoshop Elements 3, and has several advantages over the latest version of Paint Shop Pro, not least the fact that it costs just £59.99, roughly half the cost of its rival. If you?re looking for a cheaper alternative to Photoshop, it could be just what you need.

SCORES:

PROS: Improved features, good price, easy interface

CONS: Not as powerful as some other packages

Features 16
Ease of use 18
Performance 18
Design 18
&Value 20

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