Cliff Smith checks out the latest version of this premier PC image editor

jascPRICE: £99.99

*MINIMUM SPECIFICATION:300 MHz processor or faster, Microsoft Windows 98SE, 2000 (SP4), ME, XP, 256 MB of RAM, 500 MB of free hard drive space, 16-bit colour display adapter at 800×600 res, Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or later
*RECOMMENDED SPECIFICATION: 1.0 GHz processor or faster, Microsoft Windows XP, 512 MB of RAM, 500 MB of free hard drive space, 32-bit color display adapter at 1024×768 res, Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or later

Raw file support
*Canon 300D, D30, D60, 10D, 1D, 1Ds, 1D Mark II, Powershot G3, Powershot G5
*Nikon D1, D1H, D100, D2h, D1X, D70
*Olympus 5050, 5060, E1, E10, E20; Fuji S2 Pro, S7000
*Pentax *istD, DS
*Minolta A1, A2
*Kodak 760, 14n, 14c
Further models will be added via the auto-update feature.

Right off the top of my head, I can name around a dozen consumer image-editing programs that cost under £100, but the sad truth is less than half of them are any good at all, and only three really stand out from the crowd: Adobe Photoshop Elements, Ulead PhotoImpact and Jasc Paint Shop Pro. These three programs have been competing head to head for several years now, each one coming out with new versions about once a year. Jasc Software, now backed by the resources of graphics giant Corel, has just launched the latest version of Paint Shop Pro, and the good news is that it?s loaded up with new features that are aimed directly at digital photographers. Two of the main problems faced by digital camera owners, even those with the latest high-resolution semipro cameras, are image noise and chromatic aberration. Among PSP9?s new features are specially designed filters to correct both of these problems. I tested them with some less-than-ideal sample shots from my collection, and while the results weren?t perfect, they were a marked improvement. The chromatic aberration filter was especially good, with careful use it was able to completely remove the offending purple fringes that ruin so many shots. The noise reduction filter certainly removed image noise, but inevitably also reduced the amount of fine detail in the picture. However the filter controls are extremely versatile, so with careful tweaking it may be possible to achieve better results. Another new feature in PSP9 that is of interest to more advanced photographers is full support for camera RAW file formats, provided by Bibble Labs, a feature previously only available in Adobe Photoshop. This allows ?digital negative? RAW files shot by most high-end cameras to be adjusted for sharpening, white balance and exposure compensation. 29 camera models are currently supported, and more will be added via PSP9?s new Auto-update feature. RAW support is also included in the file browser, which also now includes full EXIF data.
I?ve always considered PSP?s browser to be the best one around, and now it?s even better. It?s so good now that there?s really no need to use a separate image organizer program, which is bad news for another Jasc program, Paint Shop Photo Album. For image editing, several new tools will come in very handy. The interface now sports a History palette, something that PSP has always lacked. It?s certainly about time it had one, but this one was definitely worth waiting for. It includes a feature that seems almost like magic, an amazing selective undo option. If you make a mistake or want to change some step in your editing process, rather than having to sequentially undo every- thing from that point onward, you can now undo any step in the process without affecting the subsequent steps. This is an awesome feature, and one which I suspect will be copied by other image editors very soon.

jasc2ABOVE:Paint Shop Pro now supports RAW files from most current cameras, with planned updates for new cameras as they become available.

jasc3ABOVE:The new text feature makes it easier than ever to add text to an image, thanks to a simple text-editing box.

Other new features include an improved Pen tool, making it easier to make selections, draw work paths and draw shapes. The Rectangle and Ellipse tools have also had a thorough upgrade, adding more controls for rounded corners, and context menus for converting drawn shapes into work paths. A useful new tool is the Lighten/Darken brush, which allows simplified localised control of brightness, simply left-click to lighten, right click to darken. It does the same as the old burn and dodge tools, but by combining them into one tool it?s a damn sight easier to use. The alternates of the Lighten/Darken brush can do the same for saturation and hue, which makes precise control over colour and tone very simple. For those who like to get even more creative, there is a wide selection of new brush types on their own special tool. As the name suggests, Paint Shop Pro is as much a painting program as an image editor, and with new tools including Oil Brush, Acrylic Brush, Chalk, Pastel, Crayon, Coloured Pencil and Marker, as well as Palette Knife and Smear Tool and a new Mixer Palette providing an off-canvas area to experiment and mix custom colours, it is now easier than ever to produce realistic, looking artwork. For even more realism, the Art Media Layer allows users to adjust canvas texture, lighting and paint properties. PSP has always had a very powerful text tool, and that too has seen several improvements. It now includes vertical text layout options and new anti-alias rendering that produces cleaner text at smaller font sizes. Another of my favourite Paint Shop Pro features, the superb Print Layout section, now includes a basic text editor which allows you to add text fields to your prints, with a full selection of fonts, colours and justification options, ideal for adding captions to photographs, or even entire panels of text on printed pages. It would have been even better if it included the option for coloured backgrounds, but it?s still a very useful new feature. Things that are unchanged include PSP?s exemplary loading speed. On my fairly average 2.4Ghz PC it loads up in under 15 seconds, which is a remarkable achievement for a program this complex. Also unaltered is its low minimum spec. PSP9 will run on a 300MHz PC, although a minimum of 1GHz is recommended. If I have one criticism of Paint Shop Pro 9 it is the price. With an RRP of £99.99 it is significantly more expensive than either Photoshop Elements 3 or Photo- Impact 10. It is available at a big discount on Amazon which makes it more competitive, but so are Photoshop Elements and PhotoImpact. It would be a shame to see such a superior product fail due to a bad pricing policy.

PaintShop Pro has always been an excellent program, and with this new version it?s now even better. It has unique new features that put it head and shoulders above its main competitors, and make it an essential accessory for any digital photographer with a Windows PC.

PROS:RAW support, correction filters, browser, speed
CONS:Price, Windows PC only

Features 19
Ease of use 18
Performance 19
Design 18
Value 16