• Price When Reviewed: from £499 plus VAT

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

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PhotoRetouch Pro 2.5 is the latest upgrade to this professional still-image editing and enhancement package from Monaco-based pre-press software specialist Binuscan. You can think of it as a Photoshop alternative, not quite as hot on the creative compositing side, but stronger on professional print-quality enhancements. There’s little direct support for Web work, with no HTML palettes, slicing, or JavaScript support. PhotoRetouch borrows separation and print-preview controls from Binuscan’s ColorPro colour-management package. This is a Macintosh-only product – OS X capability was added in version 2.0 early this year. The basic PhotoRetouch at £499 is priced only a little below Photoshop’s street price. The base version lets you alter control colour separations manually and write new ICC profiles, but a version to create profiles for scanners and printers costs £649 – or £1,349 for digital camera profiling, which seems a bit steep. The profiling versions can use Binuscan’s version of the GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer (reviewed here), which is either sold separately or included in a complete ColorCase bundle at £3,799. PhotoRetouch doesn’t have batch processing or automation, but this can be performed through the separate IPM Workflow Server, with prices starting at £1,999. Bit boost The PhotoRetouch 2.5 upgrade extends 16-bit processing to all functions, adds support for ICC input profiles, colour modification and eyedropper selections in CMYK, and has better integration of the colour-management controls. Each function or menu item can be assigned a keyboard shortcut. If you have one of the profile-writing versions, the controls appear in the main menu. The user interface is nicely uncluttered, with floating palettes and menus that open only when they’re needed, so most of the screen is occupied by the image. Some of the image enhancement is automatic – for instance, when you open an image, the system analyzes the levels and fills in any gaps. The tool set is a mixture of automatic image enhancement, editing brushes, effects filters and ‘processes’, ICC profile based colour management, plus ICC profile based RGB-CMYK separations with on-screen soft proof previewing. There are multiple Undos and Redos plus a History list that lets you return to a previous stage, but no recordable actions. A useful feature is the single-button application of the main image corrections (contrast, gamma curves, saturation, sharpening) as one step, using Binuscan’s RECO image-analysis technology. The recommended settings are usually fine, but you can tweak them, with a good zoomable pair of before/after preview windows. Also worth a mention is the variable-strength JPEG artifact removal process menu, again with previewing – the optional bX-ray monochrome view shows up artifacts very well. Quantifier is another quality-improver that attempts to remove the defects arising from the three-colour filters in digital cameras and scanners. Pixel-editing tools include brushes (variable for size, transparency, and edge softness but no art-media effects), a warp tool, and fill and selection tools, but no text tool. In many cases, the options (contained in automatically opening mini-palettes) are more extensive than Photoshop’s equivalent. What’s really useful is the ability to assign process effects (such as sharpen, colour changes, JPEG clean-up) to a brush for selective application. Photoshop can’t do this, though some cheaper rivals can. Channel-hopping The masking tools are crude, with no ability to save as alpha channels – though you can save selections as clipping paths. Unlike Photoshop, there are no multiple layers, so you can’t do selective image compositing or effects layers. Binuscan claims that its process effects brushes remove the need for layers and multiple masks – I disagree. There’s a small number of effects filters and processes. These have a wider range of controls than standard Photoshop filters – for instance, there are eight methods within the Greyscale conversion. PhotoRetouch is supposed to be able to use Photoshop plug-ins, but mine wouldn’t work. Another problem was an inability to recognize JPEG files from digital cameras without renaming them. Many potential buyers will already have Photoshop, so pitching the ‘basic’ £499 PhotoRetouch Pro as a similarly-priced alternative with an unfamiliar user interface isn’t a brilliant idea. PhotoRetouch’s automatic enhancements, 16-bit colour and some processes and filters may be superior, but the lack of layers, alpha channels, or text puts Binuscan about a decade behind Adobe. It might have been better to package PhotoRetouch as a plug-in ‘helper’ application (similar to how KPT or Extensis Intellihance are configured) to extend Photoshop rather than trying to reinvent it.