ACDSee 5.0 review: ACDSee 5.0

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MSRP: $3,497.00

The Good Quickly categorizes your photos so that they're easy to find, share, and print; highly customizable interface; excellent tech support.

The Bad Limited editing tools; occasionally crashes; can't create new categories when importing images; expensive compared to the free, or cheap, downloadable competition.

The Bottom Line ACDSee makes a decent tool for viewing and organizing your photos, but it has a few kinks.

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6.8 Overall
  • Setup 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Support 8

Truly gifted photographers are a rare breed, but avid digital photographers with tidy photo collections are rarer indeed. ACDSee 5.0, a $49.95 image manager, can tame your unkempt photo libraries and transform them into gleaming galleries fit for easy finding, organizing, sharing, and printing. However, this package doesn't come with much in the way of editing tools, so you'll have to invest in some additional software if you want to make extensive edits before sharing your photos or sending them off to the printer. If you own a large photo collection, ACDSee is a great pick, but if your collection is on the smaller side, keep in mind that there are free photo tamers, such as Picasa, that might satisfy as well. Grabbing ACDSee via download and walking through the installation wizard is a cinch whether you're operating on several cups of coffee or have decided to download the program at 2 a.m. Once you've loaded the software, getting around ACDSee's tab-lined and icon-ridden interface overwhelms initially, but you can easily master it after a few go-arounds. If you want a simpler interface, ACDSee 5.0 now comes with a UI Selection Wizard, so you can ditch the tabs and revert to 3.0's simple look and feel. You can also choose to start simply and add features as you go.

See what we mean? ACDSee piles on the tabs and icons in 5.0, though you can simplify matters by customizing the tabs that appear or by reverting to 3.0's interface.

When you first open the program, you'll see a Windows Explorer-like view on your left and thumbnails of your images on the right. Just as in version 4.0, you can view and organize your images from the left-hand pane. Use the Calendar tab--new to version 5.0--to search for images by date. Can't remember when you imported those great August vacation shots? ACDSee 5.0 highlights just the days that have images associated with them. The right side of the screen displays your image files as thumbnails or large images and lets you view properties such as EXIF metadata or database keywords. To check or edit your EXIF info, use the handy Metadata Property View. Compared to the competition, ACDSee excels at preserving this information for quick reference.

And from within the Customize dialog box, you can tweak the layout of the program's windows or switch among several different schemes. If you've created a few different layouts that you swap in and out depending on what you're working on, you can save them with a unique name and recall them at will. Unfortunately, saving your layouts is tedious: you must first exit the customize dialog box so that the new layout is current, then go back to the customize screen to name and save it. Like its predecessor, ACDSee 5.0 comes bundled with FotoCanvas Lite, a simple editor you can use to make basic tweaks to your photos. ACD Systems also offers a $79.95 PowerPack bundle, which includes ACDSee 5.0; FotoCanvas 2.0, a comprehensive image-editing program that supports Photoshop plug-ins; and FotoAngelo, a slide-show utility that lets you save your productions as self-contained executables or Windows screensaver files. FotoCanvas can handle most simple and a few complex tasks, but if you need to do any heavy-duty editing, you'll have to invest in PhotoImpact or Photoshop Elements.

Note the calendar in the left pane. This program automatically highlights days that have corresponding photos.

As soon as you load the program, ACDSee automatically catalogs the photos in your My Pictures folder and groups them under the Albums tab. But cataloging them by searching across directories and adding category descriptors and keywords is the more practical use for the product. There are a few speed bumps in the road to organization: you can't manually enter a path into the Catalog dialog or create a category on the fly. However, you can do some pretty cool things with the Category View. You can assign your images to one or more categories for refined searching and sorting later on down the road. And rather than organizing your images in file folders, which often leads to making duplicate copies of a single image, ACDSee just creates shortcuts to the files. This way, you can store your pictures in a single folder, then assign existing categories such as Friends, Family, and Hobbies. Another perk: the Delete key has no power in the Category View. You get rid of the shortcuts, not the actual files. ACD claims that it improved performance in ACDSee 5.0, but we found performance to be a mixed bag. On occasion, we experienced a considerable delay when displaying the last few thumbnails out of a directory with lots of image files. We also crashed a couple of times in random use on two systems. ACDSee's slide-show mode does work well, though. When viewing your pictures as a slide show, they come up in a flash, since ACDSee preloads the next image in the sequence. Manual viewing fetches each image as viewed, and if you're into statistics, a counter on the bottom of the screen shows you the load time.

You can do some light editing. Compare this shot before (left) and after (right) we lightened it.
ACDSee 5.0 comes with a comprehensive help system. From the main window, you can access ACDTouch (Internet connection required) for update info, tips, articles, and downloads. Tech support is a toll call (7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT), but you can also contact them via the Web through an online form. While not as extensive as the built-in help system, there are also FAQs, PDF versions of manuals, and other resources online.

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