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Buying advice: How to choose photo-editing software

Get the right photo editor for your needs

With almost everybody carrying a camera of some type, be it a digital SLR, a point-and-shoot or a mobile phone, the sheer volume of digital images we collect will soon lead us to wish for a simpler way of managing them.

Manually copying your photos to your PC can quickly become tiresome, and the size of your collection could make it difficult to later find a particular image. If you want to save space on your hard drive or upload them to the web, you'll also need to reduce their size.

To get the best out of your images you'll need to edit them, perhaps by tweaking the contrast or converting them to greyscale (black-and-white). All these tasks are quick and easy to complete with the right software.

In our photo editors group test, we look at how well each photo editor handles common correction tasks and the ways in which they can take your shots to the next level.

Managing your collection

Most photo editors can help you keep track of your pictures, and let you tag images in a variety of ways. For example, you can assign star ratings to the best pictures, ensuring they pop up more frequently in an automated slideshow or are easier to find when selecting photos for print and online sharing. GPS support (known as geo-tagging or location-tagging) can also log where a photo was taken, letting you mark it on a map or search for pictures by location.

Some photo editors include face-recognition. This scans your pictures for human faces to which you can assign a name. Over time, it learns who is who and can tag people automatically. This lets you easily find all images of a particular person.

Group test: what's the best photo-editing software?

Beautifying your pictures

Most of us aren't looking for a masterpiece, but a few clicks can correct common problems such as red-eye, wonky horizons and poor brightness levels. Some photo editors can correct these issues automatically as your images are imported.

If you want to go beyond the basics, layers, masks and tools such as a rubber stamp and healing brush will simplify tasks such as retouching a portrait. Non-destructive editing is an important feature too, letting you undo specific edits without starting over.

For more creative effects, look for drawing and painting tools and the ability to work with text and type. These tools are useful for creating posters and greetings cards without having to export your photos to another program.

Photo Advisor

Content-aware tools let you hide blemishes and remove entire objects that you thought were out of shot by cleverly imitating the background. Such edits can take hours when done by hand.

Most photo editors contain a selection of basic filters that add a sense of style to your images, but some of the more esoteric effects such as high-dynamic range (HDR) and panoramas are best served by tools designed specifically for that purpose.

If you have a digital SLR or a high-end compact camera, look for a photo editor with support for the RAW format and 16bit colour.

Sharing your pictures

When you've finished editing your photos, you may want to put together an album to share online or print. Look for a photo editor that supports direct upload to any of the online services you use, and lets you resize, post and tag your pictures with a single click. If you want to share pictures directly with family and friends, choose a package with free online storage and built-in email support.

Special features

If the software comes with a large amount of bundled extras, such as painting or graphic-design tools, this could easily tip the balance in your favour.

Give them a try

Every package reviewed in our photo editors group test either comes with a fully featured trial version or is free to use. If you like the look of an application, simply download it and see whether it suits you.

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