Gemstone Photo Editor, from ACDSee, is a photo editor for Windows with a dedicated RAW photography adjustments window, layers, and a multi-document interface. It’s a buy-outright programme rather than a subscription.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on its RAW editing capabilities and walk through some of the main tools you'd use.
How To Edit a Raw Photo With Gemstone Photo Editor
Who Is Gemstone For?
There are lots of great Windows RAW interpreters, including RawTherapee, which is free and very powerful (but has a learning curve to match), the excellent and no-cost Adobe Camera Raw, essentially the industry standard, which available to anyone with a Photoshop license (including an old one), Adobe Lightroom CC, which is subscription only, and Capture One, which is similar to Lightroom but has a buy outright option for $397.
So who is Gemstone for? We think Gemstone is a worthwhile RAW image processor to consider if you want a no-subscription photo workflow or are switching off of an Adobe plan. It is currently priced at US$ 79.99 (£64.99) for a buy-once license. You can also try Gemstone out for free for 31 days.
The Look and Feel
This is how Gemstone looks when you open it up:
It’s quite simple but still visually pleasant with nice, rounded menu boxes that stop it from having a clunky feel that some other buy outright or free RAW editors have.
It’s quite instinctive to just drag in your RAW image and that will open a new window. Alternatively, you can go to File > Open in ACDSee RAW.
The window and layout are very similar to Adobe Camera Raw, which is great for me as that’s what I’d usually use. There are four main tabs in Develop:
The first thing I’d usually do to a RAW image is to use the profile and lens corrections to adjust any barrelling or vignette, and in Gemstone you’ll find that in the Geometry tab.
The interesting thing is that here, Gemstone has actually pulled up the incorrect lens, which is the first time across any software that it’s happened – and it wasn’t an unusual lens. It isn’t a big deal, and it was easy to correct in the dropdown list, but it’s worth just double-checking it picks the right lens.
Geometry is, of course, also the tab where you’ll find your straightening options. You can remove the grid, which is a bit distracting, by clicking ‘Show Grid’ – circled in the image above.
There doesn’t seem to be an option for auto correction, so you’ll have to adjust manually. However, in Rotate & Straighten, there’s an icon to the right of ‘No Rotation’ that you can click and then draw a line onto your image which it will then use as a reference to adjust automatically.
If you’ve used other RAW editors then a lot of this will look very familiar to you. If you haven’t, then it’s very instinctive, everything is labelled in such a way that you’ll likely know what it adjusts before you even click through to the options.
The only stand-out different label is Light EQ which is ACDSee specific and is where you’ll find your Shadow, Midtone and Highlight adjustments.
Light EQ is where to do your tone balancing, and Gemstone has the option for Basic, Standard and Advanced.
- Basic I’ve mentioned already: an adjustment each for Shadows, Midtones and Highlights.
- Advanced is powerful but fussy, and probably more precision than most people will actually need,
- Standard mode offers a balance of powerful but intuitive controls
Standard RAW Interpreter
Each of the vertical sliders you can see represents a group of tones in that row. At the top from left to right it’s your shadows to highlights and you can adjust those by moving the sliders up to increase those tonal groups.
In the bottom row, it’s shadows to highlights from left to right again but this time you move the sliders down to darken those tonal ranges.
This gives you far more nuanced control than with the Basic sliders. As you’re fiddling with the contrast though you can end up with some oversaturated areas, probably in your midtones, so you’ll need to correct those.
Here’s a quick before and after with those Light EQ adjustments applied. It’s quite a difference, and while not a replacement for targeted adjustments, it’s definitely more flexibility than you get with the usual global tone adjustments.
The great news is that Gemstone has the capacity to use LUTs which means you can use any .cube LUT made for other photo and video editing suites, you just need to import them. It also has a small selection of pre-installed LUTs which you can see above, and I’ve applied Golden so that you can see what that looks like. There’s then the option to reduce the opacity on that to lessen the effect a little.
The not-so-great news is that there’s no LUT thumb preview, which I always find very frustrating. It’s the one edge that Adobe Camera RAW tends to have over other RAW editors, I can preview the LUTs (profiles in ACR’s case) without applying them, so it’s much quicker to get a look you want.
The rest of the Tune tab is fairly self-explanatory so just continue to work your way through the options, tweaking and adjusting where needed.
Before we move to the next tab though, it’s worth taking a look at Effects.
Effects are essentially presets, with a variety of looks, including a couple of black and white options. There’s no option to upload your own here, but there are quite a few pre-installed ones in the drop-down list. I probably wouldn’t use these in addition to a LUT but you can if you wanted to.
In the Repair tab you’ll find useful tools like heal, clone and red-eye reduction. You might have noticed a little spot or two of water from my lens, in the image, so here I’ve used Heal to right-click a source point and then clean that up.
Being totally honest, these tools aren’t as good as Adobe Camera RAW’s repairing tools, but for small things like spots on the lens and other minor tidying up, they’ll do the job just fine.
The final tab to look at is Detail, where you’ll find your noise reduction and sharpening tools as well as a Skin Tune option plus Chromatic Aberration fixer.
Thankfully, the image I was editing didn’t really require any sharpening or noise reduction, which is a good job really as when I tried to use them, the software crashed on me and I lost all my photo changes. This is worth mentioning because if you work for a while on an image, there is no ‘save as you go’, and it’s the same for other RAW editors I’ve used, even ACR requires you to click ‘Done’ (or open to a raster editor) and come out of the image in order for the sidecar data to save.
That said, you’ll have no problem with the tools themselves, they’re pretty standard final touch fare, with sliders for amount, radius, range and so on.
When you’re done editing your RAW, you can choose to open it in Gemstone, to click ‘done’ where there’ll be an option to save your changes as sidecar data, or to save your RAW as a TIFF, JPEG and so on.
Gemstone Photo Editor is definitely one of the best RAW editors I’ve used and maybe even the best buy outright one. Unlike some of the other, clunkier suites, the workspace is clean and simple, it looks good and it’s very instinctive to use.
All the tools I’d expect to find for RAW editing are there, in logical places. Some are even better than in other popular editors, I thought the Light EQ options were particularly good.
One slight stumbling block is the lack of previews for LUTs. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you’re someone who likes to use LUTs or presets as a base or to add style then it’s going to add time to your workflow to not have that quick preview option. However being able to use .cube LUTs is a huge bonus as it really opens up your options for base colouring and more stylised effects.
It also wasn’t desperately clear that hitting ‘save’ would save the data as an XMP. sidecar, but I think that’s just a hangover from being so used to clicking ‘done’ in ACR and having that happen automatically.
All in all, Gemstone Photo Editor is a great choice for RAW editing, particularly when you take into account that it's buy outright. It's worth testing it out with the month's free trial though to see if it's right for you.
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