Digital photography has revolutionized several industries. Photographers are no longer bound to a few dozen shots in a roll of film. Even simple things like photograph size have changed dramatically with the shift to digital.

But consumers have been slower to catch up to the new technology. A lot of people still think the best way to see their photos is to run a memory card to the corner drug store and wait for prints. That just isn’t the case anymore. A Mac or personal computer is the perfect digital darkroom.

For the average consumer, with a $200 to $500 camera, the price and the power of the software for editing and organizing photos can be intimidating. So we did some research and found four photo editing titles that will get the job done without turning your hobby into a money pit.

For the name-brand warrior, we recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements 8, a boiled-down version of Adobe Photoshop (which can cost $1,000) that won’t break the piggy bank at $79.99. If you want more of the functionality and power of Photoshop and don’t mind learning a new program, we recommend Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 at $99.99. For Mac users, check out Pixelmator at just $59. Finally, if you really want to save money, you must try the open source Gimp image editing software, which is free and works on Windows or Linux.

This is not a technical analysis and benchmark of the software titles, but a consumer-level look at what you can do versus how much you will spend. There are two tasks when editing digital photos. First, you need to organize your photos, sorting the good from the bad. Then you need to actually get inside each photo and edit it. A great software package will do both.

The best of the bunch was Photoshop Elements 8. While not nearly as powerful or robust as its big brother, Elements 8 is a familiar software title that comes with an intuitive organizing package that lets you rate your photos and sort them by place, event, keyword, etc. The software is family-friendly and easy to learn, with features that will correct things like red-eye, over/underexposed photos, poor lighting, and color saturation.

For a little more power, go with PaintShop Photo Pro X3, which has more of the pricey Photoshop features without the price tag. This is a good choice for a high school student who has aspirations of photography/art school. This software leaves plenty of room for tinkering with more advanced features like levels and curves. It also has a tool to create video slideshows that you can share online.

Willy King, general manager of the Bromfield Camera Co. in Downtown Crossing, recommends either Elements or PaintShop Photo Pro, giving a slight nod to Elements.

"The advantage is you can ramp it up into Photoshop Pro more seamlessly,” King said. "Although PaintShop Pro is also pretty feature packed.”

Individual titles are on Page 2.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 8, $79.99

Pros: Photoshop Elements has the name-brand recognition and reputation going for it, and the software’s stability, speed, and feature set mean it’s well-earned.

Cons: It’s definitely a consumer product. Professionals and photo students will want to explore the full version.

Final word: If you’re editing photos for any reason and are working on a budget, Elements, with versions for Mac and PC, is a great choice.

Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3, $99.99

Pros: PaintShop Photo Pro X3 comes with tons of pro-level features priced in the bargain basement of software titles.

Cons: The software has some speed and stability issues. It doesn’t load as quickly as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for that matter. Keyboard commands and shortcuts aren’t very intuitive.

Final word: PaintShop has been around for years. It has always been overshadowed by Photoshop, but its low price is impossible to ignore.

Pixelmator, $59

Pros: Pixelmator gives you image levels and powerful tools on the cheap. It’s also stable and fast on your Mac.

Cons: There’s no PC version.

Final word: If you can’t get a discount deal on Photoshop, you should definitely give Pixelmator a try.

Gimp, Free

Pros: It’s free. You get a powerful, portable, stable image-editing platform at no cost.

Cons: Gimp is not as user-friendly as the commercial products. There’s a bit of a learning curve.

Final word: You can’t beat free.

About The Author

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at guilfoil.j@blastmagazine.com. Tweet @johnguilfoil.

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