ACDSee Pro 2 is a fantastic photo organizer and editor

When considering an upgrade from iPhoto, most Mac users consider either Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. But there's an often over-looked photo editor and organizer that Windows users have been familiar with for years: ACDSee. ACD Systems brought ACDSee Pro to the Mac in 2009, and today they've released ACDSee Pro 2. A couple weeks ago, I spoke with ACDSee's Simon Tipler, who gave me a preview of the new features.

ACDSee is similar to Adobe Lightroom in that it utilizes a folder system rather than the albums that Aperture favors. For those who aren't fans of the album system, the folders are easy to view and work with. Unlike Aperture, you do not need to import photos as ACDSee will automatically see any photos on your hard drive and connected external drives. You can move photos onto your external drive or into different folders from within ACDSee.

Like with Aperture and Lightroom, ACDSee works with RAW-formatted photos in a non-destructive manner. You can tone without fear of damaging the original image. It's easy to toggle among the manage, view and develop modes. Batch workflows is one of the new features in ACDSee Pro 2, where you can select a group of photos and automatically rename files, set metadata, resize, copy, move and more. Those familiar with Automator will appreciate this feature.

ACDSee Pro 2 is a fantastic Aperture alternative

Another new feature is the ability to find duplicate images, shown above. Like with music tracks in iTunes, ACDSee can search your hard drive and external drives for any duplicate images, allowing disk space to be freed. The result will show you what kind of file, how big the file is and where it's located. You can Quick Look from the results, go to the location in Finder or trash the files. It even found duplicate PDF files on my hard drive, which was handy.

One of the best features to make it into ACDSee Pro 2 is lighting and contrast enhancement system that allows users to target a particular area of the photo and tweak shadows, midtones and highlights. You can create HDR-like photos or use it to bring out an undeveloped portion of a photo without affecting the rest of the image.

ACDSee Pro 2 is a fantastic Aperture alternative

Image toned in Aperture

ACDSee Pro 2 is a fantastic Aperture alternative

Image toned in ACDSee Pro 2

In the first image, I processed it in Aperture doing a basic tweaking of Levels, Curves and Sharpening. In the second image, I did the same thing in ACDSee (the Levels and Curves tool is combined in that program), then tweaked with the lighting tool to bring out the building in the background without majorly affecting the foreground lighting. It works really well, though you should take some time adjusting the lighting to get the best results. Simon impressed me with how he was able to fine-tune photos to the smallest detail. Other tools to play with in ACDSee include soft focus and clarity, which target the midtones of an image.

For those looking for a MobileMe alternative to sharing photos, ACDSee offers free 10 GB of online storage space, which does not require a purchase to use. While you can share links to these albums, you can't directly upload to Facebook or Flickr like you can with Aperture. Also, ACDSee is not connected with a printing service like Aperture, Lightroom or iPhoto. If you're a fan of being able to send your images out to be printed in a photobook, etc., you'll need to export them and upload them to your site of choice.

There are some features I missed in ACDSee Pro 2, but not much. Mostly, I missed the standalone Levels tool, as I was used to working with in both Photoshop and Aperture. I also like Aperture's Loupe tool. While you can easily zoom in on small areas in ACDSee Pro, and that view is shown while you're sharpening an image, I liked having the loupe to use as needed. It won't automatically import your images from iPhoto like Aperture will, which might be a turnoff for some.

ACDSee Pro 2 is more than the US$79.99 Aperture and only slightly less than the $149 Adobe Lightroom. ACDSee Pro 2 is $139.99 and, like Lightroom, comes with a 30-day trial. Current ACDSee Pro users can upgrade for $79.99. It requires OS X 10.6 or higher and does have Lion features such as full-screen mode.

If you're looking to upgrade from iPhoto, ACDSee Pro 2 has a lot going for it. The batch processing and fine-tuning of lighting alone makes it a worthy contender over Aperture. I wish I had known of ACDSee before dropping the money on Aperture.