Graphics Organizer Comparison

Given that a large group of people I respect use ThumbsPlus for organizing and viewing their digital photos, I thought it was time to consider once again if I should change to it. For almost 10 years I have used ACDSee for organizing and printing my photos, so this is a comparison of features in the latest version of each (version 7 in both cases).

  1. Thumbnail Browsing:  Both ThumbsPlus and ACDSee give you almost complete control over the way Thumbnails and the associated file information are displayed. Both have customizable toolbars and provide multiple ways to help you organize your images through moves, copies, drag and drop, etc. Whichever program you use, I highly recommend you customize the toolbars to include your favorite operations ... it will make you much more productive.
  2. Viewing:  My personal preference is to view images full screen flipping between them at the press of a key. Both programs let you do this flipping among all the images in a folder or selected images. ACD Systems has always prided themselves on having the faster viewer around and the newest version of ACDSee can certainly switch images faster than ThumbsPlus. With ACDSee I'm use to flipping through many 3MB images a second, when I start doing this with ThumbsPlus it gets way behind me. Even on a very fast machine, ThumbsPlus takes roughly a second to load each image; that may sound fast, but once you get spoiled ... and the slower your machine, the more you notice the difference. ACDSee also lets you flip using the scroll wheel on a mouse.
  3. Editing:  Although the features talk about editing, ThumbsPlus doesn't seem to have a Photo Editor of it's own. This is not really an issue, because there are lots of good editors in the world, but I really like the ACDSee feature which allows you to pick which editor you use to edit a particular image.
    For the simple things we do to most photos: exposure adjustment, cropping, sharpening, and maybe leveling the horizon or removing red eye, ACDSee's built-in editor is great and all you need. Because it compresses output better than anything else I use the built-in ACDSee Photo Editor 80% of the time. (For serious editing, I use either Photoshop or occasionally Elements because each version seems to have a couple of features that Photoshop doesn't. Photoshop is almost always running on my machine, but I almost never open files in it ... instead I use the Edit drop-down in ACDSee and choose the editor appropriate to each image ... as long as the editor you choose is already running the image pops up in it almost instantly. You can even select several images and they will all pop into Photoshop or Elements at once.) I found it amusing that when I choose Edit in ThumbsPlus it brings up ACDSee's built-in editor on my system :)
  4. Email:  For those new to digital photography, this is an important feature because most new users send files that are inappropriate to eMail. Both programs automatically resize selected images and attach them to an eMail message. This works great if you use Outlook Express, but you'll have to experiment if you use another eMail program like I do. ACDSee has the advantage that it can eMail directly through a SMTP server without using any eMail program. If you're an experienced user and normally create multiple versions of your favorite pictures and know which one is appropriate to eMail, none of this matters. I'll rate them a tie.
  5. Data Base:  Both ThumbsPlus and ACDSee build data bases with Thumbnails, dates, keywords, captions, etc. Even though these features are very helpful in letting you find things stored off-line (e.g., on CD's) I'm happy with my own organization scheme and don't really use these features. I do like the fact that ThumbsPlus uses a standard MS Access format which makes it easy to operate on the DB outside ThumbsPlus. ACDSee only seems to have import/export features (and I think only to text files).
    Since I not a big user of the data base features I'll rate them equal. However, advantages each had seem to be: ThumbsPlus lets you do actual SQL queries of the DB which may give the advanced user more power; ThumbsPlus also has a find similar images query which looks interesting. ACDSee has a nice calendar view of your picture world (like Google's Picasa, but ACDSee had it first) and their category view is an easier interface for the casual user.
  6. Batch Processing:  Without question ThumbsPlus has far superior batch processing capabilities. I was most impressed by the way ThumbsPlus handles Batch queues ... very nice interfaces ... in one mode it lets you quickly review everything that's going to happen to the selected images ... in the other mode you can just throw them in the queue without questions. I wish Bibble had as nice review features. ACDSee is lacking any of this ... it just remembers the last way you did a particular operation (e.g., resize, rename, etc.)
  7. Batch Rename:  ACDSee does excel in two batch operations: rename and resize. In batch rename ACDSee gives you more capabilities and control over the format of the generated names ... it even shows you a complete summary first so you know exactly what it is going to do.
  8. Printing:  Both provide nice previews before printing. Although I've never printed using ThumbsPlus I think I'd give the advantage to ThumbsPlus because of its pre-print batch processing feature.
    Personally I print everything from ACDSee (because all too many times I would mess up trying to print from older versions of Photoshop). I really should try Qimage, but change is hard for all of us:)
  9. Scanning:  Both provide support for scanning and acquiring images from cameras, etc. What I like about ACDSee is the greater control you have over the way it names images as it acquires them.
    BTY, I turn off the ACDSee Device Detector, because I find it annoying. But, I'm one of those people who also turns off all the auto-run features in Windows too.
  10. Contact Sheets:  These are thumbnails placed on large graphic images. Both ACDSee and ThumbsPlus allow you very complete control of the creation of these images. In my opinion the ACDSee interface is easier to use, and for people into webpages it will also create an image map for each graphic (a feature ThumbsPlus doesn't have). It's basically a tie.
  11. Slide Shows:  Both allow you to run slides shows. Both can create slide shows saved as .EXE files. ACDSee may give you more options when creating these shows, but what really surprised me was that it can also save the slide shows as screen savers (.SCR) and as Macromedia Flash files (.SWF) for display on a website ... too bad I didn't find that feature until I started doing this comparison :(
  12. Web Pages:  Both ACDSee and ThumbsPlus have features for creating Thumbnail web pages in HTML. Both have lots of options for formatting the pages. ACDSee can also create film-strip pages which I don't think ThumbsPlus does. Both will also down-size the images to an appropriate size for the web (you specify the size and compression). I give them a tie.
  13. PDF:  ACDSee can create various kinds of PDF files with single images, multiple images or slide shows. I can't find this feature in ThumbsPlus.
  14. IPTC Editing:  It seems ACDSee lets one edit some of the EXIF data ... in particular an "Image Description" that ThumbsPlus doesn't. However, the more general added information like this should probably be stored in the file based on the IPTC/NAA standard (International Press Telecommunications Council) ... the latest version of which is based on XML. I wish the world were consistent in their use of this ... and I wish ACDSee supported it ... ACDSee won't even keep it with the file when it resizes, etc. ThumbsPlus comes with great support for editing IPTC data including batch editing capabilities.
  15. Raw Files:  You need the Pro version of ThumbsPlus to handle raw files. You need a plug-in to handle them in ACDSee which was free with my last update.
  16. File Compression:  I continue to be amazed at how much better ACDSee is than any other graphics program I use when it comes to creating highly compressed files that look great. Most programs, ThumbsPlus included, can compress more but the question is when do you start getting obnoxious compression artifacts which detract from the image. As a quick experiment I took these two images:
    West Quoddy Light   Lubec viewed from Canada
    picked because they happened to be next to each other, and because of their different nature I though they would compress differently. The original JPG of the one on the left was 2.3MB, the other 2.8MB. Using ACDSee batch resize the resulting image at 800x531 compressed using a quality setting of 15 was only 29K and looks like this:
    West Quoddy Light
    I didn't rotate so it was easier to compare with this 58K image: West Quoddy Light
    produced by ThumbsPlus using a quality setting of 30 (ThumbsPlus doesn't recommend using a setting less than 50). The file is TWICE the size, but you can see more compression artifacts. My sense after looking quite a few different pictures is that a ThumbsPlus quality setting between 40 and 50 is about equivalent to an ACDSee setting of 15. Here is a comparison of the other picture, this time using a ThumbsPlus quality of 50 and an ACDSee quality of 15:
    Even at quality 50 I can see more compression artifacts in the ThumbsPlus picture on the bottom. And again the ThumbsPlus file is almost twice a big, 46K vs. 90K.
    Here's a page with a table comparing compression in a few programs. In these examples the difference between ThumbsPlus and ACDSee is not as great. The ThumbsPlus files are about 10% larger with quality 40 and 30% larger with quality 50.

I am a little concerned about the memory management in ThumbsPlus ... normally I run about a dozen memory hungry programs at once without problem. While using ThumbsPlus, I was running very few programs and for the first time in months Windows had to increased my virtual memory ... yet when I looked at memory usage (in Task Manager) ThumbsPlus was using a reasonable 25,000K; I'm not sure exactly what happened.

Bottom Line

Current Users:  These are both good programs, if you're already using one you should probably stick with it. However, if you see features in the other that interest you, try it out. Both offer 30-day trials.

New Power Users:  I highly recommend you use one of these two programs. Pick the one to use based on the features most important to you. I'm going to continue using ACDSee because it's better compression is very important to me when building websites. But, I really wish ACDSee had queues like ThumbsPlus and Bibble which let you define multiple ways to do something and then pick among these various setups.

For batch image enhancement:  look at Bibble ... I think it is better than ThumbsPlus (and ACDSee doesn't even do batch enhancement). Since ACDSee does compression so well, I wish it would allow batch compression ... you only seem to be able to do it along with resizing, and if you ask for 100%, it says sorry ... same size as original. Of course you can manually compress any image using the ACDSee editor, but only if you pretend to do an edit first.

New Novice Users:  For someone new to digital photography I still recommend ACDSee because its built-in editor is so easy to use, much easier for the novice get good results with quickly than Elements. Everything you need to start is in one program. Once you're ready to move up to Elements (which I think is the editor of choice until you're ready to move onto Photoshop itself) you can configure ACDSee to use multiple editors, making any one of them the default. (Of course another option is to just start with Elements any use the graphics organizer it has built-in, but in my opinion it's not as good as either ThumbsPlus or ACDSee.)

ACDSee PowerPack:  I don't really recommend it because I'm not a big fan of ACD System's advanced editor, I think Elements is better. It's only advantage is it looks exactly like the built-in editor, so there's not as much new to learn.


Be sure to check out the detailed feature lists of both programs, there may be a feature I didn't talk about which is important to you. Also if you disagree with any of the comments, send me feedback.

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