ProsHuge array of options for editing photographs, with a focus on human subjects; very reasonable price
ConsUser interface is hard to navigate; menu system seems targeted more at touch ups than real content creation
As with many high-powered photo editing suites, PhotoDirector can be a bit daunting at first. You sort of have to learn its "workflow," which may or may correspond with your own personal workflow. You start by "importing" a photo (which is kind of tech-speak for "open", but that's just semantics). You then jump right into the "Adjustment" menu, a screenshot of which we include here (click to get a bigger view). We really like the tiles at the bottom that allow you to quickly reference all the opened ("imported") photos in your editing session. When you're actually working on a lot of photos at once, like we do, this is a hugely-beneficial feature, and not one you'll see in a lot of photo editing suites.
As it happens, the Adjustment menu is incredibly comprehensive, and in terms of the photos most people take in everyday life, it's going to be all you'll ever need. We think for most users, the "Edit" and "Layers" menu will never be touched. Even then, you'll have a lot to learn, as the Adjustment view has its own set of seven embedded menus, each with a huge range of options that you have to scroll down to see. We've collapsed this huge number of menus down so you can see what's available, as shown below. These can be applied either on a global basis, or to certain sections or spots in the photo.
Perhaps the most interesting adjustment option that Cyberlink has included here is the HDR Effect. We were curious whether it would just replicate the effect of lightening the image, but in fact it's doing something a bit different, and to our eyes it looked like it was lightening only certain parts of the image. It's called "Glow" in the HDR Effect sub-menu, and that's a pretty appropriate name.
Alas, once we moved beyond the Adjustment menu, things got complicated. One of the major challenges for us in using PhotoDirector is how segmented the various menus are. In fact, when you jump to Edit or Layers, the application warns you that you should save your work and that a new copy will be created. While it's nice to have non-destructive editing, we can't help but feel that PhotoDirector behaves like three separate applications, all bunched together inside a menued shell. When we wanted to paste something into our frame, we had to jump to Layers, when we wanted to remove a background, we had to jump to Edit, when we wanted to crop down the photo, we had to go back to Adjustment.
We found that the Edit menu had the tools we would use the least, like the "People Beautifier" (with the aforementioned ability to create big eyes and skinny waists!), the 360-degree photo editor, and photo effects. Alas one of the tools that we'd want to use a lot, the Background Removal tool, is tucked away at the end of this menu. It allows you to select areas via various methods (box, lasso, or a smart selection brush, for example), and then remove either the selected area or the unselected area. You can see how we used that to remove the background in the photo below.
It only takes a short while to learn where all of the various commands hides, but it seems to us that this just shouldn't be necessary. A floating menu similar to Photoshop starts to make a lot of sense here. As another example of how busy and somewhat unintuitive the interface is, note that in our screenshots, there are buttons at all four corners of the image. There's a lot going on here to learn, and we're not sure it always makes intuitive sense. As a clear example of the drawbacks of this segmentation, if you decide you'd like to revert your photo to the original, you'll only find the option under the "Adjustment" menu, and even then, it's tucked away in the lower-left corner, and referred to as "Reset."
By the way, in terms of performance, the application is quite fast most of the time, but there's an odd delay when clicking the File menu, like the application is searching the system's drive before dropping down. This seems like something that should probably be fixed. And we might as well mention here the somewhat odd fact that there are actually two menus named Edit in the interface...
We've given you details of our workflow because we think that a software review has to do more than talk about performance and outcomes. For most users, we think the segmentation of the PhotoDirector interface probably makes sense, as they won't be doing a lot of cutting, pasting, masking, erasing, or even using traditional photo effects like blur and grain, which are under Edit, not Adjustment. But for our workflow, the layout just didn't make sense. Having to jump around between menu views to get to things like the crop, paste, and eraser functions just doesn't work for us.
Cyberlink's PhotoDirector 9 Ultra is a powerful piece of software, and it has just about every feature someone editing landscapes, event photos or portraiture could want. We also really like that it combines some of the characteristics of an image management app and an editing app. Given its reasonable price, it's a fantastic choice for amateurs or semi-pros looking to produce better final products without spending a lot of money. But due to the major divisions between its various editing tools, it just isn't quite ideal for our particular workflow. The application is clearly geared more towards portraits, landscapes, and travel photography than it is for professional content creation. There's a big difference between making a photo better and making a photo into a piece of content. PhotoDirector 9 Ultra excels at the former, not so much at the latter.
As of our publication date, Cyberlink PhotoDirector 9 Ultra is available for $100 from the Cyberlink website, while PhotoDirector 9 Deluxe is available for $60 from Amazon. Note that Cyberlink runs frequent promotions on all of its software products, so don't be surprised if the price varies considerably over time.