It seems like new photo editing software is announced all the time, and most of it is not very good. So, when you hear the name “Zoner” you might be inclined to think it’s just another brand-newcomer to the scene, however, you’d be wrong! Zoner Photo Studio X is made by a company that has been around for nearly three decades. In fact, ZPS X has now won the title of best photo editor according to both the TIPA and EISA awards.

In this Zoner Photo Studio X review, we are going to dive into the software’s newest update, and tell you why we think it deserves a status that is actually on par with the popular, industry-leading options!

Indeed, ZPS X isn’t just another free, clunky photo editing software; it does cost money. It’s $49 per year or $4.99 per month. However, this software has what you need: it runs smoothly, is impressively fast, and delivers beautiful image results. Oh, and there’s one more thing: if you stop paying the subscription, you don’t lose access to your photo catalog! (Yes, you read that right!)

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There are both advantages and disadvantages, of course, and I will lay them out as clearly as possible for you. Maybe you’re searching for your very first raw photo editing software, or maybe you are looking for an alternative to your current workflow such as Lightroom or Capture One. Either way, by the end of this article you should have the information you need to make the best decision!

[Related: Zoner Photo Studio X is First to Support HEIF Image Files]

What Is Zoner Photo Studio X?

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ZPS X is more than just an alternative raw conversion engine, as many bare-bones raw editing software applications seem to be. In fact, this is an entire workflow solution, with a catalog system that allows you to quickly import, browse, cull, edit, and export your raw (and other) image files.

Would you rather avoid a catalog system? With ZPS X, you can also simply browse your computer’s folders without having to create a catalog or import every photo prior to editing.

In other words, it is like having both Lightroom and Bridge rolled into one raw editing application!

Just as importantly, ZPS X offers the next major step in many photographers’ editing process, too: actual layers, complete with masking and other blending options. So, if your layer blending needs are relatively basic, you’ll no longer need to open images in Photoshop, either!

There are also advanced brushes available for burning and dodging, plus retouching, and of course gradient and radial filters, too.

Pros & Cons | Advantages of Zoner Photo Studio X

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When it comes to the specific advantages and disadvantages of ZPS X, we can cut to the chase by just saying it’s super convenient to have a browser, a catalog, and even a layer-enabled photo editor all in one. It’s even more convenient to know that if your interest in photography ever wanes just a little bit, you can save a little money by ending your subscription while still accessing your raw edits. Conversely, if you’re constantly upgrading your camera to the latest model, you might be waiting a while for compatibility.

With that said, let’s get into further detail!

Speed Comparable To Competitors

While many raw converters have struggled to match the speed and smoothness of big-name brands like Adobe in the past, (and some are almost useless because they are so slow!) …the overall speed of ZPS X has been improved substantially with its recent update, and is very responsive when browsing and editing.

Even with just a half-decent amount of RAM, such as 16 GB, you’ll get fast results when scrolling between photos, zooming in to 100%, or making actual color-correction adjustments.

This is always fantastic news for me as someone who reviews photography equipment and gives recommendations to all types of photographers because I know that many folks may be unable to afford high-powered computers with 64 or 128GB of RAM.

High-Quality Color (And Black & White) Raw Conversions

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Another area where raw conversion software can fall short is an extremely important one: The actual control and look of images themselves; that is, the results, the tones, and colors! Without accurate, vibrant colors, or smooth control of highlights and shadows, raw conversion software is simply not worth your time.

Thankfully, this is another area where ZPS X offers impressive results. Not only are the sliders themselves going to sound familiar, (more about that next!) …but, in fact, the ZPS X adjustments are excellent in terms of their actual results.

In their latest update, they have redone the Black & White conversion settings, too, for beautiful tonality from highlights to shadows.

Familiar Sliders For An Easy Learning Curve

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I touched on this already: if you’re at all familiar with the Basic Develop Module sliders in Adobe Lightroom, then you won’t have to worry about a steep learning curve when starting out with Zoner Photo Studio. This could be an important deciding factor for anyone who is afraid to try new software because of how much time it will take to get used to it.

Additional Innovative Features

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Besides the familiar “Basic” sliders that you’ll feel right at home with, there is more! For advanced editing work, Zoner Photo Studio offers a handful of features that you won’t find in some of the other popular raw editing software.

One of my favorite features is the “Polarization” slider. As you might imagine, this slider fits right in with Saturation, Vibrance, and Dehaze, and does an impressive job of imitating a real-world polarizer filter.

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Additionally, the Color Shift tool is excellent. Personally, this type of advanced tool was honestly one of my favorite reasons to go with Capture One over Lightroom, and now, I have it in ZPS X!

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Last but not least, something very simple and yet highly convenient: I really appreciate being able to zoom in to 100% (or more) for achieving truly perfect horizon leveling, or any other such angular crop refinement.

Software Subscription, Done The Right Way?

One of the biggest advantages that I see with ZPS X has to do with the pricing structure of a subscription-based service. Not only is a ZPS X license just $4.99 a month, (as opposed to $9.99) or $49 per year, but also, you get to keep using the browser aspect of the software if you end your subscription.

This is something that has always seriously bothered me about Adobe’s business model: they effectively hold your raw photos at ransom forever, because if you stop paying, you stop being able to use your catalog to view your raw photos or see all the hard work you put into editing them.

The caveat for ZPS X, of course, is that if you cancel, you can only view your photos; editing them is disabled. You won’t get to continue updating the software, which means you won’t get any new features that might come out or support for new cameras in the future.

However, if you don’t plan on buying a new camera for a while and all you want to do is browse your photos, then you could definitely save money in the long run, even if you eventually restart the subscription someday.

Basic Video Editing and AVIF Support

If it wasn’t enough to have a full photography workflow tool in one application, ZPS X also has basic, but effective, video editing capabilities too. The functionality is not the same as a full-blown video editing application, of course, but it is intuitive and offers a simplified timeline cutting experience, for those who simply want to put a few clips together and make basic adjustments to them.

Online Gallery Options | Zonerama

Last but not least, for those who wish to be able to go straight from their photo/video workflow to a free online gallery for sharing with viewers, the Zonerama online gallery feature is included. (Keep in mind, though, you don’t need an active subscription in order to use Zonerama!)

Honestly, most photographers will likely go straight to social media with their imagery. However, for anyone who wants to quickly export entire folders or photoshoots to a clean, professional-looking online gallery, this is an excellent solution.

In fact, while social media collectively fails to offer any sort of image quality guarantee whatsoever, Zonerama doesn’t compress your uploaded files, and its resized images for various different size displays are impressive, too. There are no limits on quantity either, so this could be an option for archival use.

Having a simple, aesthetically pleasing gallery for any collection of photos, whether it is your 5-star portfolio or a quick portrait session you did for a friend or client, the option to use Zonerama might be of interest to you.

Pros & Cons | Disadvantages of Zoner Photo Studio X

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Considering that the software has received an impressive speed upgrade, delivers impressive image results, and is more affordable than top competitors, I personally hope that you’re wondering if there are any drawbacks or disadvantages. If anything ever sounds too good to be true, you should be skeptical!

With that said, the pros do outweigh the cons here, but, to summarize, if you’re okay with the subscription pricing and if your camera & OS are currently supported, then there’s really not much stopping you from buying ZPS X.

Windows Users Only

Let’s get this one out of the way first and foremost, because it is very cut and dry: If you’re on a Mac, you won’t be able to use ZPS X. That is unless you can emulate Windows, of course.

A lot of creative people do seem to like Mac, so this is unfortunate, but obviously, Windows is still the more common operating system. Hopefully, the folks at Zoner are working on Apple compatibility!

Controversial Subscription-Based Pricing

The first thing that potential users will notice is, of course, the fact that you can’t just buy the software outright like you used to with other software in years past. However, I just called the price tag, and the overall value, an advantage/pro of this software. So, can its pricing structure really be considered a “con” at the same time?

Some people really like to have permanent ownership of a software license, because it gives them the freedom to either “never” upgrade that software, or at least choose when they are ready to upgrade.

In many long-term cost estimates, however, an affordable software subscription actually comes out ahead for anyone who eventually upgrades their editing software every couple/few years.

To me, what sets this software apart from others is simply the fact that if you cancel your subscription, you’ll still be able to at least browse your photos and see your raw edits, even if you can’t perform additional edits. I do wish there was an option to pay an additional buyout fee and continue editing your photos, too.

Supported Cameras (And Lenses) Needs Updating

It may be very useful to always have access to your catalog of raw photos no matter what, however, you might find that if you own one of the newest-generation cameras released within the last 1-2 years, ZPS X may not be able to natively read the raw files yet!

For example, the Sony A7R IV is not yet supported, nor are the newer Sony cameras such as the A7SIII, or of course the just-announced Sony A7 IV. Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras have very limited support, too.

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Sony RX100 VI, LEFT: un-corrected raw image | RIGHT: manually corrected barrel distortion

Additionally, certain lenses may not be represented in terms of correction profiles, which could result in distortion or vignetting that you’re not used to seeing because we’ve all become so accustomed to profiles hiding “all manner of sins”…

The lack of support for the newest cameras is actually a common drawback with other raw conversion software, however, ZPS is definitely lagging behind Lightroom and Capture One in this regard. Surely the folks at ZPS are working on updating the software since a lot of new cameras are coming out now.

Before you think of it as a deal-breaker, though, just remember that you can always use Adobe’s DNG converter to roll back the raw compatibility to an “older year” and that should likely give you full access to all your files. There are many articles about how to do this, including one on the Zoner website, here.

Conclusion | Zoner Photo Studio X Review

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Zoner Photo Studio X is one of the best options I have ever seen. It’s on a much higher level than all the other “alternative” raw software options and aims to compete with the big-name brand players in the market for whole workflow solutions.

As a photographer (and currently a Windows user) who does all kinds of photography from landscapes and nightscapes and wildlife, to weddings and portraits and other paid work, (with a Sony A7 III) I found ZPS X to be exactly what I wanted it to be. This software will definitely be in my future!

If you’re interested in trying it out, their one-month trial is free, of course.