Review: Acorn, Intermediate Image Editing for the Mac

What is Acorn?

Acorn is a basic image editing application for the Mac from Its standard price is $49.99US, but it is specially priced at $29.99 US during the month of May 2013. It can be purchased from the developer, or from the Mac App store; with all the usual advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Where’s the Market for Acorn?

Acorn uses the tag-line: The Image Editor for Humans. While that line casts me on the role of non-human, I understand perfectly what it means. Apple owns the low-end of this category with iPhoto, for organizing images, and doing simple, mostly global, corrections to them. And Adobe owns the high-end with Photoshop and Lightroom. In fact, the only Mac application that comes to mind in between these two extremes is Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, which is a stripped down version of Photoshop for non-power users. Acorn certainly fits in the same zone as Elements, without the name recognition that Photoshop offers, or the value of having the app you’ve been learning be an exact subset of the app you may end up graduating to, as is the case with Elements and Photoshop.

How’s the Interface?

Since virtually all non-Apple, non-Adobe image editors are on Windows, or from Windows, it is typical to expect a rather unattractive look and interface in such programs. Acorn, refreshingly, looks like a well-designed Mac app. With its most recent update Acorn uses much the same general layout as Elements or Photoshop, with a double-row vertical tool palette on the left edge of the screen, and further tool control windows to the right of your image. While it is not an actual subset of Photoshop, a Photoshop user has no difficulty navigating the app, and learning in Acorn would not leave a new user at a big disadvantage in moving to Photoshop later.

Acorn Interface
Acorn Interface

What’s the Feature Set?

If you are not the type of user that feels a need to work in Lab space, convert images to CMYK, or perform other power functions, Acorn might well fit your more-advanced-than-iPhoto needs. It offers many of the typical basic and intermediate functions, including layers, masks, and even alpha channels; as well as most common selection, cropping and adjustment functions. One interface element that takes a moment to get used to is that many of the tools found in the Image column of Photoshop’s menu bar are under Filters in Acorn. We’re used to looking under Filters for Blur, Sharpen, and Stylize effects; in Acorn you’ll find Color Controls, Exposure, Gamma, Grayscale, and other such items there as well.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 1.46.04 PM

What about HighBit Files, and Other Formats?

Acorn has no trouble opening images saved at 16 bits per channel, or saved as Tiffs with common Tiff compression formats. Pings are also supported. Even layered Photoshop (.psd) files. So most formats the typical user will come across are covered.

Does It Deal with RAW?

Acorn is capable of opening RAW files in at least some formats. Its RAW converter is simple, and best used for emergency situations where a RAW image needs to be viewed, or a quick Jpeg created from it, and a full fledged RAW editor is not convenient or available. The controls in Acorn are not powerful enough to be effective in adjusting RAW images using the SpyderCube. HSL controls for use with SpyderCheckr are also lacking. So consider Acorn not as a RAW converter, but a RAW converter substitute.

Acorn RAW Import Dialog
Acorn RAW Import Dialog

How’s the Color Management?

This question is of special interest to Datacolor customers. Color presents identically on-screen in Acorn and in recent versions of Photoshop. sRGB and ProPhotoRGB versions of the same image present identically in Acorn as well. So clearly the application is utilizing the display profile; and converting from the tagged image space to the display profile correctly.

Acorn Image over Photoshop Version
Acorn Image over Photoshop Version

The printing dialog from Acorn presents are the standard versions accessed other applications for the same graphics printer, allowing a custom printer profile to be selected. Printing sRGB and ProPhotoRGB versions of the same image gives matching results; so printer color management seems to be functioning correctly as well.

Acorn even has an Assign Color Profile command. There is no matching Convert to Color Profile command, so this limits users from converting the pixels in an image from one color space to another (such as the conversion from sRGB to ProPhoto used for the tests above), and allows only the more practical task of setting the correct color space for an image which is either mistagged, or more likely untagged. Assigning sRGB to the ProPhoto version of the test images used for this article instantly changed the colors to be incorrect, as would be expected, and reassigning ProPhoto instantly corrected them again.

Acorn's Assign Color Profile option
Acorn’s Assign Color Profile option

So What’s the Conclusion?

More and more photographers are going without a copy of Photoshop, given its price tag of several hundred dollars. Many of these users are using the much more affordable, and for most photo tasks much more practical, Lightroom to organize and edit their images. There are also the users still working in iPhoto, but who have reached the point of wanting more advanced features than iPhoto offers.

Such users have the need to occasionally make localized edits, layered files, composited images, images with text added, and other such tasks not covered by Lightroom or iPhoto. Acorn is a very legitimate option for both these cases. It can even be set as the optional second editor from Lightroom, to open Lightroom exported files directly into Acorn for pixel editing.

With Photoshop Elements listing at $99US, and even on special tending to run well above Acorn’s price, Acorn is certainly an easy-editor worth considering.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

Published by cdtobie

This blog covers a range of issues of interest to photographers and those involved in the digital photographic workflow, digital tools and platforms, and fine art output.

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