Paint Shop Pro has a long history harking back to the days when a bitmap generally meant a simple onscreen painting, scan or screenshot. Today, in the age of digital cameras, bitmap handling is almost solely concerned with photos - a change Corel recognises with another tweak to the program's name, now PaintShop Photo Pro.
It isn't just a rebrand, however; Corel has also changed the way its photo editor works. Photo Pro X3 now opens by default into its Organizer view. This offers resizeable panels as well as two main display modes: Thumbnail for viewing multiple files simultaneously, and Preview for quickly viewing and tagging your images one at a time.
PaintShop Photo Pro isn't aimed at the professional photographer, but with the spread of increasingly affordable DSLRs, Corel has seriously boosted its support for RAW camera formats. This is most obvious in the new RAW Lab, where you can make a range of non-destructive adjustments as you load your files.
A big advantage of RAW processing is that you can quickly apply the same adjustments to multiple files - a capability that X3 extends to non-RAW formats via the Organizer's new Capture Editing and Apply Editing commands.
To quickly enhance your images, X3 provides all the most commonly required adjustments and retouching tools to hand in its Express Lab, which is now conveniently accessed as a program tab.
New options here include one-step noise removal and sharpening, and the ability to adjust contrast and local tone mapping. Being able to quickly flick through a folder of images, enhancing as you go, is a huge plus for users.
The Express Lab provides surprisingly powerful editing tools but if you need more, complete with features such as layer-based compositing and advanced adjustments and special effects, you need to switch to the Full Editor mode.
Advances here include the ability to add and edit vector-based text directly on the image, a new vibrancy adjustment that lets you boost just those areas that are currently undersaturated, and the addition of a range of KPT filters.
The most striking new features come in the form of two new dialog-based commands. The first, Object Extractor, is effectively a cut-down version of Corel's KnockOut product and lets you create complex selections, such as those required to capture hair and fur, by marking up the edge of the object and automatically generating a mask.
The second, Smart Carver, lets you resize an image by adding or removing background pixels, while automatically preserving foreground areas without distortion.
For greater control, you can also mark up areas that you want to keep or remove. Neither is as flexible or as hands-on as Adobe Photoshop Elements 8's almost magical equivalents - the Quick Selection and Recompose tools - but both will prove regularly useful.
That's about it as far as new power in PaintShop Photo Pro X3 itself goes, but Corel has also included two other apps in the bundle. The first of these is Corel Painter Essentials 4, which packs in a lot of art-based power and, with its focus on converting photos to attractive works of art, adds real value.
The same is true of PaintShop Photo Project Creator, which lets you create cards, photo books and collages and the like - you can even combine photos and HD videos to create slideshows with soundtrack and voiceover. It's also here in Project Creator that Corel has finally added the ability to back up photos to disk and share photos and videos online via Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
It's all welcome stuff but, as PaintShop Photo Project Creator is built around its own Organizer view, you can't help wondering why this functionality isn't available directly from Photo Pro's own Organizer.
Corel clearly understands what digital camera users want to do with their images, but it can't quite turn the venerable PaintShop Pro into the integrated modern tool it wants it to be.
Worse, while PaintShop Photo Pro X3 looks state-of-the-art, in practise it often feels dated and awkward. In particular, it struggles to manage large collections of images in the Organizer's All Photos view, which means you're limited to old-fashioned folder-based handling.
Finally, where it matches up with its rivals in some respects, in others it lags behind, with both Photoshop Elements ($99) and Picasa (free) now offering map-based geo-referencing and automatic face tagging. Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 might be moving in the right direction, but it has some way to go to fully catch up.