Zoner Photo Studio X is a complete image-editing suite with a wide array of tools for photographers and content creators of all levels. Its spring update embraces a powerful HDR feature for images rich with highlight details, plus three new tools for fine-tuning your photo

In partnership with Zoner Photo Studio X
For a smooth, efficient workflow, whether you shoot stills or video, you need a fully-featured, powerful software and Zoner Photo Studio X, a program for Windows 10 and 11 fits the bill nicely (you can try it for yourself for free). 

The software is based on five modules that take you through the image workflow process in a logical manner. It starts with Manager where image files are imported and organised before editing and output.

For most people, it’s the editing stage which is the most important and Zoner Photo Studio X is rich with potential here with local adjustments, layers, masks and camera/lens profiles, so ideal for editing newcomers as well as advanced workers.

Zoner Photo Studio X is available on subscription at $5.99 a month or a money-saving $59 a year with the benefits of access from wherever you are, 20GB of Zoner Cloud storage and free, automatic updates. Two major updates are scheduled each year, Spring and Autumn, and the first 2024 update has recently been unveiled.

Zoner Photo Studio X opening image
Zoner Photo Studio X’s headline feature in its 2024 Spring update is its HDR feature. Forget those garishly colourful images that appeared under the HDR banner in the recent past, the images here have a very wide tonal range, especially in areas of strong highlights

The outstanding feature in the spring update is Zoner’s unique HDR technology which is capable of showing the full dynamic range of raw images, even those captured over 15 years ago.

Three new effects have also been added. There’s Add Grain which is a powerful feature to add noise or digital grain for analogue looking images, while to give images more personality there’s the Glow and Halation features.

We’ve sampled the three new tools as well as Zoner Photo Studio X’s unique HDR skills to give you an idea of their power. These additions build on a software that is already blessed with extensive array of creative and editing tools, giving ZPS X more appeal than ever.

HDR – it doesn’t need to be garish

HDR (High Dynamic Range) has a slightly tarnished reputation thanks to the popularity of gaudily-coloured images produced from exposure bracketed sequences processed through HDR dedicated software.

The thing is those vibrant tone-mapped, fake colour images that passed as HDR were not really HDR. Not only that but back then most of had SDR (standard dynamic range) monitors so you couldn’t appreciate the benefit of HDR imaging anyway.

True HDR imaging is preserving the full dynamic range in images from strong highlight to deep shadows, but to enjoy the tonal range possible with HDR, you need a correctly set-up operating system, an HDR-capable monitor and a true HDR capable software. The latest Zoner Photo Studio X update is the first editing software that lets you view and edit true HDR photography.

Zoner Photo Studio X
Zoner Photo Studio X
Zoner Photo Studio X, with an HDR capable monitor, lets to enjoy the incredible highlight detail of raw files. On the histogram on the left, the red area shows highlight detail not visible but editing on Zoner Photo Studio X brings that missing detail into view. On a SDR (standard dynamic range) monitor, the red region of the left histogram would be much bigger and the recovered highlights would look horrible.

What is true HDR?

HDR capability is something we are seeing on phones, tablets, laptops and desktop monitors, as well as the televisions of the past few years.
As a keen photographer, you will have heard of HDR and probably indulged in it yourself but the world of true HDR is a rather confusing world of jargon and different standards.

Zoner has plenty of support so if you want to learn more, here are some links to check out.

For Zoner’s take on true HDR photography click here.
For details of the hardware needed for HDR photography editing click here.
To learn about HDR editing click here.
For details of certified DisplayHDR products click here.

HDR editing in Zoner Photo Studio X

The benefit of HDR is most clear with images featuring a strong light source, because bright highlight details are not visible in SDR (standard dynamic range). Our brightest natural light source is the sun so we used a couple of scenics to test out Zoner Photo Studio X’s HDR processing skills. We used a Lenovo Yoga laptop running Windows 10.

Zoner Photo Studio
Enter the HDR mode, under the Color Style menu, and the options in the tool palette changes with the SDR Adjustments sliders greying out. The palette of HDR adjustments is shown on the left.
Zoner Photo Studio X
This is the ZPS X interface showing the same image processed in HDR (left) and SDR in ZPS X. Shot directly into a low sun, trying to pull back the highlights in SDR gives a veiled look and the highlights appear flat and grey. In HDR, the highlight detail is much crisper and cleaner and some of the colour of the scene has been retained. Image credit: Will Cheung
Zoner Photo Studio X

Above you can see the same raw image processed SDR and in HDR both in Zoner Photo Studio X. If you are viewing the HDR processed image on an SDR monitor you won’t see any difference.

Zoner Photo Studio X
Left: Using the Dynamic range Lights and HDR whites sliders in the HDR editing palette bring in the highlight details nicely. Trying to reveal highlights in SDR editing has less successful with the highlights losing their detail, sparkle and looking grey. Image credit: Will Cheung

Aiming for the filmic look

Interest in film photography is on the up, particularly among younger creators, and there will always be something special about the look you get shooting with emulsion. Of course, apps including Zoner Photo Studio X, have tools available to emulate a filmic look. The spring update of Zoner Photo Studio X has an extra tool to an achieve realistic film look with its Add Grain effect.

Zoner Photo Studio X

The three sliders allows you to tweak the effect with great control to suit the scene and the default setting gives a neutral grain that van be refined to suit your taste. Less filmic is the Colored grain option that gives a predominately blotchy green and red effect reminiscent of big enlargements from early digital camera sensors used at high ISO speeds.

There’s also the Luma adaptive tick box which makes the grain less obtrusive across the whole frame for a better-looking result with cleaner highlights and mid-tones. In our opinion, the best look comes with this box ticked.

The original was shot on a Nikon D800 with a 20mm f/1.8 lens and an exposure of 1/13sec at f/13 and ISO 200. Shot at a low ISO means the image is very clean but the idea of adding grain for a moodier feel has an appeal. Image credit: Will Cheung
Zoner Photo Studio X
To show what the Add Grain tool is capable of, here’s the image with all the sliders pushed to the maximum 100 setting. The result might be over the top but it shows how realistic and neutral the effect looks. Image credit: Will Cheung
Zoner Photo Studio X
A more cautious approach to using the Add Grain sliders gives enough grain for a genuine filmic look. Image credit: Will Cheung

Introducing a cosy glow

The Glow tool can add a fluffy, luminous feel to your shots and the feature in Zoner Photo Studio X is very controllable too. Adjust the sliders, give the software a few seconds to update the preview and check out the result. The tool affects highlight areas most obviously and this is where the effect can be seen at its best, adding a lovely delicate halo to highlights.

Zoner Photo Studio X

The Glow tool suits a wide range of subject matter too, from portraits and scenics to still-life and abstracts. Of course, there’s the opportunity to use this tool in combination with the Halation and Add Grain features discussed here to give images with an individual look.

The original was taken with a 70-300mm zoom on a Nikon D800 using an exposure of 1/1250sec at f/5.3 and ISO 200. It’s a nice shot but perhaps too clinical, lacking any mood. The scene was also slightly underexposed to ensure the yellow tulip highlights didn’t blow out, so it’s an image that should benefit from this new Zoner tool. Image credit: Will Cheung
Zoner Photo Studio X
Pushing the Strength and Size sliders to the max 100 setting gives you an idea of the maximum effect achievable and here it produced a lovely glow especially to the out of focus highlights. The Threshold slider was used with care because it weakened the scene’s overall colour saturation. Image credit: Will Cheung

The Halation effect

Halation is an effect seen in film photography where light scatter taking place within a film’s structure gives a dreamy, diffused look around bright highlights.

Zoner Photo Studio X
Five sliders provide plenty of options in the Zoner Photo Studio X interface.

It’s not always a look that’s welcomed in film pictures but with Zoner Photo Studio X’s Halation tool, the effect can be tightly controlled for a glowing look that suits the image.

Zoner Photo Studio X
Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre was photographed using a Nikon D700 with a 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. The twilight scene required an exposure of 25secs at f/13 and ISO 200 but there’s plenty of potential using the Halation tool on the building’s backlit bilingual inscription. Image credit: Will Cheung
Zoner Photo Studio X
The five sliders of the Halation tool gives great versatility when it comes to producing an effect to suit the subject. To show the effect’s potential, we used the sliders quite aggressively to make the look obvious, and it is easy to overdo it. Image credit: Will Cheung

Summary: Zoner Photo Studio X, spring 2024 update

Zoner Photo Studio X goes from strength to strength and there’s no doubt it offers Windows users a cheaper and very powerful option.The true HDR tools in the spring 2024 update certainly work well, although you do need a HDR monitor to enjoy it.

The Glow, Halation and Add Grain tools are also very welcome, and add ever greater versatility to Zoner Photo Studio X. To check out the software for yourself, try the demo version here.

You can also watch a YouTube guide to the software below

Further reading
Quickly edit raw files with Zoner Photo Studio X