The concept behind, or perhaps the need for, Develop mode can be a bit confusing when you’re first getting into processing your digital photos. I know that it wasn’t intuitive for me. But it’s a pretty sweet mode, so it’s worth taking the time to understand its value. So what’s this Develop mode I speak of all about?

When adjusting your images in Develop mode, the original file is never changed. The changes are saved in a separate file, and are applied each time you open the image. This allows for what we call “non-destructive” developing of your images. It is there to ensure that even if you go very far down a path altering an image, that even if you wind up with something you’re unhappy with, you always have the opportunity to start from scratch, as you possess an untouched original.

When you open a developed image in Develop mode, it displays the settings you previously left them at. This allows you to revisit the image at any time to adjust the previous settings.

So what does this mean for saving in Develop mode? When dealing with a RAW image, you make your changes, then click Done. The image’s develop setting are stored in the XMP file of the RAW and in the ACDSee database. If you’re talking encodable files, such as JPEGs, when you develop an image and press Done, the develop settings are stored in an XMP file, and the original and the XMP file are moved to the [Originals] folder. In Manage and View mode, the image with the changes applied is displayed. The develop settings are also stored in the ACDSee  database. Basically, your original is safely preserved and stored with your changes, and your changes are added every time you look at it.

Ok, now that we’ve gone through the concept, let’s put it into practice. So take an image that you think could use some sprucing, and open it in Develop mode. Apply settings to achieve the look you want.


Now that you’ve got your image just as you want it, press Done. You’ll notice that your options are Save or Save As. Save As means that you save a version of your developed image with a new name or format and switch to the updated image. Maybe you’re generally inclined to play it safe in these cases and use the Save as option. But stay with me on this workflow first. So, press Save. *Cue dramatic music*

But, the next day, you come back to it and … what were you thinking? Your changes do not, er, stand the test of time, and your opinion on them has changed. Well now you’re in trouble, right? The original is gone.

Guess again! The original is preserved. In Manage mode, right-click the image. Go to Process | Restore to Original.


Et voilà Your original is back, no harm done.


In Edit mode, your original image is also preserved. However, the difference is that with Developed images, you can remove any of the changes you have made, regardless of the order that you added them. This allows you to avoid having to start from the beginning. In Edit mode, everything you do to an image is done on top of the results of the previous operation. If you added a series of 10 different edits, but wanted to remove the fifth edit, it would be necessary to start from scratch. But Develop mode bypasses the issue of an order of operations. You can even change the settings on individual selective adjustments, like brushes and gradients.

Furthermore, Edit mode is destructive, which means if you edit and save and edit and save and edit and save, each save degrades your image quality. But in Develop, your changes are all applied at the same time — you always start from the original.

What Else Makes Develop Mode Worthwhile?

Develop mode really makes a difference in the context of RAW photos. What is a RAW photo? A RAW image straight from the camera is undeveloped — it is merely sensor data. When you take the picture, the camera records all the light levels on its sensor and writes them to a file. It also writes in metadata from the camera, such as white balance settings. This is the RAW data.

When you shoot JPEGs, the camera takes that RAW sensor data and does develop processing on the image using the current camera settings, such as exposure and white balance, which produces the image that you see on the preview window or on your computer. Like a polaroid camera that produces the decent-looking image out directly from the camera, the develop processing is done in the camera and never needs to be done again.

Develop processing has to be done in order for a RAW file to be viewable. This processing occurs automatically using default settings, (based on the settings that your camera wrote into the RAW file, such as white balance), as ACDSee displays the image on the screen. Develop mode allows you to change and customize that automatically-applied develop processing to whatever you want it to be. So imagine you take a photo with the wrong white balance settings on your camera. If you’re shooting a JPEG, you can improve the image, but no matter what, you started out with a blueish image because of that wrong setting, and your ultimate image is never going to be perfect. However, if you shot the same image as a RAW, you can change the white balance settings in Develop mode and your results will be as though you went back in time and used the correct white balance settings from the beginning. You will get perfect results because you are working with the pre-white balance RAW sensor data.

Opening a RAW image in Edit mode does not do the same as Edit mode opens your RAW image with the RAW processing already applied.

It’s worth noting that if you alter an image in Edit mode first, and then take it into Develop mode, ACDSee will prompt that the edits will be lost. Develop mode needs to work with the original pixels, as opposed to pixels that have had develop processing added to them, and then editing.

Develop mode is also awesome for the advantage of develop presets.

  1. Chuckles says:

    So when will we get Auto Levels in Develop mode?

    • acdsystemsit says:


      You never know what the future may bring! For now, you can achieve similar results using the Contrast slider in the General group on the Tune tab, and the Tone Curves group.

      • Chuckles says:

        Actually, I discovered an Auto button in Lighting, which for some reason usually blows everything out, and in Tone Curves, which seems to work better on some images than others, My workflow has evolved into the following: straighten and crop, then backwards through General, starting with Clarity bumped to at least 50, then a brief dalliance with Vibrance and Saturation, and then usually some amount of Contrast adjustment. Exposures never seem to be very far off except for when some local adjustments are needed. Then I hit Lighting and just experiment with different values. Tones Curves still has me a little baffled. Then off to Details for some sharpening and noise reduction. I guess I should be trying to categorize the changes and create some presets. So, everything is working fine, particularly if we could get RAW support for Sony A77 II. 😉

  2. jodzeee says:

    When I look at my RAW photo in view mode, it looks pretty good but I want to do a few tweaks. When I got to Develop mode, it changes it right before my eyes and I don’t like how it looks. How can I get it to start with whatever automatic processing ACDsee is doing to it in view mode?

    • acdsystemsit says:

      Hi Jodzeee,
      It sounds like you may be looking at the embedded JPEG in the viewer (View mode). Most RAW files have a JPEG inside, and if you have the option to view those JPEGs turned on, then that’s what you’ll see in the viewer. When you go to Edit or Develop mode, that’s when ACDSee loads the RAW data and applies processing, —*remember* develop processing must be applied for RAW files to be viewable— which won’t look the same as the JPEG because we can’t match the processing that the camera used to produce the JPEG. This is the way it is with all RAW processing applications. ACDSee just uses the JPEGs in the viewer because they are faster to display than performing RAW processing ourselves. If you develop a RAW file in Develop mode, ACDSee creates its own JPEG, so from that point on View mode and Develop mode will be identical.
      If you would like to change how it’s working, you can go to Tools | Options | General and change the setting under RAW Display to Quality: Perform high quality decode. This topic should make it a bit clearer.
      Hope that helps. Have a great week!

      • jodzeee says:

        Thanks for your reply. I thought your explanation made sense, but when I tried adjusting the settings, nothing changed. I’m viewing them in Develop mode by using the film strip. Each time I move to the next image, it does this transformation from what I assume you’re saying is the embedded JPG and the unedited RAW file. Changing the settings did not affect this at all.

        I don’t suppose there’s any magical preset or formula to use that would emulate the camera’s JPG output?

        • acdsystemsit says:

          Sorry it has taken me forever to get back to you. It has been a crazy few weeks!
          So when you flip to a new image in Develop mode, ACDSee quickly decodes the JPEG and puts it on the screen while the full RAW is decoding in the background. As soon as the RAW is ready, it replaces the JPEG on screen. We do this so that there isn’t a long delay with a blank screen when flipping images. Turns out the setting to not load JPEGs won’t apply to switching images in Develop mode. There isn’t really anything to suggest for flipping through images in Develop mode. Basically your only option is to edit your RAWs, unfortunately. Sorry I don’t have better news. Hope you have a happy holiday!

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