The Best Photography Software for 2017

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Last Update: January, 31, 2017 to add Macphun Luminar and Macphun Aurora HDR photography softwares. Other software will be added and updated on a rolling basis.

When it comes to digital photography software, options abound, perhaps to the point of being confusing. Whether you’re a first time user or in need of an upgrade or looking to make a change, here is an overview of some of the best photography software currently available. Hopefully this will help you make a more informed decision on which application is right for you.

Note: This is our leaderboard for the best overall photography software. We will also be splitting it out into “best photo management software” and “best photo editing” software as sometimes photographers need specialist tools for specialist jobs. But for now, let's jump into what we consider to be the best all round performers for a photographer.

Our Criteria for Judging Photography Software

Coming to a fair conclusion on the best photography software requires scoring various elements of the software with a universal criteria. Coming up with that criteria is a little difficult, but this is what we came up with:

  • Interface / Ease of Use: An assessment of the overall organizational logic of menus, toolboxes, palettes, etc within the photography software and how easy and intuitive they are to use in practice.
  • Fulfillment of Promise: An appraisal of the features and functionality of the software and whether they sufficiently live up to the manufacturer's claims.
  • Photo Editing Quality: A subjective measure of how effectively the available tools in a given application perform various image editing tasks.
  • Photo Management Quality: A subjective measure of the efficiency of the keywording, search, geotagging, and other organizational features of the software.
  • Community: How easy is it to get help and learning from the wider community of users? (Blogs, forums, Youtube videos, freelancers etc)
  • Overall: A broad overview — average of the six judging criteria.


The Best Photography Software

SoftwareInterface / Ease of UseFulfils PromisePhoto EditingPhoto ManagementCommunityOverall
Optics Pro 10699847.2
Luminar by Macphun1099066.8
Aurora HDR by Macphun1099066.8
Capture One Pro 97.588847.1
Paintshop Pro X86.588746.7
Photo Director 7767856.6
On1 Photo 108.588716.5
Affinity Photo899136


#1 Choice: Adobe Lightroom – Score:8.4

Lightroom has emerged as the cure-all in the eyes of many photographers. It uses the same raw processor as Photoshop and allows for non-destructive image editing; in fact, a great deal of Photoshop’s editing tools are found in Lightroom, with the most glaring omission being layers. It is, indeed, possible to do all your fixing and finalizing (dodging and burning, noise reduction, sharpening, tonal adjustments, lens correction, effects, etc.) in Lightroom and perhaps never give Photoshop much thought. If, however, you do need or prefer to use a feature in Photoshop, Lightroom makes for a seamless round-trip journey into Photoshop and back. And Lightroom does a few things that Photoshop doesn’t do so well — or at all — especially when it comes to serving as a photo organizer, something at which Lightroom excels. Additionally, Lightroom allows you to tag, flag, and rate photos. Also featured is a superb printing module, the ability to create slideshows, the option to export images to the Web, and integrated book creation via Blurb. While not as complex as Photoshop, Lightroom is an expansive application that will take some time to fully appreciate and integrate into your workflow. Lightroom is available for Mac OS and Windows and can be obtained as stand-alone software for US$149 or as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan for US$9.99 per month. A free mobile version of Lightroom is also available for iOS and Android devices. In terms of the best photography software, this is the one to beat.

#2 Choice: Adobe Photoshop Elements Score: 8.3

Long considered by some users to be a dumbed-down version of Photoshop, Elements has made considerable headway in its most recent versions. While it is true that Elements is a lighter take on the all-powerful Photoshop, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Elements provides many of the same features found in Photoshop, and all of the features needed for competent and comprehensive photo editing, including the processing of raw files, tonal corrections, retouching tools, and layering. Elements also sports Photomerge technology which allows you to merge different parts of different photos to make one ideal photo — useful for group portraits, panoramas, and faux-HDR. Content-aware functions are present, along with a variety of selection tools and brushes (though none of these are as feature-heavy as what you’ll find in Photoshop). Elements has limited 16-bit and vector support, fewer blend modes, and doesn’t support extensions. These limitations are unlikely to impact photographers who need to do essential edits without the complexity and potential confusion associated with using Photoshop. Elements’ utilitarian-yet-powerful feature set and easy to navigate interface make it appealing to photographers of any skill level. Elements will also appeal to those who prefer a stand-alone product, as it is not tied to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and can be purchased for Windows and Mac systems for US$99.99.

#3 Choice:Adobe Photoshop Score: 7.7

Everyone knows the name. Even non-photographers are aware of this software, as it has infiltrated popular culture and been co-opted into everyday language (“This shot has obviously been Photoshopped.”). Adobe’s flagship application is often thought of as being the go-to choice for professionals, and such a reputation isn’t unwarranted. Photoshop can be mind-bogglingly sophisticated, boasting features useful not only to photographers but also to those who work with video, illustration, and graphic design and in a clear leader for best photography software in terms of actual image editing. Photoshop can process raw files and allows for non-destructive global and local editing, including extensive layering and masking options, the application of innumerable effects, powerful noise reduction and sharpening processes, a full array of color correction tools, lens corrections, and everything you’ll need to do comprehensive photo retouching. Needless to say, Photoshop is a complex piece of software with a considerably steep learning curve; it does, of course, offer basic tools and plenty of automation (exposure, levels and curves, and white balance just to name a few), but some may still find Photoshop a bit overwhelming. If you are willing to tackle Photoshop’s learning curve, you will likely discover that it is the only image editing application you need. Photoshop doesn't have “in-built” file management; this is handled via Adobe Bridge, should you choose to use it. Bridge seems to have as many fans as it does detractors. Photoshop works with Windows and Mac OS and is available as part of a cloud-based subscription service (known as Adobe Creative Cloud, hence the current Photoshop CC moniker), starting as low as US$9.99 per month with four different Cloud plans to choose from. The last version of Photoshop to be released as a stand-alone product was Photoshop CS6; it was released in 2012 and Adobe will no longer update the software with new features. Either way, Photoshop is going to be on the podium of any current discussion on the best photography software.

#4 Choice:DxO Optics Pro 10 Score: 7.2

DxO Optics Pro has carved out its place in the world of photography software in no small part due to its superior handling of lens correction (some might also make a case for its noise reduction capability). Sure, other applications offer distortion correction but Optics Pro takes a different approach than the user submitted lens profiles that Lightroom, as an example, uses. According to Michael Muchmore of, “DxO Labs actually shoots thousands of shots on test patterns at different lighting conditions to create lens and camera profiles for each camera and lens supported to tune these corrections. The auto-correction is far better than you see in most photo software, and it's often all you need.” While Optics Pro 10 offers image processing and editing tools that may result in better overall image quality, its utility as a file manager leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, round-tripping with Lightroom is possible in Optics Pro 10, so you can use DxO’s noise reduction and distortion correction tools and send your images right back to Lightroom. With raw support for more than 250 cameras, DxO Optics Pro comes in two editions — Essential and Elite. The Elite edition takes all the features of the Essential edition (selective toning, batch processing, optical corrections, raw conversion, etc.) and adds items such as raw file denoising, ICC profile management, dehazing, and preset editing. DxO Optics Pro 10 Essential Edition retails for US$129.00 while the Elite Edition costs US$199.00. Both editions are available as downloads for Windows and Mac and both have the option of purchasing a CD software backup for US$14.90.

#5 Choice:PhaseOne Capture One Pro 9 Score: 7.1

There was once a time when discussions about the best photo editing software revolved primarily around Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom. Often overlooked were the Capture One Pro loyalists who, upon closer investigation, seemed to be onto something that many others were not. Capture One Pro 9 is by all means a professional level image editing suite, but if it is famous for two things they are tethered shooting capabilities and raw-processing power. Capture One Pro is regularly praised for being the best raw converter out there; of course one should expect some degree of subjectivity with such a claim, but it is a common enough pronouncement that it may be worth looking into. When it comes to tethered shooting, there are certainly other options available, but none provide quite the combination of advanced features, ease of use, and reliability provided by Capture One Pro; there’s even a free app, Capture Pilot, for iOS devices that allows you to view, rate, and tag images remotely. On top of all this, Capture One Pro offers extensive image editing options (from color correction to noise reduction), printing options, and has integrated file management. Capture One Pro 9 supports more than 400 cameras and is available for both Mac OS and Windows. You can make a one-time purchase for US$299 or you can subscribe for a monthly fee and ensure access to all future releases (cost starts at US$15 per month and increases in accord with various contract periods and user options).

#6 Choice: Luminar by Macphun Score: 6.8

Typically, when an application attempts to do too much it fails miserably in one or more categories. Luminar avoids such a pitfall, successfully serving the needs of beginner, intermediate and experienced photographers. It is a non-destructive RAW image editor that does exactly what it says and does it efficiently and effectively.

Luminar is able to be an all-in-one app not because it dumbs anything down, but because it presents users with a bevy of diverse, powerful, photography-specific tools wrapped in an interface that adapts to each user.It takes the very best parts of the company’s other apps and sort of reimagines them and places them under one roof. It all just works. It may be late in the year, but Luminar is easily one of 2016’s best image editing options.


Read our full review of Macphun Luminar here.

#7 Choice: Aurora HDR by Macphun Score: 6.8

Typically, when an application attempts to do too much it fails miserably in one or more categories. Luminar avoids such a pitfall, successfully serving the needs of beginner, intermediate and experienced photographers. It is a non-destructive RAW image editor that does exactly what it says and does it efficiently and effectively.

Luminar is able to be an all-in-one app not because it dumbs anything down, but because it presents users with a bevy of diverse, powerful, photography-specific tools wrapped in an interface that adapts to each user.It takes the very best parts of the company’s other apps and sort of reimagines them and places them under one roof. It all just works. It may be late in the year, but Luminar is easily one of 2016’s best image editing options.

Read our full review of Aurora HDR by Macphun.

#8 Choice:Corel Paint Shop Pro X8 Score: 6.7

Like some of the other software covered in this overview, Corel Paint Shop Pro X8 is designed to essentially be three applications in one, as evidenced by the three tabs that live atop the interface.

Manage – You can manage your photos via a Lightroom-esque interface that allows for tagging, rating and a variety of annotations such as place information.

Adjust – Next you can move on to make basic enhancements to your newly imported images, a task made simple and intuitive with the use of sliders. With Paint Shop Pro X8 you can crop, straighten, and clone; there’s even a “makeover” option, designed with portraits in mind, that removes red-eye and blemishes. You also have access to a satisfying amount of artistic filters, similar to those you’d find on Instagram.

Edit -The Edit panel exposes the true power of Paint Shop Pro, revealing all the tools and features that make this application a viable alternative to Photoshop: raw processing with support for more than 300 cameras, selection tools, layers, HDR processing and more. Paint Shop Pro X8 is available is a Windows-only application and is available in two varieties — the standard edition of Paint Shop Pro X8 and Paint Shop Pro X8 Ultimate. The Ultimate edition includes additional plug-ins and filters and costs US$99.99, while the standard editions carries a price tag of US$79.99.

#9 Choice: Cyberlink PhotoDirector 7 Score: 6.6

Cyberlink’s PhotoDirector software may suffer from a lack of name recognition in comparison to the other heavy-hitters on this list, but if you spend some time with the application you will discover that it isn’t necessarily out of its depth here. In fact, the current version, PhotoDirector 7, is capable of doing much of what the more popular software can do and can certainly do everything a photography enthusiast would need it to do. PhotoDirector 7 can process raw files, with support for all the major camera manufacturers such as Fujifilm, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Leica, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, and Samsung, and several obscure/obsolete digital cameras like the AgfaPhoto DC-833m, Apple QuickTake 150, and Polaroid x530. Similar to Paint Shop Pro, PhotoDirector embodies an intuitive, easy to use workflow that is allocated across three tabs: Manage, Adjust, and Edit. PhotoDirector 7’s photo manager/organizer will seem familiar enough to Lightroom users, as you can tag and rate images and sort according to a variety of criteria, though the sort feature isn’t as powerful as what Lightroom provides. Basic image editing is a snap with PhotoDirector’s “people beautifier,” object removal, and portrait retouching tools. Also included are cloning and healing tools, numerous adjustment brushes, facial recognition, and geotagging. It is unlikely that PhotoDirector 7 would compete squarely with Lightroom, Photoshop, or Affinity Photo, but it may be a perfect alternative to Paint Shop Pro or Elements. There are three different options available when you go to purchase PhotoDirector 7; the Deluxe package is a Windows-only application that will run you US$59.99. The Ultra package and Suite package include additional advanced features such as layer based editing, split toning, and automated lens correction, and both are available for Windows and Mac OS machines. The Ultra package costs US$144.94, while the Suit package with its color grading tools for video costs U$S149.99. All versions of the software are available for download.

#10 Choice: On1 Photo 10 Score: 6.5

On1 Photo 10, which replaces On1’s Perfect Photo Suite 9.5, is all about ease of use, refinement, and versatility. Photo 10 incorporates a file Browser that lets users view, sort, and rate images in a package reminiscent of Adobe Bridge. The Effects module contains a plethora of color and black and white presets which can be customized once applied (be warned that applying presets can be slow). The Enhance module is where you go to recover shadows and highlights, remove redeye, and reduce noise. The Layers module may be Photo 10’s anchor point, as it greatly simplifies the selection, masking, and object removal processes. Yes, you can perform these tasks in Photoshop, but for most people Photo 10 presents a considerably easier-to-use alternative. On1 Photo 10 is available for Mac and Windows for a cost of US$119.99. It can be used as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Elements, and for Apple Aperture. Photo 10 can also be used as an extension for Apple Photos.

#11 Choice:Serif Affinity Photo Score: 6

Billed as a true Photoshop alternative, Affinity Photo is a relatively new player in the image editing game. Affinity Photo’s user interface does bear a passing resemblance to that of Adobe’s Photoshop and, indeed, carries nearly all of the same features — from raw processing to layers to ICC color management to 3D effects. Affinity Photo has a notable advantage over Photoshop in terms of ease of access, as its layout is a bit more intuitive; all of Affinity Photo’s basic image editing tools are front and center and, by default, the only tools you see when you run the application for the first time. But with one mouse click you can open up the full array of advanced editing tools offered by Affinity Photo, a move that even more closely aligns Affinity Photo with Photoshop in both form and function. Affinity Photo does not feature any sort of photo management system, so you will have to make use of other software for that. Serif’s Affinity Photo is a stand-alone application that will set you back US$49.99. While Affinity Photo has spent its life thus far as a Mac exclusive, Serif will introduce a Windows version of the software, with a free beta version coming summer 2016. If you’re not interested in subscription based software, Affinity Photo’s asking price in relation to the features it provides (virtually the same as Photoshop and certainly more than Elements, while being less expensive than both) makes it a no-brainer.

And the Best Photography Software of 2017 is…

Clearly, options for the best photography software are abundant. You may find that no one application fits all of your requirements but the good thing is that you can’t really go wrong with any of the software covered here. Whether you’re willing to forgo certain features for a lower price, or if price is no concern and you just want the best product on the market, or you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, there is something out there for you — even if it isn’t on this list. The most important thing you can do before diving into a purchase is research your options; this overview is a good place to start.

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Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), writer, and music lover. You can see Jason’s photography on Flickr, his Website or his Blog.

50 thoughts on “The Best Photography Software for 2017

  1. Claude

    With Lightroom being an excellent choice for most I wonder how many of your voters are able use Photoshop to its full extent and appreciate its superior editing ability?

  2. Dave Humphreys

    A striking omission from the runners in this list is Zoner Photo Studio 18 which is an excellent organiser as well as an easy intuitive manipulation tool. It is a cross between Elements and Lightroom non destructive and simple to use , with customisable pre-sets and global and local selection and manipulation.

  3. Rich G

    Why is Elements rated at 7 for Photo Management and Photoshop rated at 1? They both use Bridge for that function.

    If you give Photoshop the same score for that function as Elements, Photoshop wins the whole contest against them all.

    1. Joe C

      Lightroom also is a database for cataloging photographs and organizing them. Bridge is an editing tool that mimics many of LRs functionalities on that end, but lacks the organizational/database component. Make sense?

  4. apzwee

    I’ve been working for almost 3 years with Zoner Photo Studio, now with version 17. I think it’s quite complete, be it for managing, editing, or developing (RAW files).. I use also some 8bf plug-ins from Fotomatic (for B&W), MV’s, or optik Verve. I don’t need something “heavy” like PS, preferring smooth editing – and only if there is a need to – with Zoner.

  5. Fil

    Seems like there should be some place for ACDSee 9 Pro and/or Ultimate on this list which got very refined over the years (I know it from the first version and regularly use it for much of my photo editing). The latest versions mentioned should be seriously looked up. It might also be interesting to (frequent / former) PS users that it also supports PS filters.

    While at that, the PhotoScape is pretty good to – getting better with each update – and more versatile in many ways. The fact that it is a FREEWARE should not be a deterrent – for some folks it may be a good solution, readily available with zero investment.

  6. Joe C

    I take issue with the ease of use of Photoshop. it is incredibly sophisticated and the tools that are “easiest” to use are really part of Bridge and not Photoshop. Lightroom is by far and away the top choice for editing and managing photographs for photographers. At least in my opinion!!

    1. Ptah Hotep

      Photoshop is given a biased review here. Where is the category that includes plug-ins that improve one’s work flow. That’s another 10 for PS, Also, if this is about the best editing software, the management category is given too much weight. It is not equal to the other editing categories. And again, Elements gets a 7 in that category while PS gets a
      1! How does that make sense. When it comes to photo editing, nothing comes close to PS. I was a part of the first Lightroom beta, joining on Day 2, I know Photoshop Lightroom, and it’s no Photoshop!

    2. Ed T

      I have used several of the above mentioned editing programs. About a year ago I decided to give Lightroom a try. I have been blown away by the ease and quality of the editing tools. In my opinion the detail sliders are the best of any of the programs I have used. Jason, you are dead on with your review, Lightroom is by far the best option at the present time..

    1. Keith

      I was surprised Corel After Shot Pro 2 was not listed/reviewed. I tested it against Lightroom for a month and liked it just as much, plus ASP is faster. The difference for me was price and that ASP has a Linux version.

  7. Claude B.

    Well done Jason!

    The Lightroom is perfect for my need, photo management is just superb and extra versatile in researches.
    I also have Prefect Photo Suite (On1 Photo) But not multi-language (Important for me and many users on any one of photo softwares)
    Then my latest is a great pleasure to use and learn is the Affinity Photo. Yes, it is a growing competitor to PS. At that price (US $55.00) you are a winner, for Window user soon? Wow!
    The forum, update is fast and efficient. Many problems have been resolve since the start.
    Yes, it is multi langages.
    The problem with PhotoShop is you are a kind of prisoner of monthly payment and more users prefer the Lightroom for easy to use. Unless your have a very specific need.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Google Nik Collection!!

  8. Brian Palmer

    An interesting if somewhat incomplete article.
    Corel’s Aftershot Pro is viable alternative to Lightroom.
    ACDSee is another great package that should bd considered.
    Adobe’s main advantage is the awesome availability of third party documentation.

    The quality of documentation should be a major feature of any software. Sadly help files are no longer an integrated parg of software packages. Adobe seems to have rolled the documentation into one large database forcing the user to sift through all the information tor all their software.

  9. Alien

    The ” look” of capture one is that of a 3D Velvia …so tends to ” jump out”…no don’t have it but looking to buy with DXO for its lense distortion correction catalogue and its automatic haze elimination

  10. Alien

    They say latest Lightroom RAW conversion is giving a serpior look now so have to check it…or buy all 3? As they have their own strengths and weaknesses.

  11. John Connor

    On thing that’s dumb is the overall score. Giving Photoshop a lower score because it only gets a 1 for photo management is like giving a 2 seat sports car a 1 for passenger capacity because it can’t hold 5 people. Photoshop isn’t photo management software by design! So how can you penalize it for something its not meant to do!

    1. Domtar Gipsum

      The article is about the best overall software, so the score is valid. A 2-seat sports car isn’t likely to win many overall car comparisons, either.

  12. Jen

    I feel really comes down to person using programs! How easy or hard it is for that individual.
    That person should try free trails of editing software out there, before buying one or paying the monthly fee for it. As some found one easier over another. It’s know different really then anything else out there in photography industry! As everyone has what they feel best fits them!

  13. RichardS

    The method of rating gives the same importance to each rating category. It would be more meaningful if the categories were weighted. For example, “Ease of Use” becomes less important than “Fulfills its Promise” because each time you use a particular package, it becomes easier to use; therefore, it should be weighted lower. Do this kind of evaluation for each category and the overall result becomes more meaningful. A high rating in a less important category would not skew the results like it does now. Likewise, a low rating in a higher ranked category would have greater impact on the overall result.

  14. Daryl Alm

    Your take on Corel x8 is totally wrong. It is by far the easiest with Lightroom being the hardest. I have had the last four versions of Lightroom and didn’t use it because it was a nightmare to navigate. You obviously are very Adobe biased.

    1. Linda

      I’m with you on Lightroom. I guess it’s because I have so many pictures and most of them are on removable drives. The program freaks out when I disconnect a drive and put on a different one. It freezes up my computer as it does a frantic search. The features are okay at first, but the question marks and fruitless searching make it useless for me. If you don’t have that many photos, or you delete them most after editing, I guess it’s great, but regular Photoshop with Bridge and folders I make myself worked best for me, until the advent of the Cloud (not for me). Now I use an ancient version of Photoshop (which is still surprisingly good, with extensions) and Elements, which keeps my RAW version up to date, and which, actually, does most of what I need to do.

  15. Blake Rudis

    haha, yeah give Photoshop a 1 in Management, which kills its overall score. Not very fair Lightstalking. That is not what the program is for, yet it is the best photo editing software on the planet with 0 restrictions other than the users ability to handle it, wow!

  16. mar

    Interesting run down of what’s out there. I use ON1 v10.5 together with Canons own Raw software for lens correction – great combo. Once On1 launches ON1 RAW, I’ll do all corrections within the ON1 collection.

  17. Jaran G. Heggen

    What about:
    Photo Ninja
    IMatch 5
    Fotoware Fotostation
    Coral Aftershot
    IView for Phase One
    NIK Collection (Can be used as standalone for none RAW formats)

    Just to mention a few, some of them are DAM tools, some are RAW editing software that also edit other formats, just like LR …

  18. sumona

    Photo Recovery Software are also one of the most important utilities of a photographer. Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery, Recuva, Remo Recover, PC inspector are few of the best friends of a photographer whenever there is any data loss or data threat!

  19. Cameron Roberson

    Photolemur should be on the list! This app enhances your photos automatically. I’ve downloaded the demo version on their web-site:

  20. Rivki Locker

    I am just getting started in the world of photo editing – I have advanced my photography skills overall, but haven’t done much by way of photo editing. I have been using Apple Photos for some time and I use iCloud to get all my photos to all my devices. Whether I take them on my dslr (which is usually the case) and sync them to my mac or iPad, or whether I take them from my iPhone, iCloud combined with Apple Photos makes the whole process of managing and syncing my photos SUPER simple. I want more photo editing features than Apple Photos offers, but I’m dead scared of an application that requires that I figure out a new workflow for backing up my photos, storing and organizing them, and getting them off my iPhone / iPad onto my mac. Do you have any experience with Photos plug-ins? Will I be shortchanging my learning and photography skills if I don’t learn lightroom? I hate to invest time into an app that is limited, but I’m just really worried about the logistics of Lightroom.

  21. Peter Dam

    It seems like the article needs to be updated to 2017 like the title says.

    Capture One Pro 10 is out as well as a windows version of Affinity Photo. Please write which version of Affinity Photo you have tested. A lot of extra features (like macros) was added in Affinity Photo v. 1.5

    Otherwise, thanks for the overview.

  22. dgbutterworth

    I am a bit disappointed in the complete lack of Open Source software in this list, much less software that is compatible with Linux systems. Surely GIMP deserves recognition. And I find Darktable to be excellent software for photo editing.
    But it’s a good list for the scope covered. Thanks.

  23. Ursula Rose

    May I point out On 1 RAW Photo 2017 is the newest version of the former On 1 Photo 10,which has more functions, and I like it very much.

  24. justin789

    I found this application, PhotoViewerPro. Its super easy to use, great for editing videos and photos. It’s user-friendly and very powerful.

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