Walk the halls of any K-12 setting and you're likely to find photos of student projects, field trips, and school events posted on bulletin boards and doors. Visit a school or classroom Web site, glance at the newsletters sent home to parents, or examine the contents of students' portfolios and you'll see an abundance of colorful pictures that document, inform, and validate school happenings. Thanks to the proliferation of low-cost, user-friendly digital cameras, school photo shoots have become commonplace. It's no wonder that even giant-size computer hard drives soon fill to overflowing.
Learning to wield a digital camera is just the beginning. To make the most of a digital photo, you'll also want an image editor to remove unsightly blemishes, balance lighting and composition, or crop unnecessary elements. In addition, you'll need a tool to help catalog and archive your photo collection so images are easy to locate or back up on CD or DVD to free up space on your hard drive and the network server.
In this review, we look at inexpensive digital photo editing products and image management tools that help you polish and organize your digital photos. The emphasis here is on products that combine a variety of powerful editing effects-beyond just cropping and erasing red-eye-with strong organizational tools that allow users to label, sort, rate, and easily find photos. Not included here are many additional products, such as Arcsoft Photo Studio and Corel Photobook, which focus primarily on editing or organization, but lack the more balanced capabilities of the six we've selected for this review.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 and Photoshop Album 2.0 (Adobe Systems, Inc.)
Adobe's second-generation image editor Photoshop Elements inherits the most popular features of its standard-setting parent at a fraction of the price. While it has fewer tools and special effect filters than Photoshop, Elements has more than enough features for quick fixes and image enhancements. And, like all good children who go on to accomplish really great things on their own, Elements adds a few bells and whistles that its parent program would do well to adopt. For example, when users click on Create Photomerge in the File menu, they can overlap several photos either horizontally or vertically, and then combine the resulting stack into one continuous panoramic photo.
Elements' optional Welcome Screen at startup is another important feature unavailable in Photoshop. From there, users can complete common tasks such as creating a new file, browsing for a specific file, and connecting a camera or scanner directly to the application. New users will appreciate the program tutorial and the Hints feature with how-to tips and brief descriptions of program tools and palettes.
Like other image editors reviewed here, Elements has several automated editing tools, including a Quick Fix panel which gathers several major image correction tools in one location. It also has a built-in browser for previewing images in thumbnail size, opening an image for editing, and organizing images in user-specified folders. File management capabilities are adequate, but not as robust as either iPhoto or Photoshop Album. For example, you can't use the program to archive images to CD. Nor can you create special projects using images displayed through the file browser. For more control over image management, Mac users will want to download a free copy of iPhoto (see next review) and PC users should consider purchasing the $50 Windows-compatible Photoshop Album.
Photoshop Album delivers a versatile and flexible solution for digital image editing and management. For example, you can use it to import images scattered about your hard drive, saved on removable media, or stored in a camera. You can also use it to retrieve photos (by tag or date) stored in an existing collection.
Album offers enhanced file management capabilities, including the ability to locate and organize images by date using the Timeline (a range of months represented in the currently open catalog) or Calendar (specific date) features.
Apple iPhoto 2 (Apple Computer, Inc.)
Mac users running OS X v.10.1.5 or later can call on Apple's free iPhoto for organizing and sharing digital photographs. Like several other digital photo editors and browsers reviewed here, iPhoto easily imports images directly from a camera. The original images are left untouched so they can't be harmed in the transfer or inadvertently modified when you alter an image in the iPhoto library. Since the iPhoto library contains image copies, it's easy to understand why you need a very large hard drive if you plan to work with several digital images. Luckily, iPhoto (like the other photo album tools in this roundup) offers a burn-to-CD or -DVD option so you can archive images for later use.
Images stored in the iPhoto library display as thumbnails on screen. Click an image to select it and you'll also see information about that photo, including title, date, time, resolution, and file size. iPhoto also stores information about the camera make and model, shutter speed, aperture, focal length, and image size.
You can create multiple photo libraries and switch among them, or, if you have an Apple-compatible burner, burn them to CD or DVD directly from the application.
It should be noted that iPhoto has only limited image editing capabilities. For example, it doesn't support editing in layers; nor does it offer the range of filters and special effect tools provided by Adobe, Jasc, Microsoft, and Ulead image editors. For serious image editing, you're probably better off with Photoshop Elements for detailed work.
However, iPhoto's strength lies in its archiving and presentation capabilities. Single-click options allow you to select images in the currently open library and send them as e-mail attachments (the other photo album products also have this capability). You can publish selected images in Web library or QuickTime format, convert a photo to a Desktop image, create a slide show presentation with music accompaniment, and more. With the money saved from the free download, you could spend $25 to purchase a copy of David Pogue's iPhoto 2: The Missing Manual (opens in new tab) from Pogue Press/O'Reilly (www.missingmanuals.com) since iPhoto comes without any printed documentation.
Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8 and Photo Album 4 (Jasc Software)
Jasc Paint Shop Pro and Photo Album represent two full-featured digital image packages for users who want both power and flexibility. Paint Shop Pro tackles image editing, and Photo Album allows you to organize, archive, and share those images with others. While Paint Shop Pro has the usual assortment of automatic image editing tools to crop, tweak, enhance, and refine existing images, it really shines in the manual tweaking department (e.g., like PhotoImpact, it has a Convert Text to Curves option). New users will appreciate the Paint Shop Pro product tour with interactive video introductions to several palettes, working with layers, photo correction, cropping and resizing, paint and vector drawing, and special effect filters. Learning Center Quick Guides offer step-by-step guided demonstrations of program features, including detailed image adjusting tools and materials palettes.
Unfortunately, Paint Shop Pro's menu structure, with unconventional commands like Arithmetic, Split Channel, New Adjustment Layer, and New Layer Group, and intricate dialog box controls make the interface a little daunting. Also, the latest version includes eight different palettes and eight separate toolbars, which adds to the complexity of the interface. There are so many options, the product is best reserved for older, more serious digital photographers.
Like Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro has a rudimentary built-in image browser with options for viewing, renaming, moving, copying, sorting, and deleting camera image files. However, for more control over file management and image organization, you're better off using Photo Album, which like other image management applications reviewed here, allows you numerous search and viewing options.
Microsoft Digital Image Suite 9 (Microsoft Corporation)
The Suite in this title refers to the sweet deal users get with this product. Like the programs from Ulead, Jasc, and Roxio, Microsoft's Digital Image Suite offers both image editing and management in one integrated tool kit. It combines Microsoft Digital Image Library, a photo organization and archiving tool, with Microsoft Digital Image Pro, a program for image editing and touch ups with filters, edges, and other special effects.
When you launch Digital Image Pro, an intuitive startup window displays available options: Open a file, Open an image from a camera, Scan a picture, Edit multiple pictures, Create a project, or Switch to MDIL. New users can take a tour; there are also instructional videos, help files, and online photo tips.
The image enhancement tools are about what you'd expect from an entry-level digital image editor, plus you'll find over 200 filters for special artistic effects (including watercolor, film grain, and colored pencil) in addition to a variety of other manipulation tools. Unlike the Text tool in Paint Shop Pro, colorizing text was a simple point-and-click operation. Digital Image Pro, like Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro, and PhotoImpact, also offers support for multiple object layers, allowing you to modify elements in one layer without affecting the elements in the background or in other layers.
The companion Digital Image Library excels at image management, helping users organize, find, and archive images stored on a hard drive, CD, or DVD. An Import Picture wizard automatically copies images from a camera (however, it didn't recognize the Sony DSC-P32 used for this review) or disc, adding them to the program's image library. You can embed a host of metadata with the image file name, then use this information to search for the image at a later time.
An Archive Pictures wizard takes the images that you've specified and transfers them to removable media. When sharing images with others (via e-mail, print, or Web), you can take advantage of more than 3,000 program templates to create projects, including photo albums, calendars, flyers, and photo frames.
Roxio Photosuite 5 Platinum Edition (Roxio, Inc.)
Packaged as a "complete digital photo solution, from capture to burning," this Windows-only image editor and backup solution imports photos and automatically stores them in electronic albums. You can use it to apply keywords, captions, and comments to each image for simplified retrieval, and archive images on CD or DVD. While its image editing tools are not as powerful as those in Paint Shop Pro, PhotoImpact, or Photoshop Elements, Photosuite may be just the all-in-one tool kit you and your students need to import, fix, share, and burn digital images.
Its hardware requirements are not as demanding as some of the other packages reviewed here (something you'll want to keep in mind if you're working with older equipment).
Friendly and intuitive user interface notwithstanding, it's the only program reviewed that does not use a conventional Windows interface of drop-down menus, palettes, and toolbars. This can be frustrating at times and takes a little getting used to.
When the program starts up, you can import images from cameras, specified hard drive folders, or removable media; however, like Digital Image Library, Photosuite did not recognize the Sony DSC-P32 used for this review. When a download completes, you can view the imported images as thumbnails in a photo album. Click Done and Photosuite takes you back to the main work area where you can work your way through the following four major task options: Transfer; Edit and Create; Print and Share; and View, Organize, and Archive.
Novice computer users and young children will find Photosuite very easy to use. Rest the pointer on one of the four main task areas and the program presents a brief description of everything you can do if you select that task. For example, click Edit and Create to take advantage of automated image editing options. Open an image, then click AutoFix to correct image exposure, saturation, and photo sharpness according to predefined settings. Unlike the image editing in Paint Shop Pro, you can't compare how an image will look before and after you apply a particular fix or tool.
The Album component of the program handles management tasks, allowing you to create photo albums, move images from one album to another, attach comments to an image, or view a slide show. New users will appreciate the program's tutorial introduction. While the Roxio suite is certainly not the most powerful or robust application reviewed in this roundup, it has a friendly interface and its program features are very easy to use.
Ulead PhotoImpact 8 (Ulead Systems, Inc.)
Ulead PhotoImpact 8 consists of two graphics packages: PhotoImpact for digital image editing and PhotoImpact Album for image management. Convenient access commands within each application open the other program, allowing you, for example, to edit an Album image in PhotoImpact simply by right-clicking it and selecting Open from the pop-up context menu.
Editing features include automated image fixes to correct for poor lighting, color imbalance, and lens distortion, plus numerous filters.
PhotoImpact's companion, Album, helps organize and manage the images you select. A Batch Manager option lets you apply a command such as Print Thumbnails, Sort By, or View Attributes to multiple albums. Export options include Save As HTML for posting images on the Web as an album or a slide show. You can also export images directly to a CD. It's a powerful application in a user-friendly package.
Carol Holzberg, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an educational technology specialist and computer journalist who works as technology coordinator at three schools in Massachusetts.
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A Snapshot of Image Editors and Digital Photo Albums
See both comparion charts, Adobe Photoshop Elements/Album 2.0, Apple iPhoto 2 & Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8/Photo Album 4 and Microsoft Digital Image Suite 9, Roxio Photosuite 5 & Ulead PhotoImpact 8
Product Adobe Photoshop Elements/Album 2.0Apple iPhoto 2Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8/Photo Album 4 Publisher Adobe Systems, Inc.
www.adobe.com (opens in new tab) Apple Computers, Inc.
www.apple.com/iphoto (opens in new tab) Jasc Software
www.jasc.com Platform Elements: Mac/Win; Album: Win only Mac only Win only Price Elements, $100; Album $50 Free download (www.apple.com (opens in new tab)); bundled in iLife, $49 Paint Shop Pro: $93 boxed; $84 download
Photo Album: $42 boxed; $38 download Grade Level Elementary school and up Elementary school and up Advanced middle school and up Features Elements:
- Photomerge for panoramic images
- Built-in browser
- Batch processing
- PDF slide show
- Multipage PDF, PSD
- Contact sheet and pictures
- Multiple print layouts
- Burn CD picture archives - Optimized for OS X
- Burns CD picture archives
- QuickFix image enhancement
- Multimedia slide show presentation
- Supports AppleScript
- Printing templates
- Project templates - Easy access to other Jasc product
Paint Shop Pro:- Dockable palettes
- Feature-rich image editor including layer, vector, graphic editing, and more
- Several special effect filters
Photo Album- Burns video CDs
- Simple photo enhancement options
- Multiple undos Strengths Elements:
- In-context text editing
- Interface and tool set resembles Photoshop
- Photomerge image stitching
- Supports both vector and bitmap graphics
- Displays images as thumbnails
- Numerous Web gallery templates - Free
- Drag-and-drop organizing
- Supports AppleScript to automate repetitive tasks
- Generates an image in HTML
- Full-screen slide show
- Superb organization, sharing, and storage - Scripts to automate repetitive tasks
Paint Shop Pro:- Less demanding hardware requirements
- Dockable toolbars and palettes
- Supports both vector and bitmap graphics
Photo Album- Simple photo enhancement tools Limitations - Steep learning curve for Elements
- Two applications with separate startup icons
- Demanding hardware requirements
- No Mac version for Album - Few image editing tools
- Works only with Mac OS X
- No printed user manual or guide
- No PC version
- Demanding hardware requirements - Two applications with separate startup icons
- Paint Shop Pro may be too complex for less experienced users
- Paint Shop Pro does not support WYSIWYG text editing
- No Mac version for either product Support Material - Built-in Help feature
- Hints and Recipes palettes in Elements
- Elements includes users guide and glossary
- Album includes product overview movie, Getting Started manual, and QuickGuide - Built-in Help feature
- Tutorials available on iPhoto Web site - Integrated Learning Center with tutorials, product tour movies, and context-sensitive help for Photo Album
- Free unlimited telephone technical support Bottom Line Powerful image editing photo management combination that should be used together for best results; Mac users will need to use iPhoto for image management For Mac OS X, this free image management tool can't be beat; however, the image editing tools are weak, so you'll probably need an image editor as well Powerful image editor with complex interface that may be too cumbersome for occasional users; more experienced users will find its image editing tool kit very satisfyingProduct Microsoft Digital Image Suite 9Roxio Photosuite 5Ulead PhotoImpact 8 Publisher Microsoft Corporation
www.microsoft.com (opens in new tab) Roxio, Inc.
www.roxio.com (opens in new tab) Ulead Systems, Inc.
www.ulead.com Platform Win only Win only Win only Price $129 $49.95 boxed; $39.95 download $90 Grade Level Elementary school and up Middle school and up Middle school and up Features Digital Image Pro:- Intuitive interface combined with powerful image editing
- Photoshop plug-in filter support
- Import Picture wizard
- MiniLab with automated tools for batch edits
- Smart Erase tool
Digital Image Library:- Photo Story Lite creates a narrated slide show
- Archiving tools - All-in-one image editor and photo management
- PhotoDoctor for auto-correcting images
- Thumbnail view in album feature
- Simple user interface - Combined suite for image editing and photo management
- Image editing and photo album install together
- Cross-program access commands
- Component Designer includes over 800 templates
- Web design tools
- Thumbnail view in Album feature Strengths - Friendly, simple user interface
- Wizards to simplify and automate several tasksDigital Image Pro:- Feature tour at startup
- In-context text editing
Digital Image Library:- Batch organize all photos
- Backup reminders
- Easy access to DIP - Easy-to-use features and interface
- Convenient all-in-one package
- WYSIWYG text captioning
- Less demanding hardware requirements - Applications optimized to work together- Easy-to-use and robust Web design tools
- Supports both vector and bitmap graphics Limitations - Two applications with separate startup icons
- Can't double-click an image in DIP for manual edit
- Demanding hardware requirements
- No Mac version for either product - Users have little control over the image editing process
- No automatic photo downloads
- Few special effect tools
- No Mac version - No Mac version Support Material - Built-in Help feature
- Printed manual, electronic tutorials, and 3,000 templates
- Three years technical support
- Digital Image Library has instructional videos - Built-in Help feature - Built-in Help feature Bottom Line Does a wonderful job of image editing and cataloging with numerous tools, templates, and user-friendly wizards Inexpensive all-in-one package providing minimal control over image editing; good for young students and novice computer users Powerful application bundle in a user-friendly package with easy-to-use Web design features
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