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Adobe And Google Edit Photo-Editing Tools

This morning's column revisits two familiar subjects, Google's Picasa and Adobe's Photoshop Elements. I've written about both of these photo-album applications multiple times before, most recently in April of 2007.

This time around, however, I'm not as happy with each program as I was in previous years. Picasa 3 adds some crafty new editing and sorting features, but most of its photo-organizing tools haven't kept up with the volume of digital pictures accumulating on many hard drives. Photoshop Elements 7, for all of its own useful additions, has come down with a bad case of featureitis -- perhaps because its developers took the "Photoshop" part of its name too seriously.

Both of these programs are extraordinarily complex applications, with far more features than I could hope to describe in 22 or 23 column inches. So here are some other interesting points I noticed about each:


* Picasa bundles a useful extra, the Picasa Photo Viewer. This little program can take the place of Microsoft's standard picture-display tools, XP's Windows Picture and Fax Viewer and Vista's Windows Photo Gallery. It starts just as fast or faster than either of those but helps you pay a little more attention to the image itself by dimming the rest of the screen. Conveniently enough, it also includes shortcuts to add an image to your Picasa collection or upload it to the Web -- so if you feel like you already have enough Google in your life, this utility could be overkill.

* Picasa 3 can take pictures and video directly by borrowing a Webcam included in or attached to your computer... but I didn't mention this in the column because I couldn't help thinking that for taking low-resolution photos and clips, a $100 cameraphone works just as well as a $1,000 laptop.

* I criticized Picasa for relying on Google Earth for geotagging duties. One big reason why was this program's cutesy habit of simulating you soaring like a ballistic missile when you move from point to point instead of jumping directly to the next address. That caused me to wait about 30 seconds when jumping from the locations of a photo taken in in Virginia to one taken in Oregon. But once I'd arrived at the second photo's spot--the upper end of a trail on a shoulder of Mount Hood--Google Earth's ability to present a 3D simulation of the terrain gave me a far more vivid sense of where I'd been, as well as the realization that, yes, it would have taken another hour to reach the glacier that seemed just over the next hill.


* Photoshop Elements 7's "Smart Albums"--folders that, like a smart playlist in iTunes, fill themselves with photos based on preset criteria--offered far more options than I would have imagined. Not only could I tell Elements to collect pictures with certain tags or 1-to-5 star ratings, I could ask it to gather pictures taken with specific camera models and with particular shutter speeds and aperture settings. But when I wanted to revise one of these Smart Albums, the commands listed in its right-click menu didn't reveal any option to edit those criteria. Instead, I had to click over to an Options drop-down menu towards the top of the screen.

* I was floored to see that Elements only accepted specific e-mail programs -- Windows Mail and Outlook 2007 on a Vista laptop, Outlook Express and Outlook 2003 on an XP machine. Every other program I've used, down to the Windows desktop's "Send To" right-click menu, has accepted whatever mail client I've set as the default. An Adobe publicist sent along this explanation from a product manager, Bob Gager: "Creating a generic integration to the default e-mail client on a user's system is one improvement that we're looking at for a future release." In other words, Adobe ignored the built-in plumbing of Windows to write its own, more limited code--a curious exercise in making extra work for its developers.

* I could set aside the powerful editing features in Picasa because of the existence of such capable but free image editors as Paint.Net. If you only need to do major surgery on one image in a hundred, it's acceptable to have to switch to another program for those special cases; your primary photo tool doesn't need to include every single editing option.

* Elements provides one interesting printing option unavailable in Picasa, "frames." Select the "Picture Package" option when you hit the print key, and you can choose one of two dozen visual adornments -- blurred outlines, simulated brushstrokes, surrounding graphics, snowflake overlays and so on -- to dress up the output. But on my own aging H-P inkjet, some of these options, such as faded edges of "Antique Rectangle 2," left weird patterned artifacts across the image.

If you've tried out either Picasa 3 or Elements 7, I'd like to hear your experience. I'd also like to know what other photo organizers you prefer in Windows. The comments await--and so does my Web chat, coming up at 2 p.m. this afternoon.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 13, 2008; 12:37 PM ET
Categories:  Pictures  
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I'm a fan of Phanfare ( It has a desktop client that syncs with 'the cloud' and uploads in the background whenever you add photos or make any changes. It also has a very usable website organizer interface. They had some issues about whether to require user accounts to view photo albums of other members and in the end they opened it up and added a free level of service. I've been using it for myself and for my clients for almost 2 years now.

Posted by: sajego | November 13, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I recently upgraded from Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 to Elements 7. It wasn't worth it, since there aren't that many new features.

On my WinXP with 1 GB of RAM, Elements 7 takes about one minute to load, compared to 15 seconds with Elements 5. I would have thought there was something wrong with my system except for your review. There's a lot of bloat in the newer version.

I avoid using the organizer. It's still my preference to use the Windows system of labeled folders to keep track of my photos. It can be a clunky system at times, but now I have so many photos accumulated that it would be difficult to put them all on the Organizer and put appropriate tags on them.

Posted by: stevekensington | November 13, 2008 9:48 PM | Report abuse

I am quite happy using the free Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition 3.0 as an organizer. And have seen no reason to update from Adobe Photoshop 7.0 that I've been using. I do wish they integrated.

Posted by: jamessnovak | November 14, 2008 3:44 AM | Report abuse

Paint.Net is not available for a Mac so that doesn't really help Mac users looking for a free alternative. I use Adobe Photoshop Express, which is pretty good and web based. Also is pretty good and is also web based.

Posted by: Agridome | November 14, 2008 6:24 AM | Report abuse

I have used Photoshop for several years. Adobe's DNG Converter program, Adobe Bridge, and CS2 worked well for me with several Canon cameras and a Panasonic. Recently, I purchased a Canon G9, then learned that Adobe had discontinued DNG Converter and Adobe Bridge for the G9. I felt forced to purchase CS4 so that I could edit raw fotos from the G9. I have lost faith in Adobe. CS4 is not an improvement for me. CS2 had all the features I need. Being forced to upgrade to what for me is a wasteful program (CS4) has instilled in me a need to try other photoprocessing programs, including Gimp for Linux. Someone high in Adobe's corporate bureaucracy seems to think that forcing product upgrades promotes loyalty. Wrong idea from Adobe.

Posted by: TeresaBinstock | November 14, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I find Picasa 3 meets my needs well, but I probably use only 1/10 th of its features. The "I'm Feeling Lucky" fixes pictures well most of the time. Sometimes only the "Auto Contrast" adjustment is needed. Otherwise, about the only thing I use are the Red Eye and Straighten fixes.

To make any sense of the folder organization, it is necessary to change from the default (Sort by Creation Date) to Sort by Folder Name.

If you rename or add pictures to a folder from within Windows, the organization of that folder's contents in Picasa is jumbled the next time you open Picasa. One must right-click on the folder in the left pane and instruct Picasa to sort the folder's contents by name. It doesn't appear to be possible to tell Picasa to always sort the folders' contents by name.

Posted by: dprozzo | November 14, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I like FastStone ( as an organizer and quick editor. Its free, and very intuitive and easy to use. Also, good control on some oft-used tools such as sharpening which allows you to scale sharpening from 0-10, preview, then accept.

Still like Photoshop Elements 6, especially for PhotoMerge to create Panoramas -- none better at blending -- especially good at auto-adjusting exposure across three or more segments of a panorama. Alas,the sloooooow loading of the App never seems to improve.

Posted by: xjboyd | November 14, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

The improvements in Picasa 3 over Picasa 2.7 that I find most appealing are 1) the new collage tool, which makes it possible for the first time in Picasa to manipulate collage elements in a satisfactory fashion, and 2) the fact that a caption or comment can now be written directly over a photograph. What I miss most, aside from very advanced editing tools, is that presently Picasa 3 still remains unavailable in many languages, among them Swedish....


Posted by: mhenriday | November 17, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I use IMatch... it only cost $60 and so far is a great DB for sorting my photos in multiple ways. It has worked well for me with a few thousand scans as well as digi photos.
I recommend it highly, but it's not for fixing the photos.

Posted by: ladym1 | November 17, 2008 7:51 PM | Report abuse

I find Picasa 3 fit to do everything I want, plus more.

Don't see any talk about Picasa's ability to learn a face and then match that individual in your collection. People having a problem with it?

Posted by: dlbpostid | November 18, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

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