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.
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