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Review of Photo Software


Brian Pankuch
Chemistry Department, Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016


A number of features strike me when I turn on the PowerBook ( 800 MHz G4 processor with Velocity Engine, 1GB memory) next to my 20 inch monitor connected to the desktop system.. The 15.2 in diagonal PowerBook screen looks to be similar in size to the 20 in monitor. The PowerBook is 5.5 lbs complete with a much smaller footprint.

I’m finding that iPhoto is great for downloading photos from a source, searching, sorting, storing and sharing photos. For adjusting material for web pages Graphic Converter is hard to beat. For serious touchup work Photoshop is by far the best.
Great 5…………1 Poor
Comparison of four programs, iPhoto, Photoshop, Graphic Converter, PixelNhance, which can handle many aspects of working with digital photos. The other two QuickTime, and Fireworks MX are not specifically for photos, but can be useful in certain areas.

iPhoto 2 is a free Mac program (only OS X). I usually use a Canon Elura 2 DV Camcorder that allows individual pictures, but saves them as a 6 sec video. When hooked up to my computer it automatically downloads into iMovie, from which it is easy to export pictures in a wide variety of formats. So why am I reviewing iPhoto? One of the presents my daughter and friend brought home for the Holidays were two CD’s full of pictures of their adventures, about 1300 pictures, thus my sudden interest in iPhoto.

It is a useful program for downloading, sorting, adjusting, and manipulating your photos. You can import photos from a digital camera, from a memory card reader, CD, floppy disk, or from other locations on your computer's hard disk, or attached FireWire drives.

Personally I’ve found having a separate FireWire drive for my video and pictures helpful, especially for archiving work or entire backups of a hard drive. IPhoto will show thumbnail prints on a single adjustable sheet. The size of the photos is adjustable from very small to full screen using a slider. This is the best way I’ve seen for sorting through a large number of photos and quickly enlarging your selection.

It is easy to rotate photos (Edit->Rotate from the menu bar), remove red eye (click on Edit below the picture, select an area containing both eyes and click on Reduce Red-Eye).
The controls for controlling Enhance, Retouch, Brightness, Contrast, and Cropping are straightforward and do exactly what you expect. For all these controls press the Control key to compare the edited photo to its previous version and flip back and forth, undo the last change with Command Z, or go to File and return to original. Making changes affects all appearances of the photo in albums, etc. If it is an important photo it is good practice to work on a duplicate for this and the following programs.

The photos can be sorted into categories that you can name. For example you may download pictures taken of lab setups, students at work, faculty, equipment, etc., if you plan on organizing pictures by categories then it is worth setting up these categories as Keywords. Pictures can be assigned titles, keywords, or film rolls, and iPhoto Library can be searched using these assignments. If you click on Organize at the bottom, select all the photos you want to have a certain keyword, then Keywords (Edit menu). Click on the Keyword you want and all the pictures you have selected will in the future come up when you are in the search mode. If you click on several Keywords only photos in both categories will appear (photos can be put in several categories). Searches can also be done using Comments (titles of your photos), just go to Preferences and choose Comments instead of Keywords under Assign/Search.

It may help to understand the structure iPhoto uses. It downloads all your photos in an iPhoto Library that is stored under Pictures in your user folder. You can separate your photos into albums by creating a new album (folder) for a given group of pictures in the iPhoto Library. The albums are not actual copies of your pictures they are aliases or addresses of the photos, so don’t toss the iPhoto Library since that is where your pictures reside. The same picture can be added to as many different albums as desired, since they are aliases they take up little room.

Another handy way of sorting pictures into an album is to open the file of pictures and as you look at them drag and drop your favorites into the desired albums into iPhoto 's photo viewing area (with iPhoto running). Or drag a selection of photos or files and drop into iPhoto.

Exporting can be in a wide variety of formats, with very limited control of compression, but a 1.5 Mb photo could be compressed to between 4K ( a thumbnail) to 220K full size. If you have a lot of pictures with the name given by a digital camera (118-1873_IMG.JPG to 118-1888_IMG.JPG) you can rename the whole batch in Photoshop-see the Photoshop review.

If you want serious archiving consider starting a new iPhoto Library when the old one reaches 700MB. Cut a CD or two of the old iPhoto Library, write a Word file describing its contents, start a new iPhoto Library. The upper limit of size of iPhoto Library, depends on computer memory and available space on the hard drive. Performance will slow as it gets bigger and problems have been reported with libraries of over 3000 photos.

There are many options for sending photos by email, placing them on the web, or having them professionally printed, even in custom books. For more information on archiving this interesting review has tips on using iPhoto as a pro and how to extend its abilities. IPhoto help is online and is quickly becoming more useful as it is updated.

Photoshop 7.01 is the top of the line available for PC’s and Macs (same copy can be installed in OS 9 or X). It can do everything any other program does. In addition it can restore damaged photos. For example I was asked to restore a better than 50 year old color picture which had been ripped and stained. I used the clone and healing tools and by increasing the magnification so only small changes would be made the changes looked smooth and effective. It is effective to pay attention to where each of these tools is sampling the photo and replacing the damaged area. The sampling area is defined by clicking on the sampling area while holding the option key down. The rips in particular disappeared like magic, the stains were more widespread and took more effort, but disappear they did. None of the other reviewed programs can do this.

The package consists of two programs Photoshop for photos, and ImageReady for material going on the web. It can rename whole batches of digital camera file names.
If you have many pictures with the name given by a digital camera (118-1873_IMG.JPG to 118-1888_IMG.JPG) you can rename the whole batch, or each subset of the batch, choose File > Automate > Batch . Select the source folder, then the destination folder note the File Naming area, select elements from the pop-up menus or enter text into the fields to be combined into the new names for all files. Be sure to include a counter or number to insure names are different. Using Photoshop’s File Browser is straight forward, but now where as effective or fun as the iPhoto browser.

Photoshop 1 shows the Photoshop File Browser with the File Naming option open

GraphicConverter 4.5 is available as shareware ($35) for OS 9 or X. You can download the program and it is completely functional, but it will keep taking longer to open if you don’t pay for it. This is really worth a try.

This is the first program to go to when you want to compress pictures for the Internet. Even when I compress in another program GraphicConverter usually does more without apparent loss.

While its primary workhorse function is to convert files from one format to another, GraphicConverter can do a lot of other handy things, as well. Many find it indispensable for image editing, including resizing, adjusting color balance, color depth, contrast, resolution or sharpening.

For instance the Brightness/Contrast gives you wide range of adjustments to completely change the look of a picture. My favorite method is to open the photo and a copy, then with the Brightness/Contrast panel open adjust the copy and have two full sized pictures side by side to compare changes. The adjustable area shown in the panel is useful, but my method allows you to see exactly what the entire photo looks like. Levels, Sharpen, etc., and other controls can be used in conjunction till you get what you prefer.


GraphicConverter 2 with some of the controls available in for adjusting photos.
At last count, the application imports about 145 file formats and exports about 45.
A full suite of powerful AppleScript commands within GraphicConverter and availability of free scripts provides even more versatility. You can write scripts to automate repetitive routines, or you can use AppleScripts that others have written to help you with a variety of tasks. iPhoto is also scriptable, and Photoshop has very limited use of AppleScript.
It is great for fast conversion of complete folders of images to the selected destination format, and can apply batch function like rotate, resize, etc. during the above process and rename the selected files with various conditions. You can concat images to create one large image (for example for QuickTime VR).
GraphicConverter also has useful contextual menus, such as the ability while looking at a group of pictures just control click on any pictures to rotate. The program has many  options but no real help built into the system, though there is online
help, and a book of directions for $10.
There are a tremendous number of options, for saving and changing your pictures. If you can afford the space it is good form to save the original uncompressed picture with the compressed version. I tend toward JPEG compression and 10:1usually leaves the picture looking the same.

QuickTime 6.2 does both video and pictures. You have the option of extracting photos from your video or opening pictures directly. QuickTime has all the popular options for saving and compressing files. It has limited adjustments for pictures, only control of brightness for the photos.

PixelNhance 1.5.11 is free and has a single panel to click on Brightness, Levels, Color, Saturation, Tones, Sharp and Noise. Each control has several sliders to adjust that parameter. A large window is provided with your photo. It has a divider that can be moved and rotated to divide the photo into before and after. The control panel is very responsive and has a very interesting interface to give a better feel to what you are doing when you adjust Brightness, Contrast, Hue, and Strength. You can only look at the before and after for each control. The same company, Caffeine, makes TIFFany that competes with Photoshop, but I haven’t used TIFFany enough to review it. If you are into adjusting your photos this is fast, pleasant to use.

Fireworks MX is $199 as part of Macromedia Studio MX which includes Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, FreeHand, ColdFusion, and is a fine package if you want to get into professional level work on the web and the steep learning curves this implies. This is a more general tool for interactive graphics. It does include tools that can adjust photos- Brightness, Levels, Hue - Saturation, Tones, Sharpen that are found under Filters. I actually couldn’t get some of he controls to work, but the ones that did were responsive. You’ll have to open a copy of your photo to follow any changes.

I find it easier to work in GraphicConverter, I’ve had a number of files that Fireworks could not open, used GraphicConverter to open and was able to get everything done that I needed to do in GraphicConverter. The new version sports an export wizard that is helpful in compressing for the web. If you are using other Macromedia programs such as Dreamweaver and Flash this may be worth experimenting with since it exports directly in formats used by these programs and specializes in interactive components.

I’m not an expert with these programs. There was some interest during our last discussions in using photo editing and I’d like to invite anyone who has insight in this area to consider sharing your knowledge in an article.
03/30/03 to 04/03/03