Thoughts on Image Editing

It almost seems like you need three or four different programs just to do photo editing in Windows. The tools provided by Adobe and Microsoft each have little differences that are starting to annoy me. I am not of course, an expert by any means, but I’m trying to put up a review of the office changes and what happened over the weekend and wanted to make the pictures included as good as I could. The fact that they are panoramas makes it a bit more interesting.

First up is Canon’s Photostitch software, not available on the net (as far as I can tell) but included with Canon digital cameras. For non-extreme perspective panoramas it works very well, but if you’re in a confined space, it doesn’t allow the cylindrical mapping or extreme control that is available in Photoshop Elements.

Adobe Elements is a stripped down version of Photoshop for the purpose of people doing some digital manipulation and photo editing, without the need for the freakishly huge list of features that photoshop has. It’s panorama mode (“photomerge”) has a lot more control than Photostitch does, but can’t for the life of it put the pictures together itself. In none of the very informal testing I did did it come close to the automatic quality of Photostitch… hell, it couldn’t even put more than two together at a time!

Elements has some nice tools to quickly touch up an image, adjust levels and colors and so on, which make it very handy to use to prep an image for the web or for printing. In the “quick fix” dialoge it shows a before and after image. However, what it doesn’t have, which Photoshop Album (more in a second) does have. Minor differences in the Photomerge dialoge are annoying as well… like sometimes you can see thumbnails of the images, and sometimes not. Photoshops photomerge will revert from perspective mode after you move an image, Elements stays in perspective mode until you change it…. I’m sure there are more.

Adobe Photoshop Album is a separate program that you can use to organize, print, and share your pictures. It has a “fix photo” dialoge that matches up very similarly to Elements’ as far as features, but the look and feel is completely different. Some other brain dead obvious features, like being able to zoom in on the before/after images to compare details is present here, but not in Elements (or Microsoft’s Digital Image Pro).

Microsoft’s offering is Digital Image Pro 9, which has some nice online demos here. The program is bundled with Digital Image Suite 9, which is the Microsoft answer to Adobe Photoshop Album. Sadly, it all feels a bit wonky, as if it was thrown together. The program itself appears to be solid, but the look and feel of it makes me think that someone said “shit, we gotta get in on this digital photo editing thing, quick, lets get something out!”. The UI doesn’t seem to match up with other products, theirs or anyone elses, and while it follows the “Task oriented view of the world, the task bar and button bars seem a bit “off”. Maybe it’s using half of an as yet unreleased UI that’s going to be included in Longhorn?
Digital Image Pro doesn’t even have a panorama mode! It does however have some nice tools that aren’t present in the other programs, the one I like best is the “picture straighten” tool, where you draw a line matching the horizon in the photo and the image is automatically rotated to the right angle and is cropped properly (after you hit “done” of course). A nice slider to adjust contact sheet/thumbnail/image size that is always available is nice as well.

Oh yea, my point. Each program does some operations a bit better or cleaner than the other. Photoshop has for example, nice quick access to resizing images under the Image menu, but it’s not immediately obvious where it is in Elements. Straightening images under DPS is nice and easy, but other things aren’t, or the “auto fix” of the different programs result in different results each time, meaning that if you are like me and don’t really want to play with sliders all day, you go into each program, hit the “auto fix colors” button, and see how it looks, and choose the best one.

I wish you could swap elements from programs. Take the panorama mode from here, the UI from there, the feature from over here, munge them all together and make something better. Of course, in this day and age of “defensive patents” you can’t do things like that, or you’ll get your ass sued by someone with lots more money than you.

That said, I hope I finish this soon 🙂