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Software makes sense of organizing and storing images

| Saturday, Oct. 16, 2004

While digital cameras are the best thing to happen to photography since the invention of color film, one downside is the task of organizing and storing digital images.

With film cameras, every picture costs money for developing and printing.

With digital pictures, there is no difference in cost in taking 10 pictures or 1,000 pictures, other than the size of the memory card. Plus, most cameras have a built-in LCD screen where pictures can be viewed instantly -- and then deleted if unwanted.

As a result, most people are taking more pictures than ever and printing only their favorites, but they still need some way to store the images they want to keep. With most cameras giving files default names like "DSC_3836.JPG," a well-organized approach to archiving is essential.

Sure, the lazy photographer can simply copy images onto a CD-ROM, print sheet of the images with the file names and be done with it. But for many people, this virtual shoe box approach is not a good long-term approach.

Storing all of one's images on a computer is the most convenient way to have easy access to the files. But limited storage space and the question of what to do when the inevitable hard-drive crash occurs are lurking problems. Plus, the problem of organizing these many images and searching for a specific image remains.

Photo album software -- which is also known as digital image archiving -- allows users to organize software in several ways, offering the same basic features: importing images, color-correcting, archiving and sharing images with others.

The easiest way to view files is by the date the photos were created.

A more useful way to view files is by user-defined keywords. So, for example, images from a vacation, could be tagged with the phrase, "Maui Vacation 2004." The program will embed this information into whichever files the user selects.

Files can be tagged with more than a single keyword or phrase, so one could add names or other important information to individual files. This way, for example, one could find pictures tagged with the word "Gloria," to find all the photos of that specific person, then by selecting "Maui Vacation 2004," only pictures of her on that vacation would show up.

Users have the option of making a backup, or archive version, of files. The program keeps a tiny picture, known as a "thumbnail" stored locally, so the database doesn't need to have every picture on the hard drive and will remember keywords and other important information.

If a user clicks on the thumbnail image, the program displays the archived details, including where the full-sized image is stored. This way, frequently accessed files can be stored locally on the hard drive for quick access, while rarely used files can be stored remotely on removable media like a CD-ROM or Zip disc.

Virtually every organizing program comes with a basic photo-editing program that can handle simple tasks like red-eye removal, renaming and basic color corrections.

What software is out there?


Pricing software is an inexact science at best because almost every company offers discounts, rebates and bundles. Unless noted otherwise, all of the Windows products listed below have a suggested retail price of about $40 to $50, but often can be purchased for less.

Paint Shop Photo Album 5

( www.jasc.com , Jasc Software)

This is one amazing program. The user interface is extremely simple and intuitive, which makes it a breeze to navigate quickly and work with photos. The keywords painter is the best of any program. Another wonderful feature is the batch options, which can automatically do repetitive tasks, like renaming files or fixing colors.

Jasc also makes a terrific photo-editing program, Paint Shop Pro Studio ($79), that offers a lot of assistance in performing complicated editing tasks. For advanced users, there is the high-end Paint Shop Pro 9 ($129).

All three programs have free evaluation versions available.

ThumbsPlus Standard 7

( www.cerious.com , Cerious Software)

This program is unlike any of the other photo-organizing programs. While the other programs have extremely basic image-editing capabilities, ThumbsPlus has some very advanced features, so it's more of a hybrid organizer-editing program.

It does offer some automatic color-editing tools and filters, some of which will create breathtakingly good results, while others will look very bad. The archive searching tools are top-notch.

There is a free 30-day evaluation version available.

Noise Ninja 2

( www.picturecode.com , PictureCode)

When a digital camera is set at a high ISO setting -- which is required for low-light situations -- images can often have a splotchy, sandpaper look, which is known as "noise." Noise can be acute in the newest generation of extremely small digital cameras.

Unlike most other noise-reduction tools, Ninja is simple to use: Just load the picture and click the "Remove Noise" button. But, it also has many advanced settings for those who want to tweak the default settings.

While most digital-editing programs have a built-in, noise-removal filter, results can vary greatly and the entire image is "smoothed," thus reducing overall detail. Ninja removes the noise without reducing detail. Also, users can download noise-reduction profiles for an individual camera or can create their own.

The Ninja Home version is $29 and the Professional version is $69. The major difference is that the home version does not allow multiple file (batch) processing. Ninja may be downloaded and installed free of charge. However, some features are disabled, and images are watermarked with a grid pattern.

Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0

( www.adobe.com , Adobe)

This photo-organizing program hasn't been updated since last year. Most of Album's features have been incorporated into Adobe's just-released editing program, Photoshop Elements 3, which sells for $100. Elements contains many of the features of the higher-priced industry-standard Photoshop, for a fraction of the cost.

There is no evaluation copy of Album, but users can download a free "Starter Edition" version, which contains the basic features of the paid product.

Microsoft Picture It! Premium 10

( www.microsoft.com , Microsoft)

There's no reason to buy this feature-deprived program, which only has some basic picture fixes and project templates. There's not even an archiving option.

That's a shame, because this program is also available bundled with Microsoft's excellent photo-editing software in the Digital Image Suite 10 ($129). This combined suite makes a feature-rich organizing and editing package that includes additional features not included in either stand-alone product, like archiving capabilities.

Sadly, unlike any of the other programs, there is no trial version.

Photo Mechanic 4

( www.camerabits.com , Camera Bits)

Unlike the other programs, Photo Mechanic is designed for people who need to organize and edit pictures quickly. It has many easy-to-use tools for editing captions and other hidden text-based fields that can be stored in pictures, features that most professional archiving systems rely upon.

This $150 cross-platform utility is geared toward professional photographers, but also could be used by freelancers -- or just anyone who needs to edit lots of pictures very quickly. Camera Bits also offers two sophisticated image-cleanup Photoshop plug-ins, Quantum Mechanic and Band Aide.

Free evaluation versions are available.

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