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Software Review of:
Paint Shop Photo Album 4

 

Photo Album Box

Mike Runnels is an Information Security Officer for the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. He holds CISSP, GSEC, and MCSE certifications, and periodically leads courses for the SANS Institute. He's a computer enthusiast whose hobby is trying to crowd him out of house and home; Macintoshes and Linux are his next goals.

From the October, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Got a digital camera? Do you collect digital images from the Internet? Do your friends and family e-mail you pictures? Do you know where they all are?

Jasc Paint Shop Photo Album 4 (Photo Album, for short) is a software package that's really a Swiss army knife of tools designed to help you manage all those digital images. You can create albums (hence, the product name), digitally clean them up, and even distribute them. Don't let the name fool you, though; it may be called "Photo Album 4", but there never was a "Photo Album 3". Jasc took some of t he image manipulation tools from its award-winning Paint Shop Pro and merged it with another of their packages called Media Center 3; Photo Album has some of the good attributes of both packages, but it left some out, too.

System Requirements
Jasc give you some pretty low-end requirements for getting the system up and running. For instance, it mentions a PC with a Pentium processor, but it doesn't give a minimum speed, and it says it needs 64 MB of RAM and 24 MB of free hard disk space, along with a CD-ROM. It does mention, though, that it can run on any version of Microsoft Windows from 98SE all the way up to XP; hence, your true minimum system requirements are really based on the operating system you choose. The user manual also states that you need a video card and monitor capable of viewing 256 colors, but in my opinion, that's only to install the software. To make the maximum use of the application, go with a video card and monitor capable of supporting 24-bit color or better; that way, you can manipulate digital photographs as they would best be viewed and printed.

Given all the information in the previous paragraph, remember that working with digital photography is memory and hard disk intensive; maybe not as intensive as digital video, but intensive nonetheless. Short answer: fast processor, fast hard drive, more memory. Your digital photographs will thank you.

Hands-on
Installing Photo Album falls into the "piece of cake" category. If you've got Autorun enabled for your CD-ROM, pop the disk in and you're off. I tend to keep everything spread across partitions and hard disks, so I didn't accept the defaults (which are to put everything on the C: drive) and installed the application to my graphics drive, but even that was easy. Like most applications these days, this one put the usual entries in my "All Programs" menu from the "Start" button (I'm using Windows XP) as well as one on my desktop and even offered to put one on my system tray.

I've used both Paint Shop Pro and Media Center for years, so I thought I knew what I was in for when I fired the program up. Well, you know what they say about assuming; Photo Album was both more and less than I was expecting. First off, it doesn't really create standalone albums like Media Center did, i.e., thumbnails, but instead bases the album off the contents of your directories on the hard drive. With Photo Album, if you delete the thumbnail, you delete the image, too. Also, if you create a new album from the contents of other directories, it copies the image to the directory of the new album; this can be pretty space intensive, especially if you tend to duplicate the contents of other albums to make new ones.

Creating a basic album is real easy, though. Launching the application defaults to a Windows Explorer-style tree structure; clicking on a folder immediately builds an album from the digital image contents of that directory. See Figure 1. Additionally, the album doesn't have to have digital photographs, but can be any file format it recognizes (GIF, TIFF, PNG, PSD, QIF, SGI, TGA, JPG, BMP, FPX, and PSP) as well as movies (MOV, AVI, DX, and FLC).

If you click on the Info tab on the left, you can get information on the album or on images in the album. See Figure 2. You can also add information about the album and/or images. For instance, you can add an album or image title and description that go beyond the benefit of a simple file name. There's also a Keyword tab and a Search tab; the latter takes great advantage of the Info and Keyword tabs, allowing you to make an image search as broad or as narrow as you wish. But let's look at the other side of the coin - the photo stuff.

Jasc put a lot of power in the tools for handling digital photographs. Double-clicking on an image opens it in its own window and presents the tool bar at the top. You can expand or contract the tabs on the left to give you more working space, plus you can zoom in or out to vary your work space. With the single image, you can do a lot of the same things you can with Paint Shop Pro (or most image manipulation programs), like rotating and cropping the images, red-eye reduction, etc.

Some of the tools, though, are targeted at the novice, but are powerful nonetheless. For example, the Quick Fix button. Selecting an image and then clicking Quick Fix automatically adjusts the contrast, brightness, and color balance. And "quick" is right, too; it doesn't give options, it just makes the adjustments. On the other hand, every time I used it, the end result was as good or better than my attempts at making the same changes. To top it off, if you find that every change made by Quick Fix to images from the same camera look right, you can do batch quick fixes. Just select the thumbnails you want to change (using Ctrl-click for individual images or Shift-click for contiguous images) from the Browse tab and then click on the Batch button on the toolbar and select Quick Fix. Voila! They've all been adjusted. If you want more control over the changes made to your image, click on the Adjust button and select either Adjust Wizard or Adjust.

There's even a Panorama tool. If you've ever really liked a wide view of the countryside but couldn't capture it with a single shot, this one's for you. Take several overlapping pictures with your digital camera, import them into an album (using the Camera button on the toolbar, natch), click on the Panorama button, arrange them in the order they should appear, and let the tool do the rest. The pictures are stitched together and the total panoramic image is cropped horizontally and vertically to remove any jagged edges and overlaps. You then save it under a new file name and you're done.

The output options are impressive, too. Printing could take an entire article by itself, but suffice it to say that you're not likely to waste paper when printing one image or an entire album. Contact sheets, wallet sizes, 5X7s, and combinations are all possible, plus many more. You can take multiple images and turn them into a Quick Time movie, or you can output one or more albums to a video CD which you can share with others.

Where to get it
The price for Photo Album appears pretty consistent everywhere I looked in town. CompUSA and Best Buy are your most likely candidates to have the product, and both offer it for about $50. Surprisingly, you can get it directly from Jasc for less than the retail cost; $42 will get you a full boxed package, while downloading it will only cost you $38 (you'd better have broadband, though). Jasc's web site can be found at www.jasc.com. They're based in the States, so you can contact them directly at:

Jasc Software, Inc., 7905 Fuller Road, Eden Prairie, MN 55344. Phone: (952) 934-8888.

Information about buying or registering the product has a toll-free number you can call (800-622-2793), but tech support issues are on a regular long-distance line (952-930-9171). Everything has to be done, though, between 8am and 5pm Central Time.

Conclusion
Would I recommend the product? Yep. If you're going to be doing a lot of digital photography and have loads of images spread out across several different media (hard disks, CDs, floppies, etc.), and you don't need the horsepower of Paint Shop Pro, this is for you. The quick tools and output options are excellent and the album function is a definite plus. Have fun with it!

Oh, and by the way; they even throw in two recordable CD-ROMs to get you started on sharing your images.


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