$50

Adobe Systems, Inc.

345 Park Ave.

San Jose, CA 95110

(800) 833-6687

www.adobe.com

Digital cameras are getting better, memory cards are getting larger, it's all getting less expensive, and the lines between the two worlds of digital video and digital photography are blurring. To the average videographer/still photographer, this often means there are hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of digital pictures of all kinds lying around in the general proximity of the home or office computer. So how to find that one perfect image you shot seven months ago, the one that'll make a great background for the video titles you're currently working on now?

To aid in organizing and sharing digital photos and performing simple touch-ups, a number of software manufacturers have released inexpensive photo organization products designed to make life easier for digital photographers. Though aimed at the hobbyist crowd, these products offer many features that could be very helpful for professionals, too. This month, we take a look at two competitors in this field: Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0, and Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5.

Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0

Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 offers amazing versatility in organizing your pictures. You have several ways just to search for your photos. You can organize photos by date range or caption. Or you can find them by note, filename, 10 different history parameters (including device imported from, dates from export to print, even who the picture has been emailed to), or media type (photos, videos, creations, audio, or items with audio captions). Or file them by single or multiple custom categories.

Unbelievably, it looks extremely easy to use right off the bat (even though Photoshop Album is gigantically feature-rich). Some users may not even need to go through the plethora of drop-down menus available (because virtually every function is readily available through the graphic interface). For the number of buttons that are available to the user, the interface is amazingly simple.

Calendars, greeting cards, video CDs, e-cards, slideshows, albums, photo books, Web galleries, and even Adobe Atmosphere 3D galleries are all easily constructed with Photoshop Album. The process is easy to follow, and the directions are clear and concise. A calendar took just under six minutes to make (not including printing), and it even gave us warnings that some pictures may not have enough resolution to look good on the calendar before going to print.

Photoshop Album also lets you share your pictures over a variety of media. Included are options to send your photos directly to a mobile phone, email address, palm OS handheld, and even a TiVo DVR.

There is also a wide selection of online services that Adobe offers to augment the functionality of Album. If a photo quality printer isn't available to you, ordering prints from a variety of services is easily done from within Album's interface. Also, once your calendar is created, if you don't have a full print shop to spiral bind it, there are even services for having your calendars printed and bound professionally. All these services are easy to use and directly available through the software.

Direct compatibility with Adobe Photoshop is a big plus; however, if you're not a fan of Photoshop and use another photo editor, Album can ship out your picture to any editor of your choice. When you use this option, Album automatically opens the software and puts the picture on the stage with no effort from the user.

Solid Software

There was one minor glitch we noted when using the calendar function. Some cameras (including the Canon 300D Digital Rebel we used for testing the software) will sense if the user rotates the camera to shoot landscape aspect, or portrait aspect. Each image file has this data written right into it. Photoshop looks for this information and automatically puts the picture upright (without the user having to rotate the image). This component is missing from Album, and would make handling hundreds of pictures infinitely easier. Inevitably, a user will miss pictures (having to rotate them manually), and if you happen to be making a calendar, you'll have to exit out of the process, find the picture, and rotate it, since this control isn't available when browsing for images to put in your calendar.

We also noted that some of the editing features that were present in version 1.0 of Adobe Album were a little "dumbed down" in this version of the software. You can still crop, adjust colors, and use the very handy "Auto Fix" feature for a quick brightness/contrast fix, but for more advanced features, you'll have to buy up to Photoshop Elements. Still, the features included in Album 2.0 are quite advanced for this level of photo editing software.

Overall, however, this software rocks. The more you use it, the more you'll love it. If you're into digital photography in the least, this software is a must. Even if you're thinking "no, it's too late … I have hundreds of pictures to organize, and it's too much trouble," keep in mind that it took us only just under 30 minutes to organize over 1,500 pictures into 10 categories (and some pictures into multiples). Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 is, in a word, amazing.

Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0

TECH SPECS

Trial Version Available?: Yes

Operating System: Windows ME, 2000, or XP

Minimum CPU: Pentium III

Minimum RAM: 128MB

Minimum Hard Drive Space for Installation: 250MB

STRENGTHS

  • Sleek interface
  • Easy to learn
  • Photoshop integration

    WEAKNESSES

  • Pictures do not auto-rotate to landscape or portrait configuration
  • Some editing features "dumbed down" from version 1.0

    SUMMARY

    An excellent solution with the quality you'd expect from Adobe.

    $30

    Ulead

    20000 Mariner Ave. Suite 200

    Torrance, CA 90503

    (800) 85-ULEAD

    www.ulead.com

    Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5

    Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5 makes it very easy to organize your photos by several parameters, including name, type, date taken, file size, image size, and rating. That's right, rating–it's possible to set one of four ratings for your pictures in Photo Explorer (a, b, c, or unrated). You could use this to categorize your pictures by quality fairly easily.

    The interface is quite familiar. Photo Explorer greatly resembles an enhanced Microsoft Windows Explorer. On the left of the window is a tree-style view of the directory structure, and on the right are thumbnails of files and folders contained in the current directory selected.

    Calendars are amazingly simple to create using this software. Choose a picture, select "make calendar" and choose a style. It took roughly twelve minutes (not including printing) to create an entire year calendar (about 1 minute per picture).

    Equally easy is creating desktops. There are several options available for creating desktops, like stretching pictures to fit, maintaining aspect and even horizontal or vertical tiling of your image.

    Ulead Photo Explorer can send your pictures and video out to the editing software of your choice. Although there are basic controls for color correction, sizing, rotation, and even text compositing, it was a good choice for Ulead to give the user this ability. After all, why would anybody want to master a new piece of software when they could use their existing package to accomplish the same goal?

    Ulead also has a cool slideshow maker. Designing slideshows and picture shows is quick and easy. No need to send your result out to a CD burning program. If your computer has a burner, you can set up a disc in minutes. With the check of a box, you can even make a slideshow that autoruns when you put it into a CD-ROM drive. A video version can also be rendered with minimal knowledge of digital video. Of course, you'll need a separate program (such as CD/DVD PictureShow) to author and burn a DVD.

    Photo Explorer can also optimize your photos and slideshows for email and Internet applications. This could turn out quite handy for holidays and company parties. In a few steps, you can email a small file that shares all the pictures you took with everyone (and they don't have to deal with organizing the photos themselves).

    There is also a host of batch operations you may run (functions that can automatically apply properties to multiple files). Renaming images from that annoying "DSCN0744.JPG" to "TheKids001.JPG" is as simple as pie. Selecting the entire set of pictures (or directory), then clicking "Batch Rename" and following the intuitive menus will do the trick. In addition, there is the ability to convert image formats, sizing, and exporting to directories of your choice.

    Familiar Interface

    It would be nice if Photo Explorer had a category-based hierarchy rather than file directories and ratings. Though you can work around it by using the four ratings as categories, you're still limited to four.

    Although the user experience is familiar (i.e. looks like Windows Explorer), it almost leaves the feeling that most of the functions of this software can be performed in Windows Explorer. The real value of the software lies in its ability to create slideshows, calendars, desktops, screensavers, etc. Slideshows and sharing are cool, but the photo organization portions of the software seem a bit anemic.

    Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5

    TECH SPECS

    Trial Version Available: Yes

    Operating System: Windows ME, 2000, or XP

    Minimum CPU: Pentium III

    Minimum RAM: 64MB

    Minimum Hard Drive Space for Installation: 45MB

    STRENGTHS

  • Batch processing
  • Enhanced slideshow options
  • Calendars are easy to create

    WEAKNESSES

  • More organization options needed
  • Lackluster interface

    SUMMARY

    An excellent solution with the quality you'd expect from Adobe.

    Head-to Head Comparison: Adobe Photoshop Album vs. Ulead Photo Explorer

    In the areas of interface design and photo organization, Adobe Album 2.0 edges out Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5 by a considerable margin. It is worth noting, however, that Adobe Album 2.0 costs almost twice as much as Photo Explorer. Also worth noting are Photo Explorer's innovative batch processing features, as well as its enhanced Slideshow creation functions. Conclusion: if you're after top-notch image sorting capabilities, stick with Adobe Album 2.0, but if you care more about creating and sharing slideshows, go with Photo Explorer 8.5.

    Ty Audronis is a producer, editor, animator, and consultant for film and video specializing in visual effects.

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