Picnik, Picasa, Gimp, Photoshop Elements: Is One of These Right For You?
I was asked by a reader of The Discerning Photographer, who had just plunked down good money on a Nikon D90 and was feeling a bit pinched, which image editing software program I would recommend, if he wasn’t going to go ahead and buy Photoshop. It is really expensive after all, and does everyone really need all of its bells and whistles right away?
The answer, of course, is no.
Photoshop is the most amazing piece of software I use on a regular basis, bar none. It makes my work possible, makes image editing fun and enjoyable. I’m a HUGE fan. But most of what I use it for is fairly simple. If you’re not working with lots of custom actions or layers and layer masks and/or doing other advanced image toning and manipulation, you probably don’t need the full-blown Photoshop to do your work. But if not, what should you use? On a budget, what’s the best alternative to real Photoshop?
I decided to look at a handful of alternatives which span a range of options and approaches to image editing. Specifically, I have taken a quick drive around the block with Picnik (Yahoo), Picasa (Google), Gimp (Open Source) and Photoshop Elements (cheap, Photoshop Lite). What follows are my impressions of these pieces of software. I’ll tell you what I liked and didn’t like for each software package. I’ll compare how they work and what I missed, in each case. Not full-blown, exhaustive reviews, but just my gut reactions after a bit of tinkering with each product. Hopefully you’ll find this helpful if you’re trying to make this decision. Today we’ll look at Picnik and Picasa, the offerings from Yahoo and Google, respectively.
Picnik, from Yahoo.
Picnik is part of Yahoo’s group of photo-related products. I came to learn of its existence while using their related and immensely successful Flickr photo sharing software. (As many of you are aware, The Discerning Photographer has a Flickr group pool.) Picnik reminds me a little bit of Picassa, which I’ll talk about next; but it’s different in a few distinct ways as well.
First of all: Picnik is truly web-only. To edit photos, you first sign up for a free Picnik account, then upload the images you want to edit to the Picnik site. This is straightforward and easy to do, but if you try to upload more than five images at a time, this message pops up: “We’re uploading 5 of your selected photos. Go Premium to upload up to 100 photos at a time (for as little as $2.08 a month!)” While it’s cheap at a starting price of just 2 bucks, I really don’t like the idea that to edit images, I have to be online before I can start…what if I’m out of range of a high-speed internet connection?
Once uploaded, the controls for image editing are basic but work nicely. You can crop your photos, adjust color, sharpen, then save back to your own computer or send from within Picnik right to your email, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Photobucket or Flickr account. On the negative side, there’s no way to write real caption information to travel with your photos as metadata. This is something that I would find to be a real limitation, since I like to make notes about my images and frequently include full captions and keywords embedded with the images….more on this later.
My grade for this product: C+. It’s attractively packaged but too limited to be of much use to anyone but the most casual of photographers. AND I really don’t like the fact that it’s web-only with no module for editing while offline.
Next: Picasa, the Google flavor of free.
Now let’s consider Picasa, Google’s image editing program. This is different in several fundamental ways from Picnik, both in terms of how it works and what you can do with your results.
First of all, Picasa is editing software that downloads and installs on your computer. So right away I see something I like: the ability to work on photos without the need for an internet connection.
When you first launch Picasa, it begins to scan and catalog all of the images on your computer, without ever asking you if this is okay! Seems very ‘Big Brother’ to me, and knowing what we all know about how much Google likes to gather data on all of our tastes, likes and dislikes, this leaves me….less than happy.
Anyway, once the scan is done, a Windows folder tree structure is displayed. The main contact sheet is in the middle with the navigation structure on the left and and a range of action options at the bottom(‘email,’ ‘print,’ etc.) Picasa calls this the main ‘Library’ view. By clicking on different folders in the left folder tree, different groups of related photos will appear. Double-click on any image and you’ll be taken into the image toning module.
The range of things you can do to a photo is actually similar to Picnik’s: crop, lighten and darken, sharpen, make some global changes to color temperature. You also have the option of writing some basic caption information directly under the photo. You can add tags to images to help organize them by any criteria you choose as well.
Once you have your image toned and captioned, you can save it back to your computer, email it, send it to a service for printing, send to your Blogger-based blog (run by Google, of course) or upload it to a related Picasa web album. (Web albums are cool. You can save your images in online albums, which you then can share with specific people you choose, who can go online to view them.)
So my grade: B. More useful and versatile than Picnik, free, with software that allows you to work without being online. But the image toning choices are still extremely limited and of a basic nature. Beginner’s tools but not much more. (The Picasa web albums, mentioned above, deserve their own post, they are very powerful.)
Next time: we’ll look at the open-source Gimp software and Photoshop’s own Elements version.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog
How to use Picasa at The New York Times’ Personal Tech
Picasa instructions at eHow.com