Google Picasa 3.8


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We've been big fans of Google's Picasa photo software for years—it's been our Editor's Choice for entry-level photo organizing and editing since version 2. Version 3.8 adds even more polish, with "Face Movies" (more on this later), batch uploading, integrated editing with Picnik, and an extended Info panel. These join Picasa's already astounding face-recognition, geo-tagging, leading ease-of-use, and integration with Picasa Web Albums. So no matter what your computer's operating system, Picasa is the best choice for digital photo fans who want the best way to organize, improve, and share their digital photos.
Picasa has one of the most innovative, intuitive, and usable interfaces around. Instead of using a standard scrollbar to move through your photo sets, you get a "shuttle"-type control that accelerates you through the galleries. This makes a lot of sense, especially after you've built up a good size library of galleries. The interface view is of the three-panel ilk, with source organization on the left—albums, people, dated folders, the thumbnail or full image in the center, and options and info on a left panel for things like tags, people places and camera EXIF metadata. A further metadata improvement in version 3.8 is the ability to display standard Adobe XMP info, which includes info like titles and descriptions.
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Updating Picasa to version 3.8 is an automatic snap, once you check in the Help menu for updates. This downloads, closes, and installs the new version without requiring any futher intervention on your part. And it didn't require long reprocessing of the images as the Apple iPhoto '11 update did. If you're installing for the first time, you'll get a choice of having the app scan your hard disk or just My Documents, My Pictures, and the desktop for image files. The scan is fast, and a small gray bar on the right-hand side of your screen shows its progress. From then on, any photos added to those folders will be imported automatically into Picasa. This automation beats that of enthusiast-level app Photoshop Elements, in which you have to specify the exact folder of images to manage.

TypePersonalFreeYesOS CompatibilityWindows Vista, Windows XP More

Next, a dialog proposes that you use Picasa's Photo Viewer as a replacement for Windows' Preview, the default app launched when you double-click an image file's entry in Windows Explorer. The viewer gives easy access to editing, uploading, and slideshow playing, and on a fast system its startup delay won't be significant. Picasa's viewer also takes an interesting approach to displaying an image by centering it with no border, graying out the rest of your screen.
You don't get Apple iPhoto's slick thumbnail skimming, but you get a couple more important abilities, like being able to zoom or rename a photo whether you're in library or edit view. There's also Picasa's handy hand tool that lets you drag around large, zoomed in images, rather than just using iPhoto's thumbnail navigator. On Windows, Picasa can match iPhoto's full-screen view, but the Mac version can't, and the darker iPhoto interface does give more prominence to your images.
As you'd expect from a Google product, Picasa's search feature is top-notch, including searching by tags, captions, date, and camera. Convenient buttons let you limit the library view to show just movies or photos that you've starred, uploaded photos, or those containing people or geo-tags. iPhoto has a powerful search box, but it lacks the quick filtering buttons, while Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 offers a Find tab with comprehensive searching options.
Import and Organize
When it comes to importing and organizing your pictures, Picasa is alone in its class. Even before importing, it organizes photos by time groups, and you can view, rotate, and star photos. To its credit, Windows Live Photo Gallery adds the ability to add tags during import, though it can't rotate and star.
It also had no trouble with camera RAW files in my tests, to which it could apply all its fixes and enhancements. iPhoto, too, works fully with RAW files, but Windows Live Photo Gallery can only import and display them—no editing. Picasa helpfully shows a text overlay saying "Rendering" when the image hasn't displayed to full resolution; with iPhoto, by contrast, you have to eyeball and guess when the image has reached full res.
As with iPhoto, Picasa's photos are automatically organized by date, you can create your own albums with pictures from any folders; adding photos from anywhere within Picasa is easier than in Apple's iPhoto '11, though, with a simple right-click option. Photo Gallery only uses folders, rather than albums.
But the one organizational tool that makes Picasa shine brighter than the rest is in its face recognition. All three major entry-level photo apps have gotten really good that this, but Picasa does the best job of identifying your photo subjects' visages. The program automatically scans images for faces, and creates an Unnamed folder under People in the source list. After you identify some people, the program suggests more potential photos with likely faces to match the names.
In my tests, I found Picasa's People feature and Windows Live Photo Gallery's, similar feature both made good guesses about people's identity earlier than iPhoto did. Picasa's process of confirming faces was slightly quicker. In iPhoto and Windows Live Photo Gallery, I was presented with inanimate objects that looked like faces. All three let me play slideshows of just pictures containing a selected face, but Picasa was the only that could create a "Face Movie" of images zoomed in to show just the faces.
I do like iPhoto's full-window Place's map that can show all the places in the world your photos were taken, but Picasa did just as good a job finding specific locations for your photos using a search box, and more importantly, it preserves face and geo-tags for photos uploaded to its Web Albums. Neither iPhoto nor Windows Live Photo Gallery offer maps on their Web galleries. A separate Geotagging feature also lets you place your Photos on the Google Earth globe.
Edit and Enhance
Picasa makes it dead simple to get your photos looking good, even if you didn't have all the settings right when you took the shot. Its "I'm Feeling Lucky" button did at least as good a job at one-click photo fixing as iPhoto. In most cases, Picasa did better than Windows Live Photo Gallery, though I liked how the latter's autofix straightened pictures as well as attempting to fix lighting and color. Picasa actually trails those two in that it doesn't let you manipulate a photo's histogram.
Picasa's red-eye correction works well and, like iPhoto's, finds and corrects all eyes automatically. Windows Live Photo Gallery still makes you find the eyes yourself and drag a box around them, but its results are fine. I got slightly better results with iPhoto's blemish retouch tool than Picasa's or Windows', but Picasa lets you choose a neighboring area to match the color of the area you want to fix, which can be helpful in some cases.
For fun effects Picasa was on par with iPhoto, adding matte and vignette effects to the usual black-and-white, sepia, and saturation. Picasa adds the very cool "Focal B&W" effect which puts all but a target object in the image in B&W; and with version 3.8 Picasa now adds an "Edit with Picnik" button, which integrates the well-regarded online photo app to add a slew more effects.