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Picasa 3 review

Verdict

With major improvements across the board, and especially in terms of web integration, the free Picasa 3 is now the best PC photography software available for most users - at any price.

Review Date: 17 Nov 2008

Reviewed By: Tom Arah

Price when reviewed: Free

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
6 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Google's expertise might be in web search rather than photo handling but this latest release of Picasa is designed to take the challenge directly to the commercial market leader, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7.

And, right from the off Picasa 3 makes an impression. There are improvements everywhere and though many of them are small, they make a big impact on overall usability. The Import dialog, for instance, can now automatically group images by date, which makes it simple to spot recent shots. There's also now basic screenshot and webcam capture capability and a lightweight standalone image viewer that lets you load images into Picasa directly from Windows Explorer.

In Picasa's central Library view, where the previews are smoothly resizable up to full screen size, you can now use the new Loupe tool to get a closer look at individual thumbnails. There are new options for creating and moving folders, which make the folder location view more practical.

Folders and albums provide the backbone for Picasa's image management but you can also add tags, and now multiple word tags, to specific images. A new Face Filter allows you to display only photos with clear, head-on faces which makes it easier to tag people. And searching has been improved too. As before, to search you simply enter a word or term into Picasa's live Search box with the results narrowing as you type, but the process is easier than ever with Picasa 3 also now showing all possible matching search term options. Most importantly, because Picasa doesn't just search by tags but on caption, metadata and folder name as well, intensive tagging becomes optional rather than mandatory.

Picasa 3 makes the recently added search capability in Photoshop Elements 7 look embarrassingly underpowered but how does it fare in terms of photo editing? It doesn't offer anything like Elements' full-blown hands-on editor, but what it does do is put the core commands that you need to bring the best out of your images at your fingertips. The massive advantage this brings is that you can simply hit the cursor keys to move through your images, enhancing as you go.

And many of Picasa 3's core editing controls have been improved with the Crop and Red Eye Reduction tools now making initial suggestions based on analysis of the current image; you can even batch apply red eye reduction. In addition, two major new tools have been added to provide basic text handling and hands-on retouching to remove blemishes and scratches. As with all Picasa's tools, these edits are non-destructive meaning that you can always undo or refine them later, unless you choose to explicitly save the changes to your files.

Once you've enhanced your images, you'll want to show them off. Here Picasa's onscreen slideshow capability has been improved with greater control over transitions and zoom and support for videos. Using the new Movie command you can also turn your slideshows into videos and upload them directly to YouTube. However, with no pan and zoom handling, the power and results on offer are pretty basic.

Far more remarkable is the revamped Collage command which lets you automatically create grid-based and randomised layouts of multiple images ready for print. There are now six collage types to choose from as well as control over grid spacing and background colour or image. What takes the Collage feature to a new level is the ability to interactively customise Picture Pile layouts, quickly moving, rotating and resizing images. And for general print you can now output captions and file names alongside your images.

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