At a Glance
In many ways, iPhoto 1.0--Apple's new, free, digital-image-management program--is cut from the same cloth as previous i-apps iMovie, iTunes, and iDVD. With each, Apple identified a hole that needed to be filled, developed software with key features that had broad appeal, and polished those features until they shone. iPhoto is no different: it offers easy-to-use photo-organization features that will please many casual digital-camera users who want to organize and share their growing image collections. More-advanced digital-photography enthusiasts, however, will likely be disappointed by this program's many feature omissions.
The program's primary interface is a large window of digital-image thumbnails; at the bottom of the window, a slider lets you select the size of those thumbnails. The thumbnails are generally good quality; however, when we imported some high-resolution, multimegabyte TIFF files into iPhoto, the thumbnails were grainy with banded color.
Below this window, there are five buttons that activate the program's primary functions: Import, Organize, Edit, Book, and Share. The left-hand pane of iPhoto's single-window interface lets you manage virtual photo albums, in which you can collect your images; you can also click on the Photo Library icon to view all the images you've imported into iPhoto. A small button below that pane lets you rotate one or many photos quickly and easily.
Importing images into iPhoto from a digital camera is a relatively easy process; iPhoto automatically launches when you plug in a compatible digital camera (see www.apple.com/iphoto/compatibility/ for a list), and it can import the images directly. A handy option even lets you delete the photos from the camera once they're downloaded.
If you have old images or an incompatible digital camera, you must import the images by dragging them into the iPhoto window or choosing Import from the File menu. iPhoto makes a copy of your imported images in its iPhoto Library folder, leaving your hard drive with two copies of every image you import.
iPhoto doesn't export or link its library with mounted removable media; if you archive photos on CD-R discs to save hard-drive space, you can't keep those images in your iPhoto library.
When you bring images into iPhoto, either from a camera or from preexisting files, iPhoto treats each import process as a "roll," similar to a roll of film. You can view your library by roll, but iPhoto doesn't intelligently process images by date: if you drag in 1,000 photos taken over a span of three years, for example, iPhoto groups them in one inconveniently large roll.
If you'd prefer not to organize images in this limited way, you can sort images by the date they were created--just choose Edit: Arrange Photos: By Date. iPhoto tries to use the dates embedded in images by digital cameras, so even if your image doesn't have a proper creation date in the Finder, iPhoto usually displays the real date and time the picture was taken. In our tests, iPhoto was generally good at recognizing an imported image's embedded creation date, and it placed images in the proper context in our library.
Crop and Edit
Behind iPhoto's Edit button is a limited collection of image-modification tools. The Crop tool is excellent, allowing you to choose from preset sizes, such as 4 by 6 inches and 3 by 5 inches, and trim images with ease. iPhoto's Red-Eye tool is a serviceable way to salvage snapshots that would otherwise be wrecked by blazing red corneas.
It's with color that iPhoto's editing features fall down. A Black & White button lets you quickly convert an image to gray scale. But the program lacks even rudimentary tools for color correction--and as any digital-camera owner will tell you, there are often times when an image needs tweaking because of an unwanted yellow or blue cast. While a complicated, Photoshop-style Levels command wouldn't be appropriate, iPhoto's omission of a one-button color-correction tool or a simple slider-based interface is unfortunate.
Categorizing photos in iPhoto is easy. You can use Apple's preset keywords, or you can make as many as 14 of your own by choosing Edit Keywords from the Edit menu (or pressing 1-K). To assign keywords, slide the switch on the Keywords window's left side to Assign, select one or more photos, and click on the appropriate keyword.
Sorting images by keyword is just as easy: slide the switch from Assign to Search, and then select as many keywords as you'd like to filter your photos by. This makes it easy to find, for example, all photos of your pets and your daughter together (see "Keyword: Cute"). However, iPhoto's filtering system is strictly additive (pets and daughter); you can't search for all photos of your pets without your daughter, say, nor can you see all images except those with your pets in them. You are also unable to display only images without keywords.
Show and Share
Realizing that one of the great strengths of digital photography is the ability to quickly share images with others, Apple has built iPhoto with a collection of image-sharing features, from on-screen slide shows to linen-bound books. All are available by clicking on the Share button.
Slide Shows -- iPhoto's Slide Show feature lets you display images with musical accompaniment in a full-screen format. It's a fine idea, but it has some limitations. Slide Show's only transition effect is the dissolve, and it can play only one audio track over a slide show. Also, most images in the slide show we created tended to appear blurry, an obvious drawback.
You can export slide shows in QuickTime format to share with others, but soundtracks and transitions don't carry over into the QuickTime movie.
Photos on the Web -- iPhoto also lets you export your photos for the Web by using either the HomePage feature on Apple's iTools Web site (integrated with iPhoto via the HomePage button in iPhoto's bottom pane when you click on the Share button) or the Web Page tab of iPhoto's Export Images window. The Apple-hosted HomePage option is easy to use and generates beautiful Web-based slide shows; however, the images it exports are quite large and don't make the most of the JPEG format's ability to compress images, so people with slow modem connections will need a lot of patience to view all the images. iPhoto's do-it-yourself Web Page export method gives you more control over the size of your images and their thumbnails; however, the HTML pages it generates are very basic, and there's no way to crank up the JPEG compression here, either.
It's easy to print images from iPhoto. If you're printing to your own photo printer, iPhoto's Print command gives you control over many options, including paper type and page layout, via a series of pop-up menus.
More intriguing is the program's unique built-in support for online photo processing. Thanks to integration with Kodak's Ofoto digital-printing service, iPhoto users can buy digital prints by selecting the images they want, clicking on the Order Prints button, and choosing the preferred size and number of prints. The resulting prints, on high-quality Kodak paper, look very good--certainly much better than what you'd likely get after dropping off a roll of film at your local supermarket.
Apple also offers iPhoto users a unique service: the creation and professional printing of a high-quality, bound hardcover book. Just click on iPhoto's Book button, and you can place as many as 32 photos on each page, in any of six templates. You can also add text. However, the book-building tools are awkward. Moving and reordering photos and pages can be a frustrating task more like a brainteaser puzzle than a page-design tool.
The resulting $30 book (for 10 pages; $3 per additional page, with a maximum of 50 pages), while pricey, is beautiful to behold. Printed on acid-free archive-quality paper, these books will certainly make great gifts. However, the nature of the Web printing-press method used to print book pages means that book photos are noticeably screened and therefore don't look as crisp as prints.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Like all of Apple's i-apps, iPhoto is a remarkably user-friendly program that fills a vital need for many Mac users--in this case, consumers with digital cameras--and it's got a price that can't be beat. With its easy organizing and solid integration with an online photo-printing service, iPhoto makes good on Apple's promise to integrate digital devices and the Mac. However, many digital-camera users will quickly find themselves butting up against iPhoto's limitations.
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