Picture Project vs Photoshop

And The Quest For The Be All And End All Photo Software

(Add / View Comments) (0)Monday, January 29, 2007 - 12:23:12 am
(Posted Under: Photography, Software)
When I first purchased my Nikon Coolpix, I'd installed Picture Project, the software that came with the camera. Other than a little play with it, I never really used it until getting back from Arizona last year. Until then, I'd directly move photos of my camera, pretty much directly into Photobox, pretty much using Paint Shop Pro to do any modifications, which was pretty much just rotating portrait photos. I cut that out when I realized what that did to photos, particularly destroying EXIF data.

Once getting back from Arizona is when I started using Picture Project for everything. Keeping a copy of the original photos, importing a copy into Picture Project, and then exporting a copy to put into Photobox. Initially this was annoying, as I couldn't just copy each file out of the Picture Project stored location. It seems that with each saved modification, the data is saved in the original file. That is, a 1MB photo file with one modification tracked becomes around 2MB. In a lot of ways, this is kinda cool (I believe the JPEG file contains 2 images), and inside Picture Project you can return to the original, or any saved mark point. But obviously it didn't make any sense to have size increased JPEG's stored on my server in Photobox where disk space is a precious commodity. I got over this relatively on using the export function. I was initially unhappy with it, having to specify a compression rate, rather than using the one of the original file. (Or in other words, importing a photo into Picture Project and exporting never resulted in the same file size - "Good Quality" would be smaller than the file from the camera, and the next setting up (maximum) "Excellent Quality" would result in a file sizer greater than the original from the camera. I wanted to have the same quality, hence same size as what was from the camera (and would expect the exact same size if the photo hadn't been modified). But I came around to using the export function, and even sizing images down on exports. At the end of the day, 2816 x 2112 is actually overkill for simply displaying photos in Photobox. So I actually came around to this, and being forced to do it has actually worked out to be helpful in terms of server disk space.

Over the last few months I've been gradually moving all of my photos into Picture Perfect as a result. The new regeme is an original copy (as it's difficult, while possible to recover a batch of original unmodified files from Picture Project), a copy imported into Picture Perfect, and an exported processed copy put into Photobox. Which is a bit of redundancy (especially before burning the originals to DVD), but I can live with that.

Despite it's shortcomings, there are some ways that Picture Project works which are great. Mostly the fact that it's possible to save markers when editing a photo, stored in a single file. Which means you can make say 5 modifications, save markers for each, and seamlessly go back to each one. How it works exactly I'm not sure, but it seems to save a copy of each image within the JPEG file. It probably uses the same amount of disk space as saving 5 different copies of the photo in seperate files. This is really great, meaning all 'versions' of the image is stored in the same place - within the JPEG file. As opposed to more traditional image software, where different files have to be saved, making it hard to "go back a step". In this case, you'd have to basically open the original image, and apply all the editing again.

However, lately, especially spending some time on Flickr, it's shortcomings of being a very entry level software application have become more apparent. In particular, it's image enhancing capabilities, which of late aren't enough to keep me happy. They work pretty well, I've been very impressed on occasions don't get me wrong, but are quite limited if you want to do more than touch up happy snaps.

Over the last days I've been working with Photoshop CS and - well, haven't been able to shut up about it. Fucking fantastic! I love it. Some things, particularly automatic touch ups are notably kinda easier in Picture Project, but the level of control in Photoshop is amazing. I knew it would be obviously, but the results I've achieved going through my photos from the Desert Botanical Gardens have blown me away. I'd started using it simply to make some additional copies of my best photos, and this weekend had moved to re-doing all of my Botanical Gardens shots (and trimming the number shown slightly) using Photoshop. In love with it, I tell you what. My idea was to, without rush, to re-do all of my Arizona '06 photos using Photoshop. A huge task actually, but worthwhile, and certainly unlike in July, not with the intent of rushing through and getting them all (2000+) in any immediate future - just in my own pace. And then looking into doing my other photos similarly, because I'm sure the results would be really good.

However, tonight, I ran into a couple of things that don't bode well for Photoshop. The first thing was red eye removal. I was kinda shocked to learn that it doesn't have any automatic red eye removal function - which Picture Project does, and does quite well. Not a disaster, I worked out a way to do it, and while manual, it's not that bad. Just surprising to discover how Picture Project has it's number on this.

The second thing, is noticing tonight the loss of proprietary Nikon EXIF data. This is not shocking, in that it's Nikon proprietary data, however, it has got me second guessing using Photoshop, or at least in the way I'd planned to over the weekend. Photoshop obviously (unlike my experience with Paint Shop Pro) maintains all of the standard EXIF tags. However, on adding EXIF support to Photobox, I discovered that, which I find quite useful, the Coolpix writes most of it's setting in the Maker EXIF tag. In addition to some other stuff, it stores the Color Mode, Quality, White Balance, Focus Mode, Auto Focus Area and Scene Mode (if Scene Mode is selected) which all relate directly to settings found on the Nikon Coolpix L1. While it may seem pedantic, and not required for probably everyone viewing my photos, I've personally found the information invaluable since discovering how to extract it, to go back when looking at a photo and see which exact settings I used to take the photo (beyond the standard / general EXIF information like focal length etc). Which has all made me question whether I shouldn't stick with Nikon software generally.

The third thing is that it lacks Picture Projects "marker" capability, or at least in the way that Picture Project does it. It's "history" function is great while the photo is open, but is all lost when saving the file. This is something I've really become acoustomed to, and really think it's The Right Way To Do Things (TM).

It's a hard call, because as far as image manipulation goes, I've been blown away with Photoshop. In a number of ways. I'd taken a great photo of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, unfortunately using the "Dusk/Dawn" scene mode (which I've since vowed never to ever use again [smile] ), which virtually ruined the shot. I am sure I tried the color booster in Picture Project, with dismal results. Expecting much the same, I gave it a try in Photoshop (expecting like an image converted to black and white or sepia) not being able to get any color back, and being blown away that Photoshop brought back almost all of the color. With a minor purple-ish tinge remaining, but far better than I thought was possible. See below. (The first image isn't even the original, it's the Picture Project copy with color booster processing applied. The second is obvious the one with colors restored in Photoshop).

Photobox Image Photobox Image

Photobox ImageI've also been hugely impressed with the amount of cloud detail I've been able to restore from my other Botanical Garden shots (the afternoon, at the start of the Arizona summer, was quite glarey), making for some really fantastic shots. An example of which on the right.

So, it really makes the idea of NOT using Photoshop for all my photos as a rule, a hard one.
I really wish there was something that combined the best of both. Basically a Nikon product / Picture Project, pretty much with most of it's user interface, markes and cataloging ideas (including it's easy auto red eye removal), with the image editing capabilities of Photoshop.

Similarly, I have thought also that it'd be nice to be able to do all the adding of metadata that I do in Photobox (location, date, title, description, rating etc.) and seamlessly export all the information into Photobox, rather than maintaining collections in Picture Project and then adding titles, descriptions, rankings etc. in Photobox. Basically to have a piece of software that was the master repository of all information that was automatically exportable to things like Photobox. Aside from the added Photobox development that I'd have to do to enable it, Picture Project wouldn't be up to the task.

But oh, it'd be great to have the perfect piece of software that did everything that I wanted, rather than having to do the best with taking the best out of a number of different ones. Off which I still don't quite know HOW I'm going to do. Ahh, the conflict.
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