Last week I downloaded the latest edition of FastStone, my favourite image viewer.
I like it because it is just as fast as its name implies and one of the quickest ways I know of to view a folder of pictures and cull the bad ones. It has a huge range of features including the ability to convert Raw files produced by a whole range of cameras.
It’s free and, if you haven’t done so already, I’d really advise you to pop along to FastStone.org and take a look. When I downloaded the latest version, I also got a list of other programs that FastStone users have downloaded and, at the top of the list, was a free program called PhotoScape, which I’d never heard of. It’s only about 16 MB in size so I snagged a copy and installed that as well.
When you fire PhotoScape up, you get a screen with a number of icons to click to access different parts, or modules, of the program. These include Viewer, Editor, Batch Editor, Page, Combine, Animated GIF, Print, Screen capture and Raw Converter.
I must confess I thought that the Viewer was pretty basic because it only allows you to navigate to a folder on your PC and view the pictures in it. You can view them as thumbnails or as larger pictures, but it doesn’t offer any other functionality, apart from deleting ones that you don’t like.
You don’t even get the chance to edit a picture; you have to click on the Editor tab, and navigate again to the folder holding the pictures you want to edit. The Editor is simply laid-out and offers a lot of features including picture resizing, auto-levels, auto-contrast, sharpening, and a wide selection of special effects filters including some really sophisticated ones.
Under a button confusingly called ‘ Bright, Color’ lurk a powerful set of image adjustment tools including luminance, saturation and colour curves, which are tools usually found only in pretty expensive software packages. The editor also allows you to fix redeye, crop, and add such items as other pictures, symbols, text, frames and shapes to the picture you’re working on.
When you’re happy with your work, you can save it and, by default, PhotoScape will save a copy of the original picture to another folder so that you can always go back to it if you suddenly decide you don’t like what you’ve just done.
The Print module has the potential to be a lot of fun because it will let you combine a number of photos together and print them on one sheet of paper with your printer. You basically choose what size of photo you want and the software works out how many of those can fit on a page.
It draws a box on the page for each picture and all you have to do is drag a picture from your current folder into each box. The drawback with this is that you can only choose paper sizes that your printer will allow; in my case, A4 or smaller.
Never mind though, because the Page module will let you create a multi-picture layout of any size you want. There are a huge number of templates to choose from and, again, you just drag pictures from any folder on your computer into the spaces provided.
It took me quite a while to figure out how to enter the layout size that I wanted but, once I realised that you have to click the tiny smiley face wearing a beanie, I was home and dry. That was just one example of the problems I had with PhotoScape’s interface, which is not always intuitive.
The next problem presented itself immediately and that was that the layout size can only be set in terms of pixels so that, if you want a 12-inch square layout, you’d need to know to set it at 3600 pixels wide and deep.
Another major problem with PhotoScape is that it’s written Help is by no means complete. What you do get are short video demonstrations of each feature, which were enough for my purposes, but, even there, I found the lack of narration pretty irritating.
I have mentioned several of the downsides to PhotoScape and you might be pardoned for thinking that my first move, after finishing this review, would be to delete it from my computer. In fact, however, I think that it does have a lot of potential and I will certainly find an ongoing use for it as a quick and fuss-free way to add frames and decorative edges to pictures processed in other software.
Another feature that I will definitely be using it for is the creation of quick page layouts. Neither of these features allows much customisation but the choice of borders and page templates is wide enough to ensure that you’ll most likely find something to suit.
PhotoScape isn’t perfect but it could grow up to be pretty awesome if it’s strange quirks and issues are ever sorted out.