I haven’t used dedicated photo-management software before - iPhoto always looked really nice, but since it only works on the Mac it didn’t seem worth investing lots of time in populating data there that I couldn’t use on other platforms too. However, since this year I took the laptop on holiday with us, to ensure I could cope with any urgent business while I was away (the wonders of being self-employed), I figured I’d take the opportunity to try out Picasa 3 to transfer, organise, label & share our photos in real-time as we progressed through our holiday. It seemed quite a nice tool, and the ability to sync your photos with an online album to share with family while you were away was ideal. Sure, I could have used Facebook, but in fact none of the family we wanted mainly to share our photos with are on Facebook already and I’m damned if I’m going to force them to to join! 😉 I was using the Mac version on holiday, but I also tried the Windows version at home which seemed identical.
And in practice? Well, it’s bloody good. It makes it easy to import your photos from the camera into a holding area, omitting those you’ve already transferred, from which you can allocate them nicely to albums and do all the normal photo tweaking - cropping, straightening, constrast adjustments etc. It even lets you crop & recompress videos which is perfect, since our camera takes surprisingly good quality 30fps video. Another nice thing is that it doesn’t alter the original photos / videos when you tweak them, so you can always get back to the original raw photo if you want to.
Synchronising the photos with an online album is super-easy too; as well as filtering by album you can also tell specific photos not to synchronise, and tweak the quality at which the uploaded versions get sent, to speed things up. It’ll even upload your videos on to the same shared album, and additionally to YouTube et al if you want it to. This all happens seamlessly in the background as you work on organising and tagging, and you hardly even notice.
Of course, it lets you add captions to your photos, essential for recording what on earth it was you were capturing on your 400th image, and those appear on the web version too. Another cool feature is that if you export the photos back to the file system (again you can re-encode if you want or keep the original quality), it embeds the captions in the resulting images as IPTC metadata, which many image viewers will allow you to see outside of using Picasa itself.
The only downside is that right now, moving your Picasa data between machines is a bit of a pain- you can re-export the images like I say, but if you actually want to use the original Picasa data files and open them on another machine, you have to dig around in the filesystem and hack about with .pal files to do it. Hopefully in Picasa 4 Google will recognise that most sensible people store their pictures permanently on a NAS or other shared data store, so it would be a good idea to allow non-local albums to be defined and used.
Overall then, Picasa 3 is a very slick photo management application and was hugely useful on our holiday for organising and sharing our photos before we ever came home.