Pros: Best functionality at pricepoint; includes Library!
Cons: Most everything is performed in automatic wizards with less manual controls than other apps
Microsoft Picture It! Premium 10 is a new and improved offering from Microsoft in the budget photo editing category. On the editing side the program continues to offer great value with many automated tasks to handle most of the touch-ups that the amateur photographer needs. New to Picture It! Premium 10 is the Picture It! Library, an organizing tool previously only available in the more expensive Digital Image Suite. Microsoft has included greater functionality in this $49.99 MSRP version of its popular budget photo editor, and this is sure to reap dividends with the consumer.
Picture It! Premium 10 is the budget photo editor with enough editing functions and project templates for the typical home photographer. Users requiring more editing control and about twice as many templates can step up to Digital Image Pro 10 (which does not include the Library function) or to the flagship Digital Image Suite 10 with all of the functionality of Image Pro 10 plus the cataloging capability of Picture It! Premium 10. I don't want to go into an in-depth comparison, but if you are interested you can check out the following table:
One thing to keep in mind before purchasing new software is the system requirements, as your system can make or break the experience. Microsoft recommends that your system be composed of the following, at a minimum (taken from Microsoft website):
● Multimedia PC with Pentium 700MHz or higher processor
● 128MB of RAM
● 300 MB free hard drive space
● SVGA monitor at 800 x 600 resolution or better
● At least 1MB of Video RAM
● Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP
● Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0
Microsoft Picture It! Premium 10 is available as a boxed, retail set for $49.95 at stores and at the product website, http://www.microsoft.com/products/info/product.aspx?view=22&pcid=89b1a394-d672-4037-9c6a-55e50e7f7034&type=ovr. While you are there, ensure that you download and print out the rebate for $15 that is valid through December 31, 2005 I happened to purchase my boxed set through BestBuy.com several months ago when there were two concurrent rebates on, so my final price was $10-15. If you watch you may see deals like this again
Installation of the program is as simple as plugging the CD into your CD-ROM and allowing Windows to take over. If the program doesnt begin to install itself, simply navigate to the CD-ROM, open the disk and look for the .exe file called setup. Double click and you are on your way! I was surprised to see that this product does not require online registration/activation, as it seems Microsoft is moving more and more that direction. Instead, when you run Picture It! Premium 10 you will simply have to agree to the EULA (End User License Agreement) which states you will only use this on one computer, yada yada yada
Microsoft is known for bloatware; does Picture It! Premium 10 measure up? Installation can either be done as a full or basic install, and as long as you have the disc space go ahead and do the full install. This will install all of the templates, gif's, etc. onto your drive so you don't need to keep inserting the CD as you work on projects. A full install takes up approximately 425MB on my Programs partition, so unless you are cramped for space it shouldn't be a problem. While the program is running, the RAM utilized ranges widely depending on the number and size of files opened as well as the number and type of fixes applied. When opening a single image file 700KB in size, the program takes up about 40MB of RAM. However, as soon as you start editing the picture your RAM is eaten up fairly quickly, as the adjusted image is stored in RAM until saved. For instance, when I color adjusted the 700KB picture, the Mem Usage shot up to 73MB. Change the contrast and exposure using the auto fix wizards and Picture It! Premium 10 now occupies well over 140MB of RAM The more pictures you open along with the more adjustments made can make this a huge RAM user until you save the image .
Use of the programs
Picture It! Premium 10 is a valuable program for the beginner to intermediate amateur photographer. The editing wizards work well to auto-adjust images, and if the adjustments don't look quite right there is some manual control available to tweak the end product. The cataloging function of the Library is a new addition that adds significantly to the value of the product, as this is generally reserved for the higher iterations of photo editing applications. Below I will explain what functionality is available as well as how I use it with my digital images acquired with our camera.
When you first attach or insert a device which has images stored on it or is capable of capturing images, a computer with Windows ME or XP should automatically launch the Import Images Wizard. With this custom wizard you can set up Picture It! Premium 10 to automatically acquire images whenever that device is connected, such as my SD card from my digital camera. I have set this up to automatically import the pictures into a folder called New Photos in the My Pictures folder within the My Documents folder on my PC. Once it has imported the pictures I have it set to delete the pictures from the card, thus freeing up space for more file acquisition in the camera. Having this automated is a time saver, and each card or device can have its own custom settings within the wizard.
Once the photos are imported, the program will launch to the Startup Window, which is the introductory screen for Picture It! Premium 10. From here you can choose to open a file, go to the Picture It! Library, go to the Mini Lab or start a project. Each of these options will be discussed below.
Opening/Editing a file
Opening a single file such as a .jpg image will launch the main work area with the canvas and various toolbars. The interface is neatly laid out with the drop-down menus, icon toolbar and workspace toolbar at the top. Along the left side is the common tasks list, from which you can run common editing tasks. Along the right side of the screen is the Stack and files thumbnails. The files are the different layers of the project you may be working on while the stack shows how the files are currently setup from top to bottom. It is fairly easy to manipulate the project to bring items forward or back in the project, thus changing the look of the image. Obviously, in the center of the screen (and taking up the most space by far) is the canvas with the currently open project to view.
Editing options are fairly straightforward and easy to manipulate. From within the main work area the user can change the image size via either changing the zoom, the pixel dimension or the resolution, although I personally do not do this. I try and take pictures on my camera with the highest resolution possible, as this allows me to crop images with less image distortion. Text can be added to a picture to convey a message as well which is fairly self-explanatory.
For basic touchup, there are a few tools available that work very well in my experience. These include brightness and color, tint and exposure, red eye removal and levels adjustment. All of these automated tasks will improve your picture quality generally, and if you are not quite happy with the result you can tweak it with a slider bar in most situations. If your picture is not quite true to the world, Picture It! Premium 10 makes it very easy to straighten the image by designating a line to adjust to, but keep in mind that the picture will be cropped somewhat to fill the whole work area. Cropping is simple with Picture It!, as a gridwork appears to allow the user to take advantage of the rule of thirds for a more professional looking image. Line up the main subject of the photo with one of the crosshairs of the gridline and watch your photo crop and adjust Keep in mind that cropping does decrease the overall pixels within the picture, thus reducing the size of a great looking print.
Just as important as the capabilities of the software are the limitations. With Picture It! Premium 10 you will not have either a color and saturation toolset or an Exposure and lighting toolset available. You can adjust these properties within Picture It!, but the abilities of the software are limited in comparison to more expensive packages. Also missing is an advanced noise reduction tool, although for any but the more advanced photographers this shouldn't be a problem. Finally, there is no level and curve histogram/toolset, so if this is a must for you, you will need to look elsewhere. If you didn't understand what was just written, fear not. Picture It! Premium 10 will probably allow you to edit your photos to your heart's content!
Advanced editing functions are present within Picture It! Premium 10 if you desire to do more than basic editing. This would include cropping a subject out of an image to transplant them magically to another area. The user can add multiple objects to an image, copy and paste multiple objects, group them together, ungroup and flatten them. All of these tools allow the user to get very creative with their images, changing the image to suit their needs.
Some useful tools are available for selecting objects for use in the stack. The Marquee tool allows the user to crop a picture or portion of a picture using a static shape such as a triangle, square or circle. The user can resize the object to encompass the subject to crop and then cut it for use elsewhere. I don't use this one much, although for designers I can see where this may be helpful. The Edge Finder is the tool that I have used the most, and it works very well for cutting objects of non-standard shape (such as a person) from a picture for transplant elsewhere. Click on a defined edge, move the pointer to another point along the edge (even around a corner or two) and click again. The tool will 'find' the edge and snap to it, allowing you to cut out the image perfectly. If you find that the tool didn't find the edge perfectly, just shorten up the run that you are attempting to cut and click again; eventually you will get it well defined. Assuming that you cannot use the Edge Finder as the edges is not well defined, etc. the Freehand Tool is also available. With this tool you can freehand outline the object you wish to cut. With zoom and a careful hand you can exactly define the object you wish to transplant. The Magic Wand is a tool that is cool, but very impractical in my mind. This allows you to click on a color within the image and the tool will select all areas of the image that are the same color. I haven't found a use for this as of yet, but it is available and the tolerance for like colors is adjustable
With all of these tools you can choose to Feather or AntiAlias the image edges which makes for a smoother edge. I personally use the Antialiasing and it does seem to make the breaks at the edges smoother. Feathering is also a smoothing tool, although you can adjust the amount of pixels in from the edge to smooth. I personally don't like the look of a feathered image, so consequently I don't use it much.
There are twelve filters available to change the look of your image, as well. These are fairly simple, ranging from watercolor to glowing edge to charcoal pencil. Each filter will give the image a different look, and some of these make very nice image adjustments. My personal favorites are Glowing Edges and Chrome
Picture It! Premium 10 has 1500 designer templates for different projects as well as 2400 images loaded onto it. The templates will allow you to quickly and easily make a greeting card, calendar, photo album and image stickers among other things. I have used this to create personal greeting cards as well as monthly calendars to stick on the wall, and the boys love it. For me personally, however, this is more of a novelty than a requirement of the software. If you plan on heavily using the templates and projects, consider stepping up to either Digital Image Pro or Digital Image Suite as both of these applications come loaded with twice the amount of templates.
Picture It! Library
The biggest improvement in this iteration of Picture It! compared to previous versions is the addition of the Picture It! Library. Software applications such as ACDSee have long held the advantage when it comes to cataloging your images in easy to search categories and by keyword. The Picture It! Library has a lot of this functionality, although ACDSee is still a better standalone product.
With the Picture It! Library, the user can scan and add in all of their images currently residing on their PC into the Library and from the main launch screen sort and filter as they desire. It is very nice to be able to find photos by keyword or rating, for instance, although it will take you a while to add keywords and ratings the first time through. Sorting by date works very well so long as you have made sure your camera is set correctly, as the camera sets the original metadata by which the program sorts the pictures. Within the Library you can see much of the metadata associated with the picture, although not all of it. For instance, you will see the title, size and resolution of the picture as well as what date it was taken, but you won't see the aperture, shutter speed etc. This can be found by clicking on properties and then the Camera Settings tab, but in other programs it is readily available simply by clicking on the image in question.
Adding flags is something I have not seen before, but for me it will be essentially worthless. Flags were designed by Microsoft to flag photos by what actions are required next, such as For Review, Needs Touchup, To Share, To Print, etc. I personally perform all of the required editing and sharing at the time of importing, so I don't really know why I would ever use this. If it sounds good for your situation, just know that it is here.
I have found the 128-page manual to be useful in discovering how to get the most from Picture It! Premium 10, although some of the English is garbled. One nice addition to the book is a section in the back that explains some common camera terms such as ISO, aperture, shutter speed and focal length. In addition to defining these terms, the book explains how you would want to manipulate these items to get the best picture possible with your camera prior to even entering the image into a photo editor. Nice touch, Microsoft. There is also help on the web available as well as informative (albeit short) instructional videos included on the CD.
Picture It! Premium 10 is the next iteration in budget editing software from Microsoft, and the addition of the Library cataloging function adds a lot of value in comparison to previous versions. If you are a beginner to intermediate level amateur photographer, more than likely you will be able to do anything you desire with this application. If you need more templates and manual editing control, step up to Digital Image Pro or Digital Image Suite, but for the mainstream user Picture It! should provide all the power you need.
File Formats Compatible with Picture It!