DCRP Review: Apple iPhoto 1.1.1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, January 7, 2002
Last Updated: Friday, June 28, 2002

If you haven't figured it out already, I'm a Mac nut. I've been one for over 15 years. I watched the Apple keynote (from home ... thanks MacWorld for not giving me press access!) waiting for the 2GHz PowerMac G5 that never happened, but instead got a look at Apple's new iPhoto software. As a veteran of digital photography, I understand firsthand the "chain of pain" that Steve Jobs described. First you've got to get the photos off the memory card. That takes one program. Editing takes another. And so does cataloguing them. iPhoto promises to do all that, and more. Best of all, it's free. The downside (to some): it requires Mac OS X 10.1.2 and I don't expect a Windows version anytime soon.

The first main areas in iPhoto are: Import, Organize, Edit, Book, and Share. I will cover each of those in turn.

Review has been updated to cover version 1.1.1. Changes are noted.

Import

There are two ways to get photos into iPhoto: from a camera/card reader, or from your hard disk (if they're already there). Along those lines, you can also import directly from a Photo CD or Picture CD (new in 1.1.1).

Apple supports quite a few cameras, and fewer card readers. My Olympus E-10 worked great, but my Acomdata Multi-Flash card reader did not.

Getting photos off your camera is super easy. Just plug the camera in via USB or FireWire, and if it's supported, iPhoto will start up. You then just hit the import button and they will be downloaded to your computer. If you wish, you can have the software delete the photos from the camera after they are downloaded.

A reader pointed out something that I didn't even think of. With iPhoto, you must import all photos from the camera. Even with the basic Image Capture software built into OS X, you can choose which photos to import before you copy. Not so in iPhoto -- hopefully they will add this ability in a future version.

As I mentioned, you can import graphics that are already on your hard disk via the file menu. You can also drag photos from the Finder into iPhoto -- if you have subfolders, the hierarchy will be maintained (new in 1.1.1).

Each import session is equated to a "roll" of film by iPhoto. This comes in handy for organizing photos as well. Speaking of which....

Organize

This is probably the section of iPhoto where you'll probably spend the most time. The interface is reminiscent of Apple's excellent iTunes software. The "songs" are on the right, and the "playlists" are on the left.


The main organize screen, showing tons of thumbnails

The shot above shows the whole organize window, with tons of thumbnails. Using a slider control (lower right), you can change the size of the thumbnails so you can see a lot of photos on one page, or just a few.

Many readers wrote in saying that iPhoto really starts to slow down when you have many photos (thousands) imported. It can also really eat up your hard disk space.

You can see how the thumbnails are divided into "rolls of film". You can edit the name of the "roll" (new in 1.1.1), or create an album which ends up on the list on the left side.

When you click on each thumbnail, the Title (Roll # - Photo #) is shown, with the date and time it was taken, the resolution, and the file size. You can rename the photo easily, and assign a keyword to it (bottom of screen shot). You can assign a photo more than one keyword, and you can create whatever keywords that you wish.

The four buttons under the photo info (lower left) are:

  • New Album
  • Start Slide Show
  • Photo Info (no info / info / info + comments)
  • Rotate

By clicking and dragging, you can select a number of photos, and move them to an album, start a Slide Show, or print them.


Fewer thumbnails per page - this isn't a building fire, it's fireworks from a distance

As I mentioned, you can create photo albums which helps you better organize your photos. Here's one I created with some Disneyland photos.

I have named my photos, which makes them easy to store. Here you can easily print them, or edit them by double-clicking. I should add that you don't have to use iPhoto for editing -- using the Preferences you can choose another application, such as Photoshop 7.

I wanted to talk briefly about file storage, and what happens to your images after you edit them.

Files are stored in ~/Pictures/iPhoto Library on your Mac OS X drive. Starting with version 1.1.1, your original filenames are kept (not show in the screen shot above). If you already had images in the photo library, their names will not be changed.

Thanks to Julian Koh for connecting the dots for me regarding file structure. The folder shown above break the photos down by date. Thus, the files on the far right were taken November 16, 2001. I hope this makes sense.

iPhoto does keep your original photos intact. You can revert to the original image at any time. Since it's doing this, your photos will start to take up more and more disk space. Plus, for each image, at least two other files (containing Metadata, it looks like) are created, though these are small.

Updated for 1.1.1: While the original version of iPhoto often threw out EXIF data, the latest version not only keeps it, it lets you view it. Even if you edit or rotate the image, the data is intact.

Edit

iPhoto offers easy, basic photo editing that's just right for Joe Consumer. It's no Photoshop, but I mentioned that you can use other programs for this section, if you wish.

Updated for 1.1.1: The five basic features in Edit mode are:

  • Rotate
  • Crop
  • Brightness / Contrast
  • Redeye
  • Black & White

Each time you click rotate (which is no longer a button on the bottom - you use the same button as in organize mode), the image will turn 90 degrees counterclockwise. You can use the menus, or a keyboard shortcut to do this as well (or go clockwise). Unlike with Mac OS X's Image Capture application, it seems that this is lossless image rotating -- the file sizes were actually larger after rotating some images.

The crop feature is fairly self-explanatory. You click and drag to select the area you want to save, and the grayed-out area is tossed. Want to constrain the proportions of the crop "window"? Just pick a ratio in the constrain menu (lower left). This helps you get just what you want in your prints.

The brightness and contrast adjustments are new in 1.1.1, and welcomed. Just drag the sliders until you're happy with the results.


Before


After

To show off the redeye reduction feature, I went back and grabbed this classic (and rather demonic) shot of my dad from the Coolpix 990 review. As you may remember, this camera was notorious for redeye.

To use this feature in iPhoto, you select the area you want to fix (not the whole picture-- it affects all reds!) and hit the button. You can see the before and after results above... not bad!

People often write "does anyone sell a camera that records in black & white?" While the answer is "some do", you can do the same thing in software. In iPhoto, you need only hit the button and the image is quickly changed into black and white.

If you screw up and want to undo, that's no problem. You can even revert to the original imported image, as iPhoto saves it.

Updated for 1.1.1: While it's nice to see the brightness and contrast adjustments arrive, how about a sharpen filter or a "one touch" photo improvement button like some other programs?

The last thing I will mention is that slider bar again -- in organize mode it let you change the size of the thumbnails. Here, it will zoom into the image you are editing.

Book

Using iPhoto, you can create a printed book of your photos. You can print it yourself, or order one via the software. If you do that, it will cost you $30 for 10 pages, plus $3 for each additional page. What do you get for your money?

  • A 9 x 11.25" layout design
  • Acid-free glossy paper
  • An "elegant linen cover in your choice of colors" (black, burgundy, light gray, navy)

There are six layouts to choose from :

  • Catalog
  • Classic
  • Picture book
  • Portfolio
  • Storybook
  • Yearbook

You can see samples of some of these, as well as mockups of the final results on this page. Here's something I put together (as a test), in Storybook format:


Cover


Introduction


Regular page (1 image)

Laying out these books is pretty easy, but a bit frustrating as well. Aside from changing the layout and the number of photos per page, that's all you can do. You can't move things around, and you can't create your own layouts. I couldn't get the font feature to work, either. On the cover page (above), I tried typing on the line below, and I got a warning symbol since it wasn't going to fit. I thought, OK, let's just change the font size. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn't work.


Editing a book -- this is the Portfolio layout -- looks cool.

When editing a book, it can be hard to see the text captions. But that's not a problem, as iPhoto will actually zoom in on the text when you select it, and zoom back out when you're done.

I think with a few fixes here and there, this will be a real nice feature -- and a nice holiday gift. I'd love to see the actual results of my experiment, but I'm not about to fork out $30 for it. Maybe some kindhearted Apple employee will give me a free one?

A few days after I wrote this review, I decided to actually order a book. So I put some Hawaii photos into a Picture Book and ordered. It arrived about a week later via USPS Priority Mail. A few days before I got my book, I read an email from a reader with interest. He said:

"The dithering is poor. Gradients are not smooth. There is visible "banding" in the sky."

At that time I was very interested to see what I'd get. So I printed out some pages from my trusty Epson Stylus Photo 1270 and awaited the arrival of the book. When it came, our reader was dead on. I expect excellent quality for $30, and it's pretty mediocre. A source who is in the printing industry thinks these were printed on some kind of digital press -- perhaps and Indigo. He said these are not great for photos, and that horizontal and vertical banding is common.


You should be able to see the horizontal banding in the sky, and the vertical banding in the water.


Here's the same print from the Epson. Note the cloud on the right that disappears in the Book print. Also, no banding to speak of. Full size scans are below.

Not only did I notice the banding, but there was even some loss of detail. As you compare my examples below, note how the sunset photo in the book is missing some of the clouds that were in the Epson print (or they are very faded -- and not just in my scans). In my humble opinion, the Epson printer (similar models cost just $99) ran circles around the iPhoto books.

Here's my sort-of evidence. These are straight from my scanner, and while not perfect, I think you can see the difference. These were scanned on a Umax Astra 1220U. The Epson prints used Glossy Photo Paper.

iPhoto Book Epson Stylus Photo 1270
Cover image (flower) Cover image (flower)
Last page (sunset) Last page (sunset)

Share

This is the real heart of iPhoto. Here you can print and share your photos via several media. They include:

  • Print
  • Slide Show
  • Mail (new in 1.1.1)
  • Order Prints
  • Order Book
  • HomePage
  • Desktop (new in 1.1.1)
  • Screen Saver (new in 1.1.1)
  • Export

Print

Apple has come up with a simple, universal print driver for iPhoto.

You just pick your printer, set up margins and print layout (called style here), and begin. You can choose paper size via the usual Page Setup menu. I was a bit worried at first, because I didn't see an option to print on the Epson 4x6 paper that I have, but I found it there.

Not all printers are supported yet. Some may appear to be, but they won't print anything.

The "presets" you can choose from include Plain paper, Photo paper, and Matte paper. There is a "fine" quality option for each type.

The styles available include contact sheets, full-size prints, greeting cards (2 or 4-fold style), and standard prints (4x6, 5x7, 8x10).

A DCRP reader has revealed how to get more than one print on a page. First, select the photos you want to print, and hit the print button. Then, hit the Advanced Options button. Pull down the menu that probably says "Copies & Pages" and choose Layout. You will be presented with this dialog:

Pick how many photos you want per page, and hit print. Don't worry if the Print Preview doesn't show it correctly-- it does print as you requested.

The color is kept accurate through the whole process by Apple's ColorSync technology.

Slide Show

Steve got awfully excited about this during the keynote, and I'm not sure why. It does the same thing as every other slide show on earth, except you can have background music. iPhoto comes with two songs, and you can add your own if you'd like. I guess it's cool to add atmosphere. You can choose the transition time between slides, and whether or not it repeats when finished. The transitions are very smooth.

Mail (new in 1.1.1)

If you use Apple's Mail program for e-mail, you can hit this button to resize the selected photos and put them in a new e-mail message.

You can choose from four sizes of photos - small (320 x 240), medium (640 x 480), large (1280 x 960), and full size. You may not want to use the last one, as the files will be huge!

You can also include the photo titles and any comments you've recorded sent as part of the e-mail.

My wish: support for other e-mail programs, like Microsoft Entourage! (Note: you can do this via a hack which is listed towards the end of the review).

Order Prints

One of the nicer, more exciting features in my opinion is the ability to order prints from within iPhoto. You just hit the button, and assuming you have an Apple ID and One-Touch Shopping turned on, you can quickly order prints from Kodak (apparently Ofoto actually fulfills the orders -- they are owned by Kodak).

You can do a "bulk order" of prints -- if you want 4x6's of all the photos, you use the box at the top right. Or, you can specify what size prints and how many you want for each individual photo.

And you don't need to wonder anymore about how big you can print. As you can see in the fourth photo, if a photo isn't high res enough to print, iPhoto will let you know with that warning symbol.

You can choose where to send your photos, and whether its send standard or express.

Another thing to note -- you get 10 free 4x6 prints when you sign up, and you only pay shipping.

I imagine these prints will be just like the ones from Ofoto and places like that -- meaning they'll be real nice. You can get huge 20 x 30 prints if you'd like, for $20.

If you don't live in the US (not sure about Canada), you cannot order photos or books at this time.

Order Book

I've already described the bookmaking process before, so here's just a quick glimpse at the order form:

The software will warn you if you have fewer than 10 pages (which are included in the $30 fee) or have images too low resolution to print well.

Some people asked me if they can print out their own books, and the answer is yes. I did it myself. Obviously they won't be bound and full-bleed, but it's free.

Another thing I've learned is that Kodak/Ofoto does not make these books -- they only do the photos.

HomePage

The HomePage function lets you create, in a limited way, a photo gallery. The limitations are many: it must be hosted on mac.com. You have to live with their layouts. And there are character limits for captions.

Creating a homepage is easy enough. You select the photos you want, hit the button, and you can choose the frames, and destination (again, you must be an iTools user for this to work). Just hit publish and they'll be uploaded. Here is a sample for your enjoyment.

One frustration: you can't edit them once they are up. If you screw up and need to fix a typo, the whole thing has to be uploaded again, or you need to log in to iTools and change it there.

While doing that, I learned two other things: the caption text limit is imposed by iPhoto, not iTools -- you can make longer ones if you log in. Also, you can add a hit counter to each page in iTools.

Desktop (new in 1.1.1)

This button is pretty easy to understand. Pick your favorite photo, press the button, and that photo is now your desktop background.

Screen Saver (new in 1.1.1)

The screen saver button will take one or all of your photo albums, and turn them into a photo screen saver that runs whenever your Mac is idle. It uses the screen saver that is built into Mac OS X.

Export

Lastly, there is the export option. Here, you can export your images to another folder, create a webpage (that is not hosted on mac.com), or create a QuickTime movie slide show.

The "file export" option will save all your images wherever you choose, either at full size, or at a maximum size of your choose. Here, the software will recompress the photos it exports -- aggressively. It would be nice to have some control over how much JPEG compression is applied to images. You can save in TIFF or PNG format, as well.

Web page export will build a gallery, similar to what Image Capture already does. You can then upload the folder to your regular web server.

Updated for 1.1.1: QuickTime export is nice -- an easy way to share Slide Shows online without lots of clicking. Your options are fairly limited, but it works fine and the results are good. A new feature in 1.1.1 is the ability to add music to the movie. The software uses the same song currently selected for your slide show.

Take a look at this new sample movie, with music!

Extensions to iPhoto

Apple has released several AppleScripts which add-on new features to iPhoto. Some of these were made obsolete with v 1.1.1. The remaining useful scripts include:

  • Show Image File — Drag an image from the iPhoto window onto this droplet to reveal its source file in the Finder.
  • Make Audio Card — Combine the power of AppleScript, iPhoto, iTunes, and QuickTime to create interesting audio cards! Select a track in iTunes, then drag a single image from the iPhoto window onto this droplet. The two elements, the MP3 audio file and iPhoto image, will be combined in the QuickTime Player to produce a movie! Double-click the droplet to set preferences for the card width.

One thing that I thought of that will most likely appear in a future version of iPhoto is the ability to put photos on CD or DVD. You could either archive them, or create a DVD (of course you can use iDVD for that). The former would be nice, as the photos really take up a lot of space on the hard disk now.

Updated 6/27/02: There are a number of third party extensions to iPhoto as well, including:

Final Thoughts

Apple's iPhoto is a very impressive effort, and a great tool for beginning and intermediate digital photographers. Apple has done a good job of listening to customers and reviewers alike, and version 1.1.1 offers some much needed improvements. Other software makers have been paying attention to iPhoto, as their software is starting to look pretty similar!

What improvements could I ask for? Sharpening and one-touch image repair. CD/DVD photo archiving. I'd also like to see more robust performance when your library gets large (which doesn't take long).

I imagine that Apple will continue to improve iPhoto in the months ahead, and I'll keep updating this review as they do so!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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