Picasa 3.5 for Mac review

When it comes to organising, editing, and sharing photos, most Mac users choose iPhoto. But what happens when you don’t feel like coughing up £69 for the latest iLife just to get the Faces and Places features? Google has an answer in Picasa, a free photo editing and sharing app that rivals iPhoto ’09.

If you’ve used iPhoto, Picasa’s feature set will be familiar; you can organise and edit photos, add effects, create albums and slideshows, detect faces, tag places, share pics, print photos and contact sheets, and play movies. But Picasa comes with some nice surprises; you can batch edit photos, create collages, sync your Google contacts, set an image as your desktop, make movies, sync content with Picasa Web Albums, add text to photos, post photos to Blogger, and upload movies to YouTube.

Easy access and organisation
Unlike iPhoto, which imports and stores photos in a single iPhoto Library file making them difficult to access, Picasa scans your Mac for images and movies and displays what it finds in its iPhoto-like-but-less-elegant interface. Your photos remain in their original locations for easy access. You can tell Picasa which folders to look through (or avoid) and watch, what types of files to find, and even have it search external drives, DVDs, and network servers. You can also import photos from a camera, media card, iPhone, or other device; upload the pics to Picasa Web Albums; and share them with your Google contacts all at the same time.

Picasa displays all folders that contain images in the Folders section in the left column, organised according to your existing folder array and year; all images contained within a selection appear in the main pane on the right. You can double-click any thumbnail to get a bigger view and drag and drop thumbnails within any folder – or to a different folder – to rearrange at whim. Any organisational changes you make affect your actual files, so if you move a photo from one folder to another in Picasa, it moves the corresponding file on your Mac accordingly, and vice versa.

For better organisation, you can create Albums, which appear above the Folders at the top of the left column. Albums let you group together photos any way you want without moving the original photos. It’s a good way to organise your favourites.

In the Picasa world, People and Places stand in for iPhoto’s Faces and Places features. People automatically starts detecting people from the photos it finds, placing them in an Unnamed album in the People section in the left column. It does this a little too well, detecting strangers in a crowd, statues, and other random items. Once you name a person, Picasa creates a new album for that person and adds photos it thinks includes them (it can also sync people with your Google contacts). It does a decent job, though it’s not perfect (neither is iPhoto), but you can simply drag and drop the pics it misses.

With Places, you get the power of Google maps working for you, letting you geotag photos with the location in which it was taken. It works in a similar way to iPhoto – select a photo and type an address, city, or landmark to tag its location on Google maps. Or drag a thumbnail directly onto the map. We did experience some weirdness where Picasa couldn’t find any location we entered, but this happened just a few times.

The wow factor
There are several things that make Picasa stand out. We love the Collage feature, which arranges photos into a designed or messy layout you can fine-tune. Movie Maker lets you make basic movies and slideshows. It exhibited some bugginess when moving photos around the timeline, but it does the job well. The caption feature is especially useful.

For photo sharing, Picasa integrates with Google’s own Picasa Web Albums, which gives you 1GB of free web space, unlike paying £59 a year to integrate iPhoto with MobileMe. Once you sign up for a free account, you can upload photos, slideshows, and movies to your Picasa Web Albums. Even better, you can sync Albums and Folders with your site to automatically keep your online and offline collections in line. Your visitors can view your latest adventures, play slideshows, leave comments, make collages and movies of your photos, and order prints. Picasa Web Albums doesn’t have the eye candy of MobileMe, but we didn’t really miss that.

OUR VERDICT

If you use an older version of iPhoto but want the newer features, switching to Picasa is a no-brainer. If you use Photoshop or another image editor, Picasa makes a great photo-management companion. It’s free, so why not give it a go?

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