Windows 7 has the potential to be the most imaging-friendly version of Windows yet developed. Windows 7 makes viewing JPEG and other common file formats easy, displays exposure metadata, and supports more viewing options than Windows XP, while offering better performance than Windows Vista. However, to get the maximum benefit from Windows 7, digital photographers will want to make two additions:
Wondering how to get RAW support for 64-bit versions of Windows 7? Not sure which free program (Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa) is better at fixing common digital photo problems? Looking for the best solution for organizing your rapidly growing digital photo collection? This article helps you find the answers you need.
Windows 7's Pictures Explorer shows thumbnail views of JPEG and other supported imaging formats when you select the Medium icon, Large icon (default), or Extra Large icon views. However, RAW files (which are camera-specific) display only icons if you have not already installed the appropriate codecs for your camera. To install RAW file support for your camera:
After installing the appropriate codec, you will be able to see thumbnail views for both JPEG and RAW files in Pictures Explorer:
Unfortunately, some digital SLR vendors do not provide 64-bit codecs. However, Ardfry Imaging, LLC offers 32-bit and 64-bit versions of its independently-developed codecs for Canon CR2, Nikon NEF, and Adobe DNG file formats ($29.95 each). 15-day free trials are available. Because I'm currently using the 64-bit version of Windows 7 RC Ultimate, I was unable to use the Canon-provided codec. However, the Ardfry codec worked fine on my 64-bit system.
In Windows 7, Microsoft replaced the Windows Photo Gallery (now superseded by Windows Live Photo Gallery), and replaced it with Windows Photo Viewer. To use Windows Photo Viewer to view your photos in a resizable window, right-click the photo and select Preview.
You can rotate, zoom in, print, burn your photos to CD or DVD, and view your photos in a slide show. From the File menu, you can view Properties, which opens the Details tab to display image metadata, tags, and similar information.
However, Windows Photo Viewer lacks tagging, repair, and filtering tools. To get these, consider adding Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa 3.0 to your system. How do these free products compare? First, let's look at the major features of both programs.
As far as features are concerned, Picasa packs plenty more than Windows Live Photo Gallery (WLPG). But, how well do these programs do at repairing problem photos?
Although Picasa offers more photo repair tools than WLPG, that doesn't necessarily mean they're better. Compare the results when repairing an underexposed and off-color photo using auto repair tools Auto Adjust (WLPG) and I'm Feeling Lucky (Picasa):
WLPG's Auto Adjust provides a more natural, less harsh repair.
A much tougher repair task is trying to darken an overexposed photo. For this type of repair, I used WLPG's Adjust Exposure menu and Adjust Color menus and Picasa's Tuning menu:
Again, WLPG does a more natural job.
Picasa has two big advantages over WLPG,though:
Here's Picasa's batch edit feature in action:
WLPG saves changes automatically as soon as you view another photo. Picasa's photo repairs aren't saved until you click the Save to Disk button at the top of each folder listing. Unfortunately, Picasa doesn't display any icons to show which photos have been edited. However, Windows Live Photo Gallery places checkmarks next to each editing tool you have used for the current photo.
Windows Live Photo Gallery offers a multi-level Undo feature at the bottom of its menu structure. Picasa has undo buttons on each of its menus, but doesn't display all of the edits in a single location.
Both programs save previous versions and permit reversions: WLPG uses the shadow copy feature built into Windows 7's system protection (restore points) feature, while Picasa retains the previous version internally.
By tagging photos, you make it possible to find photos of a particular person, place, object, or event quickly, no matter what folder they're found in. Both WLPG and Picasa support tagging, but how they do it and what they use tags for is very different.
Windows Live Photo Gallery now supports two types of tags: People tags and Descriptive tags. It is also compatible with tags applied with older versions or with Windows Vista's Windows Photo Gallery. Those tags are placed in the Descriptive tags category, but tags for people can be dragged to the People tags category. To create a tag in WLPG, click the appropriate Add a New Tag button and enter the tag name. To add the tag to matching photos or videos, select the photos or videos and drag them to the tag. It's a system quite similar to what Adobe's been doing with Photoshop Elements' Organizer and other products:
To view photos matching the tag, click the tag. In this example, photos from two different folders are displayed with a single click. By signing into Windows Live, you can also see if this person is sharing photos.
You can add multiple people and/or descriptive tags to a photo using the same technique: create the tag, select the photos or videos, and drag the media to the tag, repeating as needed with different tags
In Picasa, you must select each photo, click View, Tags, and enter the tag or tags for the photo. Picasa Web Albums makes extensive use of tags for organization, but Picasa itself does not use tags for filtering.
Windows Live Photo Gallery now integrates with Flickr as well as Windows Live albums. To set up integration with Flickr, you select your photos, click Publish, Publish on Flickr, and follow the prompts to authorize Flickr to work with Windows Live Photo Gallery. Once the integration is done, select Publish on Flickr, and Windows Live Photo Gallery sends the photos to the Flickr account you specify, adds them to a photo set you specify, resizes the photos as you specify, and sets the permissions you prefer:
To add support for other services, open Publish, More Services, and Add a Plug-In. You can choose from plugins for Facebook 2.0, YouTube, SmugMug, Picasa Web Publisher, Drupal Publisher, Pixelpipe, and Ipernity.
Picasa supports Blogger (no surprise there, as both are Google products), but it has no support for other photo sharing services. You must use their clients to share from photo folders, with no help from Picasa.
As you can see from this comparison, both programs offer a lot to the digital photographer who's not ready to jump into Photoshop Elements but wants decent tools for working with digital photos. Here's how I see it:
Choose Picasa if you're looking for a "Swiss Army Knife"-like set of photo editing and effects tools, especially if you use both JPEG and RAW file types, or if you want special photo effects without moving up to a full-blown photo editor. However, Picasa's tagging and file management tools are clunky and aren't well implemented. Picasa also offers MacOS and Linux versions if you want to use it cross-platform.
Choose Windows Live Photo Gallery if you're mainly concerned about photo and video organization but want high-quality photo repair tools for JPEG images. While WLPG's doesn't offer the effects and creative tools that Picasa does, it often makes better photo repairs - but sadly, only for JPEG files. WLPG, unlike Picasa, also displays videos and can tag them for easy access.
Can you use both? If you're using only JPEG photos, you certainly can. However, I noticed that when I installed Picasa after installing Windows Live Photo Gallery and codecs, I could no longer view RAW thumbnails in Picture Explorer or other folders.
The easiest way to get Windows Live Photo Gallery is to open the Getting Started menu in Windows 7 and click Get Windows Live Essentials. You can select the programs you want to install. To obtain Picasa, visit http://picasa.google.com. If you are also using older versions of Windows, both programs also work with Windows XP and Windows Vista. To download Windows Live components for these versions of Windows, go to http://download.live.com/.
Mark Soper is the author of the forthcoming book The Shot Doctor: The Amateur's Guide to Taking Great Digital Photos.