Sunday, July 10, 2005

Picasa in Mi Casa

My collection of digital photographs has been growing at a pretty alarming rate over the last few years, and I've become increasingly tired of tweaking, organizing and publishing them manually with my own home-grown scripts. So, I finally decided to give Picasa a twirl to see if it really is as good as it's made out to be. There is much to like about Picasa, not least its elegant user interface, the neat classification primitives, and the ability to edit photos without overwriting the original data. (One of the banes of editing is that recompressing to JPEG after each edit is a sure-fire way of destroying quality.)

Unfortunately, there are some serious issues with Picasa's feature set which become apparent only as you start using it more extensively. First, Picasa ties you down into using it exclusively to manipulate photos, because your photo edits are transparent to other applications unless you export the pictures first. This wouldn't be a big deal, if not for the fact that Picasa's editing tools are simply not good enough. It does have a number of cool effects and adjustments that can be easily applied (saturation and color temperature are two things that come to mind), but the basic brightness and contrast adjustments are so terribly below par that it is almost unusable. This means I have to use a different editor to mess with photos, which is not only a big annoyance but also destroys the cool editing flexibility offered by Picasa.

But that's not all. Picasa has this cool concept of a "label" that can be associated with a set of pictures in order to create a "virtual" folder. You can even associate multiple labels with a picture so that you can have multi-dimensional views of your collection. All well and good, but I have already put in considerable effort into organizing my folders hierarchically by time periods and events. And Picasa provides no way of importing this structure to automatically create labels. Worse still, it destroys my hierarchical organization and provides no clean navigational aid to go through my pictures!! Somehow, I cannot imagine going through more than 100 folders to create an equivalent label for each of them. And using labels just for my newer pictures means that I have to contend with two different navigational modes for my photos -- a complete non-starter.

The final annoyance that sealed the deal was that there is simply no automatic way to select all photos in my collection. Picasa will only let me select from one folder at a time. There goes my idea of creating a Picasa screensaver with all my pictures. (You might be wondering why I'd need that feature, since Windows XP already lets me have a screensaver based on my pictures. Trouble is, Windows appears to use a horribly broken random number generator and a poor sampling algorithm that is badly biased by directory structure.)

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