PC to Mac Migration, Part 3: iPhoto 08 Review.


Unlike my media files, for photos imported from the PC the only metadata I was interested in were keywords. Since they’re in the file I didn’t have to worry about missing any data when imported.

On thing I will focus on in this review is organization. On the PC I used Adobe Photoshop Elements, where I keyworded more than half my photos, and further kept them manageable by using stacks. But stacks were designed for basically the same image, and named after the top one. My 2,000+ photos were “arranged” in something like 415 stacks. It’s a lot easier to scroll through 475 items than 2000, but it was still weak.

Thus I was intrigued by iPhoto’s Events feature. Not a stack, an Event is all photos grouped together (initially) by time. IPhoto can do this automatically at import, and I let it do so. Events can be named anything, and you choose the thumbnail to represent it (as you do a stack).

Another area I will focus on is photo enhancement. Typically, for any photo I choose to edit I do the following:

  • Remove Red Eye
  • Crop
  • Adjust levels
  • Adjust Highlights and Shadows
  • Add sharpness

Occasionally I may adjust color saturation or try noise reduction, but the above five steps are what I usually perform.

My comments and opinions of iPhoto, therefore, are based primarily on its organizational ability and how it can handle the above enhancement tasks.

Importing into iPhoto, I chose to have it create events with photos shot within eight hours of each other. I pointed iPhoto at a backup directory of the photos on an external drive, and when the process completed I had 204 Events. Lots of organization to do!

How I organized my photos had little to do with the concept of a day. Some of them were clearly events in the sense that Apple envisioned, but many of them are really “category buckets”. For example, I created an event simply called Miscellaneous and it has over 50 pictures in it. I made no attempt to name the Events at first, preferring to just drag one event on the other to merge them as I found groups I wanted together. Sometimes I had to open an event and split it, then split it again, because some photos in the middle didn’t belong. The process is pretty easy, it’s just deciding how you want stuff organized. I probably spent an hour at this and when the smoke cleared I had 55 Events. I also had a clear idea of what each represented, so naming them was easy.

I really like Events. Much better than simple stacking, they have a broader usage and are easy to manipulate. Further, you can drag your mouse over the thumbnail to “skim” through the images; a quick way to find what you’re looking for.

All my keywords were imported as expected, and I decided to assign more since I’d fallen behind. In iPhoto this is really easy. Open the Keywords panel and drag your most common into the Quick Group. Now they have a single keystroke to assign them. Others are assigned by clicking their button. You can also select a picture and start typing keywords; it will auto-complete them. In PE you select the photos and drag a keyword. After iPhoto this seems downright clumsy. I much prefer hitting a single key or a button. See the top picture above for a shot of the interface with the Keywords box open and one picture in the act of being updated by typing.

I also started to assign ratings. Like PE you can do this with the keyboard. I’d never used ratings before, but the thought of using Smart Albums like I use Smart Playlists in iTunes was appealing. They’re still a work in progress, but I have six already, and am really going to like these. I also created two regular albums for syncing to my iDevices.

From an organizational standpoint, I like iPhoto much better than PE. Events is better than stacking (though it could be used as stacks if you prefer), keyword assignment is quicker, the interface is much cleaner, and smart albums are a nice plus.

Now to edit some photos. I love iPhoto’s interface for this. I’m set to always edit in full screen, have the filmstrip down the left-hand side, and the toolbar at the bottom. See the second picture above, which shows the toolbar and filmstrip (though they’re normally hidden). This is the kind of interface we buy 24″ screens for! When in full screen mode, common editing tools are given single key commands. So I pull up a photo and do the following:

  • Hit ‘r’ to bring up the red-eye tool.
  • Hit ‘c’ to being up the crop tool.
  • Hit ‘a’ to bring up the adjust heads up display (HUD).

You can see the Adjust HUD in the picture. It contains histogram/levels, shadows/highlights, eyedropper, and sharpness controls (among others). In addition, you can hit 1 or 2 for 100 or 200 percent zoom at the cursor. Very convenient. Doing my typical editing is just so much quicker in iPhoto. Here’s a summary of the tools:

  • The red eye tool in auto-mode is pretty week, but in manual mode it works as well as PE.
  • The crop tool is great; as you drag it draws a grid to help you follow the “rule of thirds” if you want to.
  • Adjusting levels is similar to PE. I either drag the sliders using the displayed histogram as a guide, or I click the eyedropper and pick a neutral or white spot in the photo.
  • Shadows and highlights is also similar to PE. Drag the sliders to adjust. In iPhoto there is also an exposure slider, and I’m finding it works great in conjunction with contrast for an initial adjustment, then I use shadows/highlights to fine tune portions of the photo blown out or too black.
  • Finally, I add sharpness via the Sharpness slider.

PE requires separate trips to menus and controls for the above, where iPhoto needs an ‘r’, a ‘c’, and an ‘a’ to get to everything I want. It really is so much easier. And lets not even discuss that the PE editor is a separate application, so going into edit mode is a wait!

Regarding the tools themselves, It’s a wash on the red-eye tool, a win for iPhoto on the crop tool, a wash for levels, highlights, and shadows, and a win for PE on sharpening. This last is my biggest gripe. PE’s Unsharp Mask is a wonderful tool, and the slider in iPhoto is much inferior. It seems to do almost nothing in the first 15% of its range, and by the time you get to 50% most photos are horrid.

As for the remaining controls, Saturation works well, but cannot be limited to a specific color, so PE can blow it away if you just want to increase, say, the reds. The noise reduction slider is OK, but neither iPhoto or PE have much to brag about here.

What’s significant, and what I noted in a previous article, is that until this version iPhoto did not have Shadows, Highlights, a midtone (“gamma”) slider for levels, or the eyedropper tool. These are tools I used routinely in PE, and why I initially thought iPhoto could not work for me. They also added the Exposure slider and Noise Reduction in this release. It really was a significant improvement to iPhoto’s editing abilities, though it gets skirted over in reviews in favor of Events, Web Gallery, etc. While those things are cool (I’ve already posted a Web Gallery), I wouldn’t be using iPhoto if not for those editing improvements.

Another thing to note about iPhoto is its revamped non-destructive editing. No more getting the picture adjusted and then having to go through the Save As process in PE. I just concentrate on my edits and move on. The original is never touched and the changes are made in a new file. The changes are tracked so future changes can go back to the original and take it from there. Nice. All this happens without me having to worry about it or come up with some new name for the file.

I am amazed how the full screen interface, simplicity of pulling up the controls I need, and the fact that I never worry about saving or destroying the original file has made the process of editing so much faster. I pulled in two hundred pictures of my daughter’s recital and zoomed though them (tossing rejects, adding a star to nice ones, and editing as needed). It really is much faster than PE even though I’ve used that product for years and am proficient in the adjustments I perform. To top it all off, once I correct one picture I can simply cut those adjustments and paste them onto like photos! That’s fast!

I don’t know if I’d categorize myself as a “serious hobbyist” in photography, but I do way more than the average person does with their photos, and I can state unequivocally that iPhoto is powerful enough to suit those needs. Some day I may look into Aperture or Lightroom, but I have a great tool right now, and can say I would not like the prospect of going back to PE.

Finally, if you need a photo tool for image manipulation as well as editing, then iPhoto is not for you. No masking, no layers, etc. That’s not its thing. But if you want a tool to help you organize thousands of photos, make it easy to keyword, rate, reject, share, and perform powerful adjustments, then you’ll be very happy with what comes on your new Mac.

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4 thoughts on “PC to Mac Migration, Part 3: iPhoto 08 Review.

  1. “Finally, if you need a photo tool for image manipulation as well as editing, then iPhoto is not for you.” Try Pixelmator for this. Brand new.

    By the way, why do these comments have a posted time, but no date? How useful is that?

  2. Apple’s iPhoto 08 app sounds improved in the editing department. And I think I’m going to like the “Hide” option.

  3. Nice article, very informative. I can’t wait to try these new updated programs soon for myself.

    PS. The little girl is absolutely adorable! :O)

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