Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Paint Shop Pro 9: just what a digital photographer needs


By Jen Edwards

As a budding digital photographer (I just got a Sony T-1), I'm of course on the lookout for some easy to use tools for my "digital darkroom." I don't need any super-expensive packages like Adobe Photoshop CS, but I do want something easy to use that can help me create the photos I wish I could have captured in the first place. That's where Paint Shop Pro 9, Paint Shop Studio, and Photo Album 5 from Jasc come into the picture. This review is focused on the "newbie" perspective; while I'm an experienced digital photographer and computer user, this is my first experience with advanced photo editing software.

My first impression when I opened the box was simply, "Wow!" While only one CD is required for the application, the box is a heavy one due to the full manual provided for Paint Shop Pro. That's great news for beginning users, since so many applications today come with nothing more than a PDF help file on the CD.

The manual covers everything you could possibly want to know about the application in great detail, including screenshots, step-by-step instructions, helpful hints, and an index. The manual isn't the sort of book you'll want to read from beginning to end (unless you're hopelessly addicted to software manuals), but it does serve as a great reference.

New users will want to start with Paint Shop Creations: Demystifying Digital Photography by Dave Huss. This lushly illustrated bonus book is truly a treasure trove of tips and information. It covers topics such as digital camera basics, taking better pictures, organizing photos, editing techniques, and creative ways to share your digital photos with friends and family. It's an excellent read that I highly recommend, well worth the list price of $15.95, though Jasc currently has it on sale for only $10.95.

After installation, it's time to start learning how to use the software. Paint Shop Photo Album 5 gets very high marks for having powerful features that are easy to use. When you first run the program, a helpful product tour window will pop up. It covers the basics, after which you're left on your own to organize your photos, make basic edits, and learn about online services that let you get prints and photo-based gift items such as mugs, t-shirts, and even hardcover personalized photo albums.

Photo Album is a snap to use; I especially like the fact that it's not necessary to "import" your images, as is the case with Adobe Photoshop Album. Jasc's program simply takes a couple of seconds to scan, and presents you with a familiar directory listing, much as you would see in Windows. Tabs on the left allow you to quickly go between the browser view, Info, Keywords, Search, and Album views.