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DLS Review: Picasa 3.8 released, now with Picnik editor


Picasa 3.8 was unleashed upon the world a couple of days ago. It brings with it several major features, such as Batch Upload, something called "Face Movie," which creates an animation out of a series of images of the same person, and last but certainly not least, Picnik photo editing.

That's right – Picasa can now upload your photo seamlessly to Picnik, and it allows you to edit it there, then you can download it back when you're done. Google says Picnik is "photo-editing awesomeness that lives in the cloud." I had to see how awesome it really was for myself, so I took the feature for an extensive spin with a photo of a fluffly white poodle. To see the results, keep reading after the fold.

So, as you've seen in the screenshot heading this post, the first thing that happens when you click the Edit in Picnik button is that you get this prompt. This is but one of a series of prompts and progress bars that you'll get to enjoy before being able to actually edit your photo, as you shall soon see. Fortunately, this one can optionally be switched off using that little checkbox at the bottom.

So you've clicked OK, now here comes the first progress bar. This one is actually a throbber, if you want to get technical about it, but it does have a percentage count. It immediately jumped to 100% and stayed there for a while, then I got to see the next progress bar.

Yes! Progress is being made, indeed! We're done with the first bar, and now we get to experience Picnik's humorous progress bar, including such indicators as "Warming breeze" and "Laying blankets." Aren't progress bars fun?

Okay, we're done with that progress bar, too! Here comes the next one. This one is all business; it says "Loading" and has cogwheels, and the percentage is moving quite rapidly on my 10Mbps connection. It's all very ... progressive.

Okay, that was the last of the progress bars. They will be missed, I'm sure. Now we're finally in Picnik with our photo. This is pretty neat because it doesn't open in an external window; it's gracefully embedded right into Picasa.

By default, Picnik loads with the "Edit" tab. This is a bit of a UI design oversight, I think. As you can see, you can Auto-fix, Rotate, Crop, Resize, adjust Exposure, etc. (everything Picasa already lets you do). In other words, after all of these progress bars, the first functionality you see is what you've had on your own computer just a couple of moments ago.

So, I switched tabs and went to Create. While there isn't a screenshot of the bar itself, you get a nice strip of effects down the left side of the image. Most effects have a couple of settings, and the image is adjusted on the fly (kind of like a preview in Photoshop). If you have sharp eyes, you'll see a subtly-labeled "premium" feature tucked in there and mixed in with the other functions.

You'd have to be sharper-eyed than I am, though. I just clicked that button, and I got this massive banner in my face. Get more with Picnik Premium. Okay, ... this begs a couple of questions: (1) Why are the Premium features mixed so randomly into the "regular" features? (2) As a Picasa user, I obviously like my photo management software free (otherwise I'd go for Lightroom). So, ... why can't I just opt out of it altogether?

Here's my image after applying one effect to it. I must say, the effects are very neat and impressive. I was very happy with this result.

Ah, yet another premium annoyance. You get the banner only for the first time, but then, whenever you click a Premium feature, you get this strip overlaid on the lower left corner of your image. I get it, Picnik -- we all need to make money. But why mix those features in like that?

And another close-up of a Premium-labeled effect button.

In a previous screenshot, I've shown you the result of a full-image effect, or in other words, a "filter." But there are also effects that come with a brush; this is one of them (a smudge tool).

Here comes another annoyance! There I was, editing my photo for several minutes, when suddenly a massive pop-up is shown on the lower right corner. It exclaimed "That's a huge photo!" Uh, ... why tell me now? I've been working with it for a while now, and things were going fine. Possibly, it's because Picnik felt that it made "things run slowly," but honestly (and to Picnik's credit), I felt that it was very responsive all throughout. There was no real need for this pop-up, and I found the style a bit too bold.

Okay, I'm all done editing my photo, and now I want to retrieve it from "the cloud." Picasa/Picnik thoughtfully asks me whether I'd like to replace the photo or save a new copy. I opted to save a new copy, and this function worked perfectly. It was very nice and very smooth.

Oh, I forget, ... it took a while, though. It was busy "Processing."

And here's the result! It's the same poodle, but it's very artsy.

And here's a side-by-side of the original and the modified photo. I love what Picnik let me do to this photo! That's really cool.

The good:

  • Tightly integrated with Picasa
  • Beautiful effects
  • Fast and responsive

The bad:

  • Premium features randomly sprinkled all over the place
  • Integration with the cloud involves a ton of progress bars, even with a fast connection
  • First tab you see lets you do all the stuff you can already do in Picasa anyway

Bottom line: If you have a progress-bar fetish, you're going to love the Picasa/Picnik combo. Otherwise, ... meh. I mean, the resulting image is very nice, but the experience is marred by annoyances that could probably be avoided.

Tags: filters, gimp, google, imaging, imagingtips, photoshop, picasa, picnik