Photodex CompuPic Pro 6

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ZIP support, video thumbnailing, automatic image correction and a major speed boost keep CompuPic Pro ahead of the pack.

These days most users, especially those with a digital camera, regularly have to deal with multiple images and trying to manage them solely by their filenames is a nightmare. Visual management is the only serious option but Windows Explorer's slow and erratic thumbnail support is totally inadequate (this is less the case under XP). The need for fast and powerful image management is essential and, after trying various contenders over the years, the program I turn to just about every day is CompuPic Pro.

I'm already a fan so when Photodex claimed that the new version 6 is "the most substantial release" in the program's history I was pretty excited. First impressions on loading though are disappointing. After all the hype I expected to hardly recognize the program, but the Explorer-style interface looks more-or-less identical. More to the point there's been very little change to the button bars and menu commands - so where's all the new power?

As you explore though you begin to notice the changes. To begin with there's more colour in the display. This is because by default CompuPic Pro now indicates different image types with a different, customizable background to the file information it shows. This file type colouring makes a real difference when dealing with catch-all image directories where you might have PSD, TIFF, JPG and GIF variations of the same image.

Version 6 also offers a lot more customizability. This was already impressive with comprehensive control over display mode, thumbnail size, file information shown and sorting order, but now you can control the interface appearance right down to the gradient of the menu bar and the beveling of dialogs. You can also now drag each of the Folder, File and Preview panes to rearrange them or even float them off. CompuPic Pro doesn't offer different program shells - thankfully in my opinion - but it does allow you to set things up exactly as you like them.

CompuPic Pro offers fast, clean and customizable image management.

Just as importantly, you can also now order your images exactly as you want them. Simply drag and drop images into the desired sequence and this custom order is remembered even when you temporarily switch to a different sort option. This means that you can now easily control the order of a slide presentation or Web site output without getting involved in file renaming (though CompuPic Pro also offers a Batch Rename command if you want to make the change permanent).

Another difference that you only gradually come to appreciate is that more of the files in your directories are being thumbnailed. Naturally CompuPic Pro works with all the standards - BMP, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, WMF, PNG and so on - but now over 70 file formats are supported from AI right through to XXencoded. The biggest change is in the support for video formats, such as MPEG, AVI, MOV, which is ideal if your hard disk is littered with mysterious clips.

The most important new supported format isn't an image format at all. CompuPic Pro now supports ZIP archives just as if they were ordinary folders so that you can easily view thumbnails and drag and drop files into and out of them. The space gain isn't usually that great as most images apart from BMP are already highly compressed, but it's still much more convenient to bundle images together, especially for email delivery (which CompuPic Pro also provides). And, as you can create ZIP files as easily as a new folder, CompuPic Pro can now act as a dedicated ZIP utility.

CompuPic Pro is mainly used for viewing and file management, but it's also quite a capable editor. Sensibly the program concentrates on providing the core tools needed to help make images look their best quickly. As such the new Auto-Correct command is a great addition. It's not up there with dedicated enhancement applications like AutoFX's AutoEye, but the majority of pictures do instantly look better. Sadly not all do so you can't reliably use CompuPic Pro's Batch command to automatically enhance all your photos - you really need to judge each image individually.

CompuPic Pro now offers single-click image enhancement.

In terms of image output the changes are minimal, though CompuPic's existing support for emailing, slide shows, maxi shows, greeting cards, photo sharing Web sites and custom Web page generation means that it still leads the pack. The biggest change is the Picture CD command's enhanced CD-R, DVD-R and Windows 2000/XP support which means that more users are now able to view and select images and copy them directly to CD.

So far so good, but none of CompuPic Pro 6's new enhancements are unique so you have to ask yourself where's the killer feature to justify the hype? The answer is speed. CompuPic Pro was already one the quickest performers, but its core engine has been completely rewritten. Photodex claims that version 6 is four times faster than 5.3 and at least three times faster than the competition.

The results in the real world aren't quite that amazing but reading a mixed directory and losslessly rotating images were both around twice as quick. JPEG thumbnailing seems fastest of all so that, almost as soon as you've selected a directory of digital camera images, the thumbnails are there on display. Perhaps just as importantly, loading the program is also now quicker so that, whenever you need visual management, it's there at your fingertips.

I still can't get as excited about the new release as the hype demands and existing users whose copies fall outside Photodex's policy of a year's free upgrades will have to think long and hard. On the other hand, the more I've used version 6 the more I've come to appreciate its advances and to depend on them. The changes aren't showy but the best has definitely got better.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

January 2002


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