Microsoft Digital Image 10

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New panorama stitching and image enhancements add to the Digital Image suite’s existing comprehensive photo handling – but not greatly.

Say what you like about Microsoft but the software giant certainly knows what the average computer user wants and with its Digital Image suite it shows the same understanding of the digital camera user. In particular Microsoft has always recognized that the editing and enhancement of your photos, which many other applications focus on almost exclusively, is only part of a much wider workflow.

Before you can do anything with your images you need to get your hands on them and Digital Image 10’s enhanced Import Pictures Wizard offers a one-stop solution that works with digital cameras, scanners, memory cards and other devices. This wizard is available from both the main Digital Image Pro editing application and the bundled Digital Image Library application. It’s with the Library that you take control of your photos, viewing and managing them as instantly resizable visual thumbnails, archiving them to CD, outputting multiple prints per page, emailing and so on.

By default you view your images based on a typical Explorer-style folder view (limited to one folder at a time), but there’s also a date view which again takes a hierarchical drill-down approach (nowhere near as attractive or intuitive as Photoshop Elements onscreen calendar). You can also view your images based on keywords but the Keyword Painter for applying these is surprisingly awkward. A new variation on the theme is to apply “flags” to your images marking them up for review, editing, sharing or print. Each flag has an associated icon (and shortcut) so they are much easier to apply and this can be done either from the Preview pane or from the new Edit Bar which appears while viewing images full-screen in the Library Viewer.

The latest suite offers improved image enhancement and tagging.

As well as viewing and managing your files en masse, Digital Image Library also lets you select multiple images to be batch enhanced using the Mini Lab capability of the main Digital Image Pro editing module. Options on offer include rotation (disappointingly this is not lossless when dealing with JPEGs) and an range of one-click Auto Fixes extended to cover Colour, Exposure, Levels, Contrast and Mobile Phone image enhancement. After applying you are able to review changes before saving them.

These same Auto Fixes are also available when working on individual images in Digital Image Pro, but you also have access to much greater editing power including local retouching options such as dodge and burn, red eye removal, cloning and so on. Global correction power has also been seriously enhanced. The new Colour and Saturation command offers a Source Lighting slider that lets you retrospectively adjust colour balance according to the colour temperature of the lighting conditions while the new Exposure and Lighting command lets you add flash, reduce backlighting or manually adjust brightness levels individually for the shadows, midtones and highlights in your picture. Most importantly, from either command, you can dig down to a new Levels and Curves dialog that shows you a histogram of current image values and lets you interactively change their mapping Photoshop-style. You can even edit image Saturation in the same way.

Digital Image Pro lets you do much more than just enhance your photos. Creative options include the ability to create projects such as albums, animations and calendars and to add shapes, text and image-based objects to produce photo-montages. To help you create your own compositions, Digital Image Pro 10 adds a new Hand Pan tool for interactively scrolling your image when working close-up and a new Selection Brush which lets you paint over areas to select them.

As well as creating objects, the Selection Brush is useful for creating masks to limit the effect of adjustments and filters, especially as you can vary the tool’s transparency. At first sight the handful of creative filters on offer under the Effects menu seems seriously disappointing with just one new addition, Antique, which produces an effect like an old newspaper photograph. Select the All Filters command, however, and suddenly you have access to over 200 customisable special effects, mainly artistic and, to my mind, Digital Image Pro’s most impressive feature.

The most impressive new feature is the panoramic stitching.

Version 10’s new Panoramic Stitching capability isn’t far behind. This simple wizard walks you through selecting your image sequence and an output file size and then automatically aligns your photos to create the larger image. The underlying stitching engine is very effective and can work horizontally or vertically, or even in both directions simultaneously, and you can override the suggested alignment if necessary. And the results are excellent producing invisible seams in almost all cases - though wherever possible remember to lock your camera’s exposure setting before beginning your image sequence.

That’s it for new power in the main Image Pro and Image Library applications but there’s another utility included in the box – Microsoft’s Photo Story 2. This lets you turn your static photos into a dynamic video slideshow complete with customizable zooming and pan effects and audio narration or soundtrack. There are only two choices for output sizes and one for video format (Microsoft’s own WMV), but at least projects can now be saved for future editing. You can also use your story to produce a Video CD though, with no control over menus, this is limited to a single slideshow.

Overall the Digital Image 10 suite offers plenty of power to keep the digital camera user happy. However this certainly isn’t a major upgrade - unlike Adobe’s recent overhaul of Photoshop Elements 3, which now provides a better all-round solution that is even more focused on helping users take control of their photos.

Ease of Use
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ratings out of 6

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System Requirements: Pentium 700 MHz, 256/512MB of RAM , 400MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, Me, 2000 or XP, SVGA display, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

December 2004

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