Adobe PhotoDeluxe BE

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Cut-down bitmap editor with task-driven approach but the  business-centred emphasis is unconvincing.

Adobe PhotoDeluxe BE1

Adobe is much the biggest name in photo-editing with Photoshop virtually monopolising the high-end professional print market and the consumer-centred PhotoDeluxe 2 boasting over a million home-users. That still leaves a huge as yet untapped audience in those business users who now find themselves with access to scanners, digital cameras and colour printers, but are unsure of how to make the most of them. That's the market Adobe is targeting with this first release of PhotoDeluxe Business Edition which is designed to be "the first photo-editing sales and marketing software solution created specifically with the small business customer in mind."

Adobe has recognised that what these users are looking for is good results quickly and so the PhotoDeluxe BE interface is strongly task-based. At the top of the main left hand panel are six buttons representing the major modules in the PhotoDeluxe workflow from accessing the photo in the first place through to outputting it in the desired format. Each of these six stages is further broken down into separate tasks which are shown as thumbnail choices across the horizontal top panel. When you select a task by double-clicking on it, the various steps involved are shown as numbered pages in this panel complete with relevant help and access to the necessary tools and commands. By following the steps you are guided through each activity rather than left to hunt through the menus and help system.

Inevitably the first task of the first Get and Fix module is concerned with getting your image into PhotoDeluxe. Various icon commands let you access images from disk, scanner, CD-ROM or digital camera but the primary way of handling images is through the EasyPhoto floating palette. EasyPhoto works by storing thumbnails of images you work on in onscreen galleries. This visual approach certainly makes opening files you've already worked on simple, but the fact that you can't use EasyPhoto for browsing is a major drawback. The cataloguing power on offer is also disappointing, especially compared to a dedicated program like PhotoImpact Album, but the ability to drag and drop files into Office documents is a big plus especially as the EasyPhoto palette can be opened as a standalone.

Apart from accessing images, the Get and Fix module is also used for getting your images into shape. The Repair options are used for removing defects such as unwanted noise and red eye while the Touch Up options allows images to be resized, recoloured and generally enhanced. The correction power on offer is generally impressive as it is based on Photoshop technology. Even better, Adobe has imported various appropriate filters from third party developers most noticeably with the DVP Technologies Remove Moiré and the Extensis Intellifix plug-ins. This latter is particularly useful for the intended audience as it enhances contrast, brightness, saturation and sharpness with one click. The results are usually impressive, but if they aren't exactly what you want there is no option to fine-tune the effect.

After you've enhanced your original image you're ready to add some creative flair in the next module, Special Effects. The effects on offer are divided into categories such as artistic, transform and collage each of which gives access to particular tasks such as creating a panorama or producing a vignette. Inevitably such individual procedures are more complicated than the general correction effects and present a harder test of the PhotoDeluxe task-based approach. A typical job, for example, is accessed through the Background Effects command. Using this guided activity the user is prompted to first isolate the foreground object, and then apply various artistic filters to the background.

Unfortunately it's not quite as simple as that. To begin with the SmartSelect tool used to isolate the foreground object works well if the object is clearly differentiated from the background but if not, the user needs to be told how to override the tool or the results will be erratic to say the least. More importantly, after laboriously making a selection the user is then prompted to delete the background which makes it hard to then apply any effects to it. The problem is that the tab has been imported wholesale from the previous Change Background task and no one has noticed that following the suggested steps is no longer appropriate.

If you do independently struggle through to the stage of actually applying the special effects you are again likely to be disappointed as the options on offer are a subset of the old Aldus Gallery filters. Some of these, such as the Chalk and Charcoal effect are powerful but they are all showing their age with limited and poorly explained user control. An even bigger limitation is the lack of multiple levels of undo which is a huge discouragement to experimentation. Generally, compared to a more modern and more flexible program like PhotoImpact, the creative freedom on offer is very limited.

This is disappointing but it could be argued that most business users are less interested in experimenting with their images than in putting them to serious use. PhotoDeluxe BE deals with this with its Projects module which offers a number of templates into which your photos can be placed. These projects have been divided into six categories ranging from business through to presentations. Again each category is subdivided with the Cards category offering options from holiday cards through to business cards. The individual template is finally chosen from a - very small - selection of relevant thumbnails in an EasyPhoto gallery.

In the opened template a number of areas are marked off as photos and using the EasyPhoto gallery you can drag and drop any existing image onto these placeholders ready for resizing, rotating and repositioning. As well as image placeholders, the templates also include sample text so that the letterhead, for example, includes a sample company name and company address. Such text isn't dealt with as bitmaps but as objects on their own dedicated type layer. This means that you can simply double-click on any section of text and type in your own, change typeface and so on.

In many ways this object-based text handling is more advanced than that seen in top-of-the-range Photoshop, but even so you could never use PhotoDeluxe to produce a text-heavy brochure or leaflet. The use of object-based text also cannot hide the fact that you are still working in a primarily bitmap environment. When working on a typical letterhead, for example, the status bar feedback shows that you are working with a multi-megabyte file which explains why changes are so slow. This really doesn't make sense. For most documents any photos involved are secondary to the text - if necessary at all for jobs like business stationery - which means that you would be much better off producing your work in a drawing or DTP program.

Once your images and projects are set up the way you want them, it's time to move to the Send and Save module where your work can be printed or saved to disk. The Print Multiple option and support for Avery paper is particularly useful in a small business context as it means that multiple labels and business cards can be output to the same page. With no CMYK support, however, there is no option for producing colour separations which means that your projects can only be output directly which is only feasible for short print runs. Alternatively you could export your file to a widely supported bitmap format like TIFF for conversion and separation by a program like Photoshop, but this would mean that your text quality was reduced to the resolution of your image.

Other export formats supported by PhotoDeluxe BE include JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP and FlashPix. There is a special Web Page option for managing GIF and JPEG export that takes you through the stages in optimizing your images from cropping, changing resolution through to file format choices. Generally though the web support is very disappointing with no Web-safe palette option for GIFs and no image preview to see the effect of JPEG compression settings. I thought that these limitations would be put right, together with more advanced support for features like HTML image maps, in the dedicated Internet module. In fact though, this is only used for downloading additional guided activities from the Adobe PhotoDeluxe web site.

That only leaves the sixth and final module, Advanced. This promises a more freeform approach for users wanting to tap PhotoDeluxe's power more directly. As such when you enter the module, the menu system becomes extended offering eight new options such as Size, Quality and Effects. It also becomes possible to call up the floating Layers palette which is essential for managing compositions. With Adobe's photo-editing experience I was expecting this freeform editing module to be PhotoDeluxe's strongest point acting as a cut-down Photoshop. Unfortunately, the guided approach is still very much to the fore so that the tools on offer, for example, cannot be accessed from a floating toolbox but must be accessed from a tabbed page. Ultimately there's very little difference from hunting through the menus to find the command you want and hunting through the tabbed pages.

All told PhotoDeluxe isn't a bad program. For the price it offers a reasonable amount of power and while the guided activities approach could be improved - and should certainly be checked - they do help users get off to a good start. Pretty soon, though the program's ceiling is reached and its weaknesses are exposed. As a dedicated photo-editor it falls down in a number of areas with its cataloguing, creative power, web support and general flexibility all weak. Sadly, PhotoDeluxe's attempt to break new ground by offering template-based business projects proves just as unconvincing. PhotoDeluxe's bitmap environment means that it's just not the right program to be trying to offer this sort of functionality.

Ultimately PhotoDeluxe BE's attempt to seize the initiative in small business imaging doesn't succeed. The program's real problem is that, despite its claims, it isn't actually the first to target this market at all. In fact the niche has already been well and truly filled for a number of years. Those users looking for modern, creative, office-centred photo-editing have been well catered for by the PhotoImpact/Album combination (issue ) while those looking to produce simple print projects couldn't do better than the Micrografx Windows Draw/PhotoMagic combination (issue ). Compared to PhotoDeluxe both these options offer greater functionality, usability and value - and a lot more fun.

Features

Ease Of Use

3

Value For Money

4

Overall

4

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

January 1998


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