Ulead PhotoImpact 8

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A more professional and more photo-centric approach but there's relatively little, apart from the ability to write to CD, to make this version stand out.

PhotoImpact offers a very different approach to photo-editing to its two main rivals in the budget field. Whereas Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop Elements are both rather worthy and serious, PhotoImpact has always emphasized creativity and excitement. In the same way it's always pushed back the boundaries of functionality being the first to introduce features such as visual photo management, vector handling, pseudo-3D and advanced web page creation.

On first loading however, there's little that's obviously new in this latest release. Look closer though and you'll find some welcome additions to the toolbox. The new Perspective Crop tool lets you create non-rectangular and rotated crops, the new Texture Fill tool lets you quickly apply tiled and generated fills, and the new Measure tool lets you add some precision to your work by measuring distances and angles onscreen. Much more significant is the change to the Text tool which finally sees the end of the Text Entry dialog and means that you can type, edit and format your text directly onscreen.

Another significant reworking of an existing tool is apparent with the Lasso as the selection border that this creates is now editable by adding and dragging nodes. Other changes to selection handling include the ability to create selections that straddle multiple objects and the new Colour Range command that lets you build up masks based on colour similarity. Once created, you can now save up to 99 ongoing selections to the new Selection Manager tab in the AccessPanel. And, if you turn your selection into a floating object, there are new Defringe and Match Background Colour commands to help you create a seamless overall composition. None of this is new ground for other photo editors but represents quite a shift for PhotoImpact which previously took a much more free-and-easy, and sometimes almost hit-and-run, approach to photo-compositing.

More professional editing features include the Selection Manager and improved colour correction.

A more professional approach is also apparent in PhotoImpact's colour correction capabilities. As well as enhanced Tone Map and Level dialogs, the new Colour Adjustment command lets you vary RGB inputs and, with the Preserve Luminosity option, is particularly useful for removing unwanted colour casts. There's also a new Colour Replacement command that lets you select a colour range and then change its hue, saturation and lightness. You can also now open CMYK images though these are automatically converted to RGB. In a way this is typical - while there's reasonable colour correction power on offer, PhotoImpact still isn't ideal for in-depth work. Rather more appropriate are the new one-click auto-level, auto-adjust, auto-colour and auto-enhance commands though I found their effects too strong to be regularly useful.

As its name suggests, rather than sophisticated colour correction, PhotoImpact's big strength is creating images with attitude. This new release adds a number of eye-catching effects such as the Star Filter which adds sparkles to bright areas of an image and the Texture filter which transforms surfaces into glass, metal, leather and so on. Version 8's emphasis on photo editing is also apparent with a number of camera-based filters for applying depth of field, lens filter, flash lighting and film grain effects. And again there are signs of PhotoImpact's new professionalism with more subtle options such as the Edge Preserving Blur and the Flatten Uneven Area filters (this last is particularly useful if you are creating panoramas).

Many of PhotoImpact's new filters are aimed at the digital camera user.

Another area in which PhotoImpact traditionally shines is when it comes to output. The program's Print Multiple command, for example, is excellent for controlling the output of multiple photos on the same sheet. Now the new Print Poster command goes the opposite way, letting you reliably control the output of a single image onto multiple sheets. Surprisingly PhotoImpact's web controls have been left virtually untouched apart from the ability to embed Javascript-based slideshows anywhere on your layout, though that still leaves them in a class above the competition. Much more welcome is the opening up of an entirely new output option with the ability to burn web albums and slideshows to CD.

This new CD-writing capability is also the main addition to PhotoImpact's sister application, Album, and the ability to directly archive your photo collections is a major step forward. Otherwise though, there's very little that's new in Album 8. The same is true of the frame-based utility GIF Animator which hasn't changed since version 5. Presumably to cover the fact that PhotoImpact's supporting utilities aren't what they once were, Ulead has decided to re-bundle the Photo Explorer application that used to be part of the PhotoImpact suite back in version 3. It's faster and more convenient than Album for on-the-fly image management and offers the ability to create multimedia VCD slideshows for viewing on TV via a DVD player but, as PhotoImpact now offers its own integrated visual browser, I'd have preferred Explorer's capabilities to have been integrated into Album.

PhotoImpact and Album both support the ability to write to CD.

The PhotoImpact satellites haven't kept up with the times but there's no doubt that they do add value. And when you look at the range of functionality from screen capture through to SVG output included in the core program there's no question that PhotoImpact offers the broadest range of bitmap-based power for its price. If you haven't already got a bitmap editor/photo manager/Web imager, and are ready to tackle its idiosyncracies and accept its odd limitations, PhotoImpact 8 provides the best bang per buck around.

If you're an existing user though, version 8 is a bit of a disappointment. As an upgrade it's rather unambitious, dull and worthy - words you just wouldn't expect to use about PhotoImpact.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

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System requirements: Pentium II, 64/128MB of RAM, 500MB of hard disk space Windows 98, ME, NT4 (SP6), 2000 or XP, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

October 2002

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