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First Impressions of Picasa Desktop December 8, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Photography.
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My wife has often complained about 2 things when it comes to photography. First, that I don’t take enough pictures of the things she’s interested in, like the garden, and second, that the digital pictures disappear and are never seen again, as they’re stored on my computer (actually on a network drive at home).

To address the first issue, I’m buying her a nice pocket camera for Christmas. For the second, I searched around for some organizing software, and came across Picasa desktop 3.5.1 from Google, which has the very nice attribute of being a free download.

While I write this, my computer is busily going through all my photographs, which it has been doing for a couple of days now. I don’t blame it for being slow. Five years ago I digitized all my negatives and many of my father’s slides with a 4000d dpi Nikon Scanner at full resolution in 14 bit mode. Each file is about 120mb and takes 10-15 minutes to process. So it will take maybe a couple more weeks to crunch through everything. That it can read these files at all is pretty impressive, and it goes much faster through the 3mb files from my pocket camera at max resolution.

The coolest thing about the program is face detection. Faces in photographs get treated in 1 of 4 ways.

  1. Automatically detects the face and who it belongs to (after having you identify the face in another photograph manually, of course – it would be pretty scary if it could tell without that).
  2. Automatically detect the face, and guesses who it belongs to, asking you to verify it. Most of the time it is right. Sometimes it thought I was my brother or vice-versa, especially with pictures during my beard phase.
  3. Automatically detect the face, but is unable to guess who it is. It’s curious sometimes that some faces you’d think would be easy it misses, yet some obscure and fuzzy pictures it gets correct. The fact that it can do it all is pretty amazing though.
  4. Doesn’t see the face at all. Again, sometimes you’d think one that it misses should be really obvious, then other times it picks out faces that you’d miss with a quick glance. Sometimes it even notices faces in mirrors, pictures or on magazine covers. On one picture from the dive shop it picked out a model from a PADI poster. I was tempted to call him “PADI guy” but thought better of it.

I also like that while scanning my photos I could do other things with the software (i.e. it had some level of asynchronous operation). However while it was doing my 120MB files I was subjected to long (like 10 minutes) periods of looking at the hourglass. In the software’s defence I was running it over a 11mb/sec wifi link to my network hard drive at the time.

There are many cool features that I won’t go into here, but I will mention the two main issues I have with it.

  1. It handles video which is great, but when you load it to YouTube it always fails after performing the upload. This problem has been reported frequently in message boards. As Google owns and controls YouTube, I’m surprised the software was released with this bug.
  2. Uploading to commercial printing services is extremely limited. If you’re located in Canada, the only one that is offered ships from the UK. Given that even here in the great white north Walmart, Costco, and many other services are just a few minutes drive away, this is plain stupid.

Still, in my brief research it seems to be the best option around. I’d like to hear if anyone uses anything they consider better and why.

Now if it could only automatically identify fish I’d pay real money for it! Upload to Facebook and WordPress would be nice as well.

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