A relative of mine recently got a fairly sophisticated digital camera and sought my counsel on what sort of photo correction and image editing software to use. He’s been getting along with the version of iPhoto that OS 10.4 installed on his G5 iMac, but he’s not finding it to be quite adequate for the sorts of image manipulation he wants to do. Unfortunately, since he’s not running Leopard, he doesn’t have access to the enhanced image editing features in the OS 10.5 version of Preview.
My short answer to this sort of query is always that if you can afford the reasonable cost of Photoshop Elements 6, it’s your best bet, as it offers most of the capabilities that most amateurs, or even many professionals, would ever use from Photoshop CS at a fraction of the price. PSE is, in my opinion, one of the great commercial software bargains of all time.
Adobe has unfortunately let Mac users fall behind again, with version 7 of Photoshop Elements now out for Windows but not for the Mac. However, Photoshop Elements 6 is so good and so powerful that we really have little to complain about. But if Elements isn’t something you’re interested in, here are a few other options.
If you’re on a constrained budget, or just prefer to keep your software overhead costs down, a very decent alternative to PSE is Pixelmator, which I reviewed here in February. Pixelmator packs an awful lot of power and versatility into a leaner, swifter, more nimble package than ponderous Elements, although with a more modest and limited feature set, for $30 less. Recently I’ve found myself using Pixelmator more often than PSE, largely because it starts up so much quicker and I can usually do what I need to with it.
ToyViewer is a core tool in my production applications suite. On a typical workday, I probably use ToyViewer dozens of times, mostly for small and short-duration chores like resizing pictures and changing file types, but ToyViewer can do 90+ percent of the image correction stuff I routinely need to do with graphics, and I don’t know what I would do without it. Well, actually I do. After I upgraded to OS 10.4 back in 2005, there were a couple of months before ToyViewer’s developer, Takeshi Ogihara, got a Tiger-compatible version of ToyViewer released. I tried several lightweight graphics programs as substitutes, but found nothing as slick, quick and suited to my needs as ToyViewer was. I’m addicted to this cool little jack-of-all-trades graphics utility.
Color it! is quite a bit more powerful than its interface lets on, with basic to semi-advanced image correction tools and filters. For quick and convenient editing or image creation it’s tough to beat. On the other hand, it doesn’t support layers. I don’t find this much of a handicap for most of the stuff I do, but if you need layers support, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Color It! also does not support PDF files, which can be seriously frustrating these days now that the PDF format has become more of a standard. The workaround is to use Preview or ToyViewer to convert images from/to PDF.
I pondered including GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a powerful, professional-grade, open-source image editing program that is the image-editing standard for the Unix world, but it seemed like overkill for this roundup, so let’s go with Seashore. It’s an open-source bitmap graphics program built in Cocoa for OS X by Mark Pazolli based on GIMP technology with a nice selection of basic tools and layers support. There are no automated photo image clean-up and optimization/enhancement tools, but Seashore features gradients, textures, clone and smudge tools, and anti-aliasing for both text and brush strokes, supports multiple layers and alpha channel editing, and uses the same native file format.
Funtastic Photos, which I reviewed here last fall, is a powerful, easy-to-use little photo editor app with a vast array of photo correction and enhancement tools. These tools tap into OS X graphics technologies like the Quartz graphics engine, Spotlight, and ImageIO Kit, and offer advanced photo enhancement technologies. Funtastic Photos sells for $34.95.
So what is the best upgrade from iPhoto from a photo editing standpoint? Photoshop Elements is the most powerful and comprehensive alternative. There are others that have their devotees as well, such as Flying Meat’s Acorn, and the Java-based Open Source ImageJ, which runs in 64-bit mode on Intel Macs running Leopard.
They’re all good tools with respective strengths and limitations. Several of them are freeware, and most of the others downloadable as demos, so it’s worth trying more than one to see which appeals to you most. My own inclination is to use several different graphics apps, depending on what the task is.