Editing enhancements

Apple has made some minor enhancements to iPhoto's editing features. It has pulled a few tools from Aperture, such as the Vibrancy and Definition controls. The latter adjusts contrast in a more refined manner than the Contrast slider (and is similar in effect to the Clarity control found in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom).

The Vibrancy effect adjusts saturation, but minimizes the effect on skin tones in a photo; if iPhoto's face-recognition feature recognises that a photo has a face - or you've added a missing face to a photo - the Saturation control automatically has the "Avoid saturating the skin tones" box checked, which uses Vibrancy instead of Saturation.

Also in the editing mode are Aperture-influenced improvements to the existing Shadow and Highlight controls. The Retouch brush is also improved, with better edge detection, which means that your little touch-ups look more realistic. It's no substitute for the tools in full-fledged editors like Photoshop, but it does a good job for small spots and minor problems.

Our favourite improvement to iPhoto's editing is a little one: now, when you click on the Enhance button in the toolbar, the changes that are made to the image show up in the Adjust panel, so you can see exactly which controls were changed (previously, the settings stayed at their centre point, as if no adjustments had been made to the photo). This addition is helpful for understanding exactly what happened, and lets you easily dial back (or strengthen) a setting.

iPhoto '09: Some rough edges

While iPhoto largely shines, it still has a few weak points. The Effects pane, for example, remains underpowered.

The black-and-white conversions are limited, and the vignette and matte tools still create heavy-handed, overdone results, which is a shame given how nicely a subtle vignette can help focus attention on a subject.

Also, for people hoping to integrate Faces and Places into AppleScript or Automator workflows (for importing photos from other programs or to use location data and photos with other Mac applications), Apple inexplicably left out support for those features in this version of the program.

While iPhoto '09 was quite stable, there were a few glitches here and there. For example, occasionally, when we moved out of Edit mode, the Retouch or Color Cast overlays would inexplicably stay on the screen, and some of my Macworld colleagues saw empty, black-bordered boxes on occasion when confirming people in the Faces panel.

OUR VERDICT

With the ever-increasing number of inexpensive digital cameras and memory cards being bought each year, the chore of maintaining thousands of pictures becomes more demanding. By focusing on the people and places behind our photos - and how we share them - Apple has made it easier in iPhoto ’09 to categorize, search for, and share our pictures. We’d like to see some of these new features more streamlined and automated, but this latest version is a solid step forward.