When I first started using Windows Vista it was the better experience for photographers which really hooked me in. Most common image formats use the EXIF standard for embedding data about the picture (everything from the camera model and settings, to the title, keywords and so on. XP lets you look at this information in the file properties dialog, but vista introduced the the ability to set EXIF data from the main Windows explorer window, to search for picture titles from the start menu, and to sort, and build search folders based on Exif data (and it gives thumbnail previews – so you get the effect of a contact sheet). Storing data in EXIF is really important; photos get shared. If the data about a picture stays on the computer where it was edited and doesn’t follow the picture then someone who looks at it in years to come won’t get the “where and when” information. And if the data is stored in a database by a gallery package you’re locked into that package.
Vista also introduced “Windows Photo Gallery” , which added a little to what you could do from explorer. The Windows live team have adopted Photo Gallery, and it’s not pre-installed with Windows 7 (we have a link on the Getting started menu for Windows Live Essentials). As a 32bit app it actually works with the 32bit only RAW codec from Pentax so I can see what’s in those files. Photo Gallery does more than organize your photos: each version has introduced new bits under the heading of “fixing” photos: PhotoShop it ain’t but it will crop pictures, straighten crooked ones ,reduce noise or sharpen soft images, fix red-eye; it’s got decent exposure correction features and will fix colour balance (if you haven’t seen the super cute demo* by 4 1/2 year on Kylie, the autofix combines these – as she says “I click – it’s better”) and has even got the ability to do some black and white effects. It could do with a clone/heal brush, but otherwise its not bad. One annoyance is it has facial recognition – great – but it doesn’t seem to store the names of people found in the Exif data.
The other ambition for Photo Gallery is seems to be central point for “OK I’ve got my pictures … now what ? ” As Kylie shows, it has a hook into mail and there is the ability to upload pictures to web services – critically, the newest version supports plug-ins to support non-Microsoft sites (Facebook, flickr, smugmug and others). You can start a new blog post in Live Writer with pictures in it too.
Then there’s also the ability to make a panorama – which has another cute kid demo, this time with 7 year old Alex. The panorama bits came from MS Research and they have a more sophisticated panorama tool “ICE” – the image composite editor. You can send images from Photo Gallery to ICE. And this is the last of the extensions to the new version of Photo Gallery – the ability to send pictures to another program – so you can send them to Movie maker as well.
Now, in the 1.0 release of AutoCollage there didn’t seem to way to select photos other than giving it a whole folder to work with. This wasn’t too bad – I added a working folder to my send to menu and sent pictures to that before making my collage, but it was an extra step I could do without. The new 1.1 release (which doesn’t need a new key if you have bought 1.0) hooks into Photo Gallery, so now I can select photos from where-ever and chuck them into a collage. If you take photos and haven’t tried AutoCollage yet you should get the trial version (And there is a flickr group to show what people are doing with it)
Does Windows 7 do much more than Vista for photographers ? Not really – in fact since Gallery has moved into Windows live you could say it does less. But there is one feature which I’m almost ashamed to admit I love. It’s the menu you can see at the top – you can have multiple background pictures … as a slide show – Click on the thumbnail on the left to see how this is setup.
There is one other thing about this which can makes your machine nicer , and that is the ability to get pictures for the slide show from an RSS feed. There is a good post which describes this here. I must try creating my own feed for this.
* foot note. The kylie Demo is on Youtube, and there’s a great comment “Phrases you never thought you'd hear: (1) oh that's the trombone player's porsche and(2) that new microsoft TV spot actually kicks ass.”