Ease of Use
Value for Money
While you might be tempted to limit a comparison of GIMP to other free photo editors, it's power, sophistication, and professional level tools make it more like Photoshop than anything else.
But people come to GIMP for different reasons. Some people come to GIMP in search of a free photo editing program, and others use it as a Photoshop alternative. I'll compare GIMP to free photo editors, and to Photoshop to give you a clear idea of what it's capable of.
For family photo editing and small business editing and design, GIMP's got everything you need. Easily resize photos for printing or the web, create graphic designs like banners and avatars for your small business, and retouch family portraits to perfection. There are a ton of one-click effects available, as well as more advanced filters to make your photos creative masterpieces.
GIMP does have its down sides. When you buy a premium photo editor like Photoshop, part of what you're paying for is customer support and proprietary tools. Those features are worth the high cost to some people, but for the average user GIMP may be the only photo editing software you'll ever need.
5 Best Features of GIMP
GIMP offers truly professional tools and features that let you take control of your images. My five favourite GIMP features are the clone tool, layers and layer masks, professional colour adjustment, exposure and contrast control, true graphic design, and GIMP's easy add ons like plugins and scripts.
The ability to clone was what brought me to GIMP in the first place.
While other free editors offer a 'healing' tool that covers or blurs blemishes, GIMP goes a step further offering healing tool and a clone tool.
Healing with a program like iPhoto lets the program decide how to cover blemishes in a photo. It's great for quick touch-ups, but if you're covering a large area you'll likely leave a big blurry mess in its place.
With cloning you're in complete control. You can choose exactly how to cover the area by picking an unblemished part of the photo to copy, and then stamping or brushing to paste over the blemish. You can make the edges blurry, make what you paste more transparent, and change how the pasted area blends in with the photo underneath.
This is a crop from the corner of a photo I took of some spices (left). If I wanted to de-emphisize the peppercorns I could use the healing tool (middle) or to really take them out of the photo I could use the clone tool (right).
Like Photoshop, GIMP has both tools. Use the healing tool for small spots and quick fixes, and the clone tool for more demanding tasks.
On the down side, something GIMP doesn't have is a patch tool. In Photoshop the patch tool acts like a free form healing tool. You draw a line around an area that you want to heal and let Photoshop do its healing magic. Sometimes the results are great, and sometimes they're awful, but they're always fast. You can get much more consistent results using the clone tool in GIMP, it will just take a little longer.
Layers and Layer Masks
GIMP's got a lot of easy effects you can add with just one click, a lot like simpler programs Picnik or iPhoto. What sets GIMP apart is the abitity to add those effects on new layers, then hide those effects - restricting them to specific areas of the image - using layer masks.
Layers let you create and control parts of an image independantly of the other parts. It's like building a collage that ends up looking like a single image. Each piece of the collage would be its own layer that you can move and alter without effecting any of the other pieces.
You could add a mustache to a new layer over the Mona Lisa, then move it to turn it into funny eyebrows. You can even erase the mustache without erasing the Mona Lisa underneath.
New layers could be made of almost anything like text, paint, cloned stamps, portions of your original image, altered versions of the original image, or even parts from completely different images.
You get even more control when you throw in layer masks.
Picnik lets you add effects to fuzzy circular regions of a photo, but with a layer mask you can hide or reveal an effect in any shape you want, any where you want.
Layers and layer masks work the same way in Photoshop and in GIMP. One notable difference is that Photoshop allows layer-grouping and GIMP does not. Layer-grouping lets you link layers together and apply effects to all of the layers at once. With GIMP you must apply effects to each layer one at a time.
Another difference between Photoshop and GIMP is GIMP's lack of adjustment layers. Some Photoshop effects aren't just added to a new layer, but they're a new layer in and of themselves. That makes some editing a little more flexible in Photoshop, but it's not necessary. You can achieve a similar level of flexibility in GIMP by making a duplicate copy of the layer you want to change before you apply the effect.
I've subtracted 1/2 a star from the Features section because features like layer grouping and adjustment layers are very handy once you get used to having them.
Cameras don't always get colours right. Photos often turn out too blue or orange. Even when colours are accurate, they might not match the intensity or mood that you remember seeing. With Tools like colour-Balance and Hue-Saturation, you can easily correct colour problems like inaccurate white balance and enhance colours to match your artistic vision.
A common complaint is that GIMP can only use 8 bits of colour while Photoshop offers 16 and even 32 bit editing. I'll talk about this a little more in the Performance section of this review. For now I'll say that having the option to edit in 16 bit mode is cool, but not usually necessary. Unless I'm starting with a really poorly exposed shot, I don't often see a difference between GIMP and Photoshop in my finished photos (I use both GIMP 2.6 and Photoshop CS5).
Programs like iPhoto approach the graphic design department by offering projects like photo books and calanders. With GIMP you're not limited to templates or pre-designed projects. You can make almost anything you can imagine. I can easily make a collage using a pre-designed template in iPhoto. But with GIMP I can make a collage with as many pictures as I like, in any pattern or random order that I want, with different effects, borders, text, stamps, and colours.
With GIMP you're not limited to working with pixel based images like the digital photos that came from your camera. You can also use GIMP to make graphic designs that will easily scale to any size by designing and drawing "paths". Paths are based on math, not pixels, so you can make them as big or small as you like without reducing quality. That's a really important feature if you're designing anything for the web.
GIMP Add Ons
One of the coolest parts about GIMP and other professional software is that it's expandable with the use of plugins, scripts, and brushes.
Premium editors may have plugins but they're often expensive - adding to an already large investment. If you're feeling adventurous and want to find and install them yourself GIMP plugins are often free from places like GIMP.org or Diviantart.com. And for the less technically inclined it's even easier to add on to GIMP for the cost of a smart phone app.
GIMP Ease of Use
With any software, ease of use often comes down to how easy documentation is to find and understand. Interest in GIMP has been growing with the DIY and small business movement, and with that interest has come better documentation and resources for GIMP. Unfortunately GIMP has been one of the best kept secrets in photo editing for a long time, so there's just not as much documentation for GIMP as there is for Photoshop.
The good news is, sites like ePHOTOzine, Software Pantry, and my own website Pare and Focus are coming out with more accessable documentation for GIMP all the time, and I only expect things to get better as interest grows.
Another downside of professional and advanced software is that it's advanced. Using pro-level software isn't intuitive when you use it for the first time whether you're using Photoshop or GIMP. Just another reason why easy to understand documentation is so important.
I would give GIMP a 4 out of 5 for ease of use mainly because documentation is a little on the thin side at the moment. I fully expect that as interest grows, GIMP will become easier for the average user to learn.
Unlike simpler free programs like Picnik that are web based and run on flash, GIMP gets installed on your computer. That means it can leverage the power of your hard drive instead of relying on buggy flash, slow internet connections, and overloaded servers. You're not limited to small files, and processing is usually much faster.
On the down side, because of GIMP's licensing, it can't use the same programing that other pro editors like Photoshop can take advantage of. According to GIMP's license, the computer code that GIMP is built on must be accessible and freely editable by any user. Even if GIMP developers could buy the rights to proprietary code that Adobe uses for Photoshop, they couldn't add it to GIMP because GIMP must make all of it's code freely available to the public.
Most of the time I don't notice a difference between how well Photoshop functions and how well GIMP functions, but there are a few features that I hope imrove with the next GIMP update. Namely jagged edges when drawing diagonal or round lines, not having layer grouping (the ability to effect many layers at once), and being limited to 8 bit colour processing.
Having 16 bits of colour at their disposal is really important for some professionals and people who do heavy editing to photos. Being limited to just 8 bits of colour can eventually cause loss of image quality like colour banding when you do heavy handed brightness, colour and contrast manipulations.
You can only take advantage of 16 bit colour editing if you shoot RAW files. If you shoot JPEG files this won't matter at all since all JPEGs always have 8 bits of colour, whether you process them in Photoshop, GIMP, or anything else. While GIMP itself only offers 8 bit colour editing, you can still take advantage of RAW's 16 bits of colour by processing in a RAW editor like GIMP's UFRAW that supports 16 bit editing.
The flash didn't fire while I was taking pictures of this puppy and this photo turned out way too dark. It was a RAW file which has 16 bits of colour so I brightened it with Levels in Photoshop CS5 in 16 bit colour mode. I processed the same photo the same way using GIMP.
Neither photo is perfect, but you can see the 16 bit version has smoother transitions between colours and the details are better retained, particularly around the puppy's back leg and mouth. While Photoshop is the obvious winner in this contest, GIMP still did an admirable job rescuing this photo.
It's cool to know that I can rescue a photo like this if I really need to, but it probably should have gone in the trash to begin with. If you're starting with photos that are properly exposed (or at least better that my poor puppy photo) you shouldn't have any problems at all using GIMP.
Compared to free photo editors GIMP is more powerful, more advanced, and more flexable. It's faster too. Compared to Photoshop GIMP lags behind, but not by much, especially for the casual user.
I'm only taking half a star for this because I could have avoided the colour banding problem all together by editing the photo in GIMP's RAW editor UFRAW first.
GIMP Value for Money
This one is easy. GIMP is free but it offers professional tools and features. It can be built upon with add-ons and there's a huge community offering free support online. GIMP gets a 5 out of 5 rating for Value with no question.
Whether you're considering GIMP as a Photoshop alternative, or you just want a free photo editor that will grow as your needs grow, it's definitely worth a try. You can't beat the price, and the tools and features GIMP offers rival those of professional premium software packages. In fact, I can't think of any good reason not to try GIMP first.
|GIMP is an advanced photo editing package available for a bargain price that's difficult to argue with.
More control than simpler programs
Easily and inexpensively expandable
Huge community of GIMP users willing to help for free
Only 8 bit colour (for now)
No professional support team
Sparse (but growing) documentation
Developers can't use proprietary code so major updates can be slow
Kat Landreth is author of www.pareandfocus.com a site dedicated to GIMP hints, tips, tutorials and techniques, and is the author of the forthcoming book: GIMP for Beginners.
|EASE OF USE
GIMP is available from www.gimp.org