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Ulead PhotoImpact 12 Review

Ulead PhotoImpact 12 Review - 

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Ulead PhotoImpact 12 in Other Software

Is there really life outside of Photoshop Elements and Corel's Paint Shop Pro in the budget market? Duncan Evans explores the latest version of Ulead's inexpensive offering.

Program requirements
Pentium III or above
Microsoft Windows 2000 SP4, XP Home/Pro SP2, XP Pro x64
256Mb ram
750Mb hard drive
1024 x 768 monitor resolution
Some software exists because enough people keep buying it to warrant and support a new version, but you have to wonder how PhotoImpact has managed to get to version 12. The answer is largely third party licencing to hardware manufacturers of items like scanners and printers. So, does PhotoImpact 12 have anything to offer the digital photographer that they couldn't get in Elements or PSP? Read on to find out.

Layout and modes
There are essentially four editing modes to the program which change what windows, menus and functions are available to varying degrees. ExpressFix is the happy snapper fix it up option that is there to correct colours, focus, exposure and noise. Most of the effects menus are still available, but layers and objects are gone. The alternative to this are the Full Edit, Video & DVD and The Web options. The Full Edit mode contains everything, whereas Video & DVD concentrate on creating menu pages and The Web is for webpage graphics.

Whichever mode is selected, the workspace is fairly uniform. Tools go down the left, menu options and shortcut icons along the top, the document map along the bottom and the dockable palettes go on the right. The Document map shows what images are loaded, which makes it easy to swap between them in complex editing jobs, or when cutting and pasting. For just one image it's in the way, but can be closed to free up workspace. On the dockable palettes it seems a squeeze to get everything in, so putting a help guide there doesn't really utilise the space well. This can also be closed so that there's more room for the other elements like the brush palette, layer manager and command history panel.

the main menu
The main menu has dockable palettes and is customisable . The document map allows easy access to multiple files.
Features and functions
The options are split up into standard categories like Edit, Adjust, Photo, Effect, Selection, Object, Web, View and Window. What's strange is that Adjust and Photo have an Auto-Process option for automated processes, but the Photo menu is simply a cut down version of the Adjust one. The entries on it are exactly the same. For digital photographers there are a few headline functions like white balance correction, chromatic aberration correction, HDR image creation, lens distortion, noise removal and photo frames. Most of these work quite well, particularly the lens distortion correction, and are worth having. The chromatic aberration tool seems a bit variable in its effectiveness and the HDR image creation system is quite poorly implemented. The noise removal is quite good though, containing options for what kind of noise to look for.

The standard adjustment tools are Levels and Curves and these have been implemented properly. There are also variations on them like Shadow/Midtones/Highlight, which works just like Photoshop's Shadows/Highlights adjustment, except it has something for the mid-tones as well. For standard adjustments, including colours, this is all good. Equally, the sharpen and blur adjustments will hold no unpleasant surprises for anyone coming from other packages.

One area of inconsistency is that many of the functions bring up a Dual View, full screen dialogue box, whereas others produce just a small dialogue, have before and after versions or apply the effect without any adjustment options.

noise removal at work
The noise reduction function works rather well though can make noisy images, soft.
Where the program starts to then become far less friendly is in using objects. The system support layers, but also likes to convert cut and pasted items to objects by default rather than as layers. With some investigation the dual object/layer system is actually very powerful, but it's cluttered and not too friendly to get to grips with initially. This is compounded by the opacity system. In Photoshop and most other programs, a layer has a level of Opacity, which sets how much of it is visible. PhotoImpact works the other way around, by setting the level of Transparency. This means that a layer on Photoshop with 80% opacity is equivalent to a layer in PI with a transparency of 20%. A number of the layer blend modes have similar names to Photoshop/PSP, but others have their own names, which makes it more difficult to get to grips with.

There is the feeling that PhotoImpact has moved in the right directions by catering for the digital photographer, and away from the graphics-creation aspirations it may have had. Those effects are still there, being able to create clouds, rain, fire etc, but they are rendered distinctly in two dimensions, making them unsuitable for use in photographs. The bubbles and firework effects are quite obviously intended for graphic design rather than inclusion in photos. That said there are some effects that are well worth having – the selection of photo frames isn't huge, but they are effective and offer variety.

The painting options on the other hand flatter to deceive. The natural media offerings are wholly unconvincing and if you want realistic looking media with impasto effects then Corel's Painter remains the number one choice.

The standard tool such as Clone, Draw, Fill, Crop etc are all down well enough to be able to pick up and use quickly, while the extras such as the Animation Studio and the Web graphics are an attractive bonus. If preparing graphics for the web there are numerous functions available, from buttons, image optimisation to image maps and links with flash, Shockwave and video files.

the auto white balance function
The White Balance correction function works well and allows creative adjustments.
The problem for PhotoImpact is that Photoshop Elements offers a cleaner interface with many of the features of the parent product, while Paint Shop Pro is absolutely stuffed with digital photography features. PhotoImpact tries to cover quite a few different bases, but isn't a must have application for any of the areas it covers. It''s obviously fine if you get it free, but there isn't really a compelling reason to buy it compared to Elements or PSP, unless you are on a very tight budget and need a photo editing package.

PhotoImpact can be bought online for under £26 and PhotoImpact Album 12 and Ulead Photo Explorer 8.6 are thrown in free. In that case, it has enough of the basic tools you need to correct and enhance images, and it has plenty of other good features to experiment or enhance your images with. In terms of value for money, it offers quite a lot, at a very low price point, and on those terms, can be considered a very good purchase, if your budget is that restricted.

the skin beautify function
The skin beautify feature is very subtle but can even out fine lines.
Plus points:
Some neat effects
Standard tools work well
Extras like animation and web
Objects and Layers
Plenty of auto-fixes
Customisable interface
Lens distortion correction
DHR creation
Photo Frames
Four different editing modes

Negative points:
No direct CMYK support
Overly complex layering
Natural media painting poor
Inconsistent interface
Creative filters are poor

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