Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 Review

Discussion in 'Software Q&A' started by naveenchandran, Jul 9, 2005.

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  1. naveenchandran

    naveenchandran New Member

    May 16, 2004
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    ** Hosur ** Operating System:GNU

    Stacked labels and keywords

    DIS has always supported a variety of ways in which you can edit the underlying metadata for images in order to group them in ways that make sense to normal human beings. For example, when you take vacation photos, you may logically arrange them by date and event in Explorer, but in the context of a photo management application such as DIS Library, it might make sense to group them using ratings (1 to 5 stars), labels (like "Family" or "Vacations") or keywords (like "Sunsets" or "Flowers").

    In the previous version, DIS Library supported ratings and user-definable keywords. Now, DIS 2006 Library adds support for hierarchical labels and keywords. So, for example, DIS 2006 provides a new Label Editor that provides you with access to the new, hierarchical, Labels functionality (Figure). There are top-level labels, such as Keywords, People, Places, Events, and Flags (the latter of which is not what it sounds like: Flags include such things as Needs Touchup, To Print, and For Review). Under each, there are sub-labels (like Family and Friends under People, and Kids and Parents under Family). And, as with the previous version, you can make your own Labels, at any point in the hierarchy aside from the top level. So you might create a hierarchy under Events - Vacations that includes names for each trip. Or, you could create a hierarchy under Places that includes the names of the actual places you visited. The truly detail-oriented could do both.

    For the curious, it's worth noting that all of the label, keyword, flag, and rating information you create is written to the individual files as metadata information. That means that the information will persist if you copy the files to other PCs or choose to later move to a different image editing and organizing package. That, I believe, is important: You don't want to spend time managing photos and then have to re-do any of that work later on.
    Hover thumbnails

    Though DIS Library offers a nice thumbnail view of photos (which can be enlarged or shrunk on the fly with a slide control), and a preview pane at the bottom of the window, sometimes you need a slightly better view of individual photos. Previously, you'd have to double-click on an image, which would launch a Viewer window (Figure). In DIS 2006 Library, the thumbnails now support a mouse-over hover view (Figure) which lets you easily preview individual photos--and get information such as resolution, date, and associated labels--without having to open a separate window. It's one of those well-executed features you didn't really know you wanted until you see it.
    Basic video support

    In addition to the expected photo support, DIS 2006 Library also lets you manage your videos, a nod toward the Longhorn shell, which will also combine photos and videos into a single aggregate smart folder (in contrast to today's separate My Photos and My Videos folders). DIS 2006 doesn't let you edit videos. But you can organize them in DIS 2006 Library, add labels, keywords, and ratings to them, and mark them with flags. When you double click on a video in DIS 2006 Library, it opens in Windows Media Player.

    As with the meta data features DIS exposes for pictures, the labels, keywords, ratings, and flags you apply to video are stored as metadata along with the actual videos, so that information won't be lost if you ever choose to stop using DIS.
    Sharing Disc

    DIS Library has always provided a way to archive photos (and, with DIS 2006, videos) to CD or DVD discs for backup purposes. But sometimes--oftentimes, really--you want to create a CD/DVD of photos to share with others. For this reason, DIS 2006 Library now includes a new Sharing Disc feature that lets you create a photo slideshow disc.

    When you select Share and then Burn a Sharing Disc from the DIS 2006 Library menu, the new Burn Pictures and Videos Wizard appears. This wizard walks you through the steps needed to create your sharing disc and doesn't offer much in the way of options. It will either burn all of the photos and videos in your library to disc or just the ones that are currently selected. Then, you choose a recordable CD/DVD drive to record to, provide a label, and you're off to the races. As with most other Microsoft products, the actual disc burning technology is provided by Sonic Solutions, makers of MyDVD.

    The big question, of course, is what kind of disc does this wizard make? It's not actually a VCD or DVD movie, but is instead a simple data disc. So when you insert the disc into a Windows PC, you get the standard Auto Run dialog through which you can trigger a slideshow or copy the images to the PC.
    Device sync support

    In conjunction with the mobile device support Microsoft added to Windows Media Player 10 (see my review), DIS 2006 Library lets you flag images that you'd like to download to your mobile device (typically a Pocket PC, Smartphone, or Portable Media Center). Flagged images will automatically be downloaded the next time you sync the device with WMP 10.

    To make this work, you need to first enable device synchronization through the Tools menu. There are two ways in which photos can be automatically synchronized: You can sync your highest-rated pictures, or just the most recent pictures.
    Black and White Effects tool

    DIS has supported a handy Black and White effect for some time, but DIS 2006 adds a new Black and White Effects effect that lets you fine-tune a black and white image (or a color image you've converted to black and white) using pre-made filters, channel mixing sliders, contrast, and toning sliders (Figure). Admittedly, many of these features are for more experienced users, but some interesting if unobvious possibilities arise. For example, you could use the DIS 2006 Editor's Edge Finder tool to select just a portion of the black and white image and then adjust the color tone of that part of the image using the Black and White Effects tool (Figure). OK, it's not pretty, but you get the idea.

    "I feel like this is one of the best new features," Thomas told me. "What I love about this is that you can add tone, and it adds a different feeling to the picture. This is kind of kitschy, but it allows you to explore the many shades that black and white can be. It's hard to work with black and white images digitally and get good effects. Or at least it used to be."
    Intuitive cropping

    I've always loved the DIS Editor's cropping feature, but in DIS 2006, it's been updated to automatically suggest a cropping rectangle. Here's how it works: You open an image in DIS 2006 Editor and then select the Crop Canvas formatting tool. When Crop appears, the application will automatically display a suggested cropping rectangle (Figure). You can then use this cropping rectangle, edit it, or simply ignore it and use the Crop Canvas tool like you always have.

    The only real problem with this feature is that it won't make intelligent cropping suggestions based on the photo size you want. Let's say you choose 8 x 10 from the proportion drop down: Instead of intelligently choosing a cropping area, it simply selects the middle of the image. The intuitive cropping only applies to custom proportions, which his fine for electronic images, but not so great if you intend to create a print.
    Better panoramic stitching

    One feature that's always frustrated me in Adobe PhotoShop Elements is the Photomerge Panorama, which combines multiple images into a single panoramic image. The problems are legion. First, PhotoShop tends to work much better with horizontal panoramas and doesn't always seem to understand how to work with vertical images. Second, since most people are creating panoramas with a digital camera set in automatic mode, each picture that makes up the resulting panorama will often use a different shutter speed, leading to color differences that are most easily seen in panoramas with lots of blue sky (Figure). Such images need to be heavily edited later to look seamless.

    Microsoft's Panoramic Stitching feature has always worked better for me than Adobe's, though you still need to watch out for the shutter speed issues that cause the problem noted above (Solution: Put the camera in manual mode before shooting the panoramic shoot or, if possible, use the camera's built-in Panorama Shot feature if it has one). In DIS 2006, Panoramic Stitching has been upgraded somewhat, allowing you to limit the size of the resulting panorama before you start. That way, you won't find yourself working with an enormous image (Figure). "It does both vertical and horizontal stitching as well, which you can't find anywhere else," Thomas noted.
    Raw image support

    In keeping with Microsoft's new strategy to support Raw image files (see my technology showcase), DIS 2006 supports various Raw image file types in both its Editor and Library applications. In Library, Raw image files appear just like other image file types. In Editor, you can perform whatever editing functions you do with other image types. But when you go to save the image, it defaults to JPEG, and not the original Raw image file type. Because Raw image files are considered "digital negatives," you're not provided with a way to overwrite the originals.
    Photo Story 3.1

    In addition to the Editor and Library, DIS 2006 includes Photo Story 3.1, the very latest version of Microsoft's excellent photo slideshow tool (see my review of Photo Story 3 for more information about Photo Story). Photo Story 3.1 has only been slightly modified from the previous version, but that slight change is quite welcome: Microsoft has added many new photo transitions. Specifically, Photo Story 3.1 supports over 50 transition types, and you can preview each transition in place in order to determine which is best for any given picture (Figure). This is an awesome utility and a must have for any digital photo fan.

    "The in-place editing tools are nice," Thomas said. "You might want to make a photo black and white for a slideshow, but not actually change the underlying photo. With the editing tools in Photo Story 3.1, that kind of thing is easy."
    Availability and cost

    Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 will be available in retail stores starting July 5, 2005. Though the estimated retail price is $99.95, you will often be able to find it for quite a bit less, and Microsoft is offering significant rebates to help lower the cost further. For example, all US consumers are eligible for a $30 mail-in rebate, and those who purchase any digital camera within 30 days of their DIS 2006 purchase are eligible for a further $10 off. At those prices, DIS 2006 is a bargain.

    Microsoft's Digital Image Suite doesn't get a lot of attention for some reason, but I'd like to see that change. Though I spend a lot of time using PhotoShop, I've come to appreciate the simpler, task-based approach used by Digital Image Editor, and some of its tools are clearly superior to those offered by the more expensive Adobe product. Digital Image Library is a very capable image management solution, especially for those that wish to tag images with meaningful labels, keywords, and ratings. And what can I say about Photo Story 3.1? It's an application without peer, and one of the few times when I can honestly say that Microsoft continues to out-do the best Apple has to offer. Taken together, the applications that comprise Digital Image Suite 2006 combine to make a fantastic solution for editing, managing, and sharing digital photos. Given the price, it'd be a mistake to ignore this elegant, well-designed product.

    --Paul Thurrott
    June 29, 2005

  2. Sreekanth V

    Sreekanth V New Member

    Jun 22, 2005
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    I appreciate the effort but if this review is brief then it will be good to read. Many people may just ignore it.
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