Album Shaper: Plenty of Oomph Without the Button Glut
Perhaps looking to out-feature the competition, some photo manipulation applications flood the screen with a million buttons and options. That's fine if you're well-versed in that particular app, but it can also be intimidating or just plain inconvenient. Album Shaper's menu-driven structure simplifies the process without depriving the user of many must-have photo manipulation tools.
If you are on the hunt for a do-everything photo management app, check out Album Shaper. Considering its solid, user-friendly design, Album Shaper is packed with a hefty toolset of features that newcomers to image manipulation programs will appreciate.
That does not mean more experienced digital shutterbugs will feel left out. Album Shaper's simple menu-driven structure, though, may make the app seem too basic for them. Just don't let the simplicity lead you to that conclusion too hastily.
Newcomers to digital photo management often find programs the likes of GIMP (see my review here) a bit too complicated. Users who know their way around photo apps often see F-Spot (reviewed here) needing a bit more oomph!
I fall into that latter category of users. To me, Album Shaper has more than enough oomph to make it a suitable replacement for GIMP without compromising on the tools I usually use.
It is the ideal PC solution to accompany a digital camera. Album Shaper needs little manual scouring to organize, annotate, frame, enhance, style and share your digital photos. It handles with ease open formats like XML, JPEG, and XSLT. Plus, its cross-platform availability makes it painless to maintain the same photo albums on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux/Unix computers.
Setting up your photos in Album Shaper is much like organizing a traditional physical photo album. You can create as many different albums as you need. This is akin to starting a new physical photo album. You load each one from the File/Open menu.
Once you open or create an album, the left column of the display window lists the various topics within that album. This is like putting specific pictures onto their own subject-related pages.
The banner atop the display window has separate lines for the album name, its description and the picture taker's name -- called "author" -- are on the top left. The collection's name and its description are on the top right.
Below this banner is a display of the photos added to that collection. The pictures show in a series of rows made of three photos in each row. The picture size is not adjustable. You scroll down to view the collection.
The menu row above the banner is minimalistic by function. Almost no need exists to go to the File, Photos, Tools and Help options.
All of the image tools are available after you click on a picture or click the Edit tab in the row above the display window. Return to the collection display by clicking the Organize tab. This is where the ease-of-use comes into play.
Controls for photo manipulation are hidden until you specify a photo. Then the tools for editing the image appear under the selected photo, which now fills the full display area. Controls for the opened collection are handled by clicking the button row at the bottom of the display window. It is there that you can Create and Delete collections as well as add/remove photos and rotate right/left.
Be careful with the last button choice labeled "Wallpaper." It will change your system's desktop background to the image selected in the collections display window. No redo is available. To go back to what you had, you must use the operating system's desktop setting.
Applying photo edits could not be easier. Three control boxes open beneath the selected photo.
The frame box provides choices for photo sizes and cropping. An option is also available to correct image tilt. This is a high-end feature that I do not often see in photo album apps.
The Enhance controls provide options for color, contrast and red eye correction. One click does most of the work. If you want to do additional refinements, click on the levels button to see a side-by-side comparison as you work with the slide bar. The same advanced setting exists for granularity.
I like the results obtained by simply clicking on the control buttons. That seems to fix things just fine in most cases without resorting to the more intimidating histogram approach in the advanced settings.
The Manipulate control box has drop-down selections for B&W, Sepia, Invert, Emboss, Mosaic and Painting. A small viewing window shows the results before clicking the Apply button.
To undo any of these editing changes, you have to go to the Photo menu on the main toolbar row. Select Revert to Original. You will not see this option unless there is something to undo.
In most areas I really like the simple design Album Shaper uses. Its context-specific editing options go a long way in preventing an unwieldy interface.
However, one area that needs better focus is the process for adding photos to a collection. I have a rather large assortment of photos. These are stored under several dozen folder names.
Album Shaper lets me tag all of the photo files within one folder and import them. But there is no way to input multiple folders at once.
This means that each segment must be added one by one. That is fine if you just start out with a small array of photos. But if you want to switch from one photo management app to another, Album Shaper could make the task more approachable.
An option odes exist, though it still is not a perfect solution. Album Shaper makes extensive use of drag and drop throughout the album creation process.
I can highlight photos from a file manager opened on the desktop and drag them to the organize view on the Album Shaper display window. This trick can be a nice time-saver. But the OS does not let me drag more than one folder at a time. So this ability is still lacking in Album Shaper itself.
Album Shaper can produce Web galleries and can export photos in a number of formats. It also lets you tag multiple images within a collection and execute the same function. For example, you can remove a number of photo descriptions at once.
A nice bit of eye candy in Album Shaper is the ability to set album and collection cover images. A small version of the selected photo slides in from the left and is used when creating Web galleries.
Similarly, you can set a collection's cover image by dragging and dropping a photo to the left of the collection name and description fields. To label photos just hover over a picture and click the little info button that appears in the lower right corner. The photo then expands to give you a better view and provides space for writing the caption.
Overall, I am impressed with Album Shaper. Its simply interface and uncluttered approach to menus gives the impression that it is a beginners-only app, but Album Shaper has a lot to offer shutter pros as well.
Why contend with an intimidating toolset that discourages use when you have this powerful alternative? I prefer this photo management system because it combines out-of-the box functionality with a novel approach to taking care of my photo collections.