ulead PhotoImpact 11 review

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PhotoImpact’s interface, photo enhancement and compositing all see improvements - but there's still some way to go.

photoimpact 11

Over its long career PhotoImpact has led the way in terms of enabling the average user to make the most of their camera and to enjoy themself in the process. However, the program’s interface has become increasingly idiosyncratic, cluttered and inefficient (though apparently the Germans love it). Thankfully this release sees a complete overhaul starting with redesigned icons and a rationalization of toolbars and palettes. PhotoImpact 11 also now offers a choice of workspaces ranging from Basic Photo mode, in which only the most commonly useful tools and commands are made available, through to Advanced Mode in which all power is at hand, and you can also create your own. It’s a major step in the right direction but a residue of indecipherable command icons and idiosyncratic filter dialogs mean that there is still plenty of work to be done.

Usability is average then, but what about power? In terms of dedicated photo management, Ulead bundles the standalone Photo Explorer 8.6 which provides folder browsing and album management along with the odd advanced feature such as VCD output and new RAW/DNG support (and the old Album application is still bundled for longterm users). In addition, PhotoImpact offers its own dedicated File Browser which supports camera downloading and EXIF data display and with which you can now apply effects and corrections directly from the EasyPalette.

In terms of enhancement, PhotoImpact offers a comprehensive but odd set of corrections and filters. Two new options correct the purple fringing caused by chromatic aberration and white balance problems, while a third lets you add subtle vignette effects. More fundamental in terms of end quality is the new support for high-end 48-bit images though this only applies to the most common adjustments. For 24-bit photos, PhotoImpact offers its High Dynamic Range command which lets you process multiple exposures of the same shot to generate maximum tonal range in both shadows and highlights. The new SmartCurves command attempts to do the same for single images based on known camera response curves or on customized profiles. Some images can end up looking slightly washed out, but generally the results are stunning.

Alongside enhancement, the latest PhotoImpact also tackles image compositing. There’s a new Object Extraction wizard for pulling complex objects out from their background and new layer mask handling. And typically PhotoImpact also offers some unique montaging capabilities such as its existing z-merge capability for adding apparent depth to your compositing and the new SmartRemove which makes it easy to remove or combine elements from multiple versions of the same shot.

PhotoImpact has always gone its own way and offers both good value and some surprising power (including bundled GIF animation and immersive panorama applications). However competition is fierce and most users would gain even more from the more focused Photoshop Elements 4.

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ratings out of 6

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System requirements: Windows 98 SE, 2000, Me or XP

Tom Arah

December 2005

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