Review: New Apple Photos app makes fixing, cropping easy
If you're like most people, those hundreds of photos you took on vacation are still on your camera or phone. You shared a handful on Facebook or Instagram, and tell yourself that you'll sift through the others—one day.
Procrastinate no more. Apple's new Photos app for Mac computers, available Wednesday as a free software update, makes it easy to organize and edit your pictures. The app, which replaces iPhoto, bundles professional-level tools such as granular color correction into one free consumer package.
Like other free apps such as Google's Picasa, Photos is good for auto-enhancing, cropping and other basic touches such as lightening underexposed shots. But it goes further by also including some of the advanced fine-tuning you'd find in a tool like Adobe Lightroom, which costs $149.
If you already use Photos on your iPhone or iPad, you'll see many similarities. Images are organized automatically, partly using location information embedded in the pictures. You can also view photos on a map. The Mac's app goes further in using face-detection technology to group photos by the people in them.
Click on any photo to begin editing. The Enhance button alone will improve many shots. The Adjust tool enhances lighting, color and other attributes separately. Each attribute has an auto button along with a slider you can adjust. Click an arrow to unveil the advanced controls.
I like to adjust something called white balance to compensate for, say, the yellowish glow of indoor lighting. Cameras do this automatically, but not always correctly. In pictures taken on a recent trip, a friend's baby looked too blue, and a waterfall looked too yellow. Photos fixed those quickly, just by hitting "auto." Lightroom usually requires more steps to correct similar issues.
Photos has a lot of cropping options, though my favorite is the auto button. It straightens photos based on the horizon, among other features. My only complaint is it takes a few extra steps to make sure the cropped image retains the original's dimensions. I hope a future update will let me set that as the default.
With a new iCloud Photo Library online-storage service, all your mobile photos will sync to the Mac app, along with your iPhoto albums. You can import additional photos, including those in cameras' proprietary RAW formats, which many pros prefer using. All images are stored online in high resolution, whether they were taken on an iPhone or imported from another camera. Your entire library is then accessible on all your devices, and any edits you make will sync.
By storing full-resolution images online, Photos can free up space on your Mac or mobile device by substituting a lower-quality version. You can still get the original whenever you need it, but it's not taking up room if you don't. Photos figures all that out for you and takes into account how much space you have.
Any photo you delete disappears from all your devices simultaneously, but don't fear, you have about a month to retrieve it from the cloud.
HOW TO GET THE APP
Check the Mac's App Store for version 10.10.3 of the Mac system. Turn on iCloud Photo Library on your Mac and mobile devices when you see the prompts. You may need to buy more iCloud storage through Apple, as the 5 free gigabytes only translates to roughly 3,000 iPhone photos, not to mention video or larger files from stand-alone cameras.
Things to know about Apple's new photo-storage service
On Wednesday, Apple is expected to release a free update to its Mac operating system. The update will bring a new Photos app for Mac computers and launch an online photo-storage service called iCloud Photo Library. The service lets you sync photos among various personal computers and mobile devices. It also saves storage space by moving full-resolution versions online.
Here are some things to know.
— To get it, go to the Mac App Store and check for updates. You'll need the new version of the Mac operating system, 10.10.3. On phones and tablets, you need at least version 8.0 of iOS, though 8.2 is recommended. You can also access your photos on Windows computers with Apple's free iCloud for Windows software. (Sorry, it's not available for Android.)
— If you don't see prompts to turn on iCloud Photo Library, go to "Preferences" on the Mac Photos app and check "iCloud Photo Library." On iPhones and iPads, go to "Photos & Camera" in the settings. In both cases, choose the option to optimize storage to save space on your device.
— Why optimize? That will always keep the full-resolution version online, and what you see on your device will depend on how much space you have left. If it's running low, the Photos software will replace full-resolution images with smaller files, particularly for older shots. They will be fine to view on that device, but you might notice degradation when you zoom or crop. As long as you're online, the software will download originals automatically when you need them, such as for printing.
— Photos on the Mac gives you the option to store photos and videos in folders, but the preferred way is for Photos to import copies into its library. You need to keep this default option for iCloud Photo Library to work. But you will lose control over organization, as Photos takes over managing that for you.
— The 5 gigabytes of free storage on iCloud won't get you far. You can get a total of 20 gigabytes for $1 a month, 200 GB for $4, 500 GB for $10 and 1 terabyte for $20.
— When you delete a photo on one device, it will delete across all of your others as well. But, the new Photos app gives you a warning first and then about a month to retrieve the image from iCloud. Previously, photos deleted from iPhones and iPads disappeared immediately—bad for parents with small children who like to haphazardly delete things.
— If you change your mind and want to stop using iCloud Photo Library, you'll be able to retrieve all your originals first.
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