As a long time Windows PC user I had become acustomed to managing my data myself. So photos were all organized chronologically by event, backed up both locally and offline (in Flickr), and I was happy that if anything were to ever go pear-shaped, I could recover the situation. This meant that when I switched to using a Mac in February 2008 I was loathed to go anywhere near iPhoto ’08 which came pre-installed. As far as I could see, iPhoto offered me nothing but a fancy front-end for browsing photos and would wrestle control from me such that if I somehow lost my data to a hard disk crash or some other mishap, that would be it… bye bye photos!
Almost a year on and I must say my position has changed somewhat. Now whenever I connect the camera to my Mac I’m happy to let iPhoto import and organize my pictures, and my only caution is that after importing I copy the photos out to the old folder structure I’ve always used, from where I upload them to Flickr as well as backing them up. It’s fair to say here that I really haven’t explored the editing capabilities of iPhoto ’08, nor have I used it’s other features like web galleries and creating books. I’ve done a bit of red-eye removal and the odd exposure tweak but that’s about it. Maybe iPhoto ’09 would change that?
Happily on January 27th a padded envelope arrived on my doormat and within half an hour the new iLife ’09 suite was installed. On launching iPhoto ’09 the first thing I noticed is that it performed an ‘upgrade’ of my iPhoto library. Presumably this is to support the new features, which suggests that going back to iPhoto ’08 is not an option. iPhoto ’09 looks pretty much like its predecessor, the only obvious difference being two new entries under the Library section, namely Faces and Places. I won’t go in to how you set these up as Apple has it’s own very good video tutorials, plus there are doubtless many other reviews that will go into a lot more detail on this aspect of it. I was more interested in how these features performed and how it might change my use of iPhoto.
Faces is a neat idea, the idea being that you teach it a few faces and off it goes, building up a view of your photos organized by who people are. Well that’s the theory anyway because in practice it has been hit & miss and a lot less hit than miss in my case. I have approaching 7,000 photos most of which are decent shots taken with a reasonable quality compact camera. Having taught iPhoto between 10-20 examples of each person in many cases, I sat back and expected wonderful things… only wonderful things didn’t happen. Having left iPhoto open and ‘running’ for 8 hours on my 2008 Mac Pro I was dismayed to find that iPhoto had only managed to come up with suggestions for a further ten or so examples of about five people, and many of them were wrong. I therefore went through the confirmation process following which I started to go through events and manually identify people in them.
In ‘naming’ mode, iPhoto ’09 did a pretty poor job of recognizing faces, spotting a fairly obvious two eyes, nose and a mouth in around only 50%-60% of cases. All too often I would see a box drawn around a car headlamp, a brick wall, a fence post, some foliage, a piece of a table or some other inanimate object that looked nothing like a face, with the words ‘unknown face’ underneath it. Assuming this to mean it needed more training I tagged peoples faces in around another 1,500 photos, but this didn’t seem to improve the accuracy of iPhoto’s face recognition at all. Whenever I go into the Faces feature and chose someone for whom I know there are loads of photos, underneath the line that says ‘So and so may also be in the photos below’, it’s empty… there are no suggestions!
So, my overall impression of the Faces feature is that while it must be cool when it works, for some reason I can’t fathom it doesn’t work well for me and that I’ll have to manually add around 80% of the data by using the ‘Add missing face’ function – which is actually quite time consuming. And so on to Places…
Now while I have an iPhone 3G that sports a GPS enabled camera, I take very few photos with it, preferring to stick with my non-GPS enabled Canon Powershot A720 IS. In light of that I was prepared for the fact that I’ll have to add the location data manually. Assigning a location to an entire event is beautifully simple, simply hover the mouse over an event, click on the ‘i’ that appears and type in the location. Ok for many of the towns and villages around the UK you don’t get a hit in the picklist, but it’s a simple step to choose ‘New place…’ then let Google Maps do the hard work for you. Having assigned a location to a whole event, you can then select individual photos within each event and be more specific, so having tagged an event as being in Paris for example, you can then tag individual photos as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, etc. The more effort you put in to this, the better will be your maps of the world, covered in pushpins to show you where you’ve been. The one thing I would say is that when browsing through all the photos in an event in thumbnail view, there’s no way to tell which photos have been tagged with location data and which ones haven’t. You have to click on the ‘i’ on each photo before iPhoto will reveal the location data, if it’s present. So, you need to be organized and keep track of where you’ve got to when you’re adding location data in thumbnail view. Maybe that’s something they’ll address in iPhoto ’10?
The feature I’m actually looking forward to the most is being able to order up photo albums that show my chosen photos intermingled with routes and maps of where they were taken – a sort of ‘Road Trip’ book. The ideal gift as the Apple marketing men would say.
Finally I wanted to look at the Flickr integration that’s been added to this latest version of iPhoto. Well, when I say integration it’s more just a built in way to upload photos to Flickr and keep track of what you’ve uploaded. The process is fairly intuitive – select some photos and click on the Flickr button. First time through you’re asked to provide your Flickr credentials, then authorize iPhoto to use the Flickr API for your account. Then you specify who is allowed to see the photo using the standard Flickr choices (Only you, Family, Friends, etc.) and choose a size for the upload (web, optimized or actual size). Your photos are then queued and uploaded, with any such photos then being added to a Flickr category in the iPhoto sidebar. Disappointingly you can’t seem specify an existing Flickr set or a new set for photos to be added to, it defaults to creating a new Flickr set with the same name as the iPhoto event you’re uploading from, so this feature seems to be a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a decent replacement for Flickr’s own Uploader tool, or rather it’s better suited to someone just starting out with Flickr rather than someone who already has a large collection of Flickr photos that are all organized separately.
So has the upgrade been worthwhile for me? Well I could argue ‘no’ as far as iPhoto is concerned. The face recognition feature has been a bit of a disappointment, and I’m seeing lots of comments on discussion boards from people who are having a similar experience. If only they could improve the accuracy then it would be a really cool feature, so if you have a large collection of photos you could be in for a lot of hard work if my experiences are anything to go by. The places feature is nice and I can see myself using it a lot, and as for Flickr integration, well I’ll stick with the Flickr Uploader until they make iPhoto a bit more flexible. £69 well spent? Well despite my mixed feelings about how iPhoto has fared, I’m sure there are other improvements I’ve yet to discover, in addition to which all the other products in the suite have also been given new features. So it’s a ‘yes‘ from me. £69 for all this software is a bargain!
Now I’m off to see what wonders the new image stabilization feature in iMovie ’09 can do for my footage of the local air show…