Picnik.com
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Feature: Picnik.com provides online photo-editing
Idea:I really did not expect online photo editing to do well

Picnik.com has brought online photo editing to the Web. And as the screenshot attests:

there is a fairly complete set of basic operations available to the user. If you go to the site and try it out yourself (its free for the basic service, you don't have to register, and most of the commands are available for the free service) - users will find that Picnik.com is very robust indeed. And on a dual core PC with 1GB of memory running Windows XP (not Vista), its pretty fast too. In fact its an amazing service - online photo edits available to all.

How Do They Do That ?

My first question was how does Picnik.com do that? At first I thought it would be some very clever AJAX and JavaScripting - and that is involved. But upon doing a View | Page Source in Firefox I discovered the engine behind this feat of photo editing magic - Adobe's Flash Player. Now Adobe insists that 97% of all the billions of web browsers have the Flash Player loaded; but in the case of Picnik.com you will need the latest - found here(its a 3-5 minute download and install if you don't have the player).

What the Flash Player does is allows most of the operations to be done on your local machine - so Picnik.com will run as fast as your PC permits. But when I ran my tests I had 6 programs running including two copies of Firefox and the response time for Picnik.com was within 2-5 seconds for most commands on a 700 x 450 sized image. However, like the car salesmen say - mileage will vary.

But What Can You Do With Picnik.com ?

As the screenshot above implies, Picnik.com provides a full range of basic photo editing commands. Just click on the first, Auto-Fix and Picnik.com does remarkably well in adjusting the sharpness, brightness, and color cast of the image. I found it hard to beat Picnik.com unless the color cast was complex or the image was just too blurry and out of focus. But to my surprise, Picnik.com provides rotate, crop and resize tools that are essential in doing basic photofinishing. It would be nice to have a Straighten command and some of the Perspective corrections available in Photoshop or PaintShop Pro; but these are truly high end edits.

More important to some users is the images that Picnik.com allows you to photofinish. You can load images from your own PC. I found that once I tried loading images of 3MPixel or larger, the load time for Picnik.com was significantly greater - 9 seconds or more. So users may want to crop or resize their large images before using Picnik.com ; but this takes away some of the utility of the program - quick edits to images found anywhere.

Another big plus is that Picnik.com does allow users to photofinish images they have stored on such popular photo catalog websites as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket and Webshots. Here is how I just used such a capability. I had taken some pictures for a client. But I was far away from my machine and a connection to the Web. But I was very close to a Toronto Library branch that provide free 1/2 hour connections to the Web.

So I plugged my universal reader by USB into the the TPL-Toronto Public Library PC, uploaded the JPG images (taken at 3Mpixel size) to the client's Flickr account. Then I accessed and did the basic photo edits for the dozen pictures in Picnik.com including cropping, rotation, resizing and basic color corrections - all within two 30 minute sessions. I used autofix on several images - its a big time saver. I then got instructions by cellphone on what additional shots to take - and what originals to upload again. Done.

Summary of Edits in Picnik


Lets review the tabs in Picnik.com. The Home tab takes users back to the greeting page. The Photo tab allows users to import images from their local PC or from the following public websites:

The Edit tab brings up the first screen shown at the top of this review which provides the basic editing capabilities. There are buttons for:
AutoFix - remarkably fast and robust auto color, exposure, and sharpening corrections;
Rotate - provide image flip horiz. or vertical, straighten and rotate by precise angle
Crop - rectangular Crop tool, drag and drop easy to use with lots of preset options
Resize - allows user to resize image up or down by pixels or percentage
Exposure - provides brightness/exposure and contrast to be modified with slider controls
Color - provides saturation and temperature to be modified with an AutoColors option
Sharpen - slider to d sharpening of an image
Red-Eye - removes red-eye with a point and click operation
What is missing is the ability to mask or select specific areas of the image for the above edits to be applied to. There are no color brushes for touch ups. And layering is not allowed. However, for the premium edition which costs $25 per year, users get a number of extended features such as fullscreen mode of operation, no ad on the canvas, and some others noted below.

The Create tab, shown in the screenshot above, provides a set of advanced editing features:
Effects - provides 10 basic effects, the Premium edition has 22 more from artistic to
Text - allows users to add text to their images including font, size, color, and style
Shapes - precut shapes, control their size, coloring and opacity, Premium adds 100 more
Touch-up - do simple touch ups with a point + click tools for teeth whiten, blemish fix
Frames - allows users to add a picture frame in 5 styles
Advanced - provides Curves and Levels exposure controls familiar to Photoshop users

The Save & Share tab allows users to save the image back to your local PC or move it to the catalog websites noted above. This is where I would like more power ....

Now for many users these are all the features you need for basic photofinishing, and for the right price - free or $25/year if you want the advanced features. I do because I find myself on the web needing to do simple edits to a photo fairly frequently. Also I want to take advantage of the customizing capability Picnik.com provides to their more Web savvy users and developers - see here for details.

Summary

I must admit I really had not expected photofinishing to come to the web directly. I just did not think JavaScript or the other Web scripting languages would be fast enough. But what Picnik.com has cleverly done is used Adobe Flash, which is downloaded to the the users PC, to get around the problem. And given that the new Flash player has really gotten a speed boost - the net result




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