GIMP vs Photoshop (ongoing)



Feature: GIMP is the free, open source photo edito that claims to challenge Photoshop
Idea:In an ongoing review GIMP 2.4 is compared to Photoshop Extended
GIMP-Gnu Image Manipulation Program is a free photo editor which its developers claim is as good as Adobe Photoshop. I examine that notion here in an ongoing series of reviews. Ongoing becuase this file will expand over the next few months as the review progresses. Mimicing object-oriented programming, the Photoshop main menu will serve as the organizing subject themes - they will have a brief intro and then most will have to await testing over the weeks ahead.

However it is worthwhile to note that GIMP and Photoshop Extended share a lot of common capabilities. They both are directed at bitmap or raster image editing as opposed to vector graphics (the domain of Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw). But both are capable of using vector drawn paths and shapes; however these are used primarily in layers to enhance the underlying bitmap image.

Both programs provide a strong set of basic photo editing commands and tools:

1)Ability to open/import most of the basic bitmap graphic filetypes including PNG, JPG, GIF;
2)Ability to adjust those images with crop, rotate, resize and many other transformations;
3)Ability to make local retouches, sharpening and other image corrections;
4)Do color and exposure/lightness corrections with a broad range of dialogs and tools;
5)Mask selective areas on an image(or layer)- only there will edits/brushstrokes apply;
6)Allow creating a stack of two or dozens of layers from other images, text, vector graphics, etc;
7)Allow filters or special effects to be applied to one or more layers including the base image;
8)Produce output to several graphic filetypes, printers, and/or web pages/galleries.

These photo editing features allow users to produce everything from simple

fixes to portraits through wonderful original paintings to the most sophisticated of layered photo-compositions with either GIMP or Photoshop Extended. However, Photoshop Extended has recently added some capabilities like 3D image editing, video animation painting and editing, plus automated technical/medical image measurements that are well beyond the scope of GIMP.

In addition, Photoshop Extended comes with a very capable image browser called Bridge that acts as an organizing center for all the images and other resourcews used in Photoshop edits. GIMP does not have such a closely integrated organizer/browser. Finally there is a major difference in the GUI layout of the two programs. The two screenshots below show that.

GIMP's GUI is MDI- Multiple Document Interface. This means that the dialogs or components of the interface each stand alone and can be moved, resized and used independently. Four are shown in the screenshot above. There are trade-offs with this arrangement. Users get to size up the Image Canvas to full screen if they like and control the sizing of other important dialogs as well. The downside is that users have to manage 3 or more program windows. Since GIMP does not have a set of Workspace commands that allow a user to save a specific layout and sizing of dialogs as a named workspace, they have to spend time setting up their workspace each time they start up GIMP or change into a new work mode (say brush work to layering and composition). But within the dialogs, GIMP has features like drag and drop adding dialogs to a panel with icon tab creation, drag and drop resizing, and auto expansion or collapsing of dialog elements that I suspect may have influenced Adobe. In sum, the GIMP GUI is like the program itself - remarkably complete and robust.

Photoshop Extended's GUI interface is also MDI but with two crucial differences. First, when a dialog like Layers or Histogram is opened it is anchored to the lefthand side of the Groups Panel. So when you move the whole program, the dialog (and toolbox as well) move with program. However, by pulling a dialog free of the right hand anchor line, then it becomes a completely independent dialog box, just like in GIMP - resizable, movable and collapsible to just a tab-bar. Second, Photoshop does support workspaces so you can name and save a specific layout of dialogs that you use all the time for certain types of photo editing - say retouching. So Photoshop is two steps ahead of GIMP in terms of GUI convenience. However, Photoshop gives some of that advantage back in its dialogs by not having a Reset button(start with all settings at default again) nor a consistent use of Load/Save Options associated with each filter and adjustment dialog.

In sum, this comparison of GIMP and Photoshop is much like the GUI interfaces. There are a common set of basic functions, but then programs differ broadly in how they add specific functionality. As we shall see - some of those differences are pretty broad.

File Menu and Commands

The file commands are all about importing and exporting images and managing how the overall program is configured and set to work for you. GIMP can import screenshots with builtin screen grabber, scanner images, plus camera shots (but not in raw format). GIMP supports 39 image filetypes including the core .bmp, .gif, .jpeg (but not .jpeg2000), .png, .pdf, .psd, .tga, and .tiff. GIMP also supports the standard New, Open, Close, Save, Save As, Recent, Revert, and Prferences commands.

In addition, GIMP has specialty commands such as Keyboard Shortcuts, Dialogs, and Units. The latter two support instant opening of all GIMP's dialogs and setting the GIMP units of measure. But clearly GIMP does not support the range of devices that Photoshop can import from including video now and one of the widest range of camera raw files. Couple this with the Camera Raw dialog (shades of LightRooms Develop command) and Photoshop clearly bests GIMP and we have not yet considered the Photoshop Printing options and the Automate and Scripts commands. Now some of the Automate options such as Batch or PDF Presentations have GIMP counterparts; but these GIMP dialogs are not nearly as powerful as Photoshop's. In scripting, Photoshop again has more options with VB, JavaScript, and Actions while GIMP has Script-FU which gets at the basic GIMP programming structure.

But the bottom line is that the infrastructure the Photoshop supports through its file commands gives users many more options and choices than GIMP. The really important difference being the new animation, video, and camera raw support in Photoshop Extended (the first 2 are not standard Photoshop features). GIMP compares reasonably well to Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paintshop Pro but is no match here for Photoshop.

next: Edit Menu and Commands

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