Monday, February 2, 2009

iPhoto '09 (v.8.0)

OK. No, better than OK.

Aside from a few caveats, the latest iPhoto from Apple has some fairly decent new features.

First: Faces. This is the initial implementation of face recognition software that helps to identify certain faces in one's photographs. It is far from perfect, but it is quite handy. There are a few tricks that seem to help, but more than a few shortcomings. This is an initial release of this feature, so be forgiving. It works best on straight on and straight up faces. It seems to have a hard time with heads cocked to one side and has an even harder time even noticing profile shots.

One thing I do find very frustrating, is that upon initial updating of an existing iPhoto Library, the face recognition begins building what looks like a list of pictures that it believes are pictures that have faces. At least, faces are displayed as the progress bar advances. However, when I clicked on "Faces" the corkboard had a default "How to begin" message instead of a listing of unknown faces. So then, one has to go to a photo that has a known face, either by going in to an Event and then on to a photo, or straight on in to the Photos listing. Pick a picture with a face, hope that it recognizes that there is a face or add the missing face selection to the person's face, and then identify the person.

Sounds cumbersome. It's not too bad, but it is less convenient then it will be in the next few updates, I hope. Anyway, once you ID a face, it seems quickest to let the program find what it thinks are matching faces and then confirm or deny them. You've got to keep doing this for as long as it takes to find as many faces as the software can find, by each new lesson. So you may have to do this a dozen times before iPhoto stops presenting you with new choices to evaluate.

Another thing I wish would be available is the index picture, which is the portion, the subset of the photo, which has the face. A photo could have any number of heads and faces in it, but when confirming a "Face", iPhoto presents just one of the faces it believes it sees. It zooms in to this face and presents it in a standard size at the best resolution it can muster-up.

Second: Places. This is an attempt at popularizing geo-tagging. Something that flickr has been doing for some time now. This implementation has a ways to go as well. However, it could be my first generation Mac-mini is feelings its oats drop with a thud, but it seems like a slow process.

I believe that many of my pictures have geo-data in their EXIF data file. I have an Eye•Fi card that I use in one of my cameras. When the library was updated, those pictures did not automatically show up on the iPhoto map. I have only done a small number of map placements so far, and they were to photos of our recent vacation. Many of these photos do not have geo-tags or necessarily correct info if they do. It's the nature of the Eye•Fi card in these instances. So I will reserve judgment on the functionality of the Places feature until I know more about it.

Third: Adjustments. Apple changed the way the photo editor window looks. Not a very big change, just a little better organization. However, change is change and I will need to get my hands dirty on this modification before I make further comment on it.

Most of my recent hours in iPhoto has been time spent in updating each of my various iPhoto '08 libraries and teaching each and everyone, the names of my family members and then pointing out who and where the are. Oh, this brings me back to one other oddity. When one has to add a face for recognition to the photo, the selection tool is a rectangle whose size and proportions varies on center. The handles work on axis from the center of the rectangle. Seems kind of clumsy if you were to ask me. I would suggest that the selection would be an oval with one handle for rotation (or orientation, if that makes more sense to say) and another or two for size and shape - o - 0 - O. That seems more face like and would allow you to cover an individual with a head cocked to one side.

I think the selection tool is a rectangle because it only uses the eyes-nose-mouth area for its calculations. But then, maybe the tool should have been a triangle. Anyway, it works as well as it works. The software misses what seems to be about 60% of all the faces available from all pictures, and all heads turned away (which makes sense). Hopefully, as they add profile algorithms to the software updates, this gap will diminish.

Overall, I am pleased with my $80 investment.

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