Review: In depth with Apple's iPhoto 11

Apple's iLife is a collection of media manipulation tools which come free with every new Mac computer.

If you want to know what we though of the package as a whole, you should check out out overview in which we came to the conclusion that iLife 11 is a bit of a winner on the whole.

And here we look at iPhoto. Apple's still image manipulation and management software is probably the most familiar of the three core applications. If you've ever put a photo on a Mac, chances are you've used this.

As with all of Apple's big three iLife offerings, iPhoto plays beautifully with the rest of your digital life. Plug in a camera and it will fire up, download the pics, place them in a new event folder, have a crack at identifying the people in your snaps, keep a record of what camera they were taken on and just about every setting you could ever want to refer back to, and even place them on a map if you have taken them on an iPhone or any number of other devices with geo-tagging abilities.

iPhoto is, like all of the applications included in iLife, all about simplicity on the surface and sophistication if you want to dig a little deeper.

Admittedly, there is very little different in iPhoto 11 when compared to the previous 09 iteration, but I'll point out a few highlights and lowlights.

The user interface has had some minor tweaks with many of the flashy coloured icons replaced with muted monochrome. Apple seems to have taken on the notion that, if you want to admire or manipulate your images, there should be nothing to detract from them.

It's a lesson the designers at Apple HQ have learned from the way people use portable devices like the iPhone and iPad, which brings us neatly onto full-screen mode.

Nestled in the bottom left corner of virtually every view in iPhoto is the full screen button. Clicking on it won't surprise too many of you (we hope).

The screen border darkens and all unnecessary distractions are removed leaving you with the bare essentials to carry on working on your photograph.

I personally use a triple-monitor set-up and would have liked the option to darken the other two displays in full-screen mode, but try as I might I couldn't find how to get a full blackout either in the preferences window or in the otherwise excellent help files. I guess that's what the off switches are for.

Hitting the Edit button also brings to light another minor gripe.

In previous version, editing a snap happened in pop-up windows which could be dragged around the screen (or more usefully onto a secondary monitor) in order to maximise the image size.

In iPhoto 11, the editor parameters are embedded in an overly-wide tabbed menu which eats up about 25 per cent of the screen.

Given that full-screen is such a buzzword at the Cupertino Campus at the moment, I think this is an odd choice.

Quick Fixes, Effects and Adjust menus contain the same useful tools as the last iteration allowing pics to be straightened cropped and colour corrected to your heart's content.

The next button along is the create menu which is where we find many of the applications new bells and whistles. Album speaks for itself. Here you can group your pics into sensible categories.

Selecting Book allows you to design stunning hardback, soft cover or spiral bound tomes which are sent to Apple and, for as little as £12, returned to you in all of their coffee-table-enhancing splendour. Given some suitable snaps and a little care and attention, you'll end up with a book which is completely indistinguishable from a commercially-printed art book. Really, they are that good. Again, this is nothing new, although Apple insists it has improved the already excellent print quality of the finished articles.

There are loads of new, beautifully-designed modern and traditional templates to chose from and you can add captions and comments and tweak the design in an infinite number of ways. For those of you without the requisite artistic skills, iPhoto will even make a decent fist of automagically designing your tome for you, cleverly placing pics based on their orientation and the order in which they appear in your library.

Slideshows have also had a lick of paint with new animated templates and loads of sharing options.

The biggest change in iPhoto 11 sits under the Share button. Social networking may not be everybody's cup of tea but you can't buck trends and 500 million Facebook users can't all be wrong. The latest version now has seamless integration with the aforementioned Facebook as well as Flickr and Apple's own MobileMe service.

You can also e-mail shots without opening a mail application as the message is compiled inside iPhoto with nicely designed-templates complete with fancy backgrounds and custom captions.

iPhoto 11 is more evolution than revolution but there are some very nice tweaks which will keep existing users happy, without steepening the learning curve.

As it comes as part of a package, we'll refer you back the conclusion we reached in our iLife 11 overview which you can read in full here.

If you have the requisite hardware chances are you are already running iLife 09, in which case forking out £45 for an upgrade is a sticky choice. Is there enough in the new version to warrant the expenditure for someone who is already a regular, keen user of iLife? The simple answer is... probably not.

If, like me, you have infrequently dipped your toes into the iLife pond and want to see exactly what can be achieved using Apple's simple, intuitive, yet extraordinarily powerful suite of media tools, £45 is a small price to pay for hours and hours of productive fun.

There are just about enough new bells and whistles to warrant the outlay, which is - let's face the facts here - little more than you would spend on a console game which will give you nothing more than sore thumbs and a growing sense of social inadequacy.

The bottom line is... if you are willing to put in a bit of work, and actually learn how to use the software to the best of its ability, the rewards are plentiful.

Or you could just upgrade your hardware and get it free... which would make Steve Jobs very happy indeed.

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