Acoustic Mac

Batch Image Processing on a Budget

Beverly Woods - 2001.06.07 - Tip Jar

Photography occupies several different niches in my life. One of them is recreational. When I am playing around with digital images in my computer for the heck of it, I certainly don't watch the clock. I might spend two hours experimenting with different treatments of one image and enjoy every minute of it, regardless of whether I end up with anything I feel is worth keeping.

I also have a part-time job that includes taking pictures of instruments and putting them on a store website. This lets people in distant locations can get a look at an antique mandolin or carefully peruse the only worn spot on an otherwise mint-condition guitar. At work, I am definitely goal-oriented: I want to provide photos that are as consistent, detailed, and accurate as possible. On the other hand, taking these photos and getting them ready for the Internet can't take too long, or they would cost more than the budget allows. An efficient image processing routine is obviously useful in such a context.

The first image processing program I worked with on my home iMac was Adobe Photoshop LE. (Officially LE stands for "Limited Edition." I'm sure the fact that it could also stand for "Less Expensive" is coincidental.) I had previously used the full version of Photoshop on other computers. The LE version came with our scanner, and I found it included most of the features I used frequently. It far surpassed the program that came with my digital camera, and it is still the photo program I've had the most experience with.

When I went to process my first batch of photos at the store, I hit the "Graphics" tab on the launcher and saw only one photo processing program: Adobe PhotoDeluxe.

PhotoDeluxe is LE's even less expensive sibling, and I had never used it before. A bit of hunting through the various tabs revealed many of the more basic features I was used to working with in LE. I needed to rotate some of the photos, trim them, adjust brightness and contrast, make them uniform sizes to fit well on a page together, and compress them enough to make for reasonably fast loading time. All those features were available in PhotoDeluxe.

The catch was, they weren't easily available in the order I wanted to use them. PhotoDeluxe has several sets of features strung together, and once you've used one item from a series of tabs, you have to click on every other tab on that set, whether you want to use the feature or not, and then click "Done" in order to get to a different set. Moreover, you can only work with one image open at a time.

This is no big deal if you're only doing a few photos. But as I swiftly discovered, doing similar processing on each of 60 photos this way meant a lot of clicking. I began to notice symptoms of repetitive stress in my hand after less than an hour of working this way. I figured there had to be a better way to do the job, so I set out to find it.

At the library I found a book on digital photography and read about programs that process batches of photos all at once. Unfortunately, all the programs mentioned in the book were for PC only, except Photoshop, and the full version of Photoshop is pretty pricey. Being opposed on principle to paying lots of money for features the store was unlikely to use, I figured that Photoshop was more than we needed and continued my search for low-cost programs that included batch processing.

I typed relevant phrases into the text boxes of search engines, followed promising threads in Mac email list archives, and winnowed heaps of image processing program descriptions and user reviews at Mac download sites.

Eventually I found two good candidates: GraphicConverter ($35) and Epson Film Factory ($29.95, free with some Epson printers). Both programs are available as free trial downloads, although the trial version of GraphicConverter disables the batch processing feature. Of the two, GraphicConverter has far more features. Judging from comments and reviews, it's a favorite of many professional users [that includes LEM - ed]. At the shop, however, we have staff members who are new to computer graphics. They found the Film Factory interface easier to understand, so that's the one we went with.

The Epson trial gives you 30 days to use the fully enabled program before you have to pay for it. This gave us time to check it out before paying its modest price. Besides its photo-editing features, it offers an organizational framework for keeping track of your images.

If you're looking for a basic, inexpensive, beginner-friendly program, and especially if you need to do batch processing with such a program, you might want to check out Film Factory. If you need more features, and especially if you need to convert between different image formats as well as doing batch processing, GraphicConverter is certainly worth exploring. It's hard to beat the trial price in either case. LEM

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