Review

Review: Windows Live Essentials 2011 - Photo Gallery

WLE_Headerbanner_PhotoGallery

Microsoft has released the final version of Windows Live Essentials 2011 to everyone on a supported Windows based PC, which comes loaded with very useful and helpful everyday programs that make our lives a little easier and more entertaining. Over the next couple of days, Neowin will be taking an in-depth look at Windows Live Essentials 2011, covering a new program each day.

Windows Live Photo Gallery

On our second day of coverage of Windows Live Essentials 2011, we'll be taking a close look at Windows Live Photo Gallery. This all-in-one photo organizer also includes a lot of neat features and effects for photos. Photo Gallery comes with a number of really helpful features that help improve the look of your photos, with options that you would normally have to pay for in professional software or use multiple programs to get the same effect. Although Photo Gallery isn't by any means a professional photo software substitute, it does have everything the average user needs.

Organizing

Windows Live Photo Gallery organizes all of your photos instantly, without the need to manually add folders or files. You can organize your photos by date, --which is automatically selected when you first launch Photo Gallery--, geotag, date modified, people, filename, folder, image size, and many more. There is a really helpful treeview on the left side pane that allows you to select folders of photos you wish to view, making it easier to narrow down your search if you're looking for a specific photo.

Windows Live Photo Gallery comes loaded with options for tagging your photos This makes them easier to search for at a later date; you can also tag by faces, rating and more. If you keep up with regular tagging of your photos, including face tagging, rating and even text tags, you'll be able to keep your photos and albums well organized and easy to find. The right side pane has an option for face recognition, with the more faces you begin tagging, the more faces it will alert you to tag as friends.

WLE_MainWindow

The Find tab uses your tags and descriptions to search for photos you need and narrows down your query. If you are looking for photos by a specific day, month or year, there is a quick tab that instantly filters your photos by date taken.

Ribbon

Like most programs in Windows 7 and Office 2010, Windows Live Essentials now has a full ribbon support for all the options. If you're familiar with ribbons on Windows 7 or Office 2010, you'll know that each tab has subcategories that make it easier to find options you're looking for, rather than having a drop down menu like the old style Windows programs had. Some programs out there are greatly improved with the ribbon, and Windows Live Photo Gallery is no exception. The ribbon addition to Photo Gallery is a nice improvement over last year's release.

WLE_ribbon

Sharing

Sharing your images and albums is now easy, with just a couple of clicks of your mouse from within Photo Gallery. The sharing tab is very easy to spot and allows for quick uploading to your SkyDrive, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LiveGroups and the option to install additional plug-ins for other social networking websites. Photo Gallery also supports videos, which is automatically sorted into their own category. This is why there is a YouTube sharing option, but if you really wanted to turn your photos into a slideshow -- or a quick movie, and upload it, you can select the photos you want, click Movie and open them in Windows Live Movie Maker.

Visual Effects

Windows Live Photo Gallery is not a substitute for professional photo finishing software like Photoshop, but it does contain a lot of everyday effects you may use. If you ever need to quickly rotate your photos left or right, or quickly resize your photos, the options can easily be applied.

Photo Gallery has a really handy feature to help straighten your crooked photos. The one click effect uses an algorithm that detects how tilted your photo is, using objects within the photo to straighten it. Photo Gallery also includes effects such as Noise Reduction (to automatically reduce any noise in your photo), colour balance, expose, and even an auto adjust feature, taking all the thinking out of adjusting your photos.

WLE_VisualEffects

There is also many colour effects, such as grey scale, RGB adjustment, and additional darkening and lighting effects. Of course, if you don't like the look of your changes, there is an easy revert to original button, making your changes, in essence, nondestructive.

I know from personal experience, finding software that does a good job at panoramic photos is difficult to find, but after playing around with Windows Live Photo Gallery for awhile, I finally have found a tool that does a good job with panoramic shots. Using some test photos I took two weeks ago in San Francisco. You select the photos you want and the software automatically generates a photo by stitching them all together. Like other software, you'll sometimes be left with a jagged black border around your image, but this can easily be cropped out.

WLE_StitchPhoto

There is a merge photo option called Photo Fuse, that takes two or more similar images and makes a high quality photo out of them. If you happen to have a couple of photos that our slightly out of focus and a bit blurry, select the fuse option and see if your photos improve. Obviously this feature is hit or miss, depending on the photos you have taken. Your results will vary, depending on the quality of photos.

If you have some spare time and need a good photo organizer that can help you edit your photos, check out Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Make sure to check back tomorrow when we review Windows Live Movie Maker 2011!

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31 Comments

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The author of this article seems to completely have missed the point of the "Photo Fuse" feature.
It's based on the old Microsoft Research Group Shot app that lets you take multiple photos of the same scene and choose the best bits to go into a new composite photo e.g. family portraits where people look in the wrong direction/don't smile etc can be corrected. You can also use it to remove tourists etc. from landmark shots
Take a look here to see some examples of how good it looks http://windowsteamblog.com/win...feed&utm_medium=twitter

ThomMcK said,
The author of this article seems to completely have missed the point of the "Photo Fuse" feature.
It's based on the old Microsoft Research Group Shot app that lets you take multiple photos of the same scene and choose the best bits to go into a new composite photo e.g. family portraits where people look in the wrong direction/don't smile etc can be corrected. You can also use it to remove tourists etc. from landmark shots
Take a look here to see some examples of how good it looks http://windowsteamblog.com/win...feed&utm_medium=twitter

I tried that feature and it doesn't work very well for normal shots. When I'm taking a couple impromtu photos of family, I rarely take the time to get out a tripod and ensure everyone sits still. Even when the subjects in the photos hardly moved at all, it was often enough to completely make the feature unusable.

SkolVikings said,

I tried that feature and it doesn't work very well for normal shots.

I agree, the original MSR GroupShot app was a lot more forgiving

And thank god for that man. MS was getting really bad with their complacency. Now they are out for revenge. This is good for us all. Especially with the damn phones. Hurry that up already.

jimmyfal said,
And thank god for that man. MS was getting really bad with their complacency. Now they are out for revenge. This is good for us all. Especially with the damn phones. Hurry that up already.

Yes! its good for us. Now we have 2 choices either google apps or MS apps and Yahoo is sitting duck now!

For so many years MS was sitting duck. However google picasa and google's presence is threating them in every area. Live photo app, hotmail more disk space, sky drive, live office are all unwillingly done projects of MS out of fear of google.

quentez said,
Which means more crap on YouTube !!

Movie Maker isn't a movie maker, it just an evil thing that will lead to rubbish pointless youtube videos. Bring back Movie Maker 6.

I love people tagging but before was easier to go from the picture viewer to the edit mode, now I have to make more clicks

I was confused at first with all this ribbon stuff when it came out months ago, especially with movie maker, but I REALLY have changed my tune on that front. I use photogallery constantly, I love the quick previews on color and exposure effects, the new CLOSE button is less confusing. The REVERT to original button is LONG over due. They fixed the movie button so it is more fluid. I dont' see a way to create a folder on SKYDRIVE which is dumb. I use the panoramo on a constant basis. The only thing I find to be a little confusing is the facial recognition They should explain that a little in the beginning. Overall I think it's the only tool the average user needs. I find the importing of photos to still be subpar. Can someone please explain to me why the photogallery import function does not put videos into the videos folder and pictures into the pictures folder? You have to choose another import option to do that outside of photogallery. That makes NO sense to the average user. And I can find no option to make it so inside the photogallery import.

There are 2 huge regressions for me in this new version:

#1
I'm always away for work and I keep all my pictures on my home server, I keep pictures synched with Offline Files on my Windows 7 notebook. Well, if you have remote network folders in your picture library in Windows 7, you can use WLPG only when you are connected to the network. If you are off the network (and even when remote folders are synched with offline files), WLPG WILL NOT START prompting you to remove the offline network folder from Windows 7 picture library. This did not happen with previous version, I could use WLPG even with offline network files before.

#2
If you want to edit a picture you are forced to open WLPG, there is not anymore a right pane with edit options... they have been moved to the ribbon and you can only access it from within the program. Since I can't start WLPG on my notebook when I'm not connected to the home network, then I can't edit my photos anymore when I'm away for work.

These 2 make this new WLPG version basically useless to me. Too bad.

I do like this application, its never designed to be a replacement for photoshop or what have you but an alternative to browsing your photos in explorer.

You'd be surprised at the amount of people out there that don't use a photo organising application, instead relying on folder views and organising into folders in folders in folders, they get lost in a messy tree structure.

Theres many of free apps out there that sort this situation out but people simply don't know about them, or think wrongly about them, this app should change that a little bit at least as a lot of people have messenger, when they upgrade they'll probably install the photo gallery as well and start to use it, I think they'll be pleasantly surprised.

I love the face tagging feature, sure it needs some improvements but for a free app its great.

I now use photo gallery to organise, add tags etc and use mesh to keep my photos synced on my 2 desktops and 1 laptop (and soon windows phone), I never bothered tagging or organising too much before before but now my pics are synced it just makes more sense - its simply effortless!

It sounds good to me, from reading your review it seems that Microsoft have added quite a few features that'll make this application worth having saved on your Hard Drive. I've never really bothered with Photo Gallery, having other, more professional photo editing programs on my computer made it seem like a waste of space but this looks like a decent program for when I just want to quickly edit some pictures before uploading them to Facebook.

I would be nicer if it wouldn't destroy the GPS metadata in the files by 'guessing' the location. So atm it's useless and dangerous.

martin10018 said,
I would be nicer if it wouldn't destroy the GPS metadata in the files by 'guessing' the location. So atm it's useless and dangerous.

Wait what? Source?

What I find a huge detriment to Photo Gallery (regardless of version), is that it can't edit RAW files. I find this version of Photo Gallery fine otherwise, but if I want to make a quick edit of a RAW image, I like of the options available better in PG, than I do in Picasa.

For serious editing, I use Lightroom on my desktop, but if I'm on my laptop or netbook, it would be nice to have the ability to edit a RAW, and then upload it to Skydrive.

1759 said,
What I find a huge detriment to Photo Gallery (regardless of version), is that it can't edit RAW files. I find this version of Photo Gallery fine otherwise, but if I want to make a quick edit of a RAW image, I like of the options available better in PG, than I do in Picasa.

For serious editing, I use Lightroom on my desktop, but if I'm on my laptop or netbook, it would be nice to have the ability to edit a RAW, and then upload it to Skydrive.

For the kind of user group this app targets they don't edit RAW files. That's something professionals more or less mess with so I don't know if they'll add support for RAW anytime soon. You never know though.

GP007 said,

For the kind of user group this app targets they don't edit RAW files. That's something professionals more or less mess with so I don't know if they'll add support for RAW anytime soon. You never know though.

The beta prompted me to download .ARW file support, however the final release doesn't (If you're wondering .ARW is a Sony Alpha Series RAW file).

1759 said,
What I find a huge detriment to Photo Gallery (regardless of version), is that it can't edit RAW files.

When I tried to view RAW files from my DSLR a pop up appeared to download the driver so it could edit them.

Installed and can edit and view RAW files perfectly.

Faststone allows you to edit RAW files from almost all camera models. . .oh by the way it is free and puts PG to shame. Just my two cents.

1759 said,
What I find a huge detriment to Photo Gallery (regardless of version), is that it can't edit RAW files. I find this version of Photo Gallery fine otherwise, but if I want to make a quick edit of a RAW image, I like of the options available better in PG, than I do in Picasa.

For serious editing, I use Lightroom on my desktop, but if I'm on my laptop or netbook, it would be nice to have the ability to edit a RAW, and then upload it to Skydrive.

I find it an even bigger detriment that it can't edit a PNG file.

TechDudeGeorge said,
Great review!

Been using it since beta.

I find myself not launching Photoshop anymore.

* The tonal adjustments are now curve-based. The is a histogram that shows how your photo was exposed.

* Auto-Alignment is a time saver, and cropping is a breeze. The cropping rectangle is intuitive and even has a Rule of Thirds guide.

* Beware of People Tagging: It can get addictive, it feels like a game!


IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED:

* It should support stamping of logos/photographer signature on selected photos.

* White Balance adjustment needs some work though: Most of the time it shifts my nature photos to a bluish tone; I want my nature photos have a reddish tone.