Photo finish: 5 free image editing tools

Photo finish: 5 free image editing tools


GIMP (GNU image manipulation program) is a powerful and near-professional-level photo editing open-source program. Immensely popular and constantly updated for several years now, the application is very stable and function-rich. It can handle masks, layers, filters, effects, and much more. It has an impressive line-up of preference settings that you can tweak. Among other features, it boasts lighting effects, an extensive paintbrush tool set, pen tool path selection, as well as layer masks. The controls are very responsive even on underpowered machines. And because it is the preferred editor in the open-source space, GIMP has built a vast repository of plug-ins and optional extensions.

On the downside, what I don’t like about GIMP are the extra-wide floating control menus that tend to overlap the image on small screens. Also, because it belongs to the open-source genre, GIMP is prone to frequent updates. If you’re an avid Photoshopper, you may also growl at the less intuitive interface, missing layer effects, and its inability to go from RGB to CMYK. But if you’re not, you won’t even notice these shortcomings.

Rating: 4.5 / 5


Features, features, and more features... That’s what Photoscape is about. You get everything here—from a file viewer to photo editor, a slide-show creator to a batch editor for file renaming, a screen-capture program to an animated GIF maker, a photo-stitcher to a photo- splitter. With so many diverse capabilities, you would expect this do-it-all to be one heavy download. It’s not. In fact, at 14.7MB, it’s a tad lighter than GIMP, at 16.5MB. The photo editor handles all your resizing, brightness and colour adjustment, white balance, backlight correction, framing, cropping, filter, red-eye removal, blooming, and other needs. With that range of tools, the easy-looking, “spread-out" interface makes the learning curve that much easier. My favourite feature is its ability to convert RAW (digital SLR camera files) formats to JPG—something none of the other apps here gave me. All in all, Photoscape is a very useful and comprehensive image handler that every photo junkie simply must download.

Rating: 4.25 / 5


The 1.5MB Paint.NET is a photo manipulator that began as a Microsoft-mentored undergraduate senior design project to replace MS Paint. It has an easy and intuitive interface, supports layers, special effects, and a variety of useful tools (splines or Bézier curves, magic wand, clone stamp, text editor, zoom, recolour, etc.). Special effects include distortion, embossing, and 3D rotate/zoom effects to add perspective and tilting. You can create new gradient layers, adjust layer-blend modes and opacities, apply/adjust filters and effects and do much more. On lower-end PCs and laptops, the sliders tend to be jumpy, freezing the machine in the process, which is very unsettling. There are a few things missing in Paint.NET, though. For instance, it has no sophisticated colour correction, selection tools, cannot handle RAW output or convert formats. Still, you can’t help marvelling at the awesome abilities packed into this almost tiny (for an image editor) application. A great replacement for MS Paint.

Rating: 4.5 / 5


If you feel somewhat hemmed in by the profusion of tools and menus in GIMP but want to harness its power, try GIMPShop. This modification of GIMP sheds some of its clutter and gives it an easier-to-use look and feel. GIMPshop, in fact, was created to give GIMP a more Photoshop-like look and feel. While it does achieve this to a large extent, it has not been able to keep up with the version enhancements in GIMP in recent years.

GIMPShop is everything GIMP—loaded with all its feature and function assets as well as its customizability— but with some alterations in interface and terminology that make it easier to use. That said, however, its halted development gives it the appearance of an abandoned project. So why have we included it here? Because it is a nice, free, non-intimidating application with which to get your hands dirty and learn the ropes before moving on to a heftier tool. And it helps, of course, that it does the job in the process.


Relatively much more simple and straightforward than the others in this lot, PhotoFiltre is like a stripped-down version of an image editor. It has the necessary work tools you require to play with colour, saturation and effects. One of the best things about it is its uncomplicated up-front interface. You are not bewildered by sliders and cluttered dialogue boxes and don’t have to dive in and out of menus looking for things. Settings and controls are often limited or available in preset increments.

PhotoFiltre offers a bevy of plug-ins that allow you to perform image magic—ripple effects, red-eye removal, page curl effects, highlight/shadow tricks, etc.

Anyone who doesn’t want to waste time learning the intricacies of photo tweaking can start with something as non-fussy as PhotoFiltre. Okay, you can’t stitch photos into a panorama, you can’t change perspective, you can’t do layers and you often can’t make changes in selected areas of images. But the basics are all there.


Verbatim’s InSight with that extra storage

Verbatim’s new external hard drive, InSight, comes in a unique shape. It rates high in capacity and is competitively priced as well—the 320GB model costs about $130 and the 500GB version is about $160. To enhance the “cool" factor, Verbatim has added a blue digital display that shows the available free space on the drive even when it is not connected to the computer. It weighs less than 6 ounces and measures 6x3.4x0.6 inches; it is powered through a USB connection, has a 2.5-inch drive that runs at 5,400 revolutions per minute and an 8-megabyte memory cache.


Go click-click with Samsung DualView TL225 and TL220

Samsung has announced two cameras with an LCD screen on the front that helps snap-shooters put themselves in their photos. The $350 DualView TL225 and $300 DualView TL220 feature a 1.5-inch LCD screen on the front (in addition to a larger LCD screen at the back) that enables people to better frame shots of themselves, alone or in groups. Simply tap the front screen and the camera goes into portrait mode, automatically snapping a photo when it detects a smiling face —no shutter button required.


Home-network router, to eye your child

If you don’t have time to supervise your children on the Internet, your home-network router may be able to do it for you. Many models (especially the newer ones from Netgear, Cisco and Linksys) include parental control features in the router’s settings. If your router comes with these options, you can set up use limits and block access to the Internet at certain times of the day. And if the youngsters claim they need Internet access for homework, check your router for settings that filter out certain types of websites—not just the usual adult-oriented Web servers, but social networking and video sharing sites as well.


Import your address book and old mails through the new Gmail feature

Google has introduced a feature that lets you import your address book and old mails from other mail services into a new Gmail account. Once you have created an account and have your mailbox open, click on the Settings link at the top of the window. Click on the Accounts and Import tab and then the “Import mail and contacts" button. A new window opens, asking you to type in the email address you want to bring into your Gmail. You are presented with checkboxes you can mark off to import the contacts and old mail.


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