This is part 3 of my epic investigation into cloud computing for photographers. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
As mentioned in part 2, I was unable to find a web-based photo editor that supports raw files and the size limits for all the editors prohibit the use of 16-bit TIFF files. After wrestling the files into JPEG format in Jolicloud, I was ready to apply some post-processing. The post-processing I’m talking about includes basic things like exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpening and cropping.
All of Them
Every single web app I tried lagged so far behind Lightroom and GIMP in terms of processing speed, feature set and file compatibility that I can’t recommend any of them as your primary photo editor. None of them work well as part of a multi-file workflow. If you choose to edit photos this way, you’re looking at a one-at-a-time painfully slow process. Also, the results I got were kind of ugly. A big part of that comes from trying to work with JPEGs instead of raw files. However, editing a JPEG with GIMP seems to yield better results than any of the web apps. All of the web apps I tried were free. Big plus.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Adobe is the big dog here and I was excited to use their editor. They clearly have the upper hand when it comes to photo manipulation software and I think that Adobe Lightroom is the best piece of software (not just photo software) I’ve ever used. Don’t worry about any bias towards Adobe though, because I think Flash and Reader are just plain awful.
What did I think of Photoshop Express? I don’t know. It’s got 2GB of free space, which is good. However, it crashed every time I tried to load a file, which is bad. I tried Chrome and Firefox and a couple different files, but nothing worked.
Picnik is mostly free and it’s integrated well into Picasa, Google’s online photo gallery. The integration with Picasa makes Picnik the best web app by far in terms of workflow. Also, Picasa now offers unlimited space for photos that are 2048 pixels or smaller. Not good for backups, but great for online photo sharing and small prints.
First, the good. The interface is easy to use and includes enough control for small edits. I also like that you can export the results directly into your Picasa gallery with the option to overwrite your original file or create a new file.
On the negative side, Picnik is constantly bugging you to sign up for the premium non-free version which gives you more control and a few more presets for Lomo-ish effects. The free version gives you controls for exposure and compensation with a few finer controls for shadows and highlights, sharpness, and “local contrast.” Unfortunately, adjust any of the sliders more than just a bit and you’re going to end up with a muddy mess of a file. Also, “local contrast” is a checkbox and not a slider. Checking it makes your photo ugly. Unchecking it restores your photo back to normal.
Overall I found it pretty difficult to get decent results out of Picnik, but the direct integration with Picasa is worth a lot.
Aviary HTML5 Image Editor
HTML5 gets talked up constantly on the web, so I was excited to try this one too. This editor seemed more like a proof of concept than a full-fledged application. The exposure controls were way too simple. Also, they did nothing. Something was broken and none of the adjustments showed up on the photo.
Aviary Phoenix Image Editor
Phoenix is Aviary’s Photoshop-esque editor and was my personal favorite. The interface was great and the feature set was incredibly powerful. With patience and skill I’m sure you can achieve some great results.
Two things kept Phoenix from being my editor of choice for this experiment. First, it’s JPEG-only. Yes, all the other apps were JPEG only also, but the Phoenix editor is so powerful that it’s begging to be used with a raw file. All that power is wasted on the measly 8 bits of a JPEG file. The second reason is a lack of workflow integration. You can upload multiple images to Aviary, but it’s hardly a full-featured gallery or photo-sharing site.
In the end, Picnik won out, but not because it was the best. Every single web app I tested was crippled by a lack of raw support. There’s only so much you can do to a JPEG, so you might as well use the software that’s quickest and easiest to access. Aviary has a complete suite of web-based image editing apps and they should be applauded for what they’ve created. However, for my purposes, it just wasn’t worth the hassle of leaving the Picasa bubble.
There was a lot of frustration, but it was fun trying out these web apps. It’s good to challenge our beliefs from time to time and to learn what’s out there. I now have a better feel for the state of the art in cloud computing for photographers. Everything I tried here was free, so I recommend giving some of them a shot and seeing what you can come up with. Coming up next is the thrilling conclusion where I’ll share the photos that I dragged through the mud just to get them on the cloud.