Review: Aurora - Photo Editor

A robust photo editor for beginners. (August 26th, 2009)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Light Crafts, Inc.

Price: $19.95 download only

The Good

  • Easy to use. Automated editing tools. Inexpensive. Full-featured. Good for beginning photo editors.

The Bad

  • Slow with minimum RAM required. No Save As command. No warning that original photo will be saved with a different name. Minimize button bug. Interface oddities may annoy Mac fans. Not much help available.

Light Crafts has developed Aurora, an easy to use photo editing application that also helps you manage, organize, backup, and publish your photos to the web. Developed originally for PC users, they've ported Aurora to Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard. While it includes editing tools even more basic than iPhoto, I doubt it will take its place because of some of its interface oddities.

Aurora Pictures Window

Upon launch, Aurora automatically loads the contents of your Pictures folder. While this may be convenient for most users, I have only review screen shots in my folder, which does not make for a nice display, so I chose a more palatable folder for your viewing pleasure.

The left side of the screen includes a Folders list with an Action pop-up menu. Below that are Web Sharing, Online Backup, and your Pictures folders. The Web Sharing option prompts you to choose from a few photo sites where you can publish your photos, such as Flickr, Picasa, or Twentythree, and Facebook. Aurora synchronizes with these sites, so you can manage your online photo gallery from within the application. It also lets you edit, upload, and tag your shots.

Aurora Interface


Aurora 1.1 Main Window

Online Backup accesses a service in which you backup your files to a server maintained by Amazon.com. This cooperative agreement between Amazon and Aurora costs $4.95 per month, for up to 20GB of storage space, or roughly 7000 to 10000 photos. As you can see Aurora believes I have only 2.3GB of pictures, so it thinks I can back up my whole photo library. What Aurora doesn't know is that I have a second drive, not presently mounted, with 200 GB of photos and this service doesn't offer me anywhere near the storage space I need, so I'll pass on this offer.

Aurora Backup


Your Pictures folder displays below the Online Backup folder. If you control-click that folder (or right-click with a 2-button mouse), options to create a new folder, backup your photos, show the folder in the Finder or change your Pictures folder appear. These convenient options are handy for those of us that maintain our pictures on an external drive or inside other folders.

Aurora Interface


Folder Options


The search command is your last option in the sidebar. Search options include by name or tags, star ratings you've applied to your photos, or by date. If you find no items that meet your search criteria, you must click the X to return to your previous photo display; one of many interface oddities.

Features

Once you choose your photo, simply click the Edit command to move to the editing window. The commands across the top of the display duplicate options found in the menu bar. The Edit command resides in its own menu item, while the Email, Print, and Publish commands reside in the File menu. The rest of the icons across the top deal with how you view your photos; commands also available in the View menu. If you're not a grid fan, you can choose to display the photos in a film strip or slide show view.

Film Strip View


Film Strip View


Two other convenient commands show you useful photo information. The first appears as an Options menu when you run your mouse along the bottom of any picture. It offers cut, copy, past, edit, rotate, delete duplicate, email, info, or show original in the Finder. I found this drop down handy for the many photos I have at the wrong orientation. I used those commands to duplicate an image that has some color problems.

Photo Options


Photo Options Menu


The second, Image Info, available from the Options popup menu or Command-I, shows a bit more information than the Finder's Info. In addition to the file name, location, date, and size, it displays camera type, lens, exposure, and date shot. You can edit the photo's star rating, title, description, and add tags right in this window.

 Image Info


Image Info

Editing Photos

The Edit sidebar offers a variety of useful editing tools. The + or - automated commands offered in some of the editing tools remove a lot of hassle in choosing the strength of an edit you want to apply. Relight, Crispness, Punch, Color Strength, and Color Warmth offer these automated options. Black & White and Tint offer named options, such as Filter, Cyan, and Sepia. You can immediately see each change, before you save the change and apply it permanently to the photo.

Editing Commands


Edit Sidebar

The Auto Relight option that looks like an after-thought addition in the menu made my flower photo even lighter, but it really needed to be darker, so I chose the Darker-2 option instead.
Relight Options


Relight Options


The flowers look too blue, so I chose Color Warmth and opted for a warmer purple option, i.e. +1. Next, I chose Punch that seemed to pump up the color a bit more. You can see Punch applied to a different photo below. I tried to search the Help files for more information on Punch, but it found nothing.

The only place I found a tool description of Punch and Retouch is in the press release. Retouch is actually designed to copy texture into a selected area, not just color. The Punch tool, according to the press release, "enhances color contrast in the mid-tones without altering shadows and highlights in the image, resulting in a photo that is more pleasing to the eye and well-balanced." I never saw much difference using the Punch tool, but none of my photos are landscapes.

Punch Command


Punch Command


There are also some odd white spots in my photo, so I turned to Retouch, which is similar to the healing brush in Photoshop, or so I thought. It is not the best implementation of healing I've ever used, but once you practice with it a bit, it works ok.

Interface and Other Maladies

The program can be a bit slow to apply a whole-photo edit, but I have 2GB RAM and it may work faster with more RAM, even though they specify you only need 1GB of RAM. You have to work with the different tools to see how your final product looks, because it's easy to over sharpen or punch your color too much, or blow out your highlighted area, as I did in Relight Options photo. For each type of edit, Aurora offers automated edits, which you see in thumbnail views. You can't tweak the edits between each choice, but you can choose different intensities of each command, as noted above.

The Help is nonexistent. When you choose Open Online Help, it takes you to a web page that answers a few sales-oriented questions and how to import photos directly from your camera. That's just not a lot of help. Another deal breaker for me is that it only supports JPEG/JPG files and I prefer to save edited files as TIFF documents, so that I can tweak them in other programs without information loss. On the plus side, if you use iPhoto to organize your shots, Aurora prevents you from renaming your pictures from within it. This avoids creating havoc in your iPhoto Library and highlights Light Craft's attention to detail.

Aurora is a robust photo editing program and well worth the low price, but if you're an Apple interface devotee, you may not like it. The interface definitely has inconsistencies. Interface problems, such as the omission of the Save As command. This means any photo you edit and save overwrites your original photo. Be forewarned and always only work on a copy of your photos! This could be a big problem for some people. In the Edit area, the Auto Relight command is stuck on the bottom of the list, as if it was an after-thought. Another interface problem is that there is no obvious button back to your folders list. You must click Cancel to return to the main screen.

I also found one bug while testing Aurora. I tried to minimize the window and it bounced right back to the main screen. When you minimize a window, it should stick in the Dock, not bounce out again. This bug should be an easy fix for the programmers.

Summary

If you're not well versed in photo editing and you appreciate automated commands, the inexpensive price makes Aurora a good choice. It can act as stepping-stone for learning how different editing tools can make or break a photo. Remember though; always make a copy of your photo before you save any edits you cannot undo later.

Correction

I'd like to correct a factual error in my review above, based on information received from the Light Crafts PR team. Aurora is a non-destructive editor, which means it does not change your original file at all. When you Save your edited photo, you actually save a second copy with an "_au" appended to the file name. When you open that file later, you can see the edits you've made and change them also. I've added cross-outs to the incorrect text above. My apologies to Light Crafts, but, I have to add, if the Help files were more complete, I would have read this important piece of information.

by ilene hoffman, reviews editor


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