A robust photo editor for beginners. (August 26th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Light Crafts, Inc.
Price: $19.95 download only
- Easy to use. Automated editing tools. Inexpensive. Full-featured. Good for beginning photo editors.
- 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 WindowUpon 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.
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.
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.
FeaturesOnce 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.
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.
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.
Editing PhotosThe 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.
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.
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.
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 MaladiesThe 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.
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.