Manipulating photos with ease: PhotoFinish – Software Review – PhotoFinish image-editing software from ZSoft – Evaluation

Cliff Roth

AT A GLANCE: Edits scanned images; paints. DOCUMENTATION: Excellent tutorial and examples; good explanations.

EASE OF USE. Easy; Windows-type intuition. But there’s a lot here to learn.

SUPPORT: Free and helpful; toll call; 24-hour bulletin-board service available.




SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: 2MB IBM compatible (4MB recommended); graphics card; EGA, VGA, SVGA, XGA with 16-bit high-color or 24bit true-color card; mouse or other pointing device; DOS 3.0 and Windows 3.0 or higher. PUBLISHER: ZSoft, 450 Franklin Rd. Suite 100, Marietta, GA 30067; (404) 428-0008

PhotoFinish is a powerful image-editing tool for retouching and painting images that have been scanned in or previously saved as graphics files. It’s like having an electronic darkzoom on your desktop.

You can easily install the program under Windows in about half an hour; most of that time is spent unpacking files. Compatible with 47 different flatbed and handheld scanners, PhotoFinish lets you carefully control scanning operations. If your scanner is not on the provided list, you’ll have to use its own supplied software to create a file, and then use PhotoFinish for advanced retouching. You can also edit images created by video capture boards and paint programs.

Format heaven. File formats that can be input include PCX, BMP, GIF, MSP, TGA, and TIF. After using the program, you can save files in Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) format for delivery to a service bureau, but these files cannot be read back into the program for further editing.

Supposedly, PhotoFinish lets you open up to eight different images simultaneously and cut and paste among them. But my 386SX with 4MB of RAM ran out of memory after stacking five images. The manual vaguely states that your computer should have “sufficient RAM to run Windows in the mode you want.” I’d guess 2MB is the minimum. My only real complaint–and this is undoubtedly a common problem with heavy-duty graphics software–is that for some operations my 25Mhz SX was painfully slow.

Special effects. PhotoFinish offers one very powerful cutting tool: a “magic wand” that attempts to outline areas that have similar colors. I say “attempts” because it takes some experience to use this properly–subtle variations can throw it off. A “color tolerance” adjustment allows you to specify the range of variation. Each time the computer analyzed the color picture with the magic wand, I had to wait about half a minute. That made the learning curve frustratingly slow.

But another powerful feature, the “color/gray map,” worked quite quickly on my computer and provided lots of fun. The gray map is actually a graph that correlates numbers stored in the computer file to the brightness of each pixel. Normally this graph is a 45-degree line, reflecting proportional increases. But you can change the curve with the mouse–even to a squiggly line if you want–and convert certain shades wherever they appear.

If an image is too washed out, for example, you can add contrast by adjusting the map for a larger range of dark grays. For color images, you can separately program curves for red, green, and blue response. Having been a photography buff since high school, I was quite impressed. Best of all, these visual effects for black-and-white images could be previewed almost immediately, while color images took just a few seconds.

Save in many ways. You can readily convert among 24-bit color in a 256-co1or palette, and black and white in gray-scale, halftone, or line-art formats, and you can store files in any format (except the obscure and outdated Microsoft MSP format, which can be input only). In addition to the usual sorts of adjustments you’d expect to find for brightness, contrast, palette, and so on, advanced filter operations allow you to add picture noise (graininess), diffuse the image, create motion blur, sharpen edges, remove spots, blend images, and create mosaic distortions, among several other effects.

To add interesting twists to your graphics documents, you can rotate images in 90-degree increments, or by up to 5 degrees (plus or minus) for minor alignment errors. Unfortunately, you can’t rotate by any number of degrees you choose or rotate text to fit at any angle–you’re limited to the 90-degree increments. Of course, you can flip and invert images to your heart’s content.

You can paint, too. PhotoFinish also includes the full complement of standard paint tools–spray can, paint roller, gradient paint roller, tile-pattern paint roller, airbrush, curves, and polygons. It has excellent brush adjustability and color replacement. For example, an eyedropper tool picks up a specific color and shade from the screen for replication elsewhere. Some of the more exotic retouching tools include a “smudge spray can” and a “smear paintbrush.”

On top of all this, a separate memory-resident utility lets you capture a screen from any Windows application and make an image file from it.

As for the manual, what it lacks in explanation it makes up for with excellent visual examples of how various effects can be used. A superb, separate tutorial guide teaches you the art of photo retouching using a woman’s face that is supplied as a sample file–topics include animating her eyes, highlighting her hair, smoothing her skin, and eliminating blemishes.

Overall, PhotoFinish is an excellent, advanced image-manipulation package. It’s not a paint program for rank novices, but anyone who has done light desktop publishing will appreciate PhotoFinish’s features. Its ability to work with numerous standard file formats makes it suitable for use with video graphics and multimedia, as well as with print media. But be forewarned: Your computer should have a bit of muscle, and to get the most out of PhotoFinish, you should have a compatible scanner. –C.R.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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