***Product Status Update***
This product has been discontinued. However, it is still available through Amazon.com. Its average used price is $22.05.
Microsoft Picture It! is a very good option for fixing common mistakes in photos and for sharing them. It is basically a scaled-down version of Microsoft’s Digital Image Suite. The only differences are that Picture It! does not come with the Digital Library that allows you to organize and search for photos. It also lacks the ability to archive photos to a CD and lacks most of the effects that come with the Suite. It comes with only 2500 instead of 5000 templates. There are some advanced editing features it lacks as well compared to its big brother Digital Image Suite such as “face touchup”. Overall, it is very easy to use with a lot of hand-holding. It comes with several templates for you to use and has all of the basic features for editing common photo mistakes. However, it lacks some key features that may limit your creativity.
The opening screen is broken down into 5 major functions: Open, Open from Camera, Scan a Picture, Edit Multiple Pictures, and Create a Project. There are also links to view a tour, get additional help, or view online tips. It's a great way to start. When you open a photo for editing, the layout is well designed and intuitive. There is a column on the left that displays shortcuts to common tasks such as Touchup, Format, Effects, etc. Most of the functions are broken down into simple steps. Some of this hand-holding can become annoying as you get better at using the program. I found it cumbersome to simply zoom in on an area that I wanted to edit.
From the very first screen, it gives you the option to import from a camera or scanner. When you import, you could check an option that lets you automatically make common editing changes to all or some of the photos at once. It took a long time to apply an auto fix to several photos at once, however.
Picture It! has most of the features to fix common photo mistakes. You can adjust the brightness and contrast, color, fix red eye, sharpen or blur, fix blemishes or scratches, crop, or straighten. There is no auto-color fix as in Photoshop Elements 3. This would have been a good feature to have because so many photos taken with digital cameras are negatively affected by artificial lighting. The fix red eye tool is simple but not very customizable.
The layer feature is primitive compared to several other programs we reviewed (see product comparison). There are virtually no layer options. It functions just like separate images that you can stack on top of each other. You can apply a transparency filter to an image in the stack but once you change it you can’t go back after you close the program or exhaust your undo capabilities. You also can’t hide the layers as you work. This isn’t necessary but it could be problematic if you want to adjust something on an image at the bottom of the stack.
The text tool is much better than average. You can type right on the image instead of it opening up a separate text entry tool. You can also edit it at anytime because it puts the text in a separate layer. You can also insert text that appears in pre-determined shapes you can choose from. For instance, text that has 3D warp effects or text that follows a circular pattern.
The selection tools include a simple shape tool, lasso tool, edge finder and a magic wand. The magic wand tool will select a section of an image with the same range of colors. This is useful when you have a simple background you want to cut out. The edge finder is supposed to find the edges of an object in a photo but it only works if there is very high contrast between the objects (i.e. a solid blue sky surrounding a solid black shirt). In fact, I never got it to work at all.
There are some pre-set batch capabilities. You can apply the same actions (e.g. contrast auto fix, rotate, crop, etc.) to multiple pictures at the same time. You can also change the file format of multiple images at once. You can’t, however, create your own custom batches.
Picture It! provides great photo sharing capabilities. You can easily send photos through email, upload photos to MSN's online printing service, set an image as wallpaper, print unique layouts, and save images for devices like PDAs and cell phones. About the only major feature it is lacking is the ability to create a web gallery. However, of all the sharing features that it does have, it doesn't do all of them well. For instance, their version of a "slideshow" is simply creating an animated gif. This is not a good format for sharing a slideshow with others.
Picture It! supports only 9 file formats. .PNG(Picture It!), JPEG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, EMF, PCX, TGA and PNG. This should be enough for the average user. If you want the ability to optimize images (reduce file size) for the web, you should probably go with Photoshop Elements 3. With Picture It! you can choose a level (low-high) of jpg compression but there's not really any control and you can't see the result in a preview before you save.
This program is a good option if you like templates and want a simple way to improve your photos. However, it lacks some key features that may limit your creativity. The layer functionality is very limited. There are no file-size optimizing options. There are also no photo organizing or searching capabilities. If you want more options, go with Adobe Photoshop Elements.