A few months ago I decided to stop using Google’s Picasa for editing my photos and instead switched to Apple’s iPhoto. Doing so has been an enlightening experience and although (spoiler alert!) I prefer iPhoto, I also think it’s worth mentioning why I switched but also what Picasa has going for it.
Firstly, a bit of background – I’ve been a Picasa user for quite some time (since January 2005 apparently) and used it prior to becoming a Mac user. In the early days of Mac ownership I used CrossOver to run it, before later running the Mac OS X version of it when that finally came out. I never really touched iPhoto until this year, when I bought the latest version.
I’m therefore comparing iPhoto ’11 with Picasa 3.9.
Unless you have a reasonably new Mac, you probably won’t have iPhoto ’11. If you do, then it’s free; if not, it’s a £10.49 purchase from the Mac App Store. Picasa is a free download so it wins there.
In my opinion, iPhoto wins here as it offers many more features for making adjustments to photos. Both will offer basic features for adjusting light and colour balance, and a one-click button (‘enhance’ in iPhoto, and ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ in Picasa – it is a Google product after all) to automate this. The one-click enhancers in both were a little hit and miss – I found iPhoto sometimes over-saturates pictures whereas Picasa makes them too bright. But iPhoto excels by also offering noise reduction and better controls for lighting pictures – I was able to fix a few of my under-exposed images much more easily in iPhoto than Picasa. On the other hand, Picasa also supports Instagram-style filters should you wish to apply those.
iPhoto is slow. Like, really slow. If you like seeing the spinning beach ball, then you’re in luck because you’ll see it a lot in iPhoto – especially when you have more than a couple of other apps open at the same time. Picasa is much faster – which seems odd, since Picasa is a cross-platform app written by Google, whereas iPhoto is native to OS X and by Apple. Apple didn’t announce any updates for iLife at WWDC earlier this week but hopefully efficiency improvements are on the cards for iPhoto ’13.
If you want to share your photos with others, both apps will let you upload them to the internet. Picasa supports its own Picasa Web Albums service, with two-way synchronisation of photos between your computer and your Web Albums account, as well as Google+ and Blogger. iPhoto supports Facebook and Flickr, and users of OS X Mountain Lion can also share pictures on Twitter. For me, support for Facebook and Flickr is far more useful than Google’s own properties, but this depends on what you use.
Incidentally Google used to offer an Export plugin for iPhoto that would allow you to export from iPhoto to Picasa Web Albums, but this is no longer in active development and has been removed from the Picasa web site. You can still download it from MacUpdate though.
Of the two, iPhoto is naturally more Mac-like, although it does use a number of non-standard user interface conventions (in comparison to other Mac apps). Picasa feels like an app brought over from Windows – which it is – and the interface is thus less visually appealing. I also found that iPhoto presented its features in a clearer and more easily accessed way – Picasa has a habit of hiding things in menus.
Both apps will let you create slideshows from your images. To me, iPhoto slideshows look more professional, and allow you to easily import music from iTunes to accompany it. On the other hand, Picasa will let you export your slideshow directly to YouTube; iTunes merely saves a QuickTime file and you’ll need to either upload it manually or use Apple’s iMovie, sold separately, to get it on to YouTube.
iPhoto will let you order prints and other printed items from within the app itself, which is a nice touch – with Picasa it’s necessary to export images first, and then use a third-party service. iPhoto also lets you browse your Flickr sets and Facebook albums from within the app itself, which includes the use of the slideshow features.
Both will let you tag people in your photos, so that you can also browse by person as well as folder or event; iPhoto uses contact information from your Address Book and Facebook, whereas Picasa uses Google Contacts and Google+. When you upload these photos to Facebook or Google+ then these people will be automatically tagged if you are friends with them or have circled them.
In my experience, Picasa doesn’t see, to get much attention from Google; version 3.9 was still the most recent version as of December 2012, having been out for 9 months; iPhoto has had several minor updates in that time such as adding support for Twitter sharing. Finally, iPhoto naturally supports full-screen mode in OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, which Picasa does not as yet.
On the whole I feel iPhoto has more to offer than Picasa, but by switching from one to the other I’ve had to sacrifice some features (and speed). Consequently I imagine that there are some people for whom Picasa will clearly be the best option – but, in my case, it isn’t.
This post was revised in December 2012 to add more information about slideshows, Twitter sharing, photo tagging and Picasa updates.