Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Picasa vs iPhoto

iPhoto and Picasa

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.

Image editing

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.

Other bits

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.


  1. The main difference between Picasa and iPhoto for me – and reason to resist switching to iPhoto – is the folder management system. In Picasa you can label your folders and rename your photos easily. In iPhoto the folders have a name in the app and if you look for them in Finder not only they are buried in the iPhoto Library but they also appear with dates rather than the names you have given the folder – making it impossible to navigate your photos in Finder. This is very very annoying and the key reason why Picasa is a superior product overall. When I need to use a specific feature not present in Picasa (basically only the book making facility) I just darg the pics into iPhoto and deal with them in it as a one-off task. Otherwise Picasa is leaner, faster, more intuitive and creates no mess to your folders respecting your naming of the files.

    • I agree… I like that Picasa preserves my subfolder structure that I have. I have everything broken down into years and days… and i don’t like how iPhoto wants to restructure my library of photos. I like how Picasa lets me do what I want with the subfolder structure.

    • hell yeah that’s so true i just have to give my statement about this as well. I am running both programs on my mac now, kind of evaluating each others advantages out. I am also used to Picasa that’s why I needed some time to try iPhoto as well. The file system of iPhoto, simply explained, is bullshit. No discussion about it. If you open Picasa and import the iPhoto library, you will see why.

      On the other hand, iPhoto and other mac programs work together in a way that I would have wished for Picasa as well. Mail and iPhoto, very reasonable. Also when I want to insert event overlapping pictures into a slideshow, iPhoto wins.

      Basically both programs are fine, the updates in the future will show where people will head for.

    • With iphoto you can use a library setting that let’s you keep your own folder structure. It’s just not the default

  2. Used Picasa since ver2, from PC to osx; it’s very good application, but google seems put less & lesser effort on the osx development, hence consider switch from picasa to iphotos; my picasa cannot upload to facebook recently, after lion & picasa 3.9 upgrade…

  3. Brad hits the nail on the head. Apple’s filing system is a rigid “my way or the highway” disaster. When you save a file it often gets lost in the black hold of your hard drive. The “Finder” system is a joke. In Neil’s comparison (which is fair) Picasa comes out on top. It’s faster and free, Facebook integration is a plus for IPhoto, the rest is a draw. iPhoto locks you into Apple products. Picasa is a universal app. If iPhoto were really superior, then why did Steve Jobs try to ban it from the iPad???

  4. For me the “file management” of iPhoto is great: I don’t have to worry about naming and moving files, and I have a good (although very slooow) program that allows me to group and browse photos by events, albums, smart albums and faces… I can even browse them when I’m in the open dialogs of every other application (except gimp or other apps that don’t use standard open dialog).
    If you really don’t like iPhoto to manage your images in folder that you can’t easily access, there’s an option in the advanced preferences to disable the copy into the library. (so please stop complain about this, guys!).
    I think the only big problem of iPhoto is the speed (especially when editing and zooming a photo, it goes crazy). After reading this article, I think this issue not annoying enough to make me switch to Picasa 🙂

  5. iphoto rules….picasa drools.
    pc users are not very good photo editors. they want automatic wizard for everything.

  6. i prefer picasa web and picasa software, however, when my photos automatically import to iphoto, trying to get them to the picasa software is a nightmare! sure I can import the photos, but they end up a mess because of apple’s insane filing system. Are there any solutions?!

    • You can turn the automatic import to iPhoto off. Go to Settings and on the bottom it says “Connecting camera options” uncheck iPhoto.
      I use Image Capture, cause there I can choose the folder where to import.

  7. @Andrea Ghensi Thanks for the comment. Found this post from Google. The iPhoto’s way of managing files is rather annoying. But now that I know it doesn’t have to import all photos to iPhoto’s own designated folders, it becomes much easier to choose now. iPhoto is the way forward.

  8. The whole point of iPhoto and other “manager”-type libraries is to use the GUI and *not* mess with the underlying folder structure, not even look at it. It’s easy to share photos and albums out of iPhoto to Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, email…. If you want to focus on photos, albums, editing, etc., iPhoto is a great consumer product. (Hint: Use a modern computer with plenty of RAM.) If you want to mess with folder and files, use something else.

  9. Having just imported about 2000 picts into iPhoto, I do find the UI of iPhoto far better than Picasa. Picasa was cluttered and confusing IMO..much like using a windows equivalent to Finder. Like others have mentioned, you can leave your file folder structure intact and have iPhoto build it’s library while not moving and copying your photos but leaving them where they are and referencing them. The integration into other Mac programs is a huge reason to use iPhoto for the majority of Mac users. You just don’t have the same options if you use Picasa.

    If you do import your files into iPhoto and you have gone through the trouble of organizing everything into folders this structure is still available to you if you look for that info within iPhoto and not in the Finder. In the Library panel on the left, just below EVENTS is PHOTOS. When you click on that you should notice that the pictures are presented with the names of the folders they were imported from so you still have all that organization intact and it’s not lost so that is not the big deal people make of it. You just don’t use the Finder to locate the pictures any longer. That is, after-all, the whole point of using a photo manager like iPhoto in the first place, isn’t it? Find all your pictures within one easy to navigate UI as opposed to digging around through folders and multiple layers of sub-folders.

    Cons of iPhoto
    iPhoto is slower and it doesn’t automatically find new images by default like Picasa does although there is a way do set up a folder that will be automatically updated when you start up iPhoto.. much like it automatically updates your photostream when started up. You just have to make sure you place all your new photos within that folder on your Mac.

    For me, the biggest let down of iPhoto is FACES. It is HORRIBLE when compared to Picasa… So bad that it’s unusable IMO. The feature should be removed and Apple should be ashamed of how badly that feature compares to Picasa’s equivalent.

  10. Thankyouo – I have the same history as you and am contemplating switching back from iPhoto to Picasa. Am about 90% at the point of going ahead, so I found your review of the 2 quite helpful. Regards from South Africa.

  11. I use iphoto and also hate it, is there a way to import my iphoto folders with names into Picasa on a mac. Everytime i try i get a huge pile of photos but looses file structure and naames

  12. thanks very much for your artcle – I really love Picasa – but I want to change my computer to the Apple system. So it is encouraging to know we can change without too much pain to i photo However were you able to transfer your already edited photos from Picasa to iPhoto without losing the editing….and continue to edit if necessary.

  13. Anna – If you right click on an individual image in Picasa, you will find a “save” command. Using it, you create a new file with all of your edits saved and made permanent (although Picasa keeps a hidden unedited version, should you ever need to retrieve it). I don’t remember if there is a way to do this by batch, but I think so – in which case you should be able to “save” all of your edits before transferring to iphoto. That said, I don’t think iphoto will recognize any tags you may have created in Picasa. For me, that’s a deal killer – I have way too many photo’s tagged and can’t imagine re-creating all of that from scratch. For now, at least, I’m sticking with Picasa.

    • Thanks Dean for your advice on saving photos in picasa. Now. Are you able to use picasa on your Apple computer. Or do you run a PC for such program’s as picasa

  14. We have 5 macs in the family, and have been using macs for more than a decade. We stopped using iPhoto when Picasa arrived. The main reason was that it let us keep complete control over folder structures, allows sensible options on image imports, and so on. It also has a much better system for recognising faces. A few years earlier a new version of iPhoto had bothed changed folder organisation radically, and managed to lose or garble a lot of the metadata in our (extensive) collection of images — that was when we lost patience. I use darktable or gimp for editing, except for the occasional blemish touch-up on import. I don’t find exporting to Facebook via Picasa particularly difficult — though it’s just awkward enough to stop me splattering images there by the … thousands.

  15. Thanks Bernard. That’s what I needed to know that you can use Picasa on a Mac. Apple staff don’t seem to know about Picasa so puzzling as they know so much about everything else.

  16. I use Picasa web albums and iPhoto. But when it comes to sharing the albums, picasa uses google contacts, NOT my iPhoto contact lists which is very frustrating as not all the recipients are in google and often I get many many contacts with same name as my friends. Any way to use only my apple contact list when sharing?

    • Beth – in the Preferences in the Contacts app, you can enable synchronisation with Google so that Picasa has your contacts too.

  17. Neil – thanks. I did the synchronization but am still getting random contacts. How can I eliminate all but my own contacts?