PICTURE THIS: Faces is a new function in iPhoto that allows you to view the pictures of all your friends and family at a glance.
Announced at this year’s Macworld, iLife ‘09’s new flashy features caught the attention of the Mac community.
Although it wasn’t as groundbreaking as most Mac fans were hoping for, it still has a few impressive features such as face recognition for photos and image stabilisation for videos.
For the purpose of the review, we will mainly focus on the new features of iPhoto ‘09 and iMovie ‘09.
Two main features of iPhoto are Faces and Places which further enhance Events, a function introduced in an earlier version, which automatically sorts photos by the date it was shot.
Faces is an easy way to organise photos and it uses face recognition to identify faces that you have tagged, allowing you to compile a list of photos with a particular person.
The feature is pretty easy to use — you just have to just click on the Name Faces button to start a simple face selection tool that is somewhat similar to Facebook’s.
iPhoto can also scan a photo to detect faces though it sometimes misses a face or two so you will have to select them manually.
You only have to name and tag two pictures and iPhoto will sniff out your entire library of photos for the person and it mostly gets it right even when the photo is blurry.
It works surprisingly well for group photos when everyone is facing the camera and it makes quick work of naming multiple subjects.
However, you may have to wait for a few minutes for the program to scan through your photo library the first time you use it.
iPhoto’s face detection system doesn’t get it right all the time. It is a hit and miss affair and is easily thrown off by people wearing sunglasses and caps.
HIT AND MISS: The face detection algorithm for Faces occasionally goofs up and detects non-human objects, such as the cushion in the picture above, as a face.
Oddly enough, the face detection algorithm occasionally detects non-human objects as faces in photos. In one instance, the program thought a pattern on a pillow case was a human face.
Admittedly, Faces is still a feature that will come in handy when you have to browse and tag thousands of holiday photos.
Places uses geotags to group photos by the place it was taken and marks them on a map. For the uninitiated, geotags contain geographical metadata such as latitude and longitude coordinates.
iPhoto extensively uses Google maps and has a good user interface that easily allows you to browse locations by country, state, city and street address.
When you import images with geotag data, Places will automatically place them on a map. But if your photos doesn’t have geotag data, you can still manually pin the location of your photo on the map.
However, this method can be tedious because you have to manually search for the location for each photo.
Also, despite having a built-in Google search bar for looking up addresses, Places sometimes failed to locate places I searched.
Places is a cool way to catalogue a trip by location but many users may not find it useful because the majority of consumer cameras don’t have GPS capability.
Moving on, the Slideshow feature in iPhoto is good for making a quick photo presentation.
While the options are basic at best — there are a limited number of themes and transition effects — but is still quite impressive and you can even assign background music to go with the slideshow.
It isn’t often that you can find a video editing tool that is not only easy to use but also powerful.
iMovie has all these qualities and it is amazing how it can help you slap together a decent video without having to dig out the manual.
EASY-TO-USE: iMovie retains the same user interface though it now comes with a few nifty new features like image stablisation and precision editing.
I was immediately impressed by the easy-to-use user interface.
Most of iMovie’s operations are completely drag-and-drop based so putting together a stream of videos is a simple matter of dragging parts of the clip you want into the editing area and letting the program join them together.
Despite having almost no video editing knowledge, I was surprised at how easy it was to create a 24 second clip in iMovie.
Things just worked out as I began experimenting and slowly got the hang of incorporating features such as text and transition effects into my videos.
There are a couple of new features — image stabilisation and precision editor — that take iMovie to the next level.
Image stabilisation comes in handy when you have to salvage extremely shaky footage shot from, say, a moving vehicle.
It is resource intensive and may take several minutes to analyse a clip and apply the smoothening affect.
You get to pick the size of the area to apply image stabilisation and the smaller the area, the better the result you get.
The only drawback to this feature is that your clip may end up looking less refined but it’s better than not being able to save the entire clip.
And don’t expect it to perform miracles if there is excessive camera shake in the footage.
The precision editor is another improvement in iMovie that gives you more control over your videos as you can edit the transition between two clips frame by frame.
I found it to be a great tool when I needed to select a specific portion of a clip to cut off.
Other additions include new animated globe and map transition effects (a la Indiana Jones) that’s perfect for globe trotting holiday makers to depict the course of a journey.
It’s really a nice effect that adds a sense of style to your presentations.
While the additions give iMovie a few extra tools to work with, it isn’t a major improvement over its predecessor.
Also, the software is still weak in terms of audio editing as it doesn’t give you a lot of options to work with.
The inability to manually save your work is a little worrying as you can never be too sure if iMovie has been saving your work in case of a crash or power outage.
However, we have yet to encounter any problems with it and can only hope that iMovie saves your work progress often.
Creating and sharing
What’s the point of shooting photos and videos if you can’t share them with anyone?
iPhoto easily addresses this with a variety of different ways — you can show your photos to your friends and family by creating a photo book, calendar, slideshow or even a DVD.
Similarly, iMovie lets you share your videos by burning DVDs, exporting them to your iPod or uploading them directly to Youtube.
If you are into sharing photos online, you’ll love iPhoto ability to sync directly with Facebook and Flickr with just a click of the button.
Easily one of the coolest things about the Faces feature is how it exports tags in photos to Facebook and even matches it with people on your friend’s list.
Flickr users will also be pleased with iPhoto’s ability to sync geotag info with the online photo sharing site.
iPhoto also intelligently keeps your Flickr uploads in sync with your album so any images you delete will be reflected online as well.
That’s a wrap
The features introduced in iPhoto and iMovie really improve the overall appeal of iLife ‘09.
iPhoto addition of Faces and Places gives you a new avenue to sort and categorise your photos.
And creating slideshows has never been this easy or fun. We only wish there were more variety to the themes or there was a way to download more.
iMovie image stabilisation feature is great for saving shaky clips and precision editing gives more control over your videos.
However, while iMovie is an improvement over its predecessor, it’s still a consumer grade video editor that provides the basic tools
All in all, if you own a Mac and work with digital media often, iLife ‘09 should serve as an easily accessible software suite for your photo management and video editing needs.
Pros: Faces and Places helpful for managing photos; easy to create slideshows; iMovie’s intuitive drag-and-drop interface.
Cons: Face recognition can be improved; Places interface a little clunky; audio editing in iMovie hasn’t improved.
Multimedia creation suite
System requirements: Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard)