Picasa 2013 Review (v3.9)

I've been using Picasa for a while as my primary long-term solution to photo cloud-backup and sharing. That is, I use the desktop application to import all my photos and organize them into folders. I then upload these folders to Picasa Web Albums (Google+). I also sometimes create Albums (which are a filtered set of photos, basically virtual folders), which I can share on Google+ to individuals or circles. This is a quick review of the features I find useful, and those that I wish would be improved or implemented.

First, the good:
  • Photo import and management is easy and intuitive. I like the folder-based workflow which mirrors the physical file-system. When I have photos to import, I can create a new folder in my top-level Picasa storage location directly in Windows Explorer or Finder, and simply copy the new files across. I can then switch back to Picasa and they're instantly there. So I don't need to mess around with the Import Wizard or other interfaces. 
  • I like destructive editing. That is, if I make any changes to a file in Picasa (lighting, tones, cropping, etc.), once I save that file, it gets reflected in the physical file-system. I like this because it means I can view the updated images outside of Picasa using any image software. This is useful to me as my master database in on a USB external HDD, which I often move around to different computers. I know many will say this destructive editing is a BAD thing, and will vouch for the Lightroom catalog approach, where all edits are stored in meta-files that Lightroom stores separately... This is good in that you can always go back to the original and re-edit it differently... but frankly, the added complexity is not worth it in my opinion. That is, you can only view your edited files in Lightroom. So you need to make sure your catalog is regularly backed up. And you can only view edited files on computers which have Lightroom installed. Unless you export the edited files as separate jpegs and store them separately. I see the advantages in that approach, but I think it's overkill for personal photo management. I take around 100 to 150 photos on a typical day out, and usually end up keeping around 30 to 40, some of which I slightly edit and crop as needed. I don't have time to go back to these 3 years later and edit them differently. Basically, try to get it right in the camera, try to fix it a bit afterwards, then archive and forget. Life's too short for anything more. 
    • Picasa does keep backups of the originals somewhere, though so it IS possible to go back. I believe it stores the originals in a hidden folder, along with a meta-data file describing the edit operations. I've never had the need to roll-back thus far though.
  • Face-detection is top-notch. Recently I've found it to be very accurate. And it integrates especially well with all my Google contacts and Google+ circles. Which means when I upload a new Album or Folder, if I choose to share it, it will automatically suggest my contacts that it recognised in the photos. 
  • The editing controls are simple enough to use for quick tweaks. They are far more limited and less useful than Lightroom, but I can put up with that. The most notable omission is spot-editing tools such as a clone or heal brush... So sometimes I need to use an external program, if I can be bothered.
  • The tight integration with Google+ is very handy and time-saving. I generally upload all my photos to private albums, as a long-term cloud storage backup option. But I also share many of these with family, who all have Google+ accounts. This is done directly from the Picasa desktop app, as part of the initial upload/sync process. It also means I can browse all my photos online from any device, phone, tablet etc. 
  • Tagging and staring is easy and powerful. You can add tags to multiple photos at once, search for particular tags across multiple albums and folders, and create smart Albums that update to always show all photos with a particular tag. This makes it easy to organize and sort your photos in multiple ways, using folders, user-defined albums, smart albums, etc.
Now, some things that I think should or could be improved:
  • Uploading vs. synching. It's a little bit confusing at times. You can choose to upload your photos to a Picasa Web Album, or you can choose to Sync them, or both. I know that with Sync, if you edit a photo in the desktop app, it will then be re-uploaded to web albums. With Upload, that's more of a once-off thing. Although, if an Album of Folder is Uploaded, if you delete a photo in the desktop app, it also delete's it from the web album... so it's a partial sync anyway. 
  • Uploading and synching often re-uploads the same photos. So, for example, I can have 100 original photos in a Folder, which I upload online. I then create an Album with 50 of those 100 photos, and upload that online as well. Locally, those 50 photos in the Album are virtual pointers to the original photos in the Folder. That is, they're only stored once on the file-system, and if I make a change to a photo in the Folder, it will reflect in the Album. So then, why is it that when I upload the Album, Picasa needs to re-upload every single photo... which already exists online in the Folder? This is my biggest gripe with it. It should be smart enough to realise it's the same damn photo, and simply create a pointer/reference on the online backend. It already stores hashes in the local database to identify duplicates and so on... why not reuse these hashes when uploading? To me this seems like a simple and straightforward enhancement, which would save me a HEAP of time (50x6MB photos take a good part of the day to upload, during which time my internet connection is suboptimal for other things). Please fix this!
  • Uploading/synching sometimes causes duplicates online. Like now for example, I have a Folder with 41 images locally, which is synched online. For some reason, the online version has 76 images, some of which are older ones that I have deleted locally, and some which are just plain duplicates... It's annoying, and I can't figure out a good way to fix it except for deleting the online version, and re-uploading everything again... 
  • The desktop app now has a feature to move the Picasa database to whatever location you want. This is good, as I can move it to say my Dropbox folder and have a real-time backup of the whole database. It is a little large however, since it keeps image caching files in the same directory structure as the important database files, so I need to mess around with selective-sync to make sure that I don't constantly upload over 1GB of stuff to my Dropbox that I don't really need. If I need to revert back, I don't mind waiting a few minutes for the thumbnail caches to be rebuilt. So please move these out to separate top-level folders...
  • Since Picasa is so tightly integrated with Google stuff, why not go one step further and allow us to backup our Picasa database in real-time on the cloud as part of Drive storage, or Web Albums storage? It seems like the logical next step, and it would mean I wouldn't need to worry about Dropbox or other methods.
  • A noise-reduction slider would be nice to have.
  • Spot-editing brushes would be very nice as well, but I guess this may be a bit much to ask for...
Overall I'm fairly happy with the workflow and features of Picasa, mostly because of the very tight integration with Google+. I really wish the upload/sync features would be improved to be smart enough not to create duplicates, and not to needlessly upload the same file twice...


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