Adobe Photoshop Express vs. Picnik

After months of waiting, Adobe has finally entered into the online photo editing arena with Adobe Photoshop Express. I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for this one, since I Adobe has always been the image editing king. I obviously had rather high hopes for it. That being said, I’ve been pretty darn impressed with Picnik.com, and it has been a mainstay in my Top Ten Web 2.0 presentations. So, instead of simply reviewing the new kid on the block, I figure we ought to see how it stands up to the current king of the hill.

Categories for the throwdown are going to be: Image In, Basic Editing, Filters/Fun Stuff, Image Out, Bonus Features, and User Experience.

Image In
Photoshop: In order to begin using Photoshop, you need to create an Adobe account. Plug in the information, and then wait for the confirmation email. Unfortunately, you can’t start using Express until you get your account confirmed and for some reason, my confirmation email took over 2 hours to arrive. To be fair, this is opening day, so they may be a bit overloaded, but that was definitely an irritating way to start the demo. Once you’re in, you can bring in photos in one of 4 ways: By uploading them from your computer, by importing them in from y our photo albums (assuming you’ve already uploaded them), by choosing photos from the general community, or by importing them from other sites. The other sites options are pretty limited right now, just Facebook, Photobucket and Picasa. I would seriously hope that those options increase in the future. No Flickr? That’s just crazy. When you upload a new photo, you can choose to keep things organized by putting it into an album, which is a nice idea if you’re going to be using this often. Then you just double click to begin editing.

Picnik: Right from the splash page, you can upload a photo. No need to register at all, tho you are certainly welcome to. Bonus points for that, particularly in a school environment. Besides uploading, you can also grab a photo by providing a URL to it, doing a Yahoo search for one, using your Webcam to snap a picture, or by importing one from MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket or Webshots.

Winner – Picnik due to the ease of getting started and variety of ways to bring in pics.

Basic Editing
Photoshop: You have the usual suite of tools, red eye correction, crop and resize, , white balance, and saturation. But then you also have a few more unusual ones like Touchup, Fill Light and Highlight. When you select a tool, Tools are very easy to use, most providing you with a series of preview thumbnails that you just mouseover. When you do, the actual image you’re working on changes to reflect what it would look like if you applied it. Just click the checkmark if you like it and want to keep it. Photoshop zooms your photo in and out dynamically based on the tool you’re using, so you always have the maximum possible screen space. Also, it gives you a navigation window to move around in. There are multiple levels of undo, and you get a nice visual timeline to go back multiple levels. Most of the tools are pretty self-explanatory, but that retouch tool still has me stumped. Sort of like a poor mans clone stamp, that I can’t get to do anything productive.

Picnik: Once again, all the basics are there. Autofix, rotate, crop, resize, exposure, color, sharpen and red eye correction. With most of the tools, you can either use sliders or specify your changes numerically. Every tool has onscreen tips to go along with it, and is pretty darn self-explanatory. A zoom slider is always in the lower right, and then you just click and drag to navigate around the image. However, if you’re using a tool that uses click and drag (like crop or rotate), there doesn’t seem to be any way to navigate around the image. Just gotta zoom out all the way. Bonus points under red eye for having two settings to choose from, Human and Furball :)

Winner – Photoshop, for having more options to choose from and a really slick live preview interface. Close call tho.

Filters/Fun Stuff
Photoshop: Considering that Photoshop is the king of filters, I’m a little disappointed in the choices here. You have Pop Color, Hue, Black and White, Tint, Sketch and Distort. Black and white does exactly what you’d think, sketch turns your photo into a drawing of sorts. Hue and tint just mess with the colors in a pretty basic way. Pop color also messes with your colors, but in a very targeted way. In my image of the Sphinx beneath a blue sky, I could easily recolor just the sphinx or just the sky. Very Warhol-like. I’m surprised at how accurate it was in its changes. The last filter is Distort, which allows you to pinch,s stretch, and twirl the image, distorting it to your heart’s content.

Picnik: Many of Picnik’s filters and fun features used to be available only to premium subscribers. They’ve changed their revenue model to be ad supported for the free version, and put all of the fun stuff back in! Consequently, you have a TON of filters to choose from, including sketches, neon outlines, blurs, mattes, frames, color changes and so on. I’m not kidding, there are a slew of them in there. And you have full control over each of them, to make them mild or max them out. In addition to that, you can add text to images, stamp on shapes or clip art, whiten teeth, blur out ‘blemishes’, or add frames to your photo. At the premium level, they’ve recently added the ability to adjust the levels and curves of your image, exactly the same way you could in Photoshop (the offline version). Once your students discover this section of Picnik, the rest of the period is going to be wasted as you won’t be able to pull them away!

Winner – Picnik, in a landslide.

Image Out
Photoshop: When you’re all done and you click Save, it saves it back to your library. From there, if you click on the image, you can choose to download it, embed it, get the URL, or email it. For both the embed and copy url commands, it just copies them straight to the clip board. You don’t see the code until you paste it. While that’s fine for advanced users, I think so basic users who have a peripheral understanding of how the clipboard, copy and paste works, may have difficulty with that. Email allows you to email the image once you provide a message and address (or you can use one from an addressbook you can populate). Download gave me the option of choosing one of two sizes for my image before I actually saved it to my computer.

Picnik: When you click the Save & Share tab, you get a series of options that includes save to computer, email photo, Flickr slideshow, email to website, print photo, and then the option to export it directly to MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Photobucket and Webshots. The options under each of them are what really set Picnik apart tho. Under Save to Computer, you can choose the dimensions for the image (just type in the numbers), what format you want (TIFF, JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP or PDF) and what quality you want the compression to be if you chose JPG. Under email photo, you can pick from several different image sizes as well, and choose what email address you want the photo to be coming from. Email to website allows you to send the photo to Typepad, Costco, Walmart, Kodak, AOL, or any other site that allows you to import photos via email. And then of course, you could always just print it out :)

Winner – Picnik, in another landslide.

User Experience
Photoshop: One the whole, it’s fairly easy to use, altho I’ve noticed that it seems to be a bit pokey. It takes a really long time to upload, save, or bounce between sections of the site. The ability to store photos in albums is really nice, as is the dedicated space, but when you just want to get in, edit a photo and get out, it really gets in the way. There is one feature in particular that’s absolutely incredible though. As you apply changes to the image you’re editing, a check box appears next to each feature you’ve used. At any time, you can uncheck that box to turn off that effect. Essentially that allows you to undo anything you’ve done, in any order. That’s incredibly slick. Major points for including that. However, some of the features are a little obscure. I had to play a little while before I figured out what they did. Not only that, after about 20 minutes I noticed that some tools had a little wrench in the lower right of the tool bar. Clicking that opened up advanced options I hadn’t seen before. Doesn’t do you much good if you don’t know they’re there! The interface itself has a black background, and to be honest, is pretty dreary. For lack of a better way of describing it, using Photoshop Express feels like work.

Picnik: Picnik has been through several changes, almost all of them improvements. This version has a huge banner ad at the bottom of the page though, which I’m really not thrilled with. Admittedly, they need to figure out a way to make a buck off of this, so I can’t really complain too strongly, the site is still largely free. Picnik loads up quickly, and is very self explanatory. I think teachers of almost any level could just jump right into it and get started. That being said, there are also some pretty powerful features. While curves and levels are at the premium level right now, those are impressive new additions to an already powerful editor. The interface itself really feels like you’re on a picnik. flowers everywhere, bright colors, and in general it just feels friendly and cute. Where Photoshop feels like work, Picnik feels like fun.

Winner: Picnik. It just feels comfortable to use without any real learning curve.

Conclusion
Well, there you have it. While Photoshop may do the dirty work just a little bit better th, there’s no question that if I have a quick edit to do, I’ll be heading over to Picnik. It has more features, a friendlier interface, feels snappier, and gives me way more options for getting my images in or out of their site. Admittedly, this is Photoshop Express‘s first day on the job, whereas Picnik has been around the block a few times. That being said, Adobe is the big gorilla, and Picnik would have be considered an underdog by comparison. After putting them both through their paces though, this underdog just happens to also be the reigning champion.

Comments

  1. MaryAnn Sansonetti

    Interesting… my adobe express verification email showed up within seconds after hitting enter! I am still playing but will get back to you!

  2. Fred Delventhal

    Photoshop Express has that nice professional look of the black background. All of the actions as you edit were…well there’s not another word but cool.

    But that said I am HUGE fan of Flickr and just having that easy integration with Picnik, I don’t see me changing camps soon. Picnik you seem to have pointed out still does pretty much the same things that Photoshop Express. Yet I didn’t see a way to save the photo to Flickr yet they PE had other services available.
    I’m going with Picnik as the winner for me.

  3. Pam

    With all of the twitter about Photoshop Express this week, I thought I was missing something. I kept finding myself comparing it to Picnik or to Flauntr and PS Express was coming up short. Picnik remains my favorite, but hopefully Adobe will make some more user friendly improvements to PS Express in the future. Thanks for a great comparison!

  4. nola

    I compared the two and have to disagree with you on one point. Photoshop Express is better than Picnik at uploading files for this reason alone: you can upload more than one file at a time. That plus the two gigs of space from a trusted corporate provider gives Adobe the edge in that regard.

  5. mks6804

    Wow – you beat me to the punch. I just started a post regarding the two websites but haven’t published. Very good job on your observations

  6. Lori Marsh

    I love how you compared the two. I have always been a fan of Photoshop. I even use it at home. I will have to check out Picnik now because you have been so convincing. The above comments have been back and forth, so I can’t wait to try it again. Thanks.

  7. Beth Ravier

    Very informative comparison. I need to go back and investigate and play more at each site. My first choice if I did have to choose right now would be Picnik. I tried the test drive on PhotoShop Express but I found Picnik easier to use, had more features and over all more user friendly! Thank you for the great post!

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