Photo editors storm the Web

At $199, PhotoImpact 5 costs around $100 more than the other two but has features otherwise available only in the pro packages. With these features comes complexity, so keep PhotoImpact's manual handy. I looked at a late beta version of the software.

PhotoImpact can control brightness, saturation, and colour for each colour channel, allowing you to fine-tune each characteristic. That's Photoshop stuff. Another pro-style Photo-Impact feature lets you hide objects in your design so you can work on one part of a complex image without affecting the rest. Conveniently, the undo feature lists all recent actions and lets you back up to any previous unsaved version in one step. With PhotoImpact's 3D features and new vector drawing capabilities, I created frighteningly complex text blocks using tricks of a midrange 3D surface modeller.

Ulead GIF Animator 3, a separate application included with PhotoImpact, lets you create Web animations and includes pixel-level layer control and special lenses to gladden a video hound's heart.

As with the whole PhotoImpact package, however, you need some prior knowledge of video and animation to get the most out of this application.

For home shutterbugs

MGI's new $99.95 PhotoSuite comes with lots of templates and other design elements, an array as good as Picture It's impressive collection. You can also grab photos right off the Web and drag them into the image database - a unique capability among the three packages here. The newest PhotoSuite also remembers the elements of a collage or composite photo, so after moving to another task you can return to edit them. The new Photo Stitching tool, on the other hand, though exceptionally easy to use, produced erratic results, often mangling photos instead of seamlessly combining them.

Microsoft's $89.95 Picture It 2000 is the least changed upgrade of the three. Still, the preproduction copy I examined showed several enhancements, notably new layout aids (including rulers and a command for aligning multiple elements) and the ability to batch-correct photos. The new Photo Stroke tool proved charming. It offers various brush strokes shaped to make lines of paper clips or chillies, for example, and lets you pick any photo to use as the brush colour. You can't create new brush stroke types, but Microsoft's assortment is good. Picture It now supports multiple undos, too, though you have to step back one change at a time. Unfortunately, the new 3D text and special effects just don't cut it; my laboriously created textures were lost when I extruded the text into 3D.

Like most photo-editing packages in their class, Picture It 2000 and Photo Suite III are rigid and contain many special effects of dubious aesthetic value. Ulead's software will support your creativity long beyond the others, but I didn't find getting started with PhotoImpact easy, and you probably won't either.

PhotoImpact 5

Price: $199

Distributor: Lako Vision

Phone: (03) 9852 7444

URL: www.lakovision.com.au; www.ulead.comPhotoSuite III - Platinum EditionPrice: $99.95Distributor: GT InteractivePhone: (02) 9902 3000URL: www.mgisoft.comPicture It 2000Price: $89.95Distributor: MicrosoftPhone: 13 2058 URL: www.microsoft.com.au

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