Quick Look: Picasa 3

Photo of a Conway Scenic Railway locomotive

Having come back from my vacation with a bunch of pictures I decided to give Picasa another look. My camera is a Canon Rebel T2ialt and I kept it set for RAW+JPG when taking pictures. Picasa has the ability to read RAW files and with the latest update it properly reads the files from my T2i. The online web albums also provide the potential to be a nice offline backup solution. Another bonus is the software is cross-platform, with Windows & Mac versions.

By way of background the RAW+JPG setting on the Canon Rebel T2i creates files with the same name, just different extensions. I copy the SD cards, both file types, to a directory on my Windows Home Server so they’re accessible from all my computers.

Picasa met some of it’s promise but is still an incomplete solution for me.

RAW File Handling

I decided not to use Picasa for my RAW files and went into the settings to exclude the RAW files from being imported into Picasa. Like any photo management software the RAW files have some processing applied so they can be displayed. I wasn’t happy with the default processing Picasa applied. The RAW files were all too dark and I liked the looks of the JPG’s better even without additional processing.

In addition, if the RAW files were sent to Picasa Web Albums they were sent as JPG files. While this is fine if the purpose is simply to display them. I wanted to use Web Albums as a way to back them up and backing up a JPG translation of a RAW file isn’t what I was looking for, I already had a JPG file.

As for RAW file editing, Picasa just didn’t feel as “RAW friendly” as the software bundled with the Rebel T2i or Aperture.

So I decided pretty early on the exclude RAW’s from Picasa 3.

Multiple PCs

This is pretty simple, Picasa 3 isn’t aware of multiple PCs. Since I have the files on a Windows Home Server share I can set up the multiple copies of Picasa to read that share. My initial testing showed that Picasa was smart enough to sync changes between PCs if the web album was already set up, but it clearing wouldn’t sync newly created web albums.

To avoid confusion I only mad my Windows desktop PC the one to sync web albums. Since everything was on the WHS share the other PCs would learn of changes from there.

Each Picasa install is a database (so to speak) of its own. While they each load photos from a shared location, file edits are not synced. It looks like Picasa creates an INI file in the same directory as the photo that contains edit information. I thought that might help each Picasa install see the edits, but it doesn’t.  Because of this INI file I thought edits from multiple Picasa installs would cause a problem since they all appear to write to the same file. But my testing didn’t uncover any problems, each PC remembered its own edits and each PC could remove all edits when I told it to.

Photo Editing

Picasa isn’t lacking in photo editing tools. The photo editing is non-destructive to the original file although there is an option to save the changes to the file. If the changes are saved a backup of the original file is made.

The screenshots below show the editing controls:

picasa01 picasa02 picasa03

I just haven’t found myself drawn to Picasa (or Windows Live Photo Gallery as an editor). Because Picasa links to web albums I may begin using it to do quick edits on pictures I want to publish in the web albums. But I still find myself using an external editor for quick edits on pictures and then I usually save them as a second copy.

For the larger photo projects like my vacation photos I find myself preferring Aperture where I can maintain multiple versions based on the same master. In general I don’t do a lot of photo editing and prefer stuff that’s ready to use so I’m not in a good position to evaluate Picasa’s editing abilities.


Picasa displays plenty of EXIF data for the photos. The screenshots below show the info pane for the photo at the top of this article.

picasa4 picasa5 picasa6

Duplicate Photos

Another nice feature is the ability to find duplicate photos. Since I’d been moving files around over their lifetime, and creating backups (and backups of backups) I had a lot of duplicates. But I was afraid to just delete entire directories without checking each photo. Picasa did a find job of finding the duplicate photos which I could then safely delete.

The Role of Picasa for Me

Because of the RAW file and multiple PC limitations I’ve been using Picasa to fill two roles:

  1. It provides an offsite backup, via web albums, for my pictures. This is limited to the JPG’s, but it can upload the full size JPG. This is more than sufficient as a way to provide an offsite backup of the memories.
  2. It provides a nice photo organization tool. I’m still comparing it against Window Live Photo Gallery but Picasa has the benefit of being cross platform. Tags added to a photo in Picasa appear in Windows Live Photo Gallery (I’m using the latest beta) and visa-versa. Tags also get added to iPhoto if the photo is imported after being tagged. Likewise tags also sync between multiple Picasa installs. Well, not really sync since the tag is added to the file so each install simple re-reads the file. Since the tag is added to the file it does change the file, so any backup or sync will happen again as tags change.
    I’ve had both Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery on my Windows PCs for the last week or so and they’re set to manage the same photos in my Windows Home Server share. While I like WLPG I’m finding myself using Picasa more. I find managing the photos a bit more natural using it.
    I like managing my photos in a directory structure rather than within a program. Even with Aperture or iPhoto I use the setting to manage the photos externally. Picasa handles this easily as it can be set to watch an entire directory tree for changes. I have it watch the entire share on my WHS although I need to map a drive to do this. I get a warning that watching an entire driver may affect performance but it’s been fine for me. It’s not really an entire drive since every file in the share is a photo.
    Unfortunately each of these folders must be set individually to synch to a web album, since that’s what I want. It’s tedious to set 800+ folders to sync but at least all it requires is some mouse scrolling and clicking. Plus when new folders are created I have to remember and set them to sync to the web. Every once in awhile I’ll probably have to scroll down the folder list to make sure they all set to sync. There’s an icon to indicate syncing so this is fairly quick.

Google Wants Our Photos In The Cloud

image of a compact=Google currently has a deal going that offers a free Eye-Fi card when you lease 200GB of storage for them for a year. When I first saw it it seemed like a pretty good deal, and I hate to pass up a good deal. But it’s less of a deal if I don’t really need the space and won’t use the card. So that got me thinking about my options.

The space is split between Gmail and Picasa. I’m not even close to my Gmail limit and I’m not currently a Picasa user. In theory there’s also some unofficial hacks that allow the space to be used for file storage, like gDisk for the Mac. But I’m not willing to trust something Google may break at anytime so it’s not a consideration. What I’d be looking to use the disk for is to back up my photos. Right now I have just under 20GB of photos and it costs me less than $3/mth to keep them backed up offsite. So that’s $36/year, still shy of the $50.

But that assumes I could easily save everything up to Picasa and I found that wouldn’t be possible. The Picasa 3 desktop allows automatic syncing of it’s albums to albums on Picasa web albums. But this proved to be problematic and not a better solution than plain old backup via Jungle Disk. The deal-breakers were:

  • Picasa is limited to 1,000 albums with up to 1,000 photos in each album. This sounds like a lot but the 1,000 album limit is a deal breaker for me. I keep my files in a directory structure and the number of directories already exceed 1,000. I don’t want to do any drag or dropping to create new albums just for syncing since that’s prone to error. Sure, I have plenty of directories with one or two photos, but I don’t want to re-organize everything , I’m set in my ways.
  • Deleting entire albums from Picasa desktop did not delete the album from the web. Photos within albums deleted just fine. Deleting all pictures in a folder automatically deleted the folder so it’s not like I could keep the folder behind until it synced the deletions.
  • RAW image files were synced to the web as jpg’s so it wouldn’t be a true backup.

While a lot of people like Picasa, there was nothing that caught my attention and would compel me to use it. I’ll keep looking at it and may yet find some compelling feature, but for now I’d have a hard time justifying 200GB for Picasa. Realistically I’d be better off with a lower priced plan.

Then there’s the Eye-Fi card. If it was worth the cost then I could consider $50 for the card and the Google storage as the free product. The version offered is the Eye-Fi Home Video which has a list price of $69. I don’t find it online anywhere for a street price. The closest card is the Eye-Fi Share Video which sells for $73 at Amazon. If I had to guess I’d say the “catch” is that that since the Home Video card doesn’t typically include any online component the only online options are Picasa and YouTube. These are the only online services specifically mentioned in the offer. The Share Video allows sharing with more services. Other, more expensive, cards include geo tagging photos which would add a potentially useful feature.

I like the idea of being able to automatically load pictures from my camera to my PC automatically, but the Wi-Fi card doesn’t offer anything else that’s compelling to me.

So while the Google/Wi_fi offer does seem like a good deal I’m not yet convinced it’s worth $50 to me. I’m still intrigued by Picasa and the web album component so I’ll keep considering it.

I also decided to looks at some alternatives:

  • SmugMug offers online albums along with a “SmugVault” that can be used to store any type of file (such as RAW files) but it’s a subscription service and would cost more than what I have now.
  • The old standby Flickr is $25/yr for unlimited storage. Still, it’s not a good solution for backup. There are plenty off Flickr add-ins and plug-ins so I could probably find one to do syncing, but it still wouldn’t be a true backup.
  • I already use Windows Live Photo Gallery to organize my photos and like it. Plus there’s a free 25GB for online photo albums. But like the others, it’s lacking as a backup solution.

So, the bottom line is Jungle Disk remains the way I backup my photos. I’m really not surprised since it’s cheap and easy. Picasa still has my attention if I want to do some online albums and the Eye-Fi card would offer some convenience. But I’d probably want the version that does geo tagging (although I haven’t done any research to see how well it does that). I may spend the $50 bucks in a moment of weakness since it is a good deal, but for now I won’t be clicking the button to upgrade storage and order the card.