Microsoft’s Windows Vista; How Does It Affect Digital Photographers? Should You Upgrade?

Since it was first begun as project "Longhorn" in 2005, a lot of experts, gurus, and techno-pundits, as well as Microsoft official representatives, have written reams about Vista. But until its release in mid-February, no one in digital photography or color management has had a word to say publicly about how Windows Vista will impact digital photography with a PC computer. Yet, 90 percent of computers run on Windows. My report is based on running Vista for almost a month, as well as a few private conversations with photographic industry sources, in addition to one public commentary I'll reference later. My immediate goal has been to identify the fundamental differences a digital photographer now using Windows XP might encounter, and what might be of concern.

The Microsoft Vista default support for photo files is Windows Photo Gallery, which is a database-enabled, thumbnail-generating browser with support for user sorting, rating, and editing of digital photo image files uploaded to Vista.
All Photos © 2007, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

After getting Vista running, the first thing I did was install Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4.0, which I assume is the most typical image-editing application somewhat serious photographers are likely to use. Then I uploaded images both as DC raw files, TIFFs, and Photoshop format files from a flash card, CD, and from my hard drive. Windows Vista recognizes a new "drive" immediately, as well as photo files, and just like XP pops up a dialog with options and asks what you want to do with the files--view them with Windows Photo Gallery or upload them to Elements.

Of course I wanted to see what Microsoft offers for photographers without any additional photo-editing software installed, so some of the images were uploaded to Windows Photo Gallery. The rest were transferred to Adobe's Photoshop Elements.

The Windows Photo Gallery display of thumbnail-representing photo files allows you to click on a thumbnail and open a pop-up full-screen "Fix" dialog that allows editing the file to either Auto Adjust or manually correcting exposure, color, cropping, and fixing redeye. Command buttons at the top of the dialog support editing information (EFIX-metadata), printing, sending an image as e-mail, burning a CD/DVD disc, and making a movie.

Windows Photo Gallery
As part of the upload process Windows Photo Gallery creates thumbnails and displays the thumbnails in chronological order. A column on the left of the screen allows you to tag and rate each file. And then, if you want to use your own storage and filing system, there is the option of creating linked folders into which you can drag and drop image thumbnails. If you import a larger library of images filling more than the area of a single screen, VCR-like back and forward tabs at the center of the bottom of the window frame allow moving from one highlighted image to the next. There is also a pop-up enlargement, activated by passing the cursor over a thumbnail. This also includes the file name, date, size, and rating, if any, in the enlarged image frame.

Also included in Windows Photo Gallery is a pop-up, full-screen editing dialog to adjust exposure, color, cropping as well as fix redeye tools. Of course, there is the ubiquitous Microsoft "make it easy" Auto Adjust, which I find, as usual with any automated adjustment, seldom yields an ideal image and sometimes does more harm than good. But the simple manual sliders have good algorithms and can be used to effectively adjust an image; however, this occurs with no feedback histogram to tell you if the image is critically optimized. This would be all well and good, but then if a user clicks the back button to return to the Gallery, the changes made are automatically saved. Of course, if the file is a JPEG it will then have compression reapplied. Photographers unaware of the hazards of this could seriously diminish the quality of their original photo files.

Legacy digital photography editing applications like Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4.0 can be installed in Vista and all functions used to edit and output photographic image files are supported pretty much as they are by Windows XP.

Using Photo Applications And Hardware With Vista
As I mentioned, I installed Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4.0 to run in Vista. And after opening a number of images, including some raw files with Camera Raw, and then editing and adjusting images, and applying filters, as well as using different brushes, I have come to the conclusion that if your application is now running on a recent version of Windows XP it will likely install and run similarly on Vista. This also includes photo devices like scanners and printers, assuming the drivers are the latest current versions. Take note, however, that the hardware I used with Vista was limited to an Epson Stylus Photo R800 printer and a Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II 35mm scanner. My experience does not guarantee that other printers, scanners, or other photo devices that require the installation of drivers will be compatible, at least until the manufacturer has a new Vista compatible driver or you happen to have a printer that is already supported by Vista. With printer driver support established in Vista, the Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 Print dialog window functions the same as in XP, including using Photoshop to control color using a specified printer profile and rendering intent selection.

Setting up and configuring a printing function from Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4.0, including the use of Photoshop to control color with a specific printer profile, is fully functional with Vista.