Xara is a photo editing and graphic design software in one.
I received a copy of version 7 of the Photo and Graphic Designer software to try out. As you know I take a lot of photos and I like to use Adobe PhotoShop to edit these where needed. But with a full version of CS5 costing £400 or there abouts it is always wise to look at cheaper options – Magix Photo and Graphic Designer currently costs £69.99 – so is it any good and can it compete?
What I want from photo editing software is the ability to easily crop and change levels on my images. And Xara was totally intuitive when it came to opening, cropping, resizing and changing the levels on my photos. Simple and very easy – the window is well designed with all the icons easy to find. Actually I should say I found the icons a little big, and couldn’t see an option to reduce them in size. On my wide screen it didn’t matter too much but anyone using a normal 4:3 monitor might find the size of the menus a bit intrusive.
Xara includes auto exposure, white balance and colour which worked well I thought on standard landscape shots I took on my DSLR but beware of splashes of colour you may have like a bright coloured top as it sometimes read those a bit out and changed the colour completely. You can do all three manually though, of course, so don’t feel you have to rely on the auto options, it’s just a useful time saving tool.
I gave the panorama a quick play. Panorama tools are fab… I have had to stitch photos by hand in PhotoShop in the past and it is very laborious. I found this fairly simple – the four sliders blend the images together. Maybe a tad fiddly to get it just right, but certainly not as complicated as doing it totally manually, these sliders give you a great deal of control.
Another useful and quick and easy tool is the red eye removal, which worked very well. Oh and the “level horizon” tool is something that is just totally useful, kind of an auto-crop tool that rotates the image within the frame to give you a perfectly horizontal photo – ideal if you didn’t quite have the camera level when you took your landscape…!
Batch processing is something I use a lot, mainly for resizing a whole load of images for use on my blog without having to do it per photo. Xara allows you to edit a group of photos at once, copying settings from one image to the rest. As with the other features I was impressed with how easy it was although I did have to look up how to do it in the first place.
And you’ll be pleased to know that there is built in support for RAW files for current camera models – including my D3100 (there is a full list of supported RAW formats on their website).
The other part of this software is the ability to design cards, icons, adverts, and other graphic elements. This part of the program looks pretty much the same as the photo editing part, but with slightly different tools, including things like shapes, text, fill etc.
There is a selection of templates to use that you load up by double clicking, after which you can edit them as much or as little as you like. Things like photo albums, certificates, business cards, cards, CD labels, letterheads and posters are included. Adding a photograph to your publication or changing the text is very simple – just select the correct tool and off you go.
You can also create vector graphics – logos for example – using freehand drawing and pre-set shapes. Apparently you can control this application using a tablet too.
Splodz Blogz Verdict
I really have only just touched on some of the main features of this program that I have used over the last 2/3 weeks, there is loads more going on here and I’m sure I will discover lots more useful elements as time goes on. But from what I have seen so far I’m happy to recommend this software for image manipulation and desktop publishing. At £70 it is vastly cheaper than the market leader, and seems to be worth that amount. It is very quick to get started with – finding your way around and using the featured tools is intuitive – and there are lots of online guides and help files to help you make the most of it.
I’d say this is ideal for beginners wanting a decent but cost effective editing package. The large icons and step-by-step instructions make this software accessible. Having said that, there is a lot going on so there plenty get to grips with for the more advanced user if you have time to play and learn the software properly.