Ashampoo Photo Commander 9: Decent Features Awkwardly Implemented

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In the seven months since I last reviewed Ashampoo Photo Commander, the product has gone through a major revision, adding a boatload of new features as well as some user interface changes and less prominent tweaks to the way the program used to work. Although the new Ashampoo Photo Commander 9 is a capable tool for quickly doing the kinds of minor adjustments most people will need--for example, automatic red-eye reduction and image rotation--I found a number of flaws that individually don't cause a great deal of trouble, but collectively could create a lot of frustration.

Batch resizing is easy to do with Ashampoo Photo Commander 9's wizard, but other wizard-driven options aren’t as smart.
Ashampoo Photo Commander 9 aims to be a soup-to-nuts photo adjustment, creativity, and management tool. It's capable of organizing large collections; generating projects like calendars and panoramic composite shots; or editing, cropping, and adjusting the color and contrast of individual photos or entire directories full of images. Ashampoo supports virtually every common image and video file format, and also can organize MP3 audio files (though I'm not sure why you'd use a photo manager for that). All of the tool's features are organized under tabs labeled Common, Quick Fix, Edit, Create, and Organize.

The "Organize" menu gives you the options to search for images based on EXIF data; find and remove duplicate images; archive files to an external drive, CD, or DVD; and rename, optimize, or manipulate large groups of files as a batch. But Ashampoo Photo Commander 9's features always seem to fall a little short of what I'd expect.

For example, you can rotate a batch of imagesbut even if your camera records its orientation when the picture was taken and puts that into the photo's EXIF metadata, the program doesn't automatically choose the orientation. Instead, you have to manually choose which way to rotate the images. It's a minor annoyance, unless you have a huge directory of photos that need rotation in different directions. Then it's a big nuisance.

Ashampoo Photo Commander 9's "Create" menu lets you generate projects like photo wall calendars, collages, panoramas, an automatically-playing slideshow, Web site photo galleries, and greeting cards. And although it's cool that you can turn your photos into a calendar and add custom dates for holidays or family events, the program doesn't, for example, let you choose which month you want the calendar to start with. If you want to make a calendar to span from birthday to birthday or track a school year, you're out of luck.

The PhotoWizard feature, which gets called whenever Ashampoo Photo Commander needs you to select more than one image on which to perform an action, also has odd quirks. By default, the wizard is supposed to sort files alphabetically by name, but even though the Sort By dropdown menu has "Name (Ascending)" selected every time you open the wizard, the program doesn't actually perform the sort until you go into that dropdown menu and choose a sort option. If you don't notice this, you might have to repeat your work when your batch creations are generated with the images in the wrong order.

It's also not clear how Ashampoo Photo Commander will attempt to stitch together a panoramic shot from two or more photos; the "panorama" turned out to be just one photo connected along one edge to the next photo in the sequence, with no ability to manually match up details or otherwise smooth out stitching together of the images. By contrast, programs like Stoik PanoramaMaker do a much better job of "finding" landmarks in photos that help stitch them together into a true panorama. I also ran into a problem while cancelling a calendar creation in-progress that caused the program to display an error message in Korean.

I had issues with the red-eye removal feature. To use the feature, you select it underneath the Quick Fix category, then you can use either an ‘automatic' mode or a ‘manual' mode. No matter which you choose, you use a tool that looks like a crop tool to select the eye which needs tweaking. Using the Automatic mode, the program was always able to fix one of the two red eyes in a sample photo perfectly, but it just couldn't detect the red in the other eye, which was slightly darker than the first. The manual mode was able to correct the color of the more troublesome eye. Of course, this is very photo-dependent; I found it amusing to tweak pictures of a five year old so he had different-colored, David Bowie eyes, but you might not.

One final note: During the course of installing the product, the wizard will prompt you to choose between the Express Installation and Custom Installation. I don't normally recommend that people choose the custom options unless they have specific needs, but in this case, the custom installation permits you to deselect the installation of something called the MyAshampoo toolbar, a Web browser plug-in that, in my opinion, didn't add a lot of value to the package. Antivirus vendors don't consider the toolbar adware or spyware, but a few consider it a "potentially unwanted app." I didn't find the browser toolbar a welcome addition at all, and the custom MyAshampoo Search that replaced my browser's home page was just not as useful as Google.

If you're willing to provide Ashampoo with your e-mail address, the company extends the trial period for an additional 30 days, so you can stave off the coach turning back into a pumpkin for an extra month. If you still like Ashampoo Photo Commander 9 enough to pay for it, $50 (or $30 for an upgrade from a previous version) isn't a bad price, but the program needs some significant updates before I feel comfortable recommending it.

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