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If you need a down-and-dirty photo editor, Photoscape (free) is certainly priced right. But don't think you're going to get an equivalent of Adobe Photoshop ($200) or even a Serif PhotoPlus X5 or Xara Photo & Graphic Designer (both $90). Photoscape is basic, but interesting in its own right if you look beyond the editing tools and play with some of the hidden gems this free program offers.
Photoscape is a little confusing when you first run the program. There are essentially seven main features within Photoscape: Animated GIF; Batch Editor; Editor; Page, where you can assign a page size and multiple-image layout; Merge, which is similar to Page, but more of a photo-montage or poster tool; Print; and Viewer, in which you can see the images in your folder displayed as thumbnails.
The Merge, Page, and Print features work more or less the same, but have nuances that may make each more or less useful to your particular application. Photoscape's Print, for example, is great if you are printing hard copies of your images. You can set the space between photos and drag and drop the pictures. You can set the size of the prints and fit as many as you can to the page. Photoscape's Page feature works in a similar manner but uses pixels to create a montage of images for web or blog use. You can't overlap and create digital paper art, like with Serif CraftArtist Compact (free), for example, but you can use Photoscape to easily create montages.
Photoscape's photo editing tools are mostly basic and include adjustments for brightness, color, and contrast, plus levels, sharpen, and filter tools. Some of the filters in Photoscape are fabulously unusual: Region makes a selected spot your focal point; Fake Tilt Shift makes wide photos look like miniature models by faking the depth of field and adding blur; Graduated Tint darkens the sky or top of your image. Reflection creates a reflection of your image in whatever color you choose.
Photoscape also includes the filters you may expect, such as Antique Photo and Vignetting. Compared to CameraBag 2 ($29), a photo editing tool that specializes in creating vintage style from your images, Photoscape is a little lacking in this department and may leave you feeling like you're flying blind. The vignette styles, for example, are labeled #1 through #10. At least you can click through and preview them all.
The Film Effect filters also are a step behind CameraBag 2, and unless you've ever used Velvia or Provia films, you'll probably just be a little confused. If you don't know what 35mm transparency film is, skip Photoscape's Film Effects.
If you're looking for free software that has artistic or fine art filters, Photoscape probably isn't your thing. If you don't mind juggling your images between applications, try using Photoscape to crop your images: Photoscape's crop ratio is brilliant and allows you to set the final print ratio and crop your images to match. Ratios include the standards for 8x10 and 4x6 prints, as well as a whole slew of unusual ones. You can use FotoSketcher (free) to create fine art from your images, then take them back to Photoscape to print them.
There were a few areas I felt Photoscape fell really short. There are no layers or history, so if you decide you don't like a particular effect, you have to undo everything you've applied since that effect. Photoscape's tools to remove red-eye and blemishes did not work very well, unlike those in the more high-end PhotoPlus X5 or Xara Photo & Graphic Designer.
Photoscape has some features that far exceeded my expectations others that floundered. Photoscape is free, so it's easy to forgive its poorly designed or implemented aspects. However, with a little effort, some honest user feedback, and a ruthless developer willing to cut out the dead weight, Photoscape could become a fabulous niche program.