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Great photos on the cheap

Jasc’s After Shot Premium Edition.

Not everybody needs Adobe Photoshop. Most new digicam owners just need a simple way to access the images in their cameras or memory cards, import them into their computers, fix a few simple defects, and either print or share them via the Internet. If this describes you, run out and get a copy of Jasc’s After Shot Premium Edition.

At first blush, the Windows-only After Shot 1.0 looks like one of the many image browser programs available, and there are some obvious similarities in the interface. In Browse mode–it’s one of the four tabs on the left-hand side of the screen–a list of folders and directories appears while thumbnails are laid out in “light box” fashion on the right. (The other tabs are Search, Keywords, and Info. An Album tab appears when you’re looking at specific images inside the program’s workspace.)

Like any good imagebase program, After Shot lets you organize all of the photographs on your hard drive, digicam, or memory cards into albums, and each image file can be assigned captions and keywords for search and retrieval later. A Print Layout function lets you make contact sheets or package-style prints in all kinds of interesting pre-formatted combinations of sizes or you can create your own. Want a wider view? Click the Stitch button to drag images into the waiting window and create seamless panoramas that are as good as any created by Adobe Photoshop Elements, the best stitching program available. Did I mention you can add audio to an image file?

While not an image-editing program, After Shot does a yeomanlike job solving the kind of ordinary problems facing new digital-camera users. Double-clicking an image shifts the interface to Edit mode and provides tools such as Crop, Rotate, and the ever-important red-eye removal tool, which offers six different methods along with a list of tips. One of the program’s most interesting features is Quick Fix. I opened a scan of a badly faded 30-year old slide and one click turned something seemingly beyond repair into a usable image.

One of the most pleasant surprises is Web Layout. Click on one of the many well-designed templates that are bundled with the program and you can add color, pizzazz, and even a bit of animation to your Web site by adding your own photographs and text. While it’s not a Web design program, anybody can use After Shot to create a professional-looking site by using its simple built-in tools. The program also lets you produce slide shows than can be transferred to CD-ROM or turned into QuickTime movies. You can use all of the images inside a folder to create screensavers or wallpaper. iMac owners would really enjoy this program much more than Apple’s iPhoto, but none of Jasc’s products are made for the Mac.

After Shot is an amazingly capable program that does everything a digital camera owner needs yet costs less than $50.

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