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Photos hands-on preview

Apple’s new image-editing app is finally in developer beta. We went hands-on with Photos to discover if it was worth the wait


Photos is finally here. Well, at least in developer land it is. There may be a public beta version soon, but in all probability, the average Mac user won’t be able to get their hands on Apple’s brand new image-editing app until June. Thankfully iCreate has got hands-on with Photos in the hope of answering some of your most burning questions. Updates to Apple’s iLife suite don’t come round very often; the holy trinity of iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand is being outgunned and that’s very big news for any Mac user. Photos is a vast improvement on iPhoto, Apple’s trusty but tired photo organising and editing software. It hasn’t had a major update since 2010, and we’ve been crying out for something new. Well, Photos is here. And it’s looking very good. Here’s what we found when we spent some quality time in its company.

The switch from iPhoto If you’ve spent years building your iPhoto library, you’d be forgiven for holding a few misgivings towards Photos. Wondering ‘will my library transfer across’ probably being the main one. It could be that Apple spent the time since it announced Photos (way back at WWDC in June 2014) with its ear firmly to the ground, listening to iPhoto users’ thoughts, because the switch is going to be seamless. When you first open Photos you’ll be presented with a welcome that tells you exactly how to import to Photos. While it doesn’t happen automatically, it’s only a simple case of dragging and dropping files into the Photos window. So to move your complete iPhoto library, head to your Mac’s Pictures folder, find your iPhoto Library file and then drag it to Photos. This is going to take some time, if like ours, your library extends over 10GB.

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You’ll see your photos appearing in the main viewer (there’s a loading circle at the top to give you an idea of time left, and a notification appears in the top-right corner when it’s complete) and you can still use Photos while the import materialises. iPhoto will remain on your Mac, but don’t expect any official updates to materialise. Any Keyword, Description and Faces metadata will transfer across, but iPhoto’s Rating system has been replaced by a Favorites option, symbolised by a heart. Edits you’ve made in iPhoto will remain and you can tweak them in Photos.

Interface and performance

Anyone who has used Photos on iOS since its introduction to iOS 8 has a huge head start when it comes to using Photos on Mac. All your pictures are organised into Moments, Collections and Years, just like the mobile version. We love how easy it is to quickly flick through thousands of thumbnails and instantly view larger previews if you want. Apple believes you’ll see more of your pictures in every view, by up to 67 per cent. And we’re not arguing with that statement.

Your photos take pride of place here – navigational tabs, buttons and the main toolbar have been significantly redesigned to make sure you’re seconds away from doing what you want. The Albums view in particular impressed us. Effectively replacing iPhoto’s torturous Events tab, Albums is the place to come for all your panoramas, time-lapse and burst photography, but also your normal and slo-mo videos (you can even do some basic video editing in Photos). Again, anyone with an iPhone or iPad will be more than familiar with this particular line-up.

Photos is refreshingly quick, too. iPhoto had become tied down by its library size, leaving the app slow and lethargic. Even in developer beta, Photos is lightning quick – a really modern-feeling piece of software in more ways than one.

Editing your images

Photos has a lot more to offer thanks to some seriously powerful editing tools. Double-click any photo to bring it full screen and hit Edit in the far-right of the main toolbar. This brings up a sidebar of six editing tools at your disposal. Enhance (a one-click fix for boosting colour and saturation), Rotate and Crop are all basic but essential tools. The Filters menu gives you eight types of filter to add to your images; all can be found in the mobile version of Photos, but don’t let that put you off, because there’s plenty of choice.

Photos comes into its own when you get to the Adjust option. Your default Adjustments panel is made up of Light, Color and Black & White, but this can be adjusted to personal use by hitting the blue Add button at the top. This opens up a treasure chest of additional options: Histogram from the Basic options, Sharpen, Definition, Noise Reduction and Vignette from the Details options and White Balance and Levels from the Advanced section. The Retouch brush showed itself to be a fantastic tool at removing blemishes.

Edits are easily performed, thanks to the implementation of smart sliders, which give you live previews of edits as you scrub up and down the timeline searching for the perfect balance. While these edits don’t reach the same levels of performance as Aperture, they are very powerful and not to be mocked. Photos is going satisfy the vast majority of mainstream photographers, and that’s no mean feat for a free app.

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iCloud Photo Library

Photos continues Apple’s drive to store everything in the cloud. iCloud Photo Library means every photo or video you take now lives in iCloud, enabling you to access your entire library from any device, at any time. Take a photo on your iPhone and it’ll be automatically pushed to your Mac and iPad. Make an edit on one device and the same happens. You can even access your library from any browser from

You will have to pay for the privilege, though. Cloud storage doesn’t come free, well 5GB does, but after that you’re going to have to pay a monthly fee, although £0.79/$0.99 a month for 20GB is a small price to pay. If you click Optimize Mac Storage you can keep full-Photos has eight built-in filters available to use resolution copies of images and video in iCloud and keep just storage-saving thumbnails on your machine. You’ll be easing the load on your Mac’s hard drive, but paying for extra cloud storage.

The future

All the sharing options you expect are present and more can be added via OS X’s new Extensions menu in System Preferences. Those who loved iPhoto’s creative Card, Photo Book and Calendar projects will also be pleased to know they have survived the migration, while setting up a slideshow is as easy as ever.

We’re delighted to say that Photos is a massive improvement on iPhoto. Photos represents everything a photo-editing app should be in 2015 and much more. We can’t wait for the full version to launch, and rest assured, we’ll be the first to give you detailed tutorials on everything worth knowing.