Not long ago, I had the opportunity to review Adobe’s PhotoShop Elements 6, which is probably the best consumer level photo editor. It basically takes all of the tools the pros use and bundles them into easy to use menus and wizards for the average user. The problem I have is that even with Photoshop, I am still left with hundreds (if not thousands) of photos in my “shoebox” of a hard drive, What to do? I mean, I don’t just want to say, here is a folder, have at it, when I show people my pictures. I want them to see my pictures pleasantly arranged in a manner which provides context and makes them enjoyable to look at. Enter Lumapix with the answer to the second half of my digital photo equation: FotoFusion.
Overview: So, what is FotoFusion? I have to admit that it did not turn out to be the program I was expecting. I was fully expecting a PhotoShop alternative. Which I thought was a pretty cool idea. But in reality, FotoFusion is much cooler than that. It is a full layout and design program for your photos. In today’s times, many people might call it a digital scrapbooking tool. But it is so much more than just digital scrapbooking. This will help you present any arrangement of pictures. Sure, you can do digital scrapbooking, but that is just the tip of the iceberg of this program, offers hundreds of layouts, arrangements, backgrounds and more. Use it to make magazine covers, photo contact sheets, photo prints..and yes, scrapbooking pages.
Three Versions: Before we get into a closer look at FotoFusion, it is worth noting that there are three different versions: Scrapbook Essentials, which is for your basic scrapbook enthusiast; Enhanced, which is geared towards enthusiasts; and Extreme, which is a professional level layout tool. The interesting part is that they are all bundled together. So, during the trial period, you can use all three and determine which one has features that are best for you. Additionally, once you make the decision to purchase, all of the lower versions will be included. So, if you purchase Enhanced, then you will also have access to Scrapbook Essentials. Purchasing Extreme will give you access to all three. Just click the version button at any time to switch between the three. LumaPix has even included an overview chart of all three versions, highlighting the similarities and differences on their website.
Start Screen: Each time you start FotoFusion, you will be sent to the Start Screen. This screen will serve as a roadmap leading you into the program. I found it to be a fantastic entryway to the program, because it actually highlighted some features which may not have otherwise been readily apparent. From this screen, in addition to the starting a new project or loading one already underway, you can:
— Hit Learn to delve into the fantastic FotoFusion tutorials. I was extremely impressed by the breadth and scope of resources here, all of which are designed to help you master the program. They even have numerous training videos to help you get past the particularly difficult areas (as well we some easier ones.)
— Head into the Marketplace to browse the selection of layouts, templates, and frames for sale.
— A wide assortment of llayouts and elements are also included free when you purchase the program. To access these free layouts, templates, backgrounds, and other tools, just hit the Bundled Content Button.
— Smack in the center is the Auto function. This is pretty cool for the perpetually lazy. If you want to have a beautiful layout that only looks like a lot of effort, this is the function for you Just tap this button load your pictures, and BAM…instant collage, ready for your customization efforts. Just hit print and go show your wife the fantastic job you did with those pictures of the kids. Her eyes will be so wet with tears as she remembers those days when your kids were actually cute, she won’t even notice the football game on the TV.
— Of course, at any time, should you need some further assistance, go ahead and Connect to the LumaPix website. From here, you can check up on the latest news, download the latest updates, report a bug, or just ask for help.
I really liked this Start Screen a lot. It was easy to access (I would say finger friendly if it was on my touch screen), and clearly guided you toward the options you needed. It offered a simple entry to what could otherwise be an extremely complex program.
Interface: The interface and layout in FotoFusion is simply fantastic. I really had visions of a complicated program filled with inaccessible and unusable features. Instead, what I found was a layout much more in tune with the modern look and feel of Office 2007’s ribbon. The layout consists of two main features: tabs and buttons.
Tabs denote a major shift, like turning a page to a new set of features. Buttons are the manner in which you access the features in each tab. Most of the buttons on the tabs open an additional popup screen or menu filled with additional features. This layout was well organized and made all of the features and options easy to find.
There are five tabs, and we will look at the features and options offered by each tab individually as we walk through the process of creating our masterpiece:
— Create is your main work area. This is where your masterpiece will be born.
— Organize is how you will tell the program where to find your pictures.
— Share allows you to send your creation to others via email
— Output allows you to post your project on a website, save it on a disc, or print it.
— Community gives you instant access to all of the LumaPix online resources.
In addition to the tabbed interface, there is a series of pull down menus on the upper left. You can use these menus, which are available from every tab, to access almost any feature within the program. Although much of this was redundant, it was nice to have as it meant you never had to shuffle through the various tabs trying to remember where you saw that lost feature. Just head to the pull down menus and you will be able to find it fairly easily.
Create: This is going to be your primary workspace. I was really impressed by how easy the whole thing was to use. Just select your paper size and layout (or just start with a blank page) and drag your photos onto the page. You can find your photos on the left. If you stored any in buckets, then they will still be there. Or, you can hit images to surf through your folders.
Once you have dragged your photos over to your page, you can resize, crop, pan them within the frame, move them around, and even rotate the whole thing. Or, just hit autocollage to have them all arranged for you.
At any time, you can also add backgrounds, change the layout, or put on an overlay such as matte images to better frame your photos. Not to mention the dozens of other artistic effects available for download. These are all available from the buttons on the right under the tabs. Of course, no memory is complete without a caption or text description of the picture. And you can do that too.
Frankly, I was incredibly impressed by how easy this program was to use. Typically, I am completely without talent when it comes to all things artistic, but even I was able to make some pretty nice looking collages. Just choose your pictures, drop them on the canvas, and add your artistic effects or layouts. 1-2-3…easy.
Organize: The Organize tab is where you will find and identify the pictures you wish to use. Just scroll through the folders on the left hand side (which will give you access to every storage area on your computer, and select the pictures you want to use.
To make this process a bit easier, there are four buckets. You can drag and drop related pictures into the same bucket so they will be available when you are ready. These buckets are how you will transport pictures from the organize tab over to your workspace in the create tab.
You can also use this tab to add keywords, tags, categories, and make other changes to the properties of each picture.
Share: Use the Share tab to send your new creation to friends and family via email. Unlike many programs, FotoFusion features its own email screen, rather than pushing you to a separate email program. This concerned me a bit, because how would I be able to access my contacts? If you can’t access your contacts, sending collages will be slow and cumbersome. Well, I’m glad you asked, and so is LumaPix. To access your contacts, just select Import next to the recipients box. This will open your Outlook contacts. You can then select any contacts from the list. What a great feature!
You can also control the image quality from here, which is nice. many of these creations can become quite complicated, leading to a large file. So, I am sure your family will thank you for shrinking it down to a size which is much more manageable to most email servers.
So, just input your email ISP settings and get ready to share your creations.
Output: The Output tab is the answer to the question you are most likely to ask: now what? I mean, sure you have created a nice looking collage, but what do you do with it? The Output tab is here to save the day. From here, you can save it to a disc, publish it to the web, or just print it.
Community:One of the great things about FotoFusion is the community. It really adds a whole new element to the program. I was particularly impressed that all of these online resources could be accessed from right within the program. No more memorizing long url’s, no more lost bookmarks. Just tap the Community tab to log in.
Once you are in the community tab, you will have access to a number of fantastic and helpful resources, including:
— The Lumapix homepage and website
— The Lumapix user forums
— The Lumapix gallery and gallery upload tool
— The Lumapix Store
— Any Lumpix News, such as new upgrades
— and a number of other online resources.
Conclusion: I have to admit that once I started looking at this program, I put off the review for quite a while. I mean, this was pretty far outside my normal comfort zone. And these kinds of programs and I usually don’t get along. Once I started playing with it, however, I was shocked to find myself not only using it, but doing it quite well. It was so easy. Just select your photos, drag and drop them, and add your own artistic flair. Give it a try, and before long you will be professional-looking picture layouts with ease. Let me think about this now. I have my brand new Canon Powershot G9, Adobe Photoshop to fix my photos, now LumaPix FotoFusion to do the layouts. If I can find a high quality photo printer to review, then I won’t need to pay Target at all to do baby pictures anymore. And that is the best part of the program. Freedom from the mall photo studios.
What I Liked: Easy to use. Hundreds of downloadable templates, layouts, and other artistic elements.
What Needs Improvement: Not much. This was an excellent program.
Where to Buy: LumaPix
Price: Scrapbook Essentials: $39.99
FotoFusion Enhanced: $119.99
FotoFusion Extreme $299.95