One of the highlights of the just-released iMac G5 models is Photo Booth, a fun little application that works with the built-in iSight camera in the iMac. With it, you can see through the lens of the built-in iSight, apply one of a number of image effects in real time, and with a click, take the picture, complete with the screen flashing white to help illuminate the subject (likely you, but hey, I suppose you could get all sorts of things into the view). Once you’ve taken the photo, you can import it into iPhoto, save it as your iChat buddy picture, or email it to your friends. Cool, eh?
But what if you don’t have a new iMac? Apple has said nothing about making Photo Booth more widely available, although it’s possible that it could be included in a future iSight update. Luckily, if you’ve been lusting after Photo Booth but don’t have (or want) a new iMac G5 right now, you have an alternative, and one that in some ways outshines Photo Booth – iCamShare.
iCamShare — Developed by Arbor Bits, a small software development firm staffed by some well-known Mac developers, iCamShare is an elegantly easy application that enables you to take either still photos or video (with sound) using an iSight or other webcam; you can then share the results via email, by publishing to your .Mac account, or by saving the file to your hard disk.
Using iCamShare is dead simple, thanks to an assistant-like interface that walks you through each step, providing concise instructions directly within the interface. To create a photo of yourself, you select the Picture radio button on the first screen, and on the second screen, arrange your face into an appropriate grimace before clicking the Snap Picture button (you can also use digital zoom to make your face more fully fill the frame). If you dislike the result, click Try Again and, well, try again. Once you have the picture you want, the third screen offers buttons you can click to send your photo in email (supporting Apple Mail, Eudora, Entourage, and Mailsmith), copy your photo to the Pictures folder on your iDisk (from which you can easily add it to a HomePage album), or save the photo as a JPEG file on your hard disk. iCamShare also reminds you that you can drag the photo from iCamShare to any other application that accepts dragged images. (iPhoto is not among those applications; it accepts only dragged files, so you must save your photo as a JPEG file first, then drag it into iPhoto. However, given that iSight photos are only 640 by 480 pixels, you probably won’t want to save too many.)
Recording video works similarly, with the addition of two more screens in the middle. After you record a video clip that you think you like, the third screen lets you replay the video and trim bits from the beginning and end, which is helpful, since it can be difficult to get the video started and stopped cleanly. On the fourth screen, you choose a type of compression, compress your video, and preview the compressed result. A set of controls let you choose the type of Internet connection your recipient has, estimating download time at the compressed size. If either the download time is too long, or the quality of the compressed video isn’t acceptable, you can move a slider to various positions between Receive Quicker and Better Image and then re-compress the video. The fifth and final screen again enables you to send your movie via email, upload it to your iDisk’s Movies folder and publish it as a movie, or save it to your hard disk. You can drag it out of iCamShare to another application too.
iCamShare costs $15 and is a mere 759K download. Although $15 isn’t much, you can still try it before buying. It requires either Mac OS X 10.2.8 or Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later; it works fine with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in my testing.
ImageTricks — So iCamShare outdoes Photo Booth by being able to capture both still photos and video, and by making it easy to upload to .Mac as well as email. But where iCamShare doesn’t compete – on its own, anyway – with Photo Booth is in terms of the image effects that Photo Booth can apply. To beat Photo Booth at that game, you’ll need to add another program to the mix – BeLight Software’s free ImageTricks, which can apply the Core Image effects and filters built into Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger to any image you throw at it.
ImageTricks provides a large pane that contains the picture on which you’re working, a scrolling list of effects you can apply to that image, a few sliders for modifying some of the effects, and a few buttons for opening and saving pictures, copying and pasting them, opening iPhoto, and rotating left and right. Another slider lets you zoom the picture in the main pane, and an Apply button lets you fix your changes in stone. You can apply only a single effect at a time, so you must apply your changes after one effect to be able to add another. A drawer contains a large collection of masks that show and hide different parts of the picture.
Integrating iCamShare and ImageTricks is easy, but not complete. You can drag a picture from iCamShare into ImageTricks and manipulate it to your heart’s content – well beyond what’s possible in Photo Booth – but there’s no way to send the manipulated image back to iCamShare. Depending on your email program, it might be possible to have iCamShare create an email message with the attached photo and then edit the image attachment before sending. ImageTricks didn’t want to accept a dragged JPEG attachment from within Eudora, but using Eudora’s super-secret Control-Option-double-click-an-attachment-icon trick to reveal the original file, I was able to find the actual JPEG attachment and drag that onto the ImageTricks icon in the Dock to open it, edit it, and save changes.
ImageTricks is surprisingly addictive; each time I dropped a new photo into it, I had to tear myself away from trying all the different effects. Its collection of effects doesn’t match Photo Booth’s entirely. ImageTricks provides 43 effects (it’s a long list; just let it wash over you): Crop, Color Controls, Exposure Adjust, Gamma Adjust, Hue Adjust, White Point Adjust, Color Monochrome, Color Posterize, Color Invert, Unsharp Mask, Gaussian Blur, Motion Blur, Sharpen Luminance, Zoom Blur, Bump Distortion, Circular Splash, Circular Wrap, Hole Distortion, Pinch Distortion, Twirl Distortion, Vortex Distortion, Glass Distortion, Bloom, Gloom, Crystallize, Pointillize, Pixelate, Edge Work, Edges, Checkerboard, Random Generator, Circular Screen, Dot Screen, Hatched Screen, Line Screen, Kaleidoscope, Op Tile, Parallelogram Tile, Triangle Tile, Lenticular Halo, Starshine Generator, and Sunbeams.
Photo Booth includes 16 effects: Sepia, Black & White, Glow, Comic Book, Colored Pencil, Thermal Camera, X-Ray, Pop Art, Bulge, Dent, Twirl, Squeeze, Mirror, Light Tunnel, Fisheye, and Stretch. It’s hard to say which program provides the better set, since although ImageTricks has many more effects, some of them are relatively silly. Of course, so are a number of the effects in Photo Booth too, so I’d give the nod to ImageTricks.
BeLight Software gives ImageTricks away for free; it’s a 1.5 MB download and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later.
All Together Now — Sure, Photo Booth is clever, and I’m sure lots of people who buy an iSight-equipped iMac G5 will enjoy using it. But for the rest of us, iCamShare and ImageTricks go well beyond what Photo Booth does, both in terms of offering video support and by providing many more special effects. The only place they fall down is in the integration, so perhaps future versions of the two can work together more tightly to provide an even better user experience than they do separately now.