Last week's Picasa software update from Google brought with it a neat trick--facial recognition. But it wasn't the first free consumer photo-editing software to find faces. In January, Apple unveiled the latest version of iLife, which included an updated version of iPhoto that could detect and recognize faces in your photos. And this time last year, Microsoft released an updated version of its Windows Live Photo Gallery desktop software that could find faces inside of photos, though it couldn't (and still can't) recognize who's in them.
So, how do these three stack up? To figure that out, we put them to the test. Using 500 sample photos on fresh installs of each program, we tracked around how long each of the tools took to process all the photos, as well as some notable hits and misses from each.
To be fair, our results may not scale, or match the experience you will have. For one, we're using a test bed of photos that's almost entirely 12-megapixel JPEG files, whereas some people may be shooting smaller or larger files that may be in different formats and contain large groups of people--something that can slow these programs down. You're also likely to have a whole lot more than 500 photos sitting around on your computer; we certainly do.
Note: Adobe's PhotoShop Elements software (for Windows | Mac), which also includes a facial recognition feature was not included in this roundup since it's a paid application. Technically iPhoto is as well, but we included it since it comes free on all Macs.
The apps and workflows
iPhoto is the only product of the bunch that's Mac-only. It comes bundled with all new Macs, but the latest version (which includes face detection) must be purchased as a software upgrade if you've got iPhoto '08 or lower. We've included it in this roundup as a free product since it comes bundled with all new Macs.
Face scanning in iPhoto happens automatically, but it's largely a manual process, requiring users to "train" the system to recognize certain faces. The program took around nine minutes to scan through our 500 test photos and when it was done it didn't offer up any suggestions of photos with faces in them.
Instead, users are required to click on a photo with a face in it and hope the program picked it up. If it has, users can simply type the name in--which will auto complete if the person is in your Mac address book. If someone's face was not found, but you can see it in the photo, you can manually contain the face inside of a box, then tag it with their name.
After you add names to just few photos, iPhoto's system begins to piece together others that look the same--although it doesn't learn as fast as it does for photos where it already found the faces. In my testing, it only took two photos to get it to offer up some more suggestions. If those suggestions are correct, continuing to add them was just a matter of a few clicks.
iPhoto's system for doing this isn't perfect though.… Read more