Image: Screen grab of XnView
Courtesy of PC World
XnView is an excellent, free editing tool that performs double-duty as a superb image viewer.
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updated 2/15/2010 8:44:59 AM ET 2010-02-15T13:44:59

Have a digital camera and plenty of photos? Want some help with editing and managing them all? We've rounded up 10 downloads that will let you take control of your photos. Whether you're looking for a top-of-the-line photo editor, a great photo manager, or nifty utilities to handle tasks such as finding duplicates, we have just the thing. And every program is free — not only to download but also to use.

Face it: Sometimes your pictures turn out less than perfect, and you have to adjust their color, remove red-eye, or alter the dimensions. Photo editors can do all of those things and more. Even if you're a professional photographer, your pictures still could use the occasional touch-up — and the following tools are certainly up to the task.

GIMP: The gold standard for photo editing software is Photoshop, but you have to lay out plenty of gold if you want to use it. Instead, try the free, open-source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), an exceptionally powerful photo editing application with many Photoshop-like features, but without the Photoshop price.

You'll be surprised at all the power this program packs, including effects, filters, masks and layers. Though many of its features are designed for advanced users, it has all of the basics as well, such as the much-needed red-eye removal tool. Be prepared for what may be a somewhat difficult learning curve — the high-end features require a fair amount of time to master, and the layout is a bit eccentric.

Once you get beyond that, though, you'll find a program that offers professional-level photo editing but doesn't cost a penny. And it isn't just for tweaking photos: You can use it for creating illustrations and other graphics from scratch, too.

Download GIMP |Price:Free

Photo Pos Pro: If you don't need all of the power of GIMP but you still want plenty of photo editing tools, give Photo Pos Pro a whirl. This freeware was once a for-pay product, and like GIMP, it's quite capable — but unlike GIMP, it's also easy to use. It sports a straightforward, simple interface that entails no learning curve. Your photo takes up most of the main screen; arrayed around it are a wide assortment of editing tools, each with its own icon. To see what an icon does, you can hover your mouse over it to bring up a balloon tip explaining its function. In many cases, though, you won't even need to do that, because the icons are generally self-explanatory.

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Name an editing tool, and Photo Pos Pro most likely has it. The program offers red-eye reduction, of course, as well as automated tools for sharpening or blurring images, making pictures warmer or cooler, and adding frames and special effects. You'll also find drawing tools, and if you're comfortable with working in layers, you can do that as well.

Note that when you install the program, it attempts to set your home page to mystart.com. If you don't want that to happen, make sure to uncheck the box next to that item. Also, the installation process takes quite some time.

Download Photo Pos Pro | Price: Free

Picasa 3:  Google's Picasa is the single best free program for photo management, editing, and sharing. It has just about every function you can imagine. If you want a comprehensive photo application, this is the one to grab — it can manage your photos, display on Google Maps where they were taken, perform sophisticated editing tasks, and help you share your photos.

At its most basic level, Picasa is a photo manager and viewer. Run the program and then scroll through your folders, and you'll see thumbnails of all your images. You can also tell it to show photos only in a certain date range. If you want to see just photos of faces, choose the Faces filter toward the top of the screen, and Picasa will try to find only that type of photo in the folder; the feature doesn't always work properly, and it will likely bring up a few pictures without faces, but it's a good first cut.

Viewing photos is only the beginning. You'll also find solid editing tools for cropping, eliminating red-eye, changing the contrast, retouching, and more. The tools are exceedingly easy to use — far easier than the functions in competing programs. Picasa even has an "I'm feeling lucky" button that performs cleanup automatically.

In addition, Picasa lets you create CDs full of photos, as well as photo collages, screensavers and posters. It can upload your files to Google's Web albums photo site, or publish your photos to your Blogger blog. It also can geotag photos, adding information to them for identifying where they were taken; afterward it can display on Google Maps where those geotagged photos were captured, and show such information right inside the program.

Picasa does have a few faults. First, it can take quite some time to scan your system for photos, so be prepared to wait until it finishes. Fortunately, it scans in the background, so you can get on with other work in the meantime. (Even so, unlike many other photo tools, upon launch it doesn't let you immediately work on your photos.) Second, the interface can be daunting and confusing, so you should expect to do a bit of learning. Once you put in the time, however, you'll find the program to be a spectacular photo editor and manager.

Note that when you install Picasa, it tries to make Google your default search engine. If you don't want it to do that, uncheck the box next to that option. Also during installation, Picasa will set your system to send anonymous information about your surfing habits to Google; uncheck the appropriate box if you don't want that to happen, either.

Download Picasa 3 | Price: Free

XnView: XnView is an excellent, free editing tool that performs double-duty as a superb image viewer. For starters, it has all of the basic editing functions you expect, including tools for resizing, cropping, correcting red-eye, flipping, and rotating. And that's just the beginning: You can also adjust brightness, contrast and gamma; convert color photos to grayscale, and add watermarks.

Useful too is XnView's ability to convert file formats. You can convert files in a batch, and you can even perform automatic editing on photos — such as adding a watermark or cropping — as you convert them. Though this editor is not as powerful as GIMP, it is far simpler to use, and particularly convenient for quick photo tweaks.

Download XnView | Price: Free

Viewing and managing your pictures
Like any digital photographer, you likely have so many pictures stored on your hard drive that you can't keep track of them all. What to do? Check out the following freebies for viewing and managing your image archives.

FastStone Image Viewer: Browsing your photos can quickly become tedious if you use only the photo tools built into Windows. If you're looking for something much better, but you don't want to pay a penny, consider FastStone Image Viewer, which displays pictures lightning fast and lets you browse them in Windows Explorer-style fashion. Simply run the program and go to the folders you want to browse; the program displays all your photos immediately, showing thumbnails and a preview screen. To see any image full-screen, just double-click it.

If all the program did was display images, it would be well worth the download. But it does much more, too, as it allows you to crop, rotate, and resize pictures, as well as send them via e-mail. You can also create slideshows or convert images to other file formats.

One of the program's greatest strengths is the wide variety of file formats it supports — it can handle just about any graphic or photo file format you've heard of. And since it previews videos as well, you can use it as a full multimedia viewer.

Download FastStone Image Viewer | Price: Free

PhotoScape: If you take a fair number of photographs, you need this free piece of software. It has so many tools, we can't list all of them in a brief review. At its heart, it's an excellent program for viewing all of your photos. You can browse them folder by folder, viewing thumbnails as you go. You can create a slideshow, as well.

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But PhotoScape is also a photo editor, with a complete suite of tools covering red-eye removal, brightness and color adjustment, backlighting correction, cropping, adding filters, and more. Another nifty feature lets you combine multiple photos or even create animated .gif files out of photos. The program also offers a way to batch-rename files. Many people will particularly welcome the application's ability to convert photos in the RAW format that some digital cameras use to the much more versatile .jpg format.

Download PhotoScape | Price: Free

Pictomio: Pictomio is a great, free, all-in-one tool for managing your photo collection and creating slideshows, including carousel-style shows similar to those in Mac OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard. The slideshow-creation feature alone is worth the download, but this program also has a lot more on offer, including automatic geotagging.

After you install Pictomio, it immediately displays all your photos as thumbnails in their folders — no need to wait. You can view your photos as thumbnails, in a filmstrip, individually, or in a carousel-style presentation. You can zoom in and out of photos, and add tags. You'll also see a great deal of information about each picture, including the file size, the date, and the shutter speed and aperture used. Photo techs will love it.

Image: Screen grab of Pictomio
Courtesy of PC World
Photo techs love Pictomio. This all-in-one tool offers a lot of information with each picture, including the file size, the date and the shutter speed and aperture used.

Although the program has many tools for organizing and displaying photos, it offers few photo editing functions, so don't count on it for making corrections or alterations. Also, before installing Pictomio, confirm that your PC can handle running the software; it requires a ShaderModel 2.0 graphics card with at least 128MB of graphics memory. If you're not sure whether your graphics card meets the requirements, check its documentation.

Download Pictomio | Price: Free

Photo utilities
Want to eliminate duplicate images to free up hard-disk space? Or quickly resize a batch of photos? We've found photo utilities that can handle those tasks and more.

Image Resizer Powertoy Clone for Windows: The Image Resizer PowerToy from Microsoft is a boon for XP users who want a quick-and-dirty way to resize a single photograph or a group of photos. There's just one problem: It won't work on Vista or on Windows 7. That's where the Image Resizer Powertoy Clone for Windows comes in. As the name suggests, this download is an exact copy of the older utility, except that it's compatible with the newer OSs.

It works the same way as the original does. Just right-click one or more photographs and then select 'Resize Pictures'. The resulting dialog box allows you to select one of four new sizes: Small (640 by 480 pixels), Medium (800 by 600 pixels), Large (1024 by 768 pixels), or Handheld PC (240 by 320 pixels). When you make your selection and click OK, the utility creates copies of your pictures in the new size but leaves the originals intact; if you click the Advanced button before you click OK, you can choose to resize the original pictures instead of making a copy. Note that the utility limits you to making pictures smaller, not larger — if you choose a size larger than the original size, the program won't make any changes.

Download Image Resizer Powertoy Clone for Windows | Price: Free

36-Image Converter: Have a photo that you'd like to convert to another graphics format? Give 36-Image Converter a try: It can read and convert photos to many different types of formats, and not just the usual suspects such as .jpg, .gif, .png, .tif, and .bmp. It can even convert pictures to .ico and .cur formats, which allows you to turn your pictures into icons and cursors.

The application also has some very nice photo editing features, such as tools for resizing, rotating, cropping, setting transparency, darkening, and adding special effects. Though it isn't nearly as powerful as the image editors discussed earlier, it is very easy to use. PhotoScape is also better for editing, but if you're interested in a file converter that happens to have capable editing tools, 36-Image Converter is still a good bet.

Download 36-Image Converter | Price: Free

VisiPics: If you spend any time with a camera, you have lots of pictures on your PC — most likely hundreds of them, taking up gigabytes of space. And no matter how good you think you are at managing your photos, you probably have plenty of duplicates, and they consume a substantial amount of your storage. Trying to weed through everything and find duplicates is a wearying, thankless task.

VisiPics does all of that for you, for free. It doesn't rely on looking for duplicate file names, either; it actually compares the photos themselves. Before you run the program, tell it whether you want the comparison to be Strict, Basic, or Loose, which determines how the program evaluates your photos. It then shows the duplicates it uncovers, side by side. Mouse over any photo and its apparent duplicate, and you'll see them in a preview pane, where you can make sure that they're actually the same. VisiPics can delete duplicate photos as well; just click on any duplicate you want to eliminate. Alternatively, you can have the utility move the duplicates to a folder.

I tested VisiPics on seven folders containing 359 photos, and it took a little more than 3 minutes to do its work. I used the Loose setting, and the program listed 68 photos that it said were duplicates. About a quarter of those, however, were not actual duplicates, but the same scene taken from a slightly different angle. When you use this utility, be sure to confirm that the images it unearths are in fact duplicates.

Download VisiPics | Price: Free

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