Photo viewing in Windows has been relatively non-spectacular for a long time now. The Windows Photo Viewer was the default app to do so and has served its purpose well over the years. It isn’t feature rich by any means but then again, it merely needs to open images and maybe print them out.
Of course, those that wanted more always had the option to download the Windows Live Photo Gallery app, but the Windows Live Essentials suite are no longer considered essential, having been discontinued after the release of Windows 8 in 2012.
In the Modern Windows age, Microsoft replaced Photo Gallery with the Photos app. It carried over many of the basic features like importing, photo editing, sharing, and slideshows but left out more power-user features like advanced tagging, panorama and collage creation, and image fusing.
Microsoft completely overhauled its Modern Photos app in Windows 10, and it builds upon what was offered in Windows 8/8.1. The company put a lot of emphasis on this new version during its Windows 10 event in January, and talked about how the app, along with other built-in Windows 10 apps, would gradually be updated over time. Here’s our in-depth take on the new app.
What the Photos app does best is hide most of its functionality away, and that’s a good thing in this type of app since you want to be able to enjoy your images in all their glory first and foremost. This leaves the app looking clean and uncluttered. But don’t let its simple design fool you; the app holds its own as a photo viewer and management solution, as you’ll see later.
Upon launch, you land on the collections section, which presents you with all your digital images in a grid. The top bar presents you with a refresh button, a selection button to select multiple images, and an import button to import new images from your smartphone or camera.
Under the hamburger menu, you can switch to the albums section where the app conveniently groups images that were taken at the same time and place. Towards the bottom of the hamburger menu is the option to sign into your Microsoft account, and access to settings. And that’s pretty much it. Like we said; a clean, and uncluttered design.
The collections section by default brings together all of the pictures on your PC and OneDrive, and sorts them by date. If you’ve been using Microsoft services like SkyDrive for years, this is where you’ll discover your earliest pictures. Pictures you probably forgot existed. I found out that my image library goes back to 2007. The app showed me pictures that were taken from my then original iPhone, and I don’t even remember how those pics made their way to the cloud. I must have uploaded them at some point, but seeing them again was a pleasant surprise, a trip down memory lane.
To make these memories even more pleasant to look at, the Photos app will sometimes auto enhance images, but only when presenting them in the collections section and when clicking and viewing a particular image. This leaves your saved pictures just as they are and untouched, unless you manually choose to enhance and save them that way.
Clicking on an image will have that it take over the app, and hovering the mouse cursor over it will reveal overlays to zoom in and out. The navigation bar towards the top gives you access to quick features that you may use often, such as sharing, starting a slide show, auto enhancing the image, rotating it, deleting it, fine tune editing, and within an ellipses menu, even more options to copy, print, set the image as a lock screen or background, open it with other apps, and detailed file information.
All of those functions are pretty straightforward, but click on the edit button, and you’re in power user mode. The app presents you with editing features under five categories; basic fixes, filters, light, color, and effects.
Under basic fixes is the ability to auto enhance the image, where the app tries to determine the best corrections depending on exposure levels, saturation, color brightness, etc, and applies them. It does a good job when it works, but I found that a lot of the times, it tries too hard to fix something that doesn’t need fixing. Your mileage with auto fix may vary. Basic fixes is also where you can rotate, crop, straighten, remove red eye, or retouch an image. Retouching was particularly effective, eliminating pimples from faces, and skid marks from roads with just a few clicks.
The filters category hosts a total of five filters to choose from. The Photos app is by no means an Instagram or Fotoroom replacement when it comes to filters, and it would be nice to have more, but the ones available do a decent enough job at making an image look unique.
The light category as its name suggests gives you the options to manipulate light in your pictures. You can manipulate the brightness, contrast, highlights and shadows via easy-to-use rotational dials that go all the way from -100 to 100.
In the colors category are option for adjust temperature, which does a surprisingly good job at making an outdoor picture taken in the afternoon look like it was taken at dusk. Then there’s tint, saturation, and my favorite, color boost, which will have you drag a color picker over a color in your image to make it more vibrant. Works wonders on those dull blue skies that ruin otherwise delightful images.
Finally, the effects category is where you can add a vignette to the image, either in black, white, or the 98 shades of gray in between. This is also home to selective focus, so you can add emphasis to a particular part of an image by keeping it in focus, while blurring the rest of the image. The strength of the blur can also be adjusted.
While editing, the navigation bar hosts options to undo or redo changes, or compare the edited image to the original, and of course, options to save the edit by overwriting the original, or saving the edited image as a separate one.
The albums section is a feature that Microsoft announced early, but launched only towards the end of the Windows 10 initial development period. This is where you’ll find your Camera roll, saved pictures, and screenshots in a similar way that Windows Phone does, as well as new albums generated by the app.
The app will gather pictures taken at a similar place, or a similar day. The feature seems to be very intelligent in deciding which images it should include, and which it should leave out. For example, in my case, it put together images that I took during my time at Lancaster University. Here, it was smart enough to separate pictures taken in campus, and those taken outside the immediate vicinity, instead of jumbling them all up together under one general “Lancaster” location.
It also seems to leave out duplicate images and even images that are ever so slightly similar. I noticed that it also seems to pick the best pictures of the bunch, leaving out ones that are out of focus. Once in an album, you can edit its title, and manually select which pictures you want include and which you don’t out of all the related ones it detected for that album. You also remove an album altogether if you don’t want it showing in the albums section.
There’s lots to like in the new Photos app for Windows 10. It is very well designed in that it is simple, and very intuitive to use despite its rather advanced editing features. Although, there are a few more features that would further complete this photo viewer and management app.
Starting with better mouse support. If you mouse has dedicated back and forward buttons, you won’t be able to use them to move between images in your collection just as you would when using the Windows Photo Viewer. Instead, it requires you to use the scroll wheel, which would normally be used to zoom in and out of an image. The app also needs better optimization as it can take up a lot of memory when going through a large photo collection.
More filters would be nice, and the ability to create new albums - which also happens to be the most requested feature for the app. Windows Insiders have since asked for better ways to sort images in the collection, as well as to view images by folder.
This is just the start for the Photos app, Microsoft will continuously work to improve the app over time so we should see some of those requested features make their way over in the near future. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the Photos app down in the comments section below.
Editor's Note: This article is part of our Windows 10 In-Depth series which details the apps and features built into Windows 10. Our aim is to dive deep and cover everything there is to know about these apps and features, leaving you an expert in the field by the end of each article. If you have any suggestions about what you want us to cover next in the series, give us a shout in the comments section below and we'll do our best to get it done.