All original content copyright © Tom Wilkinson 2003-5. All rights reserved.

Paul Nolan's Photogenics

As the Linux operating system grows in popularity, more software manufacturers are waking up to the new markets which are starting to present themselves.Among these are the makers of Paul Nolan's Photogenics, which is being released to three platforms: Linux (Intel), Windows and AmigaOS. The program, originally developed for AmigaOS, has been ported to Linux and windows using an in house cross-platform toolkit, similar to wxWindows. There are however disadvantages, the main of which is speed. On our test machine, a 650MHz PC with 128MB of RAM, some of the dialogue boxes, most notably the "file open" box, were very slow and flickery while expanding the directory tree. I suspect this could have something to do with the fact that it also generates previews of all files before opening at the same time, which is no doubt an intensive operation.


Installing the program is relatively straightforward - a shell script is provided which will check your system is able to run the software, and then start the installation procedure proper, by asking for the directories to install the binaries and data files. It's worth noting that the installation program has to be run as root unless you only want to install in your home directory. Contrasting this to the manner in which the program's competitor, Corel PhotoPaint installs, by asking for the root password during the installation routine, I feel that this could be better done. Logging in as root should be dissuaded at all times, and I feel that a program which demands it be run as root runs contrary to this, encouraging bad practice, even for "just an installer". This aside, however, the installation went straightforwardly, with the exception of one thing. The installation instructions claim to add the program to the menus of either GNOME or KDE, should they be installed. However, using Mandrake 7.2, neither of these additions were apparent, but Photogenics can be started easily from the command line. I believe this to be a quirk of Mandrake, which uses a seperate menu system across all desktop environments rather than leaving it to each window manager.

On loading, the interface is presented as something of a cross between The Gimp and PhotoPaint. While the toolbox and the graphics are presented in their own floating windows, there is still a windows - style icon bar across the top, along with menus for the most common operations, such as resizing and file operations. This, I think, is a good compromise between having everything in a single window as is common with most Windows paint packages, and having lots of toolboxes all over the desktop as in the gimp.

The manual is supplied in HTML format. However, there is very little formatting information present, and this leads to Netscape rendering the page in a very small font which can be extremely hard to read. The manual fares little better in Konqueror and Mozilla - Konqueror has problems with some of the graphics included and Mozilla has similarly tiny text. I can't help believing that the pages have been written for Internet Explorer and only hastily adapted for Linux - there are references to Windows-only features also present. It is, however, well written and easy to follow.


The opening page for the manual in Photogenics states that it has an "incredibly powerful and flexible method of working". This is certainly true. The program introduces a number of new concepts which help a great deal in the production, and modification of images. The most important of these, I feel, is the way that the undo function works. Unlike other paint packages, where two mouse buttons are bound to painting colours, only a single colour can be selected at any time. While at first this may sound like a step backwards, the function the right button now performs is far superior to simply painting with a single colour, and is, in fact, simply an extension of what many people, myself included, were using the button for in the first place, as an undo function. This is highly useful because it allows the underlying pattern of the image to be restored far more easily and without having to resort to an "undo" option - something which can be fairly infuriating in other paint packages due to the amount of work which may be undone with one click of "undo". In addition, there is an icon which will clear all the modifications you've made since you last selected the paint colour, or brush size. This helps if you've made a mess of things by, for example, selecting a paint colour which is too dark, or the wrong brush type. It's worth nothing, though that the right mouse button does not produce a simple "eraser tool" effect, but performs the exact opposite of the left mouse button, so can be used to lighten textures, to tweak the area that has been painted in subtle ways and in many other ways that would simply be impossible in other packages.

While the concept of Layers is not new to graphics programs, the way in which Photogenics implements and uses them is somewhat different to that which other packages use. Upon selecting a new brush type, size, pressure or colour, a new layer is always created. This helps to facilitate the undo feature mentioned above - the remainder of the image is kept, safe and sound, seperately from the changes on the base layer. Along with this comes the alpha channels, which can be used to determine which area of the image can be painted on, and how much this paint will show through. These are innovative, in that while most graphics packages support only monochrome alpha channels, Photogenics supports full colour ones, This means, in effect that different amounts of each colour can be painted through to the image - it can be made to be tinted toward any colour you care to name.

The program offers a much wider range of drawing media than the average painting package on the market. These include painting modes that are designed to simulate real art media, such as watercolours, pencils, and airbrushes, and they do it much more effectively than any other package on the market appears to do. Varying the pressure setting can also help get very different results with each of these tools. In addition there is a whole set of "pyrotechnic" drawing tools including three different types of fire, lens flare, and neon. Each of these tools can be used in conjunction with one of the many paint modes to produce huge numbers of intersting effects. Each of the masterpieces in the screenshots were produced, at least in part, using this highly useful feature.

With "Experimentation Mode" switched on, selection of a new brush, paint colour or special effect will replace the one you have just been using. This is a departure from the conventional method of generating special effects - the area to which the effect is applied is selected using an ordinary paintbrush tool rather than by drawing a shape around the area to be affected. Naturally, the undo function of the right mouse button is still available here. It's also worth noting that if your PC is not fast enough to draw these effects directly, the experimentation mode will allow you to draw the area that you wish to affect with a different painting mode, for example green paint, and then replace these areas with the special effect you want to use. To finalise a modification while staying in experiment mode, you press the "Fix" button on the toolbar.

This brings me on to one of my major gripes with the interface - the Fix button is placed right next to the undo button on the toolbar. More than once when attempting to correct a mistake, I pressed Fix and was lumbered with the change. Similarly I have pressed undo when meaning to Fix - losing all the changes I had made. While Photogenics may have a very flexible method of undoing mistakes, on a very fundamental level there is still only one level of undo. Once you've fixed a modification, you're stuck with it. In addition, should you move a layer, then fix your modifications, the new layer is created exactly where you left the old one - this means that there are a number of areas you won't be able to paint to until you move the layer back, which can be annoying.

Occasionally the colour selection would also occasionally get a mind of its own and give me the wrong shade of a colour I selected - this was most noticeable when trying to select white and consistently getting light grey. This was not a palette problem, as far as I could tell, however restarting the program seemed to fix it.

Photogenics supports over 20 image file formats, but however supports both loading and saving of only ten of these. The majority of the rest are save-only filters exporting to formats suitable for desktop publishing such as encapsulated Post Script. The usual trio of JPEG, GIF and PNG are all available read/write and these are probably what most users will need for images to be published on the web.

In conclusion, then, Photogenics is a well-rounded intuitive graphics package that shows great promise.


Ease of Use: 9/10
Features: 9/10
Documentation: 7/10

Photogenics is a very nearly perfect implementation of a graphics package. Only a couple of problems prevent it getting a perfect score.

Overall Rating: 9/10
Pic of me. If you're lucky