December 28, 2007

Compositor v2.9.9 Review

There are a lot of digital photographers that just don't want to join the Photoshop Army. And why should they? It is expensive, hard to learn, often problematic technically and just way too much for the average everyday photographer that isn't a real computer enthusiast. So, I’m going to review some alternatives to Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture for photographers that either don’t need all the complexity of those products or the cost. You will see reviews here soon of Pixelmator, Acorn, Compositor and any others I can find. Send me suggestions for others if you are interested.

I'm going to make some assumptions:
  • that on the Macintosh platform you are happy using iPhoto for cataloging and organizing but that the editing feels like too little and you'd like to experience some growth in that area.
  • that on the Windows platform you are happy using Google's Picasa for cataloging and organizing but that the editing feels like too little and you'd like to experience some growth in that area.
  • that you'd like to spend less than $100 ( nice price!)
  • that you'd like the product to create industry standard files that won't be "lost" in the future as technology progresses (necessary!)

Compositor, version 2.9.9
$35.00, $33.00 if bought through PayPal system

Compositor is a low cost application that supports editing of photographic images but it proclaims itself as “Image to Art Made Easy." That philosophy seems to be the guiding spirit of this application. The author has apparently designed it to fit his particular artistic expression and output. While it has all the controls necessary for applying the basic corrections that photographers need it is really more of a wild color and image manipulation tool. There are commands that shift colors and images in crazy (though sometimes really cool and interesting) ways scattered all over the program's interface. That arrangement of functions is one of my problems with this program. They seem disorganized as they seem to show up anywhere and everywhere.

The development seems to be on-going but a bit behind the curve for new Mac users. It has not been updated for Intel processors but feels quick enough despite that fact for the basic commands. Some of the filter effects take time of course and are probably slowernow than they will be when the application is updated. The interface is the typical array of light gray palettes for all the different functions; tools, tool controls, colors, actions etc. The Restore Positions option in the Windows menu puts most of them in a jumble in the upper right hand corner for some reason. Some of the positions and visibility of the palettes is remembered over launches and some is not. The icons are clear but not fancy. There is no help text when you hover over buttons and help system is not searchable though there are a few helpful "?" buttons scattered in the program which give welcome assistance.

It supports the basic set of necessary file formats (JPG, PSD, TIFF and others) but does not open my Nikon raw NEF files. When saving it defaults to QuickTime Image (QTF) which I find an odd choice, so you will want to watch that and change it (every time you save). There is no preference for default saving formats. Photographers should absolutely use PSD and TIFF for archives and JPGs for sharing.

Using the basic editing features of Levels, Curves, and Hue & Saturation is straight forward. The Levels dialog gives a nice histogram for reference but the Curves display does not. You can display a histogram from the Image Menu though it would seem that this is another misplaced command. It should be in the Window menu with the other palettes.. Curves has a "random" button that will send your colors and tones into psychedelic madness but it is fun. Try it on an image with a lot of contrast. Cropping is easy and there is a straighten tool hidden under the crop button but it doesn't seem to perform well. It lets you define the horizontal line but then just rotates the image to align with your decision but places the image skewed on a white background. You can try to guess the angle to rotate and then crop normally.

I found no way to combine images with layers or masks.

Compositor will certainly get the job done for photographers but I think it is as the author states, not designed for us but rather as a digital artist's tool. For $35 it would be hard to argue against if there were no other choices at the same price point. I can recommend it for those wanting to really experiment with changing their photographs in ways that transcend reality but for color corrections and as a stepping stone to the professional Adobe tools, I cannot.

You can download the demonstration copy from ( and it try it out for either 30 or 35 days (both are mentioned on the site).

OS X 10.2.2 or higher
2 gigabytes free disk space must be available for History and Snapshots operation, beyond any system needs
QuickTime 6.0 or higher
Millions of Colors Monitor Display