by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in INPUT, April 1992

Mac envy !!!

Sure, PC's have 90% of the market share for personal computers. Sure, we've got 90% of the software titles... 100 million computers world-wide.

But admit it. You've felt a little jealous watching those MacIntosh users even if you called their use of windows, icons, mice, and pictures a'wimp' interface.

So maybe you tried Windows... our very own way to be 'wimp'-y. But those pesky Mac-folks keep finding ways to get under our skin. One of the latest has been "24-bit colour". You've just replaced 4 colour, low-res CGA with glorious technicolour VGA, and they're rubbing your nose in 24-bit colour. (While standard VGA offers 640x480 resolution in 16 colours (4-bit), and most super-VGA systems offer 256 colours (8-bit), 24-bit systems offer 16,777,216 colours (2-to-the-24th power, math fans). As many colours as the human eye can distinguish. Real colours, not cartoon colours).

Well, weep no more, PC owners. As hardware like Hewlett-Packard's Scanjet  comes along,providing 24-bit colour pictures at an affordable price, software inevitably follows. And amazingly, it even works for the rest of us... the ones (like me) who don't yet have the (still rare and expensive) 24-bit colour video display systems.

Aldus was first off the mark, with the high-end (and high-priced) PhotoStyler for Windows. Z-Soft, the makers of the well-known PC-Paintbrush, has followed up with the high-quality, but affordable PhotoFinish (also for Windows).

PhotoFinish ($199 US list, street price of $179 Cdn in Vancouver) leads three lives, and does them all well. It's a 24-bit paint program, that provides a whole slew of tricks. It's a grey-scale editor, letting the user retouch black and white scanned photos (hence the name). Finally, it permits the owners of most scanners, both fancy flatbed scanners, and inexpensive hand scanners, to scan directly into the program, for cleanup and editing.

The paint program builds on Z-Soft's years of experience in this area. Users are provided with a wide range of powerful tools. Some of the winners include the ability to zoom a drawing from 25% to 1600%; to use a "Magic Wand" tool which automatically selects an area based on similar colours; a special paint roller that adds a gradient fill; another roller that fills an area with tiles;bezier curves, like in high end draw programs; and an airbrush tool. You can have several versions of the same picture open in different windows at once, or several different pictures.

Users can open and work on 256-colour or 24-bit pictures, even using a
standard, 16-colour VGA or EGA display... the additional colours are dithered. Of course, the more colours available on screen, the better the screen appearance will be. Files can be quickly converted from 256-colour to 24-bit to grey-scale and back. Most popular file formats are supported.

Grey-scale pictures can be tinted to colour, or can be enhanced in 256 shades of grey. Tones can be blended, sharpened, smoothed, or smeared. Brightness and contrast controls can be used, just like on your TV at home. With a click of a button, you can see your proposed changes, before making them final in your actual file.

Scanner users can install most popular scanner models, so that they can scan right into PhotoFinish. They can quickly prescan, to select just the area that they want to use, then rescan the selected portion of the page. For most scanner models, they can set the brightness, contrast, and scaling of the scan right from the software. Of special use with hand scanners, PhotoFinish lets them quickly stitch together several narrow scans to create a wider page. (Just be aware of file size issues-- a full page, 300 dpi, 24-bit colour image requires 54 meg of hard drive space, or memory !)

PhotoFinish requires a computer with Microsoft Windows 3.x installed.
I'd recommend a minimum of 2 meg of memory--- 4 meg or more is even
better. The program requires a minimum of 2 1/2 meg of hard-drive space,
plus a couple of megs for the several attractive sample 24-bit pictures
included for the tutorial. The documentation, which includes an Installation Guide, Tutorial Guide, User's Reference Guide, and Quick Reference Card is comprehensive, and easy to understand.

An outstanding, and affordable cure for 24-bit Mac envy.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1992, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.

(And in March 2004...) A reader wrote to let me know that he "purchased PhotoFinish 4 on eBay and installed it with Windows XP.  It runs flawlessly.  Please pass this on to anyone who may inquire".

-- AZ 


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan