Organising and editing your ever-growing collection of digital photos can be a daunting prospect. Microsoft's Digital Image Suite 2006 aims to make the process easier. The application leads you through the tasks of labelling and sorting photos, correcting colours and composition, and producing slideshows to burn to CD. The £50 package is an upgrade from Digital Image Suite 10.0, but users of that version may notice little that is new.
At the heart of the product is Digital Image Suite 2006 Library, which lets you view the collection as groups of thumbnail images.
Library automatically indexes images and allows you to categorise photos, using keywords and flags. In this latest version, it also lets you define multiple levels of keywords. And if you use your digital camera to shoot short video sequences, Library now lets you organise these along with your still photos.
As the name implies, the Digital Image Suite 2006 Editor allows you to alter pictures. As in previous versions, you can work on only one image at a time, so you can't try different edits side by side. A set of Auto Fix commands lets you make basic changes easily, while more complex tasks require only a few steps.
The 2006 version adds an Intuitive Crop function that analyses a photo's composition and suggests the best way to frame subjects. You're free to adjust the suggested crop area by dragging with your mouse. A new command lets you transform colour photos to black and white images, applying a variety of preset filters and contrast controls to mimic the characteristics of monochrome film.
The Editor suite also gains support for RAW format images from Canon and Nikon's advanced digital cameras. However, it applies a default conversion when a file is opened, unlike a professional photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop, which allows you to customise the conversion to get the most from your unprocessed picture.
Digital Image Suite 2006 also bundles Photo Story 3.1, a popular free download from Microsoft's website. With Photo Story, you can easily combine photos with voice narration if you have a microphone, background music and transition effects to produce professional-looking slide shows. The latest version makes it quick to burn a VCD-format CD that can be played back in many home DVD players.
Digital Image Suite 2006 isn't a dramatic improvement over the previous version and it lacks the power and variety of some of its competitors, including Adobe's Photoshop Elements and Corel's Paint Shop Pro Studio. Still, it is easy to use and includes a few unique features, such as its Intuitive Cropping tool. This alone is enough to make it a competent image suite well-suited for amateur photographers who are ready to step up from the basic applications that came with their cameras.