Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Picasa 3.0 beta - no color management?

I just downloaded and tested Picasa 3.0 which google brought out in beta for the Mac. The program has an interesting UI and is nice and speedy. However, it does not colormanage. What the ...? Does Google realize that it is 2009? More than 15 years after color management was introduced to a main stream OS? Nowadays color management is a basic requirement for photographic apps. The absence of it makes Picasa useless for serious amateur or pro photographic work. Even worse, on uncalibrated Macs used by most consumers (i.e. the Picasa target audience), all colors will be wrong and images will have too low contrast making it even useless for amateurs. This is because out-of-the-box Macs come calibrated at the wrong gamma. Also, this means that if you have a laptop display, even if you calibrated and profiled it, you will always see the wrong colors. Therefore, my advice is to avoid this program like the plague until they fix it!

How Picasa displays two identical but for the color profile images (click for 100% image converted to sRGB from my monitor profile, so you can see what I see on my calibrated and profiled adobeRGB gamut display).

As you expect for color-stupid apps on a wide gamut display, the sRGB image is too saturated, and the prophotoRGB image looks green and too dark.

Both are quite far off as this image shows which is in sRGB for the web:

This is going to be even worse on a standard uncalibrated Apple laptop display, where everything is going to be severely desaturated and too low contrast.


  1. I do not consider lack of color management and support for color profiles a real deficiency in an application like Picasa. Picasa is aimed at the hobby photographers (and thats the people who use it when you look at the support forums:-).

    99% of the compact cameras out there won't do anything else but JPEG with sRGB anyway. Most web browsers are not color management aware either - and since Picasa can directly export to web albums adding color management on top of it would only cause more trouble. :-)


  2. Hi Alex,

    thanks for your comment. The lack of color management is a MAJOR problem for the Mac version. That is what my post is about. Macs come calibrated at the too low gamma of 1.8 from Apple. Those consumers that do not calibrate their screens therefore will all experience too low contrast and too bright images. They might compensate for it and end up with very dark prints or with web images that look too dark to 90% of the visitors of their webpages. If you develop a photography app for Macs, you have to put in color management. It is free programming wise if you just use the system libraries.

  3. Thanks for your explanation, Jao. I've learned now that Picasa and many other applications are "color stupid", as Jeffrey Friedl said in his excellent article that you quoted in your e-mail. I have added what I learned today from you to my blog. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  4. Agree, lack of color-management in an imaging application (be it even amateur), is like 1990s.

    But I can't stop being amazed by the speed of this app. It feels like from another world. I have to confess, I've imported my entire library and run Picasa sometimes just to feel that speed! A relief from Lightroom. :)

    Now I am asking myself, how can Picasa be that fast when it does pretty much what Lightroom's Library module does? Even while importing my NEFs and JPEGs, I was able to easily browse through the folders, the thumbnails worked like a charm and generally everything didn't seem to be affected by background importing. Even with all those eye-candy effects (smooth scrolling, fading out etc.), that actually work and feel fine, by the way.

    One might argue that Lightroom has a long and heavy processing chain, except for the actual demosaicing, but that's not the case inLibrary - it is way slower even with previews and thumbnails prebuilt.

    One thing that Lightroom does and Picasa does not do is color management. Is it possible that this is the cause of that speed difference?

  5. Some of the reasons for Picasa's speed may be: 1. is heavily multithreaded (a lot of internal processes that run parallel), and 2. the previews and thumbnails are in one (large) database (not spread in temporary folders as single files). I'm sure its a very elegant piece of code.

    Lack of color management... unlikely. If Picasa had CM it could store the embedded color profiles from the files in its database just as well.

  6. That cannot be the colormanagement. converting between profiles is generally an extremely fast operation even on not so modern computers. Also other color managed apps do not have this issue. iPhoto (which is fully color managed) for example is far faster than Lightroom in this regard and about the same as Picasa on my machine. This "slowness" in the Library module must be some other issue in Lightroom.

  7. Thanks for the info about color management in Picasa. I always wonder why image look better in picasa, and yet, when exported, it looks wash out. This is due to the lack of color profile in the exported photo if I am right.