Those who know me might be shocked to learn that for my own photography, I've mostly dispensed with traditional photo editing software and simply use Windows 10's default Photos app. Why? Because I take a lot of pictures and don't want to spend the time and disk space that Adobe Lightroom's required import process demands. True, you don't get the array of detailed corrections Lightroom offers, but if the original content is of good quality, you get enough. In fact, there's more to Photos than meets the eye at first; as you work in the app, more capabilities and helpers appear.
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The app is included with Windows 10, and it replaces the Windows Photo Gallery app of yore. You can still download the older app if you need a free program to fill out some of the features missing in Photos, such as panorama stitching, collages, and sharpening. Otherwise, however, if you've got Windows 10, you don't need to do anything. Like the OS X's Photos app, it's just there. If, by some chance, Photos isn't among your Windows 10 PC's apps, you can always get it from the Windows (app) Store.
Photos is geared towards simplicity and touchability. By contrast, Apple's Photos app on the Mac has no touch capability whatsoever. The Microsoft app also has no trouble with high-DPI displays like that of my 4K-resolution Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC all-in-one PC test machine.
The default view is Collection, which shows all your photos, whether stored on your local hard drive or in your OneDrive online camera roll. The photos are grouped by dates, much like iOS and iCloud's Moments. You can tap on a month name to zoom out to a list of all months, for easier navigation than scrolling through all photos. Other view choices include Albums and Folders. Back and forward buttons let you undo and redo actions to your heart's content.
Once a photo is open, you see five circular controls on the left for function groups: Basic Fixes, Filters, Light, Color, and Effects. Along the bottom are simple view controls for fitting, zooming, or expanding the image to full size. Along the top are file buttons for Undo, Redo, View original, Save a Copy, Save, and Exit. They're all in the form of 2D simple icons, and hovering the mouse over any of these spells out its function in words. Save a Copy creates another file and appends a number to the filename, but there's no Save As that lets you change file type, for example, from PNG to JPG. That's a drawback.
The controls all work equally well with a mouse pointer and a finger. To make an adjustment—of brightness, for example—you place a finger on the control and a wheel adjuster appears that you spin around to the amount of adjustment you'd like.
Import and Organize
The app does have an Import button that can transfer photos from camera media, but something I like a lot about it is that you can work with photos without importing them, unlike Apple Photos or Google Photos. The simple import window shows thumbnails on the media grouped by month, and you can clear or select any or all photos with check boxes. You can import videos as well as photos, set the destination folder, and optionally wipe the media when finished. Helpfully, a Last Import Album appears to show you your new images. I had no trouble importing and editing raw camera files from my Canon EOS 6D DSLR, but only placeholder images appeared in the thumbnails for them in the import dialog.
After you've got your pictures in the app, one of Photos' biggest drawbacks appears: You can't apply star ratings, categories, or keyword tags to the images. You can actually enter all of this in Windows' File Explorer using the Details panel, but that doesn't help you when working in the app. Even a simple pick and reject choice would be a help, such as you get in Lightroom Mobile.
Related to importing is specifying folders on your PC in which you want to look for photos and images. This you can easily do in Folders view, which offers a link just for that purpose. The folders can be on connected storage as well as local drive folders.
Collection, as mentioned, includes all the photos on your PC grouped by date, similar to Apple Photos. You can of course create your own Albums and add whatever photos you like to them by selecting from Collection photos with check boxes. Default Albums at the top of the view include ones for your Camera roll, Saved pictures, and Screenshots. Any time you hit Windows Key+Printscreen, the images will show up in the latter. The app also automatically creates albums for you, as Google Photos does, but only five have been created for me even though my photo adventures far outnumber that.
You can add or remove photos from auto-created Albums in Microsoft Photos, and all albums offer Share this Album and Tell Your Story with Sway options to share the photo groupings.
If a photo has associated geotagging information, its File Info panel (which you can open with a right-click option or from the … overflow menu) shows a small map pinpointing where it was shot, with a link to open the larger Windows Maps app. But you can't add non-geotagged photos to a map.
You don't get the face-tagging capability found in Apple's default Photos app as well as in the excellent prosumer Adobe Photoshop Elements. The latter also adds a map view, lots more customizable filters, and guided edits for fancy effects.
By default, Photos applies its auto-correct magic wand tool to your photographs, but you can turn that off either globally or individually. For most photos, the tool works well, usually boosting contrast and sometimes brightness. What I really appreciate in the Photos app is the greater control over lighting than you get with Google Photos—you can adjust shadows and highlights as well as brightness and contrast. Google Photos doesn't even have a Contrast adjuster, instead using something called Pop, similar to Lightroom's Clarity tool.
You do get shadow and highlight adjustment in the free Adobe Photoshop Express, but that app doesn't make navigating through photos as easy. With Microsoft Photos, you can hit the left and right arrow keys to move through photos in your collection. In some ways more powerful is an app called Polarr, which also offers shadow and highlight adjustment, as well as tone curves, however, that has the same navigation issue.
The red-eye removal is simple and effective—much more so than the equivalent tool in Facetune. In fact, on my test red-eye photo, the Enhance magic wand button automatically fixed both red eyes—something not even Adobe's Photoshop Express's Auto Fix button does! Enhance also tries to straighten images, and you can manually adjust leveling, but complex perspectives are sometimes only amenable to more expensive products such as Lightroom or DxO's ViewPoint. The only other pixel-level correction is Retouch, which easily and convincingly removed a blemish from a face (you can see this in the slideshow linked above).
Cropping is well handled and you can choose a preset or free aspect ratio. There is, however, no resizing tool like that in ACDSee 19, which lets you specify exact pixel sizes. It's really for personal rather than professional use.
Color tools include Temperature, Tint, Saturation, and (by far the coolest) Color burst. The last lets you place a dropper onto a color in your photo to pump up (or tone down) just the color you've placed it on.
One area where Photos doesn't have many options is filters and effects: There are only five filters, though they are of high quality and realistic rather than being drastic obvious filters like those in Instagram. Surprisingly, Apple Photos only has eight filters, so it's not a huge difference. One deepens saturation, others apply warming or cooling effects, one adds heavy vignetting, and there's one excellent B&W option.
There are only two effects in Photos: vignette and selective focus. The latter in particular is pretty basic, only allowing a circle or oval for the focus area and five levels of blur for the background. For a lot more interesting selective focus tools, including tilt-shift and bokeh, check out CyberLink PhotoDirector.
Sharing and Output
Slideshows are the simplest means of enjoying photos that reside in Microsoft Photos: Simply tap the Slideshow button to play through the current batch of images. The Share button is where the real sharing starts, though. Tap it to open Windows 10's Share panel on the right, and then the selected photos can be sent via mail or a selection of other apps, including Facebook, Twitter, or Skype. Unfortunately, there's no direct sharing to Flickr or Instagram at this point. Printing is pretty limited, with only one photo at a time possible. If you need to make a contact sheet, you'll need a more pro-level app.
Simple, Touchable Photo Viewing and Editing
For viewing, organizing, and tuning up your digital photos, the free Microsoft Photos stands at the ready. But for really powerful photo organization, optimization, and retouching, you need a full-featured application such as CyberLink PhotoDirector or one of our Editors' Choices, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Photoshop itself. But after using photo programs that are loaded down with menus and panels and features, it can a joy to use one that's simple, clear, and has what you need for basic viewing and fixes. For most users, most of the time, Microsoft Photos will be an excellent choice for managing and editing photos.