CFI provides a one-stop solution to organise your photos into photo books, collect you photos into a portfolio and even share your collections. You can choose your favourite layouts to show off your photos. You can transfer your photos from your computer (directly), Facebook and Dropbox into beautiful collections for sharing, export your photobooks into PDF and play slideshows of your photo books with music as well.
Collections for iPad
As with all iOS portfolio Apps, it’s important to know how they introduce themselves on first use. Do they provide a quick run through of the App with instructions, contain a help guide/slideshow? How easily does the App allow the user to get to work? The first thing an artist is going to do is create a gallery and then customise it. This walkthrough and others walk that line.
Collections for iPad (CFI), is the fourth iOS App in this series of portfolio Apps to be reviewed. As you can read from the Quick Features list, there are options galore for customising nearly every aspect of a portfolio. You might feel a little overwhelmed, but for those who want an extreme amount of control, if you want the ability to edit to your hearts content, to the individual pixel, Collections for iPad is probably it.
I fear I’m going to overuse a few words in this review, words like ‘settings’ and ‘options’ this is because CFI wants to give you every editing tool you could possibly need. When it comes to importing, CFI tries to make it super easy to gather your content from several sources, quite unassuming from looking at the default home screen.
CFI Home Screen
Not an ugly beginning, but the UI could do with a polish. The CFI logo would be more useful as a placeholder; for custom logos. Currently, it just sits there without the option to change it for something else. The three sections are understated in the above screen shot. They are similar to the modules, photographers work with in Adobe LightRoom. We have an ‘Edit’, ‘View’ and ‘Slideshow’ mode.
Importing images is very flexible you’re spoilt for choice; you have the Photo Library, Dropbox, Facebook, directly from your computer and now with this newest revision, Flickr. You can import up to 50 photos at any one time. But if the album needs to be larger than 50 images, you have to add more later. For my test folder, I imported the images from the Photo Library.
Importing from Photo Library
From there you’re greeted with this pop over screen, I can import images as I choose by tapping on them individually, I can tap ‘select all’ and select just ‘Portrait’ images or select just the ‘Landscape’ images. I thought these were neat touches. Importing from online sources require you to log in and link 3rd party services to your Collections iPad App.
Import from Computer
I tested ‘import from computer’ as I felt it was interesting enough to describe how it works here. Importing from the computer is v simple over the wireless network. Follow the onscreen instructions as shown in the image above. On your machine, in my case my MacBook, this is what the screen looked like.
Browser import screen
Importing is quick, but you need to import each image individually. CFI acknowledges the transfer but the pop over doesn’t quit until you’re actually ready. When you are ready, tap ‘Start Import’ on the iPad. Any method to import will bring up this screen:
Here you can choose which layouts you’d like to use. Each layout is already selected by default. I present images in a straight way and I want to copy the sequence from my printed portfolio, so I found myself always opting for the fullscreen layout.
Full Screen layout selected
Since I was repeatedly using the one layout, I’d have preferred to have no layouts preselected for me. Would you use every layout? Still as of version 1.7, having all layouts selected is the default.
The import summary screen is shown below; showing the source, number of photos, number of layouts and album title. Clicking ‘Start Populate’ at the bottom will then change into a ‘Generating Page’ (with progress indicator) screen.
Generating Pages takes a while so make sure you have made all the right choices as it can’t be cancelled until it’s completed.
CFI will do two things here, import images and then generate pages based on the layouts you selected. I’d like to see some improvement with the speed of importing. My first generation iPad couldn’t do anything for 2:20 minutes.
This was my home screen after the first import:
CFI carrys over the title of the album from your import source and the album is a big tappable icon. If you keep things simple up to this point (like choosing the fullscreen layout and sticking to the defaults) you’re actually finished, you can now start presenting your work. Hold pressing on an album will allow you to delete the album.
Editing Slideshows (Part 1)
Part 1 discusses the options that enable general edits of your Slideshows. Part 2 is concerned with the options that give you the ability to edit your images on an individual basis.
The Edit mode has changed in version 1.7. Tapping on your album in ‘edit mode’, conjures the screen below. Notice the available option buttons along the top? The Home button is self-explanatory, the ‘Insert’ and ‘Import’ buttons perform two different actions. 1.7 moves the rest of the primary functions to the bottom of the screen now.
‘Insert’ allows you to add new layouts to your slideshow. ‘Import’ will allow you to import more images. It’s here you can take albums over the 50 image limit imposed by the initial import. Any imported images will need to be processed in the same way as before as well. Grab a toilet break and you should be good.
The ‘Help’ button is a pop over menu explaining everything you’d probably need. ‘Edit Album’ (the Cog button) allows general changes to be made to the album, such as the background image, background colour, layout settings etc. But it is here where I encountered something I didn’t like. Remember during import, CFI needed to generate each page? It will generate all those pages again if you change something like the background colour. CFI defaults to a white background, whereas I would always choose black for my documentary work. Below is a screenshot of CFI processing changes, the screen dims and the buttons disappears.
I felt discouraged from making any further changes as I’m impatient. In testing such changes always took 1:15 minutes to complete. What I would like to see are a set of further preferences at the import stage, then it’s less likely I would need to re-generate all my album’s pages again. Once pages have been generated, everything is fine during use, but if page generation can’t be sped up minimising the need for it, would be the next best thing.
The ‘Tools’ button has the standard set of options for deleting or copying pages. This takes us to the ‘Reorder Pages’ pop over menu.
Re-ordering pages is intelligent enough, tap and hold in the same way like organising your iPad’s icons. There is a lengthy delay with rendering previews, I assume it’s due to memory constraints since the first iPad carries such a pitiful amount. I haven’t tested this on the new iPad yet. Sometimes a thumbnail wouldn’t load in version 1.6 and sadly it happens in 1.7, but tapping the image that hasn’t loaded will still show up as the main image on screen. It helped if I exited that screen and tried again. I’d like to see a full screen view; something that would take advantage of the entire screen and give me a complete overview of my slideshow.
As of 1.7, you don’t always need to tap the Tools button to get a timeline of your slideshow, tap the slide counter at the bottom centre of the screen. It’s for viewing the timeline only. It’s quick and all the images are rendered without a problem!
NOTE: As of version 1.7, adding music to your slidehow is now in the ‘View’ mode and not the ‘Edit’ mode.
Along the bottom of the screen are another row of buttons. Preview (previews your image by removing all buttons onscreen, to call the buttons back you have to tap the top of the screen, not the bottom), Photos (import more images) , Swap (for moving images around in layouts with multiple frames), Layout (layouts settings) and Batch (text, frame, delete auto resizing of images).
Editing Images (Part 2)
One large difference between version 1.6 and 1.7 is the restructuring of the App controls. Tapping the main image will call up specific tools to edit single images, they are not shown on the same screen from the settings described in Part 1.
Editing individual images
‘Edit Frame’ produces a whole new series of buttons, see above image. Auto Fit, Aspect Ratio, Rotate, Edit Text and Remove Text are self-explanatory and won’t be covered. Text Settings are shown below:
Options include font style, size, colour, alignment & positioning and whether the captions should be placed over your imagery.
Photo & Video buttons allow you to import the media they’re referring to. Where some of these options fall short is just on the finishing touches, like defining the ‘Border Width’ or ‘Corner Radius’, see screenshot below.
When making changes to the ‘Border Width’ for example. You have to input a number to a decimal place. I think this is bad UI. Why do I need to use a whole numeric keyboard for something with a limited data entry field? Anything I do enter, isn’t going to take effect until I dismiss the pop over menu, that means going backwards and forwards repeatedly until the radius is perfect. Here are two questions:
1) Why can’t there be a onscreen slider for choosing the radius?
2) Why is the a grey square below the entry field wasting perfectly good screen real estate, wouldn’t it be better to either use it as a live preview area, (similar to how Photoshop renders previews) so you can see the radius you’re creating or remove it so the image underneath can render the radius changes live?
Make sure to tick a box in the Photos tab within iTunes that says ‘Includes Video’. It took me a while to realise this. I imported my test folder but iTunes would ignore the video files unless the aforementioned box is ticked. That aside, incorporating video content is very straight forward. It shows up with a play icon while onscreen, I’d like it to be as big as the album icons on the homepage, therefore more noticable. Tap play, watch the video and tap done to bring you back to the main slideshow. Straight forward like I said. If a video is in the wrong place, it will show up in the time line so a simple tap and hold will allow you to drag it and place it somewhere else. Curiously video is an important feature but there isn’t much to it when it comes to using it!
Video in Edit Mode
Another neat touch is you’re allowed to add captions to videos and they disappear when you press the play button.
I think I’ve been quite informative with CFI’s settings. So I will brief here with a few other features/options within the App that might be interesting.
Export options are plenty, there are options to upload to various online services, export to PDF/PNG, save to the iPad’s photo library and so forth.
There is a built in text search function. It can be found on the homescreen
Captions are still related to editing, but I wanted to discuss it here in a separate section. Caption text can be over laid or placed above or below your images.
Fonts are plenty, 137 in version 1.7 (1.6 had 30) and you can play with the size, alignment and colour, again I’d prefer a slider for choosing the font size. I would like a way to include intro text. In slideshow view I’d like to see text included as an interactive element, which would allow me to hide the text with a tap. I would also like to have the captions inside an opaque box so as to separate the text from the background. But at the moment, CFI has the best tools for adding text to slideshows.
There isn’t really a way to brand yourself a home screen with CFI. In CFI, the home screen is created as you add albums. Eventually you’ll get a home screen like the one below. You can have a custom colour or image as a background but I think sticking to a single colour is best. I don’t think a background image would be useful as the Collections logo rests in what was empty space. In my previous review I wondered if the black space could be utilised better by allowing users to add an badge or logo, not in this version.
The large thumbnails do their job of attracting some attention. But you know what else attracted my attention? All the different interactive elements around the periphery. In Slideshow view the buttons to import and add more albums is removed, which is a good start, but I think the Slideshow view interface elements need further refining. It would be great if CFI’s Slideshow view would do two things. First hide everything offscreen that isn’t an album or folder. Second, shift the grid (with a nice sliding transition) to the left to accommodate a fourth column. Think of the way, all the icons travel off screen on an iOS device as you tap to open an application.
A side-effect of the new transition is that it provides a visual clue as to where the other albums exist beyond the ninth album. I found myself fingering the screen until it responded by showing me where the other albums were (to the right). But just like the home screen on an iOS device, there are a series of white dots just above the iOS dock. They are used for exactly the same purpose in CFI, except in CFI, they are cropped and hard to see because they are placed right on the edge of the screen. They were cropped in V1.6 as well, but maybe this was an oversight by the developer. At the moment they are tiny semi-circles that are easily overlooked.
I’m making these suggestions because tightening up the home screen will improve the viewing experience; removing the distracting elements and allow users to focus on showcasing their work. I don’t really want a secondary discussion in a client meeting about how I edited the work for example just because somebody was curious upon seeing the edit button.
All the layouts included with CFI allow for a lot of creativity for the artist. So far CFI is the only app to provide different layouts for showing work. I’m a documentary photographer so most of my slideshows will normally be one image per slide, layouts allowing multiple images on screen won’t work for me. But the various layouts included, will be useful for other users, other Apps don’t do this. What if I suddenly wanted to show my work in a series of diptychs or triptychs? I can only do that with other portfolio Apps by firing up Photoshop and creatively merging jpegs. With CFI the option is always there if you want to do something different. In addition, CFI will auto-load your media if you want it to, making the setup process easier than other portfolio Apps.
The update to 1.7 from 1.6 is the first update I’ve covered here and this update is a step in the right direction, video and Flickr support are very welcome. This version of CFI isn’t a major overhaul, it’s a point release but CFI sets out to smarten itself up a bit, interface elements have been improved and the the three modes are more defined. I think it was a good choice to move slideshow settings (options allowing you to add music) to the slideshow view mode.
There is still someway to go, other UI quirks still exist from 1.6, caption text needs to be better defined, the time it takes to generate pages is still a time vampire, but I can appreciate what it is doing, (but this is with the first iPad, I’m not sure of the performance with the new one) and importantly include tools the user can take advantage of to brand their home screen. Setting those niggles aside, for half the price of a StarBucks, it does offer significant value, don’t dismiss it entirely.
Page processing. Still takes too long on first generation iPads as far as I know.
The home screen has been improved but has still too many distracting elements in Slideshow mode
Caption text needs more polish, include the ability to show/hide text with a tap.
The dialogue box upon reaching the end of an album. I’d rather have a preference that automatically takes me to the next album. If I hand my iPad to a client, I don’t want them interacting with dialogue boxes.
Needs more transitions
No true Kiosk mode
UI quirks. Close buttons on pop over menus. Other Apps allow you to tap off menu to close the pop over.
Importing options need to be expanded upon.
Easy to navigate which is good considering the available options.