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FotoMagico 4 Review: Creating Slideshows on a Mac
by Theano Nikitas -  1/23/2013

Boinx's FotoMagico is perhaps the most sophisticated slideshow creation software available for Mac users. In this review, we take an in-depth look at FotoMagico 4, a major update with several cool new features, most notably the ability to use layers and a timeline complete with audio waveform.

Overview

New users, especially those with at least a cursory understanding of slideshow creation, will be able to produce a slideshow quite easily with FotoMagico 4. It took me less than 15 minutes to put together a short slideshow the first time I used the product.

Templates can be created quite easily with FotoMagico, so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time and, with version 4, FotoMagico is now compatible with retina displays.

Current users will make the transition to version 4's user interface and new features without much of a learning curve. Although .ssd and .ssp file formats are no longer supported, any previously created .fms files can be opened, played and edited in the latest version.

That said, there are some features and time-saving tips that aren't necessarily intuitive or obvious, so be sure to take a look at the Boinx site and the software's Help section.

Also of note is that previous versions of FotoMagico (FotoMagico Home and FotoMagico Pro) have been incorporated into version 4 and the price has dropped to about $100 (from $140). As a result, there is no additional discount for upgrading from a previous version. However, a free upgrade to version 4 is available for those who purchased 3.x Pro after 10/9/2012. FotoMagico Remote, which controls your show with an iPhone, is available at the App Store for $4.99.

Performance

Other than the addition of the Timeline and Audio Waveform, the user interface hasn't changed much in FotoMagico 4. It's clean, straightforward and easy to navigate with dropdown menus and drag-and-drop simplicity.

The Stage (which is the main screen with the Start and Finish windows), takes up the bulk of the window, but the size of the sidebar can be adjusted and the Timeline and Audio Waveform can be compacted if you need more screen real estate.

Beyond the addition of a toolbar with dropdown menus, most of the action takes place in the sidebar and timeline. Four browsers are listed under the sidebar, one each for accessing features for images, movies, and audio and a fourth entitled "options" with subsets of additional adjustments for the three types of media.

Image Browser

The Image Browser provides access to photos from iPhoto, Aperture, Adobe Lightroom and Finder folders that contain images. The latter is a little misleading, though, since I had to drag and drop a number of folders with images into the Image Browser.

I would much rather have direct access to all folders on my hard drive and external drives via the browser to save the extra step of adding them manually. Once the folder has been added to the browser, you can scroll through each to see thumbnails, which can be enlarged or made smaller via a slider.

You can also search for images, open a preview and call up image information (EXIF data) all from within the browser. The structure is basically the same for movies with the addition of iTunes as a source. The Audio Browser includes GarageBand and iLife Sound Effects along with Music and Sounds folders.

An Options Inspector provides additional tools and actions for images, movies, titles and audio. Here, for example, slide duration, transition and some color correction adjustments are available for still images. Movie volume, ducking (fading audio at a certain point within the movie), adding a color border, color correction/saturation adjustments and more are available under movie options.

For titles, you can choose a font style and size, color, opacity, alignment, and animation and even adjust kerning and leading for the ultimate in finetuning. The Audio Inspector allows users to loop the audio, link the timing to the slides or lock in the timing. You can also adjust volume, ducking and fades.

Layers

One of the best feature additions to the program is layers. Now, each slide can support up to six layers of still images, video and titles, each with its own animation. That means that you can have the background image zoom out, while other images can each move left-to-right, up-and-down, etc.

Since, by nature, layers overlap one another, sometimes it's difficult to choose or move a single layer. To isolate a layer, it can be locked and moved without affecting other elements.

Timeline with Audio Waveform

The other big addition in FotoMagico 4 is the Timeline with Audio Waveform. While the Storyboard is still available, the Timeline/Audio Waveform combination makes it much easier to finetune adjustments.

Audio markers can be inserted a couple of different ways including by running the slideshow, clicking on the audio track and tapping the M key to mark when a slide should advance to the next image. Given that the rhythm of a slideshow and audio track (at least for me) is almost instinctive (like tapping one's foot), tapping the M key seems the most natural and organic way to time slide transitions.

Real-Time Color Correction for Movies

Also new to version 4 is the ability to color correct movies non-destructively and in real time. (Prior to version 4, this was only available for still images.) Another new feature is an adjustable border for movies and photos.

When you design a slideshow that you really like or want to use repeatedly for your clients, it's easy to save a slideshow and later drag and drop different images onto the Storyboard or Stage. Of course, you can change the audio track, too. It's pretty simple and efficient.

Alternatively, you can designate certain images as placeholders to be replaced by others. However, it seems easier just to save one slideshow -- complete with animations -- and replace the images, titles and, if needed, the audio track, including the option to include a narration.

FotoMagico 4 handles just about all common image types, including RAW (as long as the OS version you're using supports it) and it won't crop panoramas. Importantly, FM4 posts a warning if, for example, the image is too large and it provides a one-click option to resize the selected image or to resize all the images in the slideshow to fit the Stage resolution. You'll also get a warning if, as I did, you set a slide's duration for too short a time given the transition and transition time selected.

If you plan a long slideshow or presentation, you can break the show into sections or chapters. For business presentations, you can also add notes to appear on a teleprompter or Boinx's iPhone Remote app.

Sharing

FotoMagico 4 offers a number of sharing options. Fortunately, these don't require a whole lot of technical knowledge to use, although they also offer options for those who want to determine various parameters such as compression and frame rate.

The first of these sharing options is a Standalone Player, which has some limitations. For example, it will only play on an Intel Mac running OS X 10.6 or newer with a "reasonably modern" graphics card, i.e. a Mac that will run FotoMagico 4.

Also, if you use DRM-protected audio, it will only play on five different computers, and these need to be authorized (just as if you purchased a DRM-protected song from iTunes and wanted to play it on different devices at home). On the up side, you'll get the best quality this way, according to Boinx. Additionally, you can limit the number of times the slideshow can play.

You can also give the slideshow an expiration date. For example, if you've prepared a slideshow for a wedding client, once the client has paid for it, you can send a copy with no expiration date. Better yet, you can enter information so that the end of the slideshow shows the name of the slideshow, copyright information, a link to contact the author (and a button that automatically opens an email addressed to author with the title of the slideshow in the subject line), a link to author's webpage, and a link to Boinx.

Other sharing options include QuickTime, YouTube, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, and DVD. All of these sharing options are relatively easy to set up and export, especially since FotoMagico 4 alerts you to any problems and offers suggestions on how to rectify the issues.

Another new feature, added in a recent 4.1 update, alerts you if and when a duplicate photo, video or audio track is being used in a single slideshow. Version 4.1 also fixes a bug that did not alert users to new updates. So if you have FM4 installed, please be sure to update it now.

Usability

Even newcomers to slideshow software can quickly create a simple show using FotoMagico 4's Instant Slideshow feature. Slide show creation can be "instant" indeed, so if you're in a real hurry, just use the default settings. However, users can also select various options including slide duration, transition, and animation, among other parameters.

More complex slideshows are relatively easy to create. It's best if you have at least a little knowledge of standard slideshow and video terminology, such as in and out points. No worries if you don't, though, since all you have to do is click on FotoMagico Help to get a full rundown of terminology and instructions on how to create a slideshow. The Help section is well organized and clearly written.

Once you have the basics down, it's easy to grow into the program by playing around with various features and adjustments if you'd rather explore than read through Help files. 

I used a 2012 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM to create several short slideshows, none of which took more than 15 minutes to put together. Rendering time was pretty fast, depending on the complexity of the show.

Of course, a very short slideshow that took two minutes to render on my laptop may take longer on yours, but it seems that FM4 doesn't have any performance lags, whether it's in rendering or making real-time adjustments.

Overall, it doesn't take much time to become accustomed to FotoMagico 4's user interface, features and tools. Just be sure to dig around a little to discover all that this slideshow software has to offer. 

Conclusion

For Mac users, slideshow software probably doesn't get a whole lot better than FotoMagico 4. The software has been around for a while and the latest version brings with it some significant new features. It's fast and easy to use. In the right hands, it can be a useful tool for creative and business output.

I have to say, though, that as a crossplatform reviewer, I have used the Windows-only Photodex ProShow Gold and ProShow Producer slideshow software for a number of years. While I haven't done a feature-by-feature comparison between the Photodex products and FotoMagico 4, even ProShow Gold (the least expensive of the Photodex applications) offers a broader feature set -- including a broader range of transitions, effects and image editing options -- than FM4.

Still, FotoMagico 4 is an excellent piece of software that will probably remain permanently installed on my MacBook.

System Requirements:

Mac OS X Lion v. 10.7 or later

Recommended:

Mac 2009 or newer

Price:

$99.99 (Apple App store or www.boinx.com)

Pros:

Cons: