Microsoft Photos, the free photo viewer and editor included with Windows 10, offers competent image editing and photo enhancements along with tools for organizing and editing videos, all in a touch-friendly interface. You can mark up images with drawings, add background music and 3D effects to videos, and search more easily with automatic object tagging. Microsoft Photos is an excellent tool for working with digital images, one that could even make third-party photo software for some users.
Getting Started With Microsoft Photos
The Photos app comes preinstalled with Windows 10. If you’ve got Windows 10, you don’t need to do anything to get the app. Like the Apple Photos app included with macOS, it’s just there. As with its Apple counterpart, you can only uninstall Microsoft Photos only by using command line options. If you decide removing it was a mistake, you can always get it from Windows 10’s app store, the Microsoft Store. You can also simply change the default photo viewer/editor to another app of your choice.
Windows still comes with Paint, which is more about one-at-a-time image resizing, drawing, and saving to different image formats. You also get Paint 3D, a far more modern app that offers easy 3D modeling, decoration, and sharing as well as 2D image-editing.
A Clear Interface
The Photos interface is segmented into five main modes: Collection, Albums, People, Folders, and Video Editor. Collection organizes everything by date. Albums includes both automatically created albums and albums you create yourself. Folders shows images by file location. From any mode, you can click on an individual photo for viewing and editing.
Photos is geared toward simplicity and touch. By contrast, Apple’s Photos app for the Mac only supports the limited (though well-implemented) touch capabilities of the MacBook’s Touch Bar. In Microsoft’s app, zooming and un-zooming require a double tap on the image or Ctrl-Mouse wheel spin in Collection mode and just a spin of the mouse wheel in Edit mode. You can also use a Fit-to-screen icon or Plus and Minus buttons at the bottom right.
I wish there were a before-and-after viewing feature that you could use to view the original image during editing. The Adjustments page of Edit mode does offer a Reset option, though, which is helpful.
Horizontal sliders adjust lighting and color, but you can’t double-tap them to set them back to the default position. Photos and its sliders work fine on high-DPI displays like that of my 4K-resolution Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC all-in-one PC test machine.
Viewing and Organizing Photos
Any images and videos in your Photos user folder and its subfolders (including Screenshots) show up in the Photos app. You can add any other folders on your system to view their contents in the Folders section, as well as include OneDrive folders. Including OneDrive means that any photos shot on smartphones set up with auto-upload appear in your Collection view. The Photos app also includes an Import option that works with any storage device you plug into the computer.
Microsoft Photos supports raw camera files—a plus for those who take digital photos seriously. It even opens newer formats such as Canon’s .CR3 and images shot with Nikon’s .NEF. The raw conversion is adequate, but doesn’t yield as much details or a rich color as Adobe Lightroom or PhotoLab do by default. You can, of course, tweak those things later in Adjustments.
One organizational highlight is that Microsoft Photos creates albums for you automatically, based on date groupings, just as Apple Photos does with its Memories. As with Memories, you also get an auto-created video slideshow. The difference is that with the Windows 10 app you can edit the albums to taste. Apple doesn’t give you any input into which photos go in your Memories. Both Apple and Microsoft let you share your online galleries via links as long as they’re synced to iCloud or OneDrive, respectively, but Apple is more about sharing to other Apple devices—there’s no direct sharing to social networks, for example.
You can also create your own albums; adding shots is a snap from within the album or from the Photo view. You get options to zoom, enhance, edit, and share individual photos as you work with them. Play a slideshow if you like.
Finding Faces and Tagging People
Since my last review update of Microsoft Photos, it has gained the ability to identify faces, which you can name and then search for. As with other programs that do this, it automatically identifies the person in new photos. Simply head to the People mode to see all your folk. The program didn’t identify any nonhuman image as a face—which used to be a common occurrence for these now-improved tools. It did identify a face in a painting, as most similar tools still do.
Click on a person’s circle to see all the photos and videos of them in your collection. You can then create an automatic movie slideshow starring that person, complete with background music and transitions. The search box at the top shows thumbnails to get you to a friend’s photos fast, as we’ll see in the next section.
Searching for Photos
The search feature in Photos is impressive. In addition to searching by filename, you can enter object types like animal or tree and see all your images that contain those things. You can also search for places and for people you’ve identified and for text in the images.
What’s Missing for Organization?
The app is missing a couple of the views we like to see in photo editing apps. For example, there’s no Map view of all your geotagged photos—which includes most mobile photos. You can, however, see a map location on individual photos’ File Info panels. This also reveals limited data like the camera, f-stop, focal length, ISO and file dimensions, but you can’t see full EXIF data. You can tap a heart icon to add a picture to your Favorites (though, unfortunately not for raw files), but Photos doesn’t include a way to rate photos with stars or apply keyword tags, though you can do all of those things in File Explorer.
When you hit Edit, Photos takes you to the Crop & Rotate view, which makes sense, since those are the most basic image editing functions. You can choose from popular fixed aspect ratios for your crop, which can be helpful for output to targets that require that. Straightening is accomplished with a slider. We prefer round handles at the corners to do this. Also, there’s no auto-straighten tool. You can Flip an image to mirror view or rotate it 90 degrees clockwise.
In the Filters section, the top option is the Enhance tool, probably the next thing you want to try. I find that it usually bumps up contrast and saturation, fixes white balance, and often does make for a better-looking image, if one that doesn’t always reflect the drabness of reality. Skies get a boost with highlight reduction for a better look at the clouds, and Photos does a good job correcting white balance on overly warm indoor shots. You can adjust the strength of the Enhance tool’s effects with a slider.
There are also 15 more filter effects to play with, and the strength of each is adjustable, too. Included are four black-and-white options, with different levels of contrast and sharpness. Applying one of these and then scaling back its strength lets just a smidge of color into your black-and-white shot—it’s an effective and interesting technique.
I am happy to see that the app lets you adjust not only exposure and contrast, but also highlights and shadows. Color editing is also an option, and I often use the Clarity slider (similar to that in Adobe Lightroom), which controls sharpness and black point. The unlabeled slider on top of the Color section, which shows a wide image thumbnail, serves as a saturation and vibrance control. Finally, you can adjust Tint, Warmth, and add a Vignette (that is, darken or lighten the photo’s edges).
Once you’ve perfected your edits, you can either save a copy or overwrite the original. There’s unfortunately no option to save the picture as a different file type or to a different location—your new copy is saved as a JPG in the current folder. Although this practice simplifies things, we would prefer more control over output settings.
Drawing on Photos (and on Videos With Motion Tracking!)
The drawing tool works with mouse, stylus, or finger, and the selection of tips and colors is decent. Most impressively, it offers motion tracking, so your drawing can follow an object around the screen; just position the anchor on the object to which you want to attach your drawing. The eraser, however, is a bit blunt. It can only erase an entire stroke, rather than letting you touch up your drawing on a more granular pixel level.
What’s Missing for Photo Editing?
Microsoft no longer offers selective-focus (also known as tilt-shift) or colorpop tools as it did in the previous incarnation of the app, and it doesn’t offer the sort of noise and chromatic-aberration-reduction and geometry correction tools you get in Adobe Photoshop Elements. There are, however, simple and effective red-eye and blemish removal tools.
Given all the clip joining, trimming, titles, effects, and background music capacities, the video editing features in Photos are extensive enough to merit a separate app. Microsoft keeps things simple with a single media editor and saves you the hassle of launching a separate program. Plus, many people will use it to join still photos to create video slideshows, complete with Ken Burns motion effects.
You get to the Photos app’s video-editing features either by choosing the Video Editor mode button or the New Video button, which offers three options: New Video Project, Automatic Video, and Import Backup.
If you don’t want to fuss at all over your project, simply select a bunch of photo and video clip thumbnails from your Collection view and then tap Automatic video. You can also create a movie based on a person by choosing New > Automatic video. This applies a theme, filters, background music, a title based on the video name, and transitions, all of which you can mix up by hitting the Remix It for Me button. It’s an excellent bit of instant gratification and a lot of fun to play around with, and you can edit the movie using the tools below.
If you’re willing to put in a modicum of effort building your project, Choose Video Editor mode. This page shows your previous projects as well as letting you start new ones. The video editor inside the Photos app is not timeline-based, but rather completely storyboard-based. After you select the video and tap Add, and you get the choices From This PC, From My Collection, and From the Web. The last option opens a Bing video search with categories of scenes, like Beach, Fireworks, Cats, and so on. If you add from your collection, you can use the built-in search to find content for your video. Once the source panel is populated, you simply check the thumbnails and then tap Place in storyboard or drag them down.
Trimming component clips is crystal clear, with markers to show in and out points, you can even slide a selection to get the same time length on a different stretch of your video.
Once you’ve got content in the storyboard, icons above it let you add title cards, trim or split clips, add text, apply motion or 3D effects, use filters, or change speed. It’s a generous selection that enables you to produce an engaging result. At the top are choices for adding background music, with over 20 choices. Microsoft 365 subscribers get seven more, but even without that it’s more than what Apple Photos offers—only seven. Both programs let you add your own music as a background option.
Mobile videographers and TikTok users will be delighted that you can produce videos in portrait orientation as well as standard 16:9 or 4:3 landscape. A prefab way to produce your video is to use a theme that includes filters, text styles, and soundtracks. The filters come in 13 flavors such as Arcade, Loved, Sepia, and Pixel. Unlike the photo filters, the intensity of themes isn’t adjustable.
Text styles run the gamut from Classic to Electric to Boom. The last applies that nifty trick of using your video content as the filling of the letters. Other consumer video editing software like Adobe Premiere Elements and CyberLink PowerDirector also include this capability, though it takes more effort in those.
3D Effects are something you won’t find in Apple Photos, and they’re somewhat in the realm of VR. Instead of using 3D models you create in Paint 3D or get from remix3d.com (Microsoft’s online 3D object sharing site), you can choose from 42 prefab 3D effects ranging from balloons to explosions to butterflies. These are fun, and the ability to anchor them to moving objects (for motion tracking) is impressive. A new one since my last review is Aurora—great for outdoor night scenes. Another is Sci-fi Portal, a sort of bright animated black hole.
Another option in the 3D editor is to choose an item from the 3D library. There’s a large selection of these to choose from, and they’re arranged in groups like Animals & Insects, Words and Symbols, and Costumes. Some of these, like the landing military jet, take a little while to download.
When you’re done with your movie, you get a choice of exporting it as High (1080p), Medium (720p) and Low (540p); you can enable hardware acceleration for the process in Settings. In all, Photos’s video-creation tools are simple yet rich, especially for those who want to create something enjoyable but have no interest in getting into the weeds of things like timeline tracks and keyframes.
Sharing and Output
Photos and albums can be shared via the standard Windows 10 share icon at top right to any photo-accepting UWP app installed on your PC—Flipboard, Mail, Pinterest, Twitter, and so on. (Unfortunately, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger no longer support the standard share panel.) For photos and albums, you can generate a link and have the recipient view them online via OneDrive—no account needed.
You can print your photos via the standard Windows 10 printing utility. There’s no built-in photo printing service, though, and the Windows apps for Snapfish, PhotoAffections, and Walgreens didn’t offer share targets at the time of testing. Some big services like Shutterfly, York, and RitzPix don’t even offer apps. The situation contrasts markedly with Apple Photos on macOS, which offers photo, book, and poster printing right from within the app. Of course, a simple website visit can get your Windows photos printed with the services mentioned above. If you sync your photos to OneDrive, there are printing options from that service’s Photos view.
A final sharing option is to send an album to Sway. This is an online Office component that lets you build a storytelling website. With it, you can add titles and captions with lots of design choices. It also lets you add tweets and file downloads from Facebook and OneDrive, along with custom embed code.
Simple Photo and Video Editing
For simple viewing, tuning up, and sharing of digital photos and videos, the free Microsoft Photos is an excellent option. After using photo and video-editing programs loaded down with menus and panels and features, it can be a joy to use one that’s easy to use, clear, and has what you need for basic viewing and fixes. Of course, for powerful photo organization, optimization, and effects, you need a full-featured application like one of our Editors’ Choice photo editors, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Photoshop. If you really want to go to town with your videos, get CyberLink PowerDirector, our enthusiast Editors’ Choice video editor, though it’s far more complex. For casual users, Microsoft Photos is a fine choice for managing, editing, and sharing photos and videos.