PhotoScape comes with templates for arranging image collages. (Credit: CNET Networks Inc./Photos by Seth Rosenblatt)

If you're looking to put together a Valentine's Day collage for your sweetie, it's mighty late to be worrying about creative gifts from the heart. So get a jump on that photo mashup (or is that car crash?) you've been planning for next year's Valentine's Day with PhotoScape, a freeware image editor that's surprisingly feature-rich.

PhotoScape distinguishes itself from the crowd with an impressive set of features. Although it eats and leaks about as much memory as Firefox, it's aimed squarely at the at-home image editor who's making the jump to dSLR cameras and the wide, wonderful world of high-density RAW image files, but isn't quite ready for the full-on Photoshop or GIMP experience.

Besides RAW conversion support, PhotoScape can handle all other major image formats from JPEG and PNG, as well as animated GIF creation. It comes with prebuilt templates for users to create photo collages, fumetti, and Web comics, and has a standard set of red-eye removal, light/shadow, and contrast-editing features.

PhotoScape can convert RAW files, but not edit them directly. (Credit: CNET Networks Inc./Photo by Seth Rosenblatt)

One warning about the RAW processing: Although it looks like you can drag and drop, the converter doesn't change RAW to JPEG unless you load the RAW file from within the native file browser. It's a minor bug, but one that can lead you to believe that there's no RAW support at all if you drag and drop from Windows Explorer. You can also batch edit images, combine them, and print them out one at a time or several at once.

The program loads fast and possesses an interface completely different from those familiar with Adobe's industry-leading tools. Users are greeted by circular navigator complemented by a tabbed nav on the top of the main screen. Most, but not all main features are accessible from either nav. It might take some people time to get used to the unusual layout, but it's only unusual for an image editor; otherwise it's intuitive, fast, and lacks only the most advanced of image editing features.

Overall, the program is a nice piece of work for budding photographers on a tight budget, and those who want to be able to learn a program in a matter of minutes, not days.