Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.


The search for that DAM solution

where but for Microsoft would we be ?

in General Rants , Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The quest for the perfect solution for managing (digital) photos never seems to end. Aperture and Lightroom have brought integrated organisation and non-destructive editing to us, which should be a big step forward from the multiple tool workflows using combinations of Photoshop, Adobe Bridge, iView Media Pro, Extensis Portfolio and others. But I’m not convinced that it is all beneficial.

I would like to keep track of all of my photo library in one place. And this includes photos taken on film, both old and new, as well as digital, more recently processed “non-destructively” with Aperture but previously export with baked-in adjustments from Camera Raw, Capture One or Iridient Raw Developer. Aperture is sort of able to do this, but frankly it isn’t ideal. Aperture’s - and Lightroom’s - promise of non-destructive editing has a downside, and this is that it doesn’t really cater for the idea of a “finished” image. Neither are particularly flexible when it comes to free-form labelling. Lightroom is a bit better in this respect, but not much. With Aperture you can use albums and smart albums, but then again with some limitations.  Neither have the subtle but extremely effective depth of support for cataloging found in iView Media Pro (sorry, I should say Microsoft Expression Media). But Expression Media is (a) apparently dead, acquired and smothered by fucking stupid Microsoft, and (b) doesn’t have any concept of linking different renditions of the same source.


Beyond the grave: iView Media Pro 3 still works fine in OS X 10.5

Ideally Aperture 3, if it ever appears, will extend cataloging functionality and add the concept of a “final master”, but I doubt it. And Aperture is never going to be anything other than a very clumsy way of dealing with scanned images. I could live with a solution where I feed masters from Aperture to Expression Media. In fact I could even imagine creating a “bridge” with AppleScript which would allow me to generate catalog numbers and save them in a database. But I have serious doubts about the continued existence of Expression Media.

So what alternatives are there ? One possibility has been AtomicView from AntZero. AtomicView looks good in theory, as an Expression Media for the future, and it’s even Swiss. But it is let down by a very debatable user interface, which seems to screaming for attention and badly detracts from using it in any kind of of serious photographic context. It also has a weird import and organisation process, and finally it is much, much slower than Expression Media. On the other hand it is the advantage of youth and enthusiasm.  But on balance, version 1 is so poorly conceived that I can’t see it will ever get significantly better.


Atomic View would be so much better without the juvenile non-standard GUI

Major issues with the Atomic View GUI include floating panels which are confined within the main window (see at the bottom right of the screenshot above) and a frankly hideous default colour scheme (look at the highlighting of the selected image) which doesn’t get much better even with full use of the limited customisation options. It’s a pity because all of this must have taken significant resources, which could have been devoted to core functionality if the standard UI Toolkit had been used.

A very interesting glimmer of hope presents itself in the new (beta) Mac version of the veteran Windows tool, ACDSee Pro. However, although it does seem to have some nice features, and a major opportunity to attract Expression media “orphans”, I’m afraid that despite the “Pro” tag it is going to end up trying to compete more at the consumer end of the market, and will spread itself too thin.


ACDSee Pro Mac Beta in “manage” mode

ACDSee does seem to be more of a competitor to Adobe Bridge. It does not import images or build catalogs like Expression Media, so it cannot be used in “offline” mode in the sense of a traditional Digital Asset Management tool. It is much slower at building thumbnails than Adobe Bridge, and so far it does not appear to be offering much beyond very basic metadata management. However, it is a Beta, so maybe there is still an opportunity to influence development. In any case, it is nice to see such an established Windows developer enter the Mac market.

So the search goes on. While there remains an outside chance that Expression Media will be saved I guess I will continue to use it (or rather iView Media Pro v3), but I’m concerned about investing a lot of effort in a tool that may soon stop working.


Posted in category "General Rants" on Tuesday, January 05, 2010 at 05:22 PM

Older Comments

from Brian Small on Tue, January 05, 2010 - 10:21

David, have a look at IMatch from Photools if you haven’t done so already. Very powerful once mastered but not for the feint-of-heart. I’ve been using it for years and am very happy with it.

from Bernard on Fri, January 08, 2010 - 1:44

The people at Camera Bits have been working for quite some time on a cataloguing program (with a database) to complement their brilliant PhotoMechanic software. Let’s hope it will finally be released before too long…

from david mantripp on Fri, January 08, 2010 - 9:14

Brian - I ‘ve heard good things about iMatch and I believe it is a good solution for Windows users. Unfortunately I’m not one of them….

Bernard - yessss…. well, “working some time” is a polite way of putting it!  If and when it ever appears I’m sure it will be a worthy contender.

Working through these alternatives - and others, like Extensis Portfolio - just highlights how good iView was, and how good Expression Media could be… if only.

from Robert Boyer on Sun, January 24, 2010 - 2:41


Prior to Aperture and until Ap 1.5 I was an iView Pro advocate. Just wondering why you find it so useful compared with Aperture at this point? Just curious.


Ps. - I figured MicroSloth would some how screw up iView sooner or later. Nothing escapes ruin in their fumbling grip.

from david mantripp on Tue, January 26, 2010 - 8:45

Well, part of it is a very considerable amount of legacy work invested in iView, of course. But one thing I really miss in Aperture is the lack of a secondary, orthogonal rating system such as colour labels. Lightroom has this (although as far as I can remember, complete with the usual Lr half-baked gotchas) and so does iView. So I can use ratings for, well, rating, and labels for more ephemeral stuff, such as marking the stage that I am at in working on an image. iView has some other nice tricks up it’s sleeve. The Notepad is very useful, and the speed at which you can make selections and combinations has, in my opinion, never been matched.

I realise that you can do a lot of this stuff in Aperture, and I do make a lot of use of static and smart albums. However, I do find smart albums annoying sometimes - there seem to be some rules about when you can and can’t make them, and when you can or can’t apply filtering by keyword, that I’ve never quite grasped.  But the main issue is that Aperture simply isn’t designed to handle scanned images, especially large ones. It copes - and better than Lightroom - but still, I don’t usually want to create multiple versions of a 350Mb XPan film scan.

iView’s biggest weakness, from my perspective, and which hasn’t been addressed by Microsoft, is the lack of a stacks concept.  iView could have become a sort of neutral broker between different Raw converters, managing all the sidecar, settings and rendered files and relating them to a master RAW, but I don’t suppose that will ever happen. Or it could have become closely integrated with CaptureOne, which would have made a very strong competitor with Aperture and Lightroom, especially with Microsoft behind it.

But Microsoft seems to have decided not to compete in the pro photography market, which is a shame. But, sadly, a predictable screwup.

from Paul Golden on Mon, April 05, 2010 - 11:26

I have been a user of IVMP and (now) Expression for about 8 or 9 years. It’s by far the best DAM I’ve used and the fact that its languishing at Microsoft is appalling. But Expression has some powerful functionality that I’ve yet to see at other DAMs:

1) SAVING CATALOGS AS FILES.  Unlike file browser DAMs (Bridge) or hybrids (Aperture/Lightroom), Expression can create a catalog of a limited scope, like Job by Job, or in my case, Directors’ work. This means you can save a copy of the Catalog file and make drastic changes without worrying that you can’t revert to an older version. It also means I can save a catalog with server materials and archive them with the catalog, freeing up server space.

2) By having an individual Catalog file format, you can save a single copy of the catalog on a server and open it from multiple locations (not at the same time) and not be tied to a single machine. So if my assistant wants to update the file, she can do that without having to jump on my machine.

3) VIDEO. Bridge is OK with video, but both Aperture and Lightroom (I have the latest 3.0 versions) cannot, despite their assertions to the contrary, deal with QT movies in an easygoing, useful way.

4) WEB GALLERIES: None of the other programs can publish Web Galleries with QT Movies embedded in them. This is a huge part of my workflow, showing iterative work to clients with Meta Data attached. I have created custom HTML gallery templates with my company branding and they look great. They publish quickly and are easily altered. There could be improvement for sure, but they really kick Adobe or Apple’s ass in this area.

5) TAGGING, KEYWORDS, COLLECTIONS, COLOR CODING: Really fast and easy to use.

I checked out Atomic View and hated it instantly. I haven’t looked at Extensis Portfolio lately, but wasn’t impressed in earlier versions.

Here are my only beefs with Expression:

1) RAW: Can see them but can’t correct them.
2) No true server version. Should be multi-user.
3) No easy way of grouping like assets with same data, but different size (for example L, M, S versions of the same file)

These are minor. If anyone has a DAM solution that deals with VIDEO assets effectively, let me know… I’m always looking….

from captain Interesting on Mon, April 19, 2010 - 7:36

I know I really shouldn’t add my ha’porth to the exchange of expert opinion above but, yunno, there’s a lot to be said for just taking colour slides, getting the lab to pack them in little boxes, and then just stuffing the little boxes in a cupboard ..... :)