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A catalog for Sigma Files

Just some geeky tech stuff…

in Sigma , Saturday, June 16, 2018

As a long term user of Sigma fixed-lens cameras (I was going to say “compact” but then glanced at the dp0 Quattro on my desk) one of the most frustrating things is the difficulty with browsing photos on disk. Sigma’s Raw formats are read by very few applications, and although Quattro cameras now support DNG, which makes life easier, this comes with the drawback of not being able to use Sigma Photo Pro (SPP) for raw processing. Many would say that was a plus, but in my opinion, the combined effect of the latest version of Adobe Lightroom’s poor rendering of the DNGs, and the big step forward Sigma have taken with Photo Pro v6.6 sways the balance towards proprietary X3F files. Honestly, if you’re going to go to all the trouble involved in using a Sigma camera, it seems pretty nuts to settle for arguably sub-optimal output.

So, I needed a solution. SPP’s file browser is truly dreadful. It has no facility for marking folders as favourites, it cannot peek inside a folder to see if it has no Sigma Raw files and thus exclude it, it has no standard metadata features, etc etc. It’s a real pain.

There aren’t many alternatives: my standard tool for cataloging outside of Lightroom is MediaPro, which I use for mainly for film scans these days, but in the past I used for everything. I’ve probably been using it in various incarnations for 20 years or more. The last significant update to MediaPro was under its original owner, iView, to version 3. That was in 2004 if I remember correctly. Since then it has been owned by Microsoft, then PhaseOne, and has benefited from almost no functional development. PhaseOne’s last effort, “MediaPro SE” brought only OS compatibility (supposedly) and alignment with CaptureOne.  MediaPro SE still has quaint menu items such as “Backup to CD-ROM”. So, the chances of MediaPro supporting X3F files are in the snowstorm in hell category.

But there is one last chance: iDimager Systems PhotoSupreme (PSU). I’ve been trying to get to grips with PSU for a while. Generally I found it a very frustrating experience. PSU has a bizarre User Interface, at least for one coming to it from an application like MediaPro, or indeed Lightroom. For me Version 3 was also alarmingly unstable - you do not want an application that you invest a lot of effort into to trash it’s database too often - and at times extremely sluggish. But it could read X3F files and extract the embedded JPG. And it had a lot of other promising but infuriating features. Nevertheless MediaPro was still more elegant and intuitive, after all the years of neglect. So I set PSU aside and struggled on with SPP’s browser.

Then came PSU Version 4. I was dubious at first, the upgrade price of some $100 seemed pretty steep, and I wasn’t that optimistic. But eventually I took the plunge, and so far, it’s working out pretty well.  With PSU, I can now import X3F files, catalog them, organise them, smoothly review in anything up to full screen, and compare several files using the Light Table. What’s more, with one click I can send them directly to Sigma Photo Pro. And after I process them in SPP, I can import the TIFs into PSU and bind them with their source X3F into Version Sets (basically what Lightroom calls Stacks, only more like Aperture’s stacks, without Lightroom’s bone-headed limitations). 

Here are a few screenshots to illustrate the various steps:

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A selection of X3F thumbnails in PhotoSupreme

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X3F thumbnails shown in PhotoSupreme’s Light table mode

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Full size image shown in PhotoSupreme

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Sigma Photo Pro in PSU - click to open the selected image in SPP

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selected image in Sigma Photo Pro

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Stacked / Versioned X3F and SPP-exported TIFF in PSU

PSU Version 4 also has a reworked UI, which makes it considerably easier to get to grips with its modus operandi. It still has some rough edges though, and the developer (iDimager Systems is a one-man show, as far as I know) would do well to hire a User Experience consultant. Although to be fair probably that would not be commercially realistic. But all in all it works, and it has some very nice features, apart from the powerful Versions concept. For example, it can apply quite impressive approximate renderings to Raw files processed in Lightroom, CaptureOne and DxO PhotoLab. On the downside, it really is very inadequately documented.

But in any case, for me at least it is a really liberating experience to be able to use extensive Digital Asset Management tools on my Sigma X3F Raw files. I very much work with sets of photos, not individual shots, and the editing process (in the traditional sense) is actually more important to me than editing (in the digital photography sense). So PhotoSupreme is well worth the money, and the still fairly steep learning curve.

 

Replacing Aperture

the Great Leap Forward

in Product reviews , Thursday, March 12, 2015

The writing on the wall has gotten so large that even I can see it. It is crystal clear that Apple are never going to replace Aperture in any meaningful way. They are going to develop their “Photos” thing, which will let people look at thousands of photos on their watch (sorry, Watch). Well, fine. Whatever. I’m sure the shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Ten years ago, Apple made integrated hardware and software which provided a fantastic, frictionless way to manage and process digital photos. Now, they don’t. They make glitzy computers which look like dustbins or gold doorstops, which you can barely plug an external disk into. They make very, very dumbed down software, which ironically, is not even intuitive to use. And they run a chain of hugely successful luxury boutiques. They’re not heading down any road I want to go down.

So, time for a change. It hasn’t been an easy task to find a solution, but I think I’ve got there. I’ve discarded Adobe Lightroom, because it is so hideous it makes my eyes bleed. I’m skipping on Capture One because parts of it are just weird, it pitches too much at the high end, and the cataloging part is a bug -ridden, sluggish disaster area. But more important, I’m skipping both of these because I’ve learnt my lesson about relying on closed solutions.

The solution I’ve decided on is to use ID Imager PhotoSupreme as my cataloging tool, and Iridient Developer as my RAW Developer, with Adobe Photoshop CS6 for finishing, printing, and working on scanner-sourced files. PhotoSupreme is a cross-platform application built on top of an open-source SQL database. It acts both as an advanced cataloging tool, comparable to the venerable but obsolete MediaPro, and as a hub to other workflow applications. I’ve been running a trial for 30 days, and have just bought a license. There is some sign that PhaseOne has not given up on MediaPro, but I’ve given up waiting.

Photo Supreme window

A collection view in PhotoSupreme

PhotoSupreme takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve been using MediaPro for about 100 years, not to mention Aperture. Being old and stupid doesn’t help either. Neither does the rather patchy documentation (although an active and helpful user community where the developer participates is a big help). It has its own way of doing things, and newcomers need to take time to get in sync with it. Actually, I think I had a quick look at it a while back, and discarded it as lacking various features. Well, actually, there are very few features it lacks, but you need to work out where they are, and how they work. Once everything starts to click into place, it reveals itself as a very powerful application. I suppose the core difference between PhotoSupreme and MediaPro is that MediaPro encourages use of multiple catalogs, and PhotoSupreme doesn’t really, although it does support them. PhotoSupreme organisation metaphors are different to MediaPro’s but ultimately let you do the same things. But PhotoSupreme has one absolute killer feature, to me anyway: Version Sets.

Photo Supreme Version

Version Sets: the holy grail

PhotoSupreme’s Version Sets are like Aperture’s Stacks (and therefore Lightroom’s clumsy copy of the same). A Version Set collects various versions of the same image (or actually completely different images if you want). But it actually goes further than Aperture, and allows you to indicate the purpose of each version, through “placeholders”. So, you can have a master RAW (or a Silverfast HDR), a JPG for web, another JPG for Flickr, a PSD for printing. And you can add your own placeholders to the core set, pretty much ad-infinitum as far as I can see. The way in which Version Sets are displayed is a little confusing at first, but basically boils down to whether you have a physical (e.g folder) or logical (e.g collection) view open.

PhotoSupreme provides effective import tools for Aperture libraries and MediaPro catalogs, as well as other application formats. There is a single-user version which seems to work fine with several hundred thousand images (according to forum members - I’m nowhere near that prolific), but if that isn’t enough, there’s a heavy duty multi-user version.

All in all, this is a perfect front-end to Iridient Developer. ID has just hit version 3.0, and just keeps getting better. I won’t go into any detail about it here, I’ve written about Iridient a lot in the past. You can read a nice review of Version 3 here. ID can’t do any kind of local editing or pixel-based operations, so Photoshop remind on hand for that. And that’s fine, it’s what it’s good at.

The interesting thing about PhotoSupreme and Iridient Developer is that they’re both developed by one-man band operations, PS by Hert van Zwietering, and ID by Brian Griffith. And despite both inevitably having a few minor rough edges, they make the efforts of certain megaCorporations look pretty sad. And neither impose any kind of lock-in, either through software design, or through pay-or-lose-access rental schemes.

It’s still going to be a hell of a job transitioning from Aperture, but now I’m beginning to feel it will be an upgrade, not a downgrade.