photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Some thoughts on Mylio

here, there & everywhere

in Product reviews , Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The following is a fairly lengthy commentary on Mylio, a product which has been vaguely on my radar for some time. It first emerged towards the end of 2014, and received a lot of glowing praise. Mylio promises to do this (amongst other things): allow you to access a catalogue of all your photos stored on any of your digital devices on all of these, with near instantaneous updates. It’s an ambitious objective which others have tried, and failed, to achieve, but at this level at least, Mylio absolutely hits it out of the park. So what is Mylio, anyway? To me this was initially a little difficult to grasp, but basically Mylio is a photo management application, with feature-parity applications for Mac, PC, iDevice & Android, together with a set of cloud services and storage which bind all these together, if (and this “if” is important) you want it to.


Mylio Mac version, showing a folder view

So why would I need Mylio? Well, the idea of being able to access, and work with, a catalogue and sub-catalogues of my photography at any time and any place is highly appealing. It means, for example, that I can do things like tagging, rating, keyboarding and editing photos (in the sense of curation) while being stuck on a train, or in an airport. It means that I have access at any time to portfolios to show people. Mylio even offers the possibility of processing RAW images from many formats, with quite an extensive toolset.

I’ve been hoping and searching for such a tool for over a decade. Aperture coupled with PixelSync came close, until Apple first destroyed the ability for PixelSync to access Aperture’s library, and then killed Aperture itself. And of course never even attempted to provide a cross-device solution for Aperture. In fact in my opinion Aperture set, and still sets the benchmark for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in the digital photography age. The combination of it’s abstracted approach to file storage, which disassociates the concept of a photo with a single physical file, the much-copied but never equalled Stacks, the superbly implemented metadata tools, the quick browsing mode introduced in later versions, and extras such as the light table and book tools, were and still are way in front of the competition.

Mylio ipad

Mylio iPad version, showing the same folder

It is quite striking now just how many advanced and pro photographers - who we assumed all had to be using Lightroom - are now coming out of the woodwork looking for alternatives to Aperture. The Aperture pro user community was never very verbose, at least compared to Lightroom. There, Adobe marketing lavished money and flattery on building up an army of shills, all in turn pushing their tutorials, books and workshops. It is remarkable how large a market there seems to be for teaching people how to use what is supposed to be such an intuitive application. But it is also remarkable how many articles on Mylio by independent writers mention that they specifically need an alternative to Aperture.  So Mylio is well worth my attention, and setting Aperture as a benchmark seems fair.

As I’ve already said, on the cross-device side Mylio blows Aperture and everything else into the weeds. Setting up multiple devices and synching between them is ridiculously easy. Mylio gets around the issue of moving large amounts of data around by allowing you to set the type of synchronisation by device, at thumbnail, preview or full file level. Using full file synchronisation of course provides a seamless way to maintain backups. Optionally, you can also buy cloud storage and use this to back up valuable files. Mylio does not actually require you to use cloud storage, a point that many seem not to understand. It works at a multi-device peer to peer level, where the cloud is just another device. It also has intelligence, and options, built-in to sync by wifi only when available, and to use cellular data only if enabled. Finally it provides a method of creating a temporary ad-hoc wifi network between two devices for when there is no adequate internet connection available. I could go on for a while about the synchronisation aspects of Mylio, but suffice it to say it is all very, very impressive. Another impressive aspect is the speed of import and preview creation. Aperture was extremely fast at this, compared say to Lightroom or CaptureOne, but Mylio is just as rapid.

Mylio iphone

Mylio iPhone version, again, showing the same folder

For a customer who’s interest in photography is basically as a part of their social life, we could stop here, and just say “buy it”. It is far better than Apple’s offerings, and I assume also Google’s, and Adobe has nothing to touch it in this market. The strong, one-touch integration with Facebook and Flickr is a killer feature. But what about other customers, which for the sake of discussion I’ll call “advanced” ? Well, clearly different advanced customers have different needs, so generalisation is futile, but for me Mylio is not quite there yet.

So what is missing in Mylio ? The biggest stumbling block is the lack of any kind of “Stacks” or “Versions” feature.  A standard Use Case for me is to select a photo and open it in an external RAW processor, such as Iridient Developer, and then save a version back.  I would like my DAM application to keep track of these versions. Mylio cannot. In fact, Mylio, today, can only show one variant of any file with any extension at a time: if you have two files, Myphoto.tif and Myphoto.jpg, in the same folder, Mylio can only show one or the other. Not both. PhotoSupreme can show both, or indeed many, in the same folder - provided they have the same filename root. Aperture could not only show many, but they didn’t have to be in the same folder or even the same volume, or have the same name, because Aperture works by file reference from its database, not by relying on a physical organization. The fact that Mylio cannot do this does make me a little concerned about possible fundamental design weaknesses. However, it does, I believe, have a feature which can detect file duplicates using a hash signature, so possibly an extension of this technology could be used to implement a strong variants feature. Hey, Mylio, if you want me to write the functional specification, just get in touch :-). Or better, as many frustrated CaptureOne users have written in the PhaseOne forums, “just copy Aperture, fercrissakes!”.

Silver Efex Pro 2

The fact that Mylio makes it as easy as a simple click to open a RAW file in any local application that can handle it - here, Nik SiverEFX Pro - makes it incredibly frustrating that it doesn’t follow up and manage the results.

This is really the only major stumbling block for me, but it’s a big one. A medium sized stumbling block is the currently quite primitive keywording system. For something which is aimed at being a near-permanent, long term and robust tool for managing photos - and “memories” - I’d like to see some attention given to a set of keyword and keywording management tools, and metadata management in general. It’s not a bad start at all for a 1st release, but it isn’t 1999 any more. Again, copy Aperture! A smaller complaint is that even in the “fluid” view, there is sometimes some truncation of preview images when the proportions tend towards the wider end. So for a gallery of XPan images this has some limitations.

I should emphasise that I have raised all these points with Mylio support, and have received rapid, detailed and attentive answers. Obviously they’re not going to implement everything every customer asks for, but they do say they’re taking suggestions onboard, and I believe them. Generally Mylio customer support gets very high praise.

The Mylio user interfaces are very smooth and well designed. Generally they are very intuitive, but there’s plenty of online help if you get stuck, there’s the aforementioned excellent customer support, and there’s also The Official Guide to Mylio available at a token price. Really not too much to say there except to compliment Mylio’s UI designers on a job well done. Performance is also good on all devices I’ve used it on (2008 Mac Pro, 2011 MacBook Air, iPad 2, iPhone 5), to the extent that basically you don’t notice it. Which is as it should be. Reviewing, rating and sorting photos in Mylio is a complete breeze.

Mylio also provides a complete set of image editing tools, including a RAW processing stack. I’ve played around with this a bit, and it seems to work well enough, but it isn’t something I would expect to use. Although I can understand the commercial argument behind providing this feature, frankly I think it is a little out of line with the overall Mylio vision. My understanding is that Mylio wants to help liberate us from locked-in, “silo” applications, not provide (yet) another alternative. There is no shortage of excellent, mature RAW processing tools, but on the other hand there are practically no DAM tools, consumer level or other, that aren’t stuck in a 20-year old paradigm. Having said this, the ability to check actual exposure latitude and sharpness when sorting and rating is certainly useful.

So how does a Mylio-based setup compare with other solutions? Well, since Aperture imploded, I’ve tried two things - actually three. I’ll start with the third, which was returning to the venerable, but still quite impressive MediaPro, now owned by PhaseOne. MediaPro has many strengths, and I’m very familiar and invested in it. But since it was first sold to Microsoft, and then to PhaseOne, it has received no significant feature development at all, and is quite literally stuck in the 1990s. It’s a great pity, but clearly it is nuts to hope that PhaseOne are ever going to do anything with it, so despite everything, and with great regret, I’ve largely given up on it. So my next move was to try to find an alternative which did not lead to a new locked-in solution (e.g Lightroom) or indeed to any kind of dependency on Adobe. I found this in IDImager PhotoSupreme, which I’ve written about previously. I still do quite respect PhotoSupreme, but finally I have to admit that it is slow, locks up or crashes when trying to deal with anything heavier than trivial import tasks, and has some quite weird UI design and workflow touches which lead to a near vertical learning curve. It’s got some really nice ideas, but it desperately needs a decent User Experience designer to work with the one-man band developer. Also, it doesn’t even attempt to provide multi-device support. A saving grace is that it does have a “Stacks” feature, and quite an innovative one at that, but it is filename based and is not enough to save the day, for me. So my next move was to see if I could live with CaptureOne 8, complete with it’s kludged-together, bastardised MediaPro catalog add-on. Well, I managed after some effort to import my complete Aperture library, and I have been working with CaptureOne for some months, but ultimately I’m finding that it isn’t the best RAW processor for my Olympus ORF files - it gives very smudgy fine detail - and personally I don’t really like the rather unsubtle default look which it applies, and which is hard to undo. I keep coming back to Iridient Developer. But ultimately, the ideal solution is flexibility of choice, and to use the right tool for the right job, just like we used to be able to choose which film to use. And Mylio promises a solution which easily enables just that.

There has been quite a lot of commentary about Mylio’s pricing on various fora and blogs, with two main themes: first, people are shocked that they’re expected to pay at all, and second that they’re “not gonna put 27 Tb of their photos in any damned cloud”. As far as the second argument is concerned, it’s a complete strawman. Mylio offers a cloud option, but does not require it. You can keep all your originals on your own computer, no problem, no fuss. As for pricing, well personally I’d call Mylio reassuringly expensive. If I’m going to commit basically a lifetime of photography to an application, I want the company behind that application to have a solid long term business model. And such a business model still requires a primary revenue stream. Sure, Google, Yahoo, Facebook will give you “free” cloud space. But if it’s free, you’re not the revenue source, i.e you’re not the customer. Somebody else is. So what are they buying ? If you’re comfortable with the answer to that question, fine. Personally, I’m not. If I decided to go ahead with Mylio, it will cost me $100 a year, for the second tier, which is slightly less than my web hosting. Seems ok to me.

A persistent, and valid criticism of the subscription model is that it pushes you into vendor lock-in. If you have invested a lot of time and effort into working with proprietary tools, then you’re exposed to the risk of losing your work, if the vendor goes to of business, or changes strategy, or you can no longer afford the pricing. Leaving aside the non-destructive RAW processing, Mylio works essentially with XMP sidecar files, so all your rating and keywording work is safe. And since it works with XMP files, any changes made show up in other XMP-conversant applications, and, generally, vice-versa.  I say “generally” because for example with Iridient Developer, star ratings set in Mylio show up fine (Iridient reads the XMP file), but in reverse direction it doesn’t work, as Iridient writes only to it’s own, proprietary idsf file. Which, really, is fine, as I’d want to use Mylio to rate and sort photos, and then send them as a batch to Iridient to process them.

And this, then, is where just now, it all breaks down. As I’ve already said, Mylio cannot recognise multiple derivatives, or variants, of the same photo, so when I save a TIFF back from Iridient, Mylio, having it’s “prefer RAW” option set, will ignore it - unless I change the filename root, thus destroying the only referencing I have. And even then, Mylio will interpret this as a new, completely separate photo.  It is a new file - but it is not a new photo. Until Mylio sorts this out, it will remain a highly promising, ever-so-close, but ultimately inadequate application for me. I’ll just have to hope that I’m not the only one who feels this way, and that there is sufficient business justification to expand the feature set.

So, in summary, I like Mylio a lot. It doesn’t (yet?) do quite what I want, but it might still do enough to be worth subscribing too. But it you are not burdened by the cumbersome needs of my personal workflow, you might already find that Mylio’s fulfilled promise of letting you access all your photos, on any device, everywhere, is quite enough reason to adopt it.


An Aperture + Iridient Developer workflow

Me? Stubborn?

in Apple Aperture , Thursday, July 17, 2014

The recent boat-rocking move by Apple to announce the decline and fall of Aperture has led me through several stages of anger, denial and acceptance. And it has also led me to re-evaluate my digital imaging workflow. For a while I’ve had the feeling that, technically, my photos lack a certain something, compared to other work I see published. Perhaps I’ve been rather complacent in imagining that my knowledge and skills in post-production are adequate. So this as well gave me some impetus to explore options a bit. To cut a long story short, my decision has been to adopt a solution coupling Iridient Developer with Aperture. More on this a bit later, but first a few words on the solutions I rejected.


Photoshop: I’m not anti-Adobe, and their raw decoding is generally good. However, it has some (minor) issues with Olympus files, and it can’t handle Sigma Merrill RAW. Also, I find the Camera Raw interface ugly and clumsy, and since I do this stuff for fun, well that’s a factor. I do use Photoshop very frequently, but more for my film workflow. And I’m not happy about the subscription model, even though since InDesign is an important tool for me, I’ll probably have to give in one day. For now I have Creative Suite 6, and that’s just fine.

Lightroom: Not really a contender for me. Been there, done that. It is good at many things, but pretty much everything it does something else does better. For example cataloging, which both Aperture and MediaPro do better.

CaptureOne: I own C1Pro, so it was a strong contender. But I don’t really care for the default curves it applies, and generally the GUI can be frustrating. The DAM features in v7 are very substandard, and at the same time what little interactivity there was with MediaPro in v6 has been killed off. But basically the character of the output doesn’t fit in with my objectives. I feel that C1 is optimized for the fashion industry, even if some leading landscape photographers such as Joe Cornish and Steve Gosling use it. But then they own PhaseOne backs.

DxO Optics Pro: I took a serious look at DxO following an article by Kirk Tuck. A strong point is the “DxO Lens Softness” which provides initial high quality input sharpening with no artefacts. Definitely better than Aperture. But the headline feature, lens correction, leaves me a bit dubious. For micro four thirds camera/lens combinations, rather than apply the manufacturer corrections included in the image file, DxO clearly applies its own, and the results are different. The original framing is not respected (interestingly there is significant image data outside of the frame) and to my eyes some minor distortion remains. For four thirds combinations it seems to make some weird changes too. I’m not convinced. And it doesn’t handle Sigma files. But the output is good and highly detailed. Indeed, I was on the verge of buying it when from one moment to the next the special offer pricing was removed. €269 is way too much.

So, back to Iridient Developer (ID). I’ve written about this great application before, but since Aperture has been around, it’s always been a secondary tool for me. But with the release of v2, and a host of new features, including tighter integration with Aperture, and the fact that it handles Sigma files very well indeed, it’s been getting more use. And now, finally, I’ve put a little effort into setting up a streamlined workflow.

Following my discovery of DxO’s lens de-blurring, I decided to see if I could get a similar result from ID’s generous range of sharpening tools. And indeed I could. The R-L Deconvolution method, which is specifically designed to remove minor blur rather than traditionally sharpen, works extremely well. As do ID’s highly configurable Noise Reduction tools. So these two controls together give a good approximation of Aperture’s RAW Fine Tuning brick, only with noticeably better results. These then form the basis for a camera default preset. ID allows you to define default settings for each camera type you use and for each ISO level. I haven’t gone to quite that extent yet, but maybe one rainy Sunday I’ll give it a go.

Aperture, of course, does not support alternative RAW engines. There are manual workarounds to this, but they’re tedious. However ID has recently acquired a new feature which makes this much easier. Now, if I configure ID as my external editor in Aperture, and use this to open a version, Aperture as usual sends a rendered TIFF to ID. ID, however, does not open the TIFF, but looks for the associated RAW file and opens that. Then, when you’ve finished, ID overwrites Aperture’s TIFF with it’s output. Even better, if you then re-open the original in ID, the settings from the first edit are retained. Therefore you have a hybrid non-destructive / baked-in edit workflow, which is close to ideal. Obviously you end up with an extra TIFF for each image you process in this way, but disk space really isn’t an issue any more. And I don’t do this for every image I import, only for those I select to potentially publish or print. Aperture alone is more than adequate for general work.

Aperture 3

Sending an image to Iridient Developer from Aperture

Iridient Developer

Saving an edited image back to Aperture

Aperture 4

The original version and the ID-rendered TIFF stacked in Aperture. Note I add a custom metadata field to remind me that I processed this with Iridient. It would be nice to automate that.

For further editing beyond the initial RAW development you then have the choice between ID and Aperture’s RGB edit tools. Both have strong offerings: to pick one from each, Aperture’s generally ignored extended range curve tool, which together with its 32-bit architecture lets you modify the curve for values over 100% white, is very good for highlight recovery and rolling off harsh highlights. I don’t know of any other tool which can do this. Similarly, ID has a unique - in my experience - curve tool which operates on the Lab Chroma (ab) channel, allowing precise control over saturation.

Aperture 5

Aperture’s curve tool in extended mode

Aperture’s DAM tools are, in my opinion, second to none, and plenty of commenters agree with me. So having moved on from my initial furious reaction, I’ve come to cautiously give Apple the benefit of the doubt, and hope that the forthcoming migration to “Photos” might well be less traumatic than it initially appeared. Indeed it could, possibly, be as much of a paradigm buster as Aperture 1.0 was. We shall see. If I have to migrate my catalogue to a lesser tool, I’d rather do when all bridges are burned, not before. There’s no real downside in waiting. And in the meantime with this Aperture-Iridient workflow, I’m seeing appreciably better printed results.

Pity it’s only me who looks at them!


A RAW Workflow

in Olympus E-System , Thursday, August 03, 2006

Since I have a received a good few questions about my workflow, particularly from Olympus E-1 owners, I though it was maybe time to write something about it. Note, I do all of my digital photography on Macs, so I'm afraid this workflow is Mac specific, or at least the RAW conversion part is. I use three core tools on my workflow:

I also use Colorbtyte ImagePrint for printing, and FixerLabs SizeFixer for scaling up. For RAW processing, I sometimes use PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro and Olympus Studio. For Lumix LX1 RAW processing, I usually use Adobe Lightroom Beta. I only use Adobe Camera Raw in special cases, for example if I want to use Photoshop's HDR tool. In all cases, you can assume I'm using the latest versions of each application.

Stage 1: Ingesting
The first part of the workflow involves getting image files off the card and into the computer. I use MediaPro to import and rename the files, and to apply a basic personal metadata template. I don't really have a solid naming scheme, but I at least rename files to include a code indicating which camera the file comes from, and the date. I let MediaPro assign a serial number. Actually, the best renaming software I've seen is Olympus Studio, which allows you to use EXIF fields as components of the file name. The important thing is to have a unique name, and to keep it throughout the pipeline. In this way, it is possible to sync metadata in between different catalogues and different filetypes (so for example the captions from E1_20060603_0091.ORF and E1_20060603_0091.JPG can be synchronized. My filing system is quite simple: I have a master hard disk for RAW files, with folders for each month. Within these folders, I create subfolders whose structures depend a bit on the nature of the shoot. Usually, I create a folder for a single day, e.g "2006_06_03" (that's 3rd June…I'm European), but I might create a folder for a multiple day "shoot", e.g. "Iceland March 2006". No hard and fast rules, just whatever makes sense. If I end up using CaptureOne, it will require its own sub folder structure to be created inside this folder – at least, if you prefer to keep things simple it will. Other RAW developers will leave settings files inside these folders too, so it is important to ensure these remain safe. I generally back up each folder to DVD – one or more, as necessary, although this is not ideal, really, since the backup only store settings files created up to that point. I also keep an automated working backup using Retrospect. I maintain two "master" RAW catalogs for Olympus ORF and Lumix Raw (converted to Adobe DNG) respectively, and these automatically update. I plan in the future to manage archive backup creation from these catalogs (using a script to record the archive volume names in each image's metadata), but I haven't got around to that yet.


Microsoft iView Media Pro

Stage 2: Preview
Once the files are organized, I create a local catalogue using MediaPro – by this I mean a catalogue of just the RAW files in the particular folder. I set MediaPro to produce the largest, highest quality previews it can create. I then use the comprehensive previewing and rating tools to decide which images I want to work further with, and how I want to categorise them (for example, I might well have "fun", "family" and, er, "art" shots from the same shoot. MediaPro 3's new Lightbox tool comes in extremely handy here, although it is very important to note that you are working with an 8-bit preview here, so the histogram for example is of the preview, not the 12bit RAW. However, it is easily good enough to show if an image is irrecoverably over- or under-exposed, and the method is fast and effective. At this point I will delete any files which are really trash, although if in any doubt, I keep them. Disk space is cheap. I end up with sorted, rated files, and I can even print contact sheets if I wish.

Stage 3: RAW Processing
For RAW Processing in the vast majority of cases I use Iridient RAW Developer (IRD). IRD, thankfully, has the good taste and common sense to be "just" a RAW developer, and has no pretensions to act as a full blown "workflow manager" (no, I'm not going to get sidetracked). IRD has drawn praise from a number of reputable sources, and is possibly the most full featured product in its category. Certainly it can't be beaten on sharpening options. Initially IRD seems very complex, but the complexity is only there if you need it, and it doesn't get in the way. It also often provides several ways to reach the same end, for example tone curves and tone sliders (I prefer curves, because Photoshop forced me to understand them, and Bruce Fraser's books explained them). IRD is especially highly rated by black & white aficionados, but, typically, I don't use it to B&W conversion. I tend to open RAW files in batches of related images, by selecting them in MediaPro, right-clicking and opening in IRD (this works as well for Olympus Studio or Camera RAW, but not very well for CaptureOne – ironically, since there is some sort of marketing alliance between CaptureOne and iView…well, there used to be, pre-Microsoft). Once the photos are open in IRD (note how I use "photo", "file" and "image" interchangeably), they can be selected from the open files drawer, and processed in turn. I won't go into detail on how I use IRD here, but my default settings for E-1 ORFs include using light "Difference of Gaussians" sharpening as "capture sharpening" – although I'm beginning to wonder if multi-stage sharpening is necessary considering the lack of artifacts IRD introduces – and using ProPhoto as the working colour space, and Joe Holmes' ExtaSpace as output space. My principal output files are 16 bit TIFFs, which I save in a temporary holding folder called "IRD Output". I also sometime process directly to JPG for print or web, but for my web galleries I use a set of Photoshop actions (coming later).


Iridient RAW developer

Stage 4: Post-processing
Currently I use Photoshop (.PSD) format as my final archive format, for fully processed images. There are several reasons for this, number one being layers, although even I'm not using any layers, I still save as PSD for consistency – if I see a PSD file, I know it is "finished", or at least it has been worked on. The second reason is that at least 25% of my output is still film-based, and my film workflow always culminates with Photoshop. I don't know of any compelling reason to change this practice. Therefore, I open all files from "IRD Output" in Photoshop, and at a minimum save them as PSDs on another disk volume, which is my "finished work" repository. Here, I simply maintain a folder for each month, and save the file into the current month's folder (I use MediaPro, not the filesystem, to catalog, so it doesn't matter if a photo I took in March 2005 ends up in the January 2006 "finished" folder). Depending on the photo, there are several things I might do in Photoshop. Generally, I will have sorted out tone in IRD, but I might run a local contrast enhancement action to see if it adds anything (I have evolved a variety, which act on different tonal ranges as necessary – usually I find excluding highlights is a good idea). Noise reduction is often required on E-1 files taken at 800 ISO or over, sometimes at 400 as well. For this I use the Noise Ninja plug-in. If I decide to convert to black and white, I use the Convert to BW Pro plug-in on a layer. I save files unflattened, although I might compact things a bit if they get out of hand. The "finished work" gets cataloged in my "reference" MediaPro catalog, where I add detail metadata, and construct various sub-catalogs and sets.

Stage 5: Output to Web and Print
Output requires sharpening and sometimes scaling. If I'm outputting to print, I take the PSD file, and set the output size as necessary. If the resolution drops a bit below 240dpi, I will scale up using Photoshop, but if it is well below, I use SizeFixer SLR. Once I get to the target size, I use Photokit Sharpener to apply output sharpening (note, for SizeFixer, it appears that sharpening before scaling is quite successful, but how Photokit's algorithms react to this, I'm not sure. Whatever – if it looks right, it is right). I then flatten the file, and save it as a copy to a temporary print folder, where ImagePrint picks it up. For my web galleries, I run an action which converts to 8bit, sRGB, then creates three different sizes of the file, appropriately sharpened, in an output folder hierarchy. The largest files are managed in a MediaPro catalog, and this is synchronized with my online mySQL database using a set of Applescripts, which glue MediaPro, MacSQL and Transmit FTP together. There are ways of using scripting additions to do the SQL and FTP parts, but they are complex, and not worth the trouble to me. The Applescript is very specific to my configuration, but I'm happy to send it to anybody who would be interested to see if they can adapt it.

So that's basically it. It takes longer to write about than to do it. The foundation stone is obviously MediaPro, which is a very powerful, but subtle application. The fact that Iridient RAW Developer constrains itself to doing one thing very well makes it very easy to introduce into a composite workflow. And Photoshop remains Photoshop... At some point I will follow up with my film-based workflow, but it isn't really so different.