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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.

iview.jpg

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.

atomicview.jpg

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.

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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.