The Confusing New Age of Photo Management

Apple Aperture BoxFirst off: I’m no pro photographer, I’m a pure hobby shooter. I own a nice camera that I love, a Sony DSC-R1, which gets used often enough. When I’m on the road, like I just was in Vancouver, I shoot 150-200 frames each day. Typically, when at home, it’s 20-30. That’s more than the average casual photographer, but definitely not pro volume.

I’ve shot like this for years, however, and have used a very wide variety of cameras in that time. So I currently have tens of GB of photo files that represents tens of thousands of actual frames. I have a vested interest in managing these files effectively so that I can find the shot I want resonably quickly.

For several years I’ve depended on a product called iView Media Pro. When I first started using it, there wasn’t much like it on the market. The interface was cutting edge and its catloguing capabilities were second-to-none. Unfortunately over the years very little has been done to improve either the application’s feature set or its interface. The program looks and behaves a tad decrepitly.

Enter new photo management software, and lots of it, the best coming from the big boys.

Apple was first out of the gate with iPhoto. There was really very little on the market that offered excellent photo management capabilities like iPhoto’s, and it’s Mac-only. For a time I migrated into iPhoto’s workspace and tried using it to manage my photo catalogue. iPhoto has tons going for it, but it falls short in the area I make the most use of in iView Media Pro: meta information management. Plus, the software is a real dog in terms of performance.

Sort of filling the gap is Adobe’s Bridge software. A reasonable cataloguing application, it has excellent meta information management capabilities. Like iView Media Pro, it manages more than just photos and, as its name implies, is designed to act as a bridge between Adobe’s various pro apps like Photoshop and Illustrator. I find Bridge slow and its interface somewhat cumbersome, so I’ve never really migrated to using it. Plus there aren’t any built-in archiving capabilities.

Apple certainly realized iPhoto’s shortcomings and recently introduced a more advanced photo management tool: Aperture. Billed as a photo management app for pros and based on RAW-file workflow, the features it touts are compelling. Equally compelling is the price tag: $350. Admittedly, the software is not meant for recreational users such as myself, so I really can’t complain too loudly.Apple Store, Canada

Shortly after Apple dumped Aperture on the market, Adobe revealed LightRoom as a beta product currently being developed in its labs. Market confusion ensued. Aperture and LightRoom compete head-to-head, clearly, and Adobe is making every effort to slow Aperture’s sales by permitting people to download a beta version of LightRoom. However, there’s no word on when a version 1 will hits the streets, not how much it will cost.

It’s a confusing world. To top it all off, rumour has it that Apple just fired the entire engineering team for Aperture, leaving the future of the product in question. The other problem I personally have with Aperture, and iView Media Pro, for that matter, is the fact that these applications depend on the Mac OS’s RAW compatibility capabilities which lack access to my camera’s format. Adobe’s products, on the other hand, offers a huge spectrum of RAW compatibility.

Personally, my future photo management is also in question. iPhoto’s limited feature set doesn’t satisfy my meta information needs. iView doesn’t offer some advanced management features such as filmstrip view. Aperture has huge resource demands and its future is questionable, though its meta information capabilities seem to be the equal of iView. LightRoom, while capable, is still in beta and its consummate final feature set is unclear.

The other thing that kind of irks me about LightRoom, actually, is that fact that it comes from Adobe. I used to love this company, but over the last few years I’ve developed a strong aversion to their products. They tend to develop new technologies through acquisition and this leads to strong imcompatibilities and poor-quality software. Take GoLive. I used this application in its pre-Adobe days and it was a brilliant product. Once Adobe got its hands on it, however, the software became abysmally crash-prone and quickly fell behind its competitors like Dreamweaver in terms of its features and usability. Even Photoshop has become less than stable in recent versions.

Now that Adobe has acquired Macromedia, the company that LightRoom seems to originate from, I would hazard a guess that it’s a piece software with a dim future in terms of stability and capabilities, if GoLive is any indication. Already compatibility with other Adobe products seems to be an issue. Meta information entered in Bridge, for example, doesn’t transfer to LightRoom, the same thing vice-versa.

Plus it’s unclear how LightRoom fits into the Adobe product line. In many ways it might replace Bridge, though LightRoom’s meta information capabilities are severely limited in comparison. It overlaps with Photoshop’s most basic photo editing features. I wonder how LightRoom might intergrate into the Adobe product architecture roadmap — or how it might not. This is a huge question that leaves me feeling a bit stand-offish about the product.

So what am I looking for? What are my product requirements? I would like a photo management app with iPhoto’s excellent iLife-oriented media sharing capabilities, Aperture’s management capabilities and interface, iView Media Pro’s excellent meta information capabilities and minimal resource requirements, LightRoom’s potential compatibility with other standard applications like Photoshop and its broad range of RAW-file compatibility, and a good set of offline capabilities for accessing archived media. And, oh yeah, my sweet price point is $200-$300 Canadian.

A tall order, perhaps, and the market is developing. But at this point it’s tough to tell which product is headed in the direction most suited to my needs. For the time being, I’ll stand back, keep using an old version of iView Media Pro combined with iPhoto, and see how things develop.

3 thoughts on “The Confusing New Age of Photo Management

  1. Adobe has done one thing right with its acquisition of Macromedia: continued investing in Flash and Flex, which are really taking off in the web development-sphere.

    I don’t know how long Adobe can keep up the momentum – as you’ve stated, they tend to make products worse given enough months/years – but for the first time in its existence, Flash is being taken seriously by real developers who want a slick, responsive UI.

    Flex is absolutely killer – huge apps can come in less than 100 MB and are much more interactive than the JS/AJAX combo that dominates the Web 2.0 game.

    If you ever get a chance to try out Flex on a PC (only available for WIndows currently) go for it – the code is lean and organized, and it’s easy to write. I’m also happy to note that it plays nicely with ColdFusion; my first and still favourite programming language.

  2. It is unfortunate that Apple hasn’t supported that camera yet, which I had seriously considered buying. I got Aperture, but at student discount and with support for my E-1 camera. If either of these weren’t true, I think it wouldn’t have been worth the cost for an amateur like myself.

  3. Have you resolved your software choices? I’m currently trying to integrate iPhoto 7.1 and Lightroom 1.2. I like iPhoto for its ease of use and web publishing but Lightroom is much more powerful for metadata. Unfortunately not all Lightroom entries get transferred to iPhoto.

Comments are closed.