The Problems With Photo Software

I have a new camera, and I am once again annoyed with the available tools for downloading the photo files from my camera and organizing them on my computer.

What I want is pretty simple, I think:

# Automatic download of images when I hook up the camera or compact flash card
# Ability to automatically download both JPG and RAW (CR2) files
# Automatic organization into folders by shooting date
# Preservation of filename from camera
# The option of storing those folders on a network volume
# Ability to quickly and annotate one or more files at a time with captions and keywords.
# Metadata storage in-file so it is available to other image management applications
# Index of metadata for fast searching
# Fast generation of high quality thumbnails
# Fast scrolling of thumbnails when browsing images
# Option of a flat view of directory hierarchy when browsing images
# Nondestructive “tweaking” of images (levels, color balance, crop, sharpening)
# Easy export of images at arbitrary file sizes and quality levels for e-mail, etc

I’m happy to use more than one application to get all these features, as long as it makes sense in terms of work flow. I don’t mind using one app to acquire the images, another to organize, another to make basic tweaks as long as the transitions fit with my workflow. I don’t want to have to go back and forth between different apps, saving ever time.

So far, I haven’t found anything that works quite right.
Once upon a time, I copied the images off CF by hand to a single directory, used Windows explorer thumbnail view to browse the images, and photoshop to edit them. I didn’t have any metadata or organization, beyond sorting in date order, and photoshop isn’t exactly optimized for getting a few photos ready to e-mail to mom.

When I got a new camera, I took advantage of some of the software that came bundled. I used Canon’s PhotoWindow to automatically download the images when I connected the camera, though I still dumped them all into one big directory. I tried using their bundled photo management software, but it was kind of slow and glitchy. When i tried to upgrade, the new version forced me to store the photos in folders named for the shooting date, which annoyed me.

Then, last year, “I tried out Picasa”: I really liked the ability to quickly scan thumbnails without worrying about drilling into a folder hierarchy. The ability to easily add and search metadata appealed to me, as did the fact that user added metadata was all stored in the files (or so I though). I thought the ability to quickly do basic manipulations of images was great, especially since the original file was left unblemished.

I was less than happy though about the fact that it required user intervention to complete the download of images from the camera. On top of that, it basically created folders based on the download date, rather than the date the photo was actually taken, because the photos were all lumped together based on the time they were downloaded from the camera, any metadata entered would, in most cases, be useless.

In the end, I didn’t really use any of the metadata abilities of Picasa, which is just as well, because I learned that much of of it is never written to the image file, so its basically stuck in Picasa if you decide to use another app to organize images or build image galleries. No thanks.

Which brings me to my current set of annoyances.

I am now seriously discontented with most of Picasa’s metadata handling abilities. What’s more, it seems to completely ignore the RAW files on my camera when it comes time to copy them to my PC, instead it only grabs the JPEG.

So, I installed the Canon software. It grabs the RAW files, along with the JPEG, and can do so without requiring anything more on my part than hooking up the camera and turning it on. Unfortunately, it won’t let me choose to save my images to my fileserver, where I have lots of space on a nice safe RAID array and insists on storing everything locally. ZoomBrowser, the photo library manager, is freaking slow and the UI is twitchy. It acts like its letting you add metadata to multiple images, but only actually applies it to the last one you selected.

I thought I’d try the built in camera support in WindowsXP, but it’s behaving in a truly demented fashion. On the upside, it can download images automatically and can store them on a network share. I should be reassured by the fact that filenames are preserved, but it just makes me anxious because in the past I’ve seen XP rename and I have no idea why it isn’t doing that now.

However, the truly twisted part is that it seems to be ignoring the RAW files completly and, for some demented reason, is storing a second copy of the JPG instead. I’ve even installed the RAW thumbnail and viewing support for Explorer. I don’t get it.

“ACDSee 8”: seems to be able to download the RAW files just fine, and it can store them on the network, even if it won’t thumbnail them. Unfortunately, they seem to be striving for lockin on the metadata front. It allows you to add metadata to multiple files at once, but only if you store that metadata in their database. If you want to store it in the file as ITPC tags you have to do it one file at a time. I like the sidebar that makes it easy to scan and modify image metadata without summoning another dialog, but the rest of the UI is uninspiring. I don’t think I’ll be keeping ACDSee long enough for the demo to expire, so I don’t think I’ll be spending any time checking out the built in image manipulation tools.

“XnView”: has some nice features, starting with the fact that it’s free. Also cool, it stores all user-added metadata as IPTC tags in your images, so its available to other programs, and it can add metadata to multiple files at once. On the downside, it uses a separate dialog box for adding and viewing metadata, which makes it harder to quickly browse and manipluate metadata for a variety of files. On the downside, it doesn’t automatically download images from the camera, and when you do it manually, it leaves the RAW files behind.

All in all, very disappointing. I don’t think I could even put together what I want out of bits and pieces of the things I’ve tried so far.

I’m sure its just going to get worse when I actually start trying to work with the RAW files.

4 thoughts on “The Problems With Photo Software

  1. Gary Yuen

    A good idea would be to look at professional tools like Photo Mechanic or iView Media Pro. They will do more of what you want.

    I’m happy with Aperture. 🙂

  2. Anthony

    I realize this is cliché, but…

    Get a Mac.

    Built-in, configurable photo downloader – Image Capture
    Organize into folders by shooting date – Date Tree
    View, thumbnail, non-destructive editing – Aperture (holy slick), or the new improved iPhoto.

  3. Russ

    For windows.. I have been happy with Imatch. It can manage very large libraries and let’s you store IPTC information using a “dot” notation for categorization.

    You can download a trial and give it a try at:

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