If you take lots of digital photographs, sooner or later you are going to need to develop a good way to find an individual image among the hundreds or thousands stored on your computer. No matter how you use folders or directories they will eventually become a cumbersome way of searching for an image. Although you could build your own cataloging application using a database program such as Filemaker or Oracle, most of us are not all that interested in starting from scratch.
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Applications such as Adobe’s Lightroom, Apple’s Aperture (Macintosh only), Expression Media from Microsoft (previously called iView MediaPro, an application from a company Microsoft acquired in June 2006) are designed to let you search your collection of images using the EXIF data recorded when the image was made or by keywords or other information added by the photographer. Although they do it in different ways, each of the applications lets you add ratings to the images, assemble collections, and in the case of Aperture or Lightroom, do extensive editing of your images. Current prices are $299.00 for Lightroom or Expression Media, and $199.00 for Aperture. Since none of these applications are inexpensive, it is worth spending some time with them to decide which best meets your needs. A thirty day fully functional trial version of each application is available from the manufacturers. The 30 day trial version of Expression Media 2 is available for Windows XP or Vista as well as Macintosh OS X. Windows XP, Vista or Macintosh OS X users can get the 30 day trial of the current version of (Lightroom 1.4) from Adobe as well as the beta version of Lightroom 2.0. Aperture is an OS X only product from Apple. Mac users can get a serial number that lets you use Aperture for 30 days from Apple.
Be sure to fully explore the software during the 30 day trial – you only get one 30 day shot at it that cannot be extended.
Although working with the trial versions are the best way to determine which works best for you, I can give you a head start on some of the differences:
It may be possible to find & use iView MediaPro, however it is no longer supported. If you have a legitimate copy, you can upgrade for $99.00 to Microsoft’s Expression Media. If you have used iView Media Pro you will have no problem making the transition to Expression Media, and Microsoft has made some major improvements in version 2. Expression Media is by far the fastest at importing & sorting through your images. If indexing is all you want to do, it has much going for it. It will index most image formats as well as video. You can search your collection by date or file type, and can add labels, keywords, ratings, events, etc. The searches are very fast, even for large catalogs. Images are displayed as a list containing file name, size, type & location, as a thumbnail (variable sized), or as the image itself, which can also be what ever size you wish. Another advantage is the indexing & thumbnails can be created in the background – you can do other things while Expression media builds your catalog. Although it is very fast, its image editing capabilities are limited and more difficult to use when compared to Lightroom or Aperture.
Both Lightroom & Aperture are designed to provide a workflow for the photographer that starts with the download from the camera, and ends with a finished product such as a printed image, a completely post processed image of almost any size & file type, a finished web page, and, in the case of Aperture, a ready to publish coffee table photo book! Both are easy to use, include RAW converters, and provide “batch” controls that let the photographer edit one image & apply those edits to an selected group of images. For example, if you decide that all the images you shot during a session need the color temperature (white balance) tweaked, all you need to do is adjust one, copy the adjustment(s) and with one click, paste it into all the others. The cataloging capabilities are similar to Expression Media, however neither is as fast at generating thumbnails. Most photographers find either Lightroom or Aperture handles at least 90% of their editing needs, and saves considerable time compared to working in Photoshop or other image editors.
Since Apple’s Aperture is a Mac OS X only application, it is limited to Mac users, and, because it is a heavy user of resources, a high end Mac at that. If you are a Mac user, you have a choice – I suggest you spend the full 30 days working with Aperture & Lightroom. Although they do much the same thing, they work differently. Once you are used to the workflow in one, you may not be comfortable moving to the other. Both are being constantly improved – If a popular feature appears in one, it is likely it will end up in the other in the next release. If you are interested in discussions of the differences, advantages of each, etc. do a Google search for Compare Lightoom Aperture. Be sure you are comparing the latest versions of each. Another place to find discussions of the differences is the Mac Talk Forum at dpreview.com.
In my case, I started with iView Media Pro, and moved to Microsoft’s Expression Media after they acquired iView. As a Macintosh user I have not been all that secure with Microsoft’s support of the Macintosh operating system and, having been a Photoshop user for years, decided to switch to Lightroom. My main catalog of over 28,000 images as well as a couple of other large catalogs are maintained using Lightroom. I have found that although I still prefer to do spotting & sharpening in Photoshop, I do most of my post processing in Lightroom. If I want a quick, temporary catalog of a group of images, I sometimes still use Expression Media, however the editing capabilities and the natural workflow it provides makes Lightroom my cataloging software of choice.
Not everyone needs cataloging software, however if you find yourself spending more time than you would like trying to find a particular image from an old trip or days gone by, cataloging software will help.