by Thomas Bachand, ©2002-2005
Remember how it only took a couple of months for the New World Order of the early 90's to collapse into the same Old World disorder? Our revolution in photography is no different.
As my digital studio becomes more sophisticated the same old problems put on new faces and rear their ugly heads. My acquisition of filing cabinets has stabilized, but I'm going through CD's as if they were floppy disks. Welcome to the information age and the challenge of keeping ahead of it. With this issue I'm going to revisit cataloguing software and begin looking at the new crop of storage devices that have been hitting the market. I begin with two very affordable products that will fit into any studio and a couple of issues effecting the industry.
A long-standing asset management program, Canto's Cumulus has been a presence in the corporate community for many years. The latest rendition, Cumulus 5.5, has leveraged the power of the modern database and integrated a number of features of particular use to imaging professionals.
Cumulus not only catalogues an image file but also goes far in handling the multitude of tasks integral to the management of a modern day image collection. Captioning, copyright, keywording, camera used - a great deal of information is gathered in one place. The best part is that this information can be integrated with the metadata that is written directly to the image file so that when the image file travels, the information goes with it. The client can't remember the credit? It's right there in the metadata.
At the heart of the Cumulus system is an intuitive cataloguing system that is very familiar to anyone who has put together a film file. To the left of the main catalogue window the user constructs an index of folders and sub-folders representing the main categories of the image file. To categorize images simply select any number of category folders from the left index and any number of images from the main catalogue window, and drag one selection onto the other. Instantly the selected images become associated with the selected categories. To display any category of images, simply click on any folder(s) in your index.
Clicking on an image brings up the Information window containing the picture's details. As with categorizing, edits to these other data fields can be applied globally. This is an extremely efficient method for building catalogues and applying general keywords. The one glitch in this system is that global changes can only replace the contents of targeted fields, not append them. If you wish to append data you have to do it on an image by image basis.
If you require more detailed information, custom fields, or need to integrate your image information into a broader workflow, Cumulus can export records directly to the Filemaker format. Although a text export and import is not supported, Filemaker could be used as an intermediary to make this conversion. Cumulus is also compatible with AppleScript for integration into an automated workflow. An OSX version is currently in the works.
One pet peeve I have with Cumulus is its inability to add keyboard shortcuts. While many menu commands do have shortcuts, all do not. A facility to add them would greatly help the savvy user.
At under a $100 Cumulus is a solid, low-cost cataloguing program. For those with more demanding catalogue requirements - particularly group sharing and Internet publishing, Cumulus comes in Workgroup and Enterprise editions.
Outside of Cumulus, Photoshop users can access the image files metadata by selecting File>File Info. These metadata include caption, credit, catalogue, origin, and copyright information and were developed by the International Press Telecommunications Council for the purpose of cataloguing and tracking press content. Adobe has been modifying this standard and bringing all their software in compliance with it.
While these metadata standards have been around for a number of years it has only been since Photoshop 6 that photographers have had access to it. In fact, programs that do not support the metadata fields will erase them when (re)saving the file. So while you may send out an image with all the correct data attached, somewhere down the line it is very likely to be deleted. Another wrench in the works is the nature of the data itself. The system was not designed with content creators in mind and, as such, lacks data fields for such things as rights granted, terms, or license expiration date. This type of information is key to controlling usage. Further, the lack of standards for the data that does exist makes practical use of it dubious. For example, a category field is useful only if we agree upon the definition of category and the parameters of its usage. Are my categories the same as yours? What's the difference between a category and a keyword? Now that we've got a tool for communicating the nature of our content, the next challenge is to establish a common vocabulary.
For those seeking more on this subject check out the IPTC (http://www.iptc.org), the Adobe XMP Initiative (http://www.adobe.com/products/xmp/main.html), and Pixel Genius (http://www.pixelgenius.com). Pixel Genius offers a free Photoshop MetaReader plugin for importing metadata into database form.
When you take an image catalogue and add to it the ability to attach data directly to an image file, on or off the desktop, what you get is a storage issue. Images archived to a write-once/read-only media such as CD-R can not be fully catalogued as the files cannot be changed once written to the disk. A very competitively priced and re-writeable alternative can be found in the new crop of USB hard drives.
I took a look at the Maxtor 3000LE. While you may not have heard of Maxtor, they recently acquired the hard drive division of Quantum, a drive manufacturer with great credentials. As USB was initially designed for low-bandwidth accessories like keyboards and joysticks, it is not the ideal connection for a hard drive. In fact, out of the box, the 3000LE is pretty pokey. The $50 upgrade to USB 2 is advised as it will increase performance by 40 times, putting it above Firewire speeds. At 120 GB the 3000LE is one of the larger drives on the market. As a USB device it can be connected and disconnected without shutting down your system. These drives are ideal for studio and location work where one may need to access files from any number of computers and without the luxury of a network. Be aware, though, that the 3000LE is only shock tested to desktop standards and not to that of hardier pocket drives. At under $300 this drive cost about the same as a CD-R and much less than a DVD-RAM. And that's not accounting for the cost of CD and DVD disk media. On a per gigabyte basis, DVD disk media alone would cost more than the 3000LE.
Of course, the downside of a hard-disk-only back up solution is the possibility of a hard disk crash. As the cost of disk drives drop, mirroring, where secondary drives back up the primary ones, is becoming more commonplace. Next time we'll look at other storage alternatives, including DVD-RAM, Firewire, and SCSI drives.
Editor's note: Those researching image management software may want to review Eric Sahlin's review of Extensis Portfolio, which we posted to the web site last Fall (http://www.asmpnorcal.org/news). Extensis has just released an upgrade.
Editor and Webmaster Thomas Bachand specializes in photography and web technologies. His work can be found on the web at http://www.thomasbachand.com.
Thomas Bachand is both Editor and Webmaster for ASMP Northern California. When not consulting on computer and Internet projects, he can be found photographing landscapes, travel and architecture. His photography, web , and writing portfolios can be found on-line at www.thomasbachand.com.