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IMatch is a highly-featured photo catalog program popular amongst many serious photographers and hobbiests. It may be less popular with those new to cataloging and digital photography since the learning curve is reasonably steep, in part due to a user interface that is not as intuitive as other competing products. That said, it does offer a strong feature-set, particularly in the area of IPTC and scripting. The scripting interface (Visual Basic) enables more advanced users the ability to add additional features or workaround some limitations.
In a landscape of Digital Asset Management (DAM) products backed by large corporations, IMatch is developed solely by Mario Westphal. In that regard, it is admirable that the resulting product is still very competitive for a user demographic that has high demands on the feature set. He also provides considerable personal support in the forums. While some people may be concerned about investing their time in an organizer application written by a small developer, the open scripting model facilitates easy migration should that ever be necessary. The product release schedule is occasionally slower than some would like, but this is likely due to the developer's decision to favor stable robust releases over frequent updates.
Strengths of IMatch
Open database format
When IMatch was first released, one of the most significant features it had going for it was the open database model. This means that if, someday, one should ever decide to change over to another software package, you will have no problem transfering your hard work. Mario is very open and forthcoming in helping users transfer their metadata / tagging out of IMatch if they like -- and most users will be more apt to invest their time in a tool if they know that their efforts can be trasferred later. Over the past couple years, the notion of an open database is more common, with the archaic locked-in behavior no longer appealing to savvy consumers.
IMatch has very extensive scripting support, based on the WinWrap Basic IDE (originally SAX Basic), resulting in a powerful Visual Basic environment complete with custom Dialog Box instantiations. The language has direct access to most of the IMatch database metadata and some image editing functions. This integration enables the development of a wide range of user-contributed scripts and features.
The active user support forums provide a wealth of scripts, so there is a good chance that you one is able to find a pre-existing script for most common needs.
With the help of the IMatch scripting environment, I have created a number of scripts that accomplish tasks such as version control, naming strategy verification and finding files that have not been tagged correctly. One feature that has been promised (for years) but not yet natively implemented is the the ability to manage multiple versions / derivations of the same file, without having to copy tags over manually. I have created a script that accomplishes this automatically, and have documented it below.
Rich feature set
Focusing primarily on cataloging features, the feature set is quite rich. There are very few things one can't do from within IMatch, and those that are missing can often be scripted easily. Some limited image editing has been provided, but this is clearly not the intended direction of the application (which many prefer to use a dedicated app for). It does mean, however, that the user interface can be overwhelming at first, along with the 300 page manual. With this feature set, the user is sometimes confronted with a range of menus and options that are not always intuitive. A freshened up user interface would especially help those who are new to the application.
With a unique database implementation, IMatch does in fact provide very fast performance with relatively large databases (in the 100s or thousands of photos). Some other competing products don't have a database backend that scales well to larger collections, and end up slowing down noticeably with 10,000 to 20,0000 photos. As databases only grow over time, this is a key issue.
Over several years of running IMatch on a large collection, I have rarely ever encountered any instability issues. A general feeling from the user forums seems to imply that bugs tend to be functional in nature and often minor. I have rarely ever experienced a crash. Similarly, I have never corrupted my working database. Furthermore, IMatch enforces regular backups of the database, which is clearly a well-considered feature.
IMatch has surprisingly good support, in both the user community and from the developer himself. The user forums have enough critical mass that other contributors frequently post helpful workarounds or solutions in a relatively short period of time. Similarly, Mario himself answers emails regularly and has created a generous level of support.
Weaknesses of IMatch
User Interface complexity
With the broad feature-set, IMatch does have an interface that is less intuitive than other applications. If Adobe Photoshop Album were on one end of the intuitive scale, IMatch would be approaching the other. While this may be expected from an application geared more towards professionals, a rework would certainly be welcomed. A new user interface has been promised for a couple years but so far has not appeared. Some common operations (such as boolean category selections) are a little awkward.
Lack of Native Versioning
Versioning support (in particular, multi-file versions) has been promised by the developer for a few years, but unfortunately it has not been implemented. From a workflow point of view, the omission of this feature makes the maintenance of metadata and tagging between edited versions of ones photos cumbersome. For now, my ManageVersions script has proven useful for hundreds of IMatch users as a stop-gap measure.
Please see the article: Converting from Photoshop Album to IMatch
Missing THM Files
Have you ever tried opening up the IPTC Editor window in IMatch, only to be presented with an error message that reads:
The THM file for the selected image is missing! IMatch needs an THM file with the same name as the CRW to display or edit IPTC information
What this indicates is that you must have deleted the .THM file that was originally paired up (buddy) with the RAW image file. IMatch can't write metadata (such as IPTC) into the proprietary RAW image formats, so it uses a JPEG-like placeholder, called a THM file to accomplish this.
If you've accidentally deleted the THM files, please read my article on how you can regenerate the THM files.
Please see the IMatch Versioning page for the latest ManageVersions script!
Other IMatch Scripts
Mario's online forum has a number of scripts available for download at the IMatch Scripting Corner.
Selecting a thumbnail size in IMatch
When one first creates a database in IMatch, a dialog box will ask the user to select the thumbnail dimensions (between 40x40 and 300x300 pixels). Unfortunately, deciding on an appropriate thumbnail size, when you are first starting with a catalog program, can be difficult. The trade-off is between the ratio of database-size to image-size and the need for adequately large previews. I am currently using a thumbnail size of 160x160 pixels, and on my 19" monitor, this is just about right in terms of sizing.
Nowadays, drive space is relatively cheap, and so unless you have hundreds of thousands of photos, it probably makes more sense to go with larger (eg. 160 - 240 pixel) thumbnails. If I were to create my database again, I would have probably stuck with 200 pixel thumbnails or possible as large as 240 pixels. There is an option in the preview pane, "Thumb Lens Settings" that lets you pick the view percentage, so it is an easy matter to view at, say, 50% or 75% but still have a large thumbnail in the database. This has the added benefit of allowing you to view at 100% (larger thumbnails) if you need to differentiate images without opening each one up. You will need a lot of screen real-estate for the larger thumbnail sizes. To give you an idea, I have a 19" CRT monitor configured for 1600x1200 resolution. A comfortable window size for IMatch is around 1200 pixels wide (giving me some space for other windows and icons to the side). With such a window width, you can just barely squeeze four thumbnails across at 200x200 pixel thumbnails. I feel that this is not enough images for quick scrolling through your collection window. With 160x160 pixel thumbnails, I can comfortably fit around 5 thumbs wide by 3 high.
As of IMatch version 3.5, one can adjust the thumbnail size at a later stage, if desired.
Miscellaneous Workflow Details with IMatch
Imported Read-Only images and digital camears without orientation sensors
My default setting on import (with DownloaderPro) is to set all imported files to read-only. This has the advantage in that it is less likely that I will accidentally modify an original file. Most editing programs should honor the read-only flag and will warn you if you attempt to resave the original instead of saving a copy.
The only annoyance with using such a protection scheme is that images imported from an older / cheaper digital camera (without a built-in orientation sensor) will often need manual rotating. Real rotation (not virtual rotation) involves modifying the photo and so write-protection must be removed first.
In IMatch, this means that after importing the photos and discarding the obvious bad shots, I select all photos that are rotated clockwise (by CTRL-clicking) then right-click to select the option Read-Only Toggle, select to Make files writable, rotate counter-clockwise (by CTRL-LEFT ARROW) and then Read-Only Toggle back to Make files read-only. Then I repeat the process again with the photos that need to be rotated clockwise.
How to get multiple image ratings
As described in the page on keyword categories, I have five dynamic categories that allow me to view photos with various ratings levels. I rate many of my photos in the range of 1 to 5 (1 being excellent and 5 being bad). I assign tags using these rating levels. In IMatch, I then created five dynamic categories that use formulae to show a particular rating level or higher.
Doing this, I can simply click on Rating3+ to see all photos that have been classified as "Good" or better. All images that I haven't rated default to being assigned to ToRate category. Over time, I try to move most of my good images from ToRate into a particular rating category.
Rating1+ = "Tags.Ratings.Rating1-Excellent" Rating2+ = "Tags.Ratings.Rating2-Great" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating1-Excellent" Rating3+ = "Tags.Ratings.Rating3-Good" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating2-Great" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating1-Excellent" Rating4+ = "Tags.Ratings.Rating4-OK" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating3-Good" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating2-Great" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating1-Excellent" Rating5+ = "Tags.Ratings.Rating5-Bad" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating4-OK" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating3-Good" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating2-Great" OR "Tags.Ratings.Rating1-Excellent"
|Formulae for Multiple Ratings|
How to recover your 1-Unassigned images category
If you've accidentally deleted one of the default categories, such as the 1-Unassigned Images category, you can recreate it by adding a category with the following formula: "@Unassigned".
IMatch 3.5 - The Next Generation - When?
One area that some users have griped about in the forums is the somewhat lengthy delay in the release of certain key features that were advertised several years ago. In particular, the user interface redesign and versioning functionality have been items of much discussion. The following was posted by Mario in February 2005. This text is also informative in giving an idea of other planned features on the table.
Which features will the new version have?
I generally do not ( after learning my lesson the hard way ) comment on details of the next major version anymore. To many of my ideas have been "re-invented" in competing products, and I need to be the first to have a feature to claim my rights via prior art - just in case.
But sometimes I comment here on the forum or in a support email on certain features, to prevent users from making wrong decisions based on features which will work differently in the next major release, or which will be replaced or removed. Here are most of these hints
And when will the new release be finished?
I have no definite answer for this question. There are still some technological borders I need to cross. I have designed and invented some really cool new technologies in order to being able to implement all that what I have in mind.
Since I still have my day-time job (which gives me financial security and allows me to make IMatch as good as possible even if I don't make money for a living from it) my current priority list looks as follows.
Progress on the next major release is good. Not as fast as I had hoped, but not as slow as I had feared.
All I can say is that I too want to have and use the next major IMatch version. I do what I can, I promise!
What we should not forget: We all have one of the most advanced image management systems installed on our computers.
A working version, with a superior feature set, stability, performance. The name? IMatch 3.4