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Important Features of Photo Catalog Software

As there are a large number of asset management programs available on the internet, the choice is difficult. Fortunately, a comparison of the feature sets should rule out many of them. An occasional amateur photographer will have very different needs than a professional photographer. While the professional photographer will need many more features, the amateur will want an easier interface to deal with. In my case, I had to make a difficult decision -- I am serious about photography, have a growing collection and look for future-proofing. Thus, I need a highly-featured product. But my wife will also need to use the same software; searching for photos and emailing them to friends. Obviously, she will not have the patience to deal with a cryptic, non-intuitive interface.

Must-have features
  • Keywords in database, not only in files
    Having keywords that are managed outside of the files themselves allows easy renaming and rearranging of keyword categorization or hierarchy. It is also nice to have the ability to copy the tags from the database into the actual photos (for safety), but this is not as important.
  • Unlimited levels of hierarchy
    It is very important that one have as much flexibility as necessary to arrange the category hierarchy. Restricting the category structure to be only four or five levels deep may eventually be extremely limiting.
  • Complex searches
    Need to have the ability to perform boolean searches across multiple keywords.
  • Fast and robust with 100,000 photos
    Although I do not have 100,000 photos yet, I am quickly building up a sizeable collection. Some programs are not designed well to handle large collections, and they progressively get slower over time. Similarly, it is unacceptable for a program to hang or crash when dealing with large databases.
  • IPTC Keyword write
    Otherwise, the ability to write the tagging data into each of the file's metadata. This effectively protects you against database failure.
  • RAW files
  • Offline image collection
  • Link to external editing software
  • EXIF orientation auto-rotation
  • Lossless rotation
  • Great support
    Both from the community and the developer
Desired features
  • Scripting
    Scripting allows one to accomplish repetitive tasks or features that were missing from the original software.
  • Easy-to-use Interface
    Some degree of learning curve is acceptable, but with those who must share their management software with others, a simple intuitive interface is prefered. Similarly, if common tasks take a large number of steps, the efficiency within the program will be reduced.
  • Export of Database
    Preferably, an open database structure that allows one to migrate to another tool if necessary.
  • Multiple versions. Please see the section on catalog versioning. I am now thinking that this feature should fall within the "must-have" feature set.
  • Generation of web pages
  • Color managed
    Tool should recognize embedded ICC profiles within the photos and render them accordingly. Having a mix of sRGB and Adobe RGB photos without ICC support will cause some photos to incorrectly appear washed out, for example.
  • Frequent updates and bug fixes
    As file formats change and other features become necessities, it is important that the program keep up with the pace of the digital photography world. For example, newer digital cameras often add extra features or use different file formats that will need to be supported by the management program.
  • Low cost of ownership
    Not only is the initial cost outlay important, one has to figure in the cost of updates or add-ons over the lifetime of the product. Some programs require an add-on for additional camera models, or even charge for bug-fixes.
  • Product roadmap: Asset Manager or Swiss Army Knife?
    While it is nice for a program to support a large number of features, where is the future of the product heading? Is it focusing almost entirely on the asset management side, or is it trying to please every customer with a different feature? You want your asset management software to be stable (ie. no crashes) and fast. The actual process of handling catalogs in a efficient manner is actually quite difficult. Adding flexible printing, image editing capabilities, web page development, etc. will typically come at the expense of the real purpose of the program. In particular, I think one should be leary of any asset management product that offers a lot of image editing features. You simply cannot address these two markets with one program! I want multiple products that perform their jobs in a superior manner, rather than a single product that performs multiple jobs in an inferior manner!


Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
2018-04-12Sherwood Botsford
 I use this article and the the one on catalog versioning to rant at people about the need for decent DAM.

Right now I'm fussing with Luminar. They keep promising a DAM but so far don't have one in beta. If more users ask for this functionality, it may get the message across.
2007-01-09Mike Berry
 Just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all your excellent analysis. I am a new digital photographer, married to a more experienced one who takes thousands! She has had a disaster, when her PC was zapped by lightning. When we restored all her data, including her digital photographs, she found that hundreds of hours work cataloguing and keywording her pictures in Photoshop Album 2 had disappeared. You will know why - the 'database' was lodged in an obscure place that didn't get backed up. So, I decided that I needed a photo management program that put its data where I wanted, so that I could protect it. My problem is persuading my wife to have faith that if she puts in the huge effort to categorise all her pictures again, this time she will never lose the result!
 That's a terrible story!, but I'm sure most of us have been through something similar at one time or another. The amount of effort that goes into categorizing shouldn't be underestimated, so doing anything one can to preserve it is always worth the time!


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