By Stan Sholik
As professional photographers, we are justifiably concerned with the amount of time we must spend managing our image files. As the quantity and file size of our digital captures increase, the time spent importing, cataloging, browsing, editing, searching, publishing and archiving them is increasing even faster. This is time taken away from creating images and managing our businesses.
There exist a number of useful programs to handle different parts of the image management workflow from import to archive, but none that handle it as smoothly, completely and affordably as ACDSee Pro Photo Manager 2.5, the latest release from ACDSee Systems International, Inc.
When I last looked at ACDSee, it was Version 6 of Photo Manager several years ago. I thought it was well designed and a capable program for advanced amateurs, but lacking the range of tools and ease of use that professionals require. Working with ACDSee Pro 2.5 is like learning that your friend’s child, who you never thought would amount to much, just graduated from a top-ranked university. ACDSee Pro 2.5 is all grown up and ready to make a name for itself.
To categorize ACDSee Pro 2.5 as a digital asset management program is to ignore many of its strengths. In fact, it is difficult to fit it into any one category because it is capable of doing so much. It may be easiest to think of it as a program that will do virtually anything that a professional photographer would need to do with a large image library, from importing digital captures to exporting final files to the client. It even allows non-destructive pixel-level image editing and RAW file conversion, leaving only complex pixel editing, masking and layering tasks to Photoshop or similar software.
As with other photo management software, and new to this version of ACDSee Pro, you can import images directly from your camera or camera card, adding IPTC and EXIF metadata and keywords, and renaming files. Unlike with some, you can also back up your files to another hard drive while you are importing them and continue using the program while images import in the background.
But you don’t need to import images into ACDSee Pro 2.5 in order to view them. As with image browsing software, you can navigate to any location on your hard drive to view photos without importing them. Unlike other image browsers, while you are viewing the files, ACDSee Pro 2.5 is cataloging them in the background, extracting metadata and keywords and adding these to its database. Once information is stored in the database, it is searchable with the powerful search tools in ACDSee Pro 2.5. But more about searching later.
Thumbnails of images in the folder you have selected appear in the Browser almost instantaneously, faster by far than most other image browsers. Rolling your mouse over an image brings up a larger view of the image, although, if you find this distracting, you can disable the feature. Clicking once on a thumbnail brings up a preview of the image along with its histogram and EXIF metadata below the file list. The Browser view is also where you can tag and rate images, and form collections for further editing as you do a rough edit on a large shoot.
As you might expect from a program for professional photographers, the ACDSee Pro 2.5 interface is highly configurable. I almost feel like saying “infinitely” configurable given the number of combinations with which I’ve been playing. You can easily undock panes from their default positions and reposition them, or set them to auto-open and close, or close them until you need them, then recall them with a mouse click or keyboard shortcut. If you find yourself totally lost, there is a menu item to restore the default positions so you can start again. When you create an arrangement that suits you for a particular task, you can name and save this for recall later. There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the number of workspaces you can create either. To add to the customization, every workspace can have one of four color schemes.
Double-clicking on an image in the Browser window opens the image in the Viewer window. The Viewer contains a toolbar above the image window with shortcut buttons to commonly used zoom, scroll, copy, move, print and other tools. Along the left side of the screen are shortcuts to commonly used editing tools, and along the bottom of the Viewer window is a status bar that displays information about the current image or media file. You can also set the Viewer to show IPTC and EXIF information, the image histogram, over-/under-exposure warning and a Navigator window.
The editing tools in the Viewer window, which you can use on JPEG, TIFF and other bit-mapped files, include, but go well beyond exposure, highlight/shadows, levels, color, unsharp masking and noise removal. You can also resize, crop, add text, clone and heal, control or add distortion and perspective, and add special effects, borders and vignettes from the libraries that are included. Even though many of these are pixel-level changes, you can restore the image to its original, unedited form after the first time you save it by selecting “Restore Original” from the Tools menu.
Using the Viewer to edit images requires you to open each tool individually, make changes and apply the changes before moving on to the next tool. Image ©Stan Sholik
One thing I disliked about using the Viewer window for editing was the need to edit and apply the edit to the image with each of the many tools. I would much prefer to make all of the changes in a continuous workflow and apply and save them only once when all the changes are completed. This issue is alleviated slightly if you make your changes in the Edit window rather than the Viewer window.
The Edit window groups many of the image correction tools from the Viewer window together, making for a smoother workflow. For example, the Exposure tool in the Edit window groups exposure adjustments, levels, auto-levels and curves into one set, allowing them all to be adjusted before you must apply the changes. All of the tools found in the Viewer are available in the Editor, and you can remove all changes made in the Editor and revert to the original file using the same “Restore Original” command.
The Edit window groups many of the image correction tools from the Viewer window together, making for a smoother workflow. Image ©Stan Sholik
The Exposure Panel of the Edit window includes controls for exposure, levels, auto levels and curves. You can adjust them all interactively before you must apply them. Image ©Stan Sholik
The smoothest workflow is found in the ACDSee Pro 2.5 Raw Processor. Here, all of the tools you need to modify a RAW file, with the exception of cloning, healing and red-eye removal, are grouped together in a tabbed workflow. You work through the tabs from Exposure through local parametric density controls to color controls, to cropping, rotating and straightening. Once you have finished with the corrections, you save the changes non-destructively in the database. The original RAW image remains unaltered. You can also export the edited image in any of 14 different file formats, including some very strange ones, but DNG is not included among them.
The RAW Processing Window delivers the smoothest workflow. The tabbed interface allows you to move smoothly through any necessary changes before applying them. The changes can be copied and pasted to any other RAW images in the thumbnail view below the main preview window. Image ©Stan Sholik
You can also copy and paste the changes from the edited thumbnail of the image to any of the thumbnails below the preview window or you can save the edits as a RAW preset and apply the changes to a batch of RAW files. And since the edits are non-destructive, a single mouse click on “Revert RAW Processing” in the Tools menu restores the file to its original form.
The tech folks at ACDSee with whom I spoke say they write their own RAW processing algorithms rather than using the dcRAW algorithms that many other companies use. I was told that algorithms for processing RAW files from newly released cameras were released in batches quarterly, but in the month I’ve been using the program, a batch has already been released. A list of supported RAW formats is available at http://www.acdsee.com/support/products/acdseepro/2.
The tech folks also promise that in future versions of ACDSee Pro, editing for non-RAW files will be revised so that edits will be grouped into a tabbed workflow, as they now are for RAW files. Cheers for that.
The Organize panel to the right side of the default Browser window gives you many preset search options and the ability to create your own categories to sort images into. Here I have searched for all images on my computer taken with telephoto lenses, one of the preset search criteria. Image ©Stan Sholik
But the capabilities of ACDSee Pro 2.5 go well beyond importing, browsing and editing images. Because it is built around a powerful database, its search and retrieval abilities are robust and very very fast. The Organize pane of the Browser allows you to search for images you have categorized as Albums, People, Places, Various or in categories you have created yourself. If you have rated images from one to five, you can filter on the rating also. You are also able to search for and display images based on EXIF data, showing all the images taken with a telephoto lens for example.
But the real strength lies in the Search pane. You can use the Search pane to search by file name, keywords, or image properties. You can create advanced searches to locate files that fall within a date or rating range and then save and name the search to use later. You can also use the Duplicate Finder to locate and manage identical files.
The Search panel offers other ways to search for files. Here I have called up all the files and folders on my computer with “baja” in their title. Image ©Stan Sholik
For simpler searches, you can use the Quick Search bar to quickly locate files and folders, or search the database for specific names and keywords. You can also customize the Quick Search bar to only search for specific items or certain parts of the database.
ACDSee Pro 2.5 doesn’t just leave you with a batch of edited images or a carefully structured search on your monitor. Its Create menu gives you the ability to generate a slide show, create a PDF or PowerPoint presentation from the images, or simply write them to a CD or DVD. You can also create a contact sheet or a web page. For each of these there are a variety of options and personalizations possible. And all without leaving ACDSee Pro 2.5.
You can set up your own searches in the Properties window of the Search pane. Here I’m adding a “Date/time created” search to the “Rating is 5” and the “Quality is RAW” searched I created earlier. Image ©Stan Sholik
The day after I loaded the program on my computer, a friend stopped by who had just returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. He had a flash drive loaded with images he wanted to show me. I recalled seeing Auto Slide Show in the ACDSee Pro 2.5 menu bar and didn’t want to go through the whole importing procedure with Lightroom, so I connected his flash drive, opened ACDSee Pro 2.5, navigated to the folder on his drive in the Folders pane, clicked on Auto Slide Show and in less than a minute total time we were looking at his images.
I didn’t care for the default Pan and Zoom action or the 9-second duration of the auto slideshow, so I exited the slide show, found the slide show configuration tools, and changed the settings to my liking. We were back watching his slides at our own pace in less than a minute. If I’d had music on that computer we could have had a soundtrack running in the background.
Image browser, image viewer, image editor, RAW processor, and image distributor: ACDSee is an import to export image manager.
The shortcomings that I found are few. The RAW processor doesn’t have tools to remove chromatic aberration or purple fringing. The Editor could use a smoother workflow, but this is promised in an upcoming version.
Because there is a lot of functionality here, be prepared for a learning curve. But you can minimize the learning curve by viewing or downloading the video and PDF tutorials from the Web site and using the excellent Help tools or the well-written manual.
The other downside is for Mac users. ACDSee Pro 2.5 is Windows only. But even this is changing. ACDSee Systems is writing a ground up version for Macs, scheduled for beta testing in spring 2009 and release in fall 2009. Mac users can sign up for the beta test at www.acdsee.com/proformac.
In the meantime, Windows users can purchase ACDSee Pro 2.5 for $129.99 directly from ACDSee Systems through their website, www.acdsee.com. Upgrade for users of ACDSee Pro 2 is free of charge. A fully functional 30-day demo is also available from the website.
Stan Sholik is a contributing writer for NewsWatch Feature Service. He is also a commercial photographer with over 30 years of large format studio and location experience.
Intel Pentium III / AMD Athlon processor or equivalent (Intel Pentium 4 / AMD Athlon XP or equivalent recommended)
512 MB RAM (1 GB RAM recommended)
100 MB free hard drive space (1 GB recommended)
High Color display adapter at 1024 x 768 resolution (1280 x 1024 recommended)
CD/DVD Burner - for creating CDs and DVDs
Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista® operating system
Windows 2000 (Pro 2.0 only)
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0.0 (6.0.0 recommended)
Microsoft DirectX 9.0c - for Microsoft DirectX file format support, and to create slide shows and screen savers
QuickTime 6.0 - for QuickTime file format support
Ghostscript 8.0 - for PDF support
Windows Media Player 9.0 or later