My Opinions on ACDSee Pro (v8.1)

I recently participated in a trial test of ACDSee Pro on iStockphoto.com. In addition to my participation in the forums, iStockphoto ran the following piece that summed up my opinions on the application and it's features with Photography Management (reprinted with permission.)

The Test

Let's start with a test, shall we? Say you are updating your portfolio and you want to find your best images shot in the last year. How quickly can you find them? If the answer is more then a few clicks, then you need some DAM software. I'm not swearing, I'm talking about Digital Asset Management (DAM) software.

The core function of DAM software is putting the images you need in your hands when you need them. Many applications download images from a memory card into a folder with a date and/or sequential number. But who can really remember when exactly you did that shoot with that great model when everything went perfect. After that, which image number was the best one? DAM gives your catalog organization to quickly keep track of your images.

Enter ACDSee Pro Photo Manager


ACDSee Pro is the Swiss-Army knife of photography applications. Its primary function is DAM, but it does many other functions as well. The application offers an image browser with support for RAW formats, RAW Processing, cataloging and output to a variety of methods from printing photos with color management to HTML albums.

When I first opened the app I was wondering where the power of the program was. This is because the application launches in browser mode, and resembles Windows Explorer in Thumbnail View mode. Once you start opening palettes from the view menu though, the functionality really starts to become apparent.

Organization

There are many different ways to organize your DAM workflow. The principles can cover an entire book (Peter Krogh wrote the definitive book on the topic, The DAM Book available at www.thedambook.com from O'Reilly Media.) The important thing to remember is that copying files from a memory card to the PC is just the first step in "clearing your card". Adding some keywords to your images while the shoot is still fresh in your mind is important to remembering key details.

ACDSee's Filmstrip mode lets you see your images large onscreen, and add some ratings. The most important thing with ratings is to be consistent. Consistency will help you find those top shots from the last year. Currently, I select my "session" or folder of images and set all the settings to 2. Then I go through each image at full size (fit window) and mark poor images or test shots as a rating of 1. The images that are "good" but not great, I give a 3. Images that are my select images from a set, I rate a 4. Then when it's time to process a folder of images, I can start at the top and work my way down so my more valuable images get my primary attention.

The Categories tab is where I put all my various groupings. These are images shot at different times, but with a common theme. So for example I have a Sports category in my palette, with various subcategories; Soccer, T-Ball (my kids, silly, it's not like I play T-Ball). I have a Places category with different locations as subcategories. I also have an iStockphoto.com category, for my stock shoots. I mark each session with a subcategory of "Sessions" to see all photo sessions I've shot for stock. I also have a "possible" subcategory for images that I may want to upload. Images that make the cut and get uploaded loose this subcategory and are reclassified with a subcategory of "online". This way, when I have time to go through my images I plan to upload, I can click on a category icon and see what I have to work with. It's a way of sifting images to the top. The important thing is the software lets me organize and find files easily.

It's important when you start working with ACDSee to read through the manual and watch your palettes so you know where you data is being stored. For instance, Category information is important for finding a subset of your collection, but this "data" belongs to the database file and to the actual image file. This allows for quick sorting of your images without the application having to sort through a stack of different physical folders or better yet, sort files that are on an offline disk.

View It

Aside from the geeky task of cataloging files, ACDSee Pro offers a fully featured browser mode. This has been my primary use of it. I find it might probably replace Windows Explorer for me. With the built-in Color Management, the color is more accurate then using the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer application. If you have slight changes to your image, you can perform some basic tweaks like exposure, levels, color cast, red-eye reduction, cropping and more.

If you are viewing a RAW file, you can bump over to RAW Processing mode and output the file. I find the RAW options in ACDSee Pro lack the control you get from Adobe Camera RAW and other RAW Processors. I believe that RAW processing is best when used like a jeweler's screwdriver, very fine, precise adjustments. I don't feel like I have that fine control with these options. Like other RAW applications I've used, I get the feeling that small setting changes make larger tweaks then I want it to. It's less like a screwdriver and more like a hammer.

Output


Out of all the options I look for in DAM software, this one I refer to as the "icing". These are all of the batch functions you can do with an image (or subset of images). ACDSee Pro offers a Slide Show mode. One thing I'd like to see which isn't currently available is the ability to rate within a Slide Show, like you can with Bridge or other some other DAM applications.

The printing mode seems to be a bit easier to follow then printing from Photoshop. It allows for a fully color managed workflow, and can control your printing profiles like Photoshop, without the level of geek-dom required with Photoshop. ACDSee Pro allows you to print an entire grouping, unlike Photoshop, which requires you to print an image at a time, and that gets a big nod from me.

While I'm on the topic of grouping, I like the "baskets" available in ACDSee Pro. There are two of them, and image basket and a burn basket. These allow you to "collect" images to do something with them; Print photos, make a contact sheet, create a CD or Video or simply delete them from your collection.

Like all DAM software, it requires consistency and commitment for them to be most effective; consistency in the way that you label you keywords, tags, categories and naming, and commitment from being diligent with making sure you make the time to actually metatag, rate and categorize your files. A little effort on the front-end, can save you from wasting time looking for and focusing on images that aren't your strongest.