We've long been unabashed fans of Photo Mechanic.
The photo browser from software developer Camera Bits has been a central part of our digital workflow since 1997. Not because it has had an extensive feature list, or because new features were being added every other week. But because the things that it did it did very well, better than any competing product we looked at.
In the last year or so, however, Photo Mechanic's development schedule has been turbocharged: Camera Bits is growing the program's capabilities at a much more rapid rate than ever before.
Since v4 began to ship for both Mac and Windows in early 2004, the number of new features added and older features refined has been impressive, especially since the program has been able to retain a per-feature depth that is sorely lacking in some applications in the photo browser/image cataloger category.
Version 4.3 of Photo Mechanic continues the program's march forward. We've been using successive beta releases on both supported platforms for some time now, and already can't imagine going back to an earlier version. This is a way cool release.
What's New in 4.3
Here are some highlights of what's coming in v4.3, which is slated to ship later this week:
Background photo importing with renaming. The Ingest Disks function has gotten a lot of attention in this update. For some time it has been able to import photos and other files from any number of mounted camera cards, optionally batch captioning, embedding ICC profiles and sorting the photos smartly in up to two sets of destination folders.
Photo Mechanic 4.3: background ingest in action (QT Movie)
As of v4.3, the program performs the import in the background, optionally renaming the photos and other files in the process.
Rename in Ingest Disks dialog
Also, the Ingest Disks dialog can be configured so that once the import is underway, a contact sheet window pointed at the destination folder will automatically open and begin to fill with thumbnails of imported photos as they arrive (as shown above, and in this QuickTime movie). The first files off the card will be ones that have been protected in the camera, enabling you to quickly begin viewing any photos selected as part of an initial edit out in the field.
It's possible to perform all Photo Mechanic operations on the photos as they arrive; put another way, the program remains fully functional in the foreground for other tasks while the import chugs away in the background.
Note: the Ingest Progress dialog is expected to appear somewhat different than in the screenshot and QuickTime movie above.
Zoom in preview window. When viewing a folder of photos in a preview window, it's now possible to zoom in and out in 5 increments, in addition to the standard full image view the program has now.
Zoom controls in preview window
Extensive caching to RAM and to the hard drive, as well as the reading into memory photos before and after the one being previewed, means that the zoom function is built for speed. On a dual 2.0GHz G5 Mac, and a Dell Inspiron 8500 with P4-M/2.6GHz processor, moving through a folder of Canon EOS-1D Mark II JPEGs at 100% magnification is not a problem: the program draws the next photo quickly when the right arrow key is pressed, while switching back and forth from standard to 100% view is near-instantaneous (though it's possible on any computer to pound the right arrow key faster than the program's ability to read ahead). Keyboard shortcuts aplenty also help keep the efficiency up when zooming.
This feature will bring lesser machines to their knees, however, at least when handling higher-resolution files. For example, previewing and zooming in and out through a folder of EOS-1Ds Mark II JPEGs on a Powerbook G4/800 is an exercise in patience the first time through the folder (though cruising through Nikon D2H and EOS-1D photos is fine on this computer). To make best use of the zoom function, upping the memory cache size preference (and maybe the amount of RAM in your computer too!) is a must. And with the zoom function disabled, preview performance should be - and seems to be in late beta releases - about the same as the current and quite peppy v4.2.1.
For those whose computers are a good match for the resolution of files being handled, then, the zoom function is killer.
RAW+JPEG linking. Now, Photo Mechanic will optionally treat any RAW and JPEG pair generated by an increasing number of digital cameras as a single file for the purpose of displaying, copying, renaming and performing other core program functions. In preferences you can choose to have the program default to transferring the JPEG or RAW version to an external application - Photoshop, for example - when the Edit Photos command is selected. And when copying, it's possible to copy just the RAW, just the JPEG, or both.
RAW+JPEG thumbnail pair
New format support. ORF (Olympus' RAW format) files from the E-1 and E-20, Nikon D2X NEFs and Adobe DNG are added to the list of viewable formats (with limitations). In addition, RAW .TIF files from the EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds are now recognized explicitly as RAW files so that they can form part of a RAW/JPEG pair.
Autoplay on Windows and more. Recent releases of Photo Mechanic for Windows have lagged slightly behind their Mac counterparts. V4.3 brings the feature set of the two platforms closer to parity. In the new release for Windows, automatic launching of the program when a camera card is inserted is now possible, as is renaming a file directly by editing the text beneath its thumbnail. Contact sheets now have a Favorites section for quick access to commonly-used folders as well. This trio of features is already present in the Mac version.
Plus, v4.3 for Windows enables the user to right-click on a folder of photos in the Explorer, and then choose Open in Photo Mechanic, to browse that folder in the program.
The only major difference remaining between the platforms is in the captioning of RAW format files. The Mac version can attach IPTC-format caption information to pretty much any RAW file; the Windows version can't. Camera Bits' Dennis Walker indicates that an upcoming Windows release will be able to caption numerous RAW files that utilize a TIFF structure internally.
There are other more minor changes rolled into v4.3 for both Windows and Mac, including:
- A resizeable image info area in the preview window
- A find and replace function that can search and change IPTC information in files
- FTP retry
- Display of more shooting information from recent Canon digital SLR models
- Automatic renaming, copying and deleting of Photoshop Camera Raw sidecar files when their associated RAW file is renamed, copied or deleted
- A fix for a disappearing menu bar problem (Windows version only)
Planned for a future release of the program is the aforementioned captioning of RAW files on both platforms, the ability to convert RAW files from certain digital SLR cameras and ingesting of photos from a folder (among other planned ingest enhancements).
In addition, support for Lexar's Active Memory System (AMS) is expected to roughly coincide with the availability of Lexar AMS products (the release of AMS-savvy CompactFlash cards and card readers has been delayed).
It's an increasingly crowded photo browser landscape: Photo Mechanic these days competes against programs such as FotoStation Classic and FotoTrafiX, both of which are aimed at the working digital photographer. Plus, Photoshop's File Browser has gotten better over time and is a good launching pad for batch processing, the low cost of ACDSee 7 for Windows make it an interesting choice for pros who need quick preview speed and little else while the duo of BreezeBrowser Pro and Downloader Pro from Breeze Systems have a depth of functionality that make them worth a look (the last two applications are Windows-only).
In short, there are a lot of ways to browse photos these days, and we haven't even mentioned good image catalogers such as Extensis Portfolio and iView MediaPro that are designed to be pseudo-browsers too.
Photo Mechanic doesn't do everything that all the other browsing applications put together do. But with v4.3, it not only continues to do what it does as well or better than anything else we've tried, its expanding feature set means it now does an awful lot.
Version 4.3 for Mac (OS X 10.2 and later) and Windows 2000/XP, when released later this week, will be a free update for licensed Photo Mechanic users that have purchased the program in the last year. A fully-functional trial demo will be posted at the same time. The program is US$150 direct from Camera Bits (and a similar price at pro photo retailers that carry Lexar products).
Update, January 7, 2005: The release of v4.3 has slipped a bit. It will not be available until sometime the week of January 10, 2005 now, says Dennis Walker.