Here’s a detailed overview of functions and features that I would like to find in a Digital Asset Management System (DAM).
This is a follow-up post to the previous one I did on DAMs that has attracted quite a lot of attention and comments. As I explained there, following the death, demise and discontinuation of Extensis Portfolio I need to find a new DAM.
[update 2014-08-11] I also want to underline that I am very grateful to all those people who have commented on my previous post (more than 100 comments!). It has brought the whole discussion forward and shows that this is after all important for many people!
[update 2014-08-12] Please answer my new poll on what DAM system you use!
This is also intended as a list to help me evaluate the alternatives. Perhaps it can also be a help to others. The list of requirements may evolve as I continue the exploration, so if you’re interested in the details, do come back here or subscribe to the post. (There’s a subscription option next to the comment box below.) And perhaps it can give some useful advice to current or future DAM developers.
As it looks now, these are the programs that I could be looking at. For each I plan to write a test report:
- Photo Supreme (ex-iDimager)
- Media Pro, by Phase One
- digiKam, open source
And then these, that I have previously seen as browsers but that others have pointed to as potential DAM solutions:
- ACDsee (“plain” or Pro? I don’t know yet)
Possibly these, but they seem too expensive to be a serious alternative for an independent photographer:
- FotoStation, FotoWare
Have I missed some potential DAM?
I should also add that I do not expect to be looking at:
- Lightroom, Adobe
I have not looked at it in detail but many photographers emphasise that it is good for some tasks but it is not at all a proper, fully-fledged DAM. Apparently it lacks important features to be considered a DAM. Perhaps it is one of the Swiss Army Knives I mention below.
I plan to publish reviews / tests / comparisons of the DAMs as I do them.
I would like to underline, once again, that I do not want the DAM system to do image editing for me. I do not use a DAM for adjusting colour, contrast, cropping, converting etc, etc. I use other dedicated and more competent programs for that: Phase One’s Capture One, Adobe Photoshop and others. Don’t confuse a DAM with a photo Swiss Army Knife.
I use my DAM to catalogue, organise, assign metadata, and find images. That’s all.
There are two reasons why I go to these lengths in finding a new DAM:
- The DAM is a vitally critical tool to manage the images and data regarding the images. Without a good DAM it is impossible to use the images to their full value.
- Keywording and adding Descriptions / Captions to images is an immensely time-consuming (and boring) task, so to have tools that make it easier and faster is a great help.
I should also underline that my perspective is that of an independent photographers, working mainly with stock photography, working with multiple photo agencies.
Other photographers in other situations will have different requirements. (Please share them with me in the comments section!)
NB: The numbering below with some A, B, C after the heading number etc is of no significance. It is just because I have added items after the intital number and I don’t want to change the numbering.
1. General company considerations
There are various aspects of the company who makes the sw that can have an impact on your decision.
Not much to say. It should be easy and go smoothly.
Note 1: I am only interested in DAMs that are installed locally. I am not interested in cloud based DAMs.
Note 2: I work on Windows, currently using Windows 7, 64 bit. Many photographers like the Apple world but I do not use it.
[Update 2014-08-10] It should be possible to choose where the data file(s) – the catalogue – is stored. I have all personal program data files, like for example my catalogue files, stored in a “personal data files” folder. This greatly simplifies back-up. It becomes very difficult to implement an effective back-up strategy if programs do not allow me to decide where data should be stored.
3 B. Performance [update 2014-08-10]
How long time does it take to catalogue images?
General performance considerations.
3 C. User interface [update 2014-08-10]
General user interface considerations.
4. File server compatible
The DAM must be able to work with files located on a file server connected over a network.
5. Off-line capable
The DAM must be able to function even if the files in the catalogue are not available, for example when travelling or if the file server where they are located is off-line.
6. A cataloguer, not a browser
It must be a cataloguer, not a browser. In other words, the catalogue data should be stored in a catalogue file, separate from the files themselves. Nor is it acceptable that the catalogue data is stored “distributed” in various places, as for example Adobe Bridge does with its .BridgeCache and .BridgeCacheT files.
This is also very important for your back-up strategy. You have to be able to back-up the catalogue data.
7. Basic Metadata, Keywords and Description / Caption
This is so basic so that it is hardly worth mentioning, but just for the sake of completion:
Apply keywords and caption (aka “description”) – this is the key to the whole application!
Keywords and descriptions can be added to multiple files at the same time.
A note on hierarchical keywords: I do not need the DAM to handle hierarchical keywords. Hierarchical keywords, or a “controlled vocabulary”, can be a good tool in some situations to find good keywords. But hierarchical keywords / a controlled vocabulary is too rigid a structure for it to be applicable when keywording images in a DAM.
7 B. Appending text to Description / Caption in multiple images [update 2014-08-10]
It should be possible to append text to Description (Caption) field for multiple images at the same time.
One image has the Description/Caption “church”, another “theatre”. It should be possible to append to the end of the caption “, bilbao” for both images in one go.
This is very important.
7 C. Dragging and dropping keywords [update 2014-08-10]
This is perhaps not a vital feature but it is very useful:
The possibility to drag and drop a text from e.g. Word onto a selection of thumbnails and they are then applied as keywords to those images.
Example: I have in a Word document the text string “theatre, theater, opera house”. Dragging and dropping it over a selection of thumbnails applies those three keywords as separate keywords (opera house being applied as one since it is not comma delimited).
It is of course possible to copy and paste into the keywords field but a drag and drop can be very simple and faster.
8. Embedding of metadata in the files
This is also very basic: embedding the metadata that has been done either in the files themselves (when possible) or as sidecar files.
My preference is to embed it in the files themselves. This is a much stronger security than when embedding it in separate “sidecar” files. But the best would be if the sw gives you the option for either. For some file types (proprietary raw files) embedding is not an option though.
One additional consideration:
Is the embedding instantaneous in the files or is it done with a separate command?
Instantaneous: as soon as you change a metadata, e.g. a keyword, it is written to the file. This is not a good option in my view. Yes it assures that it is instantly saved to the files but it has several drawbacks. First, if you work with batches of files and add keywords to many files at the same time it will mean a very large number of file opens and saves. For example: I may want to add the keyword Bordeaux to 1000 files simultaneously. This will lead to 1000 file opens and saves. I then add France to the same files. Again 1000 file opens and saves. Each open and save takes time and risks corrupting the file. Also, if I have generational backups it will generate a huge number of generations over time.
With a separate command: This means I add metadata in the cataloguer to any number of images I want. The keywords/description is only stored in the DAM and not embedded into the file. I then use an “embed” command to make the DAM write all the metadata from the DAM to the files that I have selected. This is much better.
9. Import and export of catalogue data fields to txt / csv / xls
It must be possible to export all data fields, such as keywords, etc, including custom fields to text files, xls files etc.
It must also be possible to import the same.
This is the only way to avoid being locked-in to a solution.
It is also important for many other reasons. For example:
- “Standard” metadata fields are not sufficient (see custom fields) and I am not comfortable with designing my own XMP things. Therefore some metadata will reside only in the DAM and I will need to be able to extract / export that.
- I need to be able to supply this information to the agency(ies) I work with. For instance, although in principle Alamy reads metadata from the files this does not always work on their systems. Also: they require (or at least strongly recommends) other information that simply does not exist in embedded metadata. On the other hand, these exist as custom fields in my current DAM. For example, they have these Alamy specific fields: Caption (a short version of Description), Essential Keywords, Main Keywords. These can easily be created by manipulating the data in a spreadsheet.
- Also: For some file types, embedding metadata is not an option. You should not embed in proprietary raw file formats. For such files it is important to be able to export all metadata that has been entered in the DAM.
This is a very important feature to avoid being locked-in to any DAM.
10. Custom Fields
The user must have the possibility to define custom fields.
It is preferable if the custom fields have some “advanced configuration” possibilities. For example:
- Define that the custom field is of certain types
- Date / time
- Text string (of a pre-defined length; or not)
- Define that the custom field can have a single value or multiple values (examples: “keyword” is a field that can have multiple values, “date created” is a field that can have only a single value)
- Define that the value of a custom filed must be a pre-defined list. (There could also be a pre-defined list, but other values are allowed too although I have never had any use for this.)
Extensis Portfolio does this very, very well.
In most cases Custom Fields is data that is not embedded in the files. The Custom Field data exists only in the DAM. Primarily because they are, well, custom, specific for the user, and not part of a standard metadata definition.
Custom fields are very important.
Custom Fields are important.
For example, I use custom fields for this:
- For the non-standard three levels of description that for example Alamy (a stock agency) requires. (Text fields of pre-defined length.)
- To keep track of where in my workflow an image is and where in my keywording process it is. (Text fields that can only have certain pre-defined mutually exclusive values, e.g.: [does not exist], Processing, Finished, Do Not Process)
- What the status is of an image with an agency: not submitted, submitted, accepted, rejected… (Same type of pre-defined list with mutually exclusive values.)
- For raw files: what shoot the image is from. I do not embed metadata in raw files. (Same type of pre-defined list with mutually exclusive values: Paris, Bordeaux, South Africa,…)
11. Perform “advanced” searches on Custom Fields
The DAM must be able to search / find custom fields, but not only that. It has to be able to do advanced searches combining multiple fields and using logical operators.
This example is from my RAW file catalogue and illustrates one part of my workflow.
I have a custom field called Group. It actually denotes the region the shot has been taken in. (Remember, much of my photography is travel.) The Group custom field can have values such as Burgundy, Spain, South Africa etc.
I have another custom field called Processing Status. Processing Status indicates where in my processing workflow the file/photo is. It can have the values [blank] (i.e. no value at all), Processing, and Finished Processing. [blank] means I have not started work on this file. Processing means I have “checked it out” and am processing it (doing the raw processing and keywording). Finished Processing is when all the work has been done and there is a processed and keyworded version of this file in the Develops catalogue. Or as the case may be, no finished file at all if I thought the photo was not worth processing.
I use this to do this kind of searches:
- Find all files from Spain that I have not started working on yet. (Group = Spain AND Processing Status = [blank])
- Find all files that are from either Spain or Italy. (Group = Spain OR Group = Italy)
The advanced search function should preferably have at least these functions:
This is how it looks in Extensis Portfolio. Very good!
It also shows this:
You must have the possibility to combine several custom fields (or the same multiple times) with an AND / OR operator.
The example also shows the option to only search in the currently displayed set of images, or in the whole catalogue, or even in multiple catalogues.
It is also handy to be able to save (and name) searches that you do often.
12. Virtual Galleries / Temporary Sets / Categories – hierarchical
The possibility to organise images in virtual galleries or temporary sets. In Extensis Portfolio this is called “categories”.
This is very similar to a folder structure on a disk but it is simply a virtual organisation. It is not anything that has to do with how the images are physically organised on the disc.
It must be possible to organise the Virtual Galleries in a hierarchy, with images on all levels in the hierarchy.
This is similar to a “controlled vocabulary” but is in fact totally separate. It has actually nothing to do with a vocabulary or keywords, although it looks similar.
It should be possible to have the Virtual Gallery hierarchy open in one part of the window and the thumbnails in another part of the window and then place images in the Virtual Gallery structure by dragging and dropping the thumbnails.
This is a huge time saver for me when assigning keywords and description.
I could have a Virtual Gallery structure that looks like this (but much, much more elaborate):
Etc, etc. Before assigning keywords and descriptions to a large number of images I would drag-and-drop the images into these Virtual Galleries so that I then can assign similar and relevant keywords and descriptions to similar images.
13. Folder Watching
A file in the catalogue may be, accidentally or intentionally have been modified by another program. The DAM needs to be able to identify and flag discrepancies between the catalogued file and the file on disk.
Another case, new files, or folders, may be added outside the catalogue to the archive folders (the folders where the catalogued files reside). The DAM should be able to identify and flag this too.
Preferably this should be possible to do in an automated way, meaning that you should be able to turn it on and the DAM will check and alert you automatically or off and the DAM will only check when you ask it.
14. Changing file paths
It must be possible to change the location (paths) of files in batches.
Folder and drive structures change. If image files are moved from one location to another, for example a folder is moved to a different drive or to a different folder tree, it must be possible to change the location of all moved files in a batch, not only one-by-one.
15. Multiple catalogues
I think that it is a good idea to work with multiple catalogues. You can do this in different ways, for example one catalogue per year. This can be for organisational reasons or performance reasons.
Personally I have separate catalogues for my RAW files and for my Develops files.
In addition, due to file size constraints and performance reason I have split my RAW catalogue into three separate catalogues. (I have 140,000 raw files.)
16. Use and Search multiple catalogues
This is perhaps more of a “nice to have”, depending on your needs.
The possibility to have multiple catalogues open simultaneously and to do a search/find across multiple catalogues with a single command.
Many people choose to split up their collection in multiple catalogues, e.g. by year or some other logic. Therefor it can be convenient to be able to search multiple catalogues in one go.
17. Special administrative searches / finds [update 2014-08-10]
Some “special” finds or seraches should be possible. For example, searches for:
- Duplicate files (same file name)
- Missing files / missing “originals” (files that exist in the catalogue but cannot be found on the disk)
- And if relevant:
- unreadable items
- partially catalogued items
- perhaps others too
If you have any question on what any of the above means, do not hesitate to post a comment and ask!