Digital Asset Management software selection
Mike Briggs is a London based photographer with a particular interest in travel photography, reportage and street photography. Mike needed to select a new DAM, digital asset management system, to manage his collection of 100,000+ images. He started looking at a very broad range of DAMs. Soon he narrowed the selection down to three candidates: digiKam, Photo Supreme, and Daminion. Here’s the story on how he selected his best DAM.
Every photographer will have different requirements on a DAM so which one is “best for you” is not necessarily “best for me”. This is a guest article where Mike Briggs, of Mike Briggs Photography, explains how he found what was best for him. You can find more info on Mike at the end of the article. A big THANK YOU to Mike for sharing this extremely interesting story!
Please respond to the DAM poll here: “Which DAM do you use?“
By Mike Briggs:
Digital Asset Management – otherwise known as DAM – isn’t the most glamorous topic in photography. I’ll not detail all the benefits here, but if, like me, you want to be able to easily view or retrieve particular images from among thousands, it’s an indispensable tool.
So, how to select DAM software? I’ve recently been through the process myself and, even if you disagree with my final choice (yes, I have made one), my concerns and experience may be of interest.
Finding the holy Grail of the perfect DAM
As the DAM market has been consolidating over the past few years, one key concern was that I didn’t want to be stranded if my software was abandoned, or if the license model changes to a subscription model. Consequently, my first question when looking at any DAM package was not ‘is this good software’, but ‘is there a good escape route?’ Since there are no guarantees about software lifetime, the ability to write the catalogue data into the image files as metadata, in a form that can be read by other software, is what I’m after. And I know that not everyone likes to do it, but for me that includes writing metadata to RAW files too. You’ll perhaps have guessed by now that Lightroom was never an option. If you’re wondering, I use DxO Optics Pro for RAW conversion.
Of course, it’s still worth trying to pick software that’s likely to stay around for the long term, so the developers of the software and the frequency of past releases were also factors that lead me to discount or demote a few products.
Cost was another factor that ruled out a number of products evidentially aimed at departmental or corporate use; I was expecting the price to be in line with other SOHO software.
In terms of functionality, I wanted it to:
- write metadata to images, including to RAW files (especially CR2 format), not to sidecars
- operate with a locally installed database running under Windows
- cope with at least 100,000 images, stored on a PC or NAS (and preferably on offline media)
- allow the creation of a set of hierarchical keywords
- allow images to be tagged with the hierarchical keywords
- apply captions to images
- apply pre-defined copyright text to images
- apply star-ratings to images
- allow images to be found by searching on using multiple keywords
- allow searches to be saved
- preferably have some means of grouping together different versions of a base image
- preferably include a geotagging capability
- preferably work with video and audio files
- preferably monitor folders for missing files
- preferably monitor files for image integrity (fixity checking)
- do all the above in an easy and user-friendly way
With the above questions to the fore, my first task was to identify and check out the potential packages. Of course that involved reading the specifications for the various products, taking a look at the manuals or online videos, and, in promising cases, quickly testing out the software where free trials were available.
I also spent time tracking down leads and user opinions from others on the Internet, some of them interesting, others dead ends. Not a very quick or exciting process.
But over the course of several months I gradually narrowed down the field.
The packages that made it to my long-list were
- ACDSee Pro;
- BreezeBrowser Pro;
- Camera Bits Photo Mechanic;
- Daminion Software’s Daminion;
- GRR Systems’ DBGallery;
- Helicon Photo Safe;
- IDimager Photo Supreme;
- Lunarship Phototheca;
- Photools iMatch and
- Phase One Media Pro.
Those that made it to the short-list?
- Daminion and
- Photo Supreme.
All three are full database-centric DAM applications.
As a Linux program, digiKam (http://www.digikam.org) goes back over 10 years, but since 2009 has also been available as a port for Mac and Windows too. In terms of its future longevity, the fact that it is open-source and apparently has a thriving team of developers and contributors working on it is a big plus – and it’s free of charge too. Subject to the database choice, it can also be used as a standalone or multi-user system.
digiKam offers most of the functionality that I want, including audio and video file support, and the ability to group versions of the same file together by dragging one thumbnail onto another.
It also offers a range of other features, if you want them, including non-destructive editing. Innovative features include a reasonable attempt at automatic face recognition, and fuzzy image matching – finding images based on a rough sketch – though scanning images for this reliably crashed the program. The digiKam developers do warn that it’s not as stable under Windows as under Linux. Maybe I was lucky, but I didn’t experience other crashes when running version 3.4.0 during testing.
Overall digiKam gave a good impression, but a couple of things demoted it in my rankings.
Firstly, I couldn’t find a way to import or export my list of hierarchical keywords.
Secondly, although it should be able to write metadata to CR2 RAW files, I couldn’t persuade it to do so under Windows.
Thirdly, on a support issue, my related query on the mailing list (http://digikam.1695700.n4.nabble.com/Can-t-write-metadata-to-CR2-files-under-Windows-td4669747.html) went unanswered. I get the impression that the digiKam project team could do with some more Windows contributors. Perhaps the Mac version has better support.
Somewhat unusually digiKam do have a user forum on the web site (at https://www.digikam.org/forum), but it is entirely unused. Perhaps posting a message would elicit a response, but all the support is currently on a mailing list; though effective, this may be off-putting for some.
At the time I was assessing the software version 4 was being released, but by the time the Windows version eventually came along (two months later) I’d already decided on another package. In case you’re wondering, version 4.1.0 (the latest version at the time of writing) still isn’t writing metadata to CR2 files under Windows.
DAM, a tool to find the one image you are looking for
Daminion (http://daminion.net), a Windows only product, has been around for a couple of years and comes in two flavours; a ‘small teams’ version, and a ‘standalone’ version. It’s the latter that interested me.
Like digiKam, Daminion provides almost all of the functionality that I need, including writing metatdata to RAW files (or sidecar files) without problems. It was also stable under test.
A particular like is that Daminion can import and export hierarchical keywords to and from Photo Supreme (and no doubt other compatible packages) via a generic text file.
I also liked Daminions’ ability to switch the ‘Catalog Tags’ sidebar between ‘Filter Items’ and ‘Assign Tags’ modes.
In common with digiKam, it’s also possible to drag and drop images onto a map to geotag them, which makes geotagging easy.
An interesting extra feature is the provision to insert the license expiry date for each file, to help track licence usage.
On the other hand I found that it wasn’t easy to see which images had been tagged or with what.
I also wasn’t able to find a way of grouping versions of the same file – an image management feature that I particularly liked in digiKam.
At this stage I still preferred the way that digiKam worked, but for practical reasons would have chosen Daminion out of the pair. But there was still another package on my shortlist.
IDimager Photo Supreme
Like Daminion, Photo Supreme (www.idimager.com) also comes in a single user and server versions, but is also available for Mac-OSX, not just for Windows.
I must say that I approached Photo Supreme cautiously.
The developer had stopped developing its original well-regarded DAM product – IDimager – in 2012 and, when this happened, there were clearly a number of users who were very unhappy with the decision, and with the capabilities of Photo Supreme, its replacement. However Photo Supreme was also under active development, and several updates had been released since IDimager’s demise. And there were also users who liked it too.
And, with Daminion newly on the scene, I could also see at least one reason for retiring the older product. But would it be good enough?
The first surprise is how few menus Photo Supreme has – just 4 – and one of those is ‘help’! Surely this couldn’t be a fully featured package? By way of comparison, digiKam has 11 menus and Daminion has 8, though all of them have additional controls around the various windows too.
Nevertheless, as I made my way through the (sparse) user manual, supplemented by the user forum posts, it became apparent that yes, it did have very similar core capabilities to digiKam and Daminion and could also do most of what I wanted. Despite the lack of menus, it didn’t take too long to master the interface – and the built-in ‘tips’ system helps (hit the ‘tips’ icon and hover over something).
However, as is so often the case in selecting software, it’s not the just capabilities of the software that matter – it’s how easy it is to use. Here, Photo Supreme is ahead of the competition.
In digiKam, I liked the ability to group versions of the same file together by dragging one thumbnail onto another; in Photo Supreme I can do the same, but (if you set it to do so), it will automatically group images with the same core file name together on import – an excellent innovation. Added or changed metadata will then be applied simultaneously to all images in the group.
A good deal of thought has gone into the interface for keyword tagging which is, for me the heart of the software. Until automatic recognition systems become available, Photo Supreme makes it about as pain-free as it’s going to get.
In addition to assisted manual entry, ‘recently used’, ‘favourite’, ‘suggested’ and ‘nearby’ tags are displayed for selection. Keyword groups that I’ve pre-defined are also displayed, enabling images to be tagged with multiple keywords using a single click. There’s even the ability to add geo-locations to towns or other keywords, so that tagging with the keyword automatically geotags it too – another useful time-saver. It’s also easy to see which images have been keyword tagged, and with what.
In addition to setting up your own keyword hierarchy, or using a controlled vocabulary, keywords from imported files are fed into the catalogue (in a ‘miscellaneous’ category) ready for reuse. And, as mentioned previously, it’s possible to import and export the hierarchical keyword list to and from other compatible DAM software, so keeping my future options open.
Geotagging individual images isn’t drag-and-drop, as it is with the other short-listed packages, however it’s almost as simple, and multiple other ways of entering the data are possible, including using the automatic tagging via keywords described above, automatic tagging from smartphone GPX logs, and copying and pasting from other images, which the other packages don’t support.
Custom XMP data fields can also be added, so if you like the idea of Daminion’s license expiry field, you can add it in Photo Supreme too, though it won’t be linked to a calendar.
Metadata can be written to RAW files (if you select that option) and video is supported (though only through sidecar files). It’s also possible to catalogue off-line files, and to switch to ‘travel mode’ to facilitate working on the road with a laptop.
There are two ways of searching, several ways of browsing, and also a filtering bar and light table, so finding and selecting images is easy, and searches and search results can be saved. And there’s a scripting option and a variety of pre-written scripts, though I’ve not yet explored their capabilities.
So, are there flaws?
Well this is software, so yes, a few – but I’ve not found major problems yet. When moving between screens, some returned-to-screens loose track of the previously selected object(s), and forget that they’re supposed to be maximised, which is somewhat annoying.
And I can’t print direct from the software. These are known bugs that I hope will soon be fixed.
I’ve also had a couple of images that the software claimed were out of sync with the database, even though they weren’t. Backing up and compacting the database solved these.
But, after using the software extensively for a couple of months, including cataloguing several thousand new images, there have been no stability problems.
One omission is the ability to view and select geotagged images from a world map, as you can with the other two packages. [update:] This is actually possible via a right-click menu.
Another is the lack of audio file support – though not entirely surprising in a product aimed at photographers.
I would, however, like more granularity in selecting which metadata is (or isn’t) included when images are exported or uploaded.
And I’d like a more comprehensive user manual (I had to experiment to move the configuration files to a hard drive and folder of my choosing). Of course I could make similar lists for the other products too.
For me, there is no doubt that Photo Supreme is a clear winner in this contest and, particularly on the core function of keyword tagging, it’s ahead by a good distance. Not only does it do almost everything I want but it also does so with style – and with escape routes. I look forward to the next release with interest.
The missing feature
As a final note, there is one feature that I was hoping to find that is missing from all three short-listed packages – fixity checking – the ability to monitor files for image integrity.
At the moment, if the image data (as opposed to the metadata) within the file becomes corrupted, none of the packages warn that this has happened. Third party fixity products, such as ExactFile, are incompatible with DAM software, since changing the metadata flags all the files affected as potentially corrupt.
The only photography product that I’ve come across that has limited support for fixity checking is Lightroom 5 – limited because it only applies to DNG version 1.2 files, using their internal checksums to do the checking. It’s not my area of expertise, but it would seem possible for DAM software to calculate, store and verify checksums for multiple image file formats, albeit other formats aren’t protected from alteration in the way that DNG images are supposed to be. If so, in my view this would be a very worthwhile enhancement.
About the Author
Mike Briggs recounts his recent experience of evaluating the Digital Asset Management software currently available – and how he came to a decision.
Mike is an independent photographer based near London, UK. You can see a selection of his photos at mikebriggsphotography.com.
Other than as a user, Mike has no connection with the authors of any of the software mentioned in this article.
© Mike Briggs 2014, all rights reserved, all moral rights asserted. Published on bkwinephotography.com by permission.