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Software manufacturers must think that our hard drives are like the bedroom of an unruly teenager, with digital photo files scattered about like CDs on the floor. That’s why there seems to be no end to cataloguing software coming onto the market and this, being version 8.5, Extensis have been honing for quite some time.
After installation, the first task is to create a brand new, blank catalogue and specify what the most common file types are going to be. This is simply so that the catalogue can have extra, relevant fields, whether it’s for Microsoft Office documents, photos or movie files. What will be apparent by this point is that no effort has been made to Anglicise the application, all the spellings are American.
Pictures, or other files, can now be added to the catalogue, either by dragging and dropping files in – surely only useful when there are just a few new pictures to add, or by using the Add button. This brings up a browser window which can be navigated to individual files for selection or entire folders and sub-folders.
Right you are then Porfolio, make your acquaintance with my pictures folder and the 71Gb of 12,877 pictures. It’s at this point you might think that you are being a little hasty, particularly when the Cataloguing options come up that includes Assign Properties (Descriptions, Keywords and Fields). Files can also be moved or copied into specific locations so if they are all over the place, they can be organised. However, if you have a lot of photos, this does involve a lot of work.
Files can also be renamed. If the Assign Properties box is ticked, it brings up text boxes to cover the description, keywords and specific field, so this is best used folder by folder for specific types of pictures. You can’t just select your entire picture collection and assign the same description to them all. Well, not unless they are all the same subject, in which case they don’t really need cataloguing in the first place.
|A batch of files can be given a generic description for input, while automated keywording can save time.|
To test this out I selected my landscape photo folder, ticked the Include sub-folders, then set it going. Okay, slight mistake, the catalogue option starts with the folder you have open, not the one that is selected, so it started cataloguing everything and tagging them as Landscapes. Stop! In fact the only way to stop it is to close the catalogue window. Once loaded again the process had stopped, but it was now full of images wrongly tagged and included. These can be deleted, and it was no problem as it was the initial cataloguing exercise, but where is the Undo button?
Further options include reducing the size of the thumbnails used so they are generated faster, and specifying which frame of a movie file is used for those thumbnails. Also, the file metadata can be extracted for use in the catalogue fields and keywords can be generated from the file and folder name. Great if you have already renamed the files, not so if they are called IMG450054.JPG etc, though you can mix and match what items the keyword generation uses. Certain filetypes and filenames can be excluded from the catalogue as well so if you didn’t want any InDesign or Illustrator files to be automatically shoved in with the photo files, these could be excluded.
|Lots of options on how to view the files, but some seem irrelevant whereas others, like here, waste space.|
So, back to cataloguing. Portfolio supports a vast array of photo file types, including Canon, Nikon and Fuji RAW formats, amongst other. JPEG and RAW files have thumbnails generated as it goes along, less compressed formats are done once all the files have been read in. The thumbnails can be viewed in anything from tiny little 64x64 pics to 256x256 size pics, which is really what you need in order to see any detail in them.
The thumbnails also have a variety of framing formats, but a lot of this seem pointless, such as whether they have a thin rule around them and whether the corners are rounded. Switching to camera data thumbnails is the real option here, but these waste most of the screen. There are other display options anyway, such as list, item, properties and the amount of data shown with each picture can be adjusted en masse.
A minor usability point again here – the scroll bar on the right moves down when dragged, but it doesn’t update the display in real time as it goes which makes browsing for something in a graphical fashion harder. You’d need to click and hold on the up or down gadgets instead. While changing display options is virtually instantaneous, doing anything that’s going to alter tagging takes longer.
There are options to edit the data associated with each file, or a batch of files can be renamed or converted to another format. JPEGs can be rotated if they are the wrong way round, either for the original image, the thumbnail, or both. Of course, in Vista and XP you can do this anyway, and in Vista other file formats can be batch rotated as well.
Double clicking on any picture brings up the full size version, or selecting the picture and then clicking on the loupe icon does the same thing. Sadly, this isn’t Aperture, where using the loupe magnifies the image underneath, without having to open it. In fact, once the image is open, you’ve had a look, there’s no close gadget in the corner of the tabbed window it appears in, nor in the corner of the screen.
Ah, you must right click and select Close from the pop up menu. Selecting File > Close does the same thing, though here you might reasonably expect this to actually close the current catalogue. Of course, it does that as well, if the overall catalogue window is selected, not the individual picture. None of this is particularly well thought out, which is disappointing considering this is version 8.5 of the product.
The Watch folder
Now, if the thought of having to manually update catalogues fills you with dread, and it would here because it’s slow, then the Watch folder option is a boon. This continuously watches a specific folder that has been used for the catalogue and you have the option of automatically updating the catalogue if anything changes or is added, checking at specific times and days, or only when the user clicks the Sync button.
If you are well organised, then this can work very well, because folders can be set up with clearly identifiable names initially, added to the catalogue, and then are updated whenever you shoot some more pictures and add them in – like for stock photography, for example.
|The EXIF data is one of the most useful sources of information to sort by|
The Galleries form the heart of the Portfolio process though, as everything is initially dumped into one great big bin of pictures. These can be sorted according to a massive number of parameters, such as camera type and really useful things like aperture and shutter speed. So, for example, if you were looking for pictures that were shot as long exposures, you could order by shutter speed. The only problem here is that some of the sorting descriptions don’t quite match the values being used. For example, I wanted to find all pictures using EXIF-Shutter speed with a longer time than 1 second. The fields to do this contain the phrases “greater than” or “less than” when what is actually needed is “longer than” or “shorter than”. The specified variable field then is just a blank entry, so do you type in 1sec, one second, 1 second? There’s no way of telling and it really degrades the search facility, particularly as the results weren’t accurate using the sorting phrases available in this instance.
Results from searches appear in their own Gallery listing, and can then obviously be copied into a more permanent Gallery listing, as can any other images that you are looking at in the main catalogue. The idea is to be able to search and allocate images to specific Galleries. Really then, the best thing to do with Portfolio is not import all your pictures at once at all, but to do it folder by folder if you have already named and sorted them. If the folders are simply called Canon23455 or Nikon04054 then you may as well of course.
Once into specific Galleries, pictures can be linked, sorted, burnt to CD or used for publishing to the net. The NetPublish aspect turns your Gallery into an online display, but using the Extensis webspace. Professional users will probably have their own site already so sticking the images with Extensis doesn’t make sense. The burning CD option, which should be a major element as it’s the most significant output feature after sorting everything out or coming up with a search of stuff you are looking for, is very basic, in fact more basic than what Windows Vista has built into it already.
Extensis Portfolio 8.5 Verdict
While there are a number of worthy features in Portfolio – including the ability to read and extract metadata from Photoshop CS3 and camera RAW files, the interface has the feel of a Mac application dumped onto PC, the sorting and archiving options don’t work as well as they should and there’s a lack of inspiration in the design and implementation of the program. It’s all a little plodding and doesn’t offer enough over and above what the Windows Vista interface can already do.
Extensis Portfolio 8.5 plus points:
Huge number of sorting variables
Catalogues and Galleries independent of file location
Files can be physically organised as well
Automatic update when new pictures added
Extensis Portfolio 8.5 minus points:
Some sorting fields too vague
Preview option uninspired
CD writing basic
VALUE FOR MONEY
Extensis Portfolio 8.5 costs £149 and is available for direct download from the www.extensis.com website or full boxed product from the ePHOTOzine shop here.