And the winner and still champion is. . .Photo Mechanic. Yes, if you want digital asset management software that’s just flat out fast, this program created by a small Portland Oregon-based company called Camera Bits, clobbers the big boys: Adobe’s Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture.
I reviewed Lightroom 3 and Aperture 3 in recent issues of PDN and while I found a lot to like about both those programs, for straight-up speedy viewing of your high-res images (including RAW files), Photo Mechanic 4.6.5 beat them hands down.
Of course, this is not really a fair fight. I learned this a couple of years ago while reviewing an earlier version of Photo Mechanic which, unlike Lightroom and Aperture, is not a RAW image converter, just a photo browser. So instead of having to interpret tricky new RAW formats as its rivals do, Photo Mechanic generates quick previews of shots by using a JPEG proxy file embedded in the RAW image. That’s why when I drop a folder of 2,000 RAWs and JPEGs I shot in Europe on top of a Photo Mechanic contact sheet, the images pop up quicker than I can scan through them. Meanwhile, Lightroom and Aperture are still chugging away.
The disadvantage with Photo Mechanic is you’ll need to convert those RAW shots later in another program such as Adobe Camera RAW. Sports photographers and photo journalists who are the biggest users of Photo Mechanic couldn’t care less however since time is of the essence when covering a news event. Leave the editing to the guys back at the desks with the big computer screens.
And unlike Lightroom and Aperture which keep adding editing functions, Photo Mechanic isn’t really a photo editor at all. Sure, there are some very basic tools such as being able to rotate and crop images but these are almost afterthoughts. (In fact, these changes are only visual since Photo Mechanic prides itself on not altering the original image data in any way, which is another reason it appeals to news photographers.)
In the end, Photo Mechanic’s main focus is quickly getting images off a flash card, CD, DVD or out of a folder and onto one of its virtual contact sheets where you can start sorting though them, picking winners, and adding captions. To help you separate the wheat from the chafe, Photo Mechanic has both extensive color coding tools and five star rating systems for your shots.
The program’s other big claim to fame is its helpful IPTC Stationary Pad which makes it easy to batch caption shots, add metadata, photographer credits, copyright info, rights usage etc. There’s also automated caption help via Photo Mechanic’s time-saving Code Replacement function, which lets photographers and editors quickly add info to an image based around a text file code. So, for instance, rather than having to spell out New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’s name every you write a caption, Code Replacement allows you to just plug in a code—NY6 for Sanchez, for example—and his whole name automatically pops up.
Most people who are familiar with Photo Mechanic already know about theses functions so what’s new with the program since the last time we looked at it back at Version 4.5.2?
Thankfully, there aren’t too many major overhauls. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) The main addition is something called Live Ingest (ingesting is Photo Mechanic-speak for importing image) which will keep an eye on several of your folders for incoming images such as when you’re shooting with a wireless transmitter. This is incredibly helpful since you can program Photo Mechanic to not only import, er, ingest the images into the program when they’re zapped to a folder, but they can also be automatically backed up or renamed. A new Live Slide Show feature functions similarly to the regular slideshow except it too “watches” a folder to see if images have been added.
I also liked Photo Mechanic’s new GPS functionality which will not only place geo-tagged images on a map much like Aperture does, it will let you embed GPS coordinates onto photos manually or by selecting a point on the map, they’ll embed themselves.
There’s also a new convert RAW to DNG command which helps you easily change a batch of RAW images to Adobe’s standard so they can be more quickly read in other programs. While I liked the new Loupe tool in the Contact Sheet view which lets you quickly zoom in on a shot, it reminded me how much I disliked the clunky zoom functionality in Photo Mechanic’s full image preview window. Apple Aperture with its handy simulated Loupe tool is still the best program for getting a close-up view of image details.
There are also new upload templates if you’re moving your images to a secure FTP, Flickr, SmugMug, Zenfolio and other services. New customized support has been added for The Associated Press, which is a heavy user of Photo Mechanic.
Along with a better Loupe tool in the full preview screen, another thing I wish Camera Bits had changed in Photo Mechanic since the last time I tried it is a way to do side-by-side comparisons of more than two images at a time. Right now you can only do two-ups while the competition lets you compare multiple shots simultaneously.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison since it doesn’t do RAW conversion, Photo Mechanic 4.6.5 is definitely one of the fastest if not the fastest image viewer around. Where Adobe’s Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture offer extensive editing and presentation tools, Photo Mechanic is streamlined and speedy and designed for photojournalists and sports photographers who need to view, sort and add caption info to their images quickly. There have been some notable changes to Photo Mechanic since I last tested it three years ago—including GPS support and Live Ingest—but it’s basically the same program I liked back them: quick and to the point.
Photo Mechanic 4.6.5
Pros: Still one of the fastest photo browsers around; Live Ingest function helpful if you shoot with a wireless transmitter; added GPS support includes the ability to embed and read geotags in images.
Cons: Zoom tool in full preview mode is still inferior to the competition; can only compare two images side by side.