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IDImager Review — An Expression Media Alternative? An Aperture Equivalent on the PC?

There’s a lot of great things to talk about with IDImager, a photo cataloging, management and editing program — to say the least.  But let me first tell you briefly about my workflow and why I had the need for software like IDImager.  I shoot in RAW, move to .DNG  with the Adobe DNG Converter, select and catalog with Expression, then edit and polish in Photoshop.  Because Microsoft has sold Expression Media, it’s future (according to many) is now in doubt.  Hence my need to find another program to fill the void that lies in between initial raw processing and editing in Photoshop.  Two of the most important features  to me in my quest for a digital photography product are the ability to easily catalog my over 10,000 image collection, as well the ability to easily tag these images.

Exploration
For just the basics, Picsasa is great.  Unfortunately it doesn’t handle any real level of metadata processing, so despite it’s great feature set, Picasa wasn’t an option.  I even tried to look at Adobe Bridge, but being a browser and not a cataloging program, Bridge, too, was out.  I then jumped up and took a look at Lightroom.  A nicely designed product that does fulfill my feature requests, but also comes with a $300 price tag.  Enter IDImager Pro

IDImager
Part cataloger, part organizer, part metatagger, part image-editor, IDImager is a jack-of-all trades image management program that costs a very reasonable $100.  Because I primarily use Photoshop for my editing needs, I won’t focus as much on the software’s image-editing ability.  But suffice it to say that it’s there and it’s powerful.  In this review I will talk more about the other features of the program that make it great; these features alone, however, make the program quite valuable.

Categories
IDImager is based around categories, and the catalog system is basically a large, fully-customizable hierarchical keyword system.  Adding and removing categories to a single or multiple images is easy and can be done with a simple drag-and-drop.  The software also creates automatic “holding” catalogs for each import and download session that you have.  I find this staging feature very helpful, as I don’t always know what my categories are going to be (or I don’t feel like adding the categories at the time that I import).  As you’ll notice in the image below, the program is configured with quite a few default categories that allow you to quickly find your images.  Also look at the Import and Download Sessions under the Auto Catalog  category heading.  Note that you can also view your file structure if needed under the Catalog Folders heading.

IDM_catalog

Metadata Explosion
One of the most important things to me in a management program is the ability to really control metadata.  On this note IDImager doesn’t disappoint.  Applying metadata is a snap, and can easily be done for single image, multiple images, or directly on import (more about download/import later).

A fantastic feature that I would not have found had I not started to read the manual is the Stored Group.  A stored group is basically a stored procedure (for you SQL types), or an area that remembers a specific search.  So if you search your 4-star “vaction” pictures often, then you can store that selection as a stored group and quickly get to it whenever you need it.

Two (or More) Programs in One
One of the things I was doing by hand was my RAW to DNG conversion and I didn’t have a great sytem for metatagging on import; the download feature of IDImager quickly solved this problem.  The software allows you to import images and download. I’ve found the download feature to be more powerful than the import one so that’s what I use.

When you open the download interface it’s like having a built-in importing program at your fingertips — there’s no need for a separate import/download application and via the downloader you can  apply pre and post processing instructions, copy to an alternate location on import (a feature of many DAM systems).  And of course you can convert your RAWs to DNG and apply keywords on import.  Further, you can also automatically create a portfolio (a virtual catalog, collection or album depending upon your preferred nomenclature) on import, so you can start your organizing immediately.

IDM_download

And if you have more than one person taking pictures in the family (or in the office) you can setup multiple download profiles. Do you need individual profiles for different photographers (or family members), different cameras, or clients?  Want a profile that downloads .JPEGs with a certain author with one set of lables, and a second profile that converts RAW to DNg with a different author and makes a portfolio? No problem.  Setup the profiles for what you need them to do, and then come back when you need them.

IDM_dlProfileJ

Seeing Double
I’ve had a multiple monitor setup since I can remember, and IDImager rewards we dual-monitor folks by allowing the palletes to be moved to the second screen.  You can always stretch Picasa or Bridge across two monitors (who wants to do that?), but IDImager is designed to reward you for having a lot of screen real estate.

Batch Management
One of the best things about advanced digital photo management programs is the ability to perform batch tasks on multiple images. Here, too, IDImager is up to the task.  There’s an entire batch section where you can apply effects, crop the file, and rename your images, among a ton of other options. Showing the entire list would make this post too long) but here’s a small sample:

IDimager_batchJ

More Documentation then you can Handle
IDImager is one of the most strongly documented programs I’ve ever seen. There’s a 500+ page manual, a wiki, and a active forum to help you along with the program as you learn.  Even if you are not a reader of instructions, and you like to dive right in with software, I strongly recommend reading the quick start guide.  IDImager is intuitive enough to run without reading a word, but you’ll miss out on way to much if you don’t do some reading.

Network Support
A big gripe of many photographers is the lack of network support (browse the Lightroom forums to see what I mean) .  IDImager can run transparently on your desktop (e.g. you won’t see any database related things floating around). but if you want a true database-driven solution over multiple machines, the program supports the use of SQL Server as well (and according to post on the forum the free, SQL Express is supported, too).

A Version of Apple Aperture for Windows?  No, but Close to it.
For those of you who’ve looked cross-platform to find a DAM photo management solution for the Mac, you’ve probably found iPhoto, Lightroom, and Aperture (I’m not mentioning Photoshop because Photoshop is not a cataloging/DAM program).  Like many PC users, if Aperture were available for the PC, I’d probably be using it.  I do have a Mac workstation, but because the bulk of my network is PC (and I already own Photoshop for the PC) I use the PC for my digital photo management.   For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Aperture is Apple’s “advanced” upgrade to iPhoto, and it is often loosely compared to Lightroom with its feature set.

Now as we all know, Apple does not port Aperture to the windows platform, but the point I’m trying to make here is that IDImager is the closest program I’ve seen to an Aperture equivalent on the PC.  There are differences, as IDImager does not have some of the post-production features that Aperture has (e.g. Photo Books), but for a general feature head-to-head, IDImager comes pretty close.

Versions
IDImager comes in a Personal version and a Professional version; there is also a Professional version with SQL Server support for those who need it.  The company’s website has a great comparison-matrix so you can see the differences bewteen the two versions.  The Personal version is loaded with features but for a few dollars more the Professional is worth the upgrade.

Summary
IDImager is a powerful piece of comprehensive digital image  management software that can handle the majority of your digital photography needs.  With its tremendous list of features, intuitive interface, and substantial documentation, in my opinion IDImager serves as a good alternative to Adobe’s Lightroom; and for those of you who wish there were a version of Apple Aperture for Windows, IDImager may be the way to go.  Add networking to the mix and you’ve got yourself one heck a of a program.  But don’t take my word for it — download a trial version and see for yourself.  And do yourself a favor — read the quickstart guide to really see how powerful this software is.

Disclosure. I originally approached IDImager Systems about writing a review of IDImager.  I was given a license to use the product.

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  • KLC

    Don’t be fooled by the extremely well done website, the big problem with IDImager is that it is basically a one man operation. The developer tries to support the product through email and a public forum but when you have a real problem like I did when I first started using it you can’t wait for several days for a reply to your situation. Professional software, which IDI bills itself as being, should have professional support.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective with me and my readers. Were you able to get your problem resolved? What software are you using instead or are you still using IDImager?

  • KLC

    Yes the problem was resolved and I’m still using IDI, it is great software. The developer is very active in the forum and does respond to emails but that doesn’t take the place of more robust customer service. The problem is that Expression Media is for now pretty much dead in the water and another alternative, IMatch is also a one man show. Besides Lightroom there isn’t image database software out there with the backing of a large company.

    • Well thanks for the explanation and I’m glad it worked out!

  • havezet

    @KLC; While I started IDimager in 2003 as a one man show, I’d like to point out that IDimager is not a one man show for over 2 years now.
    Oh, and that “extremely well done website” (thank you!) is something that I could never have done myself 🙂

  • baulrich

    I am an IDImager user and am very happy with the product and happy with the support. It is indeed very powerful, robust, and intuitive. I love it and couldn’t do without it. And most importantly, no other software out there can do what it does…I’ve tested them all extensively.

    I downloaded and thoroughly tested IDImager as well as iMatch, ACDSee, Expressions Media, and lots of others before purchasing IDImager. In my opinion, for my needs, IDImager BLEW AWAY all the other options.

    When I signed up I was aware of the support model and I will admit that I considered it a slight risk that IDImager was mainly supported by one developer. It appears from havezet’s post that there may actually be more than one, but it is true that it is not a product with a big company behind it.

    I can say that the IDImager support forum is a great resource and problems/questions/bug reports are responded to by both IDImager developers and other users. I would love it if IDImager did have a “tech support line” that would allow users to call in if a case was escalated to that level.

    In response to the post about staying away from IDImager if you need professional software…. If I call a big company like Microsoft or Adobe for support on Expression Media or Lightroom, I may be able to get someone on the phone, but I would be VERY surprised if any I received a resolution to my problem faster than with a post to the IDImager forum. ESPECIALLY if the fix involved software development.

    The fact is that IDImager, Lightroom, Expression Media, etc will all come out with major version updates every few years. Users will have the option of sticking with what they have or paying to purchase the new version (as opposed to free updates of the version they already own). Most users of professional catalog software will wind up purchasing the new version of their application unless they want to be stuck with last year’s feature sets and software that doesn’t support the latest file formats, etc. Because of this fact, software users will wind up either moving their collection to the newest version of what they already use, or migrating their catalog to a new program. IDImager has the competition beat in this arena too. It can store all info in an open format AND write that info back to the file!! (To be read my another system) AND it supports reading metadata created in several other systems to help users migrate to IDImager from other programs.

    With those things known, I think that counting on IDImager for software and software support is a very low-risk investment. I do admit that I fear the short-term effects if the main IDImager developer were to “retire immediately”. But than risk is outweighed by the fact that
    1) In my opinion (and I’ve tested rigorously) IDImager is WAY better than anything else out there. In fact I would even say its the ONLY application that can do everything my media catalog application needs to do.

    2)The open format used for data storage and the ability to “export” your work in IDImager by writing metadata back to the file keeps all options for migration open. I don’t believe any other application has as much power/flexibility when it comes to exporting metadata in the catalog to the image files themselves to make the data portable to another system.

    Chances are if the main IDImager developer went away, IDImager would suffer for a while, but would be bought up and stay in existence as a product supported and actively supported by a company.

    thats my experience with IDImager for what it’s worth.

  • emk

    I have tried to like IDImager. After using it extensively for several months, I finally gave up. The performance with a large library (120,000 images) was abysmal for me. The feature set is awesome and there really isn’t anything that compares in that respect. But I spent a lot of time waiting for the UI to update.

    One place where it particularly had problems was with keeping files in sync if you use external programs like Windows Live Photo Gallery to also edit EXIF information. WLPG is just so much faster, even when the images reside on another machine. If I made changes in IDImager, WLPG would pick those up almost instantly. If I made changes within WLPG, IDImager may never update the changes without doing a manual sync. I did have the options set to automatically keep things in sync.

    I experienced these issues on the latest version as of about 3 months ago. I found myself spending a lot of time making sure things were kept in sync to a point where I gave up. This was all running on a i7 2600k processor with 8GB of memory so my machine performance wouldn’t have been the issue.

    As I mentioned, the feature set is truly awesome. With fewer photo’s and not also wanting to use other apps like WLPG, this software would be outstanding. But it just had too many problems for my needs. Herb was generally responsive to problems and issues but these particular issues never seemed to get fully dealt with.

    • Nick Case-Leng

      emk – What are you using instead of IDImager? Are you using the new version of Expressions Media – bought and improved by PhaseOne and now named Media Pro 1.1? Or another?

  • luke

    IDimager seems like what I’ve been looking for. Can multiple users use the software? More specifically we have staff that monitor certain subjects for marketing and press, sometimes these subjects are all in one picture together. Can we tag subject a and subject b in an image so that users can find all photos tagged with subject a (or b, c, d etc…)

    How many users will this support? Right now we have folders on a network drive with images residing in multiple folders Folder for subject a may contain many images that also reside in the Folder for subject B…

  • Hello from France.

    I was a faithfull user of Expression Media 2 (SP 2). For a non-progessional photographer, it works fine (note that I only use .JPG, this for many reasons, but this is not the place to tell about). The problem is that EM 2 is no more alive. Some fields are legacy, some else are not avalaible (IPTC Extensions, e.g.). The other issue is that Phase One is clearly not able to make Media pro 1.2 a valuable product. I tried MP 1.2 and I didn’t find improvments, except the gui (now black).

    So, I was looking for a new dam. I tried IDimager a few months ago and I finally quit, because of the extreme difficulty to really use it properly. It is a programm full of possibilities and, so, not easy to use. Now, I came back and I fnally decided to make IDimager my dam. A “plus” : the support is fine (good forum).

    If you use medium thumbnails (320 p. for me) and don’t incorporate previsu in the database, it is fast enough. The search possibilities are fabulous.

    Many french photographers were using EM 2. Now, many of them prefer Lightroom, maybe because IDimager does not exist in french (a pity !). For me, LR is clearly not a dam. It is an excellent product, of course, but the dam possibilities are far away (forward) from IDimager.

    Good pictures to you all.

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