Microsoft’s Expression Media 2; An Organizing Tool For Very Large Image Collections Page 2

Tagging And Queries
What Expression Media 2 does do extremely well is help you tag images. The program exposes every last data point of EXIF, listing finer details such as exposure bias and the light source setting on the camera. You can also download schemes such as those for Corbis or Getty Images and load them as templates in Expression Media 2, important if you plan to submit photos and need to fill in all the required metadata fields. Here again the flexibility comes into play.

Say you are a photographer at a newspaper—you can customize the metadata fields such that you only see the ones you really need or that your editor requires. You can add custom fields (which Expression Media 2 calls “annotations”). Creating templates and saving them is an extraordinary feature that allows extra flexibility—I only wish Microsoft had made the icons for templates a little easier to see, since they are so small and located at the top of the screen.

Once you have created templates or customized annotations, a new world of querying opens up. Microsoft splits queries into two main categories: a union and an intersection. In a union query, you search for images that match any one criteria you select. In an intersection query (which you use by holding down the control key), the query must meet all the criteria.

For example, I added extra annotations to my winter photos such as a copyright, city name, and keywords (stark winter). By using the left panel in Expression Media 2 called Organize, I can search for any image with the copyright of 2009, or I can query for images by clicking on the search criteria for city name, copyright, and keywords. This means finding images much faster, because I can set up a very complex query with a dozen variables and find just a few images.

Further, I can perform queries on just a specific catalog, or all open catalogs. These query functions might not make sense for a photographer who has a few hundred images. Once you have several thousand, or even more than a hundred-thousand images, querying suddenly becomes more important. It’s like using Google to find the exact image you want, but the search query works by just clicking on options, not typing a text string.

Image editing is limited. A duotone feature lets you select a dark and light color. It works well for winter photos to create a stark and subdued look.

Extra Features, And Complaints
Expression Media 2 is a powerful program that does more than just help you query for images, create catalogs, and make extra annotations in image data. Yet, the extra features quickly pale in comparison to other image-cataloging tools. For example, you can create web galleries of images, but Lightroom 2 offers many more options for customizing the look of galleries. Lightroom 2 also has much better features when it comes to printing, since you can arrange photos any which way in multiple sizes. Expression Media 2 is not really meant to compete with some of these extra options. Even the batch conversion functions are not even a match for what you find in a program such as Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X2.

My chief complaint with Expression Media 2 is just the lackluster interface. It feels a bit like using Microsoft’s Word. There’s no pizzazz, which can change your perception about the photos. A light table viewer mode could have saved the day, but it just shows you one image in a separate window—there are no options for “dimming the lights” (e.g., making the background surrounding the image darker). Expression Media 2 is a powerful program that lacks creativity.

My second issue has to do with performance. Expression Media 2 often runs like it is low on gas. Processing the immense data sets within a collection of several hundred raw files at 14MB each certainly does take time (for one import, about 20 minutes), and Expression Media 2 does have a small animated cursor in the lower right corner that tells you the program is hard at work. I would have preferred more of a visual cue—a time estimate for processing, for example.

The main viewer window is bare bones—Expression Media 2 lacks the pizzazz of other image cataloging tools, emphasizing metadata editing and queries.

That said, I recommend Expression Media 2 for its flexible workflow—disconnecting the cataloging functions from the actual images certainly makes sense. Workgroups that need to access a vast archive of images, yet still be in sync on which images will be used for magazine production or making a book, will find that Expression Media 2 is a superior tool to the more one-off approach of Lightroom 2.

At some point, Adobe may jump on the workgroup editing bandwagon, making a true multi-user, multi-workflow version of Lightroom. Until then, Expression Media 2 is the way to go for large groups of images.

For more information, contact Microsoft at: www.microsoft.com.

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