PhotoExplorer By PhotoSoft

PhotoSoft's PhotoExplorer image management and thumbnail page filing system is a very clean and effective design, and it is easy to learn utilizing the Microsoft Windows program standards quite effectively. PhotoExplorer is a high quality application created with photographers in mind and shows it in its many useful features and powerful
database functions.
Photos © 1999, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

These days a raft of new image management software keeps appearing and usually just gets a passing glance from me. At one end of the spectrum there are all kinds of little utilities often bundled with hardware or another larger application to keep track of some images using small thumbnails for easy identification. Most are adequate for the casual user to file some digitized snapshots, but lack a comprehensive and effective underlying database. At the other end are the applications which will handle a complex of large numbers of all kinds of graphic files, intended as much for design studios and other larger commercial enterprises, which makes the use of these applications too complex and involving too much work for the individual user to find them efficient. Then, not long ago a colleague, a photographer I respect highly as a shooter and business professional, recommended a new software application from a small company founded by a programmer, who is also an experienced photographer. The name of the company is PhotoSoft and the product is PhotoExplorer.

I got in touch with the owner and founder of PhotoSoft, and was immediately rewarded by the receipt of the latest version of PhotoExplorer. The timing was propitious as I'd been archiving my library of photographs and burning them onto CDRs now for about three years, and the filing utility I had been using was not up to the task without a lot of keyboard work on my part. Time to try something new and hopefully better.

PhotoExplorer Features. PhotoExplorer's main screen is a familiar configuration partly because it mimics the analog slide page in a large window taking up most of the screen on the right side. Because Photo-Explorer's overall organization and tool access is closely patterned after Microsoft Windows 95/98's Explorer file management utility, all but beginning computer users will find it easy to learn and use. The "slide page" of thumbnails seems pretty standard, but it also has a level of resolution and color quality in the thumbnails of the filed images that is unusually high. Of equally standard practice is the filename emblazoned under each thumbnail. Like MS Windows Explorer, the left vertical bar of the screen displays folders, which in PhotoExplorer is the primary subject/type category organization applied by an individual photographer-user. In other words, you can have a folder for each subject category you want to designate. For that matter you can also have subcategories, folders within folders, all visually apparent and identified on-screen in the left column.

Getting image files recorded and thumbnails filed is very effectively supported by PhotoExplorer. A user can actually scan from Photo-Explorer directly as well as acquire image file information and create a thumbnail from every possible source including CDs, Kodak Photo CDs, external drives of all kinds, digital camera memory storage, and even from the Internet. This acquire facility can be done manually, file by file, or in a batch processing mode acquiring all of the images in a folder on all types of media, or by auto-scanning all of the drives in and attached to your system.

Most significant, organizing your thumbnails and using the database functions of PhotoExplorer is extremely flexible, and the primary data identifying the file and its source is automatically placed in the database when the image is acquired by single or batch processed acquires of individual folder content. Creating folders to define the categories of the organization of your image's thumbnails mimics the process of MS Windows Explorer. When image files are acquired and a thumbnail is created and associated with the originating file and its location, it is stored first in the "Temp" folder at the top of the left side column. Then getting the thumbnail and its associated information into the category in which you want to file it is simply a drag and drop of the thumbnail from the right window onto a chosen, named category folder in the left column window. Visual access to all of the thumbnails in your entire collection is accomplished by clicking on the "All" folder at the top of the left column. Looking at the thumbnails in any category pops them up in the right window by clicking on any category folder in the left column.

PhotoExplorer goes well beyond this basic capability shared with many other utilities. Most immediately significant to me, the identification of the source, in my case the CDR label name, is automatically filed in the database with each image file acquired and associated with its thumbnail. With now over 200 CDRs and thousands of images, this feature alone has saved me an enormous amount of time and effort, and assures I can easily find the image file and the disc it is in by clicking on the thumbnail to get a readout of the source CDR label name. Adding more data to the information filed with each thumbnail is also very easy and direct. It is in addition, a flexible process easily structured to meet specific individual needs. The underlying database is powerful and standard, so its information can be shared with other database applications and functions, like inventory control. In other words, you can take PhotoExplorer as far in its usability as your management needs
require and with a minimum of effort and complexity.

So what else can you do with PhotoExplorer? Well, you can access your images directly from Photo-Explorer, just by double clicking on the thumbnail. If the image is stored locally, it will immediately load. If it is on a stored CD for instance, you can then identify the CDs label name to locate the CD and insert it in your CD-ROM drive. You can also use the thumbnails themselves. For example, one of my ongoing tasks is to print jewel box inserts (like what you get back with Kodak Photo CDs) with miniature thumbnails of each of the images contained on the CDR and kept in that jewel box. You can also print full 8.5x11" color pages with thumbnails, with the option of selecting different numbers of thumbnails of appropriate size per page, and then annotate each page with text. If you want to use the thumbnails in other applications whether it is simply to reproduce it in a letter, Photo-Explorer is fully OLE 2 compliant and you can just drag and drop the thumbnail or a selection of thumbnails to MS Word. The same process can also be used if you're building a web page in which you want to include thumbnails of your images. Just copy the thumbnail(s) in PhotoExplorer and paste them into your web page creation application.

Many photographers also need the use of a database to categorize and file data relative to their slides so they can then print Avery labels to attach to the slide mount. PhotoExplorer will do that too, supporting the creation of the database information as well as doing the label printing directly from the application. There is more. In fact, I suggested including the ability to build entire web thumbnail pages directly in PhotoExplorer to PhotoSoft and I would not be surprised to see that feature added to the application by the time you read this.

PhotoExplorer Evaluation And Recommendation.
As I indicated earlier, I have been using Photo-Explorer for a while now and have put all of my image files I've recorded on about 200 CDRs into it. First of all, I found that the processing has required relatively little of my time as I've used the method of accessing the contents of each folder (usually just one) on each CDR, batch processing the files to create thumbnails, and file them in the temp folder. I can and usually do perform other tasks while PhotoExplorer is processing all of the files in a CDR. Then, very little more effort has been needed to select and move the thumbnails from the temp folder to their respective category folders. This I find a most valuable asset as I am neither compulsive nor have an excess of leisure time to invest a lot in filing chores--I'd rather be taking pictures or working with the images on my computers.

The quality of the thumbnails I have found to be definitely superior, making identification by sight unequivocal as well as supporting very good print quality. I've also used a few of the thumbnails in a web page creation project I am working with and the image qualities in that use is also very good. However, the main reason for using the product is to be able to identify and locate digital image files of photographs and that is super efficient. You can arrange the order of appearance of the images by all standard database criteria within each folder to group the images in any logical association. Then finding an image visually is easy, as is getting the information which identifies the filename, which is right under the thumbnail, and where the image is stored by just clicking on the thumbnail. If PhotoExplorer didn't do any more than this as well as printing thumbnail pages and jewel box covers, it would be worth more than its $149 price to me. But, you can find that out for yourself by downloading a free trial version from PhotoSoft's web site. For more information you can contact PhotoSoft at PO Box 209, Marlboro, NJ 07746, (732) 617-1904, fax: (732) 617-9294, e-mail: sales@photosoft.com or visit their web site at: www.photosoft.com.

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