ACDSee 6.0; Image Management Made Easier

One of the few problems with digital image capture is you tend to shoot more photographs than you otherwise might if you had to pay for all that film and processing. Oh sure, I know that nobody's giving away CompactFlash or SD/MMC cards, but as the cost per MB for media continues to drop, we tend to keep shooting until the card's full or the battery's drained. The downside of this overshooting is when you return home from that special event; you have more images than you know what to do with. When you've got to sift through megabytes of images, you need a power tool such as ACD Systems' ACDSee 6.0.

ACDSee's interface is customizable, less cluttered than previous versions. Here's a screen shot of the 17" LCD screen with the thumbnails displayed at their default size (120x90), which is as small as you can go for critical viewing. If EXIF camera data is displayed only 20 images at a time can be viewed. One alternative is to click the Full Screen icon that fills your screen with thumbnails. Photos © 2003, Joe Farace All Rights Reserved

Imagebase To The Rescue
Any good image browser of image database displays groups of "thumbnails" or small pictures of the photographs, and stores them separately, leaving your photographs untouched. ACDSee 6.0 lets you view thumbnails in many ways including traditional slide mounts, filmstrips, tiles, icons, or simply as a list. Thumbnails can be displayed in five resolutions up to 320x240 pixels, but the largest option is only suitable if you have a large (20" or bigger) monitor. The software lets you maintain a Master Keyword List and you can assign keywords to a specific thumbnail so it can be found later. ACDSee 6.0 has an increased number of sorting and searching options to help you sort and find previous photographs by using any file related data, including description, date, or ranking. (More about ranking later.)

Next, a good imagebase program should be able to read different graphics file formats, and while ACDSee 6.0 easily displays most popular ones including JPEG, TIFF, PSD it choked on some of the raw formats that are increasingly popular for digital capture. When opening a folder of Canon raw images made with the Canon EOS D60, it displayed blank thumbnails with the file names but no images.

If all you want to do is a little image tweaking, ACDSee 6.0's Edit Panel may be all you need. For this JPEG file of a flower made during the NECCC (New England Camera Club Council) conference in Amherst, Massachusetts, I just wanted to adjust levels, but I could have also controlled brightness and contrast using Edit Panel's exposure tool. If you want to get more serious, order ACDSee's Power Pack, which costs $79.99 and includes the FotoCanvas photo editing program.

ACD Systems told me "a plug-in is required to display thumbnails of raw files from Nikon and Canon cameras" and went on to say they are working on one for Nikon and a re-launch of support for Canon raw. ACDSee 6.0 does not currently support the .ORF format Olympus use for the raw files shot by its E-1 digital SLR, but they told me they are looking into support for Minolta and Olympus raw formats. As I write this, Adobe Photoshop CS, a.k.a. Photoshop 8, is the only third-party software that reads Olympus raw files, although iView Media Pro displays .ORF thumbs.

Alas Poor Jobs, I knew Him Well
The latest version of ACDSee for Microsoft Windows is Version 6.0, while the Mac OS X version remains stuck at 1.6. The excuse many software companies give for not developing a Mac OS X version is Apple's free iPhoto, but ACDSee surpasses iPhoto in capabilities, so Mac heads are left with an old, slow version. This new version seems sluggish compared to the last one, especially when rotating a large number of files into the proper orientation. On the plus side, the interface for the Windows version is cleaner, easier to follow than before and feature touches that appear lifted right out of Mac OS X.

There are slide shows, and then there are slide shows, and you never know when you have to whip one together quickly. While your ACDSee presentation may not win any awards you can have something on the screen in a minute.

ACDSee 6.0's most unique feature is an Image Rating system that lets you assign numerical ratings to photographs that can help you sort or search to find "selects" later. Right-clicking any thumbnail pops up a menu that has options, including Set Rating, and you can apply a ranking of one through five, using different "pool ball" icons for each of your images. Other new features include the ability to use the Selective Browsing feature that helps you view and locate photos in different folders and categories.

Cool Stuff For Newbies
If your computer has an external or built-in recordable CD or DVD drive, ACDSee 6.0 supports CD and DVD Burning by dragging files into an "Image Basket" at the bottom of the screen and applying the Create Disc (Create>Create Disc) command. Just follow the wizard and after three clicks you'll have a finished CD or DVD. Edit Panel is an integrated photo editor with a modest set of editing tools that entry-level users will find helpful and is accessed by just double-clicking a thumbnail.

ACDSee 6.0 provides multitudinous ways to flip your portrait shaped images so they are indeed "portraits," such as this one made on the runway during Fashion Week in New York City. A preview window helps make sure you select the correct one, but if you have more than a 100 images, be prepared to wait as the software individually flips each one to the proper orientation.

Digital newcomers will also appreciate the Three Step Acquire Wizard that automatically finds pictures and imports image files from digital cameras, scanners, or CDs. ACDSee 6.0 lets you send images to ACD's SendPix image sharing service and you can store them for 30 days. SendPix will e-mail designated recipients, such as Grandma or Uncle Bernie, and let them view your albums using the web browser of their choice.

There's an e-mail sharing plug-in that supports Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora, but if you're the least bit e-mail savvy, clicking Microsoft's "paper clip" in Outlook isn't all that difficult. The program lets you produce HTML slide shows to share on the web or you can write stand-alone slide shows to CD/DVD or make screen savers. ACDSee 6.0 supports EXIF 2.2 Print (Exchangeable Image File Format) to help you get better prints from your ink jet printer. Most importantly, there is a built-in Back Up and Restoration routine that allows for quick incremental backups and full database backups and restorations. Oh yeah, did I mention it does screen captures, too? Maybe not as extensively as my long-time Windows favorite SnagIt, but it's more than adequate for non-publishing use.

You can print images using ACDSee's built-in print utility. You can even specify printer properties, control printer rendering, adjust the size and position of the image, and add headers, footers, and captions to an image. You can also create and print contact sheets that are a lot cooler than Photoshop's, complete with headers, footers, and captions for each image.

If ACDSee 6.0 has any faults at all, other than the lack of a contemporaneous Mac OS version, it's that there's so much here, like an integrated calendar, that it takes a while for you to acquaint yourself with all of its many features. Take your time, don't dump your entire image collection in, learn how to use all the features and you will quickly learn that even though ACDSee is Version 6.0, it's number one for many amateur photographers.

ACDSee 6.0 costs $49.99 and you can upgrade from 5.0 for $39.99. The ACDSee Power Pack costs $79.99 and includes the FotoCanvas photo editing program and FotoSlate package printmaking software for producing calendars, contact sheets, and other cool output with preformatted layouts.

One of the coolest features of the ACDSee 6.0 is the ability to assign ratings from one to five for your images. This will help you later when you want to see all of your best images together instead of having them mixed in with the "dogs." Since ACD uses a pool ball icon, I would have preferred to see 10 ratings so users could be more nuanced, but hey, that gives them something to do in the upgrade.

ACD Systems
(250) 544-6700