Review: Portfolio 6 for Mac OS X
Portfolio 6 for Mac OS takes up where the excellent iPhoto leaves off and should be actively considered by anyone who wants to manage large numbers of images — uploaded from a digital camera, for example — elegantly, flexibly and reliably.
It is all too easy to imagine that you will remember the time, date, and even the subject matter of more than a couple dozen files. You won’t! You need a system that is easy to use, yet sophisticated and customizable. Portfolio, the market leader, is all of those — and more. Use the new OS X version (6.1) for more than about five minutes and you can see why.
You begin by uploading (typically via USB) the raw files from your digital camera at the command of Portfolio — just as with iPhoto. Portfolio stores thumbnails of your images using pointers to the original files so that they can be manipulated and used in other applications independently. The highest level of organization after the catalog (the database of all imported items) is the ‘Gallery’; pictures can be in more than one Gallery at the same time and almost every conceivable operation, annotation and codification imaginable can be performed on one and more (groups of) files to make them easy to locate and retrieve.
Galleries and Catalogs can be saved independently of one another in their own right. The visual style (colors, borders, fonts, sizes, layouts, etc.) can be customized, although Extensis has not gone overboard and both the defaults and numbers of changeable options are sensible. This is achieved using the Portfolio concept of ‘Views’, a way of further subdividing and segmenting sets of files. When you are working with both graphics and descriptions of your images and want to display them with as little or as much of the associated information as will be meaningful (yet need to sort and sift through all of it), Portfolio works very well. A variety of ‘Slideshow’ options make presentation-style display a delight.
Working outside Portfolio
The floating Portfolio Express palette allows you access to key Portfolio features from within other OS X applications which you are likely to be using to edit and publish your images — Photoshop, Illustrator, DreamWeaver, etc. – in fact, from anywhere else on your system. This is a powerful tool adding to the integrated approaches of digital asset management which Portfolio supports. For the busy photographer (and indeed, producer of audio and video clips) or the well-organized professional, such a way of truly efficiently organizing your valuable data will be hard to live without once you’ve become used to it. Dragging hundreds of file icons up and down nested folders rightly becomes a thing of the past. Exhaustive product development and lengthy beta-testing also means you can implicitly trust this critical management of what are likely to be irreplaceable files.
Portfolio’s new ‘FolderSync’ feature makes it possible to delete and move files from their ‘real’ (physical) locations on your hard drive right from within Portfolio itself. Conversely, you can have Portfolio watch for changes, and then synchronize folders into which you also move files from outside the Portfolio environment. This is also a useful way for members of a production team working ‘virtually’, for example, to pass files to and from one another for edit and approval using Portfolio Server, which extends the functionality of the standalone product to workgroups using TCP/IP to connect.
One of Portfolio’s most useful features, going well beyond its iPhoto equivalent, is way that both extensive descriptions and customizable keywords can be assigned to files. This works very well, although the management of custom fields is a little tricky: use the excellent manual and expect a somewhat idiosyncratic way of achieving this. It means that each file can have — in addition to the date, time, f-stop and shutter speed — details about the place, type of shot (closeup, panorama, for example), or genre in the catalog. It is thus possible, for example, for you to then find all “wildlife telephoto” shots taken on your vacation in Central America between “November 1 and 6 2001.”
Portfolio has an excellent batch rename option and the default sets applied at import time are well thought-out and work almost seamlessly. Keywords and hierarchical categories can be applied flexibly to sets of files and ‘Master Keywords’, edited to make selection extremely smooth.
Distributing your photos is the only area where the proprietary arrangement with Kodak to produce a book which Apple has built into iPhoto scores over Portfolio. You can still group, send, prepare to burn onto CD and make a web page out of your collections of images, but for real ease and speed (I got mine within four days from a Sunday near Christmas last year with iPhoto) with which a book can be produced, iPhoto is still to be preferred.
Extensis, which was acquired late last year by Celartem Technology, has a long and respected history designing and developing products which do very well at automating and streamlining the management of digital assets — and of making this a pleasure, thanks to clever interfaces with an industry-strength engine kept away from creative users. Portfolio 6 is no exception. Be prepared to experiment (with dummy data perhaps) as you are learning the suite; by all means call upon the helpful and responsive Extensis Support service, and watch out for updates — you’ll be glad you did. This is an excellent program, well-conceived, well-written and very well worth the money. It will quickly become your default. Thoroughly recommended!
Portfolio for Mac: $199.95