Few digital photographers need convincing that organising their snaps is a good idea. But ACD Systems, maker of ACDSee 8.0, needs to do more than that: it must persuade them that this commercial offering is better than free alternatives such as Google's Picasa 2.0.
ACDSee targets itself at a more demanding audience. It doesn't neatly organise your photo collection for you – the appearance of its main file browser, which is more cluttered than a teenager's bedroom, similarly lacks concessions to anyone needing handholding. Up to 12 panes can be crammed into the browser, the most important of which, the central File List pane, shows thumbnails of images selected in the Folder pane, or the results of a filtered search.
For experienced users, organisation is more important than presentation, and ACDSee makes cataloguing your images about as easy as it can be. You drag image thumbnails to the Organize pane to group them into categories or apply ratings to them. Once tagged, you can filter the File List display according to those categories.
Picasa can do this too, but ACDSee makes it easy to filter by more than one category, such as all five-star-rated files tagged with a 'people' keyword. Usefully, you can also categorise with full IPTC metadata (see Organising IPTC, below) although ACDSee's interpretation of this is clunky.
Location, location, location
Locating images is a cinch. Version 8.0 adds a Quick Search field to the Browser toolbar to isolate images by keyword, filename, category or enclosing folder. The good news is that Quick Search lives up to its name, even with large databases.
But ACDSee is more than a basic image-management program. For a start, it can turn its hand to picture editing. Double-clicking a thumbnail in the browser opens a clunky editor – this is no Photoshop Elements – that can correct exposure and red-eye, among other things. The outstanding feature of an otherwise unremarkable tool is the way you can compare changes by tabbing between views of an image’s saved version and current iteration, plus a preview of the applied effect. It’s extremely intuitive.
ACDSee's Slide Show feature is excellent, too. You can create standalone or flash-based presentations from selected images, and you can now build a video file or CD containing images, slideshows and up to two audio tracks through an easy-to-use wizard.
Image archiving is similarly well thought out. Although ACDSee 7.0 already provided a backup tool, version 8.0 adds a Sync option that mirrors images between selected folders at set intervals. You can also drag photos and folders from the File List to a new Burn Basket at the bottom of the browser to archive images to CD or DVD simply by clicking the Burn button. Remaining disk space is calculated as you add files – a neat touch.
Previous versions of ACDSee used a proprietary keyword system that couldn't be understood by other software, but ACDSee 8.0 supports full IPTC metadata, an international standard for embedding information into photos such as captions, keywords, categories and copyright details.
The advantage of IPTC compatibility is that information is written directly into a photo and can be read by any other applications that support IPTC. The drawbacks? In ACDSee 8.0, there's no way to transfer keywords created by the old system to the new format; nor could we find a way to easily add IPTC keywords in batches. Both are important oversights.