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Software Review: Photo Mechanic

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If you are working in photography fields where editing speed is a priority, then Photo Mechanic is for you. Sports photography and photojournalism are just two of these fields.
When it comes to organization, culling, tagging and applying metadata is important, this software excels. Read here on how to improve your photography workflow with Photo Mechanic.
A screenshot from the photo mechanic website highlighting the benefits of using this software

What Is Photo Mechanic?

History

Dennis Walker, founder of Photo Mechanic, has a lot of experience dealing with accelerating raw processing and then, image quality. He did this alongside digital pioneers such as Kodak and Minolta.
The idea for a faster ingestion program came about from his experience. From looking at how photojournalism and sports photography photographers worked with their images.
He saw the problems with the existing software, which was slow and ‘clunky’.
He won an award from the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). It was for his work on raw processing and Photoshop plug-ins that improved digital image quality.
All of this he did before Kodak realized that raw exposure compensation was important. Since 1996, Camera Bits has been the front runner for photographers.
The first version of Photo Mechanic focused on Metadata (IPTC). It was (and still is very important) to those working in sports and photojournalism.

Photo Mechanic

Don’t be confused, Photo Mechanic 5 is not an image editor. This front-end software allows you to upload, browse, organize, manage, tag and export your digital photos.
There are a few tools, such as crop, which you can use. But you won’t be able to edit the exposure, color or sharpness on your images.
This means that you really need to work with an image editor after Photo Mechanic. Cull with PM and edit with Lightroom, Capture One or On1 Photo RAW.
In this Photo Mechanic review, we will look at what Photo Mechanic 5 does, what its key features are and how it works with Lightroom.
Right now, we have Photo Mechanic 5. This photo sorting software costs $150 and you can get a free trial from their website.
A screenshot of sorting photos with Photo Mechanic

Why Use Photo Mechanic

Ingesting

Ingesting is the act of importing or bringing images into a program. With Photo Mechanic, you can do this by creating a Contact Sheet or Live, through the act of tethering.
The majority of the workflow in Photo Mechanic 5 is done through contact sheets. From there, you can ‘ingest’ your images. This opens your images in a similar way to Lightroom’s ‘Import’, except there isn’t a catalog where the images are going.
Ingested images are shown in a contact sheet. I like this as it repeats old processes of photography going. It went very fast, and while you’re waiting for your images to copy over, you can edit them.
For Live Ingesting you ‘tether’ your camera to your computer via a USB cable. Here, the images pop up on your computer screen rather than your camera’s LCD screen. This is perfect for looking at images in a larger size.
If you are working in fields where clients will be overwatching your photography session, this is something that they would appreciate.
A screenshot of ingesting photos with Photo Mechanic

Metadata

This program is, at its most basic, metadata (IPTC) software for photographers. There are other features that are beneficial, but none are as extensive as this area.
There are over 100+ fields in the IPTC Stationary Pad (metadata) in Photo Mechanic. And most of them make sense. Some of the terms would need some extra research.
Everything I would need is already here, just waiting for me to fill in the information. One thing that I really liked was the ‘Models, Property and Artwork’ field.
You can add all of the details to be used for model or property releases. Other programs have similar functions but are either not combined together or not completely obvious.
You can save and add IPT metadata to be used on other images. The other great thing is the variables section. With these, you can add any kind of information to any field.
You get to choose from a whole slew of selection possibilities and even stack them any way you want. This is great for searching and organizing your images.
A screenshot of adding metadata to photos with Photo Mechanic

Speed

The main problem with other front-end image organization and browser programs is the speed. They can be slow and sluggish. Not here. Photo Mechanic 5 is built around speed.
The biggest factor here is you can browse through your images without having to import them. This saves so much time overall, any other features are moot.
Adding keywords, IPTC data, culling and organizing are lightning fast. This allows you to select and ‘cull’ images as fast as you can. The program waits for you, not the other way around.
I did come across one problem, which seems to only exist pre-caching  images. If you open a folder to view the images for the first time, you will see lagging when you press and hold the right arrow button on your keyboard.
Lightroom didn’t give me the same problem. However, once you have passed over every image, the lag disappears. Even with this problem, I would be able to do this while other software still uploads its images.

Copying Files From Several Sources Simultaneously

This is a feature I am really excited about. It makes sense for editing to be able to copy all of your images in one go. All photographic software should have the same tool.
This tool lets you rename files and folders dynamically while adding IPTC credit and keyword information. All of this happens while the program makes a mirrored backup folder.
It is fast, which means there is less chance of your images not being uploaded and subsequently deleted. This can be a huge problem if you are uploading images without previewing them first.
For sports, event, and wedding photographers, this small detail means having to upload only once, cutting down on time and confusion.
A screenshot of copying files from several sources with Photo Mechanic

Comparing Photo Mechanic 5 to Other Front-End Software

Lightroom Classic CC

Let’s face it, Lightroom can be slow, frustratingly so. Building one-to-one previews takes forever because you are creating large files that allow you to zoom and edit correctly.
If you go for smart previews, it takes even longer. They do allow you to work on images without the hard drive being attached. This is great for travel photographers, yet not so good for those who capture sports.
Photo Mechanic works in a different way. It uploads your raw files, but by default, works on the jpeg versions. Unlike this photo sorting software, Lightroom pulls the data from the raw image to create fast and workable images.
Lightroom is a great tool to work with, as it offers you raw processing, organization, and editing. You can select multiple images for a closer look by combining the selection with Shift+N.
With PM you can only look at two at a time. Also, comparing images in LR is a little more intuitive. When you view two images side by side and zoomed in, you are able to move both images at the same time.
Both programs offer keywords and adding Metadata. Yet, when it comes to Photo Mechanic, they are very extensive. they might be a little more complex compared to what I need.
I find adding Metadata on Lightroom easy through the use of automatic inclusion and then presets. Photo Mechanic didn’t upload the data automatically, but I might have missed something.
A screenshot of Adobe Lightroom homepage

Adobe Bridge CC

Adobe Bridge CC is a digital asset management app by the same team that brought you Photoshop and Lightroom. Basically, it is a media manager, designed to be a bridge between your captured images and a final, polished photograph.
If there was one program that is a Photo Mechanic alternative, it is Adobe Bridge CC.
Unlike Lightroom or Photoshop, you can’t edit your images here. But you can use it to find, store and keyword your images. It lets you see what you have so you can open them in other Adobe programs.
It cuts the clutter, makes your workflow faster and is simple to use.
Some photographers find this program a little redundant. Lightroom already has an awesome organizational system through its Library module. But if you don’t own Lightroom, Bridge and Photoshop can work well together.
Compared to Photo Mechanic 5, Adobe Bridge falls behind quite far. The biggest problem is speed. Photo Mechanic will render thumbnails many times faster than Bridge can.
Then there is ‘ingesting’. Unlike Bridge, Photo Mechanic 5 can (and will) download your photos, rename them, caption them and make a backup – all in one step. This not only makes it faster but ensures your images are safe no matter what.
If you work a lot with websites or have a website of your own that you like to upload directly to, PM has a handy FTP Upload. It can upload your images directly to an FTP server, quickly, quietly and without any drama.
If you use PhotoShelter – there is an upload for that too. Actually, Flickr and Twitter are just two out of many places Photo Mechanic can attach itself to.
Apart from this, PM is excellent at batch renaming. It offers amazing (if not albeit over-the-top) IPTC batch captioning. This includes captioning most RAW file formats.
Keywording is easier might be a little easier for some in Bridge, as it uses keyword groupings which I find very smart. However, Bridge becomes a little sluggish when working with many files.
A screenshot of opening Adobe Bridge

Key Features of Photo Mechanic

  • Contact Sheet – A very simple format of showing your images.
  • Move and Rename – Great way to organize your folders from within the software.
  • Full-Size Viewing – This allows you to see your image in its full glory, for checking focus and any other problems.
  • Variables – These allow you to take full control over your IPTC data management.
  • Keywording – Adding keywords lets you search, separate and connect images across folders.
  • Code Replacements – Codes can act as replacements for difficult words, making keywording and captioning faster.
  • GPS Coordinates – Knowing where you took an image can be really helpful for return trips. Great for creating galleries.
  • Batch Editing – Instead of working on one image at a time, work on many to save time.
  • Adjust Time and Dates – You have total control over your image’s metadata.
  • Create Galleries – Add galleries to separate images with the same variables.
  • Upload to the Web – Through FTP, you can upload to your website or a number of platforms.

Likes and Dislikes

Likes

  • Captioning is a big bonus
  • Model release areas in IPTC stationary pad
  • No frills, but not plain
  • Inclusion of Lightroom
  • Code replacements
  • Sort images by many different attributes

Dislikes

  • New software, new learning curve
  • No editing – so you need an image editor
  • A little expensive
  • Doesn’t pick up IPTC data from Raw images

A screenshot of uploading files with Photo Mechanic

Conclusion

My usual workflow is adding my images to Lightroom Classic CC, letting them Import and create 1:1 smart previews. Depending on the number of images, this could take anywhere between one to three hours.
After that, I am free to organize and edit the images as I see fit. Knowing the amount of time it is going to take means I had to work this into my process.
I would upload my images, and go do something else; use another computer, eat or sleep. A little bit of a hassle, but workable. From there, I would use stars and colors to select and cull the images.
I would create collections and smart collections through these ‘flags’ and carefully chosen keywords. Everything would stay in Lightroom.
For the organization side of things, I tried Adobe Bridge but it didn’t make sense for me. It was great to see my Raw files quickly, but then I couldn’t edit them without opening another program.
This was the number one reason why I had reservations about Photo Mechanic . I didn’t want to use multiple programs to do the same thing I already did in Lightroom.
But then I tired Photo Mechanic 5. I realized that my workflow wasn’t as fast as it could be. Culling images in Lightroom is fast, don’t get me wrong, but I always started one – three hours later.
I should be using Photo Mechanic with their browser method to cull the images. There is no wait time as they don’t pull the images into the catalog as Lightroom does.
Using the same color and star flag, I could cut the images down to only import the images I wanted to work on into Lightroom. This meant Lightroom Classic CC only housed the images I liked.
This, in turn, made the program faster and stopped me from wasting time. The cost is high, but if it saves you minutes per images, you can get more work done. Plus, it’s a one-off cost and not a subscription.
Photo Mechanic is a great product. Although it was for sports photographers and photojournalists originally, there is no reason you can’t use it for any field. It works better for those who take hundreds, if not thousands of images in a session.

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