Pro photographers are time-limited, so anything that can not only streamline your workflow but save you time has got to be a worthwhile investment. In the competitive world of digital asset management, how does BatchPhoto stack up?
Once you've captured images on your camera, you need to produce some kind of end product from them. Software to accomplish this generally falls into one of two broad categories: digital asset management (DAM) or image editing. DAMs are epitomized by Adobe's Lightroom and are intended to bulk import photos from a memory card and then provide a way of cataloging them for better photo management. Editing functionality was originally more limited (and tended to be global), with pixel-based editors such as Photoshop doing the heavy lifting when needed, round-tripping them back to the DAM when finished. With the world awash with image editors of varying degrees of competency and cost (Serif Affinity Photo, paint.net, Corel Paint Shop Pro, and GIMP), Adobe's move to a subscription model caught the DAM market off-guard.
Rapid Asset Management (RAM)
The one area which Adobe hasn't targeted is what I broadly term rapid asset management (RAM), probably because it is a relatively small market of pro photographers who need to quickly process large quantities of images to deliver to a paying customer. Perhaps the most well known (and oldest?) product in this area is Photo Mechanic, with many pros using it to cull and rank images, which is where it really shines. It is blisteringly fast at reviewing photos, allowing you to review, import, and then perform some gross batch editing tasks (such as exporting, renaming, and uploading). Enter BatchPhoto, which narrows its focus to one specific area: batch editing. In their own words:
Do you have repeatable and predictable actions to apply to your massive photo collection? Since 2005 we've been working to make BatchPhoto the best tool for automating those repeatable actions!
In this sense, Photo Mechanic isn't really a competitor, whereas the freemium XnView (which I've reviewed before) is. While XnView is an image viewer that has powerful batch editing and scripting functions, BatchPhoto is built from the ground up to process large quantities of photos and undertake complex, repeatable tasks that can be left to complete unattended. So, what sorts of features does it have? As you'd expect, import, convert, rename, rotate, and resize, but then also folder watch, FTP upload, date stamps, borders, watermarks, crop, contrast, gamma, sharpen, sepia, black and white, and solarize. Some of these — rotate, crop, contrast, and gamma — come with automatic versions that can apply some logic to their processing.
My interest in using BatchPhoto was to see how useful it was in terms of easing my workflow and saving time. Remember, Lightroom has lots of features that allow bulk processing, such as copying and pasting image edits or bulk exporting images. Of course, these require some kind of intervention to a greater or lesser extent. Whether this matters is up to you; however, BatchPhoto is designed to be hands-off once you've set it up. It's time-saving capabilities then increase the more you repeat the same task.
The obvious use case for BatchPhoto is with time-sensitive jobs such as news, events, and weddings where you need to get photos off the camera, perform some initial processing, and then deliver to the client. In fact, there is a case for using BatchPhoto in conjunction with Photo Mechanic. View and cull in the former, then bulk import to a watch directory and automate their processing and upload.
How Does BatchPhoto Perform?
Starting BatchPhoto will present you with an unassuming, even boring, interface. It looks dated, and initially, I couldn't put my finger on why, but I think it's the icons that just goes to show how important high-quality icon sets can be. The interface is clean, simple, and well laid out; however, the icons drag it down, reminding me of the garish Windows programs of old. Don't let that fool you, though, as the simplicity follows a wizard approach that is designed to turn what could be a complex set of operations into a manageable workflow.
Start off by adding your photos (step 1), then go to Edit Photos (step 2), adding the graphic filters you want to apply; for some of these, you will need to specify options. Step 3 then allows you to set core processing options before starting the processing. In effect, all you are doing is selecting your photos and specifying the processing options before detailing the output. A word of warning: when I was setting up the graphic filters for my test, BatchPhoto would crash. When I saved my settings as I went along, I had no problems. The FTP upload worked flawlessly (although it would be good to have a "Test Connection" button to make sure the FTP element is working before running the process) and could be a useful way of automating delivery to a news organization or if you have client galleries that allow FTP access.
The "Folder Monitor" functionality in the Enterprise edition is particularly effective, running as a Windows service that polls a specified (or multiple) folder's contents at set intervals. If any images are added, then the new ones are processed using a specified BatchPhoto script. If you are a media organization, you could collate all of your photographers' images in one place and automate their processing to a standardized format — a genuinely hands-off approach to ingesting large volumes of work.
In terms of understanding any performance gains, I compared BatchPhoto against Lightroom. In this instance, I imported 132 images from a recent shoot, transferring them from a memory card to an eight-core Windows PC (BatchPhoto is multi-threaded and will use multi-core CPUs) over USB 3. It completed this task in what felt like a glacial 4:06. How did this compare? Well, Lightroom 5 took only 3:06 to import all of the files. However, there was an additional 2:09 spent bringing the images into the catalog. By this measure, BatchPhoto saved about 1:09 or was approximately 20% faster — certainly worth having.
Bits&Coffee is a small Romanian software development house that specializes in Windows, Mac, and iOS photography and video. BatchPhoto was their first product, released in 2005, to which they've added PhotoMarks (photo watermarking), and ActivityTracker (mobile fitness app). BatchPhoto customers include NASA, Apple, Oracle, Tesla Motors, 20th Century Fox, and GE, among others, which shows the need from large multi-nationals to handle big volumes of imagery. I asked Bits&Coffee's founder Mike Cosmin Unguru what the most interesting use of BatchPhoto was. He replied: "maybe a US state agency that is using BatchPhoto Enterprise to automatically process and upload images taken with street cameras."
BatchPhoto comes in three flavors: Home ($30), Pro ($50), and Enterprise ($130). The Pro version supports FTP upload, raw processing, scripting, and a spread of graphic filters (such as watermarking, HSL, and Levels), while the Enterprise version adds auto-folder watch and server deployment. Most photographers would benefit from the Pro product, and you can't really complain about the pricing. The product is in continual development with at least an annual release, while Bits&Coffee offers responsive support. As I noted in my original review of XnView: "By far, the standout feature for me is the batch processing: virtually any of the processing features in XnView can be set to run across groups of files." That assessment remains; however, what BatchPhoto has produced is a polished and reliable piece of software. Remember that XnView is freemium costing €29, and while both products serve different but overlapping requirements, BatchPhoto is far slicker at what it does. Throw in the raw processing and folder monitoring, and there are some compelling features.
If there was one thing I would request, then it would be viewing and culling in a vein similar to Photo Mechanic. Add that functionality, and BatchPhoto becomes a contender for some serious rapid asset management.
Note: Bits&Coffee provided a free version of BatchPhoto Enterprise for review. However all of the views and opinions expressed in this article are my own.