Last year PhaseOne finally acquired – “liberated” may be a better word -  Expression Media from Microsoft and gave it back its old name, MediaPro. I say “finally” because they had tried to add the original iView MediaPro cataloguing program to their CaptureOne raw conversion products back in 2006, and also because in those five years the post processing and cataloguing landscape has been transformed with the introduction of two major programs that combine those once-separate activities. To give an idea of how completely things have changed, I remember announcing Microsoft’s takeover to a trade show at Manchester United’s stadium, and since 2006 oil money has transformed City from a long-running joke into a pumped-up monster which might no longer need to call in Channel 4′s Time Team archaeologists to find any trophies (oh for the Arab spring to sweep away Abu Dhabi’s feudal rulers – that would be so City). Of course, some things stay the same and after Sunday’s demolition of Abramovitch’s expensive toy, United are on the verge of the 19th league title and another European Cup. But the change in how photographers now manage and process their pictures is “massive”, and first Apple’s Mac-limited Aperture and then the continuing and apparently-irresistible rise of Adobe’s Lightroom make me wonder if there’s any space left for the old favourite. Still, the €50 upgrade from Expression Media may not be an Hernandez-style bargain but is about the right price. At €160 new, MediaPro looks overpriced – more like an Edin Dzeko?

A lot of the work appears cosmetic – a modern, gloomy-grey interface – and almost all the familiar features remain untouched. But

  • I spotted that the Virtual Earth geotagging feature has been dropped, very quietly, and while I imagine it was Microsoft’s code it’s still a shame to lose one of the few positive things that Redmond did with the program (apart from eventually selling it on). Instead of geotagging within the app, you now have a menu command Window > View Location on Map which displays the first selected image in a Google Maps browser window (it’s little better than a script I think I once wrote!).
  • One very welcome improvement is the lifting of the 128,000 file and 2Gb catalogue size limits. This was probably top of my list – back in 2006 when I met with Microsoft.
  • When you “sync” or save metadata back to the pictures, you can now write  it to sidecar files. Creating sidecars was one of many features that the iView guys had begun and making them work effectively should have been low hanging fruit for Microsoft. Removing the odd limitation to output sidecars to one folder at a time means it’s easier to exchange metadata with C1 and other programs that rely on sidecars (it was always possible with DNGs, of course!). Sadly though, you still have to invoke the sync operation manually, and it still overwrites any Adobe Camera Raw metadata.
  • A second change isn’t mentioned, and I may be wrong in imagining it, but importing speed seems to be enormously improved. Almost instantly I could scroll through thousands of freshly-imported raw files – when you’re used to Lightroom, it’s quite remarkable.

If you’re unfamiliar with the program, take a look at series of tutorials by Peter Krogh who has also written some thoughts here. I’ll add other links as/if they appear, but already there’s Why Separate is Better Than Integrated, a curious defence from Capture Integration of the decision to keep P1 and MediaPro as separate programs (maybe they should call themselves Capture Separately?). Take the alleged problem attributed to Lightroom’s integration where:

“the photographer is tethered to a laptop for instant review of the images by an on-site Art Director. During the shoot cataloging features are completely useless”

Unfortunately this is not fundamentally a result of these two functions being incompatible in a single program but simply of it being Adobe’s first attempt at tethering, and not getting every detail right. Lightroom certainly could, probably should, have an option to switch tethering so it’s limited to the second screen, leaving the main screen to be used as normal. Another example of how it’s merely a design/implementation detail is how there isn’t yet the ability to add an overlay during tethering – a lot of tethered work requires shooting to a magazine cover or other layout (vote here). One could also see it as a result of Adobe’s failure to respond to small studios’ needs for Lightroom to have multi-user capability. So again, nothing to do with separate or integrated!

“take for instance the needs of a Wedding Photographer who is creating/updating his collection of his best marketing materials. In this case the ability to deeply refine/adjust the image is moot.”

Again, unfortunately not! Look at one very common way Aperture fans explain their preferences over Lightroom – they can be doing any task, such as creating a portfolio, and quickly make adjustments without needing to go into another of those nasty un-Maclike modules. Or think how often people demand Adobe merge the Library and Develop workspaces. The trouble is, a lot of photographers do have 5 second attention spans and no matter how much Lightroom’s modular design steers them in the direction of working methodically and efficiently, they don’t want to complete one task before moving onto another. “Creatives” do jump about.

I doubt we’ll ever get close to 2006/2007′s promise of “one ring to rule them all” where the whole photographic workflow would take place in one environment, but separating managing and post processing is like pulling apart the two supporting pillars of a modern, efficient workflow. If you do use CaptureOne, it makes sense.

As a final point, Aperture seems stuck in its niche and no longer the “Photoshop killer” that so spurred Adobe on, Lightroom increasingly appears to be growing organically and without the need for continuing major investment, and at the same time the excitement seems elsewhere – Adobe can’t take the risk of not putting enormous energy into creating solutions that either run on, or create content for iPads (other tablets exist). Now, more than any point in the past 5 years, I’d love there to be real competition to Lightroom.