Review: Photo Mechanic

View, search, and apply information to your photos easily. (November 18th, 2009)

Photo Mechanic, lets you view, search, and apply a wide variety of information to your photos quickly and easily.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Camera Bits, Inc.

Price: 150.00 download; 160.00 CD

The Good

  • Robust photo browser.
    Easy to rename, caption or geotag photos.
    Contact sheet window easy to use.
    Responsive company.
    No bugs found.

The Bad

  • Expensive for photo browser.
    Many menu options with no shortcuts.
    Variable interface should be larger.
    Cannot resize some windows.
    Web Gallery options need more customizable options & examples.

If you shoot hundreds of photos every time you use your camera, you may not be happy with the way iPhoto handles large batches of files. The fact that it creates a whole set of copies buried inside a series of folders makes it unsuited to my needs. I take many shots I use only to further my knowledge of shooting with different lenses at different settings. I really don't want to save those in iPhoto, but I do want to tag them. Presently iPhoto '09 only reads Caption, Keywords, and Title from the IPTC fields, according to a post in Apple's discussion forums, and that may not suit professionals.

I often use Adobe Bridge CS4 to batch rename my photos, but I have not found an easy way to apply other information, other than applying color labels in the Finder and adding Info via the Spotlight Comments box. Needless to say, this process is time consuming. A photographer on MacNN's staff recommended Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits, so I took that out for a few test drives.

Photo Mechanic, designed as purely a photo browser, lets you view, search, and apply a wide variety of information to your photos quickly and easily. Last week Camera Bits released an update to version 4.6.2, for bugs I never tripped over. This second 2009 update also includes a sorely needed updated manual.

You can import photos easily. For example, you can import images directly from several photo SD or Compact Flash cards simultaneously, which it calls Ingesting the photos. During the ingest process, you can rename, rotate, and watermark files, create a second backup copy, and edit the metadata. It displays photos in a Contact Sheet view, in which you can zoom up to 800% to check your shots with the new loupe tool.

Ingest Window

Ingest Window

Once your photos appear in the Contact Sheet, you can apply 5-star ratings or one of 9 Color Classes, and tag the images. After you've designated your own categories, you can export the images to a number of formats, attach them to an email, FTP them to a variety of sites or compose a Web Gallery. The upload template supported sites include Amazon S3, DF Studio, ExposureManager, Flickr, Gallery 2, SmugMug, and Zenfolio.

Contact Sheet View

Contact Sheet View

Photo Mechanic is not an image editor, nor does it process RAW photos or catalog photos, so it's designed to use in conjunction with other programs that perform those tasks, such as Aperture, Lightroom, or Microsoft Expression Media (formerly known as iView Media Pro). It does let you preview your photos, crop, zoom, and see all of the data saved with each photo.


Single Photo Preview

Enhanced Features

Two of the features that make Photo Mechanic worth its weight are Geo-tagging and the IPTC Stationary Pad. The International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) provides photo codes that make it easy for news organizations and publishers to find and copyright photos. You apply one or more of the voluminous pages of codes to photos you want to sell or make available to buy online. This metadata is added to the camera information already stored automatically with your photos. As a soccer photographer, I've wrestled with a way to cut this tagging process. The IPTC Stationary Pad makes adding captions, keywords, and other information very easy. You can apply IPTC, Exif, XMP, or ICC Profile information in batch or edited for each photo. You can even prepare a text file with captions to import and apply, called Code Replacement, which is useful for sports team members.

 Single Photo View IPTC Window

Single Photo View IPTC Window

Photo Mechanic also makes web gallery creation easy, but the implementation is odd. A variety of templates, accessible from the Export command in the File menu, let you add a copyright to your images, as well as resize and sharpen the images for the best web viewing. Unfortunately, I found no samples of each template and had to run a test on each one. You can choose from a basic thumbnail view with a click to the resized larger photo, a PostCard Viewer, a Flash slideshow, or scrolling thumbnails, plus some other basic looking templates. The Template pop-up menu lists URLs in which you can view samples, but inclusion of screen shots in the manual to show off the different styles would be a nice addition.

Export to Web Gallery

Export to Web Gallery

You can edit any of the fields, so that if your web site has a particular color scheme and font, you can change that information easily. You can also tweak any of the created pages in BBEdit or TextEdit if you like, because the generated files are standard CSS and HTML files with some Flash tossed into some of the templates. You can see a web gallery I created on my web site, with a little bit of tweaking in BBedit.

Photo Mechanic also makes it very easy to rename your photos. I usually rename those useless camera-generated numbers, like DSC_001, with the year, month, day, and number. You simply select the folder you want to rename, choose Rename from Edit menu, and insert the desired parameters. You can choose from the entire lengthy variable list, if you want to include more detail in the name.

Rename Dialog

Rename Dialog

The problem with this feature lies in that you cannot choose another folder in which to move the renamed files, as you can in Adobe Bridge. Bridge doesn't give you as many variables that you can add, but I like moving my files to another folder, in case I screw up renaming them, which happens occasionally.

At this time, the manual hadn't been updated since version 4.5.3 and it contained nothing about the GPS feature. The default map showed the west coast, and I'm on the east coast, so I had to scroll around the country. The new manual includes a detailed chapter on how to use the Geotagging feature and it's much easier than my first trial. You can import GPS logs in the GPX and NMEA formats, or use the built-in Google map feature to pinpoint your photo's location. I did have a few minor problems with the map point jumping around, and one of my locations didn't appear in Google maps, but you can see my result below.

 GPS Window

GPS Window

Minor Annoyances

I did find a number of annoyances with the program. First, I accidentally applied a color rating to all the photos at once, and there was no Undo command. I had thought only one photo was selected, but obviously they were all selected. Second, I wasn't sure how the Tag checkbox worked and looked it up in the Help menu, but that only pointed me to Tag command in the menus. I had to open the manual separately; which brings me to another point of contention. You have to close the manual to continue to work in the program, so I recommend you open it separately in Preview.

To print a Contact Sheet proof, you choose the Print Command from the File menu, but I couldn't find a way to change the default label font, which is just bad form. In addition, the program includes only four different paper choices; matte and photo paper, both in regular or fine. There's so many kinds of glossy paper available today, I think they need to rethink that dialog.

My last frustration deals with the Export command. I had filled out and revised the link colors, font, and other parameters, but had to close the box to check information in one of my photos, but when I reopened the Export command, it had not saved the changes. So, I had to revise the whole dialog again. It may seem minor, but there are many parameters to set and doing it twice is a pain. This seemed inconsistent though, because the next time I created an album, my changes were saved. As a comparison, the IPTC Stationary Pad does save the parameters when you close and reopen it. While the contact sheet window looks Mac-like, the rest of the interface seems a bit old in comparison to today's Mac applications, but I never experienced any crashes or hangs while using the program.

More Cost Effective Than Some Apps

I prefer the way Adobe Photoshop and the included Adobe Bridge CS4 handles the organization, renaming, and web gallery generation, but the price difference of $700 vs. $150, makes Photo Mechanic a more cost-effective solution, if you need a stand-alone browser solution. The new Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 includes Adobe Bridge, so it offers photo editing and organization, plus only costs $99; so that may be a better choice.

If you need access to hundreds of variables with easy tagging, Photo Mechanic is your solution. The latest version is certified for Snow Leopard. I reluctantly give the software 4-stars because of its robust feature set, but the confusing menu choices and handling of variables, which feel left over from another time, only rates 3.5 stars. If you want to try the software before you buy, Camera Bits will send you a demo code for use for 20 days.


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