IMatch - Photools
IMatch is a digital asset management software aimed at all levels of photographers. It uses open data formats to store information about images and a database to accelerate access to most XMP data. The cataloging workflow is based around categories which form a hierarchy. A number of minor image manipulation functions are supported directly with the software but it is designed to work with third-party application and features two-way synchronization of XMP data. IMatch goes for $65 USD and exists for Windows systems only.
IMatch is a product highly focused around image search and cataloging It has extremely powerful and flexible ways look for images more so than any other software in this round-up. It has evolved to support other capabilities such as compare and image processing features, yet the application is mostly an image catalog viewer.
IMatch uses a dated and cluttered MDI interface. In case you do not know, MDI stands for Multi-Document-Interface. It is characterized by a application which presents a main top-level window in which one finds independent windows that show different parts of the application. Some consider this a vestige of the past, others a horrible nightmare, as windows constantly overlap each other and have to be moved around. Regardless of feelings, this is certainly a highly cluttered way of presenting things and is much less efficient to use than modern DAM software.
When starting IMatch, one gets a mostly empty window. The content itself is not too dissimilar than and old Mac interface. Different commands cause windows to appear within and a top-level menu changes depending on which window has the focus. This makes discoverability tedious as one has to check the menus with different types of windows in focus in order to determine what can be done with the application. A great number of popup dialogs help guide the user through the process of using this less-than intuitive application.
The only part of the application that does not fit within the MDI window is the help system, possibly because they are using the Microsoft format. At least it lets the help be moved away from the application window. It does use the same process though since the help remains mostly blank while IMatch is busy.
Now that we got the ugly parts out of the way. Most people probably open a database window as soon as IMatch starts up. This gives access to a tree-view of the database and the result area. The tree-view can be toggled to show the folder hierarchy, the category hierarchy, a list of selection queries or a single image viewer. Except for the image viewer, selecting something in the tree-view shows the matching images next to it. Using the image viewer requires a previous queries and then a selection from the results. In that case, the viewer will show the selected image. Yes, this is surprising to say the least.
The database folder view is hierarchical and mirrors folders in the file-system. Unfortunately the display of results is not hierarchical so selecting a non-leaf folder generally shows an empty set of results. This makes it impossible to apply a change to a branch but the hierarchical category system can overcome this if folders mirror the category hierarchy. This is a big if as it will often not be the case. The result set has tons of viewing options and three sizes thumbnails, compact and detailed.
The categories view is hierarchical as each category is part of another category except for the special @All category that represents everything. With the categories view, results are hierarchical, so anything that matches a category or any of its children is shown in the set of results. An obvious example is the use of location categories where a continent owns a country which owns a city. Selecting a city will show images that match the particularly city. Selecting a country shows all images that were taken in that country even if the country was not added directly to the image but at least a city belonging to it was added.
The selection view is used to perform and store queries. The default contents shows off IMatch's unmatched capabilities: it can find image by physical size, it can find duplicate ones, images of similar content, ones with similar colors or with similar shapes and much more. Either queries or results can be stored for later use. For someone who spends a lot of time searching for images, this is excellent functionality.
IMatch has a scripting interface which allows automation of tasks. It does provide a large number of sample scripts, with even several quite useful ones. For example, IMatch can use EXIF data to create categories that can latter be used to find images that match using the categories view. Scripts apply hierarchically even in the folder view, so although categories cannot be applied visually to a branch, a script can do so. It does fill the gap but scripting is a complex process which is not for everyone. Scripting is performed synchronously, so if you run one, you cannot use the application.
The EXIF importing process is powerful yet cumbersome. To use it, one must first create properties in the database under the Image property-set. For each EXIF data (ISO, FL, Fno, etc) you must create one property. Then, when the EXIF import is invoked, it asks which EXIF data goes into which property. A few hours later, IMatch comes back to life with categories for different EXIF values.
The double-edged sword of the scripting is that while you are capable of performing complex tasks, certain tasks that other software perform requires the use of scripting in IMatch. Also, running several scripts to get EXIF data into the tree-view is a very slow process, in the order of several hours for a largish collection.
Import is handled by the database wizard - not by the Import and Export dialog - which initially presents three options, one of which is to import files and folders. The other two options are to optimize or change database settings. Clicking on the Next button with the Import option selected lets you choose a root folder and 6 on or off options: add sub-folders, skip any empty folders, skip hidden or system files, keep virtual transformations and force update of all files. The next screen asks which file-formats to import and the one after that offers to add categories to imported images. A final screen before the actual import process asks if the settings should be set as the default ones.
After importing, folders can be refreshed or removed from the catalog. Folders can also be relocated either to reorganize or to move to off-line storage. IMatch works well with off-line and read-only files, although with some limitations on the latter.
IMatch's hierarchical category system powerful and efficiently organizes images with a relatively small number of steps. A window showing the tree-view of categories is used to apply categories to images. Each node has a check box next to it and checking it adds the category to selected images. Once again the MDI interface gets in the way, often hiding images. Another annoyance is that the category tree jumps when an image is selected, so applying categories becomes rather tedious.
In use IMatch managed to under perform every other tested software except for IDimager's import process. To import the 18000 test images, IMatch took 14 hours and then another 6 to import 6 EXIF fields into categories. The folder view is the most efficient part of the software, responding in 2 or 3s for any query. The category view is certainly slower, taking up to 12s to show results. The selection view returns most results in a few seconds but can easily take minutes as well. This is no surprise considering how powerful IMatch's search is.
The problem with using IMatch is that no matter what, the UI feels sluggish and takes a noticeable delay to respond. Even loading of single images is done extremely slowly, so it hard to recommend it for intense use.
In the end, IMatch does not leave a favorable impression. It takes too long to respond and often freezes for hours at the time. The UI interface gets in the way too often and makes a lot of operations tedious to use. The positive side is that this DAM software is very powerful in terms of search and tagging images using its system of categories. Content matching is also a nice feature to have.
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