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Photoshop Album 2 is the first cataloging software I used for my digital photo collection. It was affordable, and the interface was immediately intuitive. My wife had no troubles understanding the workflow within the program, even without reading the manual.
The most commonly used functions were very easy to access (such as searching for combinations of categories). The ability to select an image and open up a copy in an editor was implemented very well, saving one from the easy mistake of editing an original without realizing it.
PSA2 also had incorporated a large amount of feature integration outside of basic catalog management. One could perform red-eye reduction, resizing, web galleries, email support and even 3D gallery walkthroughs. I must admit that I was one of those who didn't like to see these features in the program. I knew that it would only come at the expense of fast and clean, photo catalog functionality. The program looked like it was headed to the do everything that the average snapshot photographer was interested in, without having to buy a photo editor. Since I already have Photoshop CS, I would rather see the catalog program focus entirely on doing an excellent job of cataloging only, rather than an average job of everything.
As my catalog grew over 10,000 photos, I began to notice that the browsing through the catalog was becoming sluggish (on a 2.5GHz Athlon XP w/ 768MB RAM). This sluggishness was already annoying, and I quickly realized that it was only going to get worse. As it is nearly impossible to change to different catalog software at a later date, the Photoshop Album road was already looking like a dead end.
Since Adobe Photoshop Album provides no real scripting capabilities, nor the ability to export the database into an open format, it is very difficult to change to another catalog program at a later date. Fortunately, Photoshop Album 2 databases are stored as a Microsoft Access database, and someone has decoded the record format. This means that it is still possible to extricate all of your hard work (in category tagging) from a Photoshop Album 2 database. But, it would be a simple matter for Adobe to make the database format even more difficult to decode in later versions. Therefore, sticking with the program is a dangerous plan (especially if you value the ability to walk away with all of your hard work in tagging).
Photoshop Album 3 and Product Roadmap
UPDATE: The latest version, Photoshop Album 3.0 Starter Edition, was eventually released in July 2005, and can be downloaded here.
As I highly respect Adobe for a number of their professional products, I figured that it would only be a matter of time before they released a "professional" version of their catalog software (also know as a digital asset management program). I expected to soon see an Adobe Photoshop Album 3 or a more advanced standalone product offering.
Unfortunately, Adobe confused and frustrated a large number of users by integrating and improving upon Photoshop Album 2 (PSA2)'s features into Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 (PSE3). PSE3 is the limited-feature version of Photoshop CS (PSCS), the industry-standard photo editing package.
While this integration was good news to most amateurs and hobbyists, it was a bad sign for those who had already purchased Photoshop CS. Photoshop Album appeared to be dead. Future versions were integrated within their successful photo editor (PSE3). Many of the features that we wanted in PSA2 had been rolled into PSE3's Organizer.
For those of us who purchased PSCS and PSA2, we had to make the choice: Do we buy Photoshop Elements 3 for it's organizer's functionality (and waste 90% of the program's feature set), or do we go elsewhere.
Thankfully, Adobe eventually released a follow-on version to their free standalone product: Photoshop Album 3 Starter Edition. So, they have now provided some means for users of PSA to get additional updates, but it is no longer a paid-for standalone product and likely has an uncertain future.
More importantly, Adobe has recently (late 2006) released a formidable standalone catalog program as a free public beta: Adobe Lightroom. While it may not be complete enough for full-time deployment, it is definitely worth checking out. Note that it is also cross-platform (Mac and PC).
Transition to other software
As shown on the IMatch page, there is a handy tool called PSATool which allows one to extract the tagging data from a Photoshop Album database. This works for version 2, but for those who are using Photoshop Album 1, a free download of Photoshop Album 2 SE (Starter Edition) from the Adobe site will allow you to convert first.
Photoshop Album 2.0 and RAW File Format Support
It seems that there has been some confusion regarding whether or not Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 supports camera RAW formats. The following post by Jim Lewis details his findings.
Lots of misinformation has been posted in a thread that I began, beginning with my mis-abeling it as Photoshop Album 2.1. But the thread has revealed some things a number of people don't know, including those on the Adobe Forum, so let me summarize what otehrs have shown me and I have learned here.
In addition to taking Adobe Photoshop Album 2's functionality and improving upon it in Photoshop Elements 3, they have added a critical feature: the writing of the keyword tags into IPTC data. This effectively allows one an escape route from the product in the future if they later decide to use another tool.
NOTE: As pointed out by one of our readers, the IPTC writeback functionality in PSE3 is not without its limitations. Please read James' comments below (04/07/2006).
In all honesty, Photoshop Elements 3 will be the perfect tool for a very large majority of hobby photographers, as it is a great integration of two important functionalities: photo organization and photo editing. The photo editing suite is very thorough, and Adobe is probably the only company that will be able to offer a successful integration of these two areas. There are obvious benefits to integrating the two: most importantly is the handling of multiple versions of the same photo from a versioning / stack standpoint. PSE3 has handled this very well with the concept of image stacks.
My biggest concern, however, is about performance. Weak performance was the achilles heel of Photoshop Album 2, and some reports on the internet indicate that Photoshop Elements 3 still has the same serious limitations with large databases (eg. > 10,000 photos). The other big limitation is the lack of scripting. Scripting can make up for missing features never conceived by the software vendor, or ones that didn't make it into the current release. As Adobe rarely ever issues incremental releases more than once in a year, you are pretty much left with whatever you bought. Areas where scripting can be extremely useful include managing versions, creating custom web photo galleries, automating your workflow with to-edits, etc.