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« This Week on iPad Creative: 17th to 23rd April 2011 | Main | iCade: Pre-order and Pricing Details »

Exclusive Review: Photosmith - An Essential iPad App for Lightroom Users

Photosmith App Icon

If you use Adobe Lightroom you need this app on your iPad. It's that simple. We have been involved in beta-testing this app and we tell you why you should run and get it when it is released on Tuesday.

Every now and then an app comes along that solves a problem you have struggled with for a while. Photosmith is one of those apps.

It is the culmination of 24 months of toil and hard labour for Software Developers and avid photographers Chris Horne and Chris Morse plus Graphic Designer Jonah Cohen.

What is Photosmith?

Photosmith's Developers have this to say about the purpose of their app [bold text ours]:

Photosmith brings the ability to manage photos using collections, keywords, tagging, ratings, EXIF, and IPTC metadata. Photographers no longer need to wait until they get back to their main computer or drag a laptop to sort through photos or show clients their latest results.


With Photosmith, photographers can load their photos directly on the iPad, filter, sort, rate, and keyword while in the field/studio. When they get back to Adobe Lightroom on their Mac or PC they can sync all photos from the iPad to Lightroom and all of their tagging and rating will also transfer with no need to duplicate effort.

Photosmith FullScreen Portrait

As we have already said, this app is ideal for any Lightroom user but especially those who want to start their photo management workflow when on the move. That sounds a bit grandiose, but it applies to the holiday snapper on a day out as much as it does the Commercial Pro photographer doing a fashion shoot on the other side of the world.

Photosmith also enables a photographer to travel light, leaving the often heavy laptop at home, taking the far more svelte iPad instead with all of its multi-functional goodness included.

When would I use it?

Let's imagine you have just finished a day's shooting away from your main base (home or studio). You have gone ahead and loaded all your photos onto your iPad (you now have a backup too).

On your return train, car or plane journey, where you may have found it awkward to get a laptop out before, you can just fire up Photosmith on your iPad and start reviewing your shots.

By the time you get back home, or to the studio, you have already begun (and maybe even finished) the often painful process of making selects and adding metadata to your shots, meaning you can get on with editing and the rest of your workflow as soon as you get back in, no time wasted!

What's the process?

Here is a typical photographer-on-the-go workflow for Photosmith:

  1. After shooting, import photos to the Photos app on your iPad via CCK as normal, photos are placed into the Photos app album.
  2. Start up the Photosmith app. Photosmith will process the new photos it finds in the Photos app (including Saved Photos and Camera Roll on iPad 2), generate thumbnails/full 1:1 previews and extract the EXIF data.
  3. Wherever you are, you view, assess, rate, tag, keyword or reject your photos and add any meta data such as IPTC title you wish.
  4. When you are back at your main machine, start Photosmith on your iPad, then start up Lightroom on your Mac/PC
  5. Open the Photosmith plugin in Lightroom, wait for it to detect your iPad running Photosmith and hit Sync. All your photos plus any metadata you added in Photosmith will be transferred to your Lightroom library.

Ok, I want it, what's it like to use?

We have been using Photosmith for a few months now, being fortunate (foolish?) enough to be part of the Beta-testing program. The app has really matured over that time and in this release version (1.02) we find a highly useful, carefully programmed and lovingly designed app that will definitely enhance a Lightroom using photographer's workflow.

There is a lot to this app, but let's take a quick look at the main features.

The User Interface (UI)

Any user of Lightroom will feel right at home with Photosmith's user interface (UI). It doesn't copy but echoes the feel of Lightroom so that the controls make sense to the Photographer used to reviewing photos in Adobe's desktop app.

A lot of careful thought has gone into the UI of the app, especially by the designer  and it has been interesting to see how it has evolved over the Beta period.

Photosmith LoupeView Moutains

There are three main views to the app:

  • Grid view - see thumbnails and select and organise your shots into collections
  • Loupe view - (pictured above) gives a 'film strip' along the bottom and metadata/info on right
  • Full Screen view - (pictured below) Focus on the images, interface elements are minimised with slide outs for colour, rating and reject selections, but touching the screen anywhere else will bring up the usual UI elements like the filmstrip and title bar, as in Apple's built-in Photos app.

Photosmith Mountains FullScreen FullZoom

Reviewing and Updating

Once the previews have been built, we found Photosmith surprisingly quick at running through the images, even on the original iPad. If you have hundreds (or worst-case thousands) of shots to work through quickly and find the 'keepers' then there is a very handy Auto advance option (as in Lightroom) which moves onto the next image automatically once a rating, colour tag or 'Reject' setting has been added to an image.

The iPad screen size seems just about perfect for this process and by double-tapping anywhere on the image you can zoom in to a full 1:1 view of your image, even on massive 20+ megapixel RAW files!

This really helps you check the detail and sharpness of an image and interestingly is better, or closer, than the full zoom on the Apple Photos app (for more on this see the Photosmith Grand Tour page).

Collections

You no doubt know how powerful collections can be in Lightroom. Photosmith supports creation, editing and organising of collections that are then synced to your Lightroom library. You can select an image or a number of images using the multiple image selection technique described here. Alternatively, use two fingers to tap an image and toggle its selection.

There are a few Smart (or Special) collections automatically generated for you such as Last Import, Rejected Photos and the extremely useful Unmarked Photos so you can see which shots you still have to edit.

Photosmith DragAndDrop Wildlife

Filtering

When this feature went fully live during the Beta we were so pleased. Like most photo management apps you can use these options to filter by colour and rating and the great thing is that the filter setting is retained as you switch between view mode so that you don't need to keep reselecting your options. You just have to remember that you are filtering your photos or you could panic that photos have disappeared (or maybe that's just us!).

Keywording

A big part of any photographer's library management is Keywording. Photosmith allows a pretty much unlimited number of keywords (they tested up to 10,000 with some Beta testers) and around 2000 keywords per image being theoretically possible before slowing things down.

Adding a keyword is a simple case of selecting the keyword box which brings up the Keyword selector. From here you can select a keyword to add it (or if it is already applied deselect it to remove), do a search if you have lots of keywords or add a new one. You do this by typing it in to the search box and, because Photosmith recognises it as a new keyword, it will highlight it in green text and put a + sign to the left. Selecting the green text adds the keyword to the photo and keyword database.

We would dearly love to have the ability to add keywords to more than one image, but in this first version of Photosmith that is not included. However, the feature request has appeared on the new Support forum for the app, so we are hopeful this feature will be added in a future version. It is a bit of a bind adding the same keywords over and over again, especially if you have a lot of photos to edit.

Syncing to Lightroom

New keywords, along with any other updated information you enter against your photos is sent over to your Adobe Lightroom library when you Sync with Photosmith. Rejected photos are not synced but left on your iPad.

Syncing has been one of the main things that changed with nearly every Beta release and we know that the Developers have done a lot of work on this as there are so many variables. On the whole, it seems to work well in this release and in our last test we had a no problems at all.

Photosmith Lightroom Plugin

A nice touch is that you can even choose where you are syncing to (Destination Directory), how the photos are organised and the Date Format, so you can match up with your Lightroom library and also choose to have the photos synced from Photosmith placed in another folder by checking the 'Into subdirectory' option, although we chose not to.

Once these selections are made, you hit Sync and leave Photosmith running so that it can transfer your photos and metadata via WiFi.

Advanced Syncing - For When You Have Lots of Photos

If you have got hundreds or even thousands of photos to sync to Lightroom you may find WiFi too slow. In this case you can import your photos directly into Lightroom via USB connection (like you normally would with a Camera/Card as a source). Once that import has finished then connect Photosmith to Lightroom via WiFi and only the edited metadata is transferred to your library.

The Photosmith plugin and sync function is clever enough to match up your photos with their amended metadata coming in from your iPad.

This way, no photos are sent from Photosmith, as they are already there.

If you always have a lot of photos to import after a shoot or holiday, then this may be your preferred way of syncing.

Photosmith SendToMain

Social Sharing

Although Photosmith is not an image editor, if you are skilled enough to get a good enough image straight from the camera, or you want to send your images off to an online backup site, you can still share photos from the app to usual suspects such as Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox and via email.

You have a few options such as image size and destination for most of these sharing options. It is not something we have used really with Photosmith, but it is useful to have these sharing options if and when we need them, pre-editing.

Will Photosmith work with my camera?

Most digital cameras will work fine with Photosmith, especially if you only use JPEG files. Even RAW shooters shouldn't have many issues, but due to the odd variations with file formatting in RAW images, there are a few cameras that have been identified as problematic during Photosmith's beta testing.

This affects things like rendering previews and interperting EXIF data in the RAW files of those cameras (JPGs shot with these cameras should be fine though).

There are very few cameras with known problems, but  a current list can be found in the Photosmith Knowledge Base and you should check this out if you shoot RAW.

Photosmith and Adobe

Although Photosmith is not an official Adobe app, there has been some input and assistance from Adobe's technical team. After tweeting about some of the difficulties they had with the Adobe's plugin SDK, Tom Hogarty (Lightroom Production Manager) replied on Twitter and put the Photosmith team in touch with one of his Developers who has helped the team out a great deal.

The experience of developing functionality to work with an Adobe desktop app seems to have been overwhelmingly positive, Chris Morse told us:

"Adobe is clearly interested in supporting the 3rd party developer community and Photosmith has been no exception."

"One amazing thing about the contact we've had with Adobe, even though they are a large company they are as approachable as a small one. Senior managers are visible, and responsive, right on Twitter."

Final Thoughts

We would unreservedly recommend Photosmith and in our opinion any Adobe Lightroom user will find it indefinitely useful. Its appeal and functionality will meet the needs of snapshooters through to professionals running big commercial studios. It should be on the home screen of every iPad owning Lightroom user.

We would like to congratulate the Development team on bringing this project to fruition, we have only seen a small part of the hard work and extraordinary effort that has gone into getting Photosmith this far, and we know there are big plans to continue to develop the app in the future.

Photosmith will be launched on the App Store on Tuesday 26th April, at 12:01 EDT.  The app will be $17.99 (£10.99), pricing for other countries can be found here

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Reader Comments (6)

As a frequent user of both LR and my iPad, I am very much looking forward to this app!

However, for it to justify its high price-point, I think it has to offer batch keywording. If I have to keyword every individual file separately, then realistically it's never going to happen, and the functionality of what looks like an otherwise great app is severely compromised.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZak

@Zak - Agreed that this is a key feature that should be included asap, but the app is still worth getting into now, updates will be free and the 'multi-select and apply' feature is top in their new feature request forums, it might be worth leaving a comment there too to let them know this is preventing you from buying now! The Developers are keen to continue refining the app with popular features where possible.

April 25, 2011 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

Curious if the following workflow is possible. The first part is what I can already do. I like to shoot with an Eye-Fi card in my camera and with the camera set to capture both RAW and small JPEG files. I then have the Eye-Fi set up to transfer only the JPEGs to my iPad, wirelessly.

What I then want to do is use Photosmith to organize and rate my images on the iPad. When I return to my home workstation, I want to import the RAW files to my workstation from the SD card as the master images, not the JPEGs from the iPad, but have all the work done in Photosmith sync up seamlessly with the RAW files in Lightroom.

Hope that makes sense. Any idea if that works?

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlanB

@AlanB - This is a great idea but we guess it was you who put in this feature request in the Photosmith support forum? As one of the Developers Chris Horne said there:

"Eye Fi can send directly to the iPad's Save Photos Album currently, and Photosmith reads from this album.

This means that if you want to send to to your iPad with your EyeFi card and work with them from within Photosmith, you can do that now.

However, Photosmith only looks for changes on startup (we never had a reason to do otherwise!), and the Eye-Fi can add images at any time, so you'd have to start the app each time you wanted to see new images.

We're looking into changing that now - it may be an easy change that we can get out very, very soon!"

Looks promising!

May 3, 2011 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

Hello, those photos are really amazing. I just wanna tell you that 6 months have passed since I bought my iPad and It surprise me every time I take a picture.

September 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJackie Smith

I'm giving away free licenses to Photosmith on my blog. Just leave a comment to enter by June 12: http://www.vodkitchen.com/2012/06/07/ipad-app-giveaway-photosmith/

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJon @ vodkitchen

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