May 17th 2016 by Andrew S Gibson
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Thanks for reading! Andrew.
Last week I looked at various ways in which you can speed up the Lightroom import process. All of them have something in common – no matter which method you use, you still have to wait for Lightroom to build 1:1 previews of your images before you can both view and zoom into them. Even then, Lightroom is not as fast as it could be for viewing your photos.
Enter Photo Mechanic. This program allows you to view and zoom photos at any time, even before you import them. You can even view your photos while they are still on your camera’s memory card. This is great news if you ever get so excited about a shoot that you can’t wait to see how the images came out.
It works by using the JPEG preview embedded in the Raw file (the same one you see when you view your photos on the camera’s LCD screen). Lightroom takes longer because it ignores the JPEG preview and builds its own previews from the raw data, taking into account any settings that you have applied at the import stage using a Develop Preset.
Photo Mechanic is much more than a photo viewer. You can use it to import photos (that is copy them from a memory card to an external hard drive – in Photo Mechanic this process is called ingesting photos), search images and add keywords, star ratings, colour labels and other metadata. It also integrates neatly with Lightroom, or with Photoshop if you are not a Lightroom user.
Photo Mechanic in action
This screenshot shows Photo Mechanic’s Contact Sheet. It is similar to Grid View in Lightroom. To get to here, select a folder using the Navigator pane on the left and double click to open it as a Contact Sheet.
Here I have set Photo Mechanic to show the filename, camera and lens, exposure settings and date and time under each thumbnail.
Double-click on any photo in the Contact Sheet to open it in a Preview window. You’ll see thumbnails of all images in the same folder on the left (use the up and down arrow keys to move through them) and metadata on the right.
Press the Z key to zoom in. Set the zoom level using the slider on the right. Press Z again to zoom out.
You can remove the right panes to create more viewing space.
If you set Curser mode to Loupe Photo Mechanic displays a zoomed view of the selected photo when click on it in the Contact Sheet window. This lets you zoom in to check focus without leaving the Contact Sheet.
Practical uses for Photo Mechanic
These are the ways you can put Photo Mechanic to use.
Viewing photos saved on your hard drives. This applies to all photos (supported file types are listed here) not just those imported into Lightroom. Photo Mechanic is a faster viewer than any other program that I’ve used.
Importing (ingesting in Photo Mechanic terminology) photos from memory cards to hard drives. Photo Mechanic has more advanced metadata options than Lightroom, plus it allows you to view photos (and start selecting the ones you want to process) right away, so you can start viewing your images while the rest are still being imported. You can then select which photos you’d like to import into Lightroom (more on this in a bit).
These are the metadata fields that Photo Mechanic lets you add to imported photos. You can use it to add copyright data, as in the example below, or for more complex tasks. See the Scott Kelby article (linked below) for more details.
Viewing photos from a shoot to decide which ones you want to process. It’s not quite as sophisticated as Lightroom in this respect. There’s no Survey view (for viewing multiple images at a time) and you are limited to a side-by-side comparison showing just two photos. But it’s very fast.
The real benefit occurs when you are short on time. Imagine that you are away from home for two weeks, whether on holiday or assignment. If you have a laptop you can use Photo Mechanic to import / ingest photos from your camera’s memory card to an external hard drive (backing them up) and to view and select the ones that you intend to process. You can do all this without opening Lightroom at all if you want to. When you get home you’ll save time because you have already viewed and culled your photos.
For sports photographers and photo journalists to speed up their workflow. Sports photographers often need to import, view, select and process photos very quickly, before sending them by wireless internet to their agency.
Scott Kelby has an excellent article on this which will help you see what’s involved, and how Photo Mechanic can save you time.
For speeding up the Lightroom workflow. Let’s take a look at that last point in more detail.
Using Photo Mechanic to speed up the Lightroom workflow
Here’s a simple workflow using Photo Mechanic to speed up the process of importing and viewing photos.
1. Start by going to Preferences in Photo Mechanic. Under Preview set Automatically advance to next photo when: to Tag is changed. Under Launching set Default application to edit photos: to Assign default application and choose Lightroom.
2. Go to File > Ingest to copy photos from your camera’s memory card to the hard drive where you save your Raw files.
3. Now it’s decision time. Do you want to import every photo from the shoot into Lightroom? If so select all the photos and go to Image > Edit Photos. If you set the Default application to Lightroom in step one, Lightroom will open and go straight to the Import window with the selected images. From here you can import into Lightroom as normal.
4. Alternatively, you can select the images that you want to import into Lightroom. Double click on the first image in the Contact Sheet to open the Preview window. Press the Z key to zoom into the photo if you need to check for fine focus. You can set the zoom level using the slider on the right, and use the square bracket keys to rotate images.
If you want to import the photo into Lightroom, press T. This tags the photo, which is like Flagging a photo as a Pick in Lightroom. You could also think of as the T standing for tick, as it adds a tick to the thumbnail in the Preview window.
If you enabled auto advance in step one, Photo Mechanic displays the next photo in the folder. If you don’t want to import the photo into Lightroom, press the down key to advance to the next image.
5. Once you have viewed all the photos return to the Contact Sheet, go to the Filter View by menu and select Tagged. Now you will only see the Tagged images. Select all and go to Image > Edit Photos. Photo Mechanic sends them to Lightroom, which opens the Import windows with the Tagged images selected. From here you can import into Lightroom as normal.
This screenshot show what happens when you send the Tagged files to Lightroom. Lightroom opens the Import window. Tagged photos are ticked, ready for import. Untagged photos are not ticked and faded out to show they won’t be imported.
The main benefit of this simple workflow is that it helps you save time in the Lightroom import process by only importing the images that you really need. In turn this means Lightroom has to generate less previews (saving time) and means you have less photos in the Lightroom Catalog, which will hopefully improve its performance over time (Adobe says that a large Catalog should run no slower than a small one in Lightroom 6/CC – I haven’t tested Lightroom to see if this is true).
One task where this would be of immediate benefit is portrait shoots, especially if you are in the habit of using wide apertures for selective focus effects. You could use Photo Mechanic to eliminate any photos that are out of focus or would be rejected for other reasons (poor composition, bad lighting, model blinking or caught with unflattering expression etc) and import the best images into Lightroom. You will never need those rejected images, so there’s little point in adding them to the Catalog.
A secondary benefit is that you don’t have to change any settings to enable both Photo Mechanic and Lightroom (plus Photoshop and Adobe Bridge for that matter) to read and apply any metadata changes.
Of course, some of you will want to import every photo into Lightroom, and that’s fine, and some of you will be more than happy to let the Lightroom import process take as long as it needs to before viewing and selecting photos. Photo Mechanic doesn’t support Collections, therefore it’s not as good a tool as Lightroom for narrowing down a full selection of photos to the ones that you want to process (this process is explained fully in my book Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module).
But for those of you who need a fast photo viewer, or have more complex importing and viewing requirements (i.e. anybody who shoots high volumes of images, such as wedding photographers and photojournalists) then Photo Mechanic will be extremely useful.
Does Photo Mechanic cost too much?
The only drawback of Photo Mechanic is the price. It costs $US150, which is more than you might want to pay. But remember that Photo Mechanic does a lot of things better than Lightroom that are of interest to professional photographers, and that explains its market. It’s aimed at professionals, and reading around on the internet confirms that the professionals who use it think that Photo Mechanic is well worth the money.
Either way, you can download a 30 day trial of Photo Mechanic here, long enough to give you ample time to decide whether it is useful enough for you to buy.
If you have any questions about Photo Mechanic or Lightroom then please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, you can learn more about Lightroom with these article and ebook resources.
Mastering Lightroom ebooks
My Mastering Lightroom ebooks show you how to get the most out of Lightroom. They cover the entire workflow process, including post-processing in the Develop module. Click the link to learn more.