Hands On With Excire – Digital Asset Management
A Little BackgroundWhen I entered digital photography in 2003, the question quickly arose as to how to best digitally archive my large collection of photos. Initially, we only had a folder structure as physical hard disk storage, and this has remained the same until now: Currently, we store our photos on a RAID tower, with data ordered sequentially by years, months, and days. A second RAID tower and a RAID NAS serve as backup media. Additionally, we had established a standard nomenclature for our files early on, as shown: The file name consists of the year, month, and day of the photo, followed by the photographer's initials and a sequential four-digit number. However, the desire to structure the files logically, to group them, and to search and find them according to various criteria soon arose. Thus began the search for an image database or, as we say today, a Digital Asset Management System (DAM). In addition to image editing with Capture One and Adobe Photoshop, we used iView Media Pro, DAM software that was later taken over by Microsoft and later Phase One but was unfortunately discontinued later. When Adobe Lightroom was released in 2007, it was the integrated software we had been waiting for which could handle the entire workflow — from import, image management, and image editing to printing and much more. Based on our physical storage of the files, a logical structure could be created and maintained, just like in iView Media Pro. This way, everything from private family photos to commercial photos could be structured in any imaginable way. The search and filtering of image information were very intuitive using EXIF and IPTC metadata and also included star ratings and color labels. Over the years, however, in a large database, where I admittedly delete data far too seldom and thus have an estimated 80% data overhead, I only keyworded a maximum of 5-10% of the data. Most often, this happened for specific reasons, such as photos that had to go to an agency, competition, or something similar. This was the point where I became aware of the Lightroom plugin "Excire Search," which is able to analyze photos via AI-methods and automatically keyword them. This is done from a set of 500 keywords (in English or German) and also helps greatly when searching a large image stock. In 2020, I started to work with Capture One again because I always liked the RAW converter a bit better than the one from Adobe. Capture One has a photo library module included for some time now and can import Lightroom catalogs quite well. However, the DAM is unfortunately still inferior to Adobe's, and those who have already worked with Adobe Lightroom will soon miss its performance, especially the DAM functionalities. Furthermore, the Excire Search plugin for Capture One is unfortunately not available. As a result, I recently became aware of a stand-alone version from the same manufacturer, Excire Foto, made by Excire, a pattern-recognition company that originated in Luebeck, Germany. The company's Excire Foto software is intended to be used as a central database, in combination with an image editing tool like Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Capture One, or similar products.
First Steps After InstallationExcire Foto is available for the Apple macOS and Microsoft Windows 10 operating systems. After installation, it is important to assign the following settings as the first step. I made the following screenshots for the article with the English user interface, but for me, my keyword language is German. On the General tab, I set the "UI-Size" to "big" for better readability: On the Collections tab, I selected the option "Always show button menus in gallery thumbnails," so I can see the star rating and the color labels directly: On the Metadata tab, I have all options enabled. Here, the top three options are important, especially "Always use sidecar files." These are the XMP files: It is also very important that in an application like Capture One, the use of XMP sidecar files is enabled and that they are synchronized. Please refer to the manual of your respective software. On the "Labels" tab, please make sure that English terms are used. These must be identical to the terms used by Capture One; otherwise, they will not be displayed consistently. Please note that Capture One offers 7 color labels, while Excire Foto has only 5. This means that you should not use two-color labels in Capture One.
The User InterfaceFirst of all, there is a very good short manual from the manufacturer, which explains the user interface very well. Nevertheless, I will say a few more words about this, as well as describe a few special features in combination with Capture One. At the top of the screen, you can see the typical filter criteria, which are also known in Abobe Lightroom or similar applications. There are star ratings, color labels, selection and rejection flags, various EXIF metadata, and sorting available by three criteria, each in ascending or descending order. Concerning the color labels, I already mentioned above that Excire Foto has only 5 color labels, while "Capture One" has 7; this must be considered. Regarding the EXIF metadata, it is possible to filter by camera and lens data as well as many other technical parameters, just as you can in Adobe Lightroom. This is a very helpful feature. In the middle of the screen, there is a browse view that shows the data of a selected folder or a search or filter view. The size of the images can be changed with a slider on the upper part of the screen. What you don't see, however, are adjustments that have been made to the respective photo in Capture One, for example. Also, you cannot see the variants of a photo here. This is a serious disadvantage compared to a highly-integrated application such as Adobe Lightroom. Double-clicking on a photo displays an enlarged view on the right side of the screen where keywords and metadata are displayed, while the thumbnails are now displayed at the bottom of the screen. Here, as in the Browse view, keywords can be edited, deleted, and added. Afterward, however, it is important to save these data back into the XMP file using the menu item "Photo/Store Metadata"! Under the Folders tab, you can see the number of image files that have been entered into the database. Below that, the directories and subdirectories are shown. Below this is Collections and Groups. In the Collections area, you can combine any number of photos. A Group can contain several Collections: If you click on the Results tab in the upper-left corner, you will be shown five different search criteria: In the upper right corner, you can see four icons which are related to the search results on the left side of the screen:
Keywording and SearchThe keywords are divided into "Photography" and "Content." Here you can find collective terms again (here, in German): You can search for these words or user-defined keywords, but also for dominant colors: The results also show the quality of the AI analysis and keywording. If I search for red cars, for example, the software will find them very reliably, although it is not always possible to distinguish clearly between orange and red cars. However, if I search for green cars, I notice that Excire Foto finds in addition to green cars, also cars of many different colors (e.g., located on a green meadow), even if they are often sorted correctly according to relevance: Furthermore, Content is sometimes recognized incorrectly. For example, drinking glasses in a green drink crate may be interpreted as cylinders of a green car: I also noticed problems with the recognition of sports. Here is the example of field hockey and indoor hockey. This is the type of field hockey sport that is popular in Western and Southern Europe, Oceania, and Argentina, not the ice hockey sport that is popular in North America, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe, where it is often only called hockey. Excire Foto knows the terms field hockey and ice hockey. If I search for field hockey, pretty much all relevant photos will be recognized and found, without any photos related to indoor hockey. Although this is good, you have no chance to find indoor hockey photos in this way. Interesting note: if you search for the existing term "handball," you will find some indoor hockey photos, which surely has to do with the fact that indoor hockey may be played on indoor handball fields, and the software obviously recognizes this. I have now asked the manufacturer if it is possible to train the software on indoor hockey. Nevertheless, the search options are very helpful and have already helped me to find photos much faster than with Capture One. With regard to keywording, however, you will have to start manually at the latest when the pictures go to an agency. Also, for facial searching, there are many possibilities in the "Find Faces" menu, which also returns very good search results: The search function "Find Similar Results" is also interesting and quite reliable:
ConclusionNow that I've worked with Excire Foto for a few days, I can say that it's a very useful tool for working with Capture One, especially when I can't find photos at first, or I don't want to or cannot keyword all of my photos manually because it's too time-consuming. The latter point already brought me great added value when compared to the Lightroom Excire Search plugin. For users who only work with an image editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo and have not used a DAM before, this will also offer considerable added value in terms of organization and search functionality. Those who, like me, have worked for a long time with Adobe Lightroom, and its excellent DAM capabilities extended by Excire Search will miss the integration and homogeneity that Lightroom offers. Besides the fact that I have to switch back and forth between Capture One and Excire Foto, I have to make sure that the metadata on both sides are always synchronized correctly. Here is where you have to pay attention to the different number of color labels! I occasionally would also like to see a better performance of the software. I'm working with a Mac Mini (2014) with 16 GB RAM and 3 GHz i7 CPU, and unfortunately, the software does not work properly from time to time. Another disadvantage that I find to be a hindrance is that you can't see the photos and their variants that have been modified in Capture One. Even though I will continue to use Excire Foto in combination with Capture One, I would like to see Capture One integrate such DAM functions in the future to reach the level of Adobe Lightroom. I think that I share this wish with many other Capture One users. Having an integrated plugin in Capture One, similar to Excire Search in Adobe Lightroom, would be a welcome addition to combine all functions within one software package and to avoid inconsistencies like color labels.
Oliver Ritter-Wolff November 2020