Like many Mac users I archive my pictures in iPhoto, largely because I enjoy the tight integration this affords with Apple and third-party apps that might want to use them. Having entered the world of geotagging I was disappointed to discover that iPhoto can fail to show coordinates in EXIF (and when shown, oddly lists them under Exposure), does not recognise location data in IPTC headers, and does not provide any “show on map” facility (even Preview does this). Norbert Doerner of West-Forest-Systems then pointed out that I’d completely neglected archive and retrieval of geotagged images in my “ABC” article. This Mac software critique goes some way to redress that omission by considering the role of CDFinder in a Mac user’s geotagging workflow. CDFinder is essentially an asset manager that catalogues any file on any volume (CD-ROM, DVD, USB drive, etc). But media metadata are its speciality, and this indexing powerhouse has recently been extended to handle geotags and provide related functionality.
Disclosure: A single user license for CDFinder 5.1 was provided by West-Forest-Systems for the purposes of this review. I have a personal interest in the success of the Geotag Icon.
Important update on geotagging functionality here.
The review machine was an Intel Mac mini running Mac OS X 10.5.2 (Leopard) with iLife ’08. I shoot in NEF format (Nikon raw) with a D70 and JPEG with an Olympus C-70Z. My current media organization is I expect fairly typical:
- Most of my music is in iTunes;
- Most of my photos are in iPhoto; the rest are mainly in sub-folders within Pictures;
- Videos are within sub-folders in Movies;
- Backups of my iDVD creations are on a USB hard drive as mountable .dmg files;
- Raw images are archived on a second USB hard drive (usually disconnected, in the safe);
- I gladly gave up archiving to stacks of optical media years ago (now using external drives with Time Machine and SuperDuper!)
As a recent convert to geotagging I had only a small selection of geotagged images to experiment with, and these too are kept within my iPhoto library. I have attempted to approach this critique from the point-of-view of a of a hobbyist geotagger with modest storage and retrieval requirements who is looking for hassle-free access to geotagged images for personal projects.
Pricing and support policy
As shareware that is free to download you can try CDFinder before you buy. In unregistered mode there is a 25 catalogue limit but the features are otherwise identifical to the registered version ($US40), and use in trial mode is permitted for 30 days.
“Free updates since 1996″ is nothing short of impressive. I reviewed the change log and that’s 54 updates since the first English version was released. Not many companies can boast of such dedication to their existing customer base. The application menu even has a “Send e-mail to author…” option, again indicating a hands-on commitment to customer support (which is free). That kind of approach wins you loyalty.
Download and installation
The download for CDFinder 5.1 is a Universal Binary, meaning it works on both PowerPC-based and Intel-based Macs (Mac OS X 10.4+). Older versions can be downloaded that support Mac OS 9 through Mac OS X 10.3. It’s worth also noting that a version is also available for Windows, called CDWinder, which may be of particular interest to cross-platform migrators or workers, since CDFinder and CDWinder work together in a network environment (with a business license).
At 3.3MB the disk image for the CDFinder 5.1 download is diminutive by today’s standards. Part of the reason for this is that the User Guide (5.1MB, 185 page PDF, well written, comprehensive, and excellent English translation) must be downloaded separately, but it also reflects the fact that CDFinder isn’t big on eye candy. CDFinder Help in the Help menu isn’t much, and there’s not even a link to the User Guide download. I don’t see why it isn’t bundled, as this is one app where you don’t know half of what it can do unless you’ve read the manual (e.g. too many Mac users forget about the hidden gems often exposed by control/right-clicking).
After opening the disk image you install the application simply by dragging the CDFinder folder onto your hard disk (it doesn’t have to go into Applications; there is no Installer to work through). This folder contains 15 items, which I personally find quite distracting when navigating in Finder column view, and outright annoying when it comes to opening apps from the Applications stack in the Dock. I prefer the executable to sit directly in Applications/ where it can be launched with one click from the stack, and not have to first open the containing folder in the Finder and then double-click on the app (in this case one of 9 items named CDFinder…). A somewhat trivial usability issue like this can be negated simply by moving the app alone into Applications/ and relegating the leftovers to a separate folder (without the custom folder icon, which hinders rather than helps app visibility in the stack).
Note: Moving the app outside of the CDFinder folder will disable the included AppleScripts.
On first launch the app will prompt you for your license information, open a Find dialogue, and show the main CDFinder window (note that the main window will erroneously report Demo license after successful licensing until you re-launch the app). Behind the scenes it also creates several files in ~/Library/Preferences as well as a folder CDFinder Database inside your ~/Documents folder. There is an application preference to change the location of the database to an alternative pre-existing folder, but you cannot create a new folder for that purpose from within the app (functionality you might expect). The database can be assigned to a folder on a USB hard drive (and presumably also a drive attached to an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule), but note that central storage on a file server requires a business license so perhaps this is not technically permitted.
There is no software uninstall option. AppZapper is effective at detecting and removing all the preference files but does not detect the database folder or catalogue data files therein.
When you index a volume or directory (folder), the resulting catalogue stores metadata about files on that volume or in that directory inside a catalogue file—including EXIF and IPTC header information (where geotag data are stored). One benefit of this is that you can search your archives (e.g. “Find all images with ‘Chesterfield’ in IPTC City headers.”) without needing access to the actual images themselves. Furthermore although each volume or directory has it’s own catalogue data file you can search simultaneously across them all, and if you have a whole stack of optical media to index, the “Batch Create” option will take away your pain (all you have to do it keep feeding it disks).
To my surprise CDFinder could create catalogues for directories and enclosed media on my Windows XP Boot Camp partition (“My Pictures”, “My Music”, “My Video”, etc.) It could also directly access the music files stored on my 60GB iPod photo (what cryptic file names!), as well as images imported via the iPod Photo Connector.
You can use the Catalogue button to create a catalogue for any volume or directory (such as Pictures). But you can’t use this method (without changing preferences) to index the images in your iPhoto library: iLife ’08 changed the library format to a package rather than a directory. Interestingly you can get your iPhoto images indexed by CDFinder by dragging the package onto the CDFinder window (or Dock icon). But this is less than satisfactory (see below).
The catalogues created by CDFinder are not by default auto-updating, meaning that if you add to or remove images from your collection that catalogue will be inaccurate. Perhaps this lack of built-in change auto-detection is a hangover from the days when most people archived their images to read-only media, but my hunch is that over a decade later most individual users are working with dynamic data on writable media.
Notice I said “by default”, since you can update your catalogues, either manually or automatically. To do it manually—if you remember—select the catalogue to be updated and click the Catalogue button; a dialogue will ask you if you want to update the existing catalogue or create a new one. Preferably, right/control-click on the relevant catalogue and choose Update…
The automatic option depends upon AppleScript. I’m not sure how many users are in the know about AppleScript and what it’s for (let alone write scripts), so this could readily be overlooked by many users. An example script to automatically catalogue currently mounted server volumes is provided, and this must be renamed Startup Script to execute on application launch.
Automatic catalogue updating needs to be more seamless and transparent to the user. When you bring a writable volume online and update its contents, it would be nice if the catalogue was updated without human intervention—much as Spotlight does. This would obviously require a background process, but a workable compromise might be auto-detection of changes at next launch when the appropriate volume (or local directory) is mounted, or prior to un-mounting. In other words, the app prompts you with a message “The contents of the volume xxx have changed. Do you wish to update the catalogue?” A preference toggle to disable even this prompt for “always update” would be appreciated. Otherwise the onus is on non-AppleScripters to remember to update the catalogue manually after each change, and incomplete data doesn’t make for a “complete solution”.
Segregation vs integration
Being part of an image processing workflow that includes Adobe Bridge and Photoshop and ends with iPhoto, the first thing I wanted to do was to bring the metadata-finding power of CDFinder to bear on the images in my iPhoto library. And I hit a wall.
CDFinder doesn’t recognise iPhoto albums or events, image titles or keywords, or comments in the useful image description field that you may have entered over the years—or playlists and videos in iTunes for that matter (although CDFinder can use your iTunes track database to index audio CDs). That’s not to say it can’t index the actual files in those libraries (see image above), but if you trying browsing a catalogue built from your iPhoto library you end up with lots of junk despite the on-by-default Ignore options in Preferences. You don’t get a browsable list of images sorted by album; what you do get is that multi-level hierarchical filing system:
If you use iLife to manage your digital life (that is, you’re a typical Mac user) you might find this lack of integration off-putting. A number of Mac apps offer a Media Browser that provides browse and search access to media files available to the iLife suite. That CDFinder, a media tracking tool for Mac does not (it appears to be a standard API), is a little odd to say the least.
If integrating the Media Browser is problematic, maybe CDFinder could utilise iPhoto’s sharing ability (iTunes has similar functionality) for iLife integration, or look at how Expression Media manages it?
Curiously CDFinder is so much more capable at the opposite, err… outergration? You can drag any catalogued item out of CDFinder to the OS X Finder, and it will copy the original to the drag destination. You can also drag catalogue images directly into applications like ecto (where it creates an image link and offers to upload it to your server), a layout in Apple Pages, or onto Dock icons (e.g. edit in Photoshop, import to iPhoto).
CDFinder is a powerful data retrieval tool that should make your preferred archival system (e.g. iPhoto) irrelevant. While you can search your iLife media with CDFinder (in-file metadata only), it’s not a practical solution for browsing it. I’m not willing to migrate my almost 6500 images into plain folders for easier catalogue browsing, loosing titles and descriptions, and archive duplication is plain redundant.
Viewing images in the catalogue
By default CDFinder shows icon thumbnails for some images (Use Finder icons is enabled in Preferences > Appearance), and a slider control lets you easily change the thumb size in list or icon view. Icon thumbnails are supported for a variety of image formats, including various raw formats (including NEF). Whatever Preview can display, CDFinder can too. But there’s no Quick Look, and no slide-out preview pane for those wishing to view greater detail.
There is, however, also a checkbox under Preferences > Cataloguing > Previews that provides an alternative to pixelated enlarged Finder icon thumbnails for photo files. To see the changes after enabling photo previews you’ll have to manually rebuild each catalogue; a helpful app would prompt you to do so.
Unfortunately Previews (ranging from 128 to 320px) display only for locally-available files, so you’ll want to keep Use Finder icons enabled too for browsing the catalogue entries of offline images.
CDFinder doesn’t include any built-in viewer or playback capabilities, so photos will open in e.g. Preview, DVD images will mount on the desktop when double-clicked, audio will open and play in e.g. iTunes, etc.
Identification of geotagged images
A default installation of CDFinder will not visually identify any geotagged images in list or icon view, because it isn’t aware of any EXIF information until you change the default preferences. And after you have enabled the Photo Meta-Data checkbox in Preferences > Cataloging > Read Media-Info, and manually rebuilt your catalogues, it still won’t visually identify any geotagged images.
As for image previews, you can read EXIF and other metadata on a per-catalogue basis by control/right-clicking the catalogue, choosing Update… and selecting the appropriate checkbox before clicking OK.
I’m not sure I understand why CDFinder promotes geotagging awareness yet chooses to turn it off by default and then doesn’t advertise this ability once enabled. Some types of metadata are designed to be read by machines not humans, and the Geotag Icon Project was created in part to help make geotag metadata more visible to people. CDFinder allows you to set textual labels, which you could use manually to identify geotagged images when browsing. However, wouldn’t it be much more convenient if they were automatically identified, and why not use the Geotag Icon in a new column for that purpose?
Inspecting the metadata
The Inspector is your window into geotag data on a per-image basis. Click the disclosure triangle for EXIF (Photo Info) and the field for Location should be populated with the appropriate GPS coordinates:
Remember you have to change the default preferences and rebuild the catalogue to see the metadata, although note that in the above example IPTC headers are not being shown in the Inspector window; they should be (as in Preview).
I had repeating issues with the Inspector failing to update when checking/ unchecking the inclusion of image metadata I knew to be there, or sometimes showing more or less metadata. My checkbox preference on individual catalogues didn’t stick either. Curiously duplicating the original images “restored” the EXIF data to the catalogue (restarting/ deleting preferences didn’t), but CDFinder still failed to show IPTC headers (it did, intermittently, for non-geotagged images).
Note that Get Info and Inspector aren’t that same thing. You can open Get Info using the contextual menu (control/right-click > Get Info) or use the Get Info button, but there is no contextual menu for the more informative Inspector, just a button—and even that is missing from the Found Items window). In iPhoto Command-I (or the Get Info menu) opens a window that looks like the twin of CDFinder’s Inspector. In fact CDFinder’s Inspector includes Get Info, with a subset of some of the information in “the other” Get Info. Confused? Me too. I don’t see why it’s necessary to separate out this data into two windows, when a single contextual menu/ button/ Command-I for “Show me everything you know about this item” would serve.
“The most important function in CDFinder is probably the Find operation”, so says the User Guide. The Find interface is familiar from other Mac apps and from Spotlight, and you can combine parameters (up to 16!) to refine your search using the Boolean operators and/ or. CDFinder then goes beyond this, letting you combine complex queries and even manually add items to search results. While this sort of power makes sense in the context of expansive commercial image libraries rich in metadata, it’s something that many single seat license holders will be unlikely to use. Power users may be disappointed, however, they cannot save queries—some of which may be quite involved to recreate. The Smart Folder concept familiar from iTunes, Mail, NetNewsWire and other apps is nowhere to be found.
In terms of finding geotagged images the demands the hobbyist geotagger on the Find dialog are probably going to be a lot more modest. I can see two search senarios here:
- “Find me all the images with ‘SomeCity’ in the IPTC header”;
- “Find me all the images in the proximity of this location (these coordinates)”.
As noted, some geotaging software intelligently adds place names etc in IPTC headers when reading the coordinates from your track log. Sadly my attempt to find “United Kingdom” in IPTC metadata failed (no items found)—until I checked the box Search local volumes using Spotlight.
It was the same story for images located outside of iPhoto. Spotlight indexes both EXIF and IPTC metadata and doesn’t need to be told to use it like CDFinder does. Which begs the question “Why not just use Spotlight?”.
The second scenario isn’t as unlikely as it might sound at first. I know I’ve browsed albums containing several hundred thumbnails more than once looking to see if I have additional images of a place or object. Geotagging makes answering such questions even easier, as there need be no reliance on related keywords, image titles, EXIF dates, or even visual similarity.
Say you’re working on an article and have found a potential image, but wonder if you have others from the same location—perhaps a viewpoint further down the road. The Find contextual menu, which works by control/right-clicking any existing catalogue item, is ideal for this (it should also work in Found Items, but Find was broken here in my tests). It lets you find geotagged images related by country (theoretically; didn’t work for me) in ICTP, by “nearby” GPS location in EXIF-GPS, or on the same date (in EXIF and thus potentially the same vicinity):
Next choose the radius you want to define “nearby” using kilometres, metres, feet or miles:
A small semantic point: Although this feature is described as find All photos taken near… it actually means find All other photos taken near… because your starting image is not included in the Found Items window.
You might also be interested in altitude, especially if your library includes aerial photography. For example “Show me images taken of Manhatten at an elevation of 500m or higher”. The CDFinder does not seem to be aware of altitude (Preview is).
CDFinder could go even further: why stop at data mining this side of your router? Searches could optionally include, for example, Google results for geotags in metadata or microformats, or images from Wikimedia Commons—once geotagging has enough momentum. This would turn CDFinder into a powerful semantic web search engine that finds both “Your stuff” and “Their stuff”.
So you’ve found the geotagged image you want. What’s next?
Displaying map location
We’ve already seen the hidden power of the contextual menu in discovering geo-spatially related photos via Find—but there’s one more trick up this sleeve. Show Geotag (GPS) in will reveal the location of that image in Google Earth (if installed on your Mac), or online using Flickr, Panoramio, MapQuest, or Google Maps. Needless to say that’s more comprehensive that most dedicated geotagging applications.
“Comprehensive” doesn’t stop there. The User Guide instructs you in how to hack a file within the app Resources directory to add additional online services. It’s the first time I’ve come across a developer actually encouraging users to Show Package Contents.
For example, the following edit will geo-locate a photo using my own API key for Google Maps:
"a5" = "koru.synology.me Map"; "b5" = "http://koru.synology.me/map/?lat=%f&lng=%f&zoom=15";
Say you like trekking and publish a newsletter for the local club. With the route diagram already pasted into a Pages document, you next Find relevant images in your catalogue to illustrate it and use the Show contextual menu to help position them on your diagram. Once you know where to put them, you can just drag them out of the catalogue and into position within Pages. Clever, huh?
This feature still needs a bit of work. Here is the result of Show Geotag (GPS) in… Google Maps using CDFinder compared to Locate in Preview:
As you can see Preview added a helpful marker, gives additional visual cues in satellite view, and centred on the exact location using this URL:
CDFinder adds no marker, defaults to the feature-poor Karte (map, since it uses maps.google.de), and worst of all is off with it’s targeting. Look at the coodinates in the URL:
Latitude matches, but not longitude. If you go back to the Inspector comparison (under Inspecting the metadata, above) you’ll see the same image has different coordinates, just as the two URLs above differ. I know there are a number of different notations for recording GPS locations, but something’s getting lost in translation. I know Preview is the more accurate, because that’s where I took the photo.
Geotagging in CDFinder
CDFinder doesn’t “do” geotagging and I’m not of the opinion it should try. The Mac OS X market for geotagging software is already well served, and feature bloat would be detrimental. CDFinder should remain focused on the other end of the workflow: retrieval.
It’s worth noting here that when you use Geotagger to geotag images already in iPhoto, since iPhoto caches EXIF on first import, your new geotagging data will remain unrecognized by iPhoto. CDFinder doesn’t have that problem: if you use Geotagger (or any other geotagging app) to add a location to an image in a catalogue, the updated EXIF information will be available when you update the relevant catalogue.
Metadata should be shared
CDFinder is AppleScript-savvy, so presumably with the right know-how you could write a script to find all photos related by location and create an HTML gallery with displayed EXIF data and a map link, for example. The supplied scripts include one called Export catalog info as HTML, but it’s not called Export info in catalog for a reason.
The Export… menu lets you create a text file containing (among other data) EXIF and IPTC header information from a selected catalogue or even search result (although once again my IPTC data was ignored). This feature could be enhanced by export to HTML (or XML), complete with a preview of the image. This would enable geo-bloggers and geo-photographers to easily publish metadata-rich galleries of their geotagged images.
Although you can plot the location of your image in Google Earth or on several maps, you cannot use CDFinder to share your photos with any of these services. Most of the geotagging software I’ve looked at can at least create a KML file which, especially with GPSBabel+, can be used almost anywhere.
Product name, competition, and design
To understand CDFinder’s place in the market, it helps to know how it came to be. Norbert offers the following historical note:
The whole thing started back in 1995 on one of those days that found me frantically searching my zillions of floppies and few CD-ROMs for one particular file. Of course, I just found it on the last possible disk.
As I learned about each new geotaging feature a little voice kept telling me “No, that can’t be right: this app is for finding and indexing CDs”. The product name doesn’t even hint at geotagging, let alone scream it. The website says “CDFinder now has the most extensive GPS (geotagging) integration available!”… but it’s a secret. Furthermore the “CD” part seems increasingly archaic, and who now keeps archives on multiple CDs when external drives are inexpensive, so much more convenient, and increasingly permanently connected (with the Time Machine incentive)? Re-launching with a new name and new icon might help CDFinder look forward, rather than back. However, trying to neatly categorise CDFinder is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
CDFinder can import catalogues from several other apps: Disk Wizard, Iomaga FindIt, CatFinder, Portents DiskTracker, Catalogue, Disk Recall, Neometric Catalog—indicating these might be considered competition. But Microsoft Expression Media 2 beta ($US300, formerly iView MediaPro) does a number of things on my wish list for CDFinder, such as iPhoto library cataloguing (no albums, but retaining iPhoto titles and descriptions), Quick Look support, catalogue auto-updating, and export to XML or HTML galleries (including EXIF-GPS and IPTC); it plots GPS locations using Windows Live Virtual Earth. This is CDFinder’s real competition, and it’s not in the product comparison charts (granted, it’s very new).
DiskLibrary is closer to CDFinder price-wise, a Staff Pick on Apple Downloads, and can also store photo thumbnails and index EXIF and IPTC metadata, plus has a number of other features in common with CDFinder. It also boasts a more attractive modern user interface.
While not ugly, CDFinder is not especially attractive either. There are some interface elements that have a distinctly “home made” feel, such as icons with jaggies and the off-centre and incongruently coloured buttons in the Find dialogue.
There are a few spelling inconsistencies (e.g. catalogue then cataloging) and some odd capitalisations/ hyphenations (e.g. What is Media-Info? Meta-Data should be Metadata).
I feel obligated to say that for the most part what CDFinder does it does very well. That I make a number of criticisms is not a reflection of it’s overall utility but rather a desire to highlight what could be even better (or in some cases just fixed). Furthermore since my brief was to provide constructive feedback, identify issues and make suggestions to the developer there is no final conclusion, exposition of pros and cons, or overall rating. That Norbert should allow this to take place in public is a credit to his openness and willingness to both listen and respond to customer feedback.
Remarks shared by Norbert Doerner in relation to issues raised by the review:
- Off-centre buttons in the Find window are due to a Carbon bug and will be resolved in a future release;
- A rounding bug affecting some coordinate pairs will be fixed in v5.1.1;
- Options for iPhoto integration are being evaluated;
- Cataloguing of EXIF metadata will be enabled by default in v5.1.1;
- Inability to create a new database folder from within CDFinder is a bug, but the default folder should suit most users;
- Auto-updating of catalogues is slated for v5.5;
- Visual identification of getagged images is being investigated;
- Addition of IPTC headers (e.g. city, country) based on coordinates is being considered;
- Altitude will be recognized in v5.1.1;
- An intermittent bug involving reading of EXIF data is being investigated;
- Saving of Find queries (or Smart Folders) is slated for v5.5;
- Export to KML is being considered.