Well, there’s quite a lot, as it happens, and it affects the way you store, access and organize your photos.
Most cataloging programs use a ‘referenced’ system. Your image files stay where you are and the software simply references them in their existing location, storing that location along with image thumbnails, previews and any adjustments you’ve made in its catalog database, or ‘library’. The advantage is that you don’t have to move any files or changing your image filing system, and the image catalog is a separate file or set of files that knows where all these images are stored.
This is how Lightroom Classic works and how Capture One catalogs are usually used. Other programs like Exposure X and ON1 Photo RAW also ‘reference’ your photos in their existing location. It’s quick and convenient and makes a lot of practical sense.
‘Managed’ image catalogs are different. Instead of referencing images in their existing location, they import them into a separate internal library which is accessible only to that software and, on the Mac at least, produces a single monolithic library file that contains both the database, thumbnails, previews and editing adjustments together with the images themselves.
Capture One can also be used to create a ‘managed’ database/catalog, it’s how Apple Photos is designed to work and it’s what you have to accept if you use Lightroom (the web version, not Lightroom Classic).
So what’s the point of that? Surely that’s a terrible idea that’s also inefficient and restrictive? Well, it is and it isn’t. Managed catalogs do have advantages that aren’t always immediately apparent.
- Having a single monolithic catalog is at least simple. There’s only one file, not thousands of them scattered across your hard disk.
- Locking your photos away in a managed catalog prevents you from unthinkingly moving, renaming, deleting or editing files outside your cataloguing software and ‘breaking’ the database link. There’s a lot less to go wrong!
- It’s a kind of backup! We should all back up our photo library regularly, and this applies to both original images, edited versions and even our image catalog files. But at the very least, by using a managed catalog you are at least making duplicates of your photos and leaving the originals safe and separate.
Capture One is the only program to offer you a choice between ‘referenced’ and ‘managed’ file handling, and can even do this within the same catalog.
For Lightroom users, the choice is different. It’s Lightroom Classic for referenced files and Lightroom for managed files. But with Lightroom, this choice comes with extra restrictions, notably that Lightroom Classic offers only limited online synchronization, while Lightroom ties you in to expensive cloud storage.
- Lightroom vs Lightroom Classic
- Adobe Lightroom: what is it, where do you get it, what does it cost?
- Cataloguing software explained
Adobe Photography Plans
• Adobe Photography Plan: $9.99/month
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