How Does Your Plug-in Stack Up?

by Micah Walter

Over the weekend I made a couple of quick posts pointing out updates to the handful of plug-ins that are now available for Aperture 1.5. Aperture’s extensible architecture was really one of the best additions that came with the update last year, and third party software developers are jumping on board.

One of those new plug-ins that just became available is an export plug-in designed to allow easy one-step uploading of images from within your Aperture library to Digital Railroad, an online digital storage and image marketing platform. So, I thought I would do a little comparison between the new plug-in for Digital Railroad users, and the previously released plug-in for PhotoShelter, DRR’s obvious rival.

There has been quite a bit of talk on the blogs and photo websites comparing the two services. Both seem to perform essentially the same function, but as competitiveness would dictate, they each do things in their own unique way, making the task of deciding between the two a difficult one.

So for the purposes of this site, which is meant to be all about Aperture, I am going to try and keep myself from comparing the two services, and focus on the plug-ins. I have been a long-time user of both platforms, and have never really been able to decide which one is better or worse. At some point I sort of decided that having both might be a good option. I mean, why not have my pictures in as many places as possible?

So, I will begin with a synopsis of the Digital Railroad Export Plug-in for Aperture. After hearing the news of the plug-in’s release I quickly jumped on the Digital Railroad site and downloaded the install file. The install seemed to go smoothly and before I knew it I had re-launched Aperture and could now see the plug-in available along side the rest of my export options.

I then selected an image; right-clicked and selected the Digital Railroad option from the Export area. This opened the plug-in window where I was able to log in to my Digital Railroad account and, after a few seconds, I was able to see all of my gallery folders I had previously made on the DRR site.

The plug-in gives you the option of selecting one of your existing galleries, or creating a new one. You can also select the Incoming folder, which is DRR’s default folder for newly uploaded images. Being able to create a new folder from within the plug-in is a great timesaver, and means one less step I will have to do online.

The DRR plug-in also gives me the option of uploading a JPEG or TIFF version of my file. Although this makes sense with the DRR way of doing things (they only support JPEG and TIFF) I would have liked to see the ability to select from my JPEG and TIFF presets within Aperture. Without these presets I have no way of controlling what happens with my color profile, black point compensation, or even my output resolution. These seem like obvious necessities to me. The DRR plug-in also allows you to rename your file on export by selecting from one of Aperture’s presets.

On the Photoshelter side of things, the plug-in is very similar, with a few minor additions. For example, you have a preference pane for setting some options, including the ability to make images publicly searchable on upload. This is an option that I think is really important. Without this option, you would have to log in to your Photoshelter site and go through the process of exposing the newly uploaded images to the public. To me, this is just one more step I have to do, and when I am in situations where bandwidth and time are both limited, it could really make my life much easier. Kudos to Photoshelter for this option.

The other Photshelter preferences are helpful but sort of obvious. You can have it save your password (DRR does this automatically) and you can set it to ignore already uploaded files.

The Photoshelter plug-in allows you to chose to upload a version, or a master. This is in keeping with the fact that Photoshelter supports over 400 file formats, so an NEF or PSD master will work. You can also select from any of your Aperture export presets if you choose to upload a version. Renaming options are the same with DRR, using the Aperture presets.

One major workflow issue I see with both sites is that they both lack the ability to stack images. Stacks are one of my favorite features of Aperture. With stacks I can keep all of my versions of an image together with it’s corresponding master. If I use the Edit In An External Editor feature to send a PSD to Photoshop, the PSD gets added to the stack. Even if I create the PSD outside of Aperture, I can always import it later and add it to its master’s stack.

By stacking related images I can find them down the road in a snap. If I search for an image, I not only get the search result, but I get all the related, stacked images, neatly organized together. It would really be great if Photoshelter and DRR supported some type of mechanism like this. This way I could upload my RAW or PSD files which I will never make available to the public, but that do need safe storage online, and I could stack with them, their corresponding, for sale, JPEG or TIFF versions.

I also think both services should have a look at the FlickrExport plug-in for Aperture. The ability to store the images new URL and add keywords such as “DRR,” or “Photoshelter” on upload would be a great add-on.

Personally I think online storage is going to be a serious part of any digital photographer’s workflow in the future. It makes perfect sense to me. With the increasing speed of Internet connections, and the decreasing cost of hard drive space, why wouldn’t we move to online storage? I mean, who wants to store their archive at home?

I’m thinking back to the time I overflowed the bathtub in our house when I was a kid. The water quickly leaked down to the basement and into a file cabinet full of my dad’s negatives. A good chunk of the negatives were ruined, stuck together in a heap of sticky gelatin—yet another reason why I really love digital photography. Get your images online, secure, and safe, as soon as you possibly can!


Jacob Jay
2007-01-17 06:15:57
Hello Micah, you raise some good points in your mini-review. We worked with DRR on their Aperture Plug-in and some of the functions you mention will be under consideration for future versions, I'll also add that a 'Digital Railroad Status' field is created to store the upload status which gives you similar functionality to a keyword added upon upload. BTW I'm surprised you didn't mention the fact that the actual upload process takes place outside of Aperture allowing you to continue working.
2007-01-17 10:17:19
Yes! Thanks for pointing that out. I had noticed the background uploading and meant to make note of it in the review, but, well, I guess I just forgot. So thanks for pointing this out. This is a really nice feature that none of the other plug-ins seem to have, and for that matter it would be really nice if more operations in Aperture took place in the background. Especially the Vault backup!

The status field thing looks promising too, for use as a search term, but still I think URL and keyword additions would be a nice feature, and probably an easy addition.