Is DevonThink for me?

I am pretty new to Devonthink. Just downloaded Devonthink Pro yesterday and have been playing around with it. I am not sure if it’s for me. I am a PhD student with tens of thousands of photos of historical documents taken from different archives around the world – in different languages (but mostly in English and French). Someone recommended that I should try Devonthink and see if it can make my life any easier in terms of organizing my photos, finding them on a timely manner, and reading them. I am however pretty organized with my photos. They are in folders and subfolders and I have a spreadsheet that tells me about groups of images (but not single images). So when it comes to organization, I am not sure if Devonthink would bring something more for me. I know that it has a capability to cross reference but is there something more fundamental than that?

What I want from a software like this above all is to be enable me to view my photos (in order to read them) easily, rotate them fast, and go through hundreds of photos within a single file quicker than I do with, let’s say, Preview. So far, rotating photos and flipping through them have not been all that easy for me.

Any recommendations as to what I should do?

There is something else. I thought that DevonThink can read through pdf files and can tell me what are some key words in a single article (in pdf form). But it seems that this feature in DevonThink is not all that accurate. I tried it with one article and the results were not any better than the search option on the pdf file itself.

ronaldkb-- I have research resources similar to yours-- tens of thousands of document photos that I have stored in a file structure that mirrors the structure of the archive from whence they came. I do not keep those pics in DT-- but that is because my photos are of handwritten documents and I have to “improve” them very often to make sense of the script. The individual files are not named in any way other than what the camera gave them-- the file structure describes what they are.

I’m a big proponent of using applications that are really good at what they do for specific tasks. When I transcribe documents, I use two monitors-- and put the pics up on one using photoshop or iphoto or another program designed to view and manipulate photos. On the other monitor, I take my notes in DT. DT offers unparalleled search and classification capabilities for textual data. So, I want my text (which is in Spanish and English) in DT. I put pdfs of articles, books, etc. together with my notes and transcriptions in the database.

When I write, I use Scrivener. When I word process, I use Word. Tools that are designed for specific tasks.

As for your pdf search question-- well, chances are that as your dissertation research develops you’ll want the ability to search tremendous amounts of information for needles-- not within a single PDF. DT does this exceptionally well-- every note you take, plus PDFs of every article you capture from Project Muse or JSTOR or whatever, plus any other bits of text you write or cull or whatever-- you can search all of these together at once. Heck, if you keyword tagged each of the photos, you could search them too!

An option would be to store photos in a file structure in the database along with your notes on them, but still open the photos in an external photo editor. I don’t do this, because my text notes and pdfs are already over 2gig-- so why add the many, many gigs of photos to it too?

And one last thing-- put copies of all your photos in many places. DVDs, external HDs, flickr, wherever. I’m sure you’re already doing this, but it always bears repeating.

If you want to see the DT workflow (albeit with DT 1.xx) that I use for academic writing, I describe it at, a series of posts that have been linked on these forums before.

Thank you so much for your response. It is indeed very very helpful. I think we share the same situation. My photos of documents too are mostly handwritten. And I too think that I should not import them into my DT. Can you tell me what specific photo software do you use in order to view, rotate, etc. your document images? I have been using Preview but I am very unhappy with it. I have iPhoto 5 and that too is not a good photo software. I am about to download Adobe Photoshop just because you seem to suggest that in your note.

So you do think that DT has a great keyword search capabilities within pdf’s and doc’s, right? I should try it with several pdf’s to see how the search performances turn out.


Photoshop isn’t what you are looking for, you are asking for rather basic manipulations and the important thing for you is organization (if I understand things correctly). So what you need is an application that enables you to assigns keywords to photos, put them into folders, create smart folders etc. In other word you need a media/photo organizer - there are several available (see for example - so I would suggest that you take a look at the following software (they are all software for mainly organizing photos):

  • Aperture (Apple - pro level)
  • Lightroom (Adobe - pro level)
  • Picasa (Google - I personally dislike it)

and then there is one that probably fits your requirements the best: iView Media Pro. Unfortunately it was bought by Microsoft and is now called Microsoft Expression Media. I used to use iView before it was bought my Microsoft and I think that it would fit you requirements pretty well (it didn’t fit mine and I’m now using Aperture instead). I have not used the software since Microsoft bought it so I have no idea how well it work.

Anyway, Picasa is free (but have an horrible UI in my opinion) and there are demo versions of both Aperture and Lightroom (they both have a lot of controls for adjusting photos which you might not need, but are really good at organizing tens of thousands of photos)

Thank you so much for the software suggestions but I actually don’t need the photo software to organize my photos. I have already organized them into folders and subfolders, so I don’t need a software to change the organization or reorganize my photos. I need something with which I would be able to only view my documents in a more friendly and efficient way and above all faster than iPhoto or Preview. The software in question should also be able to rotate photos, focus on certain parts of the photos, and save the rotations and focus quickly. That’s all I need in a photo software. Any suggestions? I guess Adobe Photoshop is far too sophisticated for my purposes, huh?

You can use both Aperture and Picasa with your current folder setup (read the manual for aperture before trying) … I used to try to organize my photos manually before using Aperture but I couldn’t handle it - much easier using Aperture. I haven’t used Lightroom myself but I suspect that it can handle existing folder structures also.

Photoshop is an application for fairly advanced image manipulation and is a clear overkill.

Since I use Aperture I haven’t really looked at the simpler programs but there are several, just go to and search.

But I still think that Aperture/Lightroom/Picasa can be of interest for you.

@jem-- photoshop is overkill, but the lite version, photoshop elements, will do what ronaldkb is looking to do. The problem with allowing iphoto, lightroom, or aperture to manage the photos is that the file structure is very, very important for preserving an individual pic’s place within the archive. It is extremely important that the file never become un-anchored from it’s position in that hierarchy, thus loading pics into a system that autofiles based on date or something would be bad. Very bad.

But, this is something specific to the task of digital pics of archival documents.

@ronaldkb-- I have used a number of different programs along the way. When I was doing my diss research and writing in 2003-2006 I was on a wintel machine, and I used Corel Painter X along with Scholar’s Aid. I liked Corel quite a bit-- the ui and the algorithms it used to correct contrast, sharpness, saturation, etc. worked very well with the conditions I had photographed my documents in.

In 2006 I switched to a mac and haven’t really settled on an app yet. I’ve used aperture, iphoto, preview, photostudio (came with a canon camera), gimp (open source), photoshop elements, etc. The best thing to do is to play around with a few and see which does most easily and elegantly what you’re looking for.

I needed the ability to zoom at 1-step designated percentages (not all programs do that), and the most control possible over contrast, hue, saturation, sharpness, etc. I also like to have a folder-- ie, an individual document-- to load as a batch of images.

@parezcoydigo As you probably know there is no need to let Aperture manage the photos, you can have the photos externally. But I understand if Aperture is not the ideal solution.

Here are a couple of apps that I found when I did a quick search at MacUpdate but I have no idea if they are useful for this task:

There are more but these were the two first that I founf

There’s Deep, however …

Deep doesn’t appear to have even basic image editing capabilities (yet).

There are dozens of image viewer apps, with varying degrees editing capabilities, like jem mentioned. Here’s a free one I found that sounds like it might meet your requirements:

Phoenix Slides

Version 1.2.5 released 2009 March 23, a sign it’s still being actively developed. Many of 'em listed on MacUpdate/VersionTracker haven’t been recently updated so further development might have been abandoned. I’d generally prefer using software that looks like it’ll have a future, minimally at least enough to survive OS X upgrades.

Sure. My problem with Aperture was wholly aesthetic. It didn’t work well with the way I like to view and manipulate my doc photos. But, that probably has more to do with habits than it does with anything else.

Also, some programs have a lighter touch than others-- and my laptop only has 2gig to play with. I’m actually returning to Quito again this summer for more collecting. It’ll be interesting-- because the nature of both cameras and storage options have changed quite a bit since just 2002. I would have loved a 500gig pocket drive back then.

Suffice to say, I think we should use tools designed to do specific tasks and not look at 1 app do do everything. DT does some things very, very well- and it’s perfect for those things.

Speaking of which-- @ronaldkb, you asked about keyword searching. I’m guessing what you mean is looking for specific terms that exist inside your pdfs and text documents? I ask because ‘keyword’ has increasingly become synonymous with ‘keyword tag’. Tagging is a feature that is forthcoming still, I think, in DT2.0. Some people work that way- but I’m not that much into tagging. Because DT is so good at finding strings, now has boolean searching, etc., I find that I can find anything I need in my database, and often things I didn’t realize would work for a given section of writing.

For example-- I can find every instance in which a particular individual is named, say “Ramon de Borja”, instantly. Or, adulterio-- which with fuzzy search will give me adulterino, adultery, adultera, and adulterio, and I can then group together all the cases I have with those terms.

I’m surprised no one mentioned the venerable “Swiss Army Knife” of Mac graphics applications, GraphicConverter. This one does simple photo editing, has a batch mode, allows one to browse Finder folders of photos, etc. The current version is 6.4.

If I had to browse photos of text, I think the GraphicConverter Slideshow mode’s control of area and magnification using the Mighty Mouse scroll wheel (in version 6.x) would be useful, especially if the printed or handwritten text were small. Moving around the contents of a folder in Slideshow mode either by clicking or using the left/right arrow keys is fast.

My personal opinion of Graphic Converter, which I use now and then, is that is an excellent program for converting between various image formats or for small editing tasks. But the UI is quite clunky and it’s no fun spending any longer time working with the program.

That’s the main reason I didn’t mention it in my post before Bill’s.

Bill I hate to say this, but you may have hit a very sore spot with some UI issues and perceptions. Graphics Converter is a great example of a program which is simply amazing in terms of the functionality it has and contains a user interface so incredibly awful, that I gave up on using it years ago when it became apparent it would remain stuck in some weird OS/9 looking like its built from visual basic land.

If you can look at graphics converter and think its a neat program and the rest of devon technologies shares your opinion. Then that goes a long way towards explaining the current UI for devonthink :open_mouth: :open_mouth: :cry:

If 2.0 is the completely overhauled modern interface, I would really hate to see what it looked like before :open_mouth:

I think your needs may be deeper than this, but to view my (many) pictures’ folders I normaly use a little, but fast and very stable, app called ViewIt. I’ve been using it for more than 2 years now and it serves the visualizing (and rotating, rename, convert…) process very well.

It’s shareware and you can try it before buying (22$).

From its site:
OS X native, fast and easy to use image viewer that supports most popular image formats: JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PSD , RAW, DNG, animated GIF and more. Important ViewIt features include: unique, intuitive interface, full screen mode, slide shows, quick image sorting, printing, digital cameras and EXIF tags. Currently includes plugins: convert file format, create web pages, Finder previews, lose less JPEG transformations, shell scripts support, rename sequentially, create contact sheets.

I don’t want to put words in ronaldkb’s mouth, but the issue for academics using digital photos of archival documents, and particularly handwritten documents (for me, this means dealing with the paleography of 17th and 18th century Spanish notaries) is not one of batch processing file conversion.

What we need to be able to do is manipulate image characteristics to highlight difficult-to-read script-- script that is often difficult to read on the original manuscript. In this respect, digital photos above 5mp can actually be superior to the original because you can manipulate the contrast, hue, saturation, brightness, sharpness, etc., etc. In addition to that, though, you’re often talking about maintaining a file structure of thousands and thousands of pics that are anchored to one another as they are in the folios of the archive. So, what works best in this case is a program that allows one to interact with the document pics in that manner.

Ultimately, this is all an aside for a DT forum, except that I would suggest as I have before to ronaldkb and others that DT has a place in academic workflows as a text research database.

As for comments about DT"s UI-- I get tired of seeing this discussion creep into wholly unrelated topics. If you want to complain about DT’s UI, then do it in threads, which belong in the suggestions forum, about DT’s UI. It just doesn’t help the discussion to make snide comments about Bill or the DT team’s UI preferences. :imp:

What does UI stand for?

Well said. So in the end I basically should not use DT for images of documents. I should try find some appropriate photo software. (Which brings me to this question: is there a website that would review different photo softwares that are out there? I realize that there are tones of photo softwares and they seem very much like one another. I wish I could find some helpful reviews of different softwares, so that I would locate the appropriate application with ease and speed.) As for pdfs and docs – DT is made for them really. This is what I may conclude at the end, huh?

Another issue: I have 10 GB of pdf and other text documents (books, articles, personal notes, etc.). I am afraid if I add all of them to DT, they would make DT very slow. I know that I could have separate databases and close one while using another so that way I would speed up the process but I wanted to know what others think about large size of documents in DT. With what size does DT function best?

Another issue is that it’s a bit disconcerting to see that when I add documents to DT I would not be able to physically locate them somewhere on my computer without going back to DT. What if DT crashes at some point? What if it begins to malfunction at a time that I don’t have access to my backup copies? How do you deal with the idea that you really don’t have separate access to your data other than going through DT?

Yes, by “keywords” I meant simply looking for specific terms within my files. How do you do that? Do you just type in the words in the search menu? Do you go to Concordance? How do you find specific words within your documents?

On a slightly relevant topic, I was hoping that DT would be able to download pdf files from the Internet or that when I am downloading them from my Firefox browser, DT would automatically pick up the file or in any case there would be an easier way to import files from the Internet to DT instead downloading them into your Desktop or Download folders and then importing them into DT. Any thoughts on that?

User Interface