Emulsion: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Advanced Image Cataloging System With Powerful Features

Emulsion Image Catalog app
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for photography-related applications that can pick up the slack caused by Apple’s abandonment of the pro-am imaging market. With the introduction of Photos as a replacement for iPhoto and the notice to its users that Aperture will no longer receive updates, Apple has stepped back from photography hobbyists or pros that make their living with images.

Luckily, there seems to be many developers who are willing to fill the market niche that Apple is leaving behind. This week's software pick is a candidate for replacing Aperture, Lightroom, or even iPhoto and Photos, for those of you who are looking for a more advanced image management application.


  • Non-destructive editing.
  • Supports external image editors.
  • Can work with Aperture editing plug-ins.
  • Metadata manipulation.
  • Geolocation support.
  • Fast indexing.
  • Extensive cataloging capabilities.


  • No support for building HDR images within the app.
  • Limited watermark support.
  • Primitive iPhoto and Aperture migration support.
  • Requires OS X Yosemite or later.

Emulsion, from The Escapers, has a number of useful capabilities and features that put it well beyond the capabilities of iPhoto or Photos, and move it more into the pro level of cataloging apps, such as Aperture or Adobe’s Lightroom. That being said, Emulsion has a definite 1.x release feel to it, but it also shows a lot of promise. I’m not trying to scare you by saying the app is buggy; it isn't, it's just that features you may expect in a pro-level app may not yet be fully implemented.

Using Emulsion

When you launch Emulsion for the first time, you'll be asked to either open an existing Emulsion catalog or create a new one. It would be nice if the app allowed you to open an existing iPhoto, Photos, Aperture, or Lightroom library, since these are clearly the target users that the folks at The Escapers are looking to capture with Emulsion. Perhaps they'll add this capability in the next version.

There is an import function that seems to recognize the various libraries I mentioned above, but it produced a bit of a hodgepodge of results that would require quite a bit of work to clean up. Manually dragging and dropping photo files or folders full of images worked much better, presenting a nicely organized catalog.

Emulsion allows you to keep your images organized by collections, albums, tags, places, and people, as well as by search queries, which can look at all of the various metadata and ratings you may have assigned to an image.

Emulsion's default layout splits the app into three major working areas. On the left is the catalog pane, which contains all of your images. The center is the work area, which will usually be filled with the image you're working on but can also contain any image resources that require review or editing. This can include geolocation information, allowing you to assign an image to a map, and equipment editing that lets you create a catalog of photography equipment, making it easier to organize images by equipment. The right side of the window contains various adjustment and editing panels for making changes to the selected image.

Final Thoughts

Emulsion feels like a work in progress, but it appears to be headed in the right direction. Among other things, it needs a bit of optimization here and there. While the catalog indexing was very fast, as were the searches that were based on the index, I occasionally ran into spinning rainbow cursors for mundane tasks, such as deleting a place or editing a metadata item.

In the end, Emulsion certainly deserves a look-see; there's a 30-day demo available that we'll let you exercise the app to see if it meets your needs. I expect Emulsion to get better and better, so even if it has a few rough edges now, it's certainly worth watching for improvements.

Emulsion is typically about just under $50. A 30-day demo is available.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.