Use of Catalogs

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astevens54
astevens54 Regular Member • Posts: 300
Use of Catalogs
2

I've avoided using catalogs for a long time. My understanding is that all a catalog is, is basically a file with metadata for your pictures and where they are located. I understand the benefits. What are the disadvantages of using catalogs? Thanks in advance.

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dj_paige
dj_paige Senior Member • Posts: 2,399
Re: Use of Catalogs
4

astevens54 wrote:

I've avoided using catalogs for a long time. My understanding is that all a catalog is, is basically a file with metadata for your pictures and where they are located. I understand the benefits. What are the disadvantages of using catalogs? Thanks in advance.

I'm not going to play the game of only talking the disadvantages of catalogs; I'm going to talk about both advantages and disadvantages.

So first, I want to modify your "understanding" for completeness. A catalog is indeed a "file with metadata", but its more than that ... it is a database with metadata. Because it is a database, you get certain advantages. Databases allow you to search more quickly, and also allow you to organize your photos in ways that would not be possible without a database. So for example, if you have folders for different families of people, for example a folder for the Smith family, and a folder for the Jones family, and then you have a photo of Hanna Smith and Mary Jones, which folder do you put it in? With a database, you can assign the photo to both the Smith family and the Jones family, not possible without a database (unless you want to duplicate the photo, not recommended). And of course, there are zillions of other cases. Plus you can search along many hierarchies, such as date, family, geographic location, photo content, etc. and you can search by MANY hierarchies (e.g. I want to find all photos of churches in Italy taken in 2018) and I can search across multiple folders easily (e.g. I want to find all photos taken in New York State which probably are scattered across dozens of folders).

The disadvantages of databases/catalogs is that it is another layer of tools that you have to learn and use. For some types of photo collections, catalogs are not needed (for example, if your photos are birds categorized by genus and species, and you don't have any other photos) then you probably can do everything you need with folders. If you just photograph weddings, all you need is a folder (with possible subfolders) by the name of the wedding.

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Jim B (MSP) Forum Pro • Posts: 10,762
Re: Use of Catalogs
4

dj_paige wrote:

astevens54 wrote:

I've avoided using catalogs for a long time. My understanding is that all a catalog is, is basically a file with metadata for your pictures and where they are located. I understand the benefits. What are the disadvantages of using catalogs? Thanks in advance.

I'm not going to play the game of only talking the disadvantages of catalogs; I'm going to talk about both advantages and disadvantages.

So first, I want to modify your "understanding" for completeness. A catalog is indeed a "file with metadata", but its more than that ... it is a database with metadata. Because it is a database, you get certain advantages. Databases allow you to search more quickly, and also allow you to organize your photos in ways that would not be possible without a database. So for example, if you have folders for different families of people, for example a folder for the Smith family, and a folder for the Jones family, and then you have a photo of Hanna Smith and Mary Jones, which folder do you put it in? With a database, you can assign the photo to both the Smith family and the Jones family, not possible without a database (unless you want to duplicate the photo, not recommended). And of course, there are zillions of other cases. Plus you can search along many hierarchies, such as date, family, geographic location, photo content, etc. and you can search by MANY hierarchies (e.g. I want to find all photos of churches in Italy taken in 2018) and I can search across multiple folders easily (e.g. I want to find all photos taken in New York State which probably are scattered across dozens of folders).

The disadvantages of databases/catalogs is that it is another layer of tools that you have to learn and use. For some types of photo collections, catalogs are not needed (for example, if your photos are birds categorized by genus and species, and you don't have any other photos) then you probably can do everything you need with folders. If you just photograph weddings, all you need is a folder (with possible subfolders) by the name of the wedding.

Nicely summarized.

For those of us with over 150,000 photos in a catalog, of subjects ranging from a macro of an ant to a super moon, from grand kids to grand parents,  taken all over the world - a catalog is critical to finding a photo.

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dj_paige
dj_paige Senior Member • Posts: 2,399
Re: Use of Catalogs
1

Jim B (MSP) wrote:

dj_paige wrote:

astevens54 wrote:

I've avoided using catalogs for a long time. My understanding is that all a catalog is, is basically a file with metadata for your pictures and where they are located. I understand the benefits. What are the disadvantages of using catalogs? Thanks in advance.

I'm not going to play the game of only talking the disadvantages of catalogs; I'm going to talk about both advantages and disadvantages.

So first, I want to modify your "understanding" for completeness. A catalog is indeed a "file with metadata", but its more than that ... it is a database with metadata. Because it is a database, you get certain advantages. Databases allow you to search more quickly, and also allow you to organize your photos in ways that would not be possible without a database. So for example, if you have folders for different families of people, for example a folder for the Smith family, and a folder for the Jones family, and then you have a photo of Hanna Smith and Mary Jones, which folder do you put it in? With a database, you can assign the photo to both the Smith family and the Jones family, not possible without a database (unless you want to duplicate the photo, not recommended). And of course, there are zillions of other cases. Plus you can search along many hierarchies, such as date, family, geographic location, photo content, etc. and you can search by MANY hierarchies (e.g. I want to find all photos of churches in Italy taken in 2018) and I can search across multiple folders easily (e.g. I want to find all photos taken in New York State which probably are scattered across dozens of folders).

The disadvantages of databases/catalogs is that it is another layer of tools that you have to learn and use. For some types of photo collections, catalogs are not needed (for example, if your photos are birds categorized by genus and species, and you don't have any other photos) then you probably can do everything you need with folders. If you just photograph weddings, all you need is a folder (with possible subfolders) by the name of the wedding.

Nicely summarized.

For those of us with over 150,000 photos in a catalog, of subjects ranging from a macro of an ant to a super moon, from grand kids to grand parents, taken all over the world - a catalog is critical to finding a photo.

I think the number of photos is somewhat irrelevant here, it's the content that determines if a catalog would be helpful or not. If the content is just birds, or just weddings, in other words, "one-dimensional" content, I don't see catalogs helping much. When, as in your case, you have widely varying content, and a photo can be in two or more "dimensions", I think catalogs are very helpful.

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astevens54
OP astevens54 Regular Member • Posts: 300
Re: Use of Catalogs

Thanks for your comments, I do have varying interest in photography so I do see the benefit of using catalogs. Correct me if I'm wrong. The catalog does nothing physically to the photo itself other the to log it into the database which would have no impact on other photography tools I use. This also means each of those tools could have an independent catalog as well not impacting the others?

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dj_paige
dj_paige Senior Member • Posts: 2,399
Re: Use of Catalogs
1

astevens54 wrote:

Thanks for your comments, I do have varying interest in photography so I do see the benefit of using catalogs. Correct me if I'm wrong. The catalog does nothing physically to the photo itself other the to log it into the database which would have no impact on other photography tools I use.

This is how Lightroom Classic works, I can't speak about other catalogs. (Although I seem to remember that Apple Photos ... or was it earlier software from Apple ... grabbed your original and stored it away in some "catalog" so you couldn't actually find the photo on your hard disk)

This also means each of those tools could have an independent catalog as well not impacting the others?

As far as I know, different tools have different catalogs. The metadata in Catalog 1 is unknown to Catalog 2, so they are essentially independent. Having a specific photo in more than 1 catalog would be a bad idea, in my opinion, because then it could possibly have different metadata in each edits, which then leads to confusion.

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Paige Miller

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KCook
KCook Forum Pro • Posts: 19,313
Re: Use of Catalogs

astevens54 wrote:

Thanks for your comments, I do have varying interest in photography so I do see the benefit of using catalogs. Correct me if I'm wrong. The catalog does nothing physically to the photo itself other the to log it into the database which would have no impact on other photography tools I use. This also means each of those tools could have an independent catalog as well not impacting the others?

Mostly, yes.  Some DAMs (catalogs) also work with corresponding XMP files for RAW files.  In theory, via XMP, these DAMs may interact, for good or for bad.  A pretty special case, I doubt many users have such a requirement.  It's a marathon, but this thread digs into the nuts-and-bolts of DAMs, including XMP -

Looking for feedback on Software Reviews

Kelly Cook

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dj_paige
dj_paige Senior Member • Posts: 2,399
Re: Use of Catalogs

The catalog does nothing physically to the photo itself...

Since you don't actually specify if you are talking about RAW images or image files in general, Lightroom Classic can save metadata to image files that are not RAW, but it never changes the image portion of the file. Now, we can argue semantics and say "Is it the catalog that is modifying the file, or is it the user who gave the command to modify or save the metadata?" I think it is wise to view it as the user tells Lightroom Classic to modify or save the metadata to the photo files. I run into too many people who think Lightroom Classic does things on its own to the photo files ...

But the image portion of the file ... the actual pixels recorded by the camera ... are never changed by Lightroom Classic.

Do other catalog software have similar rules? I think so, but I can't say 100%.

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Paige Miller

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astevens54
OP astevens54 Regular Member • Posts: 300
Re: Use of Catalogs

dj_paige wrote:

The catalog does nothing physically to the photo itself...

Since you don't actually specify if you are talking about RAW images or image files in general, Lightroom Classic can save metadata to image files that are not RAW, but it never changes the image portion of the file. Now, we can argue semantics and say "Is it the catalog that is modifying the file, or is it the user who gave the command to modify or save the metadata?" I think it is wise to view it as the user tells Lightroom Classic to modify or save the metadata to the photo files. I run into too many people who think Lightroom Classic does things on its own to the photo files ...

But the image portion of the file ... the actual pixels recorded by the camera ... are never changed by Lightroom Classic.

Do other catalog software have similar rules? I think so, but I can't say 100%.

Both RAW and JPG.

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Jim B (MSP) Forum Pro • Posts: 10,762
Re: Use of Catalogs

dj_paige wrote:

Jim B (MSP) wrote:

dj_paige wrote:

astevens54 wrote:

I've avoided using catalogs for a long time. My understanding is that all a catalog is, is basically a file with metadata for your pictures and where they are located. I understand the benefits. What are the disadvantages of using catalogs? Thanks in advance.

I'm not going to play the game of only talking the disadvantages of catalogs; I'm going to talk about both advantages and disadvantages.

So first, I want to modify your "understanding" for completeness. A catalog is indeed a "file with metadata", but its more than that ... it is a database with metadata. Because it is a database, you get certain advantages. Databases allow you to search more quickly, and also allow you to organize your photos in ways that would not be possible without a database. So for example, if you have folders for different families of people, for example a folder for the Smith family, and a folder for the Jones family, and then you have a photo of Hanna Smith and Mary Jones, which folder do you put it in? With a database, you can assign the photo to both the Smith family and the Jones family, not possible without a database (unless you want to duplicate the photo, not recommended). And of course, there are zillions of other cases. Plus you can search along many hierarchies, such as date, family, geographic location, photo content, etc. and you can search by MANY hierarchies (e.g. I want to find all photos of churches in Italy taken in 2018) and I can search across multiple folders easily (e.g. I want to find all photos taken in New York State which probably are scattered across dozens of folders).

The disadvantages of databases/catalogs is that it is another layer of tools that you have to learn and use. For some types of photo collections, catalogs are not needed (for example, if your photos are birds categorized by genus and species, and you don't have any other photos) then you probably can do everything you need with folders. If you just photograph weddings, all you need is a folder (with possible subfolders) by the name of the wedding.

Nicely summarized.

For those of us with over 150,000 photos in a catalog, of subjects ranging from a macro of an ant to a super moon, from grand kids to grand parents, taken all over the world - a catalog is critical to finding a photo.

I think the number of photos is somewhat irrelevant here, it's the content that determines if a catalog would be helpful or not. If the content is just birds, or just weddings, in other words, "one-dimensional" content, I don't see catalogs helping much. When, as in your case, you have widely varying content, and a photo can be in two or more "dimensions", I think catalogs are very helpful.

I know a number of birders with 10s of thousands of bird photos who will disagree. In addition to the species, there is the sex, age, location, time of year, environment, etc that they want to keep track of. They use a catalog.

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dj_paige
dj_paige Senior Member • Posts: 2,399
Re: Use of Catalogs

Jim B (MSP) wrote:

dj_paige wrote:

Jim B (MSP) wrote:

dj_paige wrote:

astevens54 wrote:

I've avoided using catalogs for a long time. My understanding is that all a catalog is, is basically a file with metadata for your pictures and where they are located. I understand the benefits. What are the disadvantages of using catalogs? Thanks in advance.

I'm not going to play the game of only talking the disadvantages of catalogs; I'm going to talk about both advantages and disadvantages.

So first, I want to modify your "understanding" for completeness. A catalog is indeed a "file with metadata", but its more than that ... it is a database with metadata. Because it is a database, you get certain advantages. Databases allow you to search more quickly, and also allow you to organize your photos in ways that would not be possible without a database. So for example, if you have folders for different families of people, for example a folder for the Smith family, and a folder for the Jones family, and then you have a photo of Hanna Smith and Mary Jones, which folder do you put it in? With a database, you can assign the photo to both the Smith family and the Jones family, not possible without a database (unless you want to duplicate the photo, not recommended). And of course, there are zillions of other cases. Plus you can search along many hierarchies, such as date, family, geographic location, photo content, etc. and you can search by MANY hierarchies (e.g. I want to find all photos of churches in Italy taken in 2018) and I can search across multiple folders easily (e.g. I want to find all photos taken in New York State which probably are scattered across dozens of folders).

The disadvantages of databases/catalogs is that it is another layer of tools that you have to learn and use. For some types of photo collections, catalogs are not needed (for example, if your photos are birds categorized by genus and species, and you don't have any other photos) then you probably can do everything you need with folders. If you just photograph weddings, all you need is a folder (with possible subfolders) by the name of the wedding.

Nicely summarized.

For those of us with over 150,000 photos in a catalog, of subjects ranging from a macro of an ant to a super moon, from grand kids to grand parents, taken all over the world - a catalog is critical to finding a photo.

I think the number of photos is somewhat irrelevant here, it's the content that determines if a catalog would be helpful or not. If the content is just birds, or just weddings, in other words, "one-dimensional" content, I don't see catalogs helping much. When, as in your case, you have widely varying content, and a photo can be in two or more "dimensions", I think catalogs are very helpful.

I know a number of birders with 10s of thousands of bird photos who will disagree. In addition to the species, there is the sex, age, location, time of year, environment, etc that they want to keep track of. They use a catalog.

Yes, I understand. If the photographer is just keeping track of genus and species, I would call that "one-dimensional", and a catalog might no help much. But what you are describing (sex, age, location, time of year, weather, etc.) is more than one-dimensional, and a catalog is very helpful.

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Paige Miller

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Abbott Schindler Senior Member • Posts: 2,775
Re: Use of Catalogs
2

I think this discussion, while good, is missing an important aspect. I just read the entire thread, and it seems focused on managing image files and the metadata associated with them. The metadata can include what the camera embedded in the original files + metadata added by the user (keywords, descriptions, ratings, color tags, locations, etc.). BTW: filesystems (how macOS, Windows, Linux, etc. keep track of files) also can be used as basic catalogs, and the respective OSes have very nice search capabilities that can (at least on Macs) be augmented with third party software.

What I haven't noticed is the important "what else" catalogs store (unless you're using purely a cataloging application). If you're talking about an image processing application that includes a catalog ("DAM") like LR, Capture One, Apple Photos, etc., the catalog also includes metadata that describes the adjustments made to images. If you make several differently processed versions (aka virtual copies, variants, etc.) of an image, the catalog keeps track of the versions as well as the originals. Thus the catalog is really a database repository containing everything about your photos and what you've done with them.

This last part is really important, in part because each manufacturer's program uses its own proprietary catalog database (necessary because each application uses its own algorithms for processing adjustments). This isn't a problem as long as you stick with one program, but if you later change to a totally different one (LR to Capture One, or Apple Photos to LR, for example), your textual metadata will likely transfer, but adjustments and organizational constructs (smart folders, collections, etc.) may or may not transfer. There's nothing a user can do about this that I know of.

Also, while most DAM applications oare based on how the original files are organized on disk ("referenced" catalogs), some also offer the option to store image files into their own folder (in macOS it's called a "package"); these are "managed" catalogs.

So as you think about whether you want a DAM, keep in mind that some things in the catalog may not transfer to other programs. For example, I've organized my catalog to look exactly like my on-disk folder structure and avoided using in-catalog constructs that may not be interoperable with other DAMs I may use in the future.The exception is when I don't care if the the smart folder or whatever will transfer. While my approach may not fully use all capabilities of my preferred DAM, it ensures that as much of my catalog as possible can be transferred to other software in the future if needed.

KCook
KCook Forum Pro • Posts: 19,313
Re: Use of Catalogs

most DAM applications oare based on how the original files are organized on disk

The user may choose to organize his DAM that way.  But I'm not so sure any DAMS do this by default.

Kelly

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paure1 Regular Member • Posts: 218
Re: Use of Catalogs

Hi,
As a LR user for many years and constant user of LR's keyword/tagging routine I see this conversation concentrating only on the  catalog properties.

What I haven't seen is the associated and major advantage of catalogs is that the keywords/tags are added to every photo file exported from the application. Note that you can export without keywords/tags. I have ~9000 keywords in my catalog and while I have a problem with LR's tagging routine (only displays 18 keywords) nothing is perfect!

With LR I usually export ~3MB jpg which is stored with the RAW file and I also use Picasa and can use that to access any, or combination of the 300k photo's in my collection using the keyword search. Unfortunately hardly any other program/viewer is as efficient as Picasa and I have tried most.

Allan

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DerKeyser Contributing Member • Posts: 736
Re: Use of Catalogs

I think it’s important to distinguish between what applications (using catalogs) we are talking about. Some delivers monumental advantages by using a catalog for EVERYTHING, fx. Like Lightroom Classic - very well explained above

Others delivers much less so because they make a sort of “hybrid” with a catalog but also creates new image files with every edit, and sidecar files with additional metadata.

But your real question was about disadvantages, and there really is only two:

1: The first is time. It takes time to import/add/index new image files so they are present in your catalog and ready for editing. That would be a non-issue for most but it can be a major obstacle for others. It dependes heavily upon how you shoot and edit (and to some extend the speed of your computer): Those with hundres of images pr. Session where they quickly pick only a few images to edit, tend to dislike this waste of time waiting for import.
There’s also time spent keywording and organising keywords.
Mind you - a catalog can make great sense even if you don’t use keywords. Just the fact you can “meta” organize in folders without moving/coping files - and that images can belong to several folders - is worth it.

2: The second disadvantage is where most people derive their dislike of catalogs from: Complexity
If you are not comfortable with your software and how the catalog feature works, it adds a layer of complexity that leads to the inability to understand whats going on. Then mistakes happen and data gets lots.

So you really should ask yourself: Do I understand the concept of a catalog/database with metadata and pointers to the actual image files? Are you willing to accept that by using catalogs you should ALWAYS add/move/delete image files within your DAM unless you really know what you are doing. Otherwise inconsistensies arise, and when files are lost you always blame the software even though it’s 99.999% certain it was your fault.

PS: I dont accept the “incompatibility” argument that says you cannot move to different software. Sure you can, you export all your files - orginals and copies with edits baked in -, and you are in the EXACT same situation as from any other non catalog software. You just had the pleasure of having A LOT of extra features and advantages while you were using a catalog. If being able to move in the future is REALLY important to you, then you just have make a decission when starting with catalogs and either select:
1: Not to use the some of the advanced features cataloging gives you, because you want to be able to migrate to a simple files/folder based system. Mainly it’s only the meta organising in folders that you have to stay away from. Keywords and other metadata works fine when exported to sidecar XMP files an image copies with edits baked in.
2: Accept that you will have many physical copies of the same file in different folders in the new software, and then export your meta organisation as filesystem folders when migrating.

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Abbott Schindler Senior Member • Posts: 2,775
Re: Use of Catalogs
1

DerKeyser wrote:

PS: I dont accept the “incompatibility” argument that says you cannot move to different software. Sure you can, you export all your files - orginals and copies with edits baked in -, and you are in the EXACT same situation as from any other non catalog software.

[The rest of this post is above, no need to quote it.]

Yes, it's true that you can keep all edits by exporting processed files as [preferably] TIFF or [less desirable for many things]  JPEG. The disadvantages of this approach, though, include:

- Additional files to keep track of (not a big deal for most people)

- Once baked in, all changes made in your Raw processor are, well, "baked in" and you can't go back and modify. You need to either edit the new "baked" file, or clone it and edit that, or start over in your new Raw processor. Either way, you've lost the original, reversible, step-wise work done in the original Raw processor.

- TIFFs consume significantly more disk space than Raw + adjustments made in LR, etc. This could be a big deal. For example, an EOS 5Ds R Raw file consumes ~50-70 MB of disk space, while a 16-bit TIFF from that file is a whopping 306 MB. Smaller Raw files scale similarly. So if I wanted to migrate from one DAM to another and bake in my edits, that one Ds R image would consume 350-375 MB of disk space. Multiply that appropriately if you have multiple virtual copies in your Raw processor. For example, different crops, color and B&W versions, and so on. So while that one Raw file + several virtual copies could predictably consume 700-1000 MB of disk space.

While changing Raw developing apps is definitely doable, appropriate forethought needs to be given to the migration scenario, including what one wants to do with edits already done.

Abbott Schindler Senior Member • Posts: 2,775
Re: Use of Catalogs

KCook wrote:

most DAM applications oare based on how the original files are organized on disk

The user may choose to organize his DAM that way. But I'm not so sure any DAMS do this by default.

With the couple of DAMs I've used, one points the software at the folder/subfolder structure to be cataloged, and the resulting DAM structure coincides with on-disk.

At least that was the way LR and Apple Aperture worked when I used them, and it's what Capture One Pro (which I now use) worked. Apple Photos, otoh, moves everything into its own "managed catalog" and organizes things in some "Apple proper" way that I find logical, but not very useful. I'm sure there are other DAMs that do other things.

astevens54
OP astevens54 Regular Member • Posts: 300
Re: Use of Catalogs

Thanks everyone... I made the jump to catalogs earlier today and am not looking back. I like what I see so far. Definitely nice for organizing your pictures.

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KCook
KCook Forum Pro • Posts: 19,313
Re: Use of Catalogs
1

Abbott Schindler wrote:

KCook wrote:

most DAM applications oare based on how the original files are organized on disk

The user may choose to organize his DAM that way. But I'm not so sure any DAMS do this by default.

With the couple of DAMs I've used, one points the software at the folder/subfolder structure to be cataloged, and the resulting DAM structure coincides with on-disk.

At least that was the way LR and Apple Aperture worked when I used them, and it's what Capture One Pro (which I now use) worked. Apple Photos, otoh, moves everything into its own "managed catalog" and organizes things in some "Apple proper" way that I find logical, but not very useful. I'm sure there are other DAMs that do other things.

If the DAM is opened in its Folder View, yes, you see the same old folders. But DAMS are really about Categories and Keywords, not folders. If you plan to ignore Categories and Keywords, then a DAM becomes pointless. Many RAW developers can preserve the edit history of a RAW file, even without a DAM.

Kelly

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Archer66 Veteran Member • Posts: 4,814
Re: Use of Catalogs
1

astevens54 wrote:

What are the disadvantages of using catalogs?

None.

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