Automatically catalog years of photos with Synology Moments

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Most of us take way too many photos these days, encouraged by the top-notch cameras and the growing storage capacity on our smartphones. Or perhaps you are an amateur photographer like me and try to take a few more than strictly needed. You know, in case the first few turn out blurred or unusable in some way or other.

Keeping photos in sync

Coupled with the rapid cadence by which many of us switch phones, and it’s no wonder many are struggling to properly tag and order an avalanche of photos. Personally, this issue is exacerbated due to my switching smartphones more frequently than most, like when I reviewed the Google Pixel 2 XL and Oppo R11s.

In the past, the Synology Photo Station (DS photo) service did the trick with its ability to easily backup the photos I take from each new phone I try, be it an Android or iOS device. If you have ever tried DS photo, you will be aware that it is a service targeted at professional photographers (or enthusiasts), with album-based photo management and sharing, advanced photo metadata display, tagging, and management of comments and client feedback.

And while the DS photos package continues to be available, Synology recently called my attention to a new Moments app that was specifically designed for users who enjoy taking photos with their smartphones. Aside from time-line based photo browsing and management, the key appeal of the new Moments package pertains toits ability to automatically sort your photos using deep-learning technology directly on your Synology NAS.

The result is that you can simply type in the relevant keyword into the Moments mobile app to find a photo, and have relevant results instantly appear.

Synology says this eliminates the need to scroll through long lists of photos to find the one that you want. How well does it work? I gave it a spin to find out.

Setting up Synology Moments

Not to be mistaken with Facebook Moments, Synology Moments is a Synology NAS-based service whose claim to fame lies in its ability to categorize photos based on the automatic tagging of faces, subjects, and places.

This is performed automatically, and the result is searchable with no need for you to even lift the metaphorical finger. So how do you set it up?

Like the DS photo app, you can first download the free Moments app onto your smartphone and use it to upload your entire photo album directly from your device. Like DS photo, the relevant Moments package must also be downloaded and installed on your Synology NAS. If you are already using DS photo, you will need to move (or copy) the photos over from the DS photo folder to enjoy the benefit of Moment’s AI smarts. This sounds like some work for existing DS photo users, but really protects professional photographers using Moments for their personal photos – and don’t want photos of their clients mixed in.

Once uploaded, Synology’s machine learning technology works in the background to automatically categorize photos locally in the NAS. What is important is that this is done on the NAS itself, without having to upload photos to a third-party cloud service and being subjected to the privacy headaches. You retain complete ownership and control of your digital assets, while enjoying the automatic tagging and contextualization that takes the headache out of manually managing thousands of photos.

AI sorting delight

Synology Moments proved absolutely amazing in automatically sorting through thousands of photographs and correctly classifying them

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the service worked in practice. Three categories appeared on the app once Moments finished its processing: People, Subjects and Places. If geographical information is found in your photos, then you will find them clustered based on the locations under “Places”. I don’t typically enable tagging my photos with geo-information, but the few hundreds that had it were classified neatly into different parts of Singapore, and where travelling, the overseas locations.

Click on “Subjects”, and you will see photos classified according to scores of keywords. Amazingly, it found all the food pictures of “Sashimi” dishes, too. The keywords are not limited to those found in the listed subjects – just key in search terms and the app will show shortlisted photos. For instance, a search for “Phones” brought up the picture of an old landline phone – something that is probably alien to teenagers today. Searching for “Plane” brought up a couple of photos I took of planes at the airport, plus two shots of clouds that I took out a plane’s window.

What amazed me was Moment’s ability to identify and group photos based on the people in them. It didn’t work so well with the photos of my two young daughters, identifying them as different people – but that’s perfectly understandable toddler and preschooler years are fraught with changes. It does a stellar of tagging adults though, which you can quickly label with their names. If you like, you can create additional albums for some manual sorting.

Making it better

You can tag the identified people with their names, and even use it to correct misidentified friends: Simply tap on their faces to name them. Moments will automatically merge friends with the same names and henceforth categorize them correctly. It was quite stunning how Moments successfully detected and correctly identified faces from within group photos, even from people at the back of a room or in the background.

For sure, this is a fun feature to find photos you never knew you had, and for impressing your friends. One fun idea that comes to mind is to dig out old photos to see how much weight a friend may have gained over the years. From my photos, Moments correctly identified friends from photos as far back as four years ago, or the oldest photos I have in the archive I tested it on.

While the service works surprisingly well in general, it is by no means perfect yet. For example, a search for “sea” brought up pictures of my daughter sitting on a wooden bench at a restaurant, and photos of a goat at a farm standing on some wooden planks. Likely, the machine learning algorithm mistook the wooden background for the beach. (Update: One update of the Moments package later, and I can no longer replicate this mistake)

This shouldn’t be surprising, given that this is Synology’s first stab at using AI on pictures. However, what excites me was how Moments establishes a solid foundation for AI-powered sorting of photos, and the promise for future improvements given Synology’s strong track record for regular updates. Indeed, the company is currently developing some deep learning features in its surveillance product, though the company says it isn’t ready to disclose more at this point.

For now, you need to ensure that you are using a supported model of the Synology NAS to use Moments. Some earlier models have the capability to identify people while the more powerful models can support both people and classify photos into different settings (Under “Subjects”). You probably won’t run out to purchase a new Synology NAS just to get this feature, but there is no question that the ability to help manage your photos does add to the appeal of getting a Synology NAS.