Bob's Rock Shop Product Review
Reviewer Bob Keller

The Photo-Atlas of Minerals 2.0 DVD

Produced By The Gem & Mineral Council
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History

Note from Bob Keller: The Photo-Atlas requires Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express, which is not bundled with off-the-shelf versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. Installing the Photo-Atlas on Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers requires seperate preceeding installation of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express. Further details and instructions regarding installing the Photo-Atlas to run under Windows Vista and Windows 7 are available on the Gem and Mineral Council of Los Angeles County Photo-Atlas of Minerals Support Page.

The final 2.05 version of The Photo-Atlas of Minerals DVD was released in August 2007. This is a significantly updated and enhanced DVD version of the Photo-Atlas that was formerly published on CD. Among the most predominat improvements are an expansion of the mineral specimen image gallery from 6,500 specimen images to nearly 16,000 images by the most accomplished photographers in the genre including Jeff Scovil and Dr. Wendell Willson, editor of the Mineralogical Record. Already impressive as the former CD version, the DVD release of the Photo-Atlas is simply a must have reference for any mineral specimen collector.

It's Here! The The Photo-Atlas of Minerals is a mineralogical reference for computer users that's been long awaited and anticipated by this rockhound. Finally, a full-boat mineralogical CD that really exploits the potential offered by personal computer technology in presenting and accessing mineralogical information. The Photo-Atlas has been awhile in the making.

During the '98 Tucson show I previewed a beta version that was being demonstrated and sold prior to full implementation of all the features incorporated in the recently released production version that is the subject of this review. I knew after just a quick preview that this CD was going to set new standards for computerized mineralogical references. That's not really all that surprising considering that the CD's credits include Dr. Wendell Wilson, editor of the Mineralogical Record, and Lou Perloff, a well known collector and photographer of micro-minerals as responsible for the primary photography, with design implementation by Dr. George Gerhold, professor of chemistry at West Washington University, and Dr. Anthony Kampf, curator of mineral sciences at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The mineral property data was compiled by Lanny Ream, editor of the Mineral News newsletter and other publications for collectors and rockhounds.

The Photo-Atlas system requirements include a 486-33 or better running Windows 3.1, 95, 98 or NT. I only use real computers, but those of you eccentrics with upscale Macs may be able to run this CD using a PC emulation mode. You will also need a CD-ROM drive, 24-bit graphics and a sound card. They don't call this the Photo-Atlas of Minerals for nothing, and you just won't be able to really appreciate it without SVGA graphics with a 'true color' (24-bit) palette. That requires at least 2 MB of video memory at 640x480 video resolution. Up to 4 MB of video memory has become standard fare in new systems these days as typical users employ PCs following the trend to larger monitors, higher video resolutions and enhanced multi-media capabilities.

In the course of reviewing this CD I used it on several different systems, all 133 MHZ and faster Pentiums or Pentium compatibles. For the most part it was evaluated and tested on a 233 MHZ K6 with a 24X CD, 4 MB of video memory and a 16-bit Soundblaster compatible sound card.

The Photo-Atlas provides descriptive data for all known and recognized minerals, nearly 4000 of them, and more than 6,500 accompanying specimen images. Not all of the species are illustrated, in fact the majority of them are not. However, well under half of the known minerals form photogenic crystals, and those species that are typically collected by amateurs are only several hundred in number. The CD illustrates about 800 species, many represented with multiple images of specimens from various localities, displaying different colors, forms and associations for that species. For instance, vanadinite is illustrated with dozens of different specimen images. Here's just two of them shown as JPEGed Photo-Atlas screen shots

Here's some more representative Photo-Atlas screen shots:
Photo-Atlas Main Menu
Glossary of Mineral Terms
General Information - Vanadinite
Physical Properties - Vanadinite
Crystallography - Vanadinite

The Photo-Atlas also details the origin of mineral names, mineral synonyms and varieties. It provides information on crystal forms, symmetry and twinning, and on mineral localities with index maps, as well as Strunz mineral classification by Dr. Hugo Strunz and Alexander Hoelzel, a hyperlinked glossary of mineral terms, and is cross-indexed for searching. You can copy and print the images and data. The Photo-Atlas even incorporates a minerals identification game.

Perhaps the ultimate in bells and whistles on the Photo-Atlas CD is the mineral name pronunciator. Assuming your system has a .wav compatible sound card (such as the SoundBlaster16) installed, you can click on a species name, and the Photo-Atlas (Forrest Cureton) says it for you. Hey, I like it!

The Photo-Atlas of Minerals stands heads and shoulders above any other efforts in this vein to date. If you're interested in a great mineralogical reference on CD, the decision to acquire one these is a rockhound no-brainer.

11-27-98 Update: The first release edition (1.0) of the Photo-Atlas CD has been sold out. The next revision (1.1), which incorporates a number of improvements is now available. The most significant 1.1 enhancements are a much more detailed hierarchical implementation of the Strunz mineral classification system and full implementation of the 'Combine Indexes' feature, making it a more powerful database searching tool. No new minerals or images have been added to 1.1.

12-01-99 Update: Revision 1.2, incorporating a number of improvements is now available. The 1.2 enhancements include the addition of nearly 150 newly approved minerals, audio pronunciations are now available for all minerals, additional data on synonyms/varieties, fracture/tenacity, twinning, and unit cell data for non-illustrated minerals, indexes for color and streak have been added along with color and streak data missing for some minerals in earlier versions. Where a mineral property can have a range of values, all possible values are now indexed. The Strunz number for each mineral is now hyperlinked to the hierarchical Strunz "family tree". Several buttons have been added to speed navigation.

06-28-00 Update: Revision 1.3, is now available. 1.3 incorporates relatively minor improvements over version 1.2, including:

Slide shows can be played with audio mineral name pronunciations.
Ability to create and save slide shows without exiting program.
Ability to clear (erase) bookmark list without exiting program.
Predefined slide shows for azurite, barite, copper, diamond, elbaite, fluorite, gold, pyrite, rhodochrosite, silver, vanadinite and wulfenite.
User-defined slide shows chosen from menu.
User-defined and predefined slide shows cycle indefinitely.
The method for requesting hints has been simplified and improved.
For non-illustrated minerals, data can now be copied to the Windows Clipboard.
For illustrated minerals, data now prints black on white background instead of white on a gray background.
Several problems involving the combining of indexes have been fixed.
Problems in the Strunz index, particularly involving the silicates, have been fixed.

09-29-01 Update: Revision 1.4, is now available. 1.4 incorporates relatively minor improvements over version 1.3, including:

A variety of minor data errors have been fixed.
A variety of minor program bugs have been fixed.
Multiple choice is now offered.
After correctly identifying a mineral, you can get a bonus by identifying the locality.
Long indexes are no longer broken into two parts (e.g. Vitreous A-M, Vitreous N-Z).
There indexes for the crystal systems (e.g. tetragonal) in addition to the separate crystal classes.
There are indexes for all chemical elements, not merely the metallic elements.

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Bob Keller