Downloading Photos in Linux

Getting the images you have taken from the camera and on to the computer in an orderly and efficient manner is historically more difficult than it should be particularly on Linux. I’ve tried a number of applications and none of them have done the job as well as I expected. I had been using Digikam but it only seems to work well under KDE Plasma and as I’m using Xfce that was an issue.

Recently I tried Rapid Photo Downloader. First I installed it from the Fedora repos. That was the older version and it was a failure. It didn’t recognise either of the cameras I regularly use. I looked at the website for Rapid Photo Downloader and found there was a new version in a beta release. As I couldn’t find anything better I decided to try it.

The instructions on the site worked well except for one update but when I reported that there was an immediate response and the installer was updated. It was an issue with the installer not recognising Korora as a Fedora based distro. That was fixed and been fine ever since.

More importantly the beta version worked beautifully. It recognised my cameras and downloaded the images where I wanted and renamed them as I intended. The first beta I tried was a little light on features but subsequent betas fixed that.

A couple of days ago version 0.9.0 officially left beta and was released as a stable version. I’m using that version now and it is great. So congratulations to Damon on the release of the new version. If you need a reliable and efficient photo downloader for Linux and what photographer doesn’t, I can’t recommend Rapid Photo Downloader highly enough. See here for the release announcement and notes.

More on Geotagging

I posted recently about geotagging photos in Linux. There is a post on the digiKam blog about the same subject with a good idea I hadn’t thought off, using your Android (or any other one that can tag photos) phone to take a reference shot. Read the whole post here, it’s worth a look.

Geotagging in Linux

You may ask why geotag images? I have some images I took on film 20 years ago and would love to know where they were taken. Often I have a rough idea but I couldn’t find my way back there if I wanted too. One image is marked ‘beside the Croydon to Georgetown Road, Queensland’. Not very helpful when you think those 2 towns are nearly 150k apart, that’s almost 95 miles for those from non metric places.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with automatically geotagging my photos, also known as GPS Co-relating. This requires having a gps track of where I have been and an application that can match that track with the appropriate photos.

First thing is to create a gps track. This can be done with a dedicated gps unit or with some other device. I chose to use my android phone because I always have it with me. To record the track requires an app. There are many available but I use ‘Open GPS Tracker‘ because it is open source, it’s free and it works. It has many options that I don’t use including real time streaming. It has the option to output .gpx files which is what the co-relating applications require.

After you have the track you need an application to read it and match it to your photos. As always there are a number of options in Linux. Digikam has this option but I couldn’t get it to work reliably so I use ‘GPS Correlator’. It is available in the repos of many Linux distros, just needs a ‘yum install gpscorrelator’ in Kororaa (and Fedora). It has more options than Digikam which is how I got it working.

One thing I should mention is that your camera and gps unit (phone in my case) must have the time settings synchronised as accurately as  possible. Doesn’t need to be to the second but as close as you can get it. As most phones handle their time settings automatically this means changing the setting on your camera. Check it before each use particularly if you live in an area with daylight saving.

In the gpscorrelator screen you can select photos to process then the gpx file you got from your gps unit. You should set the time zone your camera is set to as gps data is always in UTC. You can also set the time difference and offset. Fortunately gpscorrelator has tool tips which describe how to use these options. If you still get no match on some images try selecting the ‘Between Segments’, it compensates for any gaps in your track. Particularly useful for areas with poor gps reception like cities and wooded areas.

Gpscorrelator also has an option to remove gps data from images if you want your location to remain private. This is handy for phones and other cameras that automatically record your location. For images taken at home and at friends’ places you might prefer to keep the location private when you post them on photo sharing sites.

There are a couple of things I’ve learnt so far. First is allow some time between starting the tracker and taking your first image. Also between taking the last image and stopping the tracker. First time I tried it I stopped the tracker when I got back in the car after taking the last images. None of the images taken there would match as the last point in the track was some time before the images were taken. Today when I got it working I started the tracker when I left home and stopped it when I get back.

Second is if you are constantly moving you might need to adjust the ‘Logging Precision’ in ‘Open GPS Tracker’s settings. It defaults to normal but if you find this doesn’t give enough points try a more precise setting or set you own custom interval. Experimenting is the only way to know what works for you. Explore the settings for other options that may improve your accuracy or that you might find useful too.

If you are using the tracker for a long period, e.g. most of the day, you might need to consider battery life. So far I’ve been in the car and I can plug the phone into a charger so that isn’t a problem. But without the external power recording a track for several hours may result in a dead phone battery. This maybe a good use for an old android phone if you have one laying around, maybe you know someone who has recently updated?

Adding location tags to your images is useful now and so easy to do why not try it.

Downloading Photos

I have recently been using the “RAW + jpg” setting on my Canon DSLR.  It is useful in some circumstances as it gives a jpg image that can be used immediately. If I’m not happy with the jpg or want to do some editing for any reason I use the RAW file. I find I only use the RAW about 10% of the time so it allows me to upload my photos much faster.

There is a couple of drawbacks. First it reduces the number of images that can be taken before the camera stops shooting and gives its busy message while it saves them. This is only an issue when in continuous mode. If shooting single shots it is fine.

The other issue is downloading the images to the computer. I use digiKam for photo management. I always rename the files as I download them from the “image_xxxx” format to something a little more meaningful, normally I use a “date-subject-num” format. When downloading with the default settings digiKam will number the cr2 raw file as 1 and the jpg as 2 etc. However I found a setting in the download options for numbers to use the extensions. This will give the cr2 and jpg the same number with only the extension to differentiate the 2 files. Exactly what I wanted. digiKam continues to amaze me with how powerful and useful it is.

Printing Issues

Recently I had 2 different and ultimately unrelated printing issues. I thought I would detail them here as I had trouble finding information on them.

Drivers

First was a printer driver issue. I have a Brother HL-5340D laser printer. It is new and quite nice model. My local printer / toner shop recommended it as he has sold a few without problems. My only difficulty was that although Cups recognised it it didn’t have a driver for it. I went to the Brother site and found they have good Linux support with lots of downloadable drivers for their printers.

For my printer I had a choice of drivers. First was a ppd file which is the format cups asks for. I thought that would be the easiest way. Just download the driver and point cups to it. Installation was easy but printing was an issue. Most important for me it wouldn’t print envelopes. It couldn’t get the alignment or the orientation correct. I ended up deleting that printer and starting again.

This time I used the lpr file with cupswrapper. Brother provides rpm files for both. After downloading and installing, Brother provides good detailed instructions but it is straightforward, I tried printing again and this time success. It worked as I expected.

The continuous document

At first I wondered if this was a driver issue too. But as it turned out it wasn’t. The problem was I was trying to print, from OpenOffice (LibreOffice has the same issue) multiple copies of a multi-page document double sided but it had an odd number of pages. You may think that isn’t a problem and I would normally agree. However this time the first page of the second copy was on the back of the last page of the first copy.

I could have printed single copies. That was the first suggestion I found when searching. But as I needed a lot of copies I didn’t relish that idea. I kept looking and finally found that there is an option on the Printing dialogue in OO. Under Printing – Options there is “create separate jobs for collated output”. I didn’t know what that meant either but selecting it solved the problem.

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Navigation With Android

I have been using an Android phone for a while now but haven’t blogged about it before. Not for any negative reason but simply because I had little to say. I bought a HTC Hero outright, no contract. I love it, it works well and does everything I wanted and much more. It came with Android 1.6 but soon after I got it an "Over the Air" update from HTC upgraded it to 2.1. That went well and added several features and a few bug fixes.

I had read that the latest update to Google Maps added a Navigation feature so I decided to test it today. I wasn’t going very far and it was a route I often take which I think is a good way to test. I wanted to see if it would replace my Tom Tom GPS. One less gadget in the car is a good thing. The phone is mounted in a cradle that mounts to the windscreen with a suctionn cap just like a GPS so it should receive the GPS signal well.

There is a navigation icon on the applications screen and that immediately asked me to activate GPS. Which I did. I tried to type in a destination but the hint list only showed US and UK locations so I changed to Spoken commands which worked surprisingly well when I gave the suburb and state it immediately found it as an Australian place.

When I asked for spoken directions I had to install the Text to Speech app. It worked well but defaulted to US English. It worked well but had trouble with several place names and couldn’t even pronounce "Way" as a road name. I have since changed it to UK to see if that is better.

The GPS worked quite quickly finding the location. Much better than the Tom Tom does when it hasn’t been used for a while. But I’m guessing it uses the phone location to get a start. It found almost the right place but where I was was difficult. It was the side street that runs beside a main road with only a few metres between them. It thought I was on the main road. Once I was moving it quickly zeroed in on the correct place. The directions were clear, allowing for the pronounciation problems, and accurate. It quickly recalcualted when I took a side street too.

So does it replace the dedicated device? I have some reservations and they are not really due to the app. The most biggest concern is the amount of download data needed. If you have a generous plan with plenty of data that won’t worry you but my plan only includes a couple hundred megabytes a month. If I were using it as a navigation device regularly that would be used up and I would be into the very expensive excess data. I could increase the data allowance by paying a small extra amount but the cost would exceed the cost of updates for my Tom Tom. So the conclusion is at the moment I think I would stick to using the Tom Tom when I am doing longer trips but for occasional help and as a backup the phone is great. If I didn’t already own a GPS unit I wouldn’t buy one I would use the phone without hesitation.

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Tech & Travel

Over the past weekend I had reason to read the journal I kept of a driving trip I took about a decade ago. It was a driving holiday around northern NSW and Queensland, over 4000 kms all together. It reminded me how valuable a journal can be. Most entries were only a few paragraphs but reading them brought back so much about that trip that I had forgotten. But I digress, that wasnt the reason behind this post.

I started to think how much things have changed in such a short time, at least where tech is concerned. The only tech items I took with me were a phone and video camera. The phone’s only additional feature I used was the clock and alarm which woke me on a couple of mornings when departure time was important. The video was an vhs-c, old even then. My camera was a manual slr. For navigation I relied on on several paper maps, many of which proved to be out of date. The journal was written with pen and paper, actually a fountain pen something I still love to use.

If I was going today, I pause to dream for a while…ahh!., I would take a lot more. Immediately I add a netbook or laptop complete with mobile broadband. It would assist in navigation with access to mapping sites. It would hold my journal and serve as a repository for photos I take. A portable hard drive for backups would be essential.

I couldn’t imagine going anywhere without a satnav unit. It would be used while travelling with the computer used for planning. There were times when I wasn’t sure where I was but that was part of the fun.

I noticed from my notes how conservative I was taking photos. Probably due to the cost and availiability of film and processing. These days I take more shots on a day trip than I took in a week on that trip. There are several times I wish I had stopped to take more photos. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

One thing that wouldn’t change was the vehicle. It is still going strong and I wouldn’t think twice to set off in it again. But that is a bit off topic.

So would I have a better trip? Well I would take more photos and that is important to me. I would have a better idea where I was and where I was going so that might make it easiest. But either way it was a trip to remember and that was the most important thing.

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Keeping It Real

I was reading an article in a magazine recently and it talked about the issue of editing photographic images. Of course this has always happened but with the advent of powerful computers and editing software it is far more common than in the days of darkrooms. The article discussed the problem of changing the image and therefore changing recorded history.
One of the most powerful research tools for the history of the last hundred or so years is the photograph. It shows what words cannot describe. Just look at the impact the photos of the Vietnam War had and still have and on a more personal basis I have recently found and scanned some photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents. It was rather moving to see the faces of those who had previously just been names in the family history. If we change our images are we changing the way future generations will see us?
The other side of the argument is the freedom of artists to show the world as they see it. We cannot deny them the chance to produce images that give a personal view.
So how can we reconcile the two sides? While it is obvious that many artistic images are not and could never be interpreted as factual it is not so obvious with images that have received minor tweaking. If you change the colour of a building or car are you changing history? If you remove modern television antennae from an historic building does it make your image less real?
Let’s agree that some things are acceptable, correcting colours to remove colour casts for example. There is nothing wrong with fixing the effects of poor exposure. I have removed litter from the foreground of an image and don’t think it changed it too much. But what is too much?
What can be done? Digital images include metadata, the information that the camera records when it processes the image, often called EXIF or IPTC. The metadata is editable with software. It includes sections for image information, captions and artist for example. I strongly recommend adding caption information as it will ease the burden of future viewers, but that is another subject we will look at some other time. Maybe notes should be added to indicate when images are not historically accurate including what changes have been made.
What do you think? Do you change the content of your images? Have you considered the history perspective?

More on Raw

It occurred to me that I hadn’t posted anything on photography for a while. All of my posts have been about Linux. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that! As a step to add something photographic I thought I would post an update on how I handle raw images.

I have been shooting raw almost exclusively for quite sometime however I always rebooted into WIndows and used either the supplied camera software or Adobe Camera Raw to edit them and create jpgs. I tried UFRaw with the Gimp a long time ago and it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get the images to look the way I wanted. I experimented with a couple of other raw converters too but nothing produced as good a result as the Window software.

Recently though that changed. When I updated to the 64 bit version of Fedora 8 I installed UFRaw again and tried it out. I found it greatly improved. It recognised the raw format from both my cameras, a Canon 400D and my old Fuji S5500. The Fuji in particular is not handled well in Linux. It is only recognised as an external USB device but I can still transfer images from it. As DCRaw can now handle the format digiKam and others can display the images. UFRaw can be thought of as a front end for DCRaw conversions.

The results are that I no longer need to use Windows to work with raw images. This simplifies my photo workflow and means I have one less reason to keep XP alive on my system.