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.

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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Gone in a Flash

Call them flash memory, memory cards, whatever but with everyone who owns a digital camera and other devices using them they are now an important part of our lives. Often they hold the only record of important occasions. Too often they are also a source of exasperation and disappointment. So what can be done to make them more reliable?

In some ways I feel a little under-qualified to write this as I have never lost a file off one of these cards. So I don’t really know what it feels like to have try and recover that important photo.

I have one card that has survived in one of my digital cameras for two and half years. It gets used too. It is the camera I drop into my backpack when I’m going out for the day. It is also used regularly to record activity at a worksite. Here is what I do, it’s not rocket science just a little common-sense.

The card stays in the camera, at least as much as possible. I use the USB cable to download files from the camera, not a card reader. Similarly I don’t take it to a photo booth and print from it. Either I print at home or I put the photos I want on a cd and take that to the shop. I bought the largest card available at the time as using a high capacity card will reduce the chance of filling it up and needing to change it.

If it comes out of the camera it goes in its storage box. How often have you seen people pull one of these cards out of their pocket, bag etc. and then wonder why they can’t read from it? These are fragile pieces of kit and should be treated accordingly.

If it does come out of the camera it doesn’t happen in a dusty, damp or dirty environment. Dust or moisture on the contacts or worse in the camera will prevent proper use of the card. Cleaning is difficult and if its in the camera, expensive. Keep the cover closed!

All my cards are formatted regularly. While new cards will sometimes work as soon as they are put in the camera I always format in the camera before using them. Rather than just deleting photos when they are copied off I often do a full format. I have heard advice to the contrary and even been told it causes the camera problems. This is old news, it appears early digital cameras would forget their number sequence when formatted and so old photos could be overwritten (who keeps the name cameras give the images anyway?). This doesn’t happen with newer cameras.

Get those files off there. As soon as I can I transfer the images to the computer. However unless I am going to use the camera immediately I don’t delete the files from the card until I have backed them up at least in one additional place.

So that’s it, a few simple ideas that work for me. Treat your card with respect and it will reward you with long life. Do you have any other ways of keeping the card contents safe? Please share them in the comments.

In Defence of the Focusing Ring

What ever made digital camera designers think that a combination of buttons is a suitable substitute for the tried and true focusing ring on the lens?

One of my requirements when I chose my digital camera was manual control including focusing. I haven’t used full manual exposure but often use Aperture Priority and similar settings. I would like to use manual focusing too but I still haven’t mastered it. Usually I use auto focus which works fine in most situations but sometimes, such as in macro mode it does not work. Either the focus is on the wrong part of the picture or, and more commonly, it can’t focus at all. Manual control is essential or the picture is missed.

Trying to hold one button while adjusting others and concentrate on getting the right focus is just too much. Without a tripod it is impossible. With my film slr I just turn the lens ring and it is done. So disappointing and in every other way I love my Fuji S5500.

Does the above mean I am just trying to convince myself I need to invest in a digital slr? Mmmm… that’s not going to happen soon but time to dream.

Scanning Film under Linux

When I installed Linux I had a few issues to sort out. One of those issues was that I needed to get the film scanner working. When I finally got around to it, it became a case of 2 steps forward then 1 step back but the final result was positive.

I have a Canon FS2710 film scanner that connects to the computer via SCSI. For those who aren’t familiar with SCSI, it was the standard interface for hardware that required large amounts of data to be moved. It is only recently that ide hard drives have caught up with the speed of SCSI drives. While Macs had a standard SCSI port pcs usually needed a card. I had the original card so that wasn’t a problem.

Setting up the scanner was actually easier under Linux than Windows XP. While Windows 98 SE supported SCSI that support has been removed from XP. So I needed to find and install SCSI drivers before installing drivers for the scanners. Fortunately the Canon website had the details.

Linux supports SCSI and the scanimage -L command reported the scanner. However SANE, the scanner drivers, didn’t find it. I found it was necessary to edit the canon.conf file, I simply uncommented the line with the SCSI device number and changed the number to the correct one, 4 in my case as the card reader had used the lower numbers. SANE then recognised the scanner and I was away.

Remember the step back? Well I scanned a slide and it was fine but when I scanned a negative the result was very poor, washed out and noisy. I tried 2 scanning interfaces xsane and xscanimage. The results were the same.

Negatives are difficult to scan well. When you look at a negative you see the colour of the film and the colours in the picture are the reverse of the real colours. The scanner must “see” past the film colour and each film brand is a different colour. The scanner or the software must then reverse the colours in the picture. This is one reason I mainly shoot slides these days but I have a lot of older negatives. About 80% of pictures I have been posting on my photo blog are from negatives so the ability to scan negatives well is important to me.

I had heard of Vuescan, a commercial program, that had good reports. They provide a trial version so I downloaded that and tried it. The results are very good. It is available for Windows and Macs as well as Linux and supports hundreds of scanners and digital cameras. The trial version puts dollar sign watermarks all over the scanned image but you can see what the results will be. The control of the scan is greater than any other program I have used.

One other test I tried was to see how it scanned slides, some reports I have seen suggest Vuescan outperforms the Canon software. Vuescan also supports the transfer of files from many digital cameras. Those same reports suggest it is superior to the software supplied with many digital cameras to process their raw files. I can’t test this as my FujiFilm digital camera is not supported under Linux at this stage.

My choice was to purchase Vuescan or continue the hassle of rebooting in Windows to scan negatives. After a few days of rebooting I registered my trial copy of Vuescan and am still happy with it.

Attack of the Gorillapod

One of the things that sets a serious photographer apart from a happy snapper is the use of a tripod. Supporting the camera allows a greater range of photographic opportunities whether it is shooting in low light or the option to use different aperture / shutter speed combinations. Sure modern cameras allow fine photos to be taken hand held but supporting the camera in some way give you so many more options.

However a tripod is not always available. They tend to be large and awkward items particularly if you are on foot or public transport. There are smaller and lighter variants but few are sturdy enough to be truly useful. There are also places where tripods can’t be used or can’t be set up in such a way to allow the desired shot.

A new option for holding the camera steady is the Gorillapod from Joby. Its only similarity to the traditional tripod is that it has 3 legs. These legs are a series of articulated joints that can be twisted in any direction. With a little practice it is possible to twist these legs around almost anything. It takes little effort but they hold on tightly.

I tested it out on a steel fence and a tree branch. Using the upright parts of the fence for support gave greater stability but it was steady even with my 300 mm lens.

Testing on the FenceAt this point it is worth mentioning that there are 3 sizes, one for point & shoot cameras, a larger one for slrs and the slr zoom for cameras with large zoom lens or video cameras. I have a SLR Zoom which can support up to 3 kgs. It certainly had no trouble holding my camera.

The SLR Zoom also comes with an adapter that will allow the use of a tripod head if you have a special purpose head you would like to use. I mounted the camera directly to the Gorillapod.

I had no trouble making it secure in the tree except after I got it in place I realised I couldn’t get my eye to the viewfinder, the branch was in the way! But it proved that it could be used in just about any location and not just with horizontal supports.

Testing in the TreeOh and you can use it as a regular tripod by just standing it on the legs!

A recommended addition to your camera kit. Prices seem to range from $A39 to $A89 in Sydney.

For something a little different there is even a page on Flickr devoted to “gorillapod love”.