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Newspaper Column - Digital Media Tools

Thanks for the (Digital) Memories

Apple iPhoto, Nikon View and Nikon Capture - image management and editing software

I like to use iPhoto on the Macintosh because it is the most intuitive image organizing tool on the market. It looks good, it feels good, and most important it gives me a sense that I know where my images are and that I can retrieve them easily at any time. Unfortunately iPhoto does not understand RAW. RAW files can be stored with iPhoto and opened in Photoshop with iPhoto (if you have a RAW Photoshop plug-in), but if you rotate or try to do anything else with the image file in iPhoto the link will disappear.

Apple, please make iPhoto RAW file format capable in the next version, it can't be beyond the realm of possibility. This is all iPhoto needs to become the best professional image organizer on the market. I should mention here that a new version of iLife is due in January of 2004, it is reported that iPhoto will be faster than at present (thank you) but no mention has been made yet of any feature upgrades.

So what to do? If you are shooting RAW files with a Nikon digital cameras, you use the free Nikon View to import the images into your computer, and the US$ 150 Nikon Capture to edit the RAW image files. There are a few other choices but the Nikon choice is the best, because without it you are missing out on the full potential of your NEF (Nikon) RAW files. I use both the Nikon software (for image manipulation) and iPhoto (for it's incredible, entire image library, overview capability).

Not to confuse anyone too much, JPEG files from a Nikon camera are compatible with iPhoto, it is only RAW files that require special treatment. RAW files contain over and under exposure information, white balance information and other camera specific information, that allows for greater digital darkroom control and manipulation, than ordinary JPEG or TIFF files which are limited in the amount of digital manipulation available after capture.

There is a lot of debate between photographers about the relative merits of JPEG and RAW image files but once a photographer has switched to shooting RAW and gets used to manipulating his images in PhotoShop he tends to forget about shooting any other way. The only disadvantage is the file size, a 5 million pixel JPEG FINE image file is about 2.5 megabytes in size compared to a RAW image file which is about 10 megabytes in size.

This means of course that the camera takes longer to process the RAW image file and the RAW image files take up more memory card and computer hard disk drive space. Fortunately both memory cards and computer hard disk drives are becoming larger and less expensive by the minute. If you do find yourself running out of hard disk drive space it pays to have a DVD writer which can store 4.7 gygabites of data on one DVD disk. To be safe always burn at least two copies of your image files onto CDs or DVDs before removing them from your hard disk drive.

SanDisk ImageMate 6 in 1 Card Reader/Writer

This is a really neat device that reads Compact Flash I/II, Memory Stick, SmartMedia, SD, and MultiMediaCard. It connects to any computer with a USB 1.1 or 2.0 connector and handles all the above memory cards as external drives on your desktop. iPhoto recognizes the reader as 'Camera 6 in 1'. Both iPhoto and Nikon View download from the reader with no problems.

The reader comes with both a dock for base station use and a short cable for use with a laptop in the field. There is really not much to be said about this device except that it is real convenient to have all these memory card formats in one unit and that it works.

Yesterday I was going into the city and didn't want to take my 17" G4 Powerbook with me (actually I wanted to but my back said no) so I loaded a few necessary files onto a CompactFlash memory card and stuck it and the SanDisk ImageMate 6 in 1 into my pocket. When I got into the city I found a friendly computer (a Macintosh of course), plugged the SanDisk ImageMate 6 in 1 into a free USB port, inserted the CompactFlash memory card and opened my files, no need to copy them to the computer the memory card is fast enough. The only problem I had was needing to connect to a USB port with power (the keyboard port did not work).

SanDisk CompactFlash cards

I am presently testing both a 1 Gigabyte standard SanDisk CompactFlash card and a 256 Megabyte Ultra II high-speed CompactFlash card. Since I am testing the Nikon CoolPix 5400 this week and it is very slow in processing images, I have seen no difference in using either card in this camera.

For the first time since starting these tests though, I am not "running out of film" all the time. At FINE JPEG and 5 million pixels I am getting over 400 images on the 1 Gigabyte card, and over 100 images on the  256 Megabyte card. RAW images in the 5 and 6 million pixel range produce files approximately 10 Megabytes in size, meaning that a 1 Gigabyte CompactFlash card would give you around 100 images, enough not to constantly be worried about having enough space on the card. 

My conclusion is that if you are shooting FINE JPEG image files with a 5-6 million pixel digital camera, a 256 Megabyte CompactFlash card is large enough for most situations, but if you are shooting RAW image files with the same camera, you should consider getting a 1 Gigabyte CompactFlash card.

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