Category Archives: photography

Adobe Camera Raw and Nikon D200

Looks like the new ACR is available, which includes support for D200 RAW files.  It’s not actually on the ACR site yet, but it’s on Adobe’s public FTP server:  (windows) (mac)

Woo-hoo!  It was getting a little painful copying to a Mac, converting to DNG with Lightroom, back to windows, and processing using Bridge/ACR/CS2. :-)

[source: dpreview forums]

Image aggregator prototype

The other night, on the way home, an idea came to me…so I pulled up my development environment and decided to write some code.  I think my terrified development team is probably locking me out of the source control systems as we speak… ;-)

My thought was this.  I’m a visual person, and a lot of the feeds I subscribe to have images in the posts.  If I could see all of those images together, I could make some quick decisions about what I want to read now, vs. what I will read later.  And thus was born the image aggregator.

Take a look for yourself – click here, and use your NewsGator Online username/password.

If you’re one of those types who is completely caught up with all of your unread feeds, you won’t see anything.  But if you have unread stuff, you’ll see a compilation of all of the images in your unread posts.  If you click on one, that post will get marked as read in NG/Online, and you’ll get linked out to the post.

Here’s an example of what I see for my own account (click for larger version):

It lets me get an idea, at a glance, of what’s available to read.

This is obviously an EARLY prototype of something, which may or may not see the light of day…but I think it’s an interesting concept.  Any thoughts from you about it?  Useful or no?

Aside: this was all written using the public NewsGator Online API.

Does anyone recognize these folks?

When I was out in Santa Monica a few weeks ago, there was a film crew working on the Promenade. These are pictures of the actor and actress that were doing the scene:

It could have been a movie, TV, or commercial…not sure. They appeared to be using film, rather than digital, if that gives anyone a hint. I’d love to know who they are – I’m afraid I might have a great story, and not know it! :-)

Review – Smugmug

And now we come to Smugmug, the last photo-sharing site in my series. A bunch of folks in the dpreview forums seem to use them, so I thought I’d take a look.

I had to put in my credit card to get a trial account.  Not a problem for me, I’ll generally do this with reputable sites that have folks recommending them.  So a few minutes later, I had a “standard” account set up.

Here’s my site on Smugmug.

The standard account is $29.95/yr, and lots of people will give you a link to get $5 off, so it’s basically $24.95/yr.  Unlimited storage, and 4GB/mo of download capacity.  Hmm…it’s hard to put that in perspective, but if I’m serving up more than 4GB/mo, hopefully I’m in a position to be happy about it and pay more. :-)

I like that I can organize photos into galleries, and surface those galleries very obviously on the front page.  No problem telling people about it – “go to and check out my washington, dc pictures”.  I can even control the ordering of galleries on the page, and also ordering of photos within the galleries. You can also group on the front page by category, and show galleries within their categories.  All in all, quite a bit of flexibility.

Password-protection is available, and is very easy to use.  I have one gallery on my site that’s password protected, and you just need the password to access it.  It’s not exactly high-grade security, but I’m also not trying to protect blueprints of a bank vault.  If something needs super-secure protection, I probably wouldn’t put it on a public site to begin with.

EXIF information is optionally exposed for every photo, and displays a popup.  I’m not totally thrilled with the popup, but it works and I can live with it.  For some reason, this site also shows shutter speeds in a very strange way – for this photo, shutter speed is displayed as “0.0062s (10/1600)”.  Come on…couldn’t you just say 1/160, and save me having to figure it out myself?  Zoto does the same thing, and I just don’t get it.

There are also some strange EXIF problems.  This picture shows a shutter speed of 15.625 sec, which I can promise you is not accurate.  I sent a note to their support alias to this effect…and WOW.  Two separate folks wrote back to me within 10 minutes.  This on a Sunday – very cool.  It wasn’t perfect, though…Andy from Smugmug said the camera writes inconsistent info so they can’t fix it (doubtful, as Windows XP can display the correct info for this exact same file), and Ben said it looked strange and he’d pass it along to their developers.  I chose to listen to Ben. :-)  (one week later, haven’t heard anything, problem still appears).

Smugmug also supports tags (they call them keywords), and they’re pretty easy to manage.  I couldn’t enter “night” as a keyword – it just wouldn’t show up.  One more note to support, another response in about 5 minutes saying it was probably an erroneous entry on a blacklist, and he’d have someone take care of it.  (one week later, problem is still there).

I like the overall look/feel.  There are multiple styles you can use, and the site is easy to navigate for both the owner and visitors.  The only nitpicky thing that comes to mind is the page numbers on the gallery pages – it’s a little hard to find, and watching over peoples’ shoulders, I notice that not everyone sees them, and they assume there’s only one page of photos.  Small thing, but there is probably a way to make that stand out a bit more.

I like the geo-tagging capabilities (via Google Earth) – it’s fun to see my photos on a map.  My only suggestion (sent to support guys) was to make it so I can tag multiple photos with one location all at once.  So once I figure out the latitude/longitude of the Denver Zoo, let me tag all 20 pictures in a gallery with that data all at once.  As it is, this process will take about 7 minutes to do 20 pics, and my mouse hand will be pretty sore by the end.

And a couple of things I haven’t experimented with too much yet.  With upgraded accounts you can completely customize the site’s headers, footers, and styles – nice.  You can also set your own pricing for people who order prints of your photos, and you keep most of the markup (not that I need that feature now, but I really like that it’s there).

All in all, I like Smugmug a lot, and I’ve decided to stay there for now.

[If you want to try it yourself, save yourself 20%, and save me 20% too :-), use this link.]

Review – Zoto

Up next in my short series is Zoto. I first heard of these folks at BlogOn 2005, when I met Kord (their CEO).  He gave me a quick demo of what they’re up to, and I got a coupon good for a free 5GB upgraded account.  Cool!

Here’s the now-dormant site I set up.

For those without a cool free-account coupon, here’s the deal.  Free accounts have 2GB of space, unlimited storage, and they don’t say there’s a limit on bandwidth.  Premium accounts ($44.95/yr) have 5GB of space, and special areas for private photos.  Seems a touch expensive, but hey – I wasn’t too worried about it, I had a free upgrade coupon. :-)

The site looks really nice when you first get in there, and there are some nice tools to help you.  I like the uploader application, which helps you batch-upload pics to the site.

So the first problem…the site seemed slooooooow.  Hopefully it’s growing pains – but I noticed over the span of a week that quite often I’d be looking at a page of photos, and a few of them wouldn’t load.  Or it would take a _really_ long time for some to load.  And it wasn’t just me – some friends who I sent my zoto URL to said the same thing.

Zoto has a cool gallery feature, where you can even choose the URL for your gallery.  You can add photos to it, and you can invite other folks to contribute to the gallery.  You can choose different templates for your gallery.  But there’s a problem.

The gallery templates all show thumbnails, which is good.  But the thumbnails are resized to 106 pixels on the SHORT side, and then cropped to 106×106.  Every thumbnail is square, and they are cropped.  I can’t live with that…I want uncropped thumbnails that retain the same aspect ratio as my originals.  I don’t care how small you have to make them – but don’t crop them.  And they’re showing the correctly-shaped thumbnails elsewhere – just not in the galleries.

But hey, I thought, this isn’t Flickr/Yahoo. ;-)  This is a small company, and I bet if I post on their forums, maybe someone would respond and there would be a magic fix loaded in a few days.  Or at least letting me know it was on the list.  Or telling me to go to hell.  Anything…but I was sure I’d get a response, so I posted on the forum, with some example thumbnails showing what I was talking about.  The example I posted was a picture of the Washington Monument – and the way it was cropped, you really couldn’t even tell what it was. 

So I waited.  Checked every hour or so for a while, nothing.  Ok, I’ll keep working with the site, and surely they’ll get back to me.  Waited a few days, nothing.  It’s now been 9 days since I posted that, and I’ve given up.  Hmm.

The private photos and galleries thing was, well, to be honest, I never figured it out.  Maybe my account wasn’t really an upgraded account (it kept telling me I had a 5GB account, but also asked me to upgrade now and then).  So I’ll refrain from commenting…other than to say it’s not a good thing that I wasn’t sure if I even had the account level that would let me protect photos and galleries from the public.  It could be I’m just a bonehead and didn’t find it.

I’m also a little worried about the main screen GUI that visitors see.  When I send a friend or family member here, and I say “check out my new animal pictures”, it’s unclear exactly where they should go.  You need to click on the “Galleries” link – but that’s not obvious, and I can imagine people might never notice that link.  Especially when it says “His Views” – not clear at all that’s somewhere I should go.  And I don’t really want other ads on my page (Google ads below the “His Views”) – if anyone’s going to have ads, it ought to be me.  Unless, of course, I really am on a free account, in which case zoto can have the ads…but I’d rather pay and get rid of them.

There were a lot of things I liked – in the photo view, you can download lots of different sizes of images (including user-specified sizes), and they surface the tags you’re using and a feature called “similar photos”.  They expose EXIF information in a nice way (although one example shutter speed was 3125/1000000 sec – couldn’t you maybe reduce that to 1/320 for me?).  And I liked that they linked to Slide – this is a pretty cool site I didn’t know about before playing with Zoto.

In summary, I really wanted this site to work for me.  But the combination of the generally slow performance, the critical (to me) thumbnail problem, the fact that no one seemed to care about my thumbnail problem, and the general GUI issues, led me to move on.

Flickr – review

What can we say about Flickr…great site, unbelievably popular, acquired by Yahoo!.  All good stuff.  But how would it measure up to what I was looking for?

The first problem was the 20MB/mo upload limit, and the fact that they would automatically resize your images and only store a limited-resolution version.  With what I wanted to do (that is, upload large original files), that would be gone in 5 photos.  So I’d have to upgrade immediately (for $24.95) to the “pro” account…the problem is, there didn’t seem to be a trial, and it explicitly says it’s non-refundable, so I couldn’t really try it out first.  Hmm.  I might have left right here, but the entire world seems to love Flickr, so I continued on.

They do have a “gallery” concept, called “photosets”.  These seem to work pretty well.  You can only have 3 in the free version, but an unlimited number in the pro version.  I can already feel my credit card sliding out of my pocket.

You can, in a way, make photos private.  The downside is, users need to have a Flickr (or yahoo) account in order to access your private photos; this is kind of a hassle.  If I take some quick pictures of something, and want to share them with a small group of people, I’d rather just send them the URL and a password, rather than make them sign up for an account.  Hmm…this is a big one for me.

It doesn’t appear you can customize the interface.  Not a show stopper here, as things are pretty clearly laid out…but if you wanted to use your site to show off a portfolio for commercial purposes, you might be out of luck.  You also have to live with a Flickr-provided URL, something like, which may or may not make you happy.  I wasn’t thrilled, because I couldn’t call someone on the phone and say “hey, check out my new photos” without reading them a long URL.

I love the community aspects of Flickr.  The community is huge – there’s no doubt you can find someone that shares common interests, or someone who shot the same event you did.  Comments are plentiful, and there are even discussion areas in the site.  And I LOVE the Organizr, with the cool expando-thumbnail thing, and the drag-drop organization.

But all in all, it wasn’t the experience I was looking for.  There are some things about Flickr I will miss (like the HUGE community of folks), and I’ll still use it for some specific purposes (for example, sharing photos at particular events), but for most of my pictures, I’ll be somewhere else.

Choosing a photo hosting site

I’ve caught the photography bug. Not sure exactly what did it…I was reading a copy of PC Magazine a few months ago where they reviewed some DSLR’s, and somehow got excited about it. Many hours of research later, and I had a Nikon D50 sitting on my table, and that was just the beginning. :-) Since then I’ve accumulated a bunch of those gold Nikon boxes (lenses, flash, the list goes on and on), not to mention a tripod and other such things.

Since then I’ve taken a bunch of photos, of course, and I looked for a place to put some of them online so I could share them with others. Flickr was the first thing that came to mind (duh!), but I wasn’t immediately satisfied with that…so I started looking around some more.

My basic requirements were as follows:

  • Lots of storage space and bandwidth (I wanted to upload high-quality original images, from 2-4MB each)
  • Galleries, where I could group my own photos together (by trip, subject, etc)
  • Ability to password-protect certain galleries
  • Ability to customize interface if I want to
  • Relatively professional appearance (in case I happen to shoot a Pulitzer prize winner :-)
  • Reasonable cost

I ended up spending some quality time with four different systems:

JAlbum (not a site, but an application that publishes pages to a site)

I also looked briefly at PBase, but the basic account limits you to 300MB of storage (and 900MB for the uplevel account), so that just wasn’t going to work.

I really liked JAlbum, and I was tempted to create my own site and host it. One of the perks of being NewsGator’s founder is my blog is hosted on the company’s hardware, and if something breaks, I can call one of our operations guys and if they’re not doing anything really important then they will help me with it :-). So that was tempting…but in the end, I wanted a hosted service (password protection built in, with no work from me, cross-user tagging, etc).

So that leaves us with Flickr, Zoto, and Smugmug. I’m going to write up short reviews of each of these, and I’ll let you know at the end what I finally ended up going with…so here we go!

[links updated]

Flickr – review
Zoto – review
Smugmug – review