Diving in Again

As is my usual behaviour, I’m diving headlong into photography and related subjects once again with having my new toy to play with. I was completely comfortable with, and did most of my learning with my two previous film cameras (a Canon AT-1 and a Canon Rebel Ti). That first camera was really what taught me the basics of photography (exposure, focus, depth of field and the like). It’s built like a tank and really completely manual. It was the cheaper version of the classic Canon AE-1, and was purchased by my father sometime during 1977. The AE-1 had automatic exposure (hence the ‘AE’) while the AT-1 was basically the same camera without the auto-exposure feature and associated technology.The internet of course proved to be a huge source of good information on how to use that camera, and in the course of trying to figure it out, I learned a lot about photography.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve again gone to the internet in search of more information on digital imaging and the management of digital photos. But this time we are 4 years further on and I find myself really turning to blogs and podcasts for a significant part of my quest for information. I’ve found two good podcasts on digital photography: The Secrets of Digital Imaging with Dennis Hays and The Digital Story with Derrick Story. Both are really good, with the former being a little heavier on the beginning digital photographer and more detailed in specific information and help, and the latter being a little more wide-ranging. There are lots of good blogs on the subject as you might expect. I’m still on the hunt for more good sources of information about digital photography and digital image management.

One neat thing I did find was a very nice (and free for non-commercial use) image viewer/converter/basic editor called FastStone. I’d never heard of it before and caught mention of it in this post (thanks Wes). It’s a nice photo viewer with some really nice features. It loads thumbnail images – including RAW files produced by my Canon Digital Rebel XT – very quickly and when you single click on a thumbnail it puts the image in a larger window in the lower left corner. The really neat part is it’s magnifier. When you click over that image window in the lower left it almost instantly brings up a magnified view of the image that can be moved around the whole image. This lets you very quickly inspect your photos for quality without opening up a separate editor or application.

The other feature of FastStone that really stood out for me was its fullscreen editing mode. This mode displays the photo full screen (no menus visible including the start menu) and hides menus on all four edges of the screen. It’s very intuitive to use and that wonderful magnifier is available in this view as well to inspect areas of the image closely. I just heard a description of the recently release iPhoto6 for the Mac that balleyhooed this type of full screen editing. Seems Apple weren’t first to the party on that one.

One other great feature is it’s comparison mode. You ctrl-click on at least two images and it brings them up full-screen side by side and lets you zoom in and out with the scroll wheel and pan to all parts of the photos simultaneously. Tremendously useful for comparing similar digital images quickly.

What don’t I like about it? Well it’s editing features are fairly primitive. It has basic contrast and colour enhancement controls, sharpening, blurring, cloning, cropping (which is done quite nicely I might add) and other basic features. It’s no Photoshop, but then again it’s not supposed to be. One other thing that I’d like to see is a way of tagging the images. It will display and let you edit jpeg metadata, but there are no convenient tagging and searching features.

The thing about this program that really gets me is not only its speed in bringing up thumbnails of even very large images but rather the fact that it lets you view a heavily magnified but high quality view of the image almost instantaneously. There’s no disc whirring, no chugging or chirping, just BAM it brings it up and you’re panning around the image immediately.

I’ve tried XnView, IrfanView, and Picasa among others, but for image comparisons, quick touch-ups, cropping and basic editing, the speed and functionality of FastStone is pretty hard to beat, especially for the price – my favourite price by the way ;).

After all that, I’m still looking for something to tag and organize my images. I’m either thinking about using Picasa for this (sure it’s a very pretty program, but it seems so dead-slow at times) or something else. – Of course personally I’d like to use something from the open source community and I’m kind of afraid of locking myself into a library program and finding all those tags and all that metadata stored in some proprietary format that pisses me off 2 years from now when I decide to go with something else. I’m not a professional photographer (gawd I’d sure like to be but as they say, ‘the grass is always greener….’) – but I’d like something more ‘prosumer’. If anybody’s made it this far and has any suggestions, please let me know.

Y’know what I’d really like? Flickr for the desktop.


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