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iPhoto offers a handful of pro-friendly features  
Monday, January 7, 2002 | by
While it's not likely to supplant pro-level browsers from the desktops of Mac users any time soon, there's just enough power in Apple's new Mac OS X application iPhoto 1.0 to entice professional photographers to consider it for specific tasks. Especially since it costs only the time it takes to download a 13.4MB file and install it into OS X 10.1.2.


iPhoto on the desktop of Mac OS X 10.1.2

Possible pro uses of iPhoto include:

Streamlined Image Import

iPhoto supports the one-button transfer of images from a digital camera, as well as storage media in a USB or FireWire-connected card reader. Photos are absorbed into nested folders residing in the logged-in user's My Pictures folder. They are automatically renamed in the process, with a simple number+extension format (i.e. 345.jpg or 23.nef) and sorted by date and import session. Oddly, the name shown with the photo in the program's thumbnail view is not the same as the actual file name.

In my testing, iPhoto had no trouble importing both JPEG and NEF photos from a Nikon D1X and Nikon D1H linked via FireWire cable to a Powerbook G4/550, though neither camera is on Apple's list of supported models. The Canon EOS D30 is on Apple's compatibility list, and so should work, but I have not tested it. The Canon EOS-1D is not on the list, and is not recognized by iPhoto (the EOS-1D is also not recognized by OS X 10.1.2's Image Capture utility).


iPhoto set to import photos from the Nikon D1H (left); from the
Lexar Media USB CompactFlash Reader (right)

EOS-1D JPEG and raw TIFF photos, as well as photos from most any other digital camera, may be imported via a card reader instead. I tested five different card readers, none of which appear on Apple's reader compatibility list. Three worked without a hitch: the Microtech FireWire CameraMate, Lexar Media FireWire CompactFlash Reader and Lexar Media USB Compactflash Reader (not to be confused with Lexar's Jumpshot cable).

Well, not entirely without a hitch. As with OS 9, Mac OS X remounts a CompactFlash card inserted into a FireWire reader immediately after its cleared from the system with the Put Away (OS 9) or Eject (OS X) command. This problem is solved in OS 9 by loading a dedicated driver for the reader, but none are yet available for OS X (and shouldn't be needed anyway if Apple can fix this OS behaviour). Not recognized by iPhoto was the Microtech Zio! or its twin, the Delkin Pocket Reader-10.

iPhoto recognizes camera storage media inserted into the card slot of a laptop, and can also grab photos from a user-selected location on any mounted drive. And it's about as quick to import photos in the background with iPhoto hidden in the Dock as it is when the program is the frontmost application. One quirk, probably a bug: the program recognizes and imports NEFs when they reside on a card inside a tethered D1X or D1H, but does not recognize nor import NEFs when the same card is in the card slot or external card reader, even though it handles JPEGs and TIFFs intermingled with the NEFs just fine.


Importing photos from a card in a Powerbook G4/550's card slot

What's missing? Well, lots. Photo Mechanic 2.0r17 for Mac includes a similar import feature, called Ingest Disk. It provides batch captioning and more control over where the images are copied to, as well as intelligent thumbnail generation from standard formats and raw formats alike. It can also import from multiple sources in the same Ingest Disk session. iPhoto, like most consumer-level image browsers, does not offer captioning at all. In fact, if your goal is simply to get the photos into the Mac and immediately use another browser altogether, OS X 10.1.2's Image Capture is a better choice than iPhoto for importing duties, since you have more control over where photos will land.

An Apple QuickTime movie demonstrates the iPhoto Import process.

Fast Thumbnail Browsing

iPhoto takes full advantage of the improved on-screen rendering capabilities of OS X to display thumbnails at a variety of sizes, complete with way-cool stepless resizing (as shown in this QuickTime demo). It quickly and efficiently re-renders thumbnails at larger sizes, and the resulting thumbnails are fairly sharp and clear.

Thumbnails may be rotated as well. It appears that the original high-resolution image is untouched during thumbnail rotate operations. Instead, iPhoto creates its own thumbnail separate from the original photo, then rotates just that. So, no Windows XP-like trashing of the original image's EXIF shooting data, suggesting Apple put some thought into how this should work. That effort hasn't extended to preserving the EXIF info when re-saving a photo from the Edit view, however.

In addition, the program remembers the new orientation of the photo when it's transferred into Edit, iPhoto's minimalist image adjustment mode. This is a nice touch that eliminates the need to re-rotate a photo that has already been flipped upright in the thumbnail view, and is done on the assumption that from the Edit view the picture is to be adjusted and resaved in its correctly-oriented state.

Pictures may also be fairly quickly previewed at a largish size, and stepped through one by one at that size. iPhoto does not appear to load the next frame into memory while displaying the current frame or perform other optimizations to speed up previewing of larger files. This means that iPhoto's preview function seems fairly quick on a fast Mac, including the new flat panel iMacs on display at this morning's media briefing at Macworld. But it also means that iPhoto is nowhere near as quick an image previewer as, for example, ACDSee 4 for Windows.

From the thumbnail view, photos may be dragged and dropped to copy them to another location on the hard drive, or to move them about within iPhoto's own database hierarchy.

One Button Coffee Table Book

iPhoto's ability to automate the creation of a custom coffee table book, complete with full bleed printing onto paper that is very close to that of a traditional photo book, is way cool.


iPhoto coffee table book

While it could be used to generate, say, a photographer's portfolio (that's among iPhoto's included templates), it's better to think of this function as a great new Christmas gift generator. Sample books on display at Macworld show print quality that is okay, not stellar, but a notch above what I've obtained from online printing services. The feel of the paper, the look of the templates, fonts and the quality of the assembly should be more than enough to impress the heck out of Grandma at Christmas though. And at US$30 for a 10-page hard cover book (printing is only on the right side; the left page is left blank) and US$3 per page thereafter, it's priced right too.

Book covers are available in four colours - black, grey, burgundy and blue. Turnaround time in the US is expected to be about 1 week.

An Apple QuickTime movie demonstrates the creation of a book.

Conclusion

Other noteworthy features include a simple slide show function with a beautiful cross-dissolve transition (this is the first program since Kai's Power SHOW I've seen to provide a smooth, professional-quality dissolve transition that rivals multi-projector slide dissolves), simplified printing to popular inkjet printers, easy web page creation and more. Apple has further extended the capabilities of iPhoto with the release of a small collection of Applescripts, one of which produces a standalone Quicktime slide show, complete with background music, from a user-selected grouping of photos in iPhoto. And the program may rapidly grow more powerful yet if developers and end users alike capitalize on its plug-in architecture to introduce new features.

I wouldn't want to depend on iPhoto as my primary image browser, in part because it works only in OS X and my Macs will continue to be OS 9 machines until Photoshop is released for the new operating system (no Classic mode for me, as it breaks all my Photoshop automation scripts). But iPhoto does have certain appealing features and an ease of use that is enticing. If you're a Mac user running OS X 10.1.2, iPhoto may well be worth checking out. But don't expect it to be a replacement for most any professional browser you're using now.

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