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Photo Mechanic 4.2 adds FTP uploading  
Wednesday, August 25, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

Photo Mechanic 4.2 for Mac OS X and Windows 2000/XP, released today, adds a slew of new features to the pro photo browser.

The ability to transfer photos to an FTP server, directly from within the program, tops the list of what's new.

Also added is a customizable color class assignment, which can be used to rank or categorize photos, the option of directing photos to a different external editor based on file type, optional automatic launching of Photo Mechanic when a camera card is inserted, a faster photo preview mode (this has been somewhat broken in recent releases), initial support for JPEG and RAW files from the Canon EOS 20D and numerous refinements intended to make the program quicker to use (including renaming of files directly on a thumbnail's file name).

There are a number of minor bug fixes too.

The complete list of changes, as outlined in the Read Me document accompanying v4.2, is over two pages long. While most of the good stuff is in both the Mac and Windows releases of v4.2, for now the Mac version is slightly ahead of its Windows counterpart.

Not in the Windows version of 4.2 is the direct renaming of files on the thumbnail, auto-launching of the program when a camera card is detected and the Favorite Folders area in a contact sheet window does not yet exist. Also, not all of the changes implemented in the Mac version to render both thumbnails and previews more quickly have made it to the Windows version yet, though the previewing of photos should still be quicker in v4.2 for Windows than in v4.1.3.1.

Camera Bits' Dennis Walker indicates that building these features into the Windows version is already underway, but no release date for the update beyond 4.2 that will contain these features has been set.

Version 4.2 Feature Highlights

The descriptions below are based on our use of the Mac version of 4.2, which we've had in-house since earlier this month in beta form. Some features may operate differently in the Windows release, which we did not test prior to publishing this article.

Transferring photos to an FTP server A new FTP Photos As command under the File menu enables the transfer to an FTP server any photos selected in Photo Mechanic. The transfer happens as a separate, background process, enabling the user to return to browsing once the transfer is underway. Multiple, separate transfers can occur simultaneously, each in its own transfer window.

Choosing the FTP Photos As command

It's possible to define multiple FTP destinations, called Connections; each Connection can optionally include the automatic creation of destination folder(s); destination folder options are similar to those in the program's Ingest Disks function (note that the FTP server must allow for the creation of directories at the upload location for this feature to work). Both anonymous FTP and login/password access is supported, as are both passive and active links to the FTP server (typical corporate network configurations usually require passive mode).

FTP Connection Settings dialog

Prior to the commencement of the transmission, Photo Mechanic will optionally crop, resize, rename or enter IPTC information into a copy of the selected photo(s), before resaving as a new JPEG at a user-specified JPEG quality setting (the program offers an 11-increment quality/compression scale). When opting to send the selected photos in their original form, renaming is possible.

In the case of a naming conflict between the file to be sent and one that already exists on the server, the program includes three different options as to how to handle the conflict: replace the file on the server with the file to be sent, rename the file to be sent or rename the file on the server (assuming the FTP server supports renaming and/or replacing).

The FTP As dialog

The transmission queue in each transfer window is reorderable through a simple up/down arrow interface, to ensure that the photos are sent in the preferred order. This should be a handy feature on a tight deadline. And finally, a copy of the sent photos can be backed up to a user-specified folder.

FTP transfer window

Given this is Camera Bits' first whack at FTP transmission from within Photo Mechanic, there will probably be glitches with certain FTP server configurations that they'll need to iron out (though it has worked with over a dozen FTP servers for us). It's also limited to the transfer of photo and movie files: though the program can create HTML photo galleries, it's not able to upload the entire contents of a gallery, including the HTML pages. But in our use of a beta copy of v4.2 over the last couple of weeks, we already can't imagine life without direct FTP transmission from within the program. It's just that cool.

A QuickTime movie shows the FTP transfer process in action.

pm42_02.jpgAssigning a Color Class Until now, a picture could be tagged or not tagged; in Photo Mechanic and earlier, there is no other method of labeling a particular photo or group of photos as separate from the rest. Joining tagging in v4.2 is a new Color Class feature, which enables photos to be assigned 1 of 8 different classes. The name and label colour associated with each class is user-customizable.

This feature can be used to rank photos, much like the File Browser in Photoshop. We've already set up the program to use 3 of the 8 classes as our first, second and third choices when editing. A fourth class we've set up to assign to the guaranteed duds.

It can also be used for categorization. For example, a particular project might benefit from being able to segregate photos by subject matter - pregame, game, post-game, for example - with Color Class being configured for that purpose.

Because both the name and colour of each class can be set by the user, this feature is meant to be moulded into something that works for each user or organization. A Color Class can be assigned to a photo or selection of photos from both a contact sheet or preview window, by clicking on the Color Class bar under the file name or typing a keyboard shortcut. It's also possible to sort photos in a contact sheet based on their Color Class.

Associating a file type with an external editor Prior to v4.2, Photo Mechanic allowed for the selection of a single editor, like Photoshop, that image files could be directed to for editing, while movie files were hard-wired to QuickTime Player.

Now, the program can be set up so that choosing the Edit Photos command will send the photo or movie to an external editor based on which of the three different file opening options has been chosen in the program's Preferences. The options are: 

  • To the application associated with the file type at the operating system level.

  • To the application assigned to that file type in a new application mapping dialog in Preferences. This is where RAW shooters will want to head first. Here, it's possible to associate NEF files with Nikon Capture, CR2 AND CRW files with EOS Viewer Utility and so on. The associations you set up here might replicate what already exists at the OS level, or they might not, so setting up the link between file type and external editor here will ensure that the right program is invoked by the Edit Photos command.

  • To the default application for the file type, as set in Preferences. There is now a separate, configurable default entry for both image files and movie files, instead of just for image files as before.

In addition, it's possible to override the link between file type and external editor established in Preferences by right-clicking (or Control-clicking for Mac folks with a single-button mouse) on a thumbnail or preview and selecting an editor from the Edit photo with submenu. The applications listed are a compilation of the programs selected as the default photo and movie applications, as well as any applications added in the application mapping dialog. This makes it possible, for example, to direct a particular NEF file or group of NEF files to open in Photoshop CS, even if you've made Nikon Capture your preferred NEF editor in Preferences.

If you instead want Photoshop to be your primary NEF editor, as well as the default application for editing photos (as will be the case for the majority of users), but you want to be able to direct NEF files to Nikon Capture from time to time, you'll need to fake out Photo Mechanic so that Nikon Capture appears in the applications list when you right- or Control-click on a NEF file. To do that, assign Nikon Capture to one of the lesser-used file types in the application mapping dialog, one that's not likely to trip you up, like .tga. Since it's unlikely that most users will have occasion to browse and edit .tga files, the only result of making this oddball file type association is that Nikon Capture will appear in the applications list that appears in the Edit photo with submenu when right- or Control-clicking. Configured this way, Photoshop will be where Photo Mechanic sends NEFs normally, but Nikon Capture can be chosen as needed with a right- or Control-click. This same approach can be used with file formats other than NEF.

Mapping a file type to a specific external editing application

There are some limitations in the file type to external editor linking:

  • Not all applications will open the file or files as requested by Photo Mechanic, because they haven't been designed to allow for this. Nikon Capture 4.1.2 for Mac will open the NEF files sent to it by Photo Mechanic, no questions asked. By comparison, Canon's Digital Photo Professional 1.0 for Mac launches, but doesn't handle the file open request. EOS Viewer Utility 1.0.1 for Mac won't open files sent to it either, but it does automatically point its own browser window at the folder containing the files, which is actually quite handy in practice. The moral of the story is you will need to experiment with the external editors other than Photoshop that you use to see how well they interoperate with Photo Mechanic's Edit Photos command.

  • In v4.2, Photo Mechanic doesn't distinguish between honest-to-goodness standard TIFF files and RAW .TIF files from cameras like Canon's EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds. To it, they're all just .TIF files. For users that browse both standard and RAW TIFF files, this may pose a problem. A future version of Photo Mechanic is expected to have separate entries for several flavours of TIFF, including standard .TIF and Canon RAW .TIF.

pm42_01.jpgAutomatic program launching In the Mac version of 4.2, the program will optionally launch automatically when a card from a digital camera is mounted on the desktop. Photo Mechanic relies on OS X's Image Capture application to handle the automatic launching of the program (much as it does to launch iPhoto by default), but from there, Photo Mechanic will either open an Ingest Disks dialog, new contact sheets pointing at the image folders on the card or do nothing at all, based on a setting in Photo Mechanic's Preferences.

We use the Ingest Disks function religiously to move photos from a camera CF or SD card to the computer. The ability to have the program launch, the Ingest Disks dialog open and the card automatically selected under Source Disk(s)), all without having to lift a finger, is a welcome change.

Faster previewing Photo Mechanic's speedy display of photos in the Preview window is once again speedy in 4.2. The speed has been hobbled in recent Photo Mechanic releases, as Camera Bits massaged its memory-handling code for machines that were light on RAM. Most of these performance problems have been addressed, which means the ability to move fairly rapidly through a folder of photos at preview size is back.

Now, the program is more adept at loading or keeping in memory photos that are just before or after the one being previewed, so that hitting the left or right arrow in the Preview window should quickly bring up the adjacent photo. In addition, when the program hasn't yet loaded a preview-size version of the photo being requested, it will display a pixelated version derived from the thumbnail, instead of a blank screen, while it creates the proper resolution preview to display. The net effect of these changes is a much more usable Preview mode.

The Mac version has gotten an additional speed boost in the display of both thumbnails and previews, courtesy of new code in OS X 10.3.5 that Photo Mechanic utilizes for scaling photos on the monitor. On our small stable of Macs running the most current version of OS X, the speed increase from this is noticeable, though not dramatic. A similar speed bump is expected in a subsequent Windows version, owing to the use of a new code library for that platform that Camera Bits has obtained but not yet implemented.

Version 4.2 Read Me

The entire list of changes in the Read Me accompanying v4.2 is excerpted below:

From the Photo Mechanic 4.2 Read Me (Mac version)

• Added an FTP As command for sending photos by FTP. You can choose to send the original photos, or send copies of photos that are rotated and optionally cropped or resized. FTP transmission is done in the background so you can keep working. You can define multiple FTP connections which can include automatic generation of dated subfolders. You can also have Photo Mechanic keep a copy of the transmitted photos in a “sent” folder.

• Added support for assigning a “color class” to photos to better organize and classify your photos. There are eight colors / classes, each of which can be given a name and color. Changing the color class for a photo can be done directly from the color class popup menu underneath each photo in the contact sheet, or the selected group of photos can be assigned a color class with Control (Windows) or Command (Mac) 1-8 (0 to clear). You can also select all photos of a color class with Control-Alt (Windows) or ControlCommand (Mac) 1-8 (0 for no color class), or view only photos of a certain color class with Control (Windows) or Control-Command (Mac) F1-F8 (F10 for no color class). In the Preview dialog and slide show, the color class for the current photo can be set with the 1-8 keys (0 to clear).

• Added support for multiple external editors depending on file type. In addition to separate default editors for photos and movies, and the option to let the OS open photos or movies depending on its file mappings, you can choose a specific editor for certain file types (e.g. Nikon NEF files get opened by Nikon Capture).

• Modified the JPEG quality slider to produce more linear results in the compressed file size. Previously, the size would drop sharply as the quality setting was reduced from the maximum setting (due to default quality settings in JPEGLib). Also added optimization of Huffman tables for reduced file sizes from same quality.

• Photo Mechanic will now keep neighboring photos in RAM for the Preview dialog to speed moving to next / previous photos. The “blanking” delay when moving between photos has been removed, and it has been replaced with a fuzzy preview prior to loading the full resolution preview.

• (Mac) Added faster image scaling support for users of Mac OS 10.3.5 or higher.

• Added 24 new variables relating to dates, 8 for each class of date (capture date, current date, IPTC date). For year, there are {year2}, {year4}, {todayyear2}, {todayyear 4}, {iptcyear2}, and {iptcyear4}. For month, there are {month}, {month0}, {monthname}, {todaymonth}, {todaymonth0}, {todaymonthname}, {iptcmonth}, {iptcmonth0}, and {iptcmonthname}. For day, there are {day}, {day0}, {dow} (day of week), {todayday}, {todayday0}, {todaydow}, {iptcday}, {iptcday0}, and {iptcdow}. There are 3 or 4 character abbreviations for all of these variables.

• Added {colorclass} (or {color}, {colr}) variable to access the color class.

• Added {prefix} or {prfx} variable for accessing the first three characters of a filename. If the first character is an underscore (‘_’), then it will be skipped (e.g. AdobeRGB for Exif 2.2.1). This feature is very useful for the Nikon D2H and the version 2 firmware update since the user can choose three of the first four characters in a filename (e.g. their initials).

• (Mac) Added direct renaming of individual photos from the contact sheet window by double-clicking on the file names.

• (Mac) Added automatic handling of newly mounted camera disks (those disks with a DCIM folder). In the preferences you can choose to ignore newly mounted disks, open the ingest dialog, or open contact sheet(s) viewing the contents of the camera disk. In order for Photo Mechanic to see newly mounted disks when it is not running, you need to setup Image Capture’s preferences for Camera to make Photo Mechanic the application to launch “When a camera is connected”.

• When rotating JPEGs, the Exif orientation (rotation) tag is now updated in JPEGs that already have this tag. Some applications such as Photoshop CS can recognize this orientation tag and automatically rotate photos upon open (however, Photoshop CS will retain its own “knowledge” of the rotation for a photo and not let it change).

• Added new “single selection navigation” mode. When only one photo is selected, you can move the selected photo to neighboring photos in the contact sheet with the right and left arrow keys. Also, the space bar will open the Preview dialog with the currently selected photo, and the thumbnail gallery tab in the Preview dialog will be set to All instead of Selected. When exiting the Preview dialog, the photo being viewed will be selected in the contact sheet and made visible. Furthermore, various keyboard shortcuts will work in the contact sheet without the Control (Windows) or Command (Mac) keyboard modifier. These shortcuts are ‘[‘ and ‘]’ (rotate), ‘t’ (toggle tag), ‘+’/’=’ and ‘-‘ (set or remove tag), ‘0’ through ‘8’ (set color class), and ‘i’ (IPTC Info).

• Added a checkbox in the Copy and Save As dialogs to open the destination folder as a contact sheet when the copy or save is complete (default is always off).

• Added a checkbox in the HTML Export dialog to open the exported HTML in your default web browser.

• The selected photos can now be tagged/untagged together as a group by Shift (Windows) or Option (Mac) clicking on the tag box of one of the selected photos.

• Files with a .JPE extension are recognized as JPEGs, but Photo Mechanic will change the extension to .JPG when the files are renamed.

• (Mac) Fixed problems with accessing the Mac Resource Manager from multiple threads (the Resource Manager is not thread safe and certain simultaneous accesses could cause a crash).

• Fixed problems with fractional inch / cm values in the Save As dialog.

• Fixed problems deleting all files when both RAW plus JPEG share a sound (.WAV) file.

• Fixed problem appending a caption with the IPTC Stationery Pad when no caption exists.

• Fixed problems recognizing previews in Nikon NEF files created through Nikon Capture Control.

• Added support for viewing CMYK JPEGs.

• (Mac) Dates in IPTC dialog now extend from –999 through 9999 (for historical photos).

• (Mac) Fixed problems with printing not properly recognizing the color converted space.

• (Mac) No longer allows pasting of variables over number fields.

• NOTE: there is a known problem with “hacked” passwords that may cause Photo Mechanic to act erratically. Camera Bits has not been able to determine the exact cause of this problem and we aren’t likely to investigate this problem any further. Therefore, if you use Photo Mechanic on a regular basis, you should purchase a valid license and receive a valid password.

Photo Mechanic 4.2 for Mac OS X (10.2 and later) and Windows 2000/XP is a free update for recent purchasers of the program. See the Camera Bits web site for upgrade details, or access the Software Update feature in recent releases of the application itself. The US$150 application is also available for download as a trial version (demo code required), and can either be purchased direct from Camera Bits or where Lexar products are sold.

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