Acoustic Mac

Speeding Up Digital Photography

How a Small Investment Made a Big Difference

Beverly Woods - 2001.05.24 - Tip Jar

I work one day a week at a music store specializing in unusual and vintage instruments, where I started out as the person willing to tune the harps and hammered dulcimers. Increasingly, though, I find myself involved in the computer aspect of the business. The store has a website, which I helped redesign last year. As part of that effort, I brought in my digital camera and took photos of the shop and the other employees. I've always loved photography, so this was one of my favorite parts of the job.

Naturally, the store needs photos of instruments on the website, and sometimes customers would like to get additional instrument photos emailed to them. There was a backlog of picture requests. Nobody else on the staff seemed to want to do them, which surprised me: nice camera, beautiful instruments, what was the problem? I soon found out.

Several years back, before I started working there, the store had invested in a computer and graphics setup based on a beige G3 and a Nikon Coolpix digital camera. After the new website was up, the owner asked if I thought I could improve the shop's photo procedure. "I noticed you are always smiling when you are using your camera," he said. "Every time I go to take pictures, it takes me 2 or 3 hours, and I'm not happy. I have other things I need to be doing. Can you make it work better?"

The amount of time he reported seemed excessive to me, too, so I took the Nikon and went to photograph the next batch of instruments. It took me several hours from start to finish, mostly because of the download time - the camera could only be connected to the computer by a serial port. To make matters worse, the AC adapter was the Nikon's only source of power, and the camera end of the adapter was very easily dislodged by any movement at all, being dependent on a tiny, rounded lip of metal to stay in place. This made the picture-taking process quite cumbersome, and the downloading process ticklish, with the G3 cordoned off behind Wires That Must Not Be Disturbed.

Apparently someone had left the store staff with the impression that rechargeable batteries could not be used in the Nikon. I suggested that NiMH batteries would be worth a try. We got some, and they've been working beautifully. We now have freedom to take pictures anywhere we'd like, whether convenient to an outlet or not. An additional benefit is that, with the batteries in place, the camera remembers its settings from session to session.

The G3s had been bought just before the advent of USB. I get along well with my home setup (an Epson PhotoPC 650, which downloads into my iMac 350 via the Lexar Jumpshot cable), so I suggested that for a small investment the store could go USB too. The owner was happy to approve this expenditure.

I ordered a PCI USB card, a USB flash card reader, and some additional RAM for the G3. I installed them without difficulty, thanks to the beautifully illustrated G3 manual.

For a total of about $100, the picture download and processing time have been improved drastically: the download that used to take an hour or more now takes a minute or two, and does not require either battery usage or the troublesome AC adapter, since the flash card (the camera's removable memory card) now plugs directly into the USB reader. The additional RAM allowed me to apportion more memory to the photo processing program, which now runs considerably faster.

My goal was to make the photo process user-friendly so that anyone else at the store could happily do it. It's a good thing I succeeded in making it easier, because the result of these improvements was that I found myself nominated as photographer. Fortunately, I do like to take pictures. LEM

Next time: Batch Processing On A Budget.

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