Originally Published: Tuesday, 14 November 2000 Author: Chris Ball
Published to: enhance_articles_multimedia/Video Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Strike A Pose: Digital Cameras and Linux

Hot on the trail of yesterday's article on gPhoto, Multimedia's Chris Ball hits the streets to find people using their digital cameras with Linux, sometimes getting better functionality than their Windows counterparts! Take it away, Chris!

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As a big gadget fan, I often get disappointed when I run across something that looks like fun but has no Linux support. When I researched into whether or not I could buy a digital camera to work with my Linux machines, I was told the dreaded words "Windows or Macintosh only". What I found after researching the situation more seriously, though, was that I'd have very few problems using Linux if I took the plunge and invested in a digital camera. I decided to talk to a few of the people who'd helped me along the way to this decision a little further and find out what the facts really are.

Nathan Poznick lives in Arkansas. He's had his Kodak DC-200+ camera for almost a year and a half, and had no hesitations in telling me that making his camera work under Linux was an easy task. Nathan connects via the serial port on the back of his camera to his Debian GNU/Linux install. From there, he uses the popular program gPhoto to download his images, and then to delete them from the camera afterwards.

I spoke to Nathan about the simplicity of using his camera in Linux, rather than in Windows; something we were sure camera buyers would be worried about. He removed my worries, for the second time. Nathan first started using his camera in Linux by using the apt-get function of Debian GNU/Linux to install gPhoto- apt-get is a function of a Debian system that finds a program without you needing to know where to download it from- and then installs and configures the program. Once that was done, Nathan set gPhoto to read his COM1 port (ttyS0) and his Kodak camera. Now anytime he wants to download his shots, he just has to run gPhoto, and the camera starts sending the pictures across the link.

But that's not everything. Once Nathan has his pictures, he puts them in an on-line photo album on the web, as part of his web site www.drunkmonkey.org. He found out how he could do this while browsing the freshmeat site for open source software projects to help with his camera. He came across a script called WebGallery; WebGallery takes digital camera images, and prepares thumbnail pictures and an index page for them.

I asked Nathan what he thought about using his camera in Linux, rather in an operating system like Windows. He said, "Currently, I'm using Linux for everything I do with the camera". There have clearly been a large number of people who've bought one of these cameras and thought, "Hey, if I could do this with my camera, it'd be really neat, and have gone on to release the results and source code to normal users. On top of that, when I tried the Windows software on my camera, it seemed a lot slower transferring images than with gPhoto. I can't use USB with my camera, so I'm always going to be waiting a while for my images- Linux definitely seems speedier, though, and doesn't crash. When I used the Windows software it'd often crash while transferring photos over." He also added that I could give out his URL at drunkmonkey.org for anyone who wanted to see his album as an example of what Linux can do.

Feeling a lot more comfortable about using a digital camera in Linux, but still a little reserved, I moved on. I bumped into krt from Seattle, and again soon picked up good vibes about digital cameras and Linux. Krt picked up a Fuji mx-1200 last Christmas, intending to use it specifically with gPhoto and Linux- he's been using Linux since 1992. Also exciting to hear was that he's recently returned from Hawaii... and so have his digital camera pictures. He took a laptop, 12mb in Flash Memory for the photos, his Fuji camera and serial cable. He would return home every night and dump the photos on to the laptop, again using gPhoto for the download. He told me that he'd taken 200 pictures altogether during his visit, and neither Linux or gPhoto had failed him with a crash or data loss once.

"Brilliant", I said, but does krt think that Linux helped him where Windows can't, or does he think that he was limited by Linux in any way? Simply, he doesn't believe that Windows could have helped him at all- his laptop is quite ancient, and only has 16mb of RAM. If he could have got Windows to run on the laptop, he doesn't believe that he'd have fared too well at downloading photos. The software he's used under Windows previously seems to have problems shifting large numbers of images at once, requiring that you click on each image to select it before it could be transferred. He used the gPhotodump utility- a part of gPhoto- to be able to collect photos from his camera without being inside the X Window system, and used a bash shell script to dump of all the images at once without having to confirm each dump to the computer. Another happy user.

At this point, I decided to digress from case studies, and find out whether most users are likely to have as much success as my two interviewees. I popped over to the gPhoto site, and decided to try and find out how many models of camera are known to work with gPhoto. The answer? An impressive 105+, including models from Agfa, Canon, Apple, Casio, Kodak, Konica, Nikon, Olympus and any other big name brand in cameras you can think of.

So is it safe to buy a digital camera and use Linux? The only answer I could come up with is "sure". Just make sure that your chosen magic-moment-storing-device appears on the list up at www.gphoto.org/cameras.html, and you're away. If your camera uses USB, you may need to set up your system to include USB support- this certainly isn't a huge deal, though, and there are tutorials available on the web to walk you through it.

That's about it from me. Happy snapping, and may your photo transfer times be quick. Have fun.

Chris Ball is the Assistant Project Manager of Linux.com's Multimedia section, codenamed 'Industrial Linux and Magic.' He hails from the United Kingdom.

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