F-Spot and Zonbu Photo Management

Today, I decided to venture out beyond the confines of the Zonbu IM client and web browser and explore digital photo management.I copy my photos to my PC in the old fashioned way; plug the memory card in to a reader and use the windows photo acquisition wizard to select the ones I want, tag the files with a common name and pick a directory. It works fairly well under windows. I don’t usually install custom camera software as the XP wizard has always met my needs.

I wanted to see how the Zonbu would handle my digital photos and how it stacks up against XP in this regard, so I grabbed my memory card and a USB reader and plugged it in to see what would happen…

The Zonbu detected my USB SD card reader and added a USB removable device icon to my desktop.

It didn’t seem to auto-detect the content or start F-Spot or any other import utility. I wasn’t entirely surprised since I didn’t use the USB cable to connect the camera (a Canon SD400) directly but it would be nice if some moitoring script noted that a bunch of photos appeared and offered to launch F-Spot for me.

Importing – Hits and Misses

I opened F-Spot from the start menu (labeled ‘Photo Organizer’) and told it to open a directory on the USB key for import. F-Spot rapidly imported all my photos and showed thumbnails in the main display box.

Much to my disappointment, it ignored five video clips I had taken of my son that were in the same directory.

Zonbu F-Spot Import Function

(Sample photos used in screen shot for illustration purposes)

Windows, by comparison, imports all the files in a directory on a memory card, even if the XP image viewer can’t display them. This helps ensure you don’t miss anything, and you can keep often related content grouped together.

F-Spot is pretty nice

F-Spot is great for keeping photos grouped together, arranging them all by date in a linear fashion. You can easily limit your display to a given date range and see the chronology of photos. It also lets you rotate photos, play them back in slide shows, adjust the colors and there is a powerful tagging system.

The tagging system allows you to attach multiple tags or keywords to any given photo and then you can rapidly slice and dice your photo library using tags to filter your images. As anyone who has been shooting digital photos for a while knows, this can be extremely useful for finding images in a big library.

Zonbu F-Spot Thumbnails Screenshot

(The duplicates in this shot aren’t an error, they are standard and wide-screen versions of the same images)

There are also some nice features like making F-Spot your screen saver, auto-magically creating a slide-show from any tag you specify.

A quick but important note

F-Spot is a photo organizer, it gives you a thumbnail view of your collection and an easy way to tag and manage them.

The originals were copied to Documents/Photos/Y/M/D/IMGX.jpg where Y is year, M is month and D is day (per the date stamp from your camera). While logical and useful if you’re hunting by date, you are definitely gong to want to “organize” the photos in F-Spot to be easy to find in a more natural “Tagged” manner. You work with low-res versions in the F-Spot manager while your originals stay in tact unlesss you say otherwise.

The learning curve seems pretty flat and I found my way around in a matter of minutes, never having used the application before in my life.

One Serious Omission: No automatic video import

I went looking for more details on F-Spot to see if this lack of video import was normal behavior. As far as I can tell, F-Spot does not import AVI or other video formats.

This is really disappointing; I need my photo software to grab everything on the camera, not just photos.

Perhaps, if the camera is connected via it’s USB cable, the importer may behave differently – but I see no sign that it would. If someone else can comment on this, I’d like to hear from you.

As well, since the Zonbu has a nice media player, it would be great if you clicked on a video in F-Spot and it spawned the media player for playback (which is how Vista behaves).

We want “no file left behind”

I would recommend to Zonbu that if the F-Spot project team isn’t going to add video import (or an “import all” option) then Zonbu may want to look at including a special import wizard to make sure “no file left behind”.

Importing video clips by hand

I ended up copying my photos my hand to my desktop for testing. I am happy to report the drag and drop copy function worked fine and the videos came across quickly (although without any file renaming or tagging benefits).

What I can praise the Zonbu for, yet again, is exceptional media playback capabilities. My camera generates AVI files that I believe are in the MJPEG format, which required me futzing about with codec installations on windows to get working properly.

The Zonbu had no problem displaying the file in the media player, the second it arrived on the desktop. Nice work guys.


I’d give my first experience with the Zonbu and digital photo import/management an 8.5/10.

The toolkit present seems relatively full featured and logical, as well as easy to use. My mother wouldn’t have any trouble working with it, and it kind of reminded me of the iPhoto suite on my brother’s Mac. An auto-detect of media type and suggested actions, similar to windows, would be welcome on inserting a USB key.

The lack of video import support, is also important and needs to be addressed. This may take some basic scripting on the part of the Zonbu team if the F-Spot project isn’t already contemplating something.

With each new task I keep expecting to hit a wall with the Zonbu, and it continues to delight me instead. This is how a Linux desktop should work.

-Mr. Zonbu

A quick note: Digital still cameras can take surprisingly good video clips

As a side note, when our family grew we decided not to get a regular video camera, but we did look briefly at digital camcorders. Instead we opted for a nice point-and-shoot digital to augment my large digital SLR (parents have enough stuff to schlep already).

It turns out that our Canon SD400 takes such nice video clips, limited only by storage on the card, that we’ve never needed anything else. We have hours of digital footage, at a nice quality level, from this “point-and-shoot”.

I read a tip once that said you don’t want to spend more than few minutes per event behind the camera, that you’ll enjoy it more if you put the camera down and get involved. That has proved to be excellent advice and we now focus most of our shooting on key moments and milestones, and it makes for great library of clips.


2 Responses to F-Spot and Zonbu Photo Management

  1. I think the best solution to the video import would be to have a scanning script that looks what files are present on the connected device, and imports the photos in f-spot, the videos in /movies, and so on.
    I personally learned the benefits of f-spot some time ago, and i’m incredibly happy with it. One of the key features for me is the upload to flickr…. fantastic!

  2. lordbinky says:

    Instead of giving everyone a bad impression Linux operating systems and their applications you should get the software working. Don’t rely on your distribution to make sure the software is working. A distribution like Zonbu is not a leader in the Linux realm and is likely to have several bugs.

    I use F-Spot with Ubuntu and it works great after a fresh install. I have also used it with Sabayon, Mint, among a few. All of these work. All of these even imported video.

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