Workflow: Slow or Fast?

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get across the problems we photographers face in a more graphic way that’s easier to understand.

I’ve been complaining about workflow issues being ignored and not solved by the camera makers for a long time, so let’s see if I can put a portion of our workflow into a very concise form:

bythom 08

The Overall column is basically single image workflow in a nutshell, and best case at the moment. The two other columns tell us how well additional software solves some of the problems. Let me step through things one by one:

  • Setting up Camera — Getting complex cameras like the Nikon DSLRs set exactly the way you want them to be for a job can be a bit time consuming. I use different settings, banks, and button assignments for different jobs. I might even add something into the Comment field (or have to change the Copyright field) for particular jobs. 

    The first problem is that I can’t set all the things I’d want to on the camera. Where do I enter “Jack & Jill’s Wedding”, for example? Or “First Quarter WSU versus UW”? I have no good way to identify job, let alone mini-events that occur within that job (e.g. Getting Ready, Ceremony, Poses, Reception). No camera maker has really tackled this problem, yet it would easy enough to do through metadata entry (both pre-shoot and during shoot, even if during has to be selecting from pre-designated entries you’ve created pre-shoot).

    The second problem is that there are 50+ Custom Settings, 2-4 banks/user sets, a half dozen button assignments, and dozens of actual camera settings that might need to be set or changed to optimize a camera for a shoot. Nikon’s answer: a monolithic Save/Load Settings command. We can’t have named multiples of that (e.g. Thom’s Wedding Settings, Thom’s Wildlife Settings, Thom’s Basketball Settings, etc.). Just one file that has a fixed name. I suppose I could carry multiple marked cards with different settings files that have the same name ;~). What a pain. 

    I give Nikon a “fair” in the Software column because I’ve long used Camera Control Pro to set up my cameras before shoots. It’s a little faster and I can make it even faster using scripts on my computer. Still, it’s not optimal, and that only gives me the one configuration at a time.

  • Changing Settings While Shooting and Shooting — Obviously, the Nikon DSLRs have 50+ years of development to them, and it shows. Fortunately, Nikon has been relatively consistent about user interface, so I can pick up one Nikon DSLR and shoot with it and move to another without getting too confused (though they need to be set up to mimic each other as much as possible, see previous bullet). In the consumer bodies we hear complaints about lack of dedicated buttons for things, or slightly awkward controls, but those complaints exist mostly because we know how good the pro designs are. 

    You’re probably surprised that I’ve listed speed ratings for software in this category. Think tethered shooting. Ah. We’re back to Camera Control Pro (and third party software that tethers). Generally, you can only do what Nikon allows ;~). Fortunately, that’s just enough to make the situation tolerable, though not optimal.

  • Getting Images from Camera to Computer — And suddenly everything slows down to a crawl. We’re either going to use Sneaker Net (card out of camera to card reader), poorly implemented and sluggish WiFi, or on most of the Nikon DSLRs, USB 2.0. Even the Ethernet on the D4s isn’t impressively fast, plus it has a lot of setup things you need to tackle (see first bullet). There are some third-party solutions that are a little faster, both via WiFi and via card reader (including the ability to ingest from multiple card readers simultaneously). 

    Let’s go theoretical for a moment. 16GB optimally transferred over USB 3.0 means a transfer speed of about 45 seconds (it’s going to vary a bit with overhead of the system). For USB 2.0 it means about 5 minutes. This is the reason why most of us are using USB 3.0 card readers, actually, though we’re also somewhat dependent upon the actual card speed. In most cases image transfer takes far longer than these optimal numbers. 

    So here’s a question: why don’t cameras have 16GB of internal storage (and a card slot for overflow/copying)? And a way of moving that internal storage via USB 3.0 directly to a computer? Of course, we need file renaming along the way, don’t we? So we’d also need to have a real naming system in the camera instead of DCF’s wickedly outdated 8.3 standard. Oh, and that naming might solve some of the issues I pointed out in the first bullet ;~).

  • Keywording and AnnotatingWe have no way of putting keywords into the camera and then assigning them as we shoot, which is a first order problem. If all we do is first ingest files to the computer, we end up with another workflow step to annotate. 

    Funny thing is, while I’m shooting I also often have plenty of downtime. Between plays in sports, looking or waiting for animals in wildlife, waiting for light to change in landscapes, etc. Why can’t I begin keywording and annotating in the camera? Well, because the camera makers haven’t given us a way to do that.

    Even GPS tagging doesn’t quite get up to the full level I’d like. If my GPS knows I’m in Torres del Paine in Chile, why isn’t that keyworded into location EXIF? Instead, I get a GPS long/lat value I have to look up and deal with later. Funny thing is, the GPS could ask me what the name of the place is I’m at ;~). That would make an interesting crowd sourcing solution, actually. 

    Nikon isn’t really solving anything close to this problem for us, in camera or out. We can apply some ratings, and if you can figure your way around in Nikon Transfer, you can do some basic keywording that may or may not survive intact into your cataloging software.

  • RAW Conversion — Nikon makes an inferior raw conversion program, Capture NX-D. Nikon also doesn’t share enough information with third-party converter makers for them to make a superior raw conversion program. Anyone else notice that we’re in a box that has no easy exit?

By coincidence, I found Nikon’s “workflow” conception diagram while fiddling around on their sites:

bythom nikon workflow diagram

No “setup camera.” 

“Transfer image” (note the singular) is vaguely defined here.

And the end of the workflow is just “Convert to…”

True, this workflow diagram centers around Capture NX-D, but it also shows you just how narrow Nikon’s thinking is about workflow. Really narrow. To the point where metadata isn’t really mentioned. Nor is there any mention about compatibility of Nikon sidecar files with anyone else’s ;~). Nikon’s workflow, carried back to film would be: Shoot with Camera; Take Film Out of Camera and put it into Film Processor; Select Processing Options. Wow. That’s corner drugstore one-hour processing level. I’ll repeat what I’ve written many times: the camera companies actually don’t know how people use their cameras or their images from them. If they do know, they aren’t helping, rather just iterating the same old film-derived formula forever. 

This article has already gone on longer than I intended. My intent was really to just summarize the problem in a concise form that perhaps the camera makers might understand (the table). The bottom line is this: they make great narrow tools (DSLRs for example) for which the user has to assemble the full solution, but can’t. At least not optimally. 

Compare the pro (and serious) photographer problem suggested by the above with the smartphone user of today: there’s not much to set up but there are plenty of apps to create better camera setups; changing settings is simple and direct for the most part; getting images from the smartphone somewhere else, even annotated for social media, is wickedly simple and direct. 

Sure, smartphones don’t do everything the sophisticated cameras do. But for the snapshot cases, they pretty much now do more, more directly, and faster. So here’s my clarion call to camera makers: when will you realize that the serious shooters want to do more, do it more directly, have more scriptable/programmable control, and have a complete ecosystem that caters to all their needs in the workflow? 

WiFi in a DSLR isn’t even a baby step, folks. I’ll only be happy when I can put “Fast” in every cell in that table.

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