Finally, serious Lightroom photo syncing on the iPad – no iPhoto required

Old workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from my camera to my iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad and export to a folder on my hard drive. Drag said folder into iPhoto. Make newly imported photos into a new iPhoto album. Hook up iPad for sync via iTunes. Place check mark on new album in iTunes iPad photo syncing tab. Wait.

New workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from camera to iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad, drag to Photosmith publishing service, hit sync.

What a great program, though it does cost $20. What I’ve just described, using the app to send pictures or albums right from Lightroom onto your iPad, is worth more than $20 to me. You also have to install a free Lightroom plugin on your computer to make to all work.

But the other side of the app is for doing field work on photos using just your iPad, which I have not done much in the past but may get more into. Using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, you can import photos right off your camera into the Photosmith app, rate them, tag them, flag them for deletion etc. You can also directly upload them to a couple of services such as Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. Then just get near your Mac, open up Lightroom and sync back to your computer. Sweet.

photosmith app screen shot

Annoying limits I’ve encountered so far?

You can’t sync iPad screenshots back to Lightroom. That’s because the iPad makes them in the PNG format which Lightroom doesn’t support. But a fix is coming.

It seems like you can’t use the iPad app to re-arrange photos imported from Lightroom among your collections or make them into a new collection and have the changes sync back to Lightroom. Only new photos imported directly from a camera to the iPad (or taken with the iPad, god have mercy on your soul) sync back to Lightroom.


Times Reader’s offline New York Times needs improvement

“Welcome to the future,” reads the web page for the New York Times’ software/web hybrid application, Times Reader. “Your newspaper is here.” Well, I certainly hope not.

The Times Reader, a program which allows you to download virtually the entire contents of the newspaper in seconds online for offline perusal at your leisure, is rather underwhelming. And as you can only use Times Reader if you pay $3.45 a week (or are a paying print subscriber), you’d think that the revenue-starved paper would be working a little harder to improve the product. So why does the Times Reader fail to please? Let me count the ways.

First of all, the program’s basic presentation style is too limiting. One of the great things about a print newspaper is the information conveyed visually from the layout and other graphical cues. More important stories are higher up on the page, with larger headlines and more space for text. Pictures that accompany a story are, super shocker, placed next to the story. Sometimes seeing a picture and reading the headline are all you need to know. Browsing is easy since you can read all the headlines at a glance and, critically, the beginning paragraphs of each story.

Not so in Times Reader. Instead, each section of the paper is typically displayed with just one lead story with a picture and a sentence or two of text below the headline (sometimes two stories get the added text if there’s no picture). All other stories are displayed simply as uniformly-sized headlines. See the picture below (click on any picture in this review for a larger view).


How are you supposed to be able to browse the paper when you can’t even tell what each story is about? And after the first screen’s worth of headlines, subsequent pages in the same section (reached by hitting the down arrow key or scrolling lower) are even more drab, with just lists of headlines all in the same font size and style. The Times own web site, by contrast, does a much better job using layout, different size headlines, pictures and so on:


The Times has added a cool (if hard to notice) browsing mode that’s much better than the default. In the upper left corner of the application is a small button labeled with two tiny, overlapping rectangles called “browse.” If you click it, the interface switches to a horizontally-scrolling list of reduced-size pages of the entire section you’re in, allowing you to peruse all the articles in that section visually. Each mini-page in browse view is the beginning of a separate story, complete with text and pictures. Click on one of these lil’ pages and it smoothly expands to fill your whole reader window. The horizontal scrolling works fine using the arrow keys on my Macbook Pro but not the two-finger drag on my touch pad, sadly.


Second major problem: what’s with the divorce settlement between words and pictures? Initially, I thought that the Times Reader just left out a lot of the pictures that were included in the newspaper (and on the web!). Then I noticed at the bottom of the sections list is something labeled “News in Pictures.” If you check out that section, you get a scrolling list of all the pictures and illustrations from that day’s paper with links back to the related stories. Imagine my surprise to discover that over 100 pictures accompanying stories in the print newspaper were segregated down here without appearing anywhere else in connection with those very stories in the Times Reader’s versions.

My last grip concerns hyperlinks. Words in light blue type are links but I’m never clear where they’re going to take me. Click on “Jorge Posada” and you get to a topic page about the Yankee catcher on the Times own web site. Clicking on the word “Apple” in a story about laptops seems like it is supposed to take you to a page about the company on Marketwatch, I think, but the link doesn’t work for me on the Mac using Firefox or Safari. And I have yet to find a true, honest-to-goodness link that links to original material elsewhere (such as a blog post, original source material, a transcript etc).

p.s. Despite my whining, the interactive crossword puzzle is really, really cool.

Kindle DX: Even better electronic book reader

kindxNo secret that I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader. I’ve had one since Day 1 and read dozens of books and hundreds of shorter articles on it. Its crystal clear e-ink screen works even in bright sunlight. The battery life is phenomenal. And the free wireless connection makes it a breeze to buy new books from almost anywhere in the United States, surf text-heavy and mobile-formatted web sites and stay up-to-date with favorite magazines and blogs on the fly. Amazon’s Kindle store has, by far, the best selection of ebooks you’d actually want to read and at the lowest prices in nearly every case.

In fact, I’ve been so satisfied that I skipped the Kindle2 upgrade opportunity. The improvements sounded fine, but not enough to justify re-upping when my Kindle1 still worked brilliantly.

The larger screen and enhanced PDF capability of the Kindle DX grabbed my attention, however. I have to read a lot of PDF files for work and the DX’s native ability to display even complicated files in Adobe’s popular format appealed greatly. I pre-ordered ASAP and so have been using the DX since it arrived in June. In two months plus since, I’ve found it to be much like the original only better. The price tag is undeniably high at $489, so I’ll leave it to each reader to determine whether a DX purchase is justified based on their personal economic situation.

The DX is considerably larger and heavier than my original Kindle, obviously. But I’ve found that if I hold the DX just so, with one hand gripping towards the middle of the device, the weight balances nicely and it doesn’t feel heavy. Displaying far more text on the 9.7″ screen means less pressing of buttons and changing pages, which has noticeably sped up my reading. The bigger screen is also great for reading magazine articles and offline blog posts, which I’ve been more likely to sign up for since getting the DX.

kindx-2The DX also shares all the cool new improvements from the Kindle2. Pay attention to the improved abilities of the font-changing button, for example. The little key carrying a picture of a bold capital letter A next to a small A does more than just change font sizes now. It can also change the screen orientation 90, 180 or 270 degrees (or lock in a particular orientation to prevent the DX’s hair-trigger sensor from doing it for you). It can also change the width of the margins, a handy feature to accelerate reading (narrow columns are easier to speed read). And it’s the place to go to activate the new read-aloud feature (which I don’t really ever use and is often disabled by greedy publishers).

The improved PDF feature works as advertised. Using drag & drop or email, you can throw PDFs onto your Kindle and open them immediately — no translation required. There’s not much you can do to alter a file’s appearance, though if you switch from portrait to landscape mode, you effectively zoom in maybe 33% or so. Pictures and charts show up fine unless they include tiny, intricate details. There’s no color but the Kindle’s 16 shades of grey simulate as best they can.

kindx-4While I mostly approve of the design changes from the original, two sort of rankle. The new keyboard is harder to use with its smaller, roundish buttons than my old Kindle’s keyboard. And the five-way rocker switch — or whatever they’re calling it — is useful, but it’s much, much slower to move around on a page than the old rolly button with its silver sentinel. In the unaddressed previous flaws category, there’s still no good way to organize your ebooks on the Kindle and book sorting options remain limited. And still no real page numbers, either.

We seem to be entering a golden age of electronic book readers. Since Amazon introduced the DX, Sony has debuted three new readers, including FINALLY one with wireless service, Barnes & Noble has announced all kinds of partners and a host of smaller players have hit the scene. Maybe someday soon Apple’s rumored tablet device will arrive, as well. And through it all, the Kindle DX remains a great device for reading and obtaining books and magazines. It will serve me well as I wait to see what new delights await in the future.

Sony Reader adds some brilliant features, 3 years late

image-thumb192Almost three years ago, Sony unveiled the first version of its electronic book reader, dubbed, excitingly enough, the Reader. As I predicted at the time (Short-tailed Sony reader needs a much longer one), the device bombed because it was a product in search of a need.

The Reader didn’t offer enough (if any) advantages over reading books the old-fashioned way. You had to go on your computer, buy the books online, download them, link the Reader to your computer and fill it up. Sony had a tiny selection of ebooks for sale priced at about the same level as print books. And the selection was mainly best-sellers. There was no connection to the Internet or blogs or harder-to-find books. There was no search, no online access, no keyboard at all. The only “advantage” was that you could carry a book shelf’s worth of books around. So what.

Amazon’s Kindle, released a year later, got it right, by contrast. The addition of wireless made buying ebooks quick and easy, even on the go. Vastly more ebooks were for sale at low prices that could not be beat. And the ebookstore was open to new additions, uploaded by anyone who wanted to engage, allowing for a blossoming of free or 99 cent ebooks of out-of-copyright classics. The Kindle store included magazines, newspapers and offline-readable blogs. The device bundled a free wireless Internet connection for accessing a wide array of other textual online resources. And, despite what some cranky luddites say, the Kindle’s been a huge success that’s caught the attention of a lot of other companies that now want to play in the ebook market.

Today, hopefully not too late to have a major influence on the evolving ebook ecosystem, Sony has finally come up with a much better reader and a host of innovative features (tip o’ the cap for the news and generally for great ebook coverage to the Teleread blog). The new “Reader Daily Edition” has a 7″ electronic ink, touch-sensitive screen and a wireless connection that works over AT&T’s cell phone network. That’s matching or exceeding some of Kindle’s best features but I’m more excited about the innovations. You’ll be able to use your Sony Reader to borrow ebooks from thousands of libraries like the New York Public Library. You’ll be able to buy ebooks from major independent vendors like And, of course, as I wished for 3 years ago, you can read the million or so out-of-copyright (and permissioned) books Google has scanned into its vast databases.

Sony is also stepping away somewhat from locking content to its line of devices. Sure, Sony’s ebooks will still be locked down with proprietary digital rights management, or DRM, software but at least Sony has switched to Adobe’s somewhat (arguably) more broadly used DRM instead of keeping its own. That means that ebooks bought for the Sony Reader will — we hope — be readable on any other program or device that also licenses the Adobe software. There’s been some confusion, fostered by a misleading New York Times story, that the Sony is selling “open” or unrestricted books. That’s not the case but this is still a big step in the right direction. If Sony got out of the ebook business altogether, other Adobe-licensed reader devices could still access the ebooks (again — we think/hope).

For a while it seemed like Sony was becoming irrelevent in the ebook market, what with the rapid advances from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, Apple iPhone app store participants and so on. Now Sony has shown it’s still in the hunt. Of course, we’ll have to wait and hear from users and reviewers whether all these features work as advertised and if there are any hidden gotchas (the library feature says you must have a card from each particular library, it sounds like). But for now, it’s a bright, shiny day for ebook fans. We can only wait to see what moves Amazon and Barnes & Noble make to react.

Prior coverage:

Yes, Virginia, the Barnes & Noble ebookstore is a Good Thing (7/22/2009)

Amazon Kindle competitor EReader slashes ebook prices (7/5/2009)

Apple gives stage to overpriced ebook developer Scrollmotion (6/9/2009)

Sony ereader seeking wide open wireless (10/3/2008)

Apple will not slay Amazon’s Kindle, not even close (8/20/2008)

Upgrade of Adobe’s Lightroom looks just fine

Adobe Lightroom 2.0 upgradeAdobe has released a major upgrade to its already pretty great digital photo library program, Lightroom. The 2.0 upgrade, available for $99 at Adobe’s site, greatly bolsters Lightroom’s image manipulation capabilities so you’ll need Photoshop even less. In fact, it seems like Lightroom can do almost everything you’d want to do to a picture to improve the image quality. You still need Photoshop to make alterations — cutting and pasting the dog’s head onto Aunt Marge’s body, for example. And Lightroom plugin wunderkind Jeffrey Friedl has updated all his great export additions to work with 2.0, too.

I’m just getting started exploring Lightroom 2.0. I have over 8,000 pictures in my Lightroom 1.4.1 library. So I’m going to start slowly because the program can, in theory, do far more damage to my library of previously “fixed” photos than more old-fashioned software like Apple’s iPhoto. How can that be?

In Lightroom, the program doesn’t actually alter your digital photo files when you make changes. Instead, it keeps track of which adjustments to apply to each picture in a separate database. Only when you go to print or export a photo does Lightroom impress those changes onto a file, and it still keeps the original pristine. In iPhoto and other programs, when you make a change — say to decrease the exposure and darken an overexposed shot — the original file is forever altered and imprinted with the change. Lightroom’s non-destructive editing, by contrast, means you preserve all your digital files as originally shot.

But the downside is that all your improvements only exist in Lightroom’s database. If the database goes wacko, you’re left with just your originals. So that makes me a little wary of jumping into Lightroom 2.0 whole hog a day after it’s released.

A couple of the new features I’m looking forward to using:

-Getting the most press so far is the adjustments brush. This allows you to make adjustments to only one part of a photo, a part you select Photoshop-style by painting it with the adjustment brush.

-The volume browser eases the job of sorting and organizing where digital photo files actually live on your hard drive. As I have been slowly integrating my old iPhoto collection into Lightroom over the past year, I’ve sometimes gone a little crazy trying to sort everything just as I want it. Just importing files into Lightroom’s library doesn’t move them anywhere.

-Improvements to printing, including an automatic sharpening effect that’s selected based o how you’ve chosen to print.

Elsewhere around the web, Photoshop guru Scott Kelby compares the new features in Lightroom 2.0 to his “wish list.” Rick LePage talks about his five favorite new features over at Macworld. And the Photo Darkroom web site has a quite lengthy discussion of practically every change in the update. And, of course, here’s Adobe’s official blog post of what’s new.

I’ll report back with more once I’ve played around with the update more.

Zenfolio, Lightroom and the art of digital picture maintenance

The intersection of everything with magical, behind-the-scenes connections continues to blow me away. Today, I’ve been admiring the photo archiving and display site Zenfolio along with a nifty, high-powered plug-in for Adobe Lightroom written by software consultant Jeffrey Friedl that makes uploading photos a snap.

The cool thing about Lightroom’s export system it that can be extended and altered by outside software writers. So Friedl’s plug-in grabs information from your Zenfolio account and lets you tailor your upload from inside Lightroom just the way you want. For example, you can upload pictures into a new collection or choose one of your existing collections as the destination. Friedl has written similar Lightroom plug-ins for SmugMug , Flickr and Picasa Web.

Now that Apple appears to have dramatically improved Aperture, the race for digital photo manager supremacy is on again. For example, Apple has rewritten the program to do operations like importing in the background, one of my big gripes about earlier versions. The ability to add extensible features in Lightroom helps give the program some added power and a continued leg up.

p.s. When I decided to write this post, I wanted to mention the trail of posts that had led me to Zenfolio and then to Friedl’s upload plug-in. Man, that was hard to reconstruct given how many sites and posts I appear to read in a day. Finally, after combing through my Firefox history, I jogged my memory that it was a post in John Gruber’s link blog leading to a post on the O’Reilly Inside Lightroom blog about online storage that made me curious about Zenfolio. Then a quick Google search for Lightroom and Zenfolio turned up the fabulous plug-in. Phew!