Saturday, 7 February 2009

Safari workflow

Top table, Tanzania, January 2009

I thought it would be worth writing about my workflow while I was on safari. There are a couple of reasons for this, firstly I was using a fairly unusual set-up and secondly it generated quite a lot of interest from my fellow travellers.

The hardware

I was using my new Asus Eee PC netbook, a pair of external hard discs (Freecom Mobile Drive XXS) and a basic card-reader.

The software

Normally my primary download software is Breeze Systems' Downloader Pro. Due to user error (I forgot to update the license) I only had use of it for 1 day.
I also had Lightroom 2.2 installed.

OS is Windows XP Home.

My process

As I carried a limited amount of cards (16GB of CF), I needed to download all my images daily. Ideally that would all happen through Downloader Pro so I get automatic renaming. My normal alternative renaming software is RenameMaster but I've not installed it yet (another oversight on my part).

What I actually did was to use Windows Explorer to copy of the cards and Lightroom to rename & catalogue. I tried a few options but the one that worked best was to create a new catalogue for each day for the cataloguing and then merge that with a trip catalogue once all the pictures were sorted. My overall trip catalogue was broken down into daily folders for ease of selection.

As my Eee PC only has a 16GB SSD, all downloading was to a mobile drive. Once all downloads and naming was complete, I ran AllwaySync to back-up to the second drive. I only plugged in the second drive for the period of the back-up, this in order to minimise any risk of corruption etc.

How did it all perform

Downloader Pro is definitely the most efficient download & rename route. It seems to run faster than Explorer for downloading and automatically renames in that time. I certainly noticed a difference after the first day when I was no longer able to use it. Lightroom is a bit slow, because it is generates the catalogue and previews as it goes. I tried, briefly, to use it for the downloading as well - that was a complete disaster. the whole process took more than twice as long that way. As it was, the entire process, from initial download to back-up and card reformatting took about 1.5-2h each evening. I would let Lightroom do its thing during dinner.

The Eee PC is just about powerful enough for all this. The SSD makes it seem much faster that the processor spec. Even with all the extras running (card reader, hard discs) I get about 6h battery life. This meant I could use either the power tent, or run from my own tent. I ended up doing my preliminary shot ranking after dinner in my own tent. When running without USB devices or WiFi, I get a good 8h battery life.

Lightroom runs acceptably fast on the netbook. It does require a little more patience in scrolling through lots of images and I did no editing, just cataloguing. Even so, it never hung-up or failed even on battery power. The install size I quite modest, which makes it ideal for travel like this. Using a separate catalogue for each day's download seemed to speed things up. It was a trivial task to then merge with the main catalogue. Had I not needed Lightroom for renaming, I would have skipped this step.

As ever, AllwaySync just got on and did it's thing. It's fast and reliable. I tended not to run it as a background process as I do at home so that I got maximum performance out of every application at each step.

What would I do different

For sure, I'll make sure Downloader Pro is good to go in future. Lightroom is just too slow for downloading and renaming.
I would also be tempted to have many more CF cards. That way I could use the CF as the primary storage and the hard drive(s) as back-up. That would mean carrying around 100GB for such a trip. Even if I didn't have a full complement of CF cards, it would mean I could run cataloguing every second day.
Obviously, carrying any form of computer requires access to reliable power. Having a generator in the camp helped a lot. I won't be getting rid of my mobile viewer, it's invaluable for more remote travel.

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