Digital cameras become widely available in the late 1990s and really hit usefulness (which I define as 2 Mp and above) around the year 2000. I got my first digital camera in 2001, a 3 Mp Olympus C3030.
At that time, I had yet to see the light and was a Windows ME user (and every bit as unhappy with Windows ME as most of the rest of its user community… but that is another post entirely!). I had a reasonable digital photography workflow in place despite the constant glitches and limitations imposed by Windows ME, but recently, I started to think…
What would have happened if I had magically solved all of my issues with Windows ME at the time by switching over to a Macintosh? Could I have supported a reasonable digital photography workflow on a Macintosh running Mac OS 9.x (which would have been current at that time)? I decided to try it and find out. This post reflects the outcome of that effort.
When I say “digital photography workflow”, what do I mean? I refer to the end-to-end process of taking photos on a digital camera, importing them onto your computer, triaging them to separate the winners from the losers, processing the winners through an image editor like Photoshop (as needed) and finally cataloging them for later easy access. Printing selected photos should also be part of the process, but I won’t address it in this post (more on that below).
To test this all out, I turned to my Mac OS 9.1 equipped Power Macintosh 7300/200 and my second digital camera, a Minolta Dimage 7i. I could have used my first digital camera, the Olympus C3030, but I always liked the Minolta better, and so I decided to use it. The two cameras are only one year and 2 Mp apart, so I didn’t think that this was too much of an historical aberration. Incidentally, after all this time, I still have both cameras and they both still work very well! Never discard old technology. “Old” does not imply “bad”!
Color fidelity is incredibly important in digital photography, and after my first few years in the digital photography world, I purchased a colorimeter and have since always precisely calibrated the color reproduction of my monitors. However, at the time of my initial forays into digital photography, I had not advanced to that stage, and instead depended on manufacturer supplied color profiles to compensate for variances in camera, monitor and printer color capture and reproduction.
Speaking of monitors, over the past several years I have had the incredible good fortune to acquire not just one, but two late 1990’s vintage Apple 17” Multiscan monitors. In particular, my Power Macintosh 7300/200 system makes use of an Apple 720 17” color monitor. Apple’s Mac OS 9.1 ColorSync control panel directly provides a color profile for this monitor, and so I selected that profile and applied it. Voila! Monitor color fidelity now taken care of! … or was it? I suspect that the answer is “a little yes, a little no”. The monitor is nearly 17 years old, and so it can be expected that its color reproduction is no longer optimal, and no longer fully represented by the stock ColorSync profile. With this in mind, I did a little hand tuning of the brightness and contrast after applying the profile, until the display just “looked right”. Very subjective, probably somewhat inaccurate, but also the best I could do. So, that was color fidelity established.
Now, on to the workflow. The first step of any digital photography workflow is of course taking photographs with a digital camera! This step was a fun and easy one to accomplish, although I did have to read through the Dimage 7i’s user manual to refresh my memory as to best use of its myriad controls. I then took a variety of test shots around the house and out on the street and was ready to proceed to the next step – importing them onto my computer.
This could have been a tough one for a 1997 computer like the Power Macintosh 7300, since in one form or another, USB was THE connectivity mechanism between digital cameras and computers at the time. As Apple shipped it, the Power Macintosh 7300 did not support USB, but happily I have upgraded mine with a combo USB/Firewire card, and so it now supports both of these connectivity options. In 2001, it is reasonable to assume that any Power Macintosh 7300 still in regular use would have been upgraded by the owner with USB ports, and so again I did not feel that I was doing anything out of keeping with the period.
Thinking back to my Windows ME workflow of the day, I had purchased a USB-interfaced SanDisk Compact Flash card reader, and would transfer photos from the camera to the computer by popping the CF card out of the camera and plugging it into the USB CF reader. This would show up as a disk drive on the computer and I could then just copy the files from it to the computer in a simple drag and drop operation.
I still have that SanDisk CF card reader (of course!) and so I tried this exact approach. I plugged it into one of my Power Macintosh 7300’s USB ports and then inserted the CF card from the camera into the reader. Amazingly, the card showed up as a disk on the Macintosh desktop – no muss, no fuss! I was amazed, but pleased. Mac OS 9.1 was pretty darn capable! I copied the newly captured photos over to my Macintosh and ejected the CF card “disk”. Step two (Import Photos to Computer) done! The photos were now on my computer and ready for step three, triage.
The objective of the triage workflow step is to separate the winners from the losers, and then to discard the losers. To do this, what is needed is an image browser that will let you to one-by-one quickly step through all of the photos being triaged and delete the ones you don’t want to keep. There are many, and much more complex, variations on this step of course, most of which involving some form of rating of each photo, but discarding of none. These approaches typically continue with filtering for just the highest rated photos, and then proceeding with only that chosen few. In my case however, I tend to triage and delete, and so that is what I did here.
The requisite program to browse a folder full of photos was no challenge to find at all. My earlier post “Six Great Image Viewers for Mac OS Classic” (https://happymacs.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/six-great-image-viewers-for-mac-os-classic/) provided me with all the information that I needed. I selected ThumbsPlus, a long standing favorite of mine, and used it to browse the test photos and to delete the ones that I did not wish to keep. Step Three (Triage) done!
At this point, I was ready to process the selected photos through an image editor, doing things like cropping for better composition, resizing, color balancing and so on. Photoshop is THE golden standard in the image processing world, and I am lucky enough to have both Photoshop 6 and Photoshop 7 on my Power Macintosh 7300. This is one of the real benefits of the vintage Mac world. There is SO much great software available that no one ever needs to be without the best of whatever is necessary. In my case, I purchased both Photoshop 6 and Photoshop 7 on eBay for a fraction of their original cost, but the more adventurous among you can undoubtedly find both of them on an abandonware site somewhere, available for only the cost of the data usage required to download them.
Making use of this great software is another story however. Until I executed this step, I had forgotten that Photoshop’s CPU-hungry performance demands were key among the drivers that kept me steadily climbing the computer power curve year over year, buying new computers in succession as CPU and disk speeds increased. Simply put, on a Power Macintosh 7300/200 Photoshop 7 is incredibly slow to load, and is not much faster when it comes to executing many of its more complex filters. It took over a minute and a half to even launch Photoshop 7, and for the first 24 seconds of that, not even the initial splash screen had been displayed. Photoshop 6 was much faster to launch, but still no speed demon. It took just over 50 seconds to launch, but at least the splash screen appeared after only 6 seconds.
All of that quite aside however, Photoshop 7 did EVENTUALLY load up and get going, and once it was going it was reasonably responsive and usable. I used it to do the expected cropping, resizing, color balancing and so on to each of the “keepers”, until I was happy with them, and then saved them off. This whole operation went smoothly and it was even fun. I have been using Photoshop CS5 for some time now, and it was a treat to play with Photoshop 7 once more.
This just left the last step of the workflow: archiving the processed photos for easy, on-demand viewing at a later time. Thanks to my earlier posts in this blog, this last step could not have been simpler. My very early post on bulk type/creator changing (https://happymacs.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/change-typecreator-codes-for-folder-of-files/) discussed the use of BunchTyper to change the Type and Creator codes of entire folders of images. Accordingly, I used BunchTyper to set all of the processed images to the JPEGView type (“JVWR”). With this done, the finished photos could then be easily viewed one at a time by double clicking each one in turn. I then filed all of them in the folder representing the year during which they were taken (see my post covering image organization – among many other things – at https://happymacs.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/sorting-photos-on-iphone-ipad-and-ipod/ ) and I was done. Now, using ThumbsPlus, they could also be conveniently browsed and viewed as a collection whenever desired (in addition to one-by-one viewing with JPEGView).
Although not part of a standard digital photography workflow, I included a final “color sanity check” as a last step. Given that both the image capture and the image processing took place using aged equipment that was likely past its color reproduction prime, how did the finished results look? I took the processed photos and transferred them across the Happy Macs Lab network to one of my fully color managed computers and viewed the results on a calibrated display. I am pleased to say that the results were very good! Despite the long-in-the-tooth nature of the equipment used to both capture and process the photos in question, the end results were excellent, even when viewed in a fully color calibrated environment.
The end! I should include one more step related to printing images in a color correct manner, but that is a lengthy topic on which more than just a few complete books have been written. I won’t endeavor to address it here. The main themes are familiar – get a ColorSync profile for both the printer and the paper you will be using, and print from a color knowledgeable application like Photoshop. If you do this, you should in theory get excellent results. In practice, my experience has been that it takes a fair amount of tweaking to get the colors just right. Exploring why that is, and just how to overcome it, will be left for the topic of some long distant future post.
So, what have we demonstrated with THIS post? Well, it is clear that a completely color balanced digital photography workflow is fully supported on a 1997 vintage Macintosh 7300/200. It is also clear that while the workflow is perhaps a bit slower in execution than I would like, is quite usable and produces good results (and with speedier CPUs, would get a lot faster and easier to use). Lastly, we have demonstrated that I should have moved from Windows ME to Mac OS a long time ago! 🙂
So, vintage Mac owners, get your cameras out and start shooting! 🙂