Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Photo Sharing on the Home Network - Why So Difficult?

With Digital Cameras having been popular for many years now, most people will have accumulated a vast collection of photos.

Add to this, the explosion of the "home network" with everything from games consoles to mobile phones able to browse files in the home.
Many people are also now looking towards a central server or a NAS device to hold all their media so that all devices on the home network can access the files at the same time.

mp3's have an easy time of things as there's plenty of programs that manage music collections; iTunes and Media Monkey to name just two, both of which can manage the underlying directory structure, which is very useful when sharing.

So my question is, why is it so difficult to do the same with Photos?

To set the scene, we have the following hardware on our Home Network.

2.0ghz Core2Duo PC with 2gb Ram.
1.83ghz CoreDuo Mac Mini with 2gb Ram.
Synology DS710+ NAS (100MB/sec Read and Write)

2.0ghz Core2Duo MacBook with 2gb Ram.
AC Ryan PlayOn!HD Media Player.

Upstairs devices and the media player are connecting into the network using a GigaBit ethernet cards and switches, while the Macbook is connecting wirelessly over Wireless G.

Our photo collection is totally jpg at the moment, comes in around 11,000 images, totals around 50gb and is currently sat on my RAID1 NAS with off-site backups taken over the internet via IDrive.
They are stored in all sorts of directories; some named and titled, some dated, but none of the pictures have any additional data associated with them.  Basically we are starting with a blank-ish canvas.

In the future I would also potentially like to be able to capture raw and maybe manage our video clips from the Camera too. (720p quicktime from our Panasonic FZ28).

My number one aim though is to be able to organise our collection stored on the NAS using some sort of Photo Manager, with response times as quick as you'd expect from a full gigabit ethernet network and cutting edge 100MB/sec read/write NAS. (i don't care if this is PC or Mac)
I want the MacBook to be able to browse the collection wirelessly and have the ability to upload to facebook simply (for the wife!)
Depending on the Macbook solution, I might want the "Photo Manager" software to organise the underlying directory structure so its easy to find files on the MacBook.  This is also a potential solution for other devices to browse with ease (Media Player etc)

The candidates I've road tested so far.

iPhoto (Mac)
When we first arrived in "MacLand" last year we were very impressed with iPhoto running off the MacBook, the collections, events and especially FACES very much appealed.  But when I tried creating a new iPhoto database on the NAS and imported the photos, the program just wasn't upto it.  Even plugging the MacBook into the network over GigE didn't provide a level of performance I have been happy with.  I've tried the same on the Mac Mini and things are just as bad.  I just think that our 11,000 photos is too big a collection for iPhoto to deal with and having read various internet artciles, this appears to be the case.

Also, the underlying directory structure of iPhoto is unreadable.  It creates database files, starts moving your images around and is nigh on impossible to navigate around the directories if you are looking for a particular picture using another program or operating system type browser.  So this is another negative point for iPhoto.

Aperture (Mac)
Once I found that iPhoto wasn't going to be upto the job, I looked at Apple's premier product and its next rung up the ladder from iPhoto; Aperture.
Instantly I was hit with a problem.  It is not possible to create an iPhoto database on my NAS.  The reason being that the NAS is formatted in the ext3 filesystem to ensure compatibility with all manner of operating systems that may want to browse/access it.  Aperture though, can only access a database that is stored on a HFS volume.   So either local Mac OS volume or one attached via USB or firewire.

Okay, I wasn't going to be put off by this, so I created the Aperture database on my Mac Mini's local hard disk and thought I might be able to make some sort of backup (in an organised manner) back over to the NAS.

Sadly, I never got as far as looking into the backups as my Mac Mini just doesn't seem upto the task of a 11,000 photo database in Aperture, it just seems slow and unresponsive.  And if i'm being perfectly honest, i think it provides far too much functionality than what we need anyway.

Also, how would the MacBook get to the databse if it was sat on the Mac Mini?  I wouldnt want the Mac Mini on 24/7, as that is what I bought the NAS for!

Finally, Aperture appears to create a single giant file on the hard disk as big as your collection, in my case 55gb.  So how would other operating systems browse that?

ACDSee Photo Manager 2009 (PC)
Ideally, I didn't want to have to use the PC for the solution as I was hoping that a Mac Mini, NAS and MacBook solution would provide seemless integration, but needs must I suppose.

Good news is that ACDSee doesn't do anything daft with the filesystem or directory structure.  Yes, it creates a database where you tell it to and this contains all the information about the images.  You can either leave the photo's in the directory structure they are in now or have ACDSee rename them when you import based on what you choose.  So year, month, date (either date imported or date taken etc).

Further good news is that you can create the database on the NAS and then leave the photo's on the NAS too.
And i'll tell you what, the performance is fantastic.  My PC is no better a spec than my MacBook and not much better than my Mac Mini, but the speed at which ACDSee browses directories, displays thumbnails and brings up the photo's from the NAS is fantastic.

The negatives;
Well I imagine i will have to self manage the underlying directory structure?  Especially the 11,000 photos we've already got in god knows how many different directories.
ACDSee for Mac is only in Beta testing, so i'm not sure if the PC database will be compatible with a Mac version's?  And i'm not sure I want to find out to my cost.
Maybe i'll have to create a read only account on the Mac for the wife to access the photo directory on the NAS?  That way she can simply browse the photo's and upload to Facebook manually?
No "Face Recognition".  Wading through 11,000 pictures manually trying to find Uncle Dael would be a right chore.
I honestly don't know how all the tagging works, so that's going to be a learning curve.

Other options?
Picasa (PC)
Having read into Picasa, it appears that the database is kept on the local PC and cannot be placed on the NAS (or any networked drive for that matter).  So not sure whether to pursue this?  Although they have just added Face recognition which may sway me to take a look.

LightRoom (PC or Mac)
Not looked at this yet.  Is it worth pursuing?  Does it work quickkly in a NAS/network environment?


Why oh why is it so difficult to find a simple solution to storing, organise and share pictures over a local network?

Would be interested to hear your thoughts

Cheers, Zarch


  1. What about shoebox on the MAC or picajet

    or even

    Just starting to dabble with this now but my photo collection isnt anywhere near as extensive as yours.

  2. I've been looking into this for quite some time...I like Sony's Picture Motion Browser (PC), you'll have to self manager your library though, but it 'watches' the photos root directory.
    Mac: Kodak EasyShare? Picasa (using symbolic links)?

  3. IDimager V5.1 is a Windows solution that looks promising.

  4. Did you ever come up with a solution that worked for you? I have been struggling with a very similar situation. I also have about 50GB of JPGs located on a RAID PC separate from the rest of the PCs in my house. I would like to be able to view have a consistent photo database viewable from multiple computers.

  5. me 'searching', too...

    nothing so far. (?)

    from developer side i would suggest:

    - local application uses a local cache for thumbnails, (current!) metadata, face recognition infos, etc...
    - tags are saved inside the iptc/exif tags - as "IDs" - they dont have to be cryptic but through a unique id further more infos could be provided by a simple XML...[1]
    - "the same" for persons... a tag in an official metadata entry could provide the (unique) name which could 'easily' be described (for THIS special photo) in an other XML file...[2]

    why is no software there that delivers these possibilities?!?

    [1] tags.xml: e.g. "persons/erika" --> ("Erika Mustermann", "Jamaica"); "pets/findus" --> ("Findus", "")
    [2] faces.xml: "2012.01.12_07-00-00.jpg" --> rect(500,300,40,40), "persons/erica"