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A first look at ShutterSnitch 2.0 for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch  
Thursday, December 16, 2010 | by Rob Galbraith
A new version of ShutterSnitch, our favourite app for receiving and displaying pictures wirelessly on an Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, has been submitted to the App Store, meaning if quickly approved it could come available before the end of the month.

Update, December 22, 2010: ShutterSnitch 2.0 is now available from the App Store.

ShutterSnitch 2.0 is a significant rework that adds a long list of new features and, more importantly, seriously improves its stability when juggling both large photos and largish collections. This new release of ShutterSnitch, which we've been using in beta form for some time, takes what was already a really useful workflow tool and moves it several steps closer to being a true killer app for photographers who need to send pictures from one or more wireless-capable digital cameras, or even those who simply need a better slideshow function than what's offered in Apple's own Photos app.

Introducing ShutterSnitch 2.0

ShutterSnitch's main purpose is to take in photos from Wi-Fi transmitter-equipped cameras, then display the photos automatically on the iPad's 9.7-inch screen (as mentioned, it works with other iOS devices too, but for simplicity's sake we're going to talk mostly about the iPad in this story). It has specific support for wireless SD memory cards from Eye-Fi, but can accept pictures from any camera transmitter that's capable of an FTP transfer, which includes all past and current Canon and Nikon digital SLR transmitter accessories.

ShutterSnitch 2.0 is still mainly about receiving and displaying pictures. But performance improvements and feature additions make it both better at its primary task and also more skilled at sharing pictures through new automated export functions, a slick slideshow and more.

(If you want a detailed look at the basics of ShutterSnitch you might detour through this September 2010 article before continuing. It doesn't cover v2.0 but it does show how the app goes about taking in and displaying photos.)

Roll your cursor over the buttons below to view iPad screenshots of some of the new features in ShutterSnitch 2.0. Following that is a description of what's new.


ShutterSnitch2
Full screen + thumbs
100% zoom
Sorting
Jump
Menu
Description
Email
Popup
Slideshow
Actions
Metadata
New features in ShutterSnitch 2.0 include:

Improved stability and speed

This is the best new feature of ShutterSnitch 2.0. We've been able to live a mostly crash-free existence with the current version of ShutterSnitch, but to keep it that way has meant very carefully monitoring the size, in both megapixels and megabytes, of the photos being sent to the app, not letting the active collection grow to more than a few hundred pics, restarting the iPad ahead of longer ShutterSnitch sessions and just generally being mindful that ShutterSnitch 1.1.9 in iOS 3.2.2 would crash if we didn't stay within the limits imposed by the iOS and app combo.

It's an entirely different story in ShutterSnitch 2.0, thanks in part to iOS 4.2.1's improved memory management and also to all-new image viewer code used within ShutterSnitch. But perhaps the biggest difference is in the code writer: ShutterSnitch developer Brian Gerfort has gotten a lot better at what he does in the nine months since ShutterSnitch 1.0 hit the streets, a fact that became more and more evident as we witnessed the improvements he was weaving into every new ShutterSnitch 2.0 beta.

We've pummeled the release candidate of ShutterSnitch 2.0 to try and make it crash. And while it is possible to take the app down if you throw enough big files at it or fill a collection with an excessive number of photos, the crashing threshold is much higher than it was before. For example, we set a Nikon D3S + WT-4A transmitter to send 999 2MB/6MP JPEGs to a single collection, and when that alone didn't crash it we tried to make the app become unresponsive by continually viewing and zooming pictures, running the filmstrip back and forth and so on. No luck. Doing the same would have sent ShutterSnitch 1.1.9 into a low-memory tailspin. We then loaded up a new collection with 24MP JPEGs from a Nikon D3X, 100 photos in all, and tried to make the app crash by repeatedly zooming in and out. Again, no luck.

Developer Gerfort says he will be making more optimizations in the months ahead that he believes will allow collections well in excess of 1000 photos. We did in fact run into a crashing problem when the per-collection count of D3S JPEGs got to about the 1500 mark, so there is room for additional optimization.

Based on what we've experienced so far, though, to reach the threshold at which the app will buckle under the strain of managing too many too big files means going beyond what's practical for an iOS device anyway. The speed of the wireless link dictates that files be kept small enough to transmit efficiently, while the iPad's modest-powered CPU (compared to an actual computer) translates into, for example, really slow zooming of 21MP photos from a camera like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

That said, if you need to send photos at higher resolution, or you put a few too many pictures into a single collection, ShutterSnitch 2.0 is far less likely to punish you with a low memory brownout than ShutterSnitch 1.1.9 was.

The app is also more efficient at juggling the processing and displaying of photos simultaneous with the arrival of new ones. This is most evident if you shoot a burst of pictures and then watch the speed with which each new picture is shown. The first picture doesn't appear all that much faster than before, but subsequent frames in a burst do. It gives ShutterSnitch a snappier feel.

ShutterSnitch is simply a more robust and stable app in v2.0.

Update, December 17, 2010: Gerfort has seeded to us a new beta version of ShutterSnitch that contains his first round of additional optimizations, optimizations that crank up app performance several more notches. Using the new beta we were able to fill a collection with over 5000 D3S JPEGs without a crash. The app didn't slow down particularly during this test either, while the thumbnail strip remained responsive when scrolling simultaneous with pictures arriving. Plus, both the time it takes to load a large collection and change the sort order of a large collection has been reduced considerably: these operations take no more than one or two seconds each in the beta, even with 5300 photos in the collection.

Because ShutterSnitch 2.0 is already in the App Store approval queue, this beta version will be the basis for a post-2.0 maintenance release. It's also another positive sign that ShutterSnitch 2.x is going to be a much sturdier, beefier app than ShutterSnitch 1.x was.

Full-resolution zooming

Double-tapping within a photo now shows that portion of the photo at full 1:1 resolution, enabling careful focus and detail checking. The zoom in and out effect is a little weird; when a photo is first enlarged and shrunk a couple of times it can look like parts of the picture are sliding together and apart. Plus, with higher resolution photos you'll notice that it takes some time for the entire zoomed area to transition from fuzzy to sharp, and that it will do so on a block-by-block basis within the photo. Once the zoom processing is complete, though, the iPad's sweet screen gives a crystal clear view.

The pinch to zoom function has also been improved, and now closely emulates the pinch in/out speed of Apple's own Photos app.

RAW display support

ShutterSnitch 2.0 can now display any RAW file supported by iOS 4.2.1, which is a long list of digital SLR and compact cameras from Canon, Nikon and perhaps others. The app doesn't actually convert the RAW image data. Instead, it grabs and shows the JPEG that resides in most or all RAW files these days. With newer cameras, that's generally a JPEG at the camera's top resolution.

The wisdom of sending RAW files from a camera to ShutterSnitch is debatable. Since everything arrives over a wireless link that tops out in the 1-1.5MB/s range, and RAW files from higher resolution cameras can easily exceed 20MB, transmit times can become painfully long. Plus, zooming of high-resolution files is slow. So, while ShutterSnitch can officially recognize RAW files now, we don't plan to send this file type to it very often.

ShutterSnitch 2.0 will also display any graphics format supported in iOS 4.2.1. This includes JPEG and RAW files, as mentioned, plus TIFFs, but not Photoshop PSDs.

Like ShutterSnitch 1.1.9, ShutterSnitch 2.0 does not honour ICC profiles embedded into photos, nor does it observe the EXIF Color Space tag. As before, it's sRGB all the time (though, thanks to the iPad's stellar screen, it's an impressively accurate sRGB). Gerfort is investigating whether a future update might be able to display pictures in the colour space described in the picture file, but as of this writing he doesn't know whether it will be possible.

Expanded sorting options

Pictures in a collection can now be sorted three different ways, in both ascending and descending order:
  • Alphabetically based on the file name
  • Capture time
  • Received time
You can also quickly enable or disable the automatic display of photos as they're received (you might want turn off automatic display temporarily while you review already-arrived photos, to prevent the app from jumping to the newest photo while you're trying to look at an earlier one). Additionally, the thumbnail strip can now be resized from within the app, by dragging on the handle at the right end of the strip.

Metadata

ShutterSnitch 2.0 offers basic metadata functionality. The app specifically supports writing to the following fields:
  • Artist
  • Copyright
  • Description
  • Byline
  • Keywords
And will display existing IPTC metadata in these fields:
  • Description
  • Byline
Text can be manually entered into the Description and Byline fields on a per-picture basis, or all five fields can be written to automatically at the time the photo is received (more on this latter capability in a moment).

The metadata feature is going to take some time, and perhaps another iOS update or two, before it fully comes to life. It's possible, for example, to add text to the Description field of a picture in ShutterSnitch, move that picture to the computer and into Photoshop CS5 and have that text show up in the Description textbox in the IPTC tab of the File Info dialog. But, Photo Mechanic doesn't see the data, even after fiddling with its powerful metadata reading settings, and it's likely that any other metadata viewer that's expecting to find the text in an IPTC or IPTC/XMP field will show the Description field as blank also.

Gerfort says that's because the IPTC metadata writing code that developers can utilize in iOS 4.2.1 doesn't actually work yet, and so for now he's inserting the Description, Artist, Copyright and Keywords text into fields of the same name in other areas of the file that are being written correctly by the iOS right now. Photoshop CS5 appears to be wired to show the TIFF Description field's text in the IPTC Description textbox if it doesn't find text in the IPTC Description field first, which is the likely explanation for why it's displaying the Description text entered in ShutterSnitch, while Photo Mechanic isn't.

Also, anything entered into the Byline field in ShutterSnitch ends up in the EXIF User Comment field in the file. This, says Gerfort, is a deliberate workaround for the same IPTC metadata writing bug described above, and EXIF User Comment won out as the next best place to insert this information.

Finally, if you bring a picture into ShutterSnitch that already has a full set of IPTC metadata entered, this data is cleared out of most or perhaps all other IPTC fields as soon as you add metadata within ShutterSnitch to any one field. Gerfort says the shedding of previous IPTC metadata from a picture file is done at the iOS level and is also out of his hands.

If you're a news, sports or wire service shooter and you're contemplating using ShutterSnitch 2.0 to add some basic information to a picture file before sending it on, this should be possible as long as you can operate within the limitations of the metadata feature as it currently exists. As you can imagine if you've waded through the metadata paragraphs above, it will be important to experiment first to see whether the text you enter will be viewable downstream by your editor and your picture import system. Also note that in ShutterSnitch 2.0, you can't change a picture's filename, either while it resides in a collection or at the moment it's exported elsewhere.

Geolocation tagging

The current location of the iOS device can be embedded into a photo's EXIF GPS data fields. This is done through an Action step, discussed next, and works like a charm in our testing.

Automated metadata and image export with Actions

Among the coolest new capabilities in ShutterSnitch 2.0 is Actions. As a new photos arrives, Actions can optionally write a preset list of IPTC metadata and geolocation information to the photo, save a copy to the Photos app and export it to an FTP server, Flickr or Facebook. Actions are set up as a series of processing steps, which can be arranged in any order.

We put this feature to good use at a job earlier this week that involved photographing 120 Christmas ornaments and a quick turnaround time. As a JPEG arrived wirelessly from a D3S, ShutterSnitch both displayed it (so I could see that I had shot the frame correctly) and sent a copy (over the LAN network using an FTP export Action) to an assistant working on a Mac Pro two floors up.

I shot, she worked the files in Photoshop and by the time all the photography was done so was the processing upstairs. We timed how long it took, from the time I pressed the shutter button to when the 12MP JPEG appeared on her computer: 12 seconds. This isn't the only way to accomplish a shared workflow like this, but it's certainly one of the easiest. Note too that the camera could have been set to send NEFs instead, though with a transmit time penalty. This became a JPEG gig primarily because of the tight deadline.

Actions in ShutterSnitch 2.0 pave the way for some slick ways of working collaboratively. We've given one example above, but another that's perhaps more relevant if you're a newspaper photographer is the automatic captioning and sending of pictures from the scene. In the first cut of the Actions feature this should be doable, though you'll want to test things out carefully before depending on it at breaking news. There are quirks and limitations related to the handling of IPTC metadata, for one (see the metadata section above for details). Plus, ShutterSnitch's juggling of Actions in the background can stall what's going on in the foreground if certain errors occur.

For instance, if your list of Actions includes an FTP export, and ShutterSnitch isn't able to locate the FTP server when it goes to execute that Action step, the app can become unresponsive for perhaps a minute. The app shouldn't crash when this happens - it hasn't crashed here - but it will mean you can't do anything in ShutterSnitch until it gives up on that particular step. Gerfort is aware of this behaviour and intends, in a future release, to smooth out the way ShutterSnitch handles situations like this while executing Actions.

So, Actions as implemented in v2.0 is really cool, really useful and second on our list of favourite new features (the first being the app's improved stability). But it's definitely an initial effort that needs beefing up, both to add more Actions and to better cope with transmission and other errors that will inevitably occur when this feature is deployed in the real world.

Also note:
  • Actions are only invoked at the time a photo arrives in a collection over a wireless link. If you receive a photo while Actions are turned off, then want to process that photo through Actions later, it's not possible in v2.0.

  • In v2.0, Actions are the only way to add geolocation information to a photo, as well as write metadata to the Artist, Copyright and Keyword fields.

  • Photos can be exported manually, one by one or in a group, to the same locations as Actions can send to automatically. Including Facebook, which is a new export destination in v2.0. The exported file can optionally include a text or image watermark.

  • When exporting to an FTP server, the photos can be dropped directly into the path you specify when creating an export destination, or you can have ShutterSnitch create a folder at the destination, with a filename that matches the name of the active collection, and place the exported pictures there instead. Note that this only works if the FTP server is configured to allows your username to create folders.
Size options when emailing

When emailing photos, you now have the option of sending either the file at its original dimensions or you can select from three reduced resolution options. Emailed photos will include any metadata you've entered in ShutterSnitch's Description and Byline fields.

Slideshow with external display support

Third on our list of favourite new features is ShutterSnitch 2.0's slideshow. It can run the show on either the iPad's own screen, an external display (LCD projector, computer monitor, TV or any other screen that's supported by Apple's display cable accessories) or both, complete with either a dissolve transition or a dissolve transition + Ken Burns pan and zoom effect.

Pictures can be presented either as they're currently sorted or in random order, while new pictures are automatically added to the slideshow loop as they arrive. The length of time each photo is shown can be set, from 3 to 30 seconds in one second intervals. The speed of the Ken Burns effect is determined by this setting as well; the shorter the per-picture interval the faster the pan and zoom.

What we like most about the slideshow feature is how easy it is to get a slideshow going, even when an external display is connected. With only a few taps on the iPad's screen the show is up and running, and stays running without a hiccup (we've tested for up to two hours with collections of up to 150 pictures). In this way it's similar to the slideshow feature of the Photos app.

Missing, but coming in a future release, says Gerfort, is the slideshow always giving priority to new photos as they arrive. In v2.0, new photos are always added to the show but they aren't always displayed soon after they've land, which would generally be preferable. There's also no way to start the playing of background music within ShutterSnitch, though the simple workaround is to switch over to the iPod app, start a playlist of songs and then return to ShutterSnitch to start the slideshow.

If you want to show pictures on an external display, but at your own pace, you can do that too. No setup steps, beyond connecting the external display, are required. On the iPad, you navigate and select photos as usual, and you see ShutterSnitch's usual interface too. The external display, however, shows an uncluttered full screen view of the picture. Whenever you select a new photo on the iPad the external display changes to show the same photo, with a dissolve transition ushering it into view.

The sorting options, Ken Burns effect and automatic integration of newly-arrived pictures makes ShutterSnitch a compelling alternative to the slideshow feature of the Photos app, not only for photographers using Wi-Fi equipped cameras but anyone who wants to run a slideshow from an iPad or other iOS device. The iPad's Photos app does have a couple of slideshow tricks up its sleeve: it offers more transitions and can play a song that starts and stops with the running of the slideshow. Of its transitions, however, Dissolve is the only one we'd consider using, plus you can select only individual songs as background music, not collections of songs such as playlists, which makes the background music feature of limited use.

So if you don't need ShutterSnitch's wireless camera and export features, but you do need to show pictures on a big screen with either manual pacing or in a self-running slideshow, ShutterSnitch 2.0 is worth checking out for this reason alone.

Other changes

Other changes in ShutterSnitch 2.0 include:
  • Tapping and holding on a photo in the thumbnail strip brings up an expanded menu of options including copying the photo to the iPad's pasteboard, sending it to a printer, viewing comprehensive file information including EXIF and GPS data or deleting the photo from the collection. The file information display can be customized to show only the fields you want to see, and you can readily switch back and forth between all info and your customized view.

  • Photos can be imported from the Photos app as well as from the pasteboard.

  • Photos in ShutterSnitch collections can be copied to your computer from File Sharing in the Apps tab within iTunes. If you have a large volume of pictures to offload from ShutterSnitch to your Mac or PC, perhaps after returning from a big shoot or trip, doing so over a USB link to iTunes will be much faster than one of the wireless options for doing the same thing.

    Note that you can't copy individual photos or specific collections, your only option is to transfer the Shoots folder (see the screenshot below), which contains all the ShutterSnitch collections on your iPad. Also note that transferred collection folders don't have the same filename as the corresponding collection in ShutterSnitch, Instead, they have a long unique identifier, so you'll have to peek inside each transferred folder to see what's what. The names of the transferred files themselves are the same as on the device.
file_sharing.jpg
Sharing: ShutterSnitch collections are inside the Shoots folder
  • Any currently active transfers to ShutterSnitch are finished in the background, either when quitting the app (by pressing the Home screen button) or switching to another app in the multitasking bar. Same goes for exports in progress, either to an external server or the Photos app.

  • ShutterSnitch's interface elements will display at the optimum resolution now when the iOS device is an iPhone 4.
Conclusion

As you've probably figured out, we're big fans of ShutterSnitch. It has become a central part of how we work on location in 2010. And in v2.0, the app has taken a big step forward in both functionality and dependability.

ShutterSnitch 2.0, which requires iOS 4.2 or later and a compatible iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, has been submitted to Apple's App Store. If quickly approved it could be available before the end of December. We'll publish a quick story when it goes live. ShutterSnitch 2.0 is a free update for licensed users of ShutterSnitch 1.x, and US$7.99 (or the rough equivalent in other currencies) for a new license.

Update, December 22, 2010: ShutterSnitch 2.0 is now available from the App Store.

Gerfort says that a ShutterSnitch price increase is planned for sometime in early 2011, to US$19.99. This will still be a bargain for what the app can do, and you can beat the price increase by purchasing either v1.1.9 now or v2.0 shortly after its release (iTunes link). Note that ShutterSnitch 1.1.9 is a touch flakey in iOS 4.2.1 on the iPad (and probably other iOS devices too), so your best bet might be to wait for v2.0 to come out before you purchase and install the app. The wait shouldn't be too long.

Update, January 6, 2011: Gerfort ultimately settled on a new price of US$15.99, and it has now taken effect.

Also in early 2011, Gerfort intends to release a lower-cost version of ShutterSnitch that will be targeted at users who want the ability to wirelessly transfer photos to their iOS device but don't require the program's various other capabilities. A price or firm release date for this feature-reduced version hasn't been set.
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