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F-Spot: An Able-Bodied All-in-One Image Machine

By Jack M. Germain
Feb 3, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Few, if any, photo viewing apps on any platform provide a perfect photo management experience. However, F-Spot Photo Management for Gnome gives Linux users a fairly complete set of photo tools.

F-Spot: An Able-Bodied All-in-One Image Machine

F-Spot ranks among the most well-known photo apps for Linux. In many ways it is similar to Google's repackaged Picasa Photo Organizer and the popular GIMP photo program. F-Spot's primary drawback, despite its usefulness, is its sometimes quirky operation.

Provided your flavor of Linux supports the Gnome desktop, F-Spot can be a solid choice to manage your photo collection over the two leading contenders. Picasa requires the open source Windows application programming interface (API) Wine to run. This makes it a wanna-be Linux app. GIMP is more challenging to use because it has three disconnected windows to operate.

Given those choices and limitations, I often rely on F-Spot to handle both my personal photo libraries and on-the-spot photo editing tasks for work. It has a hefty arsenal of features for photo management tasks. Once you get familiar with its interface, F-Spot is a handy tool set for sharing, touching up, finding and organizing your images.

App Highlights

One of the things I like most about F-Spot is its support for 16 common graphic files types, including JPEG, GIF, SVG, PPM, TIFF and DNG. If you are a photography fanatic, you will love the several vendor-specific RAW formats that are included, such as CR2, PEF, ORF, SRF, CRW, MRW and RAF.

This makes for a handy solution to view a wide range of images without having to find an intermediate program that converts file types. This also makes it easily to change the format by saving the photo as a different file type. Plus, F-Spot makes it easy to view and export EXIF and XMP metadata in images.

A second neat feature is the "Export To" option. F-Spot conveniently packages an image for SmugMug, Flickr, 23hq, PicasaWeb, a CD collection and more. It can resize the selection and even preserve metadata and user-added tags.

Toggling Tags

The main tool for managing photo collections in F-Spot is tagging each image. Right clicking on a thumbnail image in the Browse mode opens the Attach Tag option with choices of Favorites, Hidden, People, Places, Events and Create New Tag.

The left panel shows these same category names. Clicking on a particular tag heading displays all of the photos with that tag in the thumbnail browsing area.

The timeline bar at the top of the window adds the ability to locate images in relation to their temporal space. This is another method to zero in on a range of photos in the collection.

Levels of Expertise

Often, photo viewing programs fall short when users get comfortable with their basic features and are ready to grow into a better tool set. That is when users discover that a particular photo program cannot do what they want it to do. The only solution then is to find a better photo management app.

F-Spot will not let users down like that. It is easy to progress from importing photos from a hard drive camera or iPod, to displaying a photo collection in full screen and sideshow modes, to more advanced editing functions.

For instance, clicking on a photo in the thumbnail display opens the photo in editing mode and presents a series of drop-down editing tasks and related functions. In this Edit Image Mode, a drop-down menu handles tasks such as image rotation, sharpen image and delete from catalog or storage drive, among others. In this same editing mode, another panel along the left edge ofaltamira apartments seattle the viewing window provides functions to crop, reduce red-eye, desaturate, apply sepia tone, soften the focus and adjust colors.

F-Spot provides features that mere graphic viewing apps lack, like color adjustments. The menu-driven options allow for quick and accurate color tweaking. These include brightness, contrast, hue and temperature.

Quirky Behavior

As I said earlier, no photo management app is perfect. The Achilles heel in F-Spot is its requirement that all images start as an import. You cannot merely view an image from any location or edit a photo without first importing it. Other photo programs, such as Google's Picasa, have a similar though less-demanding requirement.

However, F-Spot goes too far. If you store a vast image collection on your hard drive, the program insists on importing that collection into its own resources. Essentially, this takes up twice the storage space.

In my case, my photo collection grew to the point that It nearly filled my hard disk. So I moved the entire collection of some 10,000 images to an external drive.

Unseen Results

Picasa and GIMP did not argue with that new location. If the external drive was not connected, both apps simply reported that the images were not available.

When I tried importing the photos from the connected external drive, F-Spot balked and issued error messages. Even uninstalling and reinstalling the app failed to solve the problem.

The remedy was dumb luck. Since F-Spot was showing what amounted to a ghost directory of the previous photo folders on the hard drive, I deleted them from within the app and rebooted.

Problem solved. Importing the images from their new home on the external drive worked fine. But they were taking up space on the hard drive again, even if only in thumbnail format.

More Pros and Cons

F-Spot takes a bit more maintenance than it should in managing new entries. For instance, it does not permit users to configure folders to watch for new photos.

It also lacks support for video tags. This is a big drawback, given the popularity and prominence of video from even basic digital cameras. F-Spot also forces you to manually clean up and sort the photo collection.

On the plus side, F-Spot readily detects when a camera or a memory card is attached. It automatically imports the images.

Where to Get It

F-Spot, the most recent version, was released last November. Unless you are an experienced photo app user, you will not find many differences between this newest release and its older brethren.

Download F-Spot here.

F-Spot is an open source project overed under the terms of the GNU GPL licensing stipulations. As a testament to its usefulness and popularity, F-Spot is included with numerous Linux distributions. You can find a binary package for most here.

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