From Köln with Liebe

What am I doing in the German Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen?

Hint: it has to do with this blog.

Okay, I’m here for the Photokina! Tomorrow I am going to visit the trade show held at the KoelnMesse, in this wonderful city.

In the meanwhile I am doing also some sightseeing, picture snapping and relaxing with a local beer (Kölsch) along the Rhine.

More to come in the following days!


Switchover (part 2): Shotwell

After having introduced the world of GNU/Linux operating systems, it’s time to dig a bit into the specific applications.

The first one is Shotwell, the photo organiser for the GNOME project. Shotwell aims to be more a replacement to Picasa and iPhoto on Mac, rather than Lightroom, but it’s fast and does its job.

Shotwell exists as a precompiled binary package for most distros out there, so check your package manager. It’s highly probable that Shotwell is part of the default set of software already installed on the system, anyway. It is also possible to get the source tarball from the official Git repository and compile the software yourself.

Shotwell requires several dependencies, so have a look here to see the full list.


Shotwell and the main interface (together with my very confused photo collection)

On launch, Shotwell presents an interface very similar to iPhoto. You can import pictures into your photo library, categorise them and do small editing tasks on them. Extra editing requires launching an external editor.

It is possible to select multiple pictures, drag and drop into folders or events, add and remove tags, or just start a slideshow. It’s fast, quick and simple to use.

Shotwell 2

A picture is loaded, ready to get edited.

By opening a picture, it gets shown in the main window, with a toolbar underneath. From there it is possible to intervene with small tweaks such as rotation, cropping and straightening. There is also an option for red eye fixing.

The editing tools are quite easy to use but are limited. There is a curve preview, then sliders for settings such as Saturation, Highlights, Shadows, Contrast, Temperature and Tint. There is also live preview, but changes won’t be shown until the slider is released (unlike Lightroom which shows changes in real time, for some good fine tuning).

All in all, Shotwell is a good photo organiser. Its intended use is for everyday photo organisation and retouching, nothing major, but does its job pretty well. Plus, most distros have precompiled packages, so installation is a breeze.

Switchover: ditching Windows 10 for the Penguin – an overview (part 1)

This article is part of a series about what software I use to manage pictures in my new GNU/Linux setup. Further posts will get into individual pieces of software in more detail. The first bit is introductory and explains my history with GNU/Linux. You may want to skip ahead, if you don’t want to read me being nostalgic…

I have grown up with “bread and computer” – aka, I’m quite tech-savy.  I started my computing journey 18 years ago with Windows 98 SE and tried all major operating systems since then. From 2003, I always had a Linux distro installed on my main PC at home together with Windows (I switched versions of Windows many many times, mainly in 2001 I jumped several times from 98 to XP and back). I also had a MacBook from 2007 until 2014, when it died in the summer.

My experience with Linux started in 2003, I found a three CD edition of MandrakeLinux 9.2 “FiveStar” with a magazine. I tried and fell in love with it. It took a while to understand how the shell worked, but the operating system installation and administration was done completely via GUI. Struggled a lot to make my USB DSL modem work, so I was without web access on the Linux partition. At a certain point, I divided my 15GB hard drive in three, Windows 98, Windows XP and MandrakeLinux.

I also discovered just today, by chance, that Mdk 9.2 had a bug in which some LG CD-ROM drives had their firmware erased by mistake – my LG drive died on my first installation of Linux, but I though it was just random… today I found out it was not!

With Mandrake I started to learn about the kernel, the shell, how X11 works, KDE (3.1) and GNOME (2.4), LILO, the partitioning scheme and so on and so forth. And everything without a working DSL connection.


MandrakeLinux 9.2  and KDE 3.1. Oh, the memories…. Screenshot by Diego Gerlin from Wikimedia Commons

I was initially a KDE enthusiast, so all the distros I used I preferred to work with KDE 3. After jumping left and right, I settled with Kubuntu and then Ubuntu when they started to ship KDE 4 (never got used to it). I have been using GNOME/MATE and Cinnamon since.

The distro I currently have installed is Linux Mint 18.3 “Sylvia”, a distro based on Ubuntu Xenial LTS, which adds a few bits and bobs, some customised tools, a perfectly integrated desktop and Cinnamon, a desktop environment which is based on GNOME 3 but maintains a more traditional metaphor with a taskbar and a menu. Being based on top of Ubuntu, it is possible to use loads of Ubuntu packages, Ubuntu repositories and PPAs. And, of course, it is completely free of charge.


My MINT 18.3 desktop, with Cinnamon and a nice Japanese background. As you can see, even if you never used Linux before, the environment is quite familiar.

I decided to ditch Windows, forget about the antivirus issues, Office, subscriptions and so on and so forth and just keep Linux as my main OS. The time is definitely mature now.

The main issue with switching to Linux today, is software. There is loads of great software for Linux and a lot of popular packages that work on Windows are compiled also for Linux. Some others, unfortunately, are not. On Windows this is what I used almost daily:

  • MS Office
  • Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom
  • Google Chrome
  • Mailbird
  • Spotify
  • Steam (sometimes I need to play and distract myself, you know)

Steam, Spotify and Chrome exist also for Linux and are distributed from their official websites, so no problem there. They all work perfectly fine. Mailbird exists only for Windows, but on Linux I tend to use GNOME Evolution (more similar to Outlook but less bulky). A more similar alternative would be Geary Mail. Microsoft does not compile a version of Office for Linux, so an alternative is needed and that alternative is LibreOffice.
Also Adobe does not play well with Linux (it used to develop Flash Player and Adobe Reader for Linux, but that is no longer the case), so Photoshop and Lightroom require alternatives. I have installed a couple of packages to try and see what works best for me, but for the moment my software of choice is (of course) the GIMP and Darktable.

By the way, all these Linux packages I mentioned are also available for Windows, if you want to give them a try. They are part of the so called “Open Source” software. These programs have their source code public so everyone can modify them and redistribute them freely. Linux itself is an Open Source operating system (for most parts, but that gets really complicated) – despite everyone having access to its core components code, it is a very stable, solid and secure system.

In the next posts of this series, I will test different software and see how they behave and how they work for me and decide for which I want to keep and use for my daily tasks.


[The Unusual Library] The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras

51r5y49vfxl-_ac_ul320_sr228320_The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras
Jean Loup Princelle
1995, Hove Photo Books
ISBN 978-18-740-316-35

This is a book I had to sweat a lot to put my hands on.

The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras is a difficult to find book (I had some luck with an eBay auction from France), but it is also the Bible of the Russian and Soviet camera collector. I’m not a collector per se, nor I have a keen interest in buying all FEDs and Zenits and KMZs that I come across, but Soviet cameras have a certain charme, they have contributed to shape the camera markets of those years, despite often being inspired or cloned from existing western models.

For many people across the Iron Curtain, these cameras were the only option. For many westeners, these were the most affordable option (and you got a decent camera, too). Like the book about the Chinese cameras, this guide is divided by factory (starting from GOMP/VOOMP/LOMO and KMZ to more obscure ZAVOD GEODEZYIA and ZAVOD ARSENAL) and lists (possibly) every model produced together with pictures and technical details, when available. There is also the history of the factories themselves and put in context with the socio-political situation of the USSR at the time.

Overall, it’s quite a nice and interesting book, if you manage to find it grab a copy. Not essential unless you really like to collect Soviet cameras, I might add. There are also some details that appear to be wrong (I’ll consider them bona fide mistakes).