January 5, 2001

Setting up gPhoto: An experiment with a new digital camera

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -
I'm one of probably thousands of people who came into possession of a digital camera this holiday season, and the vast majority of those cameras come with software designed to make them work with Windows.

But there is at least one alternative for Linux and some of the BSDs -- gPhoto, a program that's been packaged with GNOME. After testing my camera on Windows (it works, although the software it comes with, PhotoImpression 2000, is kind of clunky), I thought I'd try to get it working on my faster, less crashy Linux machine. One disclaimer: I am a Linux user, nothing more. Uber geeks may have an easier time setting up gPhoto; as always, your mileage may vary.

gPhoto history

The gPhoto project began in November 1998, when Scott Fritzinger, a grad student at the University of Nevada-Reno, asked Eugene Crosser, developer of another photo program that supported several cameras, if he could work on a graphical front end. Fritzinger began to work with Ole Aamot, who had also contacted Crosser, and eventually, the project attracted several developers working on making gPhoto compatible with more camera models.

Today, gPhoto supports more than 110 camera models, and a new version, 0.4.4, is due out shortly. Developers are also working on gPhoto2, a portable version that will allow cross-platform programming. Fritzinger hopes gPhoto2 will become an application program interface standard for accessing digital cameras from any application. gPhoto2 will be able to run on Linux, BSD, Solaris, OS2, Windows, BeOS, and maybe even Macintosh.

Also worth noting: theKompany has recently ported the gPhoto2 libraries to the KDE user interface. That means if you have a supported camera, you can start using it with most KDE applications in a couple of simple steps. "The idea was to make (gPhoto) easy to use on multiple desktops," says Shawn Gordon, theKompany's president. "The reality is KDE is the default desktop on 70% of the distributions. Why would they fire up any other desktop to use a camera?"

My gPhoto experience

My camera/Web cam, purchased at NewsForge sister site ThinkGeek is on the cheap end of the truckloads of digital cameras available these days. My Kodak EZ 200 is listed at $119.99 at ThinkGeek, where you can spend nearly $700 on a nicer camera than mine. My camera's still picture resolution is 640x480 and 320x240, and it also has a video resolution of 320x240. It's basically a point-and-shoot palm-sized piece of plastic, but hey, it works.

The EZ 200 has a USB connection, which other digital camera users say they have had problems with in gPhoto, but I have an inside source: Fritzinger. Before I try to connect the Kodak with my Linux machine (running Mandrake 7.1 and loaded with gPhoto 0.4.3), I ask Fritzinger about using a USB connection.

I follow his advice on using USB with gPhoto 0.4.3, which is to compile a dc2xx kernel module. (Co-worker Jeff Field helps me do this -- as I said before, I'm just a user.) That should allow gPhoto driver to recognize that the camera's connected to USB, Fritzinger says. Then, in
gPhoto's "select port-camera model" tab, he tells me to choose "other" as the port, and type in "/dev/dc2xx."

Simple enough. But wait, there's another problem that's not Fritzinger's fault. The camera I own isn't listed as supported by gPhoto. I try all the Kodak models listed in the "select port-camera model" tab, but they either crash gPhoto or give a mysterious message: "Missing serial device permissions. Please check the permissions." Whose permissions? Please, Mr. Kodak, may I have permission to use my camera in Linux?

Fritzinger says Kodak cameras are sometimes difficult to support and get working, because the company has used five or six different parts vendors on the guts of their cameras. So a driver that will work on one Kodak model may not work at all on another. Generally, that isn't the case with most camera companies, however. Several users report that they've gotten unsupported models in other brands to work by selecting a different model, and gPhoto continues to support more and more camera models.

And gPhoto generally gets good reviews from users. "Excellent work, folks, my hat is off to your superb development effort," one user wrote to gPhoto. "It's so nice not having to boot into
Windows in order to suck the pics from the thingy."

Another user: "Thanks for developing such a nice piece of software. It works better than the software provided by Sanyo for Windows!"

So my first attempt at setting up gPhoto is a bust, but I can't blame gPhoto. Let me know on our discussion page if you have any advice, and I'll keep trying.

My lesson for getting a digital camera to work in Linux: Before you buy it, check to see if it's supported in gPhoto. Otherwise, you may be stuck using it in Windows.

NewsForge editors read and respond to comments posted on our discussion page.

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