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September 2002

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Digital photography with OS/2

By Julien Pierre © September 2002

I started pursuing a digital photography solution in 2000. I wanted desperately to stick with my favorite operating system, OS/2, since I did not want to give in to the products of a certain monopolistic company, nor was I interested to migrating to a still-inferior open-source operating system. This proved to be a long and difficult quest, but one that was very successful in the end.

The camera

I researched a variety of digital cameras, from many brands. Since IBM officially dropped OS/2 as a consumer operating system in 1995, it was not a surprise that none of the camera manufacturers were shipping any OS/2 software in the year 2000. There is a shareware program called DCITU. However, it supported a limited set of 40+ older cameras, and was limited to the slower serial port connection. Further research on the newsgroups showed that some people were having problems with it. It was not acceptable to me to have something that would partially work, or too slowly, or some of the time, and therefore I quickly dismissed that program as an option. I started looking for other alternatives to transfer the pictures to my OS/2 computer.

One of the more promising features of many digital cameras is that you don't have to hook the camera up to the computer via USB cable and transfer the pictures with a proprietary program that would never be ported to OS/2. Most cameras, except for the lowest-end ones with only builtin memory, feature some sort of removable memory card. This is typically CompactFlash or SmartMedia. This can be removed and inserted into a card reader and used by the computer as a standard FAT file system. As long as such a reader could be made to work in OS/2, this meant that any camera using such cards would suffice. With that in mind, I opted for the best camera I could find for my needs at the time, an Olympus C3030Z with 3.1Mpixels using SmartMedia cards. This cost me about $700 online, and included a 5 year warranty. This very compact camera can save pictures as JPEG or uncompressed TIFF, readable in PMView (an image viewing program for OS/2 and Windows). I highly recommend this camera for its picture quality. It also makes short Quicktime movies, which are unfortunately not viewable in OS/2 by Quickmotion as they are Quicktime v4. The resolution of the movies is rather low however - 160x120 at 15 fps - and the sound quality is just terrible, so I don't miss that capability much in OS/2.

The card reader

I first purchased a Belkin USB SmartMedia reader at the local Fry's electronics. I already had USB UHCI support working on my computer, and it worked fine with a USB mouse. I assumed that the IBM USBMSD.ADD storage device driver would allow me to use it under OS/2. Unfortunately, no matter what I did, I could not make it work. I had to return it to the store and get a refund.

My next attempt was to try a SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) option. I have been running SCSI in my PCs ever since I started running OS/2 2.0 in mid-1992, for good reason, as SCSI is very well supported. Any SCSI controller supported in OS/2 should work with a card reader to a degree, but if you are in the market for a new controller, I recommend SCSI controllers based on LSI Logic SCSI chips. The controllers that will work well are supported by the SYM8XX.ADD and SYM_HI.ADD drivers, and includes all controllers up to Ultra160. You can read why I prefer them over Adaptec controllers in an article on my web site where I test Adaptec and Tekram models.

I found that Microtech international makes many kinds of SCSI based memory card readers. Browse the list of all their readers to decide which one is best for you. The most universal SCSI readers are the PCD-47 and PCD-47B, which feature a SmartMedia, CompactFlash and PC Card (PCMCIA) type III slot. This covers removable media from nearly any type of digital camera in use today. For the less common media types like Sony memory stick, a PC Card adapter is usually available, which can be plugged right into the PC Card slot of the Microtech SCSI reader.

At the time I was looking for a reader in late 2000, the PCD-47 series were backordered for a month nationwide, so I settled for a different model which was available readily. It is an older model, a DPAI-SCSI-PC, which has two PC Card slots, one of type III and one of type II. I also purchased a Digital Flash Film (also discontinued by Microtech), which converts SmartMedia to PC Card, and plug it right into one of the PC Card slots of the DPAI-SCSI-PC reader. I can then read the content of the SmartMedia card in OS/2 as a regular drive letter. Note that the original DPAI-SCSI-PC I bought from a dealer was defective, and I had to get a replacement from Microtech, which was cross-shipped promptly. Note also that the SCSI readers are expensive, in the $200 range. However they are the only ones that are sure to work with a desktop computer.

If you are fortunate enough to have a laptop with OS/2 and an OS/2 supported PC Card (PCMCIA) slot, you don't need any SCSI card reader. All you need is a PC Card adapter for the  type of memory card your camera uses - CompactFlash or SmartMedia. These can be had for about $30 - to $40. Microtech appears to have discontinued their PC Card adapters, but you can find some from other brands - any one will do, if your PC Card slot is working. [Editor's note: I have a 'New Media' brand PCMCIA Compact Flash adapter which even listed OS/2 as a supported operating system on the box. These adapters are in fact operating system independent, so long as the PC Card(PCMCIA) slot they are placed in is recognized by OS/2 and the correct driver is loaded to read them as an IDE drive device.]

One last thing to be careful about when using the readers if you use PMView's thumbnail creation feature : make sure to copy the content of the card to your hard disk, rather than opening the files on the card directly. This will be a lot faster, and will avoid problems with Extended Attributes. PMView creates the thumbnails as EAs in each picture file. When you put the memory card back into the camera, it doesn't like it, and it may not see all the pictures, or prompt you to reformat the card. You can use EAUTIL /R to fix this condition if you accidentally create thumbnails using PMView.

The printer

Finding the right printer was by far the most difficult and frustrating part of the system to get right. It took 3 printers, as well as a lot of paper and ink, money, and time.

Canon S800 : avoid at any cost for OS/2 use

Canon S800 printerHaving read great reviews of the Canon S800 printer, and noting that it was supported by the IBM OMNI drivers, I purchased one mail order for $299 at OfficeMax, as I was unable to find one locally as it was being replaced by the newer S900 model, for which OS/2 support was as yet unknown. Unfortunately, the output from this printer turned out to be horrible in OS/2 - absolutely not photo quality! It was barely OK for graphics. No amount of tweaking with the OS/2 drivers could fix the problems. The good thing about OfficeMax is that they allowed me to return it to the local store for a refund, rather than having to return it to the warehouse it was shipped from. I did try the printer briefly under Windows and it produced the best pictures I have seen so far, so I can understand the rave reviews it got, but the OS/2 drivers may as well not exist.

HP 960Cse : unsatisfactory

HP 960Cse printerI did further research in the newsgroups and read about some OS/2 users having luck with this printer. So I went to the local Fry's electronics and bought one for $299. It produced much better output in OS/2 than the Canon. On most pictures, it was as good in OS/2 as in Windows. However, for some of the more demanding photos I took with my camera, the tints were way off in OS/2. This was very frustrating. I ended up returning the printer to Fry's, which deducted the cost of ink cartridges from my refund - $60.

Epson Photo 820 : great

Epson 820 printerMy latest choice was this, then new, Epson model. It had no explicit support in OS/2, but was reported to work fine with some older drivers, EPOMNI3, using the Epson Photo 870 printer selection. This printer has both a parallel port and USB connections. I sent my very demanding pictures to a very helpful OS/2 user, who printed them out on glossy photo inkjet paper and mailed them to me. They were finally up to my standards. I purchased the printer from Fry's for $149, with a $50 rebate. It has worked wonders since. I can find cheap paper and ink for it at Costco, and I'm finally very happy.

The navigation system

I recently bought a navigation system for my car, a Pioneer AVIC-9DVD. You may wonder what this has to do with this article on digital photography for OS/2. Let me get to the point: this DVD-based navigation features a PC Card slot, which is used for two purposes: saving the address book, and reading pictures which can be set as the background of the system menus! The pictures are expected to be in the \BG directory however, which is different from the location my Olympus camera stores them, \DCIM\xxxxxxxx.

Therefore, the pictures could not be directly read from the SmartMedia out of the camera using the PC Card adapter. They had to go through the OS/2 computer to be moved from one directory to the other. The first time I tried, the system complained of "read errors" on every picture I fed it. It turned out this was a problem related to PMView's use of OS/2 Extended Attributes, which I already mentioned in the above section about the card reader. Once I used EAUTIL /R, the navigation system accepted the pictures, and I put one of my cats for the background :-).


DCITU Digital Camera Image Transfer Utility:
Quickmotion: Quickmotion
LSI Logic:
Julien's SCSI testing:
Microtech international SCSI card readers:

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