Thursday
Aug232012

Beware using Camera Connection Kit across time zones

Last week I went on a fantastic vacation; a road trip loop starting and ending in Las Vegas and passing through the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park. Since my laptop was still awaiting my RMA from OCZ (another story) I decided to buy a Camera Connection Kit for my iPad and use that to load pictures off my SD cards and onto my iPad so we could view them and free up space on the cards.

This process worked okay; not flawlessly (again, another story), but well enough — or so I thought.

However, when I got back home and imported all my photos into iPhoto, I noticed that the times were wrong on nearly all of them. And they weren’t all wrong by the same amount - some were correct, others were two hours ahead, and others three hours ahead. What happened?

It turns out that when a camera stores the time a photo was taken in EXIF, it stores that information textually for whatever time the camera is set to without any time zone information. When importing the photo in iPhoto or on the iPad, the software looks at the EXIF timestamp and interprets that as the time the photo was taken in the time zone on the device.

That works all well and good if the time zone on the camera and the time zone on the device importing the photos is the same. It’s also only a minor annoyance if they always differ by a constant value, like if the time on the camera is set incorrectly.

However, in my case I had my camera set to EDT the entire time; the problem I had was that my iPad, in an effort to be helpful, kept changing its own time. Under all other circumstances this is very useful, but this meant that the timestamp my iPad put on the photos was dependent on which time zone I imported them in. Very annoying. Fortunately, the correct data was still retained in the EXIF - I just needed to delete all the photos from iPhoto and reimport them, and iPhoto correctly reread the times.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to this. Ideally, EXIF should be updated to provide an absolute time, but that doesn’t seem very likely if they haven’t already, and it also wouldn’t fix the millions of cameras that already exist. The best pragmatic solution, in my opinion, would be to have an option when importing photos on the iPad to specify the time the camera is set to, but again I don’t see this as likely because it would appear to complicate the process. Alternatively, have iPhoto on the Mac reread the EXIF data of everything it imports or receives through Photo Stream and reinterpret it in the time zone that the Mac is set to.

However, until there is a fix (which very likely could be never) what should users of the Camera Connection Kit do? My suggestion would be to go into the settings of the iPad and override the current time zone and set it to the time zone of the camera before importing. Then set it back to change automatically when done. It’s a hack, but it does work.

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Reader Comments (2)

A good, pragmatic solution. Honestly, I don't know how one would code a better solution. If a camera is directly attached via USB, if its clock has been keeping time correctly since the pictures were taken, if a computer can programmatically access the camera clock, such synching could happen automatically — but that's a lot of ifs, and doesn't solve the problem at all if one connects a card rather than a camera.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

@Daniel

I believe most cameras appear as USB storage devices when plugged into a computer. While it might be possible to for a camera manufacturer to have a specialized interface that allowed for both the transfer of photos as well as access to the camera's settings, I think it might be interesting to get a bit more creative. For instance, why not have iPhoto have the ability to display a clock on the screen that's designed to be machine-readable. Then, you use the camera to take a picture of the clock. When you connect the camera or memory card to the computer, it could then notice the specific clock pattern and adjust the time of all of the photos accordingly.

August 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterKyle Cronin

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