Sunday, October 24, 2010


So you have a camera that you bought a few years ago and you run into the biggest problem plaguing everyone who owns a digital camera.  And if you think that you don't have this problem, well let's just say that it is something that you are going to find out about very soon.

You see there is a little problem that just about every camera manufacturer forgets to tell you about.  And it is a problem located on ALL digital cameras.  It is similar to the 1999  Y2K problem.  Without backing up your photo collection this problem will wipe out a lot of fond memories. 

Sony F717 
The problem is this.  When you take a photo, your camera starts a counter.  The first picture is labelled 0001.  If you have a Sony camera it is proceeded by the letters DSC ie. DSC0001.JPG, with the suffix .jpg added to let the computer know that it is a jpeg file.  Other cameras will do the same, ie. MSC0001.JPG, Cannon uses IMG, ie IMG0001.JPG. The first thing that  you will notice is that there are only 4 digits.  That is where the problem arises!

When you get to picture #10,000 the camera rolls back to 0001.  If you are using iPhoto and you do not relabel your photos this is akin to wiping out the original 0001.jpg photo that you have in your catalog.  In my case, those were the pictures of the birth of my son.  I was saved only in knowing that I had a back up of those precious early photos.  Additionally, I did not realize the problem until I took picture # 10,110 !  That's right 110 of my original photos taken 8 years ago with my Sony DSC-F717 were completely gone from my iPhoto catalog.   Again, I was saved only by the knowledge that a backup existed for these.

The next problem that has arisen is what happens when your spouse or child decides to get a camera?  In the old days you would buy a simple point-and-shoot and take it to the store to be developed.  You would then scan the photo into iPhoto.  But today, just about everything is digital.  And if you buy a camera that is made by the same company as your original camera then you are in trouble!  Major trouble if you are using iPhoto.  In this case, I had the opportunity to pick up a used Cannon SLR, which is now 8 years old, but takes the most wonderful pictures.  It is digital.  And it cost me pennies to purchase because it was used and the owner just wanted to get rid of it.  It was also an inevitable purchase after my Sony F717 broke down.  This was a God send because I was able to integrate it painlessly with iPhoto because it had a different prefix - IMG.  So my first pictures were IMG0475.JPG and this did not interfere with the original Sony DSC0475.JPG.  Dandy, until I get to 9999 in which the original problem that I discussed will inevitably arise.  But then my wife's birthday came up and you guessed it, she wanted a simple point and shoot camera for her big day.  Nothing expensive, but something that was not as clunky as my Canon ( a huge beast by today's standards) - just a simple point and shoot.  I had a 100% chance of running into a problem.  If I chose a Sony or Canon camera then the number problem would again be an issue.  I found out also that Nikon uses the DSC prefix as well.  She chose the Canon camera and this is where things got interesting. 

iPhoto has become very long in the tooth and although there are dramatic changes being made to the program, including face recognition, mapping etc., the basics are being left behind.  This numbering system for instance should be a thing of the past.  Almost everything is digital.  Just about every photo is digital, so why not keep up with the times on this one? 

Simple Batch Processing
For now, I can no longer just plug in the camera and hope that everything will fall into iPhoto and be arranged.  We are well over the 10k range and due to the fact that we have more cameras on tap, the overriding of DSC and IMG numbers is something that will always happen.  In speaking to a few friends of mine, they have told me that Lightroom and Aperture are better at handling this sort of thing.  But they cost a lot of money.  And from what I understand, once you go Lightroom, you're there forever; same holds true for Aperture.  I have also been told that Aperture is better at cataloging, while Lightroom is better at editing.  I cannot vouch for either, having not used either one of them.

So what do I do?  Well, if you own a Mac there is always someone out there with a solution that has been peer reviewed and investigated.  The program that I found and which is literally saving my bacon these days is called simply NAMECHANGER.  It is a public domain FREE program written by Mickey Roberson at Mickey has done a great job with this and makes several different versions depending upon which flavor of OSX you have.  Donating a dollar or two for his efforts would be a good thing to spur him along to continue doing what he is doing. 

More Complex Batch Processing
With NameChanger, you get a simple no frills interface and you can drag and drop your files  and preface them in any way that you desire.  So, if you put in a batch of files with the numbers IMG0050.JPG THRU IMG0100.JPG and you took them at the same venue or during the same shoot, then you can do the following:  Change sequence starting from IMG0050.JPG TO IMG0100.JPG and batch change (that is change all of the files so that they begin with whatever it is you want, instead of IMG) to BirthdayParty001.jpg to BirthdayParty050.jpg and you will have a listing that is not readily duplicated.  You can get more specific and do something akin to Nigels5thBirthday001.jpg.

That is pretty difficult to duplicate by accident.  Once the batch change is done, then you can dump it into iPhoto.

What Apple needs to do is this.  Since it has the ability to separate the photos into EVENTS, it should automatically change the FILE to represent this change if that is what the user wants.  Just having it notice events is not good enough now that everyone and their uncle has a camera.  By the way, did I forget to mention the iPhone and the iPod Touch photos as well?  Yes I did didn't I.  Well you get the point by now.  The overlapping of photos is something that will happen to just about everyone at some point.  For now, NameChanger may be the best solution for those of us not willing to part with $300 to buy either Lightroom or Aperture just for this feature.


  1. Hey this is Mickey from MRR Software. Very interesting post, and thanks for the great review of NameChanger, I'm glad it has helped you and others.
    Quick question: I tried reproducing this iPhoto duplicate name issue and could not. Basically I took two distinct images with identical names and dropped them one at a time into iPhoto and they were both in their uniquely, with no overwriting.

    How would I got about duplicating this overwriting issue you are seeing with iPhoto?

  2. Hi Mickey,

    Thanks for your response to this article. You have created a brilliant piece of software. I thought that others might like to know about it too.

    As for the duplication of the error, I believe that actually have to run your camera to 9999 for this to occur. I don't think that just adding the photo will do it. We have reproduced the problem with two different Canon cameras. My old Canon (the used one mentioned above) and my wife's new Canon overlapped in numbers and we saw the same issue again.

    It is a glitch that really needs to be worked out soon because all of the iPhones and iPod Touches now have decent quality cameras that may replace many point and shoots.

    Again, great software and thanks for visiting my blog.


I will be trying unmoderated comments for a while. If this gets ridiculous, then I will have to move to moderating the comments once again.