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Hey Apple, Fix This: The Future of the Finder

This is the last installment of this column, and as such, I wanted to cover one of the most important features on the Mac: the Finder. This file manager, browser, and user interface layer is the tool that people use to launch applications, work with and manage files and folders, and control pretty much everything their computer does.

The early Mac was revolutionary, bringing the desktop metaphor to everyday computers. It wasn’t the first computer to use this type of interface, but it was the first one that was widely adopted. Instead of controlling a computer by typing lines of text commands, it used the WIMP interface: windows, icons, menus, and pointer. (And even before text commands, computers were controlled by punch cards, tapes, and other ways of inputting commands and data.)

One thing the desktop metaphor does is allow us to organize files any way we want. Unlike tags, where you set keywords for your files—that you may or may not recall later—folders let you sort items in the way that best fits your style of organizing items. They’re flexible and extensible, through sub-folders, and sub-sub-folders. You could dump all your files in a single folder and use Spotlight to find the ones you want, but you’d quickly find that it’s more time consuming to use this type of interface than to keep your files sorted.

While the desktop metaphor is practical and useful, maybe it’s time to move on.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

As the article says above, this is the last installment of my Hey Apple, Fix This column. I’m looking for freelance writing work, notably about iTunes, but also about Apple hardware and software, third-party apps, and more.

Use Smart Albums in Apple’s Photos

I posted an article yesterday about using smart albums in Apple Photos to find which lens or camera you use most. I discovered that many people don’t know about smart albums in Photos, so here’s an overview of how you can use them.

If you’re familiar with smart playlists in iTunes, then you’ll understand smart albums. Each one is made up of one or more conditions that the app uses to filter your content, and display only those items that match your choices. In iTunes, it’s a great way to find tracks with ratings, that you have or haven’t played recently, by certain artists, and much more.

In Photos, you have a number of interesting choices you can use as conditions. Start by choosing File > New Smart Album, and you’ll see a dialog offering you a number of options.

Smart album

Select the first menu after Match the following condition to see a number of types of metadata – data about your photos – that you can use.

Smart album menu 1You can choose any of these types of metadata, such an existing album, the date you took a photo, a keyword or description, and more. You can choose technical information, such as the camera model, lens, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, and whether you’ve used a flash.

The second menu lets you select operator such as is or is not, numerical operators such as greater than or less than, ranges (from x to y), and more.

For each of the bits of metadata in the first menu, you have a number of options in the third menu. They are contextual; they depend on what you’ve chosen in the first menu. For example, the default option you see is Photo is favorite, but you can, from the third menu, choose things like Photo is edited, movie, HDR, tagged with GPS, and more. For all the technical metadata in the bottom part of the first menu, Photos presents a list that you can choose from with the existing metadata in your photos. For example, if you chose Lens, you can select a specific lens that you have used from a list. Camera model will show all the cameras you have used, and so on.

You may want to make a smart album with, say, all the photos you’ve shot with an iPhone; any model, among those you’ve used over the years. In this case, you can make a smart playlist with the condition Camera model includes iPhone, and Photos will find all the pictures that were taken with any iPhone.

You can also add conditions; click the + button, and you can have another condition, and you can continue adding conditions until your smart album shows exactly those photos you want.

Smart albumsTo the left you can see the smart albums I have in my Photos library. As you can see, most of them sort by camera or lens, but I also have a Recent Photos album (Date is in the last 1 months), and a Panoramas album (Keyword is Panorama; I’ve entered this manually, because the default Panoramas album doesn’t find all of mine).

If you want to sort your photos by any of these conditions, to easily scan photos you’ve tagged with a certain keyword, such as “vacation,” photos of a specific person (as long as you’ve tagged them), or, as I do, photos taken with specific equipment, smart albums are versatile and easy to set up.

Note that smart albums do not sync to iCloud Photos Library, so you cannot view them on your iPad or iPhone. That’s a shame; it would be useful to be able to sort photos like that to view on a mobile device.

Use Smart Albums in Apple Photos to Find Which Lens or Camera You Use Most

If you have a camera and a number of lenses, it can be interesting to see which lens you use the most. If you organize your photos with Apple’s Photos app, you can do this with smart albums. Here’s an example.

I wanted to see which photos I had shot with my Olympus 45mm f 1.8 lens. I created the following smart album (choose File > New Smart Album to create a smart album):

Smart album 45

When you want to fill in the third field in the above dialog, click the arrow at the right of the field to see the available options; Photos shows all the lenses represented in your library.

I’ve done this for a number of my lenses, and for different cameras. It’s interesting to see which lenses get the most use.

You can also choose Focal Length is in the range, to find all your shots that are, say, 12 – 17mm, others that are, say, 50 – 150mm. You have a plethora of options in smart albums, and they can help you better view understand which of your tools you use the most.

You could also use this to determine which focal lengths you use the most with a given zoom lens. If you find that with, say, a 14-42mm lens, you shoot most around 25mm, you might want to consider buying a better 25mm prime lens instead of using what is generally a much slower zoom lens.

If you use different camera systems, with different crop factors, you might want to label your smart albums with the name of the camera or lens, along with the focal length. For example, my Fujifilm X100F has a 23mm lens, but, because of the crop factor, that’s about a 35mm equivalent. My Olympus 25mm lens is a 50mm equivalent.

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Writings about Macs, music, and more by Kirk McElhearn