Virtually RAW

March 23rd, 2009

As I have mentioned, I choose to run Linux as my computer’s operating system. The reasons are too numerous to list, here. Because of this, instead of installing Sony’s supplied software to process and convert the .arw (RAW) images produced by my Alpha 350, I have been using DigiKam.
This thread in the discussion area of the flickr group – Sony Alpha DSLR Cameras, inspired me to try to get it running under VirtualBox. A brief recount of my success concerning this follows.

I had already installed VB previously to be able to use the local version of the Zinio reader for my electronic subscription to Shutterbug. Since installation and configuration varies among Linux distributions, here are tutorial links for:

Gentoo

Ubuntu

Fedora

I have only tested the Gentoo instructions. Instructions for other distributions can most likely be found by searching the web.

When the installation process is complete start VirtualBox and click on the “New” button to start a virtual installation. Choose the the version of windows that matches your windows installation disc. Proceed as prompted through the installation. Most of the settings, such as base memory and video memory can be changed as needed, later. I ended up setting the base memory to about half of my 3gb and video memory, to the maximum of 128mb.

After finishing the Windows installation, some additional items need to be configured. First set up the CD/DVDROM, select it from the the configuration list, in the “Details” tab, located on the right side of the interface. Activate the “Mount CD/DVDROM” box and select the desired device from the menu. I had to run “hald” as root and restart VirtualBox before it recognized my drive.

virtualbox_cddvdrom-1

Next, you will need to set up sharing for the drive that contains your photos in .arw format. Select the newly installed Windows virtual machine from the left side of the VirtualBox interface. Now, scroll down in the configuration list and select “Shared Folders”. Add one or more folders by clicking on the add button located on the right and selecting the desired folder, etc.. Inside the Windows installation these folders will be available as “Desktop\My Network Places\Entire Network\VirtualBox Shared Folders\”.

virtualbox_shared_folders-1

Insert the Sony camera software CD in the drive specified earlier, and start the Windows virtual machine by clicking the start button. The windows installation opens and runs as a full installation. Additionally it requires almost no resources when left idling. The Windows desktop can be resized simply by resizing the window it is running in; re-drawing after may take a second or two. Open Windows Explorer via start->applications->accessories and start the Sony software installation by clicking on the cdrom drive containing the disc, located under “My Computer”. After finishing the installation and restarting(, hehe); the Sony software should be ready to use.

virtualbox_shot-1

Image Data Converter running under VirtualBox

The Image Data Converter seems to run well on my dual core 64bit system, with most equivalent operations seeming to be at least as fast, or somewhat faster, than in DigiKam. But, what I liked the most is that the controls are laid out much the same as the menus in the camera. Additionally, all adjustments to the photo can be adjusted at anytime, as all of the dialogs can be kept open and always reflect the settings of the current image. This is much more intuitive than the single operator type of workflow that is used by Digikam’s editing suite. Finally, the noise reduction, at least in practice is far superior to any application I have used. Having had success with the conversion software I decided to try out the Picture Motion Browser. It also performs satisfactorily, but be prepared for the following. After launching it, the first thing that needs to be done is to “Register Viewed Folders”, found in the file menu, to point the application to the folders containing your photos. The thing to be prepared for is that depending on how many images are contained in the folders you have registered, updating the database may take a fair amount of time; about a half hour in my case. Subsequent updates, that are invoked by selecting “Update Database” from the “Tools” menu, will only need to update the database to reflect items that have been added since the last time the application was launched.

virtualbox_pmb_update_db

In spite of it running without issue, I think I prefer the simple thumbnail view provided by Digikam as opposed to the more complex interface of the Picture Motion Browser. It is important to note that when saving files from the various applications, always save them on one of the shared drives that you can access under Linux. Unlike wine, the files on the Windows ‘drive’ are not accessible outside of the VirtualBox environment.

Having failed to get USB working under VirtualBox, downloading photos from the camera or card is not an option. But, I have been doing this with a script for some time and this still seems the easiest way. Finally, I tested, also with success, the Data Lightbox application. It has some nice interface features that put it a little ahead of the one offered in DigiKam.

I hope this has inspired you to give VirtualBox a try to test out Sony’s software. I am glad I did.