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How-To: Import iPhone Images When iPhoto Fails

iPhone Camera Roll Extraction ToolsFrom SMS messages to saved images in Safari, there are dozens of iOS apps that both create and edit photos, not even including the stock camera app. When things go well, iPhoto can transfer these images to your Mac’s library quickly and easily. But what if things don’t go so well? What if certain photos refuse to leave your iPhone?  What are your options?

Snow Leopard’s Image Capture Application

Most of the time you can isolate the culprit by individually selecting other images with Apple’s Image Capture application. Upon launching it, select the iPhone from the list of devices on the left. The contents of the iPhone’s camera roll should then appear on the right. From here you can select files individually, or choose to import all images. There’s even a drop down selector where you can choose where to download the images to.

This is also a great utility to use if you just want to delete a large number of images from your iPhone. Unfortunately, this application utilizes the same technology as iPhoto, and will therefore choke on the same erroneous images.

MacroplantiPhoneExploreriPhone Filesystem as a Flash Drive

There are several third-party applications for the Mac that will allow you to mount your iPhone as an external flash drive and retrieve files. I like to use Macroplant’s iPhone Explorer. Since this application is looking at the images on the iPhone as files, it uses a subtly different technique than either iPhoto’s or Image Capture’s import functionality.

Once launched, navigate to the folder titled DCIM on the iPhone. This folder will contain all of the images stored in the iPhone’s camera roll. Simply drag and drop the folder onto the desktop or any other location. If all you want to do is get rid of all of your iPhone’s images, then select all of the contents of the DCIM folder and delete. There have been times when my iPhone’s camera app would start behaving badly and it appeared as if the camera was not working at all. Clearing out the DCIM folder fixed the issues I was having.

PadraigBackupExtractoriTunes iOS Backup Files

Now we’re entering extreme desperation territory. Image Capture has failed to import the images, and all attempts to copy the files directly have failed. The only course of action remaining is to see if the latest backup of the iPhone in iTunes still has the photos.  For this reason, I always backup before I import photos.

Besides being useful for a restore operation, you can directly access the = files included in any device backup. The backed-up files are located in the user’s /Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup folder.  The problem is that the names of the content don’t make any sense. There are however third-party applications that can translate this layer of misdirection.

I’ve been using Padraig’s iPhone Backup Extractor for a while now.  After launching the application, I simply choose which iOS device’s backup files I want to extract. After making the selection, I scroll down until I see a line item labeled “iOS Files”.  Select it and click on the extract button, and you’ll be prompted for a location to extract the files too.  In the extracted folder ,there will be a DCIM folder containing all of the photos from your camera roll.

Even if the iPhone is a closed platform, that doesn’t mean you have to access its content only via official means. Hopefully these three different methods for getting at your device’s photos will help you out of any jam you may find yourself in with the camera roll.

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