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Embedded Image & Movie Timestamps & Dates

File dates come in two varieties:

  1. dates that are part of the file system directory, e.g. file creation date, file modification date, file added date
  2. dates that are embedded in the actual file, e.g. shooting dates, content created dates, track created dates, etc.

If this is news to you, you probably want to read the “File Date Primer” before you go on, as this will avoid a lot of confusion & frustration.

Let’s now turn our attention to embedded dates for image & movie file formats:

First, you need to realize that pretty much every image & movie file format has its own way of embedding date information and not all the dates mean the same thing. Then you need to realize than in practice, many programs do not handle those dates correctly or uniformly.

For image file formats, the Japanese EXIF standard, which exists in several versions is the commonly used standard. Almost all JPEG files that come straight off a digital camera will have this meta-data information embedded in them. Some scanners will also include EXIF information in scanned files, but many do not. The same dates are also embedded in a variety of “RAW” file formats by all major camera manufacturers.

The EXIF standard has two dates, called “timestamps” that are of interest to us: DateTimeOriginal & DateTimeDigitized.

DateTimeOriginal is the date & time that a photo was taken. DateTimeDigitized is the date & time that a picture was scanned or otherwise digitized. In theory, scanners should only set the DateTimeDigitized and cameras only DateTimeOriginal, but in practice many cameras and image scanning programs set both or neither.

If you want to import your image files into Apple’s Photos application or other image management programs, you need to set the DateTimeOriginal and/or the DateTimeDigitized timestamps.

Please note as well that most cameras do not include time zone information in these fields, so the date & time are in “camera time”: whatever the camera’s clock was set to when the photo was taken. You can use A Better Finder Attributes’ Adjust Content Creation Date action to batch adjust this time in your photos.

Some digital photos also contain TIFF meta-data, such as the TIFF Create Date. A Better Finder Attributes can manipulate this date or remove it altogether. Some applications confusingly present this as the DateTimeDigitized, so if A Better Finder Attributes shows that there is no DateTimeDigitized in a file but another application disagrees this might be the reason.

Movie file formats are even more heterogeneous and often contain more than one content creation date. Different tracks for instance may have been created at different moments of times. A single scene from a feature movie will have been assembled from different takes, filmed on different days, etc.. A Better Finder Attributes is not a fully featured movie editing suite, so it ignores all this complexity in favour of solving a much easier question, namely: “Where should the movie be put in relation to the photos I’ve taken in my photo management app or in the Finder”?

Only a subset of movie formats are supported and there are four timestamps that can be set:

  • DateTimeOriginal & DateTimeDigitized
  • the Content Creation Date
  • the Media Create Date

Many movie formats, especially when taking by digital cameras, support the DateTimeOriginal & DateTimeDigitized timestamps that originate in the EXIF standard. Use them in the same way as for images.

The Content Creation Date simply designates the appropriate meta-data field of the specific movie format of your file. It maps to different actual field names in the various supported formats.

Video formats such as QuickTime make a difference between the Content Creation Date and the Media Create Date. The former is when the content was first recorded, while the second is when the media file itself was first created: say you’ve recorded the opening ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics on a video tape, and you have transferred your VHS tape to DVD in 2012. The content would be created in 2000, the media in 2012. In reality, these tags like many others are rarely used in a consistent manner, so you are usually best off looking at which ones exist and which one has the date you’re after.

By default, A Better Finder Attributes will use the DateTimeOriginal field for image files & the Content Creation Date for movie files, but you can override these settings in the popup buttons.

For movie files, you should normally only use the file format specific field (designated by Content Creation Date) and you should rarely have occasion for using the others.

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