Category Archives: equipment

When You are Locked Down, It’s Got to be Macro Time

Not being able to go anywhere means you can only photograph things close to home.  Why not dig out the macro lens.  I have no doubt that many photographers have been doing the same thing when stuck at home too.  I initially didn’t have any obvious plan for this.  I just decided to photograph anything around me to see what it looked like when seen up very close.  Textures on the surface become apparent in a way that aren’t normally.  I also discovered just how much dust on on somethings that I never noticed until looking at the images.

Lightroom Craps Out With Videos

This is a tale of a problem I got in to with Lightroom.  I Googled solutions for this and got a bunch of suggestions but none of them worked.  In the end, Adobe sorted out the issue but I wanted to share what happened in case anyone else experiences the same issue and ends up Googling like I did.  Maybe this post will help someone out.  The source of the problem was an MP4 video file that apparently had some corruption within it.  This screwed up stuff within Lightroom that needed some detailed work to fix.  First, I shall tell you what the main error was.  This might be what someone is searching for.

Dynamic Link Media Server Failed to Launch

The result is that video files don’t import and then you seem to struggle to preview videos at all.  When you are in the Import dialog, the video preview doesn’t show and an icon of a camera comes up instead.  Some of the recommendations online were to delete the Dynamic Link Media folders in the App Data section of Windows and restart but that didn’t help.  I also tried that and deleting the media cache but no luck.  Next was to delete the Preferences folder for Lightroom which can often be a solution for unexplained problems but that didn’t work either.  That is when I got Adobe involved.

The support engineer tried a bunch of things.  Eventually, he created a new user on the machine and opened up Lightroom in there.  We tried importing a new video file from the same camera and that worked.  He then set about deleting the Lightroom related app data in my user profile and replacing it with the data from the new User.  We then tried importing the new file and it worked fine.  Next was the previous file and that caused the same problem as before.  Now we knew the file was the problem we could isolate that from everything we did afterwards.

Of course, I had damaged Lightroom again but now we knew what was required, it was a simple task to copy the folders across again.  The only downside to this was that all of my presets and information got deleted.  However, I had copied the old Lightroom folders before starting all of this.  It wasn’t too tricky to replace my camera profiles, develop presets and plugins.  At first I thought I had lost some functionality that I really like.  I have a plugin called LRInstagram which allows me to post from Lightroom to Instagram directly.  Facebook has turned off the ability to do this so, if you install the plugin now, it won’t work.  However, something about my legacy setup meant I had still been using it.  When I tried to set this up again, it failed to work.  However, my old Lightroom folder had a sub folder for the plugin which contained something like a cookie and, when I copied this across, I was back up and running!

All of this is to say, if you have a similar problem to me, there is a solution.  I won’t lay out the files that are involved because it is a bit tedious and there are some other things to bear in mind but, if this happens to you, get in touch and I will talk you through what we did.

Negative Lab Pro 2.0 Update

A while back, I bought the Lightroom plugin, Negative Lab Pro.  This is a plugin that converts digital images of negatives to a positive image.  I wrote about it in this post.  A short time ago, the developer brought out a version 2.0 upgrade to the plugin.  It turns out, the upgrade was free for those of us that had bought the original plugin.  I installed the upgrade to see how things have been improved. 

Initially, I was very disappointed.  The conversion process after the update seemed to be awful.  Things looked dark and blotchy and efforts to unconvert and reconvert the images didn’t help.  I was perplexed by this since a number of users had already exclaimed how happy they were with the update.  If in doubt, follow the old approach of closing stuff and restarting it.  I closed Lightroom and reopened it and whatever was wrong before was now fixed.  The conversion worked very well.  The controls have been expanded to give you a bit more to play with.  The main benefit I am seeing so far is in the color balancing.  Shots seem to have a more natural look to them without me having to work too hard on the color in the first place.  Shots like those with a lot of sky and an odd colored aircraft will still test the algorithm a lot but otherwise it seems to have a good handle on things.  It is also now able to handle frame edges without getting confused.  You can tell it how much of the edge to ignore which is a useful feature although I have got into the habit of cropping carefully already.

All in all, the upgrade seems to be a good one.  Since it hasn’t cost me anything, that is a nice thing to have.  It is also good to know that the developer is continuing to work on the product which holds out the hope of further upgrades to come.  I continue to recommend this to anyone that has been scanning their old negatives with a digital camera.

Recovering a Crashed Card

I was downloading shots from two cards into Lightroom when one of the downloads seemed to hang.  I have seen this before and on those occasions, removing the card and starting again did the trick.  This time it didn’t and, when I reinserted the card, the computer said I needed to reformat it.  I thought I would try it back in the camera to see if that was okay but no joy.  Time for RescuePro Deluxe again.  I wrote about using this previously.  I had an issue with it one time when I tried a recovery and the same thing happened this time.  The card drive letter doesn’t show up (nor do any of the others).

There is a simple fix to see them all which is to press the H key.  However, I hadn’t made a note of that previously and couldn’t remember.  Fortunately, their help desk gave me the code and the pictures were all swiftly recovered.  (I jest.  The program works well but recovering everything it can find on a 64Gb card and then working through that to find the files you really want rather than something from months previously is a bit of a slow process.  Still, it is a lot better than the alternative of having no shots!)

Negative Lab Pro

In previous posts I have described my efforts at scanning old negatives using a digital camera, macro lens and a light table.  I have had mixed success with the process for converting the negatives into positives with some films responding better than others.  I was okay with the output but thought things could be better.  A YouTube video showed up on my page that was about scanning negatives with a digital camera and I decided to watch to see if they did anything different to me.  The technique for shooting the negatives was similar enough but they introduced me to a Lightroom plugin called Negative Lab Pro.

I downloaded a trial of the software and gave it a go.  I was sufficiently impressed with the output that I stumped up the cash for the full version.  It isn’t cheap but, given that I can now use it on several thousand images, I figured it was worth the investment.  The plugin requires a small amount of effort.  I revert the images back to a normal San without any of my previous edits and conversions.  The first thing to do after that is to take a white balance reading from some of the visible edge of the film to neutralize any color shift.  Then you crop in on the image.  Apparently, it is important to avoid getting any unexposed edges in shot as this messes with the algorithm.

Then you open up the dialog box.  It analyses the image and does a conversion.  You then get some basic sliders to tweak the settings such as exposure and color balance.  There are some auto setting check boxes but I haven’t found them to be too helpful so far.  Then you click okay and the image is ready to do further editing in Lightroom.  You can also do batch conversions of images if you want although I think it is probably better to focus on individual processing.  I have been playing with this on a range of images so far and I like the results.  My old negatives are not that great and this is not going to suddenly make them amazing but I am impressed how much more I can get out of some of the scans using this software.

Lightroom 8.2 Detail Enhancer

Updates to Lightroom come along relatively regularly and they tend to include new features along with fixes and performance tweaks.  The latest update, Lightroom 8.2, includes a new addition called Detail Enhancer.  This is a feature that is designed to provide some better small-scale detail as part of the raw conversion process.  It creates a new DNG file based on a more complex calculation of the demosaicing of the sensor data.

I saw some videos about it and figured it wasn’t going to be of much use for the type of thing I am working on.  However, it did trigger one possible area of interest.  The algorithms are supposed to be designed to make better calculations around the different color pixels that sensors have.  Sensors are set up in a Bayer Pattern where different color sensitive sensors occupy different pixel spaces.  They each record in one color and then software interpolates between them to create colors for each pixel irrespective of which color was originally recorded at that location.

In a post from a while back, I mused on the way in which the colors of the Southwest Livery and the registration clashed and seemed to provide a distorted image even when everything around them was sharp.  I was pondering whether this was artifacting caused by the different colors and the way the sensor was recording the data.  If this was the case, maybe this new functionality would change the way things were rendered.  I dug out a few of the shots that had previously demonstrated this effect and ran the process on them.  These shots show the wide shot, the original rendering of the close up and the revised rendering using Detail Enhancer.

As you can see from the comparisons, Detail Enhancer does not suddenly render a perfect registration for the aircraft.  However, to my eye at least, it does appear as if the results are noticeably better then they were with the original rendering.  For completeness, the original rendering is done with the latest process version of Adobe’s raw converter to make things as fair as possible.  It does appear to make a difference.  This makes me think my theory about whiny things looked wrong might have some merit, even if this update has not fully resolved things.

WordPress Editor Has Been Broken

You’ll often hear the phrase “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”. In the case of WordPress, this definitely seems to be relevant. I have been using WordPress since the blog started and with good reason. It is a simple and straightforward editing tool that allows new posts to be created easily and quickly. I prepare the images in Lightroom and export them directly to the blog and text is generally – including this – created in Word and then pasted into the blog editor.

WordPress rolled out a new editor form with blocks for elements of each post. I don’t doubt that the intent of this was to create a more flexible editing environment and one that probably achieves things that previously required plugins. However, the result does not seem to have been very well tested or not be a wide enough group of users with differing requirements. Here are some of the shortcomings I have experienced.

The biggest issue is speed. The new format is unbelievably sluggish. When I am making edits, sections of the page seem to be really slow and when it decides to auto save the latest work, it seems to be stuck doing so forever. Then, there are some familiar sections now in new formats at the side. Collections is still there but clicking on it seems to require tons of time to think about stuff before it shows up – if it does!

Collections might be slow but tagging is now horrible. I create my tags in Word and paste them into the field but this no longer can be relied on to work. Sometimes they just vanish. Other times they disappear and then reappear. I can write some in to the box directly and then they vanish in front of my eyes. I often ignore this section and add the tags later in the Quick Edit view of the post lists.

Adding media is no longer so simple, While the new blocks for images and galleries have some nice elements they are slow to create. Now you have to select the source each time rather than defaulting to the media gallery. This extra click each time gets annoying fast. Also, in the old editor, if you scrolled down the media page to get to the shots you wanted, adding another image would bring you back to the same spot so you didn’t have to scroll again. That is gone. Media is added as a new block. There is no obvious way to add a block at the bottom of your post. Instead you add one and see where it shows up and then move it down as required. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the page there is a Sharing box which seems to do little other than get in the way.

Even editing the publishing date is a pain. They have moved that around a bit in keeping with the other changes but now, when you tab between fields, your cursor is at the end o the current data. Previously, tabbing would move you to the next box and select it. This facilitated rapid changes to the entries. Now you have to manually delete each entry and then type a new one. One more step for each entry which is not a big deal initially but soon becomes a nuisance.

The legacy editor is still available. However, it isn’t hard to imagine that, over time, this will become obsolete and won’t provide functionality until it is deleted so I am working with the new format to see what I can do to get to grips with it. However, it is testing my patience. It has significantly slowed down my process and made post creation more difficult than it used to be. I have got the hang of bits of it but getting used to something does not make it useful. Pull your finger out WordPress and sort this out. There are so many users of the system, it is important that it works or they will soon migrate to another platform.

Lightroom Issues Update

In quite a few previous posts, I have mentioned the troubles I have had with Lightroom recently.  This was all triggered by an update a while back and subsequent updates have not solved any issues.  The problems just continued and I was unable to get anything to address the sluggish behavior.  The program would respond better when I was working in the Develop module but it was very difficult in Library and when importing.

I recently had a bit more success.  I contacted someone who, while not working for Adobe, does have a business based around Lightroom and has good connections with the company.  I was able to send this individual a copy of my catalog.  They had a play with it and had similar issues with memory overuse so it wasn’t a hardware issue.  They were able to pass on the catalog to an Adobe engineer to investigate further.  I feared there was some corruption in the catalog and hoped they would find a solution.

It transpires that there is not any corruption.  Instead, it is in the nature of the catalogs that I have created that the problem lies.  A long time ago I posted about my approach to processing a shoot.  I would use a Collection Set for each shoot in which I would use smart collections to take shots with the right combination of keywords and dates.  They would split out rejects from non-rejects and put HDR, panorama shots and videos in separate smart collections.  This made processing the shoot more efficient.

As a result of this approach, I have, over the years, accumulated a large number of these collection sets with smart collections in them.  This is what is causing the trouble.  The program is getting bogged down with all of them.  This leaves two ways forward.  In the short term, I am going to go through these smart collections and turn them into simple collections.  Hopefully this will reduce the processing burden.  I don’t need the smart functionality any longer so I can just take the selected images and make simple collections out of them.

The longer term action is that Adobe is now aware of this issue.  Hopefully they can investigate a way to address this in a future update so that it isn’t constrained in the same way.  It happened suddenly so there was something in the coding that changed to cause the issue so maybe it can be similarly quickly fixed.  In the early days of Lightroom, it was limited in the number of images it could have before things got sluggish and that was resolved so hopefully this can be too.  We shall see.  If it is, you’re welcome!

 

A Further Trial in Focus Stacking

In a previous post I wrote about a focus stacking effort I made with images of a model aircraft at a show.  I had been meaning to have another go at this and do so in a more controlled environment.  I then ended up buying myself a macro lens for use in my negative scanning efforts and immediately started playing with it to shoot things close up – it’s a macro lens for goodness sake!

As an f/2.8 lens, when shooting macro shots, the depth of field is really shallow.  This got me thinking about trying another focus stack.  A small Leatherman seemed as good a target as anything.  I set up with manual focus, put the camera on a tripod, went to manual exposure and then shot a sequence with small changes to the position of focus for each shot.  Then it was off to Photoshop.

Photoshop did a pretty good job really.  The distortion of the areas out of focus means that the area that the subject covers can vary quite dramatically as the focus shifts backwards and forwards.  The algorithm did well getting things masked and blended.  The only bit it struggled with was at the very top where the knurled edge seemed to confuse it a bit.  The top shot is the finished effort while two others are included to show how much things are out of focus in the individual shots.

Going Mirrorless

Being late to the party is something that I make a habit of.  You could also be more optimistic and say that I am not an early adopter.  A number of friends and colleagues have added a mirrorless body to their collection of gear and I have followed suit.  I am perfectly happy with the performance of my SLRs.  This was to add something rather than replace something.  The primary interest was in size and convenience.  There are times when lugging the heavy bodies around is just inconvenient.

I went with an EOS M6.  I did consider going with a different manufacturer but using other equipment I already have was one factor.  Another was that this camera gave me an option I was quite keen on.  It has a screen for use while shooting but it also has an optional viewfinder to slot into the hot shoe.  This was discounted to only $11 when I bought the camera.  I like a viewfinder hit am okay with a screen.  Nancy, on the other hand, does not like screens so the viewfinder can be brought along if required and will make her happier to use the camera.

So far my experience with it has been very good.  Image quality has been fine, the controls are good and let me make adjustments without needing to enter menus.  The flippy screen is really handy and the kit lens fits plenty of needs.  The app that works with it is also pretty handy which gives a few options I wish the SLR could match!  The time lapse functionality is good too.  I have not tested it fully with my range of lenses and will do so at some point.  However, for what I bought it for, it is doing the trick nicely.