Tag Archives: equipment

Construction of the SR520 Bridge

The replacement of the SR520 bridge across Lake Washington is being undertaken in stages.  The main floating bridge element has been completed and now they are working on the next section through to Portage Bay.  Traffic from the old lower eastbound section has been diverted up on to the new westbound section while a new eastbound bridge is built.  Driving across the bridge you get to see some serious construction hardware.  However, you can’t photograph it while driving.

A bike ride took alongside the construction site so I was able to stop and get some photos with my phone.  The large lifting structures are actually running on top of a temporary bridge built just for them.  These will lift the new bridge sections in to place and allow the construction of the new eastbound section to be done.  I’m not sure of the schedule for completion of this work but, once it is done, it will just leave the last phase to I-5 to be done.

Should You Use a Polarizer When High Up?

When listening to photographers discussing equipment and technique, I have heard several times that polarizing filters should not be used when you are high up.  As you get higher, the skies get clearer and deeper blue and the idea is that the polarizer becomes too much.  I was pondering this when we were up in the Washington Pass along the North Cascades Highway.  We aren’t very high at this point but still a decent elevation.  I thought about taking the polarizer off but I felt like it really improved the colors and vibrancy of the images.  Maybe we weren’t high enough for it to matter or maybe some of you will look at these shots and think it is too much.  I’m genuinely interested to hear what you think.

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.

Sound for the Videos

While I have experimented with video a fair bit over time, one thing I haven’t done is put together a video with a presenter in it.  My mum was recently staying and she had an idea for something she wanted to do that involved her doing a presentation on video that could be shared at a later date.  My own experience and some information I had seen online made me think that the key to getting a good result was not going to be the video but was instead the sound.  The microphone on the camera is of okay quality but it picks up the sound of everything around it.  The voice is isolated and any video online that does not take a careful approach to audio is very obvious and sounds decidedly amateurish.

The ideal solution would be to have lav mikes, the small mike you see attached to the clothing of TV presenters.  These are actually pretty accessible and cheap but I didn’t have the time to sort something out.  However, a surprisingly good alternative was readily to hand.  I have an app on my phone for sound recording which I use when interviewing people for articles.  Instead of using the plugin microphone, I used the headphone/microphone cable.  By running it inside the clothing and just leaving the microphone up near my mum’s throat, we were able to make a very good sound recording.  The closeness of the mike to her mouth meant the sound was very localized and clear so the background noise was lost.  The room we used did not have bad echoes either so the audio ended up being pretty clear.

Then it was just a case of having a conspicuous clap on the audio track and the video file to allow me to synch the sound and audio together and we were off to the races.  I shot everything with two cameras – one head on and one from the side – with the idea of cutting between them.  However, when I did the first edit, the side camera didn’t seem to fit with the style of presenting to camera.  I imagine it works better for an interview style piece.  I reverted to the head on shot with some images cut in periodically to illustrate the piece.  Overall, it worked pretty well.  We did a number of takes and mum got progressively more relaxed in each one.  I had thought I might cut the best bits together but the final take was really good so I didn’t need to do so.  I hope her audience likes the result.

Polarizer Comparison

When I changed bodies, I had to update some of my accessories too.  My old filter system was fine on a cropped body but with full frame, the filter holder encroached on the corners for the wide angle lenses.  I took the opportunity to change my polarizer set up.  I used to use a polarizer on my Cokin holder.  This was a bit inconvenient when I was using lens hoods.  Instead, I decided to get a screw in polarizer.  Since most of my lenses have the same filter size, this gives me more flexibility.

B11I7923.jpg B11I7922.jpgI took the polarizer with me on vacation.  One place where I made good use of it was in the rain forest.  While it was pretty dark in the heavy forest cover, there was moisture everywhere and this meant a lot of reflections and glare.  Consequently, I went with the polarizer most of the time.  While I was there, though, I decided to do some experimentation by repeating some shots without the polarizer to see how much of a difference it made.  You can see the with and without shots here and judge for yourself what a difference it makes.

High ISO Raw File Size

On my previous camera bodies I had occasionally shot at very high ISO settings as a result of the lack of light.  I had not paid a huge amount of attention to any secondary effects of doing so.  My current cameras had a work out in some very low light when I decided to test them in some rather unfriendly conditions.  When I was at home, I was running some disc backups and I found I could not get the normal number of files onto a single disc.  A quick bit of investigation and I could see why.  The high ISO shots had a significant increase in file size.  As I understand it, RAW files, while containing all of the data from the sensor, do have an amount of compression applied.  I imagine that the noise inherent in high ISO shots means that the compression is less effective as there is so much variation across pixels.  As an example, a shot at ISO 320 will average at about 22Mb.  The shots at ISO 51,200 are coming in at over 30Mb.  At ISO 204,000, the files can hit 40Mb. That is quite an increase!  Something to keep in mind when planning to shoot in very low light conditions.

An Alternative to Negative Scanning

IMG_3734.jpgI am in the process of experimenting with a new approach to scanning old photographs. For many years I have been using a Minolta Scan Dual III scanner. It can accept strips of negatives or slides and does a reasonable job of scanning them in. It is a bit labor intensive and is certainly not fast. Moreover, the scanner is not terribly reliable and it will often hang mid scan requiring me to restart it and close down the application before restarting that too. Since it takes a long time, I often get it running and go and do something else so I might miss the problem.

I do have another imaging tool that works very quickly. In fact I have several of them. These are my current digital cameras. I have bought a set of extension tubes to allow me to treat existing lenses as macro lenses. I have also acquired a small light pad. Cutting some card to shape means I can hold down any old negatives and view them through a hole with illumination from the light pad below. Mount a camera on an arm looking down on the pad and I now have a way to image the negative.

IMG_3733.jpgI am taking the images at my desk so I am able to tether the camera to the computer and use Lightroom to capture the images directly.  This has actually provided me with an opportunity to drag out one of my older bodies that doesn’t get used anymore.  My old 40D has been sitting on a shelf for a long time but it has come back into use for this project.  It has more than enough resolution for this task.  (Unfortunately, the batteries are now rather old and don’t hold a charge well so I am going to get an AC adapter from Amazon for ten dollars which should free me to scan as much as I want.)

I slide the negative into the holder and check the rough alignment through the viewfinder.  Fortunately, although it took me a while to find it, the 40D does have Liveview so I can make use of that to make sure the alignment is right.  I use the trigger release in Lightroom’s tether dialog to take the shot to avoid disturbing the setup.  If an image needs over or under exposure, I have to remember that it is a negative so I have to use exposure compensation in the opposite sense.  The shot is imported straight in the Lightroom when it is taken.  The first thing that I need to do is reverse the tone curve to change the negative to a positive. A white balance correction will take out the color cast of the negative and I now have an image to work with. I have a preset for given film types that does this during the import process.

IMG_3735.jpgThe image is now recognizable but not there yet.  Now I have to do some manual manipulation to tidy it up.  The sliders have to be used carefully in this case because they are now working in reverse as a result of the tone curve that I applied. This requires some thought. Exposure is still exposure but is reversed.  Usually shots look a bit washed out so, what would normally by the Blacks slider is now the Whites.  Shadows are handled with the Highlights and vice versa.  It takes a bit of getting used to but it is not too hard after some practice.  I tried using Auto Tone but it did not do a great job.  I imagine the algorithms were not designed for operating in reverse!

With everything set up, I can work through a shoot very quickly.  Choosing which ones to ignore and reshooting if something doesn’t look right can be done pretty much on the fly.  Is the image quality great?  It’s okay but not amazing.  However, many of the originals are not that great either.  For the majority, it actually does a pretty decent job and sets me up for something that I can do more work on if I need to.  It is a big improvement on my previous approach and now I will make quick scans when I need them rather than be dreading the time involved and avoiding all but the must have shots to save time.


Phantom Quadcopter

wpid8968-AU0E1563.jpgWhile watching the surfing at Santa Cruz, I wasn’t the only one with a camera.  There were quite a few of us shooting from the ground but one person was taking it up a notch – literally.  They were flying a Phantom Quadcopter with a GoPro mounted underneath.  Phantoms are a hot thing right now.  The view that you can get from an elevated position is excellent and the combination of the new quadcopter designs with the lightweight GoPro (and other brand) cameras makes for a very useful tool whether shooting stills or video.

wpid8970-AU0E1573.jpgThe control system is quite advanced.  The system keeps the machine were it is and you demand any change in location.  Rather than having to constantly control the machine to stay where you want, it takes the majority of the burden from you.  Very helpful if you want to concentrate on what you are filming.  I am quite tempted to rent one at some point to give it a try.  I have seen them in the wild a couple of times and find them rather impressive.  I think it is a little too limited in role for me to think about getting one (although when has that ever held me back?)  It would be good to try one first, though.

Cleaning the Printer

Everyone who owns an inkjet printer knows that the manufacturers are slightly below war criminals in the rankings of evil.  They sell a printer at a really great price and then you have to sell vital organs to afford the ink cartridges to keep it running.  The first ones are the worst since the cartridges don’t seem to have much ink in them and a vast amount of it is used charging up the system so you need your first replacements after barely any printing at all.

Recently, I discovered a new level of trickery.  As I commented in a discussion with a friend who had commented on a previous post, I don’t actually do much photo printing anymore.  The quality and price of online print houses is so compelling that using the (more expensive than gold) inks is hardly worth it, particularly when you find yourself having the clean the nozzles every time and blowing through even more ink.  Consequently, my big old printer is mainly used for work and that is usually black and white stuff.  However, some documents have color in them and the blocked nozzles render those prints illegible so a clean out is necessary.

I have had issues with cleaning the printer in the past.  I was getting ink smudges on the back of the paper which was coming from the sponge pads across the bottom of the print bay.  These pads absorb spare ink during cleaning cycles.  What I didn’t know was that the printer assumes a life for them.  I started to get a message telling me that internal components were coming up to service life expiration.  This troubled me a bit but not as much as the message that followed later that day saying they had expired.  Thanks for the huge advance notice!

It turns out that these sponge pads were the component in question.  Given how I had needed to clean them before, the warning was probably far later than it should have been.  Now I was stuck.  They said the printer could be serviced but also pointed out that a replacement would probably be cheaper than a service.  Nice one guys!  One thing they did provide was a software tool that would reset the internal counter so the printer would work again.  The idea was that you fixed the issue but at least you could print again.

I needed the printer (I am planning on a replacement in due course but didn’t want to have to buy it now) so ran the tool but I didn’t want to have ink slopping around and onto my units so figured I needed to do something.  Kitchen towels are quite effective at mopping up the ink from the sponge trays.  However, it seems that, however much you mop up, there is always more.  (Fortunately, it is only at one side – the side that is left exposed when using letter sized paper rather than 13” wide paper which is the widest the printer will take.)

I decided to try something more effective and take out the sponges to clean separately.  Fortunately, they are not fixed other than by tabs that slot into holes in the trays.  Since they were saturated with ink, they were still tricky to get free but, once out, I was able to put them in a lot of paper and squeeze them out and then rinse them in water.  Not totally cleaned but looking a lot more like the color I suspect they started out with.  Certainly they now have a lot of capacity to absorb more ink.

Putting them back in place was a bit more tricky.  They have to lie exactly in place and have the tabs inserted into the right slots.  I got this slightly wrong in one place and the sponge sat slightly too high.  The paper caught it as it fed in and then twisted up before getting caught against the print head.  A few rude words later and the problem was fixed.  Now I have a functioning printer again.  Let’s hope it now lasts long enough for me to decide on the long term replacement and get that sorted out.  A wireless printer is part of the plan now so it doesn’t have to be somewhere obvious and I think a laser will be better than an inkjet.  Shopping time!

Lenskirt Review

Living in a high rise in the city, I have a lot of chances to shoot things that I can only see through the windows.  This has been a tricky thing to deal with over time and I have come up with various solutions with varying success.  A couple of times I have thought about making something myself to be the solution but have never got around to it.

Now someone has made something that pretty much does what I want.  It is called the Lenskirt.  It is a black squared funnel that has a fabric sock at the base which cinches around the barrel of your lens.  I has four suckers at the four corners that will attach it to glass.  The idea is that it blocks any light coming in from the side and reflecting off the glass and back into the lens.

I love this idea.  However, the $49 price seemed a little steep for what it is.  However, i did buy one and it has just arrived.  Overall, I am quite pleased with it.  My suspicions about it being a bit overpriced seem valid but it does do what I want.  Moreover, it handles my widest lens (the 17mm) without any problem.  It allows flexibility of placement so you can shoot at an angle without seeing the skirt.  Therefore, while it is a bit pricey, the alternative is something I have never bothered to do so it is probably worth it to me.

This could have other applications other than shooting through normal windows.  It might be useful in an aircraft when you can’t open a window to shoot out as well.  I am never a fan of shooting through something since the surface is often of poor quality but sometimes you have no choice.

Could it be improved?  Yes.  I would have made the rim stitched to sit flat to a surface when attached rather than having to bend out.  Also, I might consider a slightly more rectangular shape given the format of shooting (although that would impact on the ability to fold it flat).  It is slightly wider than deeper but given the need to look sideways sometimes, a little more width might be good.  (The shot above makes it look a lot wider than it really is by the way!)  I might also have gone for a less reflective black material  just in case.  As I try it more, we shall see if other issues come up.  However, so far, a welcome addition to my bag.