The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Photography' Category

Inexpensive/Disposable Video Cameras

Posted by Deliverator on 16th March 2011

Five and a half years ago I started fooling around with “disposable” video cameras being sold through the CVS pharmacy chain. These video cameras were meant to be one time use equivalents of the cardboard box disposable still cameras still sold at many stores throughout the world. The idea was you would pay around $30 for the camera, go out and take some footage and then bring the camera back and they would give you a DVD with your video on it, but keep the camera. The pharmacy would then wipe your unit and sell it again to someone else. The CVS cameras were small, built robustly and powered by simple AA’s and inexpensive. Naturally, the hacker community went to work on the cameras and quickly figured out how to download the video without the pharmacy’s help, making them reusable. These were great cameras for use in places you wouldn’t want to risk a “real” camera. People attached them to model rockets, helicopters, planes, placed them next to hot things, explody things, etc. They were cheap enough that you wouldn’t think twice about risking the camera on the off chance of capturing some cool footage. Naturally, I bought half a dozen.

Over the years, I’ve attached them to robots, glued fisheye lenses on them, put them in zip-lock bags and used them underwater. I’ve captured some real fun footage because I was no longer risk adverse about risking the camera. In the process I’ve destroyed two cameras outright, permanently modified two for niche uses and one is good for only spare parts. Only two escaped my abuse entirely unscathed. Today, I threw them all away.

Why?

Quite simply, the magic economic equations surrounding gadgets + mass market demand + capitalism + time has rendered the old CVS cameras obsolete. For under $50 I can now buy a camera from Kodak that is quite a bit smaller, holds more video and at higher quality than the CVS cameras, and is mildly hardened for rugged and underwater use. If you shop around, you can get this camera for more like $40 at stores like Best Buy, but I just got mine at Amazon. There are similar form factor cameras from other makers, but most are significantly more expensive HD capable units that are designed more for people wanting a cheap, small, everyday camcorder or for technophobic people looking for a very easy to operate video camera. These units (Flip for example) tend to be more like $100.

Tomorrow, I am going to strap one onto a robot and watch things go crunch. If the camera survives, great! If it doesn’t, the camera’s Micro-SDHC card is small enough that I can find it intact in the twisted, shattered remains and I probably got some great footage for $50. Photography and videography is at its most interesting when people are willing to push boundaries and experiment. The technology has finally gotten cheap enough that “that would be really cool but I don’t want to break this expensive piece of equipment” is no longer part of the equation.

Some thoughts on the Kodak Mini Video Camera:

-Captures at 640×480 at 30 fps as an AVI file using an MJPEG video codec and 16 bit PCM audio at 11khz. At this setting you can fit about an hour’s video on the included 2 GB Micro-SDHC card. You can also do QVGA at 60hz and take stills as well. There doesn’t appear to be any image stabilization, but what can you (currently) expect from a camera that is under $50. Give it a few years though…

-The camera has a built in rechargeable battery. The unit has a pop out full sized type A USB connector that pops out of the side for charging. You will need to use a USB extension cable (not included) to plug it into a PC to charge. My unit did not show up as a USB mass storage device when I plugged it into a computer running the 64 bit version of Windows 7. Other users report it coming up as a drive letter and forcibly installing (without prompting) some piece of software called Arcsoft Mediaimpression SE which also seizes control of most video/photo file extensions. I was glad this was not the case with my unit.

-Because my unit doesn’t show up as a USB mass storage device, I had to pop the Micro-SDHC card out of the bottom of the unit. I had to use itty-bitty tweezers (thanks Tweezerman!) to grab onto the card as there is no ejection mechanism for the card. A 2 GB card was included with mine, but this camera is sometimes sold without a card.

-The camera is exceedingly easy to use, with just an on/off button, 4 way arrow buttons and center selector and a “settings menu” button. The simple control scheme should make this a good camera for micro-controller driven operation, if someone wants to strip it down to just the circuit board for use on a rocket, kite, balloon or something.

-The whole unit is smaller than a pack of cards.

-I am not sure if I would entirely trust the built in waterproofing on the camera. The only point of entry for water is through the base, which hinges open to reveal the USB connector and card slot and potentially around the membrane rubber buttons. The base does have some rubbery gasket material to seal against water, but it is pretty minimal. I would recommend coating the area with a thick grease/vaseline, etc. before submersion in water beyond a few feet.

 

Posted in Photography, Portable Computing/Gadgets | 1 Comment »

When Presentation is Everything – Coraline Needs 3D!

Posted by Deliverator on 27th May 2009

I recently learned that Coraline was going to be released this month and I hoped for a true 3d release. Unfortunately, the only announced options were either conventional 2d or Anaglyphic 3D (those cheesy red/blue glasses that moviegoers rightfully consigned to history’s trash heap back in the 1950’s). I saw Coraline in 3D in a theater using the excellent RealD 3D projection system. I felt the presentation really added something to the experience and can’t imagine watching Coraline in anything other than true 3d. It may be a while till such an excellent 3d system as RealD becomes practical for home users with budgets less than several hundred thousand dollars, but there are plenty of excellent 3d home theater options available for under 5 grand.

Here is a listing of 3d projector options at stereo3d.com. The DepthQ series of projectors from Infocus for instance supports high framerates and can be found for as little as $2300 and uses commonly available active LCD shutter glasses to achieve its effect.

Samsung has a line of DLP based 3D capable HDTV sets that all support 3D via shutter glasses starting at as little as $1000.

There are numerous 3D LCD monitors (some even sold through big box retailers like Frys) capable of displaying true 3d video, some without even needing glasses.

I have a Headplay Personal Cinema Display, which is available for around $400, and can display 3d content from several different input sources.

In short, the technology for quality home 3d viewing is out there and available at modest cost. There are a ton of 3d movies coming out this year in theaters including Pixar’s UP and James Cameron’s much anticipated Avatar. 3D has already shown it can help make movies on the front end without increasing production costs greatly, but movies have lately made a large percentage of their revenues on the post theater DVD market and I doubt nearly as many people will want to purchase watered down 2d version of movies they first saw in 3d. While not a lot of home theaters are currently 3d equipped, the cost to do so is fairly minimal and the additional costs of releasing a frame sequential 3d DVD alongside the 2d and Anaglyphic releases are likely minimal as well. It costs the studios little to grow the market by releasing frame sequential titles and the only way they are ever going to solve this chicken and the egg problem is by doing so.

Posted in General, Media, Movies, Photography, Rants and Raves, Windows CE | No Comments »

D80 Sensor Cleaning

Posted by Deliverator on 29th April 2009

One of the few real downsides to digital SLR cameras versus their film brethren is getting dust on the sensor. With a film camera, each new exposure yields a fresh “sensor,” but over time with a digital SLR, dust which gets into the camera frame during lens swaps can coat the sensor (technically the IR filter over the actual sensor). At larger lens apertures, dust on the sensor generally can’t be seen, but at small apertures against a fairly consistent bright background, you can really see it. I shoot a fair number of panoramas with my Nikon D80 and often see repeated spot patterns on the source images. One can clean these sorts of problems up in Photoshop, but it greatly increases the amount of time spent in post-processing.

For most cases of dust on the sensor, I have simply used the mirror lockup mode on my camera to reveal the sensor and then used an oversize rubber air bulb to blow the dust off the sensor. Mine is this one made by Giottos, but these are a dime a dozen. It does the job most of the time with a minimum expenditure of effort.

For more stubborn dust, I eventually added a sensor brush from Visible Dust and a SpeckGRABBER.

Recently, I encountered some dust that had “welded” itself to the sensor and wouldn’t come off with any of the above methods. Welded dust is probably usually the result of some sort of particle that is wet when it makes contact and dries hard to the sensor. To get it off, you need to use a “wet” cleaning method. The favored method seems to be a few drops of Methanol on a very fine cloth attached to the end of what amounts to a miniature squeegee the width of your particular cameras sensor. A number of companies sell wet cleaning kits. I got one from Photographic Solutions for $20 for 4 pre-wetted swabs. I was hoping that just one swab would be enough and I could keep the others in my camera bag for emergency in-the-field use. I ended up needing to use all four swabs in the kit to get the majority of welded dust off my sensor. Is this a good value? I would probably buy my swabs and Methanol separate in the future. On the other hand, the cheapest wet cleaning I found in the Seattle area was at Cameras West for ~$60

Here are some before and after pics to show the difference. The pictures were taken at f/16 and are of a relatively undifferentiated target (my projector’s screen).

Before cleaning:

After cleaning:

Posted in Photography | No Comments »

TRC in Atlanta @ First International Championship Event 2009

Posted by Deliverator on 26th April 2009

The TRC and I went to Atlanta for the FIRST Robotics International Championship Event. We didn’t win anything, but had fun. Here are the pictures. If you have TRC pictures from the event, let me know so I can add them to my TRC Media Archive.

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Posted in General, Photography, Titan Robotics Club | No Comments »

Southwest Roadtrip – April/May 2008

Posted by Deliverator on 24th May 2008

I needed to get away for a while and took a roadtrip. Here are some select pictures. Here are some panoramas. If you want more, I have another 900 or so if you are willing to sit through the slideshow.

Posted in General, Photography | No Comments »

Gallery down, but I could give a flying F

Posted by Deliverator on 14th March 2008

Well, I peaked around a bit to see what might have gotten botched by the recent file system corruption issues and it looks like my galleries are pretty mangled. Most of the actual files are still intact, but the flat file nature of the way Gallery 1.x stores its data and settings isn’t very fault tolerant. I have all my pictures stored locally, so I am not really out much, but I am going to need to reinstall Gallery and recreate everything from scratch. Gallery 1.x tree development appears to have been utterly abandoned, so I will probably end up recreating everything using Gallery 2.x. It looks like Scott’s gallery going belly up recently might have been the canary in the coal mine on this one, and I probably could have averted a lot of the resultant trouble if I had jumped on troubleshooting his issue right away. Unfortunately, my grandmother has been in the hospital this last week under pretty intensive monitoring (she has terminal cancer) and I have been spending a lot of my waking time in her good company. If there is one good thing that comes out of such a situation it is a sense of the relative importance of family and friends in our lives vs all the piddly crap on which most of us waste 90% of our day. Believe me, right now reviewing apache server logs doesn’t rate real high on my list.

Posted in Photography, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

The $4 Fisheye Lens

Posted by Deliverator on 6th March 2008

Last week, I used my hacked $30 CVS video cameras in Portland to capture robot’s eye view footage during the FIRST competition. Some of the footage was good and some bad. You can judge for yourself on the new Titan Robotics Youtube Channel. Regardless, I’ve had a lot of fun and the cameras have held up much better than I expected. The robots take quite a beating during the competition, so I’ve never wanted to risk anything more expensive. Still, I would like to get the best possible footage out of the cameras as possible. One issue that is quite evident in the footage is a high degree of shaking, especially from the foward facing of the two cameras. The front camera was mounted (with zip ties no less) to the robot’s flag holder: a glorified piece of thin pvc pipe. For the upcoming Seattle FRC regional, I hope to find a better mounting location/method and reduce the vibration. Another issue that has nagged at me is the narrow field of view. You just don’t see enough of the field to have a good sense of where you are and what is happening during the match. You also don’t often get to see those dramatic moments where a competitors robot is screaming across field and whacks into you. All you see (if anything) is the robot entering into the frame at the last moment and whacking into you, causing a lot of vibration induced distortion. I decided to try and find a way to get a wider view of the field without compromising my no tears if it breaks rule.

One thought I had was to mount multiple cameras on the front of the robot oriented at different angles with overlapping fields of view. I could then take the footage from each of the cameras and digitally combine it to produce a small screen version of the Cinerama effect. I took a stab at this and actually got it to work, but the results weren’t as good as I had hoped and the process of syncing all the footage was somewhat time consuming. I decided to take a different approach and look for a way to get a wider angle out of a single camera. A few minutes searching turned up an article by Hank Dietz from the University of Kentucky that outlined his experiments with inexpensive door peephole viewers for use with inexpensive digital still cameras. His experiments mostly centered around a peephole viewer made by Deltana. I was able to find the exact same viewer (though it was unbranded) at Home Depot for less than $4.

I wasn’t too impressed with the Deltana for this unintended use. The quality of the glass used was very poor and easily acquired scratches. The threading on the two shaft pieces was quite loose and the threading only continues for a short way, making it difficult to adjust the lens in and out to any great extent. The highly polished brass colored metal making up the shaft that the lens elements are mounted within results in lots of internal reflections. All the lens elements are pretty firmly fixed in place, making it difficult to adjust where the image is cast. I was able to influence this somewhat by taking cutting off the end of the tube just short of the first lens element using a dremel with a metal cutting disk attached. The dremel made short work of the tube, but produces a lot of fine metal dust which is difficult to clean off, so I recommend placing some putty or other material inside the tube to keep metal dust from finding its way inside. Dietz in his article used hot glue to afix his lenses to cameras, but robots get hit hard, so I epoxied my modified peephole to the front of one of my CVS cameras and let it dry overnight. The tube size of the Deltana is just right for epoxying to the front of the CVS camera. The Deltana peephole definitely works, but even with the dremel shortened tube, it casts a fairly small image on the imaging sensor. If I were using a higher end digital camera, this wouldn’t be a problem, as even your $100 digicam these days offers 5+ megapixel stills. Unfortunately, the CVS cameras are limited to a max of 640*480. Once cropped down to only the image area, this doesn’t leave a lot of pixels to play with. I decided to go back to the store and see if I could find a better solution.

I ended up finding another peephole for $10. This one had a wider shaft than the Deltana and features much higher quality glass. The rear lens element is held in place against a lip inside the cylinder using a circular clip, which I was easily able to remove. I was also able to remove the front elements. I was able to take some length off the tube using the dremel tool. An enterprising individual with a metal lathe might bore down the inside of the cylinder a bit to produce to allow the rear lens element to be set closer to the front lens elements, producing a still larger image on the image sensor. Because I was able to access the inside of the cylinder with this model, I took some Krylon Ultra Flat Black spray paint and painted the inside of the tube to eliminate reflections. I also decided to ditch the front cap and rear mounting hardware to reduce the size of the total assembly. A couple layers of electrical tape hold everything together quite nicely. This new and improved model produces a much clearer, larger image. Unfortunately, the viewing angle on this one was only 160 vs 200 degrees (claimed, although both look significantly less) on the Deltana. I am going to hold off on epoxying this one to one of my 3 unmodified CVS cameras and see if I can find a wider angle version of the same lens before the next competition.

Here is a picture taken using the $10 modified peephole lens held up to my N95.

Door Viewer Fisheye Lens

Posted in General, Photography | No Comments »

Updated Picture Galleries

Posted by Deliverator on 23rd February 2008

I just got back from a much needed mini-vacation to Palm Springs, CA following a very hectic TRC build season. Palm Springs itself was pretty boring, although the warm weather there was nice after a damp, cold winter. The areas around Palm Springs however have a lot to offer. I particularly liked Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mount San Jacinto, Salton Sea and the extensive windmill farms to the northwest of Palm Springs. I did a lot of photography on the trip and afterwards took the time to sort through a bunch of quasi recent dumps from my camera and do some culling. For your viewing pleasure I have the following new/updated galleries:

I also took the time to stitch together some panoramas using PTGui and have uploaded low resolution copies to my Panorama Gallery. This coming week I will be traveling with the TRC to Portland for the FRC regional and will likely return with lots more pictures which will go unsorted for months…

Posted in General, Photography | No Comments »

Kodak EasyShare EX1011 Wireless Picture Frame

Posted by Deliverator on 24th January 2008

I’ve been doing a lot of digital photography over the last few years and have also spent a good deal of time scanning in old slides and negatives using a high end Nikon LS-5000 scanner, yet for the most part these pictures have languished idle on my hard drive. Sort of the digital equivalent of all those slides that I worked so hard to scan! Like every other shopper this past Christmas shopping season, I found myself bombarded by cheap, import digital picture frames everywhere I looked. Hell, the grocery store was even carrying these things. I’d set up a number of digital picture frames for clients and spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with display models, enough to realize that nobody has come up with a refined, completely well thought out design. I knew I wanted a model with wireless built in, but unfortunately nobody seems to have quite got that right either. I strongly considered a wireless enabled model from estarling as the ability to subscribe to rss feeds and to email photos directly to the device had a lot of appeal, but balked after seeing the number of extremely poor reviews on Amazon. In the end, I purchased a wireless enabled 10″ model from Kodak. Here are my thoughts:

  • Screen has nice color representation, but like many cheap LCDs has poor off-axis viewing.
  • immediate surround of the frame is gloss black plastic which within a few days attracted enough dust to knit a sweater.
  • Comes with a small, easy to use remote control. Buttons for some of the functions are available on top of the screen, but not all functions are available this way, making the remote a must. There is a plastic clip which you can insert into some holes on the back of the device, which can be used to hold the remote, but you can’t use the clip if you hang the device.
  • Hanging mechanism is designed for a single nail and the screen isn’t well balanced to begin with. Extremely hard to keep level, especially given that the cord hangs off to one side.
  • The Kodak models with wireless built in do not have a dedicated USB host port, but rather a Mini-USB port which can be configured to act as either a host port or to connect the frame as a mass storage device to transfer pictures from a connected PC. The box includes a Mini-Full size A adapter for plugging in a USB Flash Drive, but it extends well outside the frame boundary, so don’t even think about leaving it attached, which means yet another small doohickey to keep on hand.
  • Power adapter is of the type that blocks an adjacent outlet on a power strip and cord length is shorter than desirable. Poor choice of jack location pretty much ensures that your frame will lean if you hang it.
  • Supports SD/SDHC and Compact Flash (including microdrives), which is basically all I care about. Other formats supported, but some only with adapters.
  • Supports resizing transfered images to the frames 800*480 resolution. If you are going to store your pictures on the device’s limited 128MB of built in flash, then this is pretty much a must. Unfortunately, their resize algorithm yields extremely blocky, pixelated images and leaves much to be desired in other ways. For example, if you insert a memory card with a 50 high resolution images (say 3 MB each) the frame’s software will attempt to transfer all the selected pictures to the frame’s internal memory before attempting to resize the images, rather than transferring a few, resizing, deleting the copied original and then going back for more. The result is that the frame just pukes and aborts the whole operation. You are better off avoiding Kodak’s crappy copy and resize implementation altogether and just batch resize your images on a PC before transfer. This does kinda negate the point of being able to just insert a camera card and transfer without having to use a PC.
  • The support for modern wireless security standards seems rather limited/flaky. It is supposed to work with WPA PSK once updated to the latest firmware, but I was not able to get it to work with my WRT54GL and ended up having to associate it to less secure WEP (paper bag) encrypted access point which I keep firewalled away from my critical systems. Once associated, the frame found my ORB server and I was able to wireless stream photos to it that way. There doesn’t appear to be any easy way to simply use the wifi to simply transfer pictures to the frame’s internal memory. One can use the wifi feature to browse Kodak’s own online gallery service, but the frame doesn’t work with any other popular photo services like flickr.

Sadly, even given all my gripes with the EX1011, it is almost certainly one of the best wireless picture frames on the market today. Digital picture frames have been on the market for a few years now and one would expect a higher degree of refinement by this point. I guess this just leaves open yet another high profit margin consumer market into which Apple will swoop and release an iFrame.

Posted in Media, Photography, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Wireless | 6 Comments »

Toronto and TIFF 07

Posted by Deliverator on 19th September 2007

I went to Toronto and saw some movies and assorted other things with my brother and friend Ryan. I had fun. I really needed a vacation. I am feeling a bit tired and oafish at the moment, so no more words. Here are some pictures to tide you over until I am feeling more verbose.

Posted in General, Media, Movies, Photography | No Comments »