The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Photography' Category

Blue Moon

Posted by Deliverator on 1st June 2007

According to one popular misinterpretation of the definition, we were treated to a rare astrological occurrence last night, a Blue Moon. A Blue Moon is by all definitions a type of Full Moon, but beyond that it depends on whom you ask. The term “Blue Moon” is very old in western cultures, with literary evidence in English going back 500 years. I heard about the event a couple days ago while listening to NPR and was interested enough to ask people what they thought it meant while waiting in line for SIFF films. What the term means varies widely depending on whom you ask and I have personally heard answers ranging from having to do with being of blueish hue, harvest cycles, number of full moons in a season or having two full moons in a single month. The use of the term has gotten decidedly muddled over the centuries and now only universally connotes an event which is particularly rare. Whatever its meaning, the moon sure was purdy tonight, so I snapped a picture.

Here is a hand held shot from my Nikon D80 using a 300mm zoom. At 300mm, the moon still only filled a small portion of the resulting image, so the cropping is pretty severe. Levels have been adjusted for better contrast.

Blue Moon

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More Fun with Panoramas

Posted by Deliverator on 28th March 2007

Click the image to go to the gallery.

Seattle from Beacon Hill

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Upgraded Gallery

Posted by Deliverator on 18th March 2007

I upgraded my Gallery installation to the latest test release. Gallery 1.x has been in development for many years and even the alpha releases seem very stable to me. I contemplated migrating to the database based 2.2, which was recently released, but I am not yet at the point where performance is suffering from the flat file nature of my gallery and the feature set in 2.2 vs 1.x isn’t enough to make me want to perform the rather involved upgrade procedure. 1.x also offers at least one really compelling advantage over 2.2 due to its flat file nature; It is possible to backup a gallery 1.x install with a single short command line and it is possible to build an offline version of a gallery for distribution on CDs/DVDs. I did some minor tweaks to the gallery after upgrade to keep my thumbnail sizes more consistent. Please note any wonkiness you might encounter.

While I was at it, I did a fresh gallery install for my brother, Scott. He doesn’t have much up yet, but hopefully this will compel him to stop using Flickr and Picasa.

Posted in Blogging, Media, Photography | 1 Comment »

Fun with Panoramas

Posted by Deliverator on 18th March 2007

My brother took a bunch of panoramic pictures while on our recent trip to Mexico. His Canon Powershot SD600 digicam has a panoramic stitch mode which helps you create great panoramas by showing a portion of the each successive pic taken, so that you can ensure proper overlap and orientation. Most Canon cameras come with a piece of software called PhotoStich. I have never used it, but Ken Rockwell seems to like it. Scott ended up using a really neat piece of software called PTGui to create his panorams and then had one of them printed using an online photo printing company ez prints, which he assure me is the only service he found which will do panoramas. Short of buying a Epson R2400 (which can print roughly 13×44″ images), whats a guy to do?

Anyways, I didn’t want to be left out of all the fun, so I headed to Alki on a beautiful evening a few days ago and took a whole bunch of pictures of Elliot Bay and Seattle. I didn’t want to spend $80 on PTGui, so I started by playing around with Panorama Tools. This is the proverbial swiss army knife for anyone who wants to play with panoramic images, but the learning curve is really steep. If you value your money, but not your sanity, get Panorama Tools and expect to spend a few hours reading text files and forums. If you value your time, bite the bullet and get PTGui. It does a great job at auto-creating panoramas with drag and drop simplicity, but there is a lot of sophisticated tweaking for things like lens distortion and whatnot that you can access through the advanced modes. PTGui’s $80 sticker price may be a bit much to spend for special purpose software if you are a casual user, but I have encountered nothing easier and creating panoramas should be fun!

Click the image below to see some low res versions of the panoramas I took.

Panoramic Seattle

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Puerto Vallarta Pictures

Posted by Deliverator on 31st January 2007

Finished dumping my Puerto Vallarta Gallery to the server. I apologize for not doing a very thorough job of culling them, but I haven’t had much free time since arriving back. Here are a few favorites:

News Stand

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Just a cup of joe...



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Headed Home

Posted by Deliverator on 28th January 2007

I am head home to Seattle tomorrow after a most enjoyeable week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have a good deal of work pilled up and waiting for me when I get back, so I will be pretty busy the next few days. I will try and write up some more details about my trip when I have some free time. Perhaps on the plane ride? For now, here is a partial gallery of pictures from my trip. I filled my camera cards faster than expected, so have been dumping pictures to Silverfir every time I have a chance. Regardless, I will try to give my pictures a good sorting through once I get home and upload the rest ASAP.

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Fast Primes for Nikon Digital SLRs?

Posted by Deliverator on 21st November 2006

While I have been greatly pleased with my new Nikon D80 Digital SLR itself, I have been somewhat less pleased with the lenses. My first issue goes to construction quality.

The 18-135mm “kit lens” that came with my D80 (upping the price by about $400 over a bare body) has a distinctly cheap feel to it. The bayonet mount is plastic, as is much of the body. It is good plastic, to be sure, but plastic none-the-less. I know there are constant arguments of “bounces vs dents” when it comes to debates of plastic vs metal construction. For overall body construction issues, I don’t feel really entitled to make an opinion, but I do know that the plastic bayonet mount is going to wear a lot faster from lens attachment/detachment than coated brass would. Additionally, the focus ring on this lens is small and very touchy. I have found using manual focus with this lens to be very trying. It is hard to get it focused just right and get it to actually stay that way. Autofocus is quick and accurate with this lens (due to the ultrasonic motor), but there are many situations in which you are going to have to rely on manual focus.

My second issue is the general lack of fast prime lenses that are well-matched to the smaller sensor of the Nikon DSLRs. Almost all the new DX series lenses in Nikon’s lineup are zoom lenses. The optical quality (if not the build quality) of zoom lenses has improved dramatically over the years due to better coatings, high refractive index glass, computer assisted design, and a host of other factors of which I am not aware. As a general rule, though, a lens targeted at a single focal length is going to be lighter, faster, cheaper to build and of better optical quality. Other optical considerations aside, the thing that frustrates me the most about zoom lenses is that they tend to be quite “slow.” My 18-135 ranges from f3.5 to 5.6, which is often too slow for using available light indoors. Even shooting at high iso speeds, I have found this lens difficult to use indoors without a flash. The results of on camera flash generally suck for any human subject, giving them that “stunned fish” look. I could buy an seperate flash for off-axis use to achieve better results, but why spend money on a flash when a better lens can do the job just as well. Not to mention, subjects tend to be less cooperative after having been hit in the face with a bright light more than a few times.

With my Konica T3 film SLR, I shot exclusively with fixed focal length lenses. My favorite lens is a 50mm “normal” lens which had an aperture that could be opened up all the way to F/1.4. A “normal” lens is, roughly, one that has the same field of view as the human eye. The wide aperture on this lens allows for enough light to hand hold shots in very dim conditions and lets one play around with a wide variety of depth of field effects in creating a composition. I really loved this lens and used it for the vast majority of shots I made with this camera over the years. So, why can’t I simply go out an buy a fast 50mm lens for my Nikon?

One of the advantages of the Nikon lens system is that Nikon has been making lenses for a very long time indeed. Nikon F-mount lenses goes back to 1959. You can use many of these older lenses on a modern DSLR, but often only in manual mode. The biggest disadvantage of using these older lenses is that due to the smaller size of Nikon’s CCD imaging sensor relative to a piece of 35mm film, there is a cropping/focal length multiplying factor of 1.5. In short, what this means is that a 50mm lens on a DSLR gives you the equivalent field of view of a 75mm on a 35mm lens. All lenses, in effect, become more “zoomy.” So, while you can certainly pick up a fast 50mm lens, on a DSLR it no longer presents a “normal” field of view. To get a “normal” field of view on a DSLR you need to go to something in the range of 28-35mm. Nikon has made a lot of lenses in this range of focal lengths over the years, so what is the problem?

While you can use many older lenses with modern DSLRs, most will not convey light metering information, so you have to use them in manual mode. This means guessing at proper exposure and shutter speeds, viewing the results and then adjusting accordingly. This is fine for some situations, but doesn’t make for quick, efficient shooting. Most older lenses are strictly manual focus. Nikon sells several 28 and 35mm lenses that are reasonably fast (f/2-f/2.8) and which also incorporate auto focus, but they use the old “electric screwdriver” means of changing the focus, which is noisy, slow and sometime inaccurate. Many of these lenses have to be manually switched back and forth between manual and autofocus modes. Most newer designed lenses which use internal, ultrasonic motors (rather than an electric screwdriver in the body) allow for instant switching between auto focus and manual focus, simply by twisting the focus ring. These ultrasonic motors are really nice, as it enables one to quickly auto focus and then touch up the focus if needed. The general feeling I get is that Nikon has really not updated its lens lineup to mesh well with digital bodies.

Although Nikon’s lens lineup has some holes in it, other companies are moving in to fill at least some of the voids. Sigma recently introduced a 30mm f/1.4 designed to be about “normal” on a DSLR’s smaller sensor size. Set beside a modern Nikon 35mm f/2, one can easily see the sheer light gathering potential of the Sigma. Another thing you may notice is the lack of an aperture ring on the Sigma. The Sigma optics are designed to throw light on just the smaller DSLR sensor. If you were able to use it at all with a film body, one would notice a lot of vignetting (light falloff) around the edges of the image. Because the Sigma lens is only going to be used on a DSLR, the aperture ring becomes unnecessary, as one can simply set the aperture with the thumb wheel on the DSLR body. The Sigma also incorporates an internal “hypersonic motor” allowing for fast, quite focusing and instant interruption for manual adjustment. In the half dozen reviews I read, I did see some complaints about the accuracy of the auto focus in certain situations, but the bulk of reviews had good things to say about this lens overall. Despite some reservations about off-brand lenses, I was disappointed enough in Nikon’s own offerings that I went ahead and placed an order for this lens at sigma4less. I will try to provide a reasonably amateurish review after it has arrived and I’ve had a chance to play around with it in a variety of scenarios.

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Night Photography with Ryan

Posted by Deliverator on 21st October 2006

Ryan and I decided to hang out this evening and do a little night photography. I arrived quite early, so had a Cup of Joe at Trabant, had a couple of hot dogs at Matt’s and checked out Jim’s Camera Shop. Jim’s is an oddball, infrequently open, little hole in the wall which has generated several mentions from Matt Westervelt at recent SWN Hacknights as a great place to get used lenses. I am mainly looking for a fast wide angle for my new D80, but they didn’t have much in that category. I was somewhat intrigued by a 500mm fixed f/8 mirror-lens, which uses a mix of mirrors and lenses to achieve its considerable throw in a very compact, if somewhat pudgy six inch long frame. The lens seemed to be in great functional shape, though it is cosmetically a little worse for wear, having been manufactured in the mid-70’s. I like some of the effects that can be produced as a result of using this sort of lens. From what I can gather from a brief search of ebay and other venues, I should be able to pick up the same lens in much better cosmetic shape for about the same price as Jim’s is asking for it. I am going to be in the U district tomorrow to see The Prestige, so I might try and dicker Jim’s price down, if they are open. After meeting up with Ryan, we went cavorting around Seattle, setting up our tripods and taking pictures of whatever caught our fancy. You can see some of my pictures from this evening by clicking on the image below.

Night Photography

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Nikon D80

Posted by Deliverator on 19th October 2006

I decided to finally take the plunge and bought myself a digital SLR camera, a Nikon D80. After 30+ years of use, I felt my grandfather’s Konica T3 was getting a little long in the tooth. I am very happy with the camera itself. I have done 2 night shoots and played around with it a bit at Hacknight this week. Galan was present. He works for a camera store and owns a Nikon D1x. He felt I should return my D80 and get a D200 instead. I am unconvinced that I would make good use of the extra, more pro oriented features of the D200. The metal body would be nice, but my D80 feels quite solid, and I don’t expect to get 30 years of use out of it, anyways. I will probably buy a few accessories (vertical grip/battery box would be nice) and lenses from him in a while. I bought the D80 as a kit with a 18-135mm lens. I am very happy with the D80, but not so much with the lens. The lens is pretty slow, feels a bit cheaply constructed and doesn’t have a very crisp focus when manually focusing using the ring. I really would like to get myself a nice fast wide angle lens for landscapes and shooting in subdued lighting (such as Cafe Vivace) and a 18-200mm VR lens for general shooting. I got really hooked on vibration reduction/image stabalization from using my Canon S1IS. It is really nice to be able to hand hold shots that would ordinarily require a tripod. Unfortunately the 18-200mm VR lens is in incredibly high demand and it is next to impossible to actually purchase. I am keeping my eyes peeled and am on several wait lists already. In the meantime, I have been plowing through the manual and have been wasting a lot of “film” :)

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CVS Video Cameras – Software Unlockable Once Again!

Posted by Deliverator on 24th July 2006

I have written about the $30 “One Time Use” video cameras sold by the CVS chain of drugstores on a number of occasions. I’ve had a lot of fun with my two CVS video cameras, using them in all sorts of situations where one wouldn’t want to risk a $400 camcorder, such as strapping them to the front of a hundred and twenty pound robot. I’ve been wanting to pick up maybe a dozen of these cameras to hand out to TRC members, so they can easily document their robotics experience throughout the year. The problem has been that recent versions of the video cameras have not been as easy to unlock (to download the videos) as early versions. The earliest versions (v3.40) could be unlocked with a simple software application, while the later versions (3.62, 3.70+) required a hardware attack that could sometimes fail and turn one’s camera into a nice plastic brick. Still later versions of the player (model 220 series) have been utterly impossible to unlock through any reasonable means. All that has suddenly changed…

I saw on Hack a Day that some member of the CameraHacking forum discovered that Pure Digital Technologies, makers of many of the “One Time Use” cameras sold in the US, had a public ftp server. Many businesses maintain ftp servers to offer clients an easy way to download files. The ftp server was configured to allow anonymous (non-passworded) access to anyone that wanted to connect. Apparently, at no time in the connection process was there any notice that the server was for private use only, or that the software downloadable from the server was licensed under a specific agreement/license, etc. One of the files on the server contained a sample application, complete with sourcecode for doing some rather uninteresting thing with one of the company’s line of digital still cameras. The interesting bit it that the sample application has to unlock the camera to do whatever uninteresting thing it does. The member found some code relating to the challenge/response system for unlocking the camera. He took this code and described the challenge respones algorithm to a 3rd party (who has never seen the original code), obeying strict “clean” reverse engineering principles. It is important to note that no laws were broken in the creation of this tool The result is a program called CronusKey, which can be used to calculate the response to a camera’s challenge. It is important to note that no laws were broken in the creation of this program, and that using this or other tools like Ops on your camera is not a violation either.

The CronusKey application works with many of the still cameras made by Pure Digital and it has been discovered that it works with many of the CVS Video Cameras as well. Already, the proper responses for all cameras whose challenge begins with a “04” have been found. An effort is underway to crack the remaining cameras, whose challenges begin with “03.” From what I can tell, about half of the keyspace has been exhausted and at the current rate, the correct response should be found in a few days at most. If you can’t wait that long, you can help out by grabbing the distributed key finding application and processing an untested range in the keyspace. Within a few days, it should be easy for a casual home user to download video off their camera without needing to pay CVS an additional fee for “processing.” As a friend of mine is fond of saying “It is not my job to support your broken business model.”

Posted in General, Photography, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff | 10 Comments »