Monthly Archives: May 2011
I recently got my hands on a very clever little device (and it IS very little) calle the Eye-Fi X2 Pro 8GB SD card. What this looks like is a standard SD memory card that slots into your digital camera. What’s clever about it is that it contains Wifi functionality that will wireless transmit your pictures from the camera as you take them. It’s amazing that they can pack that much functionality into a package that small.
The EyeFi X2 Pro cost $99 in Best Buy, and comes with it’s own SD to USB adapter, which is used to plug the card into your PC/Mac for initial configuration. This was all very straightforward, and the software installed easily. However, before I started configuring the card, it was prompting me to update the card’s firmware. After dozens of attempts (with “Firmware Update Failed” errors), I gave up and attempted to configure the card in “direct” mode, only to be told that this particular feature requires the latest firmware. So, I persisted with the firmware update, installed the Eye-Fi software onto another computer, and this time the firmware update worked flawlessly. I was then able to configure the Eye-Fi card in direct mode.
I guess I’d better explain what direct mode actually is. Normally, Wifi networks work around what’s called an “access point”. This access point is the centre of the wifi network, and all clients connect into this. So, if you’ve several laptops and desktops connecteded wirelessly, they all connect in to the central access point(s), and it’s this access point that allows the clients (laptops/desktops) to talk to each other.
It’s quite common that Wifi hardware can only function in client mode, in that they need an access point in order to connect to a network. Some wireless cards have extra functionality that allows them to BECOME the access point, allowing them to form their own wireless mini-network. This is the case with the new Eye-Fi cards (and the new iPhone 4, with it’s personal hotspot feature). The folks at Eye-Fi call this “Direct Mode”, so you can then have another device connect directly to it without the need for a separate access point. This is important when you’re out in the field (or even out in an actual field), and there’s no power, and no wifi network available, AND it cuts down on the hardware needed. All you need is your camera with it’s Eye-Fi, set the Eye-Fi into direct mode, and associate your client device to the network created by the Eye-Fi. I’ve used an iPad with an app called “Shuttersnitch” running on it.
So, Once I switch on my camera, a few seconds later the new wireless network appears. I then go into the settings on my iPad, and associate to the Eye-Fi wireless network. Then when I run Shuttersnitch, it will wait for incoming images from the camera.
I’ve only tested this so far with a 7megapixel compact camera, I forgot to order a SD-CF adapter for my Canon 5d MarkII which takes Compact Flash memory cards, and it needs this adapter before I can insert the Eye-Fi card. With the 2mb files from the compact camera, transfers only took a couple of seconds. It’ll be a bit longer for the 5-15mb files from the 5DmkII. I guess I can always set the jpeg size to small for faster transfers/previews.
A feature of the X2 Pro version of the Eye-Fi is that it can be configured to transmit RAW files as well as JPEGs. This is fine if you’ve got a minute between shots, but for typcial uses I’d see people sticking to the small or medium JPEG option. If you’re in the habit of shooting several shots continuously, then you’d probably be better sticking to the smallest JPEG option, and let the full size RAWs stay on the card.
I realise the effective range will be reduced when I insert the Eye-Fi into a SD-CF adapter, but I’ll comment on that when the adapter arrives (it’s in the post at the moment). More to follow when that arrives….
Well, It’s now about 3 months since I initially got the Eye-Fi. Three CF adapters later, and I’ve finally found one that works with the Pro X2. It’s a D-Lock. I initially had the one shown above, then I ordered a PhotoFast CR-7000 because it was marked as UDMA, but that did not work either. I finally order a D-Lock adapter, and it works. So, I should have researched it properly. At least now it works. Well, works partially. When I use it live on a shoot, I find it too hit-and-miss. Far too unreliable for me to use in a real environment. So I’m going to sell on eBay. I’ll stick with cable for now.
“You can learn from my mistakes!”
Here’s something that might be of interest, and will help speed up some parts of your workflow.
Get a faster memory card, and the means to get the images onto your PC as quick as possible.
I recently ordered a couple of 600x Duracell 8Gb Compact flash cards from 7DayShop.com….
They give a read speed of 90MB/sec. and are only £20.99 for 8Gigs. That’s great value.
Now USB 2.0 can’t go that fast, it can only manage about 45MB/sec if you’re lucky.
But USB 3.0 is getting much more popular, so you could get yourself a USB 3.0 card reader.
This one is about €19 from the UK.
USB 3.0 is rated at 5gbps, or in megabytes about 500MB/sec, More than enough for the fastest CF/SD card, so should be able to max out the 600x Compact Flash card.
If your PC doesnt have a USB 3.0 connection, you can always add one using a USB 3.0 PCIe adapter (about €20).
Or, for a laptop (about €20).
The Pretec card reader comes with a pretty short stubby adapter, so if you want to have the card reader on your desk, you’ll also need a cable (about €5).
So, you’ll have the added advantage that your camera will be able to keep going longer for those rapid-fire shots (by writing to the card faster), and you’ll also get your images off your card and onto your PC MUCH quicker, giving you more time to process, etc.
The following is a benchmark of the above setup.
As you can see, this card is really tuned to work with a block size of 64K or greater. The write speeds max out at is 30MB/sec, but the read speed jumps dramatically to 90MB/sec once the block size hits 64K.
(See edit below regarding DSLRBot. A slightly more expensive solution, but quite a bit better…)
Recently I was awe-struck by a Time-lapse video by Terje Sorgjerd I saw which was shot around El Teide on Gran Canaria early in 2011. Looking around on the internet, I saw various solutions for time-lapse, including some very fancy rigs for moving the camera as it’s shooting the images. What I needed was something that could trigger my dSLR camera to take an image at regular intervals over a few minutes up to a few hours. The camera already has a port for a remote switch, so I needed some way to trigger that at regular intervals. There are solutions available as cheap as €50 on e-bay, so I wanted to see if I could do it a lot cheaper than that.
I came up with the idea of using my smartphone’s camera flash to trigger an optical switch, and hook the optical switch into the remote trigger port on the camera. I could then write an app on the phone that would trigger the flash at intervals, thus triggering the dSLR to take an image. I happened to have an optical sensor for triggering flash heads (I use these sometimes for strobist work). This did not work. Maybe it needed a small voltage to operate. Anyway, I headed out to my local Maplin store, and got myself a phototransistor (SFH300-2) at about €2.49. I had a spare shutter release cable lying around that I got off ebay for about €5, so I took the switch off the end and replaced it with the photo-transistor. Nothing else, just the photo transistor directly wired to the shutter release port of the camera.
So, I plugged the phototransistor cable into the camera, and tried taking a picture with the smartphone while holding the phototransistor up to the flash of the phone, and it successfully triggered the dSLR. Yay!
So, the theory worked. One photo-transistor connected to the shutter release port of the dSLR was the hardware side sorted. Now for the software side.
Before investing in a few dozen hours getting the development kit for the iPhone, I took a quick look at any apps already out there for the iPhone that might do the job. Sure enough, there were a couple of apps that do just what I was looking for, and they were free. The one that I settled on was “Canopy Camera Tools” app, that had an intervalometer built in. It would take a picture at pre-defined intervals, and if I set the flash to be always on, this would trigger the dSLR, and I could then throw away the images taken on the iPhone, using the dSLR images for my time-lapse video.
So, with Canopy installed on the iPhone, I duck-taped the phototransistor in place on the back of the iphone, and took my very first time-lapse video.
I set the phone to take 160 images at intervals of 3 seconds. Because the flash duration on the phone would cause several shots to be taken for one shot on the iPhone, I set the dSLR to 2 second timer. Once I’d taken the shots, I loaded them onto my PC, re-sized them down, and used a free application called “PhotoLapse” to stitch them together into a video. The result is here. Very rough, long lens pointing out a dirty window. But you get the idea.
Once I proved that it all worked, I made an enclosure that would fit around the top of the iPhone, and hold the photo-transistor in the best position to be triggered by the phone’s flash.
So, I guess I could stretch the truth and say that this is an intervalometer solution for €2.49, but that’s assuming you have a dSLR shutter release cable that you can hack and a smart phone with suitable software. Even then, the shutter release will only cost you about €5. I believe it’s the cheapest solution around for time-lapse videos with a dSLR.
Here’s another slightly longer timelapse test video…
So, I found DSLR bot has a very similar solution, except that it uses a couple of IR-LEDs driven from the audio-out port of the iPhone. I found an old TV remote control and ripped out the two IR-LEDs from it, put them onto a 3.5mm stereo jac plug, and bought the DSLRBot app at €3.99. So, I’m sure you’ve got some old tv remote controls, and a stereo jac plug lying around, that’s all you need. For build instructions, check out the DSLRbot web page.
New to the “Photoshop Parody Plug-ins” collection – “L-Plates” for Photoshop. This is a clever little plug-in that you can give to all your friends who produce endless over-saturated, over-processed images. Now, with “L-Plates” you can configure how far they can push each slider in Photoshop.
For example, the default setting in L-Plates for the saturation slider is 15. This means that the use cannot physically push the slider past 15 without getting an over-ride code. And you’re not going to give that code to them, are you? Because you’re so used to seeing images with the saturation slider up around 40-45 (and beyond).
You can also opt to go for the “Electrode Edition”, which includes a hi-voltage adapter that’s connected directly to the user’s skin (location to be decided by you) that will deliver an electric shock to the user each time they try and push the slider beyond the configured limits. And each time the user tries to go past the limit, the delivered voltage will increase, and can only be reset back to the low level by exiting Photoshop, going off to get a cup of tea, and coming back in a more relaxed state, where the user is less likely to over-process an image.
In the testing for this product it has been found that after a week of using it, the resulting images are far more pleasing and natural looking. In fact, and added bonus seems to be that rather than pushing the sliders up to their default limits, the user under re-training actually stops short of the limit rather than going right up to it. In the case of the saturation slider, which is set to default 15, some user actually only go as far as 13 or 14. This was an unexpected side-effect of using the “Electrode Edition”. Because of this, the next revision of the product may have the capability to deliver a more powerful electric shock, which may encourage even lighter use of the sliders, and will probably result in normal images in a much shorter time-scale.
Installation is a snap. Just browse to a friend’s Flickr or Facebook photo, and let the plug-in do the rest. It’ll analyse the picture, and if it detects that the image is over-processed, it’ll find where the image was uploaded from, and install the plugin on the remote machine automatically.
There are over 100 slider configurations available in “L-Plates”, and you can control the maximum setting for each one. The plug-in also has a fail-safe, in that it will detect if the administrator attempts to change the default limits to something that is beginning to look a bit over-processed. In this case, it will automatically recognise that you don’t have enough cop-on to set sensible limits yourself, and you certainly should not be telling friends what they should be doing. If your plugin gets into this state, there is a special trainers edition of ‘L-Plates’ which comes with hard-wired limits that you cannot change. Once you’ve used that for a month, you can then upgrade to the normal version, where you can then configure the limits for installation on your over-processing friends computers.
At last – an end to the assault on your eyes every time you view new images from your friends.
Related Plugins: L-Plates for HDR – Similar to Photoshop -L-Plates, but works with all popular HDR software packages.
This news-release is scheduled for publication on April 1st 2012.