Major Ink Longevity Research Programme now FREE

I just got the following great news. Mark H. McCormick-Goodhart, Director of the ink longevity research programme at has just announced that the subscription fees to the website are being dropped, making all the research available to everyone for free. I’ve been a member since the very early days, and found in invaluable as a printer in selecting (or ignoring) third party inks for use in my printers.
I’m actually in the proud position of having the WORST EVER performing sample in that programme. An Ink I played around with in the early days was a dye ink off eBay called “Signal Inkjet”. I got one batch of 600ml (6x100m bottles), which cost me $10. It seemed ridiculously cheap, and sure enough, the results matched the price. The prints were only good for a few months before visible fading and colour shifting kicked in. Once I saw the results coming out of Aardenburg-Imaging, I quickly switched back to Claria OEM inks (I was on a dye printer at the time) which was showing much better results.

I eventually got and Epson R2880, and as a result of this research, I settled on Inkjetfly inks, as they have longevity and colour gamut approaching that of OEM inks for a fraction of the price. I’m printing all of my on photos now (and also for some friends, club competitions, etc.) and we’re very happy with the results.

Also, if you’re interested in the research, you can also submit your own samples. It’s very interesting to see your own samples put through the light-fade tests, and you can be confident that the results are accurate and measured in a way that can be compared consistently with the other samples under test.

Have a look at Mark’s website, and take a look at the longevity test results. It lists a huge amount of printer/paper/ink combinations, invaluable for someone who’s looking to use third party inks at either an amateur or professional level.

Flash Full Power Recharge in around 3 Seconds

I’d been hearing good things about various types of battery packs recently, quantum, etc. Being the diy enthuasist (cheapskate) that I am, I thought that I’d research building an external battery pack for my strobes. These usually take the form of a 12v battery pack which connects into the external port of the flash (Canon’s, in my case), reducing recycle time, and giving longer battery life, depending on the type of battery used. I looked initially at the Canon pack, which takes 6 AA batteries. These come in at well over €100. I had a look around on Flickr and other sources, but nowhere could I find a circuit that would feed this external port on my Canon flashes.

Anyway, I had a look on eBay for some canon knock-offs, and I spotted an “iShoot” model for €23 (incl shipping from Hong Kong), which takes 8 AA batteries,  so I ordered one. It duly arrived, but unfortunately  it was DOA. The LED on the unit would not illuminate, and I saw no change in the recharge time of the flash. I contacted the seller, and he was really great about it. He said that the shipping back to Hong Kong  was quite expensive, so I could keep the faulty unit, and he would ship me out a replacement. That arrived about a week later.

Better this time. Upon plugging it in to the flash, and powering the flash on, the LED lit up on the battery pack. With fully charged NiMH AA’s, I was now getting recycle times of just under 3 seconds with the flash set to full power.

I had a look at the internals of the faulty unit, and with the complexity of the circuit board I was looking at, there was no way I would be able to replicate that in a DIY fashion. So the easiest thing for me to do was to just simply order one pack for each of my flashes. At €23, that’s not too expensive, and certainly a lot cheaper than the Canon units. I used this unit over the weekend, and popped off several hundred shots at 1/4 power, and was still getting very fast recycle times. I’m definitely going to order more of these units for my next strobist shoot.

Useful Photography Tools #1 (ViewRanger GPS)

I’ve been using ViewRanger on my smartphone for about a year now. ViewRanger is a GPS application that allows you to download maps onto your phone, and then use them to plan trips, guide you around an area, all the usual stuff you do with a GPS. The nice thing about ViewRanger is that they’ve licenced the maps from Ordinance Survey Ireland (OSI), so you can get the 50000:1 (Discovery series) in a variety of delivery options. I initially bought the app and a “tile pack” for about €20, which lets you download small portions of Ireland on-demand. This is very handy when you’re planning a trip to a particular area, in that you can download the tiles for the area ahead of time. However, if you want to be completely flexible, you can get all 26 counties of Ireland for €150, and Northern Ireland for a further £40. This has the added advantage that when you’re out and about, you don’t need to download any data over the 3G connection, saving you data charges, and works well in remote areas where there’s no data connection available. I got the 26 counties recently, which came in a 1.1GB zip file. Uploading to the phone was a breeze, and once the registration key was entered I could zoom into anywhere in the 26 counties with 50000:1 detail.

The maps, as everyone who’s ever used a Discovery Series map knows, contains a tremendous amount of detail. They have all the contours, roads, Holy Wells, Promontory Forts, etc etc. Also, all the back roads that you’d ever need to get as close to the coast as possible if you’re into coastal landscape photography. Some of the roads shown are so small as to not be drivable. To have this level of detail available on your phone is a great aid to the Irish Landscape Photographer. I’ve found some great new areas (new to me, anyway) using ViewRanger. It’s also great to use in conjunction with The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE) to plan sunrise and sunset trips, as TPE uses Google Maps which requires a 3G connection and does not have the detail contained in the OSI 50000:1 maps. I’ll probably do a small article on TPE as a follow-up to this, as it’s another very handy tool for photographers.

If you order ViewRanger for the iPhone, you need to go through the app store, which will cost you €20, but that comes with a pack of tiles for the country of your choice. For other phones, the app is free, but you pay seperately for the map packs. Tile packs are about €20, individual provinces are about st£60, Northern Ireland is about st£40, and will cost you st£120 (€150).

I initially started using ViewRanger on a SonyEricsson Satio touchscreen smartphone, but then got and iPhone 4. ViewRanger support were very quick in helping me move my licences from the Satio to the iPhone at no extra charge.

For more information , see the official ViewRanger website at

(Images used with permission)

Canon 540EZ DIY Sync Port

After coming away from a workshop with Ciaran Whyte, I decided to have a go at making a tri-flash hotshoe adapter, seeing as we made so much use of one during the day. I happen to have 3 Canon 540EZ strobes which I could use. To make things easier to mount, I wanted to trigger all three strobes with a single radio receiver. To do that, I’d have to modify my strobes to give them a sync port.

Adding sync-ports to the 540EZ strobes

The following images show the steps I went through to make the mod. First I’ll start with a before-and-after shot:

On the strobe on the right you can see the 3.5mm jack socket mounted in the red plastic window. I had to remove some parts of the strobe to make room for the socket, but since I only ever use these in manual mode, they bits I took out are never used. Undoing the 4 small screws at the bottom allows you to remove the hotshoe section of the strobe.

Next images shows the part of the strobe that we’re going to discard to make room for the sync port:

Next, we pop out the red window, drill a 6mm hole in it (I used a special acrylic drill bit I had lying around. Using other bits may crack this piece, be careful.

Next, we solder two wires from the jack socket to the relevant pins on the hotshoe. In the 540EZ, the ground is the blue, and the trigger is the red.

Red window, re-inserted, soldering all done, about to re-assemble:

All back together. You might want to test the connections before putting it all back together.

Testing the new sync port with a 3.5mm jack to 3.5mm jack cable. The Cactus V4’s have a 3.5mm jack socket on the side. Nice feature.

All three 540EZ’s complete, with new 3.5mm jack socket sync port.

The next task was to make up a 4-way 3.5mm jack plug cable, so I could connect all three strobes together to one wireless receiver:

Followed by a few quick test shots:

The 3-flash setup will give you one of two things:

  • Three times the power
  • Or, faster recycling times.

The 4-way cable saves on radio receivers.

The Triple-Flash adapter

I then took the three hotshoe/umbrella adapters I had, and thought about mounting them on the same tripod. The simplest method at hand was two pieces of cylindrical hardwood bolted together into a cross. That way I could put one ‘end’ into the tripod, and put the three hotshoe adapters on the other three ‘ends’. (oh, and I cut the bolt for a neater finish).

Twisting the strobes and adapters into the following configuration, I ended up with a pretty neat setup, all triggered off a single radio receiver.

I put set this up beside a 400W studio head I have at home. To test the power of the tri-flash setup, I set all strobes to max power and adjusted my camera until I got the histogram right. I then put the 400W head at full power, and to my surprise, the histogram was just about the same! (maybe 1/3 stop more). So, with the 3-strobe setup I’ve now got about 400W of portable power. 🙂


Extra Circuit to get Cactus V4s to trigger 3 540EZs

I was having problems triggering all three flashes with the single Cactus V4. The refresh times went to hell. One or two flashes, fast recycle time (@ 1/128 power) but with three connected, several seconds.

I recoon the problem was down to poor isolation between the trigger and the three strobes, so I designed and built the following prototype:

Shown in the above (very messy) circuit is a 3V power supply, two 3.5mm jack sockets (one for trigger, one for flash 4-way cable), a 50 ohm resistor, and a small low-voltage transistor. The theory was that when the trigger closed the circuit, 3 volts would be gated into the transistor, causing the output to short circuit, triggering the 3 strobes simultaneously. This triggering would be electrically isolated from the output of the wireless receiver, so it should recover quicker, allowing me to trigger rapidly in succession, which it was not when directly connected. At least that’s the theory. And low-and-behold, the damn thing worked. There was no-one more surprised than myself. I could now trigger all three strobes as fast as my thumb could press the transmitter test button. No delays from the receiver. Wicked. So I then pulled out an old eBay trigger that no linger worked, mounted all the above circuit into a nice neat box, and got some well earned sleep.

Here’s the enclosure showing the batteries, and input and output 3.5mm sockets.

I used the existing power switch as well, so the circuit is completely dead unless I switch it on. I’m wondering if I should integrate the transistor and resistor straight into the drigger? Might be a squeeze, but it’s one less set of batteries to be worried about. Maybe it’s not worth the trouble. Anyway, I was happy to have solved my trigger speed issue.

I’ve also tested this with a set of borrowed Yongnou RF-602 triggers. These do not exhibit the same issue as the Cactus V4’s, in that I can plug the 4-way cable directly into the receiver and it will trigger all three strobes without any  recycle delays. These must have better trigger isolation than the Cactus V4’s. No need for the extra circuit. –Edit– You can add Cactus V5’s to the list that don’t need the extra circuit.

Needs Circuit:

  • Cactus V4

Doesn’t need extra circuit:

  • RF-602
  • Cactus V5


Battery Grips = BAD?

While I was out recently with my 5DMkII, Manfrotto 458b tripod with 486RC2 ball-head, I noticed that the strong wind was shaking the camera a lot. I looked a bit closer at the setup and it seemed to me that the weak point in the above setup was not any of the parts mentioned, but the 3rd party battery grip I was using on the camera. It’s not the offical Canon battery grip, buta cheap alternative I got of EBay for about €50. When the lens (24-70L) caught the wind, I could see it shaking up and down. The camera body seemed solid, and the tripod head was barely moving, but there was still a shake visible at the end of the lens. It looked to me like the weak point was the battery grip. So, the next time I went out, I took off the battery grip, and screwed the tripod plate back onto the camera and left the battery grip at home. In similar conditions, I could hardly see the lens shake at all this time. Less camera shake, as we all know, means sharper images, and I was much happier with the images from the second outing.  Looking closer at the battery grip, it seems solid enough, but when I grab each end and twist, I can see the plastic deform slightly. So the force of the weight of the camera when on the grip, then on the tripod was enough to warp the grip slightly to allow the shake.

Next time I’m in the camera store, I’ll check out the official Canon grip. I’m sure that’s made from much sturdier stuff than the cheap knock-off alternatives…

So from now on, when I go shooting landscape, the battery grip will stay at home.

800 Years of Limerick, from King Johns to the Clarion…

I had a walkabout around Limerick the other evening. John Hickey (another local photographer) and myself took a stroll around to see what we could see. The light was wonderful, so just about sunset we went into the Strand Hotel and asked at reception if we could go up to the top floor. Thanks to the very nice person on reception, who checked with the boss in the back room and up we headed.

As the sun went down there was a lovely colour to the sky over Thomond Park, the local rugby grounds.

A while later, once the sun had gone down, we move to the other side of the building, and I set up my tripod on the very edge of the balcony, and took a series of five long-exposure images (about 15 seconds each). Stitched in PhotoshopCS5, and the GuyGowan retouch action applied (Yes, I subscribed to the website), plus a few more retouches from myself . I like to call this one “King John’s to the Clarion”, which covers about 800 years of Limerick history.  This is the result:

This is best viewed large.

Overall I think it was quite a productive evening. 🙂

L.I.P.F. Distinction

In April 2010, I was successful in my application of a Licenciate distinction of the Irish Photographic Federation. These distinction sittings are held twice a year by the IPF, and amateur photographers from all over the country submit panels for judging.
There are three levels:

  • Licentiate (10 images)
  • Associate (15 images)
  • Fellow (20 images)

Here’s my panel:

LIPF Panel

The process of putting the panel together is roughly as follows. The images first have to be selected. I got the help of several club members with this. We put 30 to 40 5×7 images on a large table and narrowed it down to about 15 images, then narrowed it down further to 10-11. Some images had to be flipped horizontally to make them more suitable for the panel, as the images should work together to compliment each other.
Once the final 10 images were selected, each image had to be processed, printed, and mounted. They were printed using my calibrated Epson R2880 printer. Then they were mounted. For this I used black-core mount board, and Neville Gawley was good enough to cut the mounts for me. Once the images were mounted, they were glued onto 5mm foam-core board using 3M spray-mount adhesive. This gives the  finished images strength, and are less likely to warp. The thicker the foam-core, the less warping.
The day was very interesting, as there were about 50 photographers who had submitted panels, and it was great to see some wonderful work on display. Usually the distinction judging is held on the same weekend as the IPF National Club Competion, which are also on display throughout the day. Even of you don’t have a panel entered, it’s still worth a look.

Colour Photo 1st at end-of-year competition

I was very pleased to get a text a couple of weeks ago informing me that I’d won the colour section of the 2010 end-of-year competition in Limerick Camera club….

I was very pleased to get a text a couple of weeks ago informing me that I’d won the colour section of the 2010 end-of-year competition in Limerick Camera club. This is a competition where all the images that place 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the monthly competitions can be entered in the end-of year. There’s a colour and a monochrome section, and each person who qualifies can enter one other image of their own chosing. I chose the following image.



This image was entered previously in another club competitoin , but did not place in the top 3. I chose it as my “other image” along with two images that did place during the year. Imagine my surprise when I got a text (I was in India at the time) saying that I’d won the colour print section. An external “guest” judge had picked it as the winner. The judge was Paul Dorrell, a respected local professional photgrapher who used to be a club member, but his workload has kept him busy recently, so no time for regular visits to the club.

Another image of mine got a commendation…


I was disappointed that I couldn’t be there, but it really cheered up an otherwise dull day in India. 🙂