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. 🙂

—EDIT—

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

 

USB 3.0 is the Future

From reading this blog, you might get the idea that I’m obsessed with disk speeds as of late (on the cheap, I might add). Well, you’re not wrong there. And to add to my obsession, I got my hands on a USB 3.0 PCIExpress card and a SATA-USB 3.0 atapter today. After installing the drivers for the card, I then attached a SATA hard drive to the adapter, and plugged it into the PC. Up it came no problem, so the first thing I did was to run ATTO Disk benchmark tool against the drive. Here are the results:

Sustained 80-85MB/sec read/write. It sure beats the hell out of USB2.0, at about 25-30MB/sec.  I don’t have a decent drive available to test it faster, but theoreticaly USB3.0 is good to >400MB/sec.

Next purchase will probably be a USB3.0 Compact Flash reader, but they’re very thin on the ground. Oh, and some good and fast Compact Flash cards to go along with it. 🙂

UPDATE:

I got a new motherboard, which has USB 3.0 built in, and this week Aldi were doing a special on USB 3.0 1TB drives for €79.99. I got one, and the following is the ATTO benchmark results:

More RAID Wonderfulness…

With the increase in the amount of data taken up by images on my PC data throughput has become a real problem. Dozens of seconds to load and save files, not to mention 25 seconds to open Photoshop. Each image I take of my camera is 25-30MB, and when I am working on a file, it can be 600-800MB for a few days until I’m happy with it and compress it down to a flattened image at about 100MB. Loading and saving these files can take up to a minute on my PC.

I started looking into increasing the performance of editing images on my PC. The main prompt was the fact that my 1TB drive in my pc crashed (I had 3 backups so nothing lost). I took a look at what the main bottlenecks were, and it seemed that disk speed was one of the main problems. Having discussed RAID systems in a previous post, I thought I’d investigate setting up a striped array as a second drive on my desktop. Striping allows two disks to be “merged” showing up as 1 disk to windows, but the underlying writes are spread across each disk, theoretically doubling the read/write performance.

First of all I discovered that Windows 7 now includes software RAID, and the benchmarks on the web showed that the speeds were very similar to the motherboard RAID solutions for both RAID 1 and RAID 0 (Mirroring and Striping), so I had a go at that. Well into the process of copying about 800GB of data around the place to make two spare drives, I found that only Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate allow RAID configurations. I’ve got Windows 7 Home Premuim, which DOES NOT have RAID functionality. Bummer.

Then I took a closer look at my motherboard, and it has a RAID controller built in. But there was a problem, I couldnt enable the RAID controller in the BIOS without causing my current windows installation to give me a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) at boot. Even the solution suggested by Microsoft didnt help, so I freed up another 500G SATA drive and installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 on it, after enabling the RAID controller on the motherboard. It was very particular about the BIOS settings to get windows recognising the SATA CD-ROM drive and the hard disk. Anyway, once I got the settings right, I installed Windows and the nVidia RAID software.

Then, I installed my two 1TB drives (Seagate Baracuda 7200.12’s, €80 each in Maplin), and kicked off the nVidia storage manager. This is quite a neat piece of software that allows easy configuration of arrays based on spare disks in the system. I started a couple of self tests on the disks, which checked out healthy. I chose not to migrate any existing data, so the new striped array was created in seconds in the nVidia storage manger. Then using the Disk Manager in windows to create a couple of partitions on that disk, which again, took seconds, I started up the ATTO Disk Benchmark Utility. Previously I had tested the Seagate disks individually, giving me a max speed of about  125MB/sec. With the new striped array, this was increased to 247MB/sec! Success.

ATTO Benchmark for Striped 1TB Seagate Baracuda 7200.12’s

Because it’s a striped disk, I need to be very careful to have a good backup policy, because if one of the disks in the array goes, I lose ALL the data. If youwant data security, dont use RAID 0 (striping).

Now to install Photoshop CS4, then the CS5 upgrade, and restore my photos onto it and see what kind of performance improvement I get in general use editing pictures. I don’t expect the actual processing to be much quicker. but organising images in bridge, generating previews, loading/saving large TIFFs should all be improved.

Once Photoshop was installed, I started it up, it took about 8 seconds. Closing and opening again took about 4 seconds. This is an improvement from about 25 seconds from cold with my old 80MB/sec boot drive.

Adobe bridge seems a lot snappier now, with previews loading much quicker. Also, I can now save a 1GB TIFF file in under 10 seconds. I reckon this will save me a several days over the course of a year 🙂

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. 🙂

Photoshop Extreme Makeovers

My daughter wanted to be an Avatar, because she happened to see a video on YouTube of Venessa Hudgens being given the Avatar treatment. I had a good look at the video, and gave it a go. Here’s the result:

Also, if you want to give it a go yourself, here’s the YouTube video by NEATeyePHOTOart I used as a guide:

Once I’d completed the Avatar daugher, my other two wanted their own makeovers. So they chose the vampire style of the movie “Twilight”. Here’s the before-and-after from each of their makeovers.

and

The most difficult part of the vampire makeovers was the removal of the freckles in the first one. I was told that vampires dont have freckles. Something do do with skin pigment in vampires. Where they got that from, I don’t know. Anyway, they were insistent that I take out the freckles. I think they were right, it’s a better result because of it.

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.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Arrival

I just took delivery of Adobe Photoshop CS5. I had recently got CS4, and decided that I’d like to keep up-to-date with the latest version, especially with all the rave reviews of the new “Content-Aware Fill” feature that everybody is going on about. Having played with it in the trial version, I decided it was worth the upgrade. I haven’t tried it for real yet, only on some test images, but the results of the Content-Aware Fill look nothing short of magic. I was working on an image of the Dolmen in Poulnabrone, and used this feature to remove those damn ropes that surround it. Not only did it do a nice job of removing the ropes and rope-stands, it filled in what it removed with rocks, shadows, highlights, etc, which all made for a retouch that is very hard to tell from the real thing. Much better (and faster) than the older patch tool in CS4.

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.

_MG_7514-Edit

 

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…

_MG_6648-Edit

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

Cheers,
Dave.