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.

Photo Retouching

I just subscribed to www.GuyGowan.com. He’s a photo retoucher and Adobe Photoshop Trainer, and I happened to see a couple of his seminars at Photofest in Dublin in April 2010. The stuff he does with channels in photoshop is nothing short of amazing.

I just subscribed to www.GuyGowan.com. He’s a photo retoucher and Adobe Photoshop Trainer, and I happened to see a couple of his seminars at Photofest in Dublin in April 2010. The stuff he does with channels in photoshop is nothing short of amazing. It really does speed up workflow. Also the emphasis is on non-destructive methods, and natural-looking retouches, so using a combination of curves and channel masks, all the retouches work with the image, making the changes as natural looking as possible. There’s also a method of doing HDR withouth any 3rd party program or the HDR action in photoshop. The result is  a very dramatic, natural looking image with all the dynamic range of a HDR, but without the halo’s and other negative effects you usually associate with HDR. If you get a change to catch Guy in a seminar near you, he’s defintely worth a look.

Backing Up Photos

I just embarked on an project to make backing up photos easier, and decided I wanted to get myself set up with a RAID array.

I just embarked on an project to make backing up photos easier, and decided I wanted to get myself set up with a RAID array. This would allow me to copy my photos once to the array, and it would then automatically create a mirror of each file on the disks, so I’d be backing up twice without even thinking about it.

I’ve known about RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) for quite a while now, and also use them at work, but those types start at $15,000, and go up from there. I’m on a much more modest budget, and even the €350 upwards models on the internet seemed a bit steep, so I decided to build my own. Initially, I thought I’d use a motherboard with built-in RAID, or get a RAID controller for the PC, then stick in a few disks. After researching a bit, I found that RAID controllers can be got for as little as $30 on E–Bay, but there’s limitations in the size of disk you can use with the older ones, and the more recent ones cost a good bit more, maybe $70 upwards to $600 for the top-of-the-range cards.

Being even stingier than that, I then looked at the motherboards I had lying around the house. My desktop was full, the kids PC had RAID on the motherboard, but it’s reputation when it comes to RAID was awful. I then checked my media centre PC, and sure enough, there were 4 SATA connectors, and 2 IDE connectors. Enough for 8 drives. But the motherboard didnt seem to have any hardware RAID. So, if it wasnt there, could I do it in software? Seeing as it’s already got Linux (Ubuntu), I looked up software raid solutions for linux, and there it was in the form of ‘mdadm’. This magical command allows setting up of all types of RAID arrays with a few quick commands. To test this out, I salvaged a couple of old 80Gig SATA drives from my garage, and stuck them in the box. An hour later, I had a new 80Gig volume mounted in the linux box, and accessible over the network via Samba. The two drives were set up as a mirror, so I lose half the capacity of the combined drives, but it’s redundancy I want for this setup, not speed.

The next step is to replace the 80Gig drives with a few 1-2TB drives. Who know, I might even go the whole hog and use 3 or more drives in a RAID 4 or RAID 5 array. That should give me faster access, as well as the redundancy that is an essential part of this project.

Another thing is that I need to know when there’s a problem with the array. The array should still function when one of the drives fail, and will re-build the array when I replace that failed drive. But how do I know when a drive has failed? I don’t want to have to check it every week (or day). Well, there’s very handy feature of the Linux Software RAID solution that monitors the disks in the array and can be set up to automatically send an email when there’s a problem. Nice.

Once I actually get the drives, I’ll then have to upgrade the link between the desktop and the media centre PC upgraded to gigabit ethernet so I have nice fast access to the array.  I’ll keep ye posted…

That’s it for now.
Cheers,
Dave.

Refs:
RAID – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAID
More RAID – https://www.cloudwards.net/what-is-raid
mdadm – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mdadm