The Canon 9500 Survives the Switch to OS X Lion

I’m using OS X Lion full time. It wasn’t particularly painful. Except for the occasional “nap” issue and the lack of a clear replacement for Quicken 2007, I’m all in and can even scroll the “right” way. God help me the next time I sit down in front of an older Mac…

AppFresh was a big help in identifying, prior to the Lion install, any vestigial PPC apps and importantly, updates for apps with Lion issues and where to find the updates. AppZapper helped to make sure all the discarded older apps were gone along with their associated files. A couple of hours was spent removing cruft left over from, in one case, the mid-1990’s. I spent about $200 to update apps that needed saving and had been properly updated. I said a not so sad farewell to PSCS 2, which was only still around for a couple of long in the tooth plugins, and FileMaker 8, again I have 9 but I had a couple of 8 specific additions that I’d held onto.

One real issue was my Canon 9950F Scanner. This is my workhorse 4×5 film scanner. Canon no longer supports this ancient but very capable device (well, capable at 4×5 inches. Less so on anything smaller). All the support software was PPC. I assumed I’d just dual boot into OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard for scanning and eventually give ViewScan another try – I’ve appreciated ViewScan’s commitment to End of Life and other obscure scanners but I’ve never liked ViewScan as an application. And there was / is the budget busting SilverFast. I much prefer SilverFast to either Canon’s included software or ViewScan but it kills FARE (Canon’s Digital Ice clone) and since they tie updates to specific scanner types, I was going to have to pay full price.

Canon’s scanner software is junk but it’s the devil I know. I’ve wrestled with it enough that I can pump out 1200 dpi scans that, with a tweak or three in Aperture, look just fine. I did my usual “anybody have the 9500 working in Lion” web scavenger hunt but came up with nothing – probably because most folks content with 1200 dpi scans have move on to the Epson V700 (which I may do someday, but not just yet) and also because, well, because the 9500F is old and unsupported by the manufacturer.

But the 9500F has in fact survived the switch to Lion. With little to lose I visited Canon’s current products page and (re) discovered that their best and brightest flat bed scanner is the 4400F. This driver works just fine with the 9500F. Maybe a bit better than the “real” drivers did.

And it’s here or here.

When Tech Aligns – The Canon TS-E Lenses, The Apple iPad and an EyeFi X2 SD Card

The Part Where I Remember the Good Old Days..

I used a view camera, more or less exclusively, for over 20 years. I can wallow in nostalgia, but my much reduced Large Format kit sits in a drawer. it sits in a drawer almost all the time.

I do miss the accurate, loupe-up-in-each-corner, precision of a a good View Camera. I also, and this has been said by others, really miss the upside down and reversed left to right world of an image projected on a ground glass. Having a landscape image arrive upside down and reversed side to side made it an abstraction. With practice, it is easy to “fix” the projected image and imagine the final shot (or as an alternative, just look at the scene without using the camera) but the abstraction of the image was always part of the process.

The Part Where I forget the good old days – Canon TS-E Lenses

The Canon 17mm TS-E lens along with the TS-E 24mm II are best in class Tilt Shift Lenses. While Nikon may be close to the 24mm in sharpness (they don’t make anything wider so the 17mm stands alone), the Canon handely beats the Nikon mechanically with it’s ability to rotate the shift and tilt aspects of the lens independently. The 45mm TS-E and the 90mm TS-E are very good lenses as well but have not gone to “Mark II” design status and lack the independent tilt and shift feature.

If you have questions or are unfamiliar with a TS-E type lens click here for a nice review and tutorial that features the original Canon TS-E 24.

However good a tilt and shift lens is on a 35mm camera, it simply isn’t the equal of a view camera. A well made view camera had (at least) 4×5 inches of ground glass to wonder around and check for focus. A real view camera has more movements that just front tilt and shift. But I already wrote about the good old days, anyway… Shift on a TS-E lens is basically as good as a view camera, but tilt is course compared to a view camera, I use it carefully and not often. I will say that it has become better with live view. It is useful but lacking precision.

Building the New View Camera – EyeFi X2 SD Card with Direct Mode and an iPad

In early January, EyeFi announced that they would make available (When? I’ll  speculate late spring…) a firmware upgrade that would turn their any EyeFi X2 card into a WiFi hotspot. Your camera can now interact with any WiFi device – well any WiFi device that runs their free App. Or to quote the quick YouTube Video. “With Direct Mode full resolution Photo’s and Videos from your camera fly directly from your camera to your phone or tablet.” I would have used “transferred” rather than “fly” but I’ll give the presenter a pass – this time.

So, with an EyeFi card in direct mode and an iPod nearby I can preview my composition, including the imprecise tilt, on a nine inch screen. Since I use a Canon 1DsIII which has two card slots, I can send over a medium sized JPEG while recording the full size RAW. Nine inches of high resolution iPad screen compared to a 3 inch camera back is hardly a fair fight. Pinch to zoom should allow me to retire my well worn loop.

Problems. There Are Always Problems

I’m no fan of juggling thousands or even hundreds of dollars worth of tech so the iPad need a good, safe home. I’d mount it on a tripod leg and make it easy to mount and remove. I can do that using a Vogel iPad Holder and a bit of imagination. The Vogel holder also acts as a cover for the quarter acre of glass that is the front of an iPad. And, although I don’t shoot at noon, a hood might be handy. Here is one (on eBay so the link will die.) There may be others – pretty much any netbook shade should work.

Yep, it sounds a little cumbersome and fussy. But I spent 20 years under a dark cloth, 8x loop in hand, staring at the back of a view camera. I do fussy and cumbersome if the results are worth it.

Now, if the EyeFi folks would allow the app to mimic a real view camera and make it possible to reverse and flip the image…

Aperture 3.1 and OS 10.6.5

Apple released a gargantuan upgrade to OS 10.6 today. In the long list of things fixed, patched and otherwise fiddled with Apple writes:

Addresses performance of some image-processing operations in iPhoto and Aperture.

Aperture is much faster on a version 1.1 MacPro (the original MacPro) with an aging ATI Radeon 1900. Apple has steadily improved both the stability and speed of Aperture and 3.0 was a big jump. OS X 10.6.5 running Aperture is a revelation.

Three, Lightweight Ball Heads

Tripods

I use tripods – often. It is, almost certainly, because I spent 25 years exclusively shooting view cameras. Even as DLSR’s have become better at hight ISO shooting, I still value the luxury of composing an image, carefully considering the components of the composition and then shooting when the conditions are right.

Yes. I am aware that using a tripod is, especially for a shot  like the one below, is both anachronistic and unnecessary.

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But I do it anyway.

 

Connecting the Camera to the Tripod Legs…

Tripod legs need tripod heads. There are two basic types.

 

Pan Heads

For commercial work I use a beefy carbon fibre Gitzo with a Gitzo, low profile pan head. For this type of work, total carry weight is not a particular concern. The Pan head quickly gets the camera level in both directions. The pan head allows accurate adjustments on one axis without affecting the other. Once everything is level left to right, the front to rear adjustment works independently. Getting to level and staying there is easy and fast.

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The Gitzo has one other important advantage –  it’s short. Pro DSLRs, which have the winder built in, or other bodies with a winder attached, can get pretty tall. Tall camera plus beefy TS-E type lenses (or a big zooms) plus a tall tripod head results in a tippy setup. Small movements get amplified as the mass of the camera tips as the head gets adjusted.

I only dust off my pan head for architectural assignments – it is easy to get the head level and it is the least “tippy” setup that I own.

 

Ball Heads

But, as post headline stated, this is a post about ball heads and which is worth owning.

Ball heads are quick to use and quick to adjust – if you are not particularly concerned about a dead level camera. The are popular as landscape heads and deserve to be.

I shot Large Format for nearly 20  years using the classic Arca B1 monoBall head. It’s a brute. It featured a big, encased ball and large adjustment knobs. 4 x 5 view cameras are brutish themselves (well, relative to DSLR’s anyway) so the B1 is a good match. The current Monoball claims it will hold 130 pounds (59 kg). I’ll bet that’s conservative.

When I jumped to digital, the Canon 5D / Arca B1 seemed a mismatch. The B1 likely weighted as much as the 5D and that seemed like unneeded weight. Also the B1, a mechanical thing after all, was pretty warn out after thousands of setups.

Since retiring the Arca B1 I’ve bought and used three different ball heads.

First – The Acratech Ultimate Ball head.

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Acratech Ultimate Ball head, at 1 pound (.45  kg) is a beautifully made, simple ball head. While the Arca B1 ball was inaccessible. the Acratech is easy to keep clean and never jammed in 5 years of use. Drag, that is the native friction of the system, is set at the factory. So the head really only has two operating knobs: Loosen / tighten the ball and rotate the ball. As I said, simple.

The design, with it’s diagonal ball mount, is a compromise.

 

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To aim a camera down requires that the diagonal ball mount be oriented with the open face forward. Likewise, to point a camera skyward requires a 180 degree rotation of the head so that the opening is pointed backwards. Not a huge problem, just a a minor irritation. The Acratech Ultimate, at 4.25 inches (11.4 cm), is tall or at least tallish.

 

Next – The Really Right Stuff BH-40 with LR II Quick Release

Two things missing from the Acratech Ultimate Ball Head is, as I mentioned, are a  ball friction adjustment and a quick release. So I bought a RRS BH-40 with a quick release.

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The RRS BH-40 is even lighter at 13 ounces (.37 kg) and is of a more conventional ball trapped inside a sleeve construction. This sort of ball head can, rarely in my experience,  get stuff in between the ball and the case.That said, the ball never froze during my use but did become stiff to operate once or twice until the foreign substance worked its way out of the ball/sleeve space. It does not have the capacity of the Acratech Ultimate (18 pounds (8.2 kg) for the BH-40 and an honest 25 pounds f11.3 kg) or the Acratech  Ultimate but both are adequate for most DSLR use.

It is compact and short – just 3 inches (7.6 cm) tall. Construction is first rate. I’ve graduated up to a 1Ds Mark III and the BH-40  is less tippy than the Ultimate Ball head.

The Quick Release isn’t all that much quicker than screw type systems but does offer better feedback as you load the camera. Wide open, a camera with an Arca style plate drops in. As the lever is brought towards the lock position more and more force is required. Typically, this is not the case with knob type locks. Some don’t open sufficiently to allow the camera to be dropped in (so the camera plate slides in) and the feedback that declares that the camera is properly mounted and locked down is missing.

The immediate downside to a lever operated ball head is accidentally snagging the lever as you move from point A to point B. Catch the lever just right and you will have a very bad day. I rarely left the camera in place when moving any distance with this head.

I used the RRS GH-40 for 3 years and never got used to how fussy the head is. Not shown in the above illustration is how close the drag and rotation knobs are – or how small they are. Also, Acratech’s knobs are rubber coated, the BH-40 is shinny, cold metal. The adjustable, right sized lever on the side, which locks the ball, is great. The small, cramped pan and tension knobs are just too precious and close together. The rotation knob gets used constantly – precious won’t do.

 

Third – The Acratech GP / GP-S Ballhead

The Acratech GP (and its close cousin the GP-s) improve on both of the above. This is my current favorite.

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The Acratech GP Ballhead

 

Like the Acratech Ultimate, the ball is mostly exposed and, after a year of use, has always moved smoothly. The GP / GP-s has a large ball drag set knob lacking in the Arcratech Ultimate. The knobs are larger and rubber coated when compared to the BH-40. Just as importantly, the pan knob and the drag knob on the GP / GP-s are at 90 degree angles to each other rather than stacked one upon the other as on the BH-40.

The Acratech GP / GP-s lack a lever type quick release (as of 2013, a quick release is available.) However the double speed, rubberized locking knob is nearly as fast as a lever type lock. The head opens fully so a camera with an Arca type plate can drop in the heads clamp area. There is positive feedback as the plate is locked into the head. This system is a close second to the lever type.

Both can be field modified to change from a typical ball head to one with a leveling base. This is useful for panoramic photography and works well enough that it the G / GP-s can largely replace a traditional pan head. This modification does require an allen wrench and the inevitable opportunity to drop the screw that holds the quick release platform to the head into the nearest mineshaft – never to be seen again. It also requires that you bring the allen wrench which is just one more  thing (tm.)

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The Acratech GP “Flipped” and Modified with Leveling Base

 

I’ve settled on the Acreatech GP. It’s lightweight, less than one pound, is very well made, and the leveling base makes it particularly versatile. It’s tall, at a bit over 4 inches (10.5 cm) but with the ability to adjust the ball drag, it is plenty stable while adjusting a heavy load. I often use a 1Ds Mark III with a 24mm TS-E Mark II lens and with this head, I can stiffen the ball drag so that there are no sudden movements and the rubber coated ball lock tightens nicely – everything stays where I aim it.

And for a small, light ball head, the controls never feel cramped. I’ve used this tripod while wearing gloves –  something I could never quite do with the RRS BH-40.

 

 

 

On Using the Eye-Fi Pro – A Problem Solved

If asked about my photography I instinctively use the words landscape or exterior to describe what I do. While that was once accurate, lately it is less so. With the construction of commercial buildings in my part of California pretty much stopped this past year I’ve found my commercial work moving indoors.

My commercial exterior skill set was borrowed from years of shooting the West’s landscapes. Decisive framing, knowing good light from lesser light, and shooting fairly quickly are some of the skills that work just as well while shooting in a National Park or a squeaky new Office Building. Also, photographing the exterior of an office building, like shooting landscapes, is (most often) a solo activity.

In contrast, interior work is far less spontaneous and far more about staging and fussiness. While not necessarily more technical, indoor work definitely uses different set of tools. Unlike exterior work, interior photography is almost always collaborative and while I’m happy looking through a view finder for composition, most interior designers and other interested parties are not.

The solution, and there are several variations depending on the species of camera, involves either tethering the camera to a nearby laptop or talking to the laptop wirelessly. Either way images show up on a nearby laptop and crowds gather. While tethering is cheap and reliable, stringing cables between things that don’t drop or fall without suffering greatly, is an invitation to a bad day. Tethering is for the studio.

I shoot Canon Digital and Canon has a wireless solution, the WFT-E2A Wireless File Transmitter, by all accounts it works well. It is pricey and does lots of things that I don’t much care about. Enter the Eye-Fi Pro Wi-Fi / Airport enabled SD card. The Eye-Fi Pro lets most any camera that has an SD slot (my main shooting camera a Canon 1Ds III has both CF and SD slots) to transfer files via a wireless network. Most importantly it allows for an Ad hoc, aka direct camera to laptop, network setup.

I’ve tested it with my MackBook sitting a full 25 feet away and it pretty much just works… well after the obligatory “new thing not working at all” phase.

Setting Up an Ad hoc Network

The folks at Eye-Fi central have a far more grand vision for this little card than simply transferring files from here to there. While the Eye-Fi is plugged into the computer’s USB port, all these features are enabled and managed in a browser based application. This all goes well until it’s time to set up the Ad hoc network feature. To configure the card you have to be on a network. Let’s pretend you are on a wireless network as I was. To configure the ad hoc network you have to leave the network and create the computer to Eye-Fi link. This is unfortunate. If you try and do this wirelessly… well I couldn’t. The Eye-Fi browser application complained that it could not talk to Eye-Fi central every time I left the Airport network to configure the Ad hoc feature.

After a couple of rounds of this sort of behavior it became clear that what ever computer is being used to configure the card needs to be hard wired to the internet. After dusting off a spare ethernet cable and finding a spare port to plug it into, my MacBook and Eye-Fi were properly configured. The MacBook was able to talk via ethernet to Eye-Fi central while the wireless chatter between the MacBook and the Eye-Fi card set up the direct wireless link.

The Eye-Fi Pro allows for RAW files to be transferred. Saving (this is a slow, small capacity card) and sending big RAW seems unnecessary for this purpose. The 1Ds III allows for different files to be written to each of the two internal cards. I set up with RAW going to the fast CF card and a medium JPEG file is sent to the Eye-Fi. From click to transfer time seems strangely variable with maximum time of roughly one minute with less than 20 seconds more typical.

Fun With Folder Actions

While transferring a JPEG from camera to laptop using the Eye-Fi qualifies as a good trick, a real solution would display the resulting JPEG for the gathered crowds. Again, some solutions do this natively and others are home made. Follows is the latter.

As part of the Ad hoc network setup, the Eye-Fi application asks for a folder to load with the transferred JPEGs. Using the Automator application that ships with OS X I wrote a (very) simple action that automatically checks to see if anything has been added to the target folder and, when something arrives, to display it in the OS X native Preview application.

The workflow: Compose, worry about staging and lighting, and fire the shutter. The file is sent to the Eye-Fi Pro and from their to the anointed folder on the MacBook. The crowd stares at as the JPEG appears. Fault is found in the framing or the staging. Something is fixed, the shutter is tripped again…

Canon EOS 5d / 5D II Autofocus: More than adequate – much more.

There are many folks, some more reasonable than others, who have faulted Canon for using the same 9-point autofocus layout in the new / real-soon-now 5D II as the current / previous 5D.

This superb image set of Our New President and Our New Vice President, were taken with the original 5D. As I write this, over 1.25 million folks have viewed some or all of these 82 images. I will wager that not one of them thought, “boy, if there were more autofocus points and they were more widely dispersed, these would have been even better.” Not one.

But there is always the next toy. The original 5D’s LCD, now nearly three years old, can makes it sometimes seem more like a film camera with histograms. It is not water tight. It’s frame rate is pitifully slow…

…and it has a sensor that is (still) as good as any and better than most. Despite all the nattering, in the right hands it took these images. The Canon EOS 5D is, still, an excellent general purpose tool. It will remain, for some time to come, a better camera than most of us are photographers.

Specific to Landscape Photography – A Digital Image Workflow

Landscape photography is, as I discovered most of 25 years ago, nothing more than being a good technician, a passable artist and, most importantly, being there, set up and ready to shoot. These are the minimum qualifications. The ideal is to transcend the first two and to work hard in order to do so as often as possible.

f/8 and be there. With some lenses, f/11 and be there… If you hauled in a view camera, f/22 and be there…

A shooting day starts early, silly early, and ends only after the sun has set, the sky has gone dark, and a place has been found to spend the night. The middle of the day, when light is irredeemable, is spent looking for pictures, catching up on paperwork, planning, napping (see getting up early and going to bed late above) and traveling from here to there (the photography is almost always better there than it is here.)

Even as I’ve gone away from film and towards digital, the rhythm of shooting landscapes has barely changed.

A Very Simple Digital Workflow for the Landscape Photographer

Shoot exclusively in RAW. There are reasons to shoot JPEG but landscape photography is surely not one of them.

A bad memory card will cause heartache. Buy name brand memory cards and buy them in intermediate sizes. I’ve settled on 8 Gb Sandisk Ultra III for both Compact Flash and SDHC cards. No failures after thousands of frames.

A lost memory card will cause even greater heartache. Store them in a safe, dry place with two zippers between the card the outside world. Three zippers is better. Four zippers will, sooner than later, piss you off. Open the zippers to get to your card stash and, now this is where some folks get confused, close all the zippers when you are done.

As an aside… Cameras that write to multiple cards only seem expensive.

Back up your work each and every day.

I back up onto two Hyperdrive Space memory card backup devices. The Hyperdrive Space is a simple, relatively cheap and, very importantly, fast device. I use two because every hard drive every made has or will fail. I bought mine empty and currently have Seagate 160 Gb hard dives installed.

One of the Hyperdrives stays with me at all times. The other Hyperdrive is always separate and as well hidden as I know how.

I rotate through my three sets of memory cards. This gives me, for a day or two, a third back up for the most recent image files.

Photographing Iceland: Carrying All the Stuff

Long ago I found the commercially available camera backpacks to be over-engineered, too heavy and cost too much. Sure, encased in pounds of high density foam, your equipment would likely survive a drop of 30 feet. But, I asked myself, how often is this an issue.

My 4×5 equipment lives in a Dana (RIP), front loading Pack with the camera and lenses all safe in Gnass Gear (RIP?) cases. The pack is made for backpacking and other backcountry uses and easily carries 35-40 pounds. The camera infrastructure, the pack and the dedicated bags, weigh just 6 pounds (contrast this to the roughly equivalent Lowepro Photo Trekker which is nearly twice as heavy.) I figure it’s good for no more than a twelve foot drop. No, I’m not going to test it.

As I collected digital camera gear my first impulse was to go the build-it-yourself route. Once again, I needed a pack that was designed to carry well and was a front or panel loader. These are scarce and the ones that are available all had the same flaw – the front “rainbow” zipper stopped far short of the bottom of the pack

As Mark Dubovoy discovered and writes about over at Luminous Landscape the folks at RPT have a nice solution for large format types. The combine a modified Kelty Redwing Pack and custom lens cases into a decent carrying, lightweight system. And, to their everlasting credit, they modify the Redwing Pack so that the front panel zipper extends from the floor of the pack. But the system is intended for large format use…

So I bought one intent on making it work for DSLR cameras and lenses. A visit to the local Real Camera Store ™ solved the problem. Pelican makes a padded divider case that fits perfectly and they had one in the back. No I don’t have the model number but here is the link to the Pelican Case Accessories Page. It’s there somewhere.

The RPT Modified Redwing Pack with the Pelican Case padded divider weigh very little, provide plenty of protection for gear and look like this:

But, this nice carrying, light weight combo is too big to fly internationally.

So I fly with a Lowepro All Weather Mini Trekker and collapse the RPT/Pelican Pack and ship it in the belly of the plane. At 6’2″ the Mini Trekker is simply unwearable in the field. The pack is too small in every way but in particular, the waist belt is useless so your shoulders take the entire load.

Note how much longer the torso is on the RPT Kelty pack. Also, it is nicely adjustable and has a real, glad to help with the load, waist belt.

Photographing Iceland: The Traveling Kit

When I travel far from home I have two rules. OK, I have lots of rules but two that specifically that apply to traveling with photo equipment.

First: Everything that matters (and is allowed) travels with me in the sumptuous confines that are economy class.

Second: If any one thing breaks, something else can, more or less, take its place.