Friday, June 29, 2012

Radio Canada International in Pictures

As a follow-up to yesterday's Blog, I got up this morning wanting to get some more pictures of the RCI Shortwave facility, before it gets torn down (heaven forbid!) I would like to quote from my friend Gary Masson in his comment to yesterday - "Each time I drive by this I think about the expertise that has gone into building and maintaining this incredible site, that is "real Engineering" I think to myself."

Gary is so correct. This site should be kept standing, if or no other reason, than to be a monument to the  art of every kind of Engineering. Radio Engineering, obviously, because of the tremendous sophistication in that design of the antenna array, and the massive collection of Transmitters inside the building; Electrical Engineering with the rock solid overall performance that has endured many a lightening strike; Civil Engineering, as the antenna field is supported by almost two-dozen towers that have been sitting perfectly vertical in swampy ground through all kinds of storms ever since 1938; and Computer Engineering, as the massive array is switched to beam in many different directions at various power levels through each day and night.

I still have in my possession my College textbook on Radio Antennas, called "Antenna Theory, Analysis and Design" by Constantine A. Balanis. It's nearly 800 pages, with lots of diagrams and calculus. When I went to Community College in 1976-77, I really got deep into this, thinking it would unlock my career future. I aced the Radio and Antenna courses, but failed miserably at computers... I simply didn't get the idea of computers, and thought of them as something that only the Banking Industry might use!

So I set out early this morning to the road that leads to the back (eastern) side of the facility, called the Coles Island Road. I recall that at one time when I was quite young, the Broadcast AM transmitter and CBC Studio was also on this site, and the announcer would ID the station as "CBA Maritimes, from our studios at Coles Island". This road barely exists now. I had to park my car at the point where the road is nothing more than a wagon rut, and walk in about a kilometre to get the pictures I wanted. The main access to the facility is of course at the front road that connects to the Trans Canada Highway just South of Sackville.

I took most of the shots with panoramas in mind, as this is the only way the majesty of this site can be appreciated. I've also included some close-ups of the antenna webbing (could this be referred to as "the old world-wide-web" perhaps?)

Anyway, enjoy! Some other time this summer, I would like to go inside the site, with permission, and take a total 360 Panorama.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sad Day for Sackville... and Canada

Yesterday, Radio Canada International stopped broadcasting it's worldwide signal via Short-wave from its landmark transmitting facility next to the Trans-Canada Highway at my hometown of Sackville NB. Canada no longer has a worldwide voice. Sure, the RCI studio located in Montreal continues to send it's services over the Internet, but information-hungry people living under authoritarian regimes that block foreign IP content, or in countries that have yet to establish reliable internet service, or perhaps people anywhere who cannot afford internet, but already have a radio will no longer hear what Canada has to say. Here's an announcement from the local CBC News Service.

I have always felt the Voice of Canada radiating from Sackville, almost as a comfort, even before I made this my permanent home back in 2001. From childhood, just seeing that impressive antenna array that had stood proud since before World War II had caused me to be an avid short-wave listener, and I think of this as a supplement to my education, even as a young boy, as I listened to short-wave broadcasts from many other countries.

I really hope that the site doesn't get dismantled. I'm sure it would be a great location for a wind turbine field, but it's an even better location for short-wave broadcasts, with the salt-marshes acting as a natural signal reflector and an ideal ground-plane, it was originally built here for a reason - the best location in the country for such a facility. My hope is that at least some other short-wave broadcaster will purchase the entire site turn-key. This, however, will not change the fact that Canada's unique voice of democracy has now been strangled forever, as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

A sad... very sad day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Going All Retro Again

Photography is as much about the experience of taking pictures as it is about the results, I think. Your experience of taking pictures is strongly linked to the camera you are using, and occasionally, I like to set myself up with something that is somewhat vintage or retro. So last evening, I took my camera for a walk equipped with one of my favourites - the Industar 50-2 Lens from Russia, already covered here. There's quite a size difference between a Canon Rebel and the EOS 7D, so I'm not suggesting that I can convert the 7D into a pocket camera (although a belt pouch or purse is still a possibility). This little lens is truly amazing - it boggles me every time I see how sharp and full of rich contrasts the results are - and they still can be bought for $35 or less!

This time, I added a lot more to my retro experience. I got my Flip-Bac in the mail yesterday from Hong Kong. It's a hinged mirror you put on the back of your camera, so that you can see your LCD at waist level. Here it is mounted on my camera:

At first glance, it looks like I've added a flip-down LCD to my camera, which is not possible of course, and in fact, it's only a mirror, and as such, it makes your LCD image upside down and backwards! Kind of useless at first glance, but it was only seventeen bucks, and if nothing else, it makes the ultimate LCD Protector. But I saw a little more in it. I've often wondered what it would have been like for people who took pictures (and still do!) with one of these. It has a waist level viewfinder which makes the view upside down and backwards, and it's Tessar type lens is exactly like the Industar 50. So, did I manage to turn my DSLR into an instant Yashica-Mat?

In my own mind, yes I did, although I'm sure that bona-fide users would chuckle. But in terms of composing my pictures at waist level on a viewer that's upside down and backwards through a Tessar lens, I certainly nailed it! The only thing missing is the crank film advance (and the film). So what was it like? What if the Yashica-Mat were my only camera? Well, it would be a major adjustment, but back in the day, I'm sure people got accustomed to this way of shooting very quickly. I had real trouble at first especially with the camera's rotation - when one is used to levelling the camera to the right or left, and now the view is opposite, it's just like trying to steer a car backwards I suppose. But toward the end, I was quickly getting the hang of it.

It's just a lot of fun trying new things, and I will definitely be using this quite a lot, I think. Here are all of my keepers from this little adventure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Let's Talk Computers

Today, Microsoft announced the launch of their new Tablet, and a new Windows system to go with it. It looks nice, but then, all Tablets do, don't they? I'm not going to judge the effort at all, because I've not yet seen this machine of course. I notice one rather nifty feature is the way they've integrated a "real" keyboard into the cover. This may be the big differentiator, because although every other tablet out there today has a provision for a real keyboard, I think it's always some kind of added cost optional arrangement. This looks like a nicely designed "next-gen" Netbook-becomes-Tablet computer. The real  tale will be told when we all get to see the Windows that's running on this little gem. Unless Microsoft has finally, after all these years, really figured out how to make a good Operating System, it's going to be hard for this Tablet to compete against Apple and Android devices, because I can think of three huge reasons why Windows is the worst of all OS's:

  1. It is always prone to computer viruses and malicious attacks, and always requires some 3rd Party security software, as well as expensive "Microsoft Partner" action on the part of your internet Service Provider to maintain overall security.
  2. Windows, in it's attempts to "bend over backwards" to make a positive computer experience for first time users, always ends up with an extremely bloated system that when combined with all the 3rd-Party extras needed for security, stretches the computer's hardware resources to the extreme limit. As far as I know, there is not much an experienced computer user can do to "unbloat" the system. Also, Microsoft has yet to figure out how to keep Windows performance from degrading over time, with the requirement for periodic maintenance.
  3. Although Windows itself is "free" (built into the price of the computer) for photographers, as well as anybody who requires a computer for intensive real world applications, all of the good software costs a lot of money. I'm talking about programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, but also included are Microsoft Outlook and Office. 
Fortunately, there is an answer to all this - one which keeps getting better all the time, whilst Microsoft at the same time keeps getting worse and worse. The solution is Linux, at least with respect to the above three objections to Windows -

  1. Linux is impervious to every kind of malicious attack, as long as you install one of the major "marketed" distributions such as Ubuntu or Fedora, among many others. The reason for this is because these Distributions (Distros) maintain very tight control over the software packages that can be installed, not allowing anything into each Distro Universe other than what has been tested and approved. Also, you as the end user must give a password authorization for every change request that comes in.
  2. Linux has many ways to make the computer experience user friendly. For those of you who still think that Linux is "just for super-geeks who still live in their parent's basements who take extreme sadistic delight in doing everything with a Command-Line", well, that ended years ago. Linux tends to build custom systems (Sub-Distros, or "Forks") that depend upon what the user wants to do with a computer, as opposed to Microsoft's way of trying to please everybody, and ending up pleasing nobody. If you want something that's basic, user-friendly and lightening fast, there are plenty of Forks available that are exactly that. Also, every Linux is designed exactly the same way under the hood, and that design NEVER slows down over time, NEVER requires maintenance, and even the most heavy Distro is NEVER as bloated as Windows. 
  3. Linux offers many very serious Software Packages (Apps) that rival the big commercial players in capabilities, absolutely free of charge. I've mentioned GIMP many times here before as a free alternative to Photoshop. Although not exactly the same, if you've had a Photoshop course, then you'll very quickly adapt to GIMP - they do exactly the same things, just in slightly different ways. And yesterday, I discovered a Linux alternative to Lightroom called "Darktable" - they do a workflow with RAW files in almost the same way.
There are still some caveats to Linux - nothing is perfect. The biggest reason for Windows Objection #1 above is that Linux is impervious to virus attacks for another reason than the one given - that is because Linux is still used by less than 5% of computer users, so malicious targeters are not bothering with it. Case in point, it's now a whole different ballgame with Tablets and Smartphones that use Google's Android system. Android is Linux based, and because of Android's huge market share, there are some big security concerns that are beginning to emerge. The same goes for Apple, which is also built on Free BSD, another Linux Distro. However, for Desktop and Laptop users, Linux is still your safest bet by far. 

I've been a Linux follower for about ten years now, and at first, I found it impossible, simply because back then, it was still for the "super-geek", and also, my computer skills were not like they are now. But at some point about four years ago, something just clicked - Ubuntu had developed into the most user-friendly Linux Distro available, and at about the same time, I just "got it" - I kind of clued in to the way computers really work at about the same time that Linux was making huge strides toward user-friendly computing.

Here is a screenshot of my latest most favourite Distro, called Ubuntu Studio ver. 12.04:

I think it looks incredibly attractive, and it's all so highly intuitive and functional. The top panel is the combined Application Launcher and Controller (just like Windows used to be), with the ability to view four different screens on the far right (Windows never had this, Linux always has); the Icons on the left of the screen show all devices that are attached to the system, with mouse-clickable access for exploring / mounting / unmounting each one (something extremely useful which Windows never had), and the bottom panel is a very Mac-Like totally customizable bar which I've set up like a System Tray. In the middle you can see two windows open where I'm transferring all of my pictures from my upstairs computer to my downstairs computer over my home network.

This is by far my favourite Distro yet.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Camera and the Single Eye

My entry today has a Mystical aspect to it, which I hope you as readers won't find too "off the wall". I think that people with a strong Spiritual gifting will understand. It has to do with what Jesus said about seeing things Spiritually - (quote):

Matthew 6:  22 "The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light."

Jesus was not talking about our "eyes" here as we know them, but rather a different single "eye" with which we are to see  Spiritual Light. Many people are blind - their eyes have never functioned, yet they are able to see Spiritually, sometimes better than most. Just because a blind person cannot see physically, that doesn't render him to having a body full of darkness. 

Occasionally, my camera has become my "Single Eye" with which I see Spiritually. Click on the above picture to enlarge it and you'll see a recent example. I only noticed it after I had the photo loaded in my computer and started working with it - the cows at this very moment had arranged themselves in exactly the same visual pattern as the shortwave radio towers back on the horizon.  Just as I was composing the picture, the cows were moving themselves about, then they settled down, as if completing their pose for me, and then I took the shot.

This is a very personal thing for me - the Single Eye is the Holy Grail, so to speak. If we are alert to the Spirit, we will find that many times during the day we "TURN ASIDE," to see the Lord in the situations and happenings of our day.  HE IS THERE!  Just as He came to Joshua, and he "lifted up his eyes, and looked," and SAW-- so we also need only to LIFT UP OUR EYES, turn aside from our earth-consciousness, to see that HE IS THERE-- a dimension that goes BEYOND.

Many times things like this kind of "appear" to me through the camera - a glimpse of the transcendent in the mere ordinary, especially something about the Divine Unity in God's activity among us, showing Him continually working towards His ultimate day of restoration of all things unto Himself.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Protecting Your Pictures Online

Last week, one of my five known readers asked me about protecting your picture once you've put them "out there" for the world to see. The answer could be as simple as this, but yet, it's something that is impossible to make simple. This write-up by the Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators is a very good guideline, and in terms of a "how to", I could not offer any better. But in terms of actually "protecting" your work from "online theft", I think I can offer some advice that goes beyond the matter of copyright laws. The laws are very simple - as the CAPIC article says, unless you're work was commissioned and paid for by someone, or unless you work for a Company who takes rights to your photography in exchange for salary or commissions, your pictures belong to you, and you have all rights to do as you please with them, including making money. It makes an important point that when you "sell", you are actually selling the license to your work, not the actual work itself.

The part that is difficult to grasp for some people may be that even though you have put your photos in Online Albums with a Public access setting (which is what I always do), if somebody does a "right-click-save" on my pictures, this does not mean they have "stolen" the picture from me. The picture, by law, still belongs to me exclusively, even though I've done nothing whatsoever to protect my rights. I can still make a print of the picture, sign my name to it and sell it at a local Gallery. Also, if somebody specifically wants to pay me a fee to use one of my photos in a brochure, I still have that right of ownership, and on one occasion I have actually done so, even though in that case I agreed the fee would be $0.00. It went down this way - Natural Resources Canada requested from me, by email, non exclusive rights to use this picture in their publications.  I could have said "yes, for a fee" and have been within my rights, but for a very good reason, I did not - I simply replied to the email granting them the rights to use it for free.

What possible "very good reason" would I have for giving something away to the Government for free? For starters, exactly because it was the Government. Although unlikely, they could have easily turned me over to Revenue Canada for investigation if I am in the business of selling photographs, but in fact I'm not. And herein lies the point of "protecting your pictures online" - you're either in the business, or you're not. I am not, therefore I have no vested interest in protecting myself, and I know that, by law, when I upload to Flickr with "All Rights Reserved", I do retain legal ownership of all my photos.

But don't I want to make extra money? Sure, I'm retired, and I could always use some extra money. The issue for me, however, is well explained here. Photography for me is pure pleasure - a fascination that also provides me a little fresh air and exercise. Turning into a business would completely ruin it for me. Besides, making extra money in any manner right now would really upset my very good Income Tax position.

I tend to look at Photography purely as a Visual Art, and the only ambition I have is to make large prints of some of my work and display them in a small local Art Gallery, either as "one-off's" or limited editions, and place smallish price tags on them. Beyond that, the reason I so willingly put my pictures "out there" is to generate some recognition, and solicit feedback - if I were in business this would be akin to free advertising and marketing. For me right now, I'm more interested in "Copyleft" than Copyright.

I will leave you with some pointers, if you are considering getting into "the business", and for that reason want to protect your work online:

  1. Keep in mind that no matter what, unless you have signed your pictures over to another party in exchange for commission or salary, by virtue of "All Rights Reserved", the pictures, and the right to license them, are yours.
  2. If you really don't want anybody to take copies of your work ("right-click-save"), then don't put them online. The downside of this of course is that the world will never see them. (Ask yourself - what did Photographers do before the internet happened?)
  3. Put them online but make them "useless for consumption"
  • Make very small copies and export them, not your full sized originals, or
  • Put a Copyright watermark somewhere on the image
Simply make sure you really know what you want. There really is not a lot of sense in worrying about somebody "out there" stealing your pictures, unless you've truly found a way to make good money with them, in which case, you need to set yourself up as a Professional Photographer, with all the things that go along with that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How to Organize Your Pictures Online

This is a continuation from yesterday's .. a Part B if you like.

Yesterday's main intent was to encourage you to design a scheme of your own for organizing your digital photographs IN YOUR COMPUTER'S FILE  SYSTEM. I showed you the scheme that I use, but you may prefer another of your own, or make it like someone else's you know, it doesn't matter. The point is - make a scheme of your own, not using the software that came with your camera - that should only be installed AFTER YOU CREATE YOUR FOLDER SCHEME. Doing it this way, the software will automatically pick up and arrange your photos in the way you've already designed, and keep it that way. If you install the software first, then it will force you to organize your photos in the way that it prefers, which usually pleases nobody but the person who designed the software.

Let's talk about camera software for a minute. Every new camera comes packed with a software CD that usually contains four types of programs for Windows and MAC:

  1. Image Sorting and Browsing Assistant
  2. Advanced Image Editing
  3. Tricks and Enhancements (such as Panorama Stitching)
  4. Camera Specific Aids (such as Proprietary RAW Conversion)

I always install them in Windows, and try them out, but seldom if ever use any of them, even when working in Windows. The first two especially tend to be nothing more than re-inventions of the wheel, unless your camera comes with something more universal, such as Elements, ACD-See or Silkey-Pix. But if it's not a well known branded 3rd Party Software such as these, I've always found them to be rather non-intuitive, in spite of an aim to be "beginner friendly". Sadly, these programs will simply lead a beginner into a lot of bad habits, and if he/she takes a lot of pictures, will leave them in an unsorted mess.

The ultimate goal of Image Sorting and Browsing is to not only get your pictures arranged on your Computer in a sensible fashion, but also to get them arranged on-line, to give your pics an Internet presence. Canon's packaged software, for example, enables you to upload your pictures to the Canon Website, Image Gateway. But strangely enough, just like most camera maker's software, there are frustrating flaws. In this case, all Canon cameras label their JPEG files as *.JPG (capital letters) in the camera, but Image Gateway does not recognize this as a file type - to upload your pictures to this site, you have to change all your pictures to *.jpg (lower case)!!! I point this out to make my next point:

Beginners Advice of the Day - let the camera manufacturers make their great cameras, but let the software firms make their great software. This is just another way of saying you might as well not bother with any camera branded software, but stick to the software giants instead - Adobe, Google, Apple - they all make excellent Sorting and Browsing software that puts your pictures on the Internet.

Personally, I'm a Google man all the way, and they are the creators of Picasa and Picasa Web Albums.
Let's talk about the difference between them - it's important. Picasa is a "Client" Software, which means that it does it's thing by being installed and running directly on your computer. You don't need to be connected to the Internet to use it for organizing and viewing your pictures, but if you are connected to the internet, you can use it to "push" (export) your pictures into the Internet, to appear on Picasa Web Albums. Now, picasa Web Albums in turn, is not installed on your Computer, but runs from the Internet via your Google Account (if you already use GMail, you already have a Picasa Account - cool!) Try it - just go to  Picasa Web Albums and login to it using your Gmail username and password.

In order for this whole Picasa thing to work, you don't really need the Picasa "client" installed, as long as you're on the internet all the time, because Picasa Web Albums is used by "pulling" (import, upload) your photos directly into Internet "Web Albums" which you define in three easy steps. That's the beauty of it. The whole idea is that once you've created a Web Album, that Album has it's own unique internet presence (URL), so that you can copy and paste each Album you create into Emails, or another Website such as your Blog, just like I did here.

Now for those of you "in the know", you might think I'm a little peeved off because of this. Not so. A certain Linux program called GwenView quickly came to the rescue with a bunch of Export Plugins, among them "Export to Picasa Web Albums". When I use GwenView to export my pictures, it locates my pictures in my Windows File System (while I'm using Linux - remember yesterday's topic), and then exports them in exactly the same fashion as the Picasa client does in Windows.

But here's the bottom line: as long as you're connected to the Internet (who isn't?), you don't need any Client Software - simply do all this:

  • leave your camera software CD unwrapped in the box 
  • forget about everything I said above 
  • organize your photos in your File System under "Pictures" in a way that best works for you, using my advice from yesterday as your guide 
  • use your favourite Web Service to import / upload your photo "collections" - this will always create unique URL's for each Collection, or for each individual photo if you wish. 

The only trick is that you need to be able to find your photos in order to upload them - and that again goes back to yesterdays lesson - if you immediately pre-organize them into Folders that are meaningful to you at the time of transfer from your camera to your computer, you'll always be able to find them.

Here is a summary of Web Services that all provide this very same result of creating URL - shareable photo collections:

Chances are, you're already using one of these services. I simply cannot emphasize enough that no matter which Web Service you will use for organizing and sharing your photos online, if you cannot find them because you have not organized them OFFLINE, it will lead to nothing but frustration.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Store Your Pictures

Yesterday I touched on various possibilities on how to shoot your pictures (RAW or JPEG), but from there, it went into such things as separating your RAW's from your JPEG's, backing up your RAW's to a safe place, making new kinds of pictures from old ones - all of which bring up the question, "How would I manage all this stuff?" Most photographers each find their own way of keeping track of all their files; I'd like to offer some tips to beginners who may not know the best way to start, and especially to those for whom a first Digital Camera purchase also means a first computer purchase, or maybe "getting over your head" in the family PC, beyond using Email and Facebook. Please don't feel insulted, embarrassed or ashamed that I'm speaking at this level - if you already know this stuff, all the better, but believe me, I've known dozens of Managers in an IT Company who really had no idea how to manage computer files - they're the ones you see with dozens of icons plastered all over their desktops. It's not that such folks are stupid. It's because Microsoft Windows never made it easy. I think that in the course of this post, you'll see why, and at the same time, learn how.

I use Linux, not Windows, although I have both on my computer. When you have both, Linux is able to fully integrate with the Windows Filing System, but not the other way around - Windows cannot see or do anything with Linux. Therefore, I store all of my files in the Windows System using Linux to do it, even though the Linux Filing System is far more simple and intuitive, as we shall see. I do this simply so I can get at my files using both systems. The Screenshots I'm about to show are Linux, but it doesn't matter, because it's the Windows 7 Filing System that I'm demonstrating. I'm just using Linux as the "viewer" into the Windows world. I'm doing it this way for two reasons; 1) Linux has a free Screenshot editing program, Windows doesn't, and 2) I also want to show you how much simpler Linux is to use than Windows (that's right!) for your personal consideration.

So let's get started. Every new Camera comes with some kind of "Photo Management" software, to "help you organize your pictures". Don't bother with it - I'm going to show you a better way, and even if you choose to use the software that came with your camera, you should do what I'm going to show you before you even install that software anyway. I am going to show you how to organize your pictures in a system of folders directly in your Windows File System.

First, some File System basics. This shot shows where the Windows File System begins - the good old "Documents and Settings". How utterly STUPID, and it's no wonder people get confused and simply plunk all their files onto their desktop! Click on this to make it bigger:

"Documents and Settings" contains more than just "documents" - it also contains all your music, downloads, and PICTURES. Also, it does not contain any "settings" that you can actually do anything about, and even if it did, who cares!

A bit of an explanation here - my computer auto-installed Windows 7 when I first turned it on, like most new machines do these days. When it did so, it divided the whole Windows installation into two entities named "System" and "OS". Now "OS" is called "Operating System", but that's not where the operating system is installed; it is put into the area labelled "System", and the "Documents and Settings" are put into the one labelled OS!!! Once you figure this out, if you ever really do, then your well on your way. Welcome to the world of Bill Gates!

The above screenshot also shows how Linux gets it right - it all starts in a simple list of "Documents", Music", "Pictures", "Videos" and "Downloads". In Linux, there's absolutely nothing else that matters - you simply click on one of these 5 main categories and start filing.

Here is another view of the Linux File System, showing it's utter simplicity, and also the fact that all of your devices are shown within the same system for easy access, compared to the stupid Windows way of giving everything a new "Drive Letter" that means nothing ("E:", "F:", etc.)

But I am assuming that most readers are not using Linux (shame, shame...) so the rest of this tutorial will show you the Windows way.

In this screenshot, I've opened up the Windows File System to the place that matters - "Pictures":

The overall path in Windows is at the top. As you can see, under "Documents and Settings" there's another folder called "Dave" and under that, I finally find my Documents, Downloads, Music, Videos and Pictures. Under pictures, I have everything set up in a bunch of Folders labelled by "YEAR Topic" - in this case you see "2012 Sackville". Others are '2012 BW, 2012 Art, 2012 People, 2012 Creatures, 2012 Places, etc. and for other years I've got 2009 Cars... 2010 Places... 2011 Creatures... and what have you. I try to keep it fairly consistent. Optionally, under each of these YEAR Topic Folders, if I take a lot of pictures under that particular topic, I create monthly folders 01 Jan, 02 Feb... 06 Jun as you can see here. And that's pretty much it - all my photos are filed by YEAR Topic > Month. I should also note that for my RAW files, I have "YEAR RAW > Month" the same way, and as I mentioned yesterday, I make sure these get backed up to another drive.

Finally, this shot shows how I load my pictures from my camera to my Windows File System:

The left pane is my Windows (showing some of my YEAR Topic Folders to give you the idea), and the right pane is my Camera Memory Card. I simply select groups of photos (using "Ctrl - Click" method), then Drag 'n' Drop the photos into the appropriate Folders. Any photo on the Camera labelled as a *.CR2 is a RAW file, so I make sure I drag them into the RAW Folder, thus separating them from the JPEG's.

So there - I've taught you a little bit about how to organize your photos into Folders without using the software that comes with your camera, I've taught you how stupid Windows really is, and I've demonstrated the superior qualities of Linux all in one Tutorial. I hope you found it fun.

Tomorrows topic will be a continuation of this one - How to Organize Your Pictures Online.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

RAW or JPEG - Which Is Really Best?

This is a question that is greatly fussed about among Professional Photography Bloggers. Some say that RAW is just a waste of time and space, especially with more recent cameras that do nearly immaculate inside processing. Others say that to get the ultimate image quality and control, you should always shoot with RAW. I have my own opinions.

First, for Beginners, what am I even talking about here? A brief explanation - all Digital Cameras create JPEG Format files as their output - it is the one of many digital image industry standards which has become the most popular by far, so it is universal among Digital Cameras. RAW files, on the other hand, are only produced by "enthusiast" and "professional" cameras; DSLR's always, as well as most newer high-end Compacts. RAW files in fact are not "pictures" at all, but are the actual computer data which the camera produced in order to describe and create a picture. All cameras actually create such data in the process, but the cameras that allow you to shoot in "RAW Mode" are in reality, simply letting you get at that data yourself so you can convert it into a real picture, instead of the camera doing it for you. The cheaper cameras that don't have a RAW Mode just go ahead and create a JPEG picture without letting you "get at" the actual data. In order to "get at" the data in a meaningful way and create the picture yourself, you need RAW Conversion Software on your computer (such as Photoshop, GIMP, Photivo, or the Windows / MAC Software that came with your camera).

Okay, so a lot of people view the RAW file as your "Digital Negative", and that's a rather "cool" way of looking at it. As it allows you the most flexibility of all in what you decide to do with your pictures, including future printing in Poster Size if you like, then the advocates of RAW say that you should "keep all your negatives" for that reason alone. They do take up a lot of disk space, typically 25 MB or more. compared to 2.5 to 4 MB for a typical JPEG, so if you're really serious about keeping your negatives for many years, you probably should keep them in "safe digital storage", in other words, not on your main computer hard drive for very long.

My opinion has evolved with experience. Early on, once I actually had a camera with RAW, I simply "played it safe" and shot everything RAW, no matter what. This was educational for a beginner, because it forced me to learn all the capabilities of my RAW Software - something I highly recommend for any beginner. It's very important to learn how to use all of your photo processing and organizing software correctly. But soon I realized that quite a few of my photo-shoots had no real benefit in using RAW Mode for everything. Cat Shows for instance. I usually come home with nearly 200 pictures from a Cat Show, most of them are lousy and only a third of them would be keepers. Also, I know that I would NEVER want to make a poster print of any photo from a Cat Show. So, once I experienced the great inconvenience of having to view every shot in my RAW Software first, then adjusting and converting the "keepers", I realized I don't need to shoot Cat Shows in RAW. I'm sure others of you should have your equivalent to Cat Shows (like Birthday Parties perhaps?)

Most cameras will shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time, so how about doing that? Well, it is a good idea, except keep in mind that you'll need to separate them into two different folders on your computer in order to make the most of them, so that's a little extra work. But there's one occasion when you should ALWAYS shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time - that's when you want your camera to make a Black and White JPEG. I've illustrated this at the top. Same shot, but the first one is the B&W JPEG, and the second one is the RAW file which I converted to JPEG using GIMP. You might also notice the Black and White version seems to have a little more detail too. That's because in conjunction with the Monochrome setting, I also had my camera's "Highlight Tone Priority" turned on. This makes the camera's JPEG conversion do the following (quote from the manual, page 209):

"Improves the highlight detail. The dynamic range is expanded between the standard 18% grey and bright highlights. The gradation between the greys and highlights becomes smoother".

Although the manual doesn't mention it specifically, this sounds exactly like something you'd want to happen for a B&W photo, doesn't it?

Note to Beginners - how come the RAW one is in colour?
It's because - recall that the RAW File is always ALL OF THE DATA about the picture, ALWAYS, no matter what kind of JPEG output you're asking from your camera, in my case, Black and White. This will be true no matter what - you might have your camera set for "Vivid" colour, or "Toy Camera Effect", but such camera settings are for JPEG output only. The RAW will always be the "plain old" colour picture. Cool eh? So, if you shoot RAW + JPEG at the same time, your JPEG will match your current camera settings, while the RAW will be "simple vanilla colour", which you can later use your Software to turn it into something else, like a B&W, Vivid colour, Toy, Sepia, LOMO, whatever.

Another advantage of RAW is that the file has a lot more exposure forgiveness than an already converted JPEG file. So if you make a serious exposure mistake, like way too light or too dark, you can use RAW Software to make it right without losing picture detail in the highlights or shadows. That's because, within limits, all that detail is still there in the RAW data, but once the data has been converted to a JPEG, it's locked in, with a lot less wiggle room to correct the mistake. In less extreme cases, RAW is also better for making fine exposure adjustments, like if you want to recover just a little shadow detail.

The final word - I'm generally in favour of "keeping your digital negatives" except for those obvious cases where you don't care. One thing about it that I still find helpful is that it allows me to spend more time with my own pictures - I can go back to something I might have shot four years ago, and use my RAW Software to make a completely different picture from it if the mood strikes me. It's a big part of what makes photography into art.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Video? Me?

It was kind of cool that as soon as I arrived home with the new camera, I had an "event" someone wanted me to photograph for the annual Day of Caring. There were lots of kids and grown ups just having fun and chillin'. I barely had time to charge my battery, but I made it and here are the pictures. And, as a bonus, totally unlearned, I shot my first video with a Digital SLR Camera ever! Now please, family and friends, notice what I just said... this was NOT my first video ever - you all know I have that cheap little JVC Everio Camcorder, but that's not even in the same league. Yes, in some ways it's better, being "purpose-built" and having an incredible 42X zoom lens that makes no zooming motor noise whatsoever. But now that they're putting Video Recording capability into all DSLR cameras, even the very least expensive models, this has become a real game-changer. The reason for that is, with a DSLR's large film-sized image sensor, you can now have the capability to shoot Video that would still look good on a large theatre screen. That's right- you can be Cecil B DeMille for as little as $400.00! Just to show how serious a game this has become, have a quick look at this ad. There's a whole new industry competing for big bucks that can put any DSLR available in stores today into the heart of a film-maker-serious Video Camera system.

Would I even be tempted to get into this? Certainly not yet, but as they say, "never say never". There's a huge difference between Photography and Film-Making (my most obvious statement of the day), and although I am a movie buff (I typically watch two movies every night), it is still the art of the single shot that intrigues me the most.

I guess the whole point of this post is that if you like shooting amateur video, and are leaning toward getting semi-serious about it, there is now a completely amazing emerging technology opening up that can get you into film production "on the cheap". Once again, "ho-hum, old news" right?

Right. But getting back down to earth, if you are the owner of any digital camera of any type, even some of the least expensive models (and even smart phones - old news again) made in the past two years, chances are, it will record HD (High Definition) video. It's very nice to have that capability right in your pocket - amazing really, that you can now go to a Mud Bog and record all the action to share with your friends almost in real-time! But I want to leave you with just one tip today-

Beginners Tip of the Day:

It's a real simple one - just because your camera can record High Definition doesn't mean that you should. My first video clip, mentioned above, is 50 seconds long, but it took one hour and fifteen minutes to upload it over my standard DSL Broadband connection! That's over one minute per second! If that's OK with you, fine (if you happen to have "uncapped broadband" like I do). But most likely, not all of your family and friends have uncapped broadband, and to download one or two of your great HD video clips could blow their limit for the month! "Damn, now he tells me!" I hear all you Rogers Internet customers cursing me up and down after you clicked the link to watch my hoakey little video.

The solution is simple - unless you know for sure that your video is going to become part of a high quality film production someday, be sure to set your camera's Video Recording to it's lowest setting possible. On a computer screen, or even on a big screen HDTV, a 640X480 video clip of the kids having fun, or the kittens being cute, will be just as enjoyable to everyone, as if you had shot it in full HD!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The New Camera

I now have a few days in with my new Canon EOS 7D, so it's a good time to write up my first impressions. As you'll see in my previous post, it was truly a spur of the moment decision resulting from the most expensive possible failure of my well worn EOS 40D (a truly marvellous camera itself, which I'll probably get fixed once my finances recover). I've spent more time reading the manual, navigating the cameras setup menus, and reading various Professional Reviews than I have actually shooting, but this has to be all part of the process, right?

The EOS 7D is not exactly a "new" camera, being first introduced in 2009, but this itself speaks well of it I think. It shows that it is a high end product, not subject to yearly changes and frequent upgrades, because they got it right the first time. In fact, three years later, I'm not sure that Canon really needs to add anything yet to keep the EOS 7D competitive.

This is one camera purchase that for me is full of pleasant surprises that I can really use. Here's what I like the most:

  • The largest, clearest optical viewfinder on any DSLR of this type. A camera's optical viewfinder is by far the most important feature to me, and so by all accounts, I've gotten the best in class by far
  • In my last post I was bemoaning the fact that I'd like to have a rotating LCD display like the EOS 60D, but in the store, found this was the 60D's only redeeming feature. But since I got the 7D home, I found that the 7D's display is truly special in itself, being made from hardened glass, and sealed into the body with a special optical gel, it's amazingly tough, with the best visibility I've ever seen in bright light, and viewable from extreme off-angles. 
  • Grid patterns can be switched on or off electronically on both the Viewfinder and the rear LCD - very innovative! Also, there are selectable guidelines for different aspect ratios to assist in composition using Square Camera, 4:3, 3:5, 6:7, etc. This is one of my favourite features, as I'm a real nut for aspect ratios! (Note to beginners - aspect ratios is the same as choosing the dimensions of a canvas on which you're going to paint a picture - it's great to have guidelines in your viewfinder that assist in composing your picture this way without having to guess at it)
  • The built in pop up flash also has the capability to control remote flashes without wires
  • As I like using older manual focus lenses, I found the focus-assist "beep" and visual indicator to be much more sensitive in low light, or when using the lens's aperture stopped down (compared to doing this with the 40D)
  • More Megapixels than you'll ever need (18 MP) means that setting the camera to shoot "Medium" (8 MP) or "small" (4.5 MP) will result in superior picture quality, as the camera will do less "Bayer Interpolation" at the lower settings (Note to beginners - this is the way a camera gives a "best guess" at what a colour value is supposed to be at each Pixel Point; at maximum resolution, it has to guess a lot, at medium, much less and at low, there's no guessing at all. It's counter-intuitive I know, but always remember that more Megapixels merely results in the ability to make bigger and bigger prints, and that 4.0 MP will still give a great 8X10 print, and so you'll get more accurate colour shooting at the lower resolution settings, sacrificing only the print size)
  • Professional grade water and dust resistance
  • Camera itself is very light, in spite of it's size, and professional boatload of features
  • Zone Autofocus works with both Auto Focus and Manual Focus "assist" lenses - PERFECT for the way I take pictures!
Here are a few disappointments:
  • The low light focus assist "beam" is still done with very annoying bursts from the camera's flash - why -oh -why Canon can't you do this like every other camera? Oh well, the Auto Focus of this camera is so sensitive in low light, you'd rarely need the "beam" anyway
  • I think my first pictures taken with my Sigma 17-70 lens are slightly out of focus. Probably if I was using a Canon lens, it would be perfect. However, this camera, like other pro-grade cameras from Canon, allows for focus micro-adjustment which will "remember" up to 20 lenses. I'll have to investigate this in the future - nice to know this can be calibrated if needed
  • Almost too many setup choices and options - too many ways of doing the same thing it seems
  • No provision for time-lapse photography (although a time-lapse remote control is available)
  • No built in HDR or other "trick photography" like, say, Pentax is now offering
Finally, here are a few features that I don't care about yet, but it's nice to know they're there:
  • Fastest burst rate in it's class - 8 frames per second  - I don't shoot sporting events
  • Full HD Video shooting - you never know, now that I've got a camera with Video, I might start using it
  • 19 Point Auto-Focus - I love the "Zone Focus" mode, but the rest is rather confusing and gets in the way in my opinion. Pro Reviewers love this however, so if I ever become a Pro, I might like it too.
There is so much more to this camera, but these are the things that are important to me. The most important things are the most simple - I finally got a Digital Camera with a viewfinder that's almost as good as film cameras use to have, and this alone is worth the price. Everything else is a bonus for me. It's rather strange how I find this to be so important, as most new Digital Cameras don't have Optical Viewfinders at all, like they're supposed to be a thing of the past. Call me old school, but I still find that looking through real glass is the best way to use a camera to make a picture,

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Well, So Much for Cheap!

Last time, I mentioned "I'm all about cheap". Sadly, my wonderful EOS 40D bit the dust! The previous owner sold it to me at a really good price, and we both knew the shutter count was over 100,000 when I bought it, and I was willing to take the risk. I got almost a year of shooting from one of Canon's best ever cameras, so I can't complain, really. The new shutter assembly can be installed professionally for $350, and it's well worth it with this camera, but I decided instead to replace it with a new EOS 7D. Although I'm no longer "on the cheap", I'm glad I did this - it's one truly amazing camera! Henry's had a great Father's Day deal going, so that helped. Above is a sample shot that I was able to take as soon as I first charged the battery.

I won't go into all the technicalities, because if you're interested in that stuff, you can read this link. But what I do want to talk about is the "ways and means" of camera marketing these days. Everything is about product placement now. The natural evolution of the EOS 40D should be the new EOS 60D, and when I went into Henry's, that is what I was pretty sure I wanted to buy, although I had the 7D in the back of my mind, especially with the Father'd Day deal, the price difference wasn't that great. But once I got the 60D in my hand, I couldn't believe how BAD it was!! Canon has seriously downgraded this range of cameras all in the interest of product placement. Whereas the 40D feels solid as a brick, the new 60D is now cheap plastic that has gaps in the seams! Sure, it has lots of great new features, like a rotating Display LCD, (something I'd love to have), but it just felt like in less than a year, the rotating gizmo would break and fall off just like a lobster's claw! I wasn't long asking the sales guy to get a 7D in my hands, and from that very second, I knew I'd have to buy the 7D. Like the old 40D, it feels brick solid, with it's metal construction, but even more so,  with a professional degree of weather and dust sealing. So as long as you can get one at a good sale price, it is the 7D that is a natural replacement and upgrade for the 40D... stay away from the 60D, unless you absolutely must have it's consumer-friendly features. Remember that Canon now only makes two cameras that cost more than the 7D, and one of those is purpose-built for professional reporters (the 1D Series).

So, I do expect to be making a lot more pictures... and movies... from now on!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Event Photography

To cover events such as Cat Shows, or almost any other entertainment, enthusiast, sport, or music event, is the main reason when decent equipment is required. All such occasions require a camera that can capture in low light without flash without excessive noise (grain), catch a decisive moment by firing the shutter instantaneously, stop moving objects without blur, focus very quickly on the subject, get up close to the subject from a distance, all the while being reasonably compact, lightweight, and no-fuss. This is a tall order, and I can guarantee that if you like to take pictures at public events, the only type of camera that is truly up to the task, and will give you the most "keepers" is the Reflex Camera. If you're doing Digital, this means a DSLR. It also means you'll need a Telephoto Zoom lens.

Good DSLR packages with two lenses (one normal, one Telephoto) can be had now for under $1000.00 brand new, and as photo enthusiasts are frequently upgrading, you can pick up used gear for half that price or less any day of the week. Case in point - I got my Canon EOS 40D and the amazing old EF 70-210mm f4 Lens for a grand total of $350.00! I am all about cheap! That's why I'm here doing this Blog - to encourage my friends to take the best pictures possible without tying up a whole lot of your hard earned cash.

Please click here and enjoy the cats! All pictures were taken with the gear mentioned above, with my camera's ISO (same as "ASA" used to be for film) set at 800 or 1600, with the exception of the first few shots, for which I used my Sigma 17-70mm f2.8 - f4 Lens (my big exception to "cheap")