ShutterCount Update Available

ShutterCountIcon2x The latest version of ShutterCount is now available for both OS X and Windows.

The app now tries to retrieve shutter count information for non-certified Canon EOS digital cameras with a DIGIC III or newer processor (with the exception of the EOS-1D Mark III and EOS-1Ds Mark III).

You’ll get a warning message in these cases, but they should work (unless Canon chooses to change their PTP protocol extensions, of course). You can suppress these warning messages for each camera model separately.

Regarding the 1D Mark III and 1Ds Mark III – we get lots of requests to add support for these models. The bad news is that they do not provide shutter count information through the USB port, and thus cannot be supported. So please don’t ask for supporting them. It’s simply not possible. The same is true for pre-DIGIC III models, such as the original 5D, as well as everything else released before the 40D.

The latest Mac update is version 1.4 and is available on the Mac App Store. The latest Windows update is version 1.2, and you can update by choosing the Check for Updates… item in the Help menu.

This is a free update for existing users on both operating systems.

The Ultimate Photographer’s Flashlight

As I find myself under dark skies quite often, I carry not one but two flashlights in my bag. One of them is a Petzl Zipka headlamp, used for close range work, such as setting up the camera or finding something in the bag. But there are several other usage scenarios that a headlamp won’t fit into: navigation while you are getting to a location or walking home, searching, warding off uninvited visitors (be they curious humans or hungry animals), and even light painting.

I used several different sized flashlights with different feature sets during the last decade (I’m using the Zipka for more than a decade and it’s still running off of the original batteries), but more than a year ago I found a light that is quite possibly the ultimate in features and durability.

Enter the Nitecore SRT7

The high-end of the flashlight business in dominated by Chinese companies. But these are not the usual low-quality knock-off products you might associate with China. They are top of the class both in design and in manufacturing (the SRT7 is so simple and elegant that it could even carry an Apple logo).

Nitecore is one of these manufacturers, with some unique features in their lights. First of all, the SRT7 is part of their tactical offerings. Nowadays I tend to gravitate towards tactical and military products because of their durability and well thought out features. Not that I would need pistol magazine stabilizers in my pants’s pockets or uninterrupted light during shotgun recoil for a flashlight… Well, actually those magazine holders are pretty darn useful for holding various items…

The Nitecore SRT7 flashlight

The Nitecore SRT7 flashlight

You can see the light above. It is waterproof, shock proof (I exercise both features regularly) and in all aspects built like a tank. It feels well balanced in my hand, and have enough grip on the surface even when wearing heavy gloves.

Along with a very powerful white LED (960 lumens – easily outshines my car’s headlights), you have three colored LEDs: a red, a green, and a blue one. I was interested in the red one when I bought the lamp, and use it heavily during astrophotography. Never used the blue or the green one. The white LED in on the cool side.

But it’s user interface is why I bought it in the first place. It consists of a switch, a rotating ring and a LED. The switch is on the tail of the lamp, and is used to cut power off completely, so that it won’t drain the battery while sitting in the bag. The red LED starts to flash when the battery is starting to run out of juice. The ring is the centerpiece of the user interface.

It is used to switch between the different modes, as well as to continuously adjust the light’s brightness. The continuous adjustment is smooth, with good perceptual uniformity. Turn the ring to the right to increase brightness. At the end of the scale is a “turbo” mode as well as a stroboscope mode (the latter can be useful in self-defense situations). Turn the ring to the left to access the red, green, blue, police-like red/blue flashing and beacon modes. It’s that simple.

Powering the flashlight

The SRT7 can be powered with two CR123 lithium batteries or with a rechargeable 18650 battery. The latter is a standard industrial battery type with added protection circuitry – and is a quite common flashlight power source among Chinese manufacturers. I bought two Nitecore NL189 3400mAh batteries along with the lamp.

18650 battery in an Xtar WP2 II charger

18650 battery in an Xtar WP2 II charger

I’m using an Xtar WP2 II charger for those, as it can provide 1A charging current (compared to the 0.5A of most other chargers). The 1A current is well within the battery’s specifications, and I don’t like to wait for batteries to charge…

This charger has another neat feature: you can turn it into a power source to charge any USB-connected device (such as emergency recharging your phone). The output is a standard 500mA USB port.

Conclusion

It’s hard to add anything else for a flashlight – it’s just a flashlight. Albeit a good one. Highly recommended.

Artist’s Viewfinder 4.1 Released

Version 4.1 of the Mark II Artist’s Viewfinder is now available on the App Store. I already posted about one of it’s new features, frame highlighting. So let me walk you through the remaining ones.

To add support for new iPhones and iPads to the app we do a series of measurements in our lab to determine the angle of view of the device’s camera. This takes time, and can only be done after we have the actual device in our hands. That is, there used to be a gap between when you can buy a new iPhone and when the app supports it. iOS also provides this angle of view data, but it used to be less precise than our measurements.

FrameSizeAdjustmentBeginning with version 4.1, we’ll utilize the iOS provided data until we can do the measurements. On newer phones the iOS provided data is much more accurate than it was in the past. This way you could immediately use the app on new devices.

Should the iOS provided data be a little off, a new menu item allows you to adjust frame sizes in a +/-5% range in 0.5% steps. This adjustment is also available when the app is utilizing lab measurements, to give you a bit more flexibility.

The adjustment is stored per device type, so if you upgrade to a new one, the adjustment value will be reset.

With this release, we have well over 500 different cameras to choose from for your virtual camera setup. So finding your camera could be a daunting task.

camsearchVersion 4.1 introduces full text searching for both the camera and back selection screens, accessible through the search icon.

As a side note, I’d like to mention that we also streamlined backward navigation buttons by removing the text and just leaving the backward arrow. This goes better with the simple geometric forms we use throughout the app.

But back to the full text search function.

camsearchresultJust type the first few characters of your camera’s manufacturer and/or model name, and the Mark II will present a list of matching names. Simple as that.

In ALPA eFinder II camera search is only available if you had purchased the Camera Pack.

This version also brings wide converter support to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. We support the olloclip 4-in-1 on both devices, and the ALPA ACAM SWC on the iPhone 6. And still waiting for Schneider to make their iPro lens system compatible with the new phones.

The app now runs natively on new 64-bit devices.

We also have the usual bunch of new cameras, the full list of which you can see in the release notes, but I’d like to mention here that we added the ARRI/Zeiss Ultra Prime, Master Prime and Anamorphic lens sets as Real Lenses.

Version 4.1 is a free update for existing Mark II Artist’s Viewfinder owners. Users of former Viewfinder Basic/Pro/Cine editions can upgrade for a reduced price.

I’m currently working on updating the Handbook, which is planned to be available next week.

Update 2/24/2015: The updated Handbook is now available.

The Andromeda Galaxy

The last couple of days presented great opportunities for astrophotography. Clear, windless nights, coupled with fine winter sky subjects – such as the M31 (and its two companions, M32 and M110).

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

Taken with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II and the EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens, mounted on my Astrotrac. This image consists of 16 frames exposed at ISO 1600 for 1 minute each. Well, I was skyfog-limited at 1 minute exposures.

Fixing Extremely Slow rsync on OS X

Last night I moved out my photo collection from my MacBook Pro’s internal SSD to a neat little Samsung T1 USB3 SSD. And since Time Machine still can’t handle backing up external drives correctly (it removes the external drive’s contents from the backup when it is not connected), I created a small script to do the backup using the good old rsync.

Backup of the T1 goes to a dedicated AFP share on my FreeBSD server (shared using Netatalk). An Elgato Thunderbolt 2 Dock provides gigabit Ethernet connectivity for the MacBook Pro. I usually see file transfer rates in the 60MB/s – 110 MB/s range from this setup. So the 3MB/s average what rsync produced here was a bit shocking.

And the transfer rate jumped up to the usual range when I downloaded something from the Internet! And went down to 3 megs when the download finished…

It seems that the nine year old version of rsync included in OS X Yosemite can’t handle the OS’s network power management features correctly. When another app wakes up the net to full speed, it works fine, but rsync alone can’t do that.

The solution is embarrassingly simple: install rsync from the ports collection. Did that, updated my script, and presto, I suddenly get transfer speeds in the 50MB/s – 80MB/s range…

Hardware vs Software Monitor Calibration

Monitor calibration produces a set of curves, one for each of the three color channels. These curves are responsible for bending and twisting the device’s native color to reach our calibration goal. Where these curves are stored is a main differentiator between regular and so-called “hardware-calibrated” monitors.

Regular monitors depend on the computer’s video chip to store the curves. Hardware-calibrated monitors store the curves inside the monitor’s look-up table (LUT).

MonitorVsVideoLUTs

Above are the calibration curves for my current setup as shown by the ColorEyes Display Pro calibration software. On the left are the curves for my Retina MacBook Pro’s internal display; while on the right are the curves for the EIZO CG241W monitor. Note that this software puts the curves either in the video LUT or in the monitor LUT – but not both. Other packages, such as basICColor Display tend to utilize both for hardware-calibrated monitors.

While the video card stores these curves at 8-bit, my EIZO’s internal curves are at 12-bit. At higher bit depth calibration is more precise and virtually eliminates color banding and seepage. Hardware-calibrated monitors also store the curves permanently (of course until the next calibration).

Calibration software loads the video LUT as part of the calibration process. But what happens if the computer is rebooted or turned off and on again on the next day? Unfortunately video card hardware does not store and automatically re-apply calibration curves on startup. So the question remains: where to store them and who will reload them?

Apple invented a fairly obvious solution to answer this question: embed calibration curves into the display’s ICC profile. This way they could be handled together as a single entity. Because the ICC profile specification does not provide any storage space for calibration data, Apple had created a new profile tag, the infamous video card gamma table (VCGT). To complete their solution ColorSync loads these curves when needed. Calibration packages also support this by embedding newly computed calibration curves into the profiles they create.

Windows 7 and above also sports a video card LUT auto-loading feature, but it isn’t as obvious as on a Mac. I would recommend reading my old post about the topic.

In the next installment of my monitor calibration series I’ll talk about what can one reasonably expect from proper calibration and profiling.

AstroTrac Polar Scope – Another Take

PolarScope2In a post last year, I talked about the replacement of my AstroTrac’s crappy polar scope with one designed for the Vixen Polarie.

Well, that solution worked kind of well for a while, but the adapter was made of plastic, the scope was friction locked into the adapter, and the lack of firm bonding between the scope itself and the adapter resulted in lots of headaches.

I liked the Polarie’s scope, but its large screw-less housing was a nightmare to design an adapter for. So I went out searching for another scope, and found another Vixen product, this time the polar scope of their Sphinx mount. It is basically a naked version of the Polarie scope, with a thread on it, and without the former’s bulky case. Otherwise it’s exactly the same.

What you see on the picture is the scope with the adapter we made for it. Everything is held firmly in place by screwing things together.

And the new scope with our adapter prototype is lighter than the Polarie scope was alone (232g vs 268g).

Several readers have asked me about the commercial availability of the first version, so this time we’ll turn it into a product if it passes my extended testing. So please leave me a message if you are interested.

Artist’s Viewfinder in the Update Magazine

Yours truly talks about the Mark II in Ebru TV’s Update magazine back at Photokina 2014.