Kuuvik Capture 2 Beta 2 Released

We’ve come a long way since the Beta 1, with some significant departures from how Kuuvik Capture worked in the past. I bet you’ll spot the single most important new feature on the screen shot below.

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Graphical Image Browser

Session management has been completely rewritten for this beta. It became way simpler, as sessions are now just simple folders. And Kuuvik Capture now lets you quickly browse the contents of the session folder with the help of the Image Browser. You can rate the images with 1 to 5 stars, color label them, and sort according to your preference. Industry-standard XMP metadata files provide workflow integration with XMP-aware RAW converter apps, such as Adobe Lightroom and Capture One. (Well, in theory it should work with Capture One, but my fellow colleagues at Phase One screwed up their XMP parser and 99% of the time can’t load a well-formed XMP. Either ours or Lightroom’s. Even worse, if you enable Full Sync in Capture One, it would corrupt the XMP file… So Capture One is declared incompatible until they fix this.)

As a side effect, Kuuvik Capture can now be used to quickly cull a large number of images. Actually, this was one of the motivations to create the Image Browser. I want Kuuvik Capture to fully and seamlessly support my workflow.

I usually have a mix of images taken with Kuuvik Capture and my cameras alone, so I needed the ability to work on them together. When I’m birding, it’s now uncommon that I return with 2000 images from a single afternoon shoot – 90% of which goes to the trash. But culling with full-featured RAW converters was slow and painful. Now I can sweep through those 2000 images in roughly 1.5 hours – with all the help of the usual Kuuvik Capture tools like sharpening and focus peaking!

Positive Selection Culling

Contrary to the usual “throw out the bad ones one-by-one”, Kuuvik Capture sports a “mark the best & ditch the rest” concept of image culling. During the years, I found the negative approach (throwing out the bad ones) impact my creative process in a very bad way: I’ve been concentrating on the bad images, instead of the standouts. It was a kind of mental torture for me (not surprisingly, I had a huge pile of un-culled or partly culled shoots).

With Kuuvik Capture, I just give stars to the best images, to those that I really like (and those whose technical properties are also good). Then ask the app to trash the others. You also have the option to decrease star rating of remaining images (and start the process all over again). It’s simple, intuitive, and fosters positive thinking about the good images.

Multi-Touch Gestures

This beta also introduces a host of multi-touch gestures. Besides the usual, standard zooming and panning of images, we now support 90 degree image rotation with the flick-rotate gesture (it’s like trying to quickly rotate the image, and Kuuvik Capture detects the direction and rotates the image by 90 degrees).

In live view you can also flick-zoom (both in and out).

Built for the Canon EOS 5DS and 5DS R

The app has been designed and optimized to work with the huge images from the new 50-megapixel bodies. While it’s fast working with them, it became lightning fast on smaller (22 or less megapixel) images. The long delay between beta 1 and beta 2 is partly attributable to this process, as I had to replace a few slow, leaking and generally problematic frameworks with my own implementations. So the complete display engine is new, including the sharpening and peaking filters that now work properly on Retina displays.

Other New Features from the Beta 1

  • Streamlined user interface to give more screen space to your images and to support the new MacBook.
  • New raw decoding engine which is up to 5x faster than the open source library used previously. And consumes way less memory in the process.
  • Improved image display quality.
  • Improved focus peaking visibility in some situations.
  • Exposure information for the currently displayed image below the histogram.
  • RAW label to show when the histogram is generated from raw data (instead of white balanced ‘jpeg’ data).
  • Session information can be overlaid on the displayed image.
  • 11 new guide templates, including golden ratio, a dense 30×20 grid and several aspect ratio lines, such as 1:1, 5:4, 16:9.
  • Selectable guideline color.
  • Color pickers for both peaking and guides allow you to set the opacity.
  • A new menu item and hot key to cycle peaking color presets (yellow, white, green, magenta). Cycling also include your chosen custom peaking color if there’s one.
  • All panels (not just the Navigator) can be quickly revealed.
  • Event Log to notify you about problems that may influence your shoot (such as inability to write to the download folder or interference with other concurrently running remote control apps).

What’s Not In There?

Due to the sheer amount of change in the most basic parts of the app (camera communication, display, sessions), we had to drop two features from version 2.0. First, testing revealed that OS X’s PTP-IP implementation (that was used to drive the cameras through WiFi and Ethernet after dropping Canon’s SDK) tends to corrupt data under heavy load. So I removed network camera support until I roll out my own PTP-IP code.

Second, support for the 1Ds Mark III has been removed as it needs to be operated completely different from modern cameras. We will re-add support as we can put our hands on a 1Ds Mark III for a few days, and only if there’s demand for it (given the limited feature set that camera supports).

Availability

Beta 2 will be released to registered beta testers during the next day. This beta represents the final feature set for version 2.0, and if everything goes as planned, it will be released in the Mac App Store as soon as Apple approves it.

Kuuvik Capture 2 Beta 2: Performance

As Beta 2 of Kuuvik Capture 2 is nearing completion, I felt it’s time to talk about the incredible performance improvements of the product.

Beta 2 switches away from Canon’s EOS SDK in favor of my EOS Extensions library. EOS Extensions powers ShutterCount since its first day, and now Kuuvik Capture uses a heavily expanded version.

This change brings several improvements to the app. It is now 64-bit, sports a more fluid WiFi pairing experience, and occupies less than 10% of the disk space needed for Beta 1. But the most prominent improvements are in the energy consumption and processing speed areas.

Let’s jump right in. The following chart shows the relative energy consumption of the Beta 1 and the Beta 2 (as well as Canon’s EOS Utility for reference) while running live view. The Beta 1 figure is roughly the same as Kuuvik Capture 1 was.

All performance figures are calculated from measurements done on my 2012 15″ Retina MacBook Pro, and may change in the final product – but I think they are pretty much indicative of what you could expect.

kc2b2-energyimpact

Even the previous Kuuvik Capture incarnations were no slouch, but the improvement in Beta 2 is huge. It’s energy impact (which is a number OS X calculates mostly based on CPU utilization) is a tad less than 40% of EOS Utility! Actual energy consumption may be a little different as other parts of the system also draw power, but I would realistically expect 2x longer battery life on my MacBook than what’s possible with EOS Utility.

Also take into account that Beta 2 does a lot more number chrunching during live view than even the pervious beta: it’s output is visually better and now always color manages the live view stream. Because of the latter, the color management section has been removed from Preferences.

I mentioned that Kuuvik Capture 2 ditched libraw (an open-source RAW processing library), and now uses my own code. I cited some 2.2x processing speed improvements then. I’ve hand-optimized the RAW decoder in EOS Extensions, and image processing is now up to 5x faster than Kuuvik Capture 1.

kc2b2-processingtime

In other words, the Beta 2 loads and processes a huge 5DS R file on my MacBook Pro in about 1.6 seconds.

Yes, Kuuvik Capture 2 will support the 5DS and 5DS R. Raw decoding support is complete, and the cameras will be characterized and enabled as soon as my 5DS R arrives.

We have a few places left in the Kuuvik Capture 2 beta program. If you would like to participate, please download and complete the Beta Application and NDA form, and send it back to beta@direstudio.com. If your application is accepted, you will receive download instructions within a couple of days.

Kuuvik Capture 2 Beta Available

The first beta build of Kuuvik Capture 2 is now available. If you would like to participate in the beta, please download and complete the Beta Application and NDA form, and send it back to beta@direstudio.com.

Seating is limited, so we can’t guarantee that every applicant will be chosen as a beta tester. If your application is accepted, you will receive download instructions within a couple of days.

kc2-2

The above screen shot shows the updated black & white peaking mode. What’s new here is the way black & white conversion is done. It handles reds significantly better. For the technically inclined, we are now using HDTV-like luminance calculation, while the old version used SDTV-like calculation.

For the complete list of what’s new in version 2, please refer to my former post.

Kuuvik Capture 2 Coming This Summer

On 30th of April I had completed the acquisition of Kuuvik Capture. Although I was the original author, pecuniary rights (to sell and make money out of it) belonged to Kuuvik Digital. Now I’m the owner and my company – DIRE Studio – will distribute the app.

Alongside the business part of the acquisition, I have been actively working on a new version during the last couple of months. And now I’m pleased to announce Kuuvik Capture 2.

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Here’s a quick laundry list of what’s new. Check out my post about what’s new in the Beta 2!

I plan to post on these in detail in the coming weeks.

Kuuvik Capture 2 is planned to be available in the Mac App Store. That is, there will be no limit on the number of cameras you can use with the app. And you will be able to use the app on all your Macs.

A closed group, application only beta will be available soon. I’ll post on how to apply when we are ready to begin.

The Giant Pac-Man

Photographing partial solar eclipses usually isn’t that rewarding. A yellow disk covered partially with a black disk. Nothing to write home about. But today’s eclipse was different: a lone Sunspot (actually two, in region 2303) turned the Sun into a giant Pac-Man.

Partial Solar Eclipse with Sunspot 2303

Partial Solar Eclipse with Sunspot Region 2303

Not being rewarding doesn’t mean that it’s without any challenges, though. A special filter is needed to protect the lens, the sensor and – most importantly – the photographer’s eye. And the filter must be mounted in front of the lens.

The filter I have is a piece of thin metal foil mounted in an aluminum ring. It was made for my former 70-200/2.8 zoom some 7-8 years ago.

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Sun filter on the 500mm f/4

But I wanted to use my 500mm f/4 with a 2x teleconverter on a 7D Mark II today to make the Sun large on the image.

Somehow I had to mount the filter onto the much larger front ring of the 500. Cardboard and gaffer tape to the rescue! The adapter ring was completed in about 20 minutes and worked perfectly.

I lost about 4cm clear aperture this way, but that isn’t a problem when photographing the Sun. You still have plenty of light and contrast.

Another challenge was focusing. The turbulent air made it hard for the AF to catch the best focus. So I tethered the 7D Mark II to my 11″ MacBook Air and fired up Kuuvik Capture to do the focusing. And it was also a joy to watch the event unfolding on a notebook screen.

Note that I had been using a special build of Kuuvik Capture with 7D Mark II support – the currently selling one doesn’t support this camera. A privilege for being the developer of the app :)

ShutterCount for Windows 1.2.1 Released

This is a minor release for addressing an activation issue on some Windows computers.

The issue is rooted in a fact that a few virtual private networking software manufacturers think that it’s fun to change the virtual adapters’s MAC address not on every installation, but on every boot. Why would one do this is beyond me.

But it breaks the hardware ID mechanism in ShutterCount. Well, if there would be a unique identifier on Windows machines, life would be much easier… Lacking this ID, we have to make up one using several sources. Including network cards.

When such MAC address change happened, ShutterCount used to think that it’s running on another machine, and thus initiated the activation process. And if this happened again, the user ran out of the two simultaneous activations that the license allows. Bummer. We had to manually reset the license. While this happened only with a handful of users, it was annoying for both parties.

In 1.2.1 we modified the activation logic to cope with this issue. The app now tells the activation server whether a hardware ID change rendered the activation invalid. The activation dialog still pops up, but this reactivation is not counted against the two computer limit. Please note that this method works only if you have a previous activation record on the given machine.

We now also store your license information, so you don’t have to enter it again and again for these reactivations.

You can update to version 1.2.1 by choosing the Check for Updates… item in the Help menu.

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.