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.

IMG_2966-c

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.

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.