Lightning

July 25th, 2009, 9:41 pm PDT by Greg

While the aforementioned ice cream sandwiches were being made, this is what was going on outside:

Lightning Big lightning Lightning

Click the thumbnails for the full images. I managed to get some nice pictures with a tripod, one second exposures, and some persistence. As the storm passed and the sun set, this happened:

sunset

Edit 07/26: Katkam (no relation) pwned me due to vantage point: sunset, fireworks.

Mobile photo blogging

July 21st, 2009, 10:50 am PDT by Kat

I’ve been a little lax in blogging lately, and I realized it was because I always gel like I don’t have enough to say to merit a blog post. Then in a fit of procrastination I signed up for Twitter. It seems as though the short character limit and ability to quickly post a picture are right in lone with the amount of info I feel like sharing on a day to day basis. However, because a lot of people who read this blog seem to be allergic to social networking (you know who you are), my tweets aren’t reaching very many people.
So to remedy thus situation I found an app that wil enable me to mobile blog and quickly add a picture, and I did it all by myself! (Greg is now probably rolling his eyes.) Anyways, here is my first mobile blog. If you’re reading this then that means it worked! I’m attaching a picture just to see whether that works too.

Geotagging

May 15th, 2009, 1:28 pm PDT by Greg

Astute observers (or people I told about it) will have noticed that in our gallery of China pictures, clicking the links on the left “View Album on a Map” and “View in Google Earth” do cool stuff.

I promised I would write about how I did that, so I will. There are obviously other ways to geotag photos, but this is what I did.

The Gear

Before the trip, I had the realization that I didn’t have to get some kind of GPS receiver that connected to my camera: any GPS data was enough, as long as it was timestamped. The photos I take are timestamped, so if the GPS data is too, I can connect the two and figure out where pictures were taken (assuming the GPS and camera are close to each other).

So, before the trip, I picked up a eTrex Venture HC. It claimed to be high-sensitivity, so that sounded good. Also, it was on the cheaper side of GPS receivers and it records the track data I needed.

I had the GPS on a lot over the trip, and I think I ran through 4 pairs of AA batteries the whole time. That’s quite reasonable to my mind.

The cameras were my Rebel XT and Kat’s SD800. Basically, it can be any Digital camera with its clock set reasonably accurately.

On the Trip

When we were about to arrive somewhere, all I had to do was flip on the GPS and throw it back in my camera bag. Then, take some pictures. When leaving, turn the GPS off.

The GPS records its position (“tracks”) until I turn it off. (It’s important with a Garmin GPS to not “save” the track: that throws away critical time info.) Just turn it off when done.

Processing

The data can be pulled off the GPS to a GPX file with its own software or GPSBabel. Photos come off the camera in the usual fashion.

I couldn’t find anything I liked to get the GPS data and the camera time stamps together, so I did what I always do in these situations: I started writing Python. The job was basically to read the GPS data, read the timestamps from JPEG files, interpolate the GPS data, and write the position data back to the JPEG.

I threw what I have on SourceForge as “Geotag Merge“. I haven’t “released” it yet, so you have to grab the Subversion repository if you want to play. Sooner or later, I’ll find some best-practices for packaging Python-based applications and I’ll do a beta release.

I added the Gallery2 GPS module to my gallery to make it all work.

An Example?

Okay, look at this picture which, according to its time stamp, was taken at 2009-04-19 14:20:08 (Beijing time) = 2009-04-19 06:20:08 UTC. Looking in the GPX file extracted from the GPS, I see these entries:

<trkpt lat="40.360190626" lon="116.013850048">
  <ele>829.274414</ele>
  <time>2009-04-19T06:19:48Z</time>
</trkpt>
<trkpt lat="40.360201774" lon="116.013833955">
  <ele>829.274414</ele>
  <time>2009-04-19T06:20:11Z</time>
</trkpt>

Like all good XML, this is minimally-human-readable: two observations separated by 23 seconds, with latitude, longitude, time, and elevation.

So, I deduce that the picture was taken in between these locations (and in fact very close to the second). A quick linear interpolation, and we decide that the picture was taken at 40°21’36.72″N 116°0’49.81″E (and 829.27 metres above sea level). This is then written back as part of the image’s EXIF tag, and it can be picked up by any geotagging-aware photo viewer.

Pictures!

May 2nd, 2009, 6:13 pm PDT by Greg

We have posted pictures from our trip! They are organized by city, which seemed to make the most sense to me.

Note that they are (almost) all geotagged, so you can click the left-side links “View Album on a Map” or “View in Google Earth” on the album (or any subalbum) to see the pictures geographically. This was done with a handheld GPS and some cleverness. The tags seem to generally be within about a few metres of the true location where the photo was taken.

I’ll explain all of the geotagging stuff in a later blog post.

Edit: By the way, I rolled over the odometer on my Rebel XT on the trip: I took img_9999.jpg, then img_0001.jpg in the mini-three gorges. Ten thousand pictures on that camera over its lifetime. It now officially owes me nothing.

Vegas Summary

January 20th, 2009, 12:29 pm PDT by Greg

We’re back from Vegas. Many pictures were taken. A small amount of money was lost, more was spent. Some highlights from me:

  • We had a meal, and took many pictures at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. My favourite courses were probably the lobster carpaccio and the sea bass.

  • Now that I think about it, I might have been up slightly. I have photographic evidence of being up a total of $85. I only lost money when I sat at a slot machine a couple of times. The dollar slot that Kat told be was good was the worst of it. I reckon I’m up $20–40.

  • At one point, Kat wanted to play a dollar slot for a while. I said I was going to see if there was a quarter slot or something nearby. I circled a couple banks of slot machines and came back. Kat was done, having lost $40 in like two minutes. Stay away from the slot machines, kids.

  • My best gambling experience was when we found a roulette table with a $5 limit (as opposed to $10) at the MGM. I sat down and started playing pretty randomly. Every bet on the roulette table has a house edge of 2/37, so it’s not like my decisions meant much anyway.

    The dealer was nice and very helpful (since all of us cheapskates at the $5 table were amateurs). I got a free drink while sitting there, and happened to come away $43 up (actually $48, but I left $5 with the dealer). That was pretty much everything I wanted from the casino.

  • The best picture I got in the casino was right before a pit boss walked up to me and told me that “for future reference, pictures are allowed anywhere else on the property, but not in the casino.” Polite but firm. Very good.

    There are probably 27 ways to cheat at the tables using a digital camera, none of which I would be able to figure out.

  • The Neon Museum/Boneyard was really good, and a great opportunity for pictures. Definitely recommended for anybody going to Vegas.

  • My 30mm f/1.4 lens did come through very well for some night shots on the strip.

Lens Wish List

December 30th, 2008, 2:32 pm PDT by Greg

I have now had my Digital Rebel XT for almost exactly 3 years. As I have said here before, I do most of my shooting with a Sigma 18–50mm f/2.8 and also have a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 that I should get in the habit of using more. I also have a Speedlite 420EX flash, a decent tripod, and a Kingpano head for panoramas. Realistically, I have all the kit I need for most of the shots I’m going to take.

As with every good hobby/money sink, there’s always more stuff to play with. In my “Stupid DSLR Tricks” post, I talked about a lot of that. Every little while, I start thinking about picking up another lens, but it hasn’t happened since the 30mm for various reasons. Here is my wishlist if money suddenly rained into my life (in the order I could see myself spending real money on them):

Lens 1: Super-wide Fisheye, the Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 Circular Fisheye. As far as I can tell, nobody else makes (or perhaps has ever made) a lens this wide. The Flickr pool for this lens will give you an idea just how wacky it is. As you can see from the line on the ground in this shot, it is a genuine 180° fisheye (for an APS-C sensor).

I like taking panoramic pictures, and would use it for that. It would cut my current 40-ish shots down to 6 for a full 360×180° panorama. Every time I think about actually getting this lens, I think about how much joy I get from taking panoramas and come up with a number less than the US$800 you can get one for.

Lens 2: A Long Zoom. I don’t do a lot of nature or long-distance photography. In general, I figure that if I leave nature alone, it’s probably for the best. (Let’s call that “environmentalism”, not “carpetbagging urbanite”.) Still, there are times it would be nice to get closer to the subject. I have no problems with my Sigma lenses, but in this range, I suspect that going on-brand is worth it so I’d go for the Canon 70–200mm f/2.8 IS. If I had anything longer than that, I know I’d never carry it anyway.

At US$1500, I’m not in any danger of picking one of these up any time soon. The f/4 equivalent is only US$950, so that’s a lot more likely to make it into my camera bag in the distant future.

Lens 3: Something Wacky. I would still like to play with a tilt-shift, or bellows, or a Lensbaby as I mentioned in my older post. I haven’t seen that any of those get a cost-to-usefulness ratio within an order of magnitude of what I’d want to actually drop the money.

Maybe I’ll get bored enough to try a DIY bellows thing at some point. How hard could a bellows setup be? Medium format lens from eBay + body cap to connect to camera + some kind of cloth bag or flexible tube to hook them freely together. Hmmm…

Time Lapse Movie

December 15th, 2008, 1:32 pm PDT by Greg

We had our first (annual?) holiday open house on Saturday. We had a good turnout: thanks to everybody that came. I think the whole thing was a success.

There was food, and Kat has promised she will blog about that sometime soon.

For me, the conversation piece was the camera on a tripod in the corner. It was hooked up to my laptop and taking an image every 30 seconds (then displaying it). The setup was based on somebody else’s instructions on creating a time lapse movie in a similar way.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with these pictures. I thought that a time lapse movie of the party might be cool. I thought it might accidentally capture some good images. What I didn’t realize was that neither Kat or I was going to have a chance to take any pictures anyway, so these were almost the only ones that we would have.

I have gone through the pictures in a cursory way and posted some (along with the few pictures we did take by hand) in our gallery.

I did put the frames together into a time lapse movie (that link is about 24MB; I also did a smaller 12 MB version, or use the direct link to the movie if you’re having plugin problems, or the Facebook version if all else fails).

I’m actually pretty happy with how the movie turned out. I kind of wish I had left the camera running until we had really finished the cleanup that night (with the last frame being lights-out, say), but that didn’t seem as important as actually cleaning stuff up at the time.

Camera Setup

I played with the camera settings for a while before I got it rolling. What I ended up with was the smallest image the camera would take (about 2 MP), my Sigma zoom at 18mm, ISO 1600, auto white balance, auto exposure (most shots were around f/2.8 and 1/30 s), manual focus at about 3 m (depth of field was surprisingly good for the wide aperture), LCD image review off (to save battery).

If I was doing it again, I might lock the white balance and aperture, just to keep everything in the video as consistent as possible.

I swapped out the battery in the camera twice during the day. I’m not totally sure that was necessary, but I didn’t want to take the chance of it running out.

The net result was 1800 exposures in 15 hours: almost as many as I usually take in a year.

Computer Setup

When I had the idea, I thought I was going to have to do some low-level USB hacking, but it turns out gphoto2 will do exactly what I want. The script to start it was this: (gphoto does die occasionally, which is why it’s in the loop)

#!/bin/sh
INTERVAL=30

killall gvfsd-gphoto2 2>/dev/null # kill program hogging the camera
gphoto2 --set-config /main/camera/setcameratime=1 # set time from computer

while true ; do
  killall gvfsd-gphoto2 2>/dev/null
  gphoto2 \
    --set-config flashmode=0 --set-config beep=0 \
    --capture-image --interval ${INTERVAL} --hook-script hook
  sleep ${INTERVAL} # keep going if gphoto dies
done

And the script “hook” that just bumps the display:

#!/bin/sh
if [ $ACTION = "download" ] ; then
  gqview -r $ARGUMENT # press "f" for full screen
fi

I did have a small problem with gphoto and the Rebel XT which was fixed with a one-line patch. Also, the original instructions above are pretty liberal with the bitrate: I encoded with 1000 and 500 bps for the large and small movies. I also had to crop the frames from the Rebel’s 3:2 aspect ratio to the 4:3 of your average video.

To: Eugene

February 1st, 2008, 12:59 pm PDT by Greg

Subject: Re: WANT

So, Eugene is eyeballing a digital SLR, specifically Canon’s recently-announced Digital Rebel XSi. I have the old Digital Rebel XT, and the model in between is the Rebel XTi.

There are a few differences through the product line. There’s a nice feature comparison of the XTi and the XSi to look at.

Sadly, I’m going to give Eugene the advice of his prototypical photography nerd and say that blowing money on the new body isn’t worth it. If it was me, I’d get the XTi body on sale and save a couple of hundred bucks.

The only feature that I see on the XSi that I would personally pay more than a few bucks extra for is the 3″ LCD. The display on my XT is 1.8″ and I find it a bit small (and thus the review image small and not as useful as it could be). But the XTi has a 2.5″ display, so I don’t think the XSi is worth much on top of that.

The mirror-up functionality might be nice, but I suspect it’s more of a gimmick: I can’t imagine using it very much. The spot metering is a little confusing for me: I think the thing my XT does is called spot metering; I can’t imagine they dropped it for the XTi.

The simple fact of digital photography is that the metering isn’t usually all that critical: you have immediate feedback on the levels because of the display. If the metering was off, adjust and take another shot. I think I end up flipping to manual exposure more often than most: in a difficult situation, decide what exposure should be, set it, take shots, adjusting a little as necessary.

Yes, my advice is to spend on glass. I’m quite happy with my Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8, and I just ordered a 30mm f/1.4 for even lower-light goodness.

For the love of god, don’t use the kit lens. Would you buy a $500 graphics card and hook up an old 14″ CRT to it? I took a couple of quick comparison shots with my Sigma zoom and an old Canon kit zoom I have last night. I didn’t have time to get much useful stuff, so I can’t really post comparisons. Maybe I can do something once my prime 30mm comes.

My initial thoughts after last night: my Sigma zoom isn’t appreciably clearer than the kit lens (but a prime lens might be). The colour for the Sigma lens was noticeably better (with the same exposure, lighting, white balance, etc).

Snowy Night

January 28th, 2008, 12:45 pm PDT by Greg

It snowed in Burnaby yesterday (but somehow not most of the rest of the lower-mainland). After the last snowfall, I had looked out of the window at night and thought that the snow under the streetlights looked cool. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to do anything about it.

So last night, I grabbed my camera and panoramic tripod head and set out.

I walked north a few blocks to get away from Hastings (figuring that farther from Hastings would mean less traffic). My first stop was smack in the middle of a street for a full 360° panoramic shot:

street panorama

[You can click the link there for larger versions. If you have a Java plugin working, you can click the “View Panorama” link on the left of that page for a nice drag-around viewer.]

Making a panorama like this requires 40–50 separate frames (with the lens I have) that are then stitched together. Everything has to be set to manual on the camera (exposure, focus, white balance). The whole process takes 10–15 minutes for a single “picture”.

In this case, each frame was exposed for 1 second at f/5.6, ISO 1600. I left the white balance set for for tungsten light. That’s why the image has the orange colouring from the sodium streetlights. I only had to move our of the way of a car once during that shot.

Having had enough of dodging traffic, I found myself a convenient traffic circle for the next one:

traffic circle panorama

The camera settings were the same, except this time I set a custom white balance so the snow is actually white. That is exactly what I was hoping for when I set out.

On the way back, I saw some drops of water that had frozen on a little tree, and couldn’t resist stopping for one last shot of them. I set the aperture to f/2.8 for that shot for maximum Bokeh goodness.

Finally, with frozen fingers, I went home and fired up Hugin to get the panoramas together.

Edit 22:00: Shrunk the panoramas in the gallery. The Java VM seems to have a memory limit that wouldn’t let the originals display.

The “Break”

January 2nd, 2008, 9:36 pm PDT by Greg

Before I get to the point, I want to explain my last two weeks, with pictures where I have them:

  • Dec 19: Kat gets to YVR at 21:00 after my marathon FAS UCC meeting in the afternoon.
  • Dec 20: A few last things at work for me; Kat works on her talk.
  • Dec 21: Kat’s Ama’s Birthday. For her grandmother’s birthday, the grandkids prepared the meal (for the second year). Kat and I did a lot of the heavy lifting, preparing butternut squash soup, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, ham, pasta, and probably some other stuff I forgot. [10:00–21:00]
  • Dec 22: Kat and Tina get their hair cut at Neil’s, followed by dinner. [16:00–21:00]
  • Dec 23: Lunch with Kelly and Paul, then I gave blood.
  • Dec 24: Xmas Eve lunch at Ama’s. They used to have dinner on Xmas eve, but decided that was too late this year. So, it became lunch, then dinner (and Wii) with Pam and her parents. We brought potato salad (mmmm… potato salad). [10:00–1:00]
  • Dec 25: Presents, then the rest of the day at Kelly and Paul’s. A whole day and my pants didn’t even really hurt at the end. [14:00–2:00]
  • Dec 26: No boxing day shopping, but dinner at Tony’s. [17:00–19:00]
  • Dec 27: Dim Sum and Hockey with Oli, Tina, Jon, and Eunice. The guys that are paid to live in the same city as me scored more goals than some guys paid to live in some other city. That makes me feel pride, apparently. [11:00–22:00]
  • Dec 28: Beer & Bacon fest 2. The second Beer & Bacon featured a Wii and three pounds of bacon. [18:00–2:00]
  • Dec 29: Dinner with Suyoko and Sameer (the boyfriend that I had never met). [18:00–21:00]
  • Dec 30: Bubble tea with Angelica, Jen, and Eugene. [14:00–16:00]
  • Dec 31: New Year’s Eve at our place. I also spent an hour or so at Daniela’s. [19:00–1:00]
  • Jan 1: Lunch at Ama’s. As always, lunch is a long thing. [11:00–16:00]
  • Jan 2: Kat leaves for YVR at 4:15. Back to work and coffee with Amanda at 11:00. After being at work for three hours, I finally got to my office and put my jacket down.

Kat and I didn’t cook at eat (alone) a single time while she was home. The meals we did have at home were scrounging leftovers.

Now that you have the context, you should understand why I say “I’m kinda glad Kat’s gone so I can get back to work.” I said that a few times today and got crap for it.

I’m tired, and want to get back to work so my day has some structure to it. It turns out Kat’s more popular than me, and when she’s here, it’s a whirlwind of stuff to do. I’m glad to have less stuff.

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