Archive for the 'gifts' Category

21
Dec
09

Eye-Fi

I got my wife the Eye-Fi 4GB Share Video SD card this year for Christmas.  Yesterday, while we were snowed in, we exchanged a few gifts so she got to open it.  In a nutshell, this SD card has both 4GB of flash storage and a built-in wireless adapter that enables it to wirelessly transmit photos and videos to your computer over your wireless network.

While I thought this would be a great gift, I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t work on the university’s wireless network in our on-campus apartment.  Sure enough, when I tried to set it up yesterday I couldn’t get it to work.  Any time a new device tries to connect to the university’s wireless network the DHCP server assigns it a temporary local IP address and redirects it to a registration web page.  Unfortunately, the Eye-Fi isn’t really a network adapter so you can’t use it to browse the web.  Thus, you can’t visit the registration page in order to register it for use on the network.

After the automatic setup procedure didn’t work I jotted down the card’s MAC address (which is easy to determine using the included software) and emailed the IT people on campus to ask if they could manually add the card’s MAC address to the list of MAC addresses the DHCP server will supply with IP addresses.  They were very helpful and responded that they had added the card’s MAC address as I had asked.

So, now it appears that I’m all set. I spent some time this afternoon getting it set up and I’ve successfully uploaded 5 or 6 pictures and one video using the device. All in all, it’s pretty nice. Hopefully, using this card will simplify the process of getting pictures from the camera to the computer but only time will tell if the device lives up to its promise.

If the card I got my wife works out well, I’ll seriously consider buying the Eye-Fi Pro, which permits you to upload RAW files as well as JPGs and videos.  In addition, it enables you to set up an ad-hoc connection with your PC so you can bypass local wireless networks and upload pictures directly from your card to your computer.  This type of functionality typically costs much more than either the Eye-Fi Pro’s street price of $100 or its MSRP of $150.

13
Nov
09

Photographic firsts

I recently posted two images on my photo blog, both of which represent firsts for me.  Since the photoblog is kind of minimalist, I didn’t write much about them there, but I thought I should maybe add some info about them here.

The first was taken using a zone plate, which I got ages ago but never used.  I got it last year at my birthday in a kit like this, which includes a device for holding photographic pinholes, the pinhole itself, and an adapter to make it fit my camera.  I had taken a few photos using the pinhole but never the zone plate.  I like the effect.  There are a couple of downsides to using either the pinhole or the zone plate, however.

First, these have incredibly narrow apertures, which means that, in order to get a correctly exposed image, you need a very long exposure or very high ISO setting.  I kept the ISO reasonably low but I used my tripod to give me the stability I needed for a long exposure.  I used a 1.3 second exposure, which, for a shot taken in the middle of the day, is really long.  This zone plate has f/56 (not 5.6, 56!), which is pretty wide for this type of device.  The pinhole I have is something like f/130, so it would require a much longer exposure.

Second, whereas taking photographs with traditional lenses is pretty forgiving when it comes to junk on your sensor, pinhole and zone plate photography is extremely unforgiving.  I had to do a bunch of spot removal in Lightroom to get rid of a bunch of ugly splotches on the image.  The image below is a 1:1 crop from an image I took of the same scene with the pinhole.  There are at least 4 spots that are clearly visible, though they vary in severity.  I had never noticed these spots before in shots taken using my normal lenses.  I guess if I want to do any more photography using my pinhole or zone plate, it’s probably time to have my sensor cleaned again.

Spots on my CCD

 

The most recent picture is my first foray into high dynamic range (HDR) photography.  I’ve been interested in this for a while but never really pursued it.  The point of HDR images is to make details visible in both the highlights and shadows of an image. Generally, both the camera sensor and any typical viewing medium (like a monitor or even printed photos) don’t have enough dynamic range to either properly capture or properly display details in both an image’s shadows and highlights.  There is just too much difference in brightness between the darkest parts and the lightest parts in a scene for the camera to capture everything or for it to all be faithfully reproduced on a monitor or print.  So some kind of workaround is necessary.

Due to the limitations of the camera’s sensor, capturing the details in both the highlights and shadows requires multiple images to be taken at different settings, a technique called exposure bracketing.  In the simplest case, exposure bracketing involves taking the following 3 photos: one that’s significantly underexposed (to capture details in the highlights), one that’s properly exposed, and one that’s significantly overexposed (to capture details in the shadows).  These images are then imported into a program on a computer that merges them to produce a composite image that has a much higher dynamic range than can be captured with a single exposure.  Unfortunately, this image also has a much higher dynamic range than can be displayed on a monitor or on a print, so another step is necessary.  This step is called tone mapping.

Tone mapping takes a HDR image that can’t be displayed and maps its brightness values back to a range of values that can be displayed.  When an image is captured, the darkest darks and the brightest brights are “clipped”, which means they’re simply cut off – detail in those areas is lost.  Taking multiple pictures of the same scene using different exposure settings gets back the data that was clipped.  Tone-mapping could simply clip the data again, however that would throw away the detail we want to preserve.  Instead, tone-mapping compresses the dynamic range, so that the details are preserved in both the highlights and shadows.  Modern tone mapping algorithms are actually quite a bit more complicated than simply compressing the dynamic range.  Rather, they operate on the data both globally and locally to try to maximize the extent to which details are visible in the image while simultaneously compressing the dynamic range to something that can be viewed on a monitor or print.  This often results in a very striking, though sometimes unnatural-looking image.

Yesterday I was looking through my to do list and I found a reminder to buy some software for making HDR before I graduate so I can take advantage of their (60%!!) educational discount.  Having just sold our exercise bike, I had some cash on-hand so I decided to go ahead and buy the software while I thought about it.  I bought Photomatix from HDRSoft for about $40 rather than the usual $100.  I remembered that I was out a month or two ago and for some reason decided to take some shots using exposure bracketing, so I looked through my Lightroom catalog and found a few sets of exposure bracketed images.  I picked the set that I liked best, exported it to Photomatix, created the HDR image, re-imported to Lightroom, fiddled a bit with saturation and noise reduction, and then exported from Lightroom to PixelPost.  Done.

Having a tripod makes HDR photography easier, so I’m looking forward to using my new tripod along with my new HDR software to produce some good looking images in the future.  Stay tuned.

24
Oct
09

New Tripod

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago and in the weeks leading up to it, I spent some time trying to fill out my wish list on Amazon.  I would like to briefly plug their universal wish list button – you can add it to your browser’s bookmarks toolbar and then add anything you find on any website to your wish list.  That’s pretty handy.

Anyway, I have wanted a sturdy tripod for a while.  After a lot of looking, I decided that I wanted a ball head since I had grown tired of having to adjust two or three knobs in order to get my composition right.  I settled on the Manfrotto 322RC2. It seemed like it would allow incredibly fast composition changes and would be very comfortable to use.  So, that found its way onto my wish list.

By pooling together money I got for my birthday I was able to get the 322RC2 head with the Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod legs.  I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to use everything yet but so far I really like it.  The ball head is so nice.  It is super easy to change your composition, very quick, and it locks solidly into place.  The legs are big – if I extend the legs fully, the eyepiece of the camera is at eye level without raising the center column at all.  This is great because it maximizes stability and gives me some freedom to play around with shots that might require the camera to be above my eye level.

Continue reading ‘New Tripod’

08
Nov
08

Pumpkin 2008 and the Arduino Project

I guess this is becoming somewhat of a tradition.  Last year for Halloween, I carved the Pirates logo into my pumpkin.  This year, I decided to spend less time on the carving and more time on the lighting:

After the break, I have some info on the Arduino project and how I got involved.

Continue reading ‘Pumpkin 2008 and the Arduino Project’

26
Jun
08

Electronics going belly-up

My receiver/amplifier has been acting strange for the last few months.  Sometimes, if it’s been on for awhile, the sound just cuts out completely and we have to turn it off and then back on in order to fix the problem.  Sometimes, it seems like the volume just randomly changes, though I can’t tell if that problem is related to the receiver or the crappiness of MIT cable (which has been out all week!).  So, a replacement is in our future but I’ve been holding off because once I graduate we’ll have more money with which to buy a proper A/V setup and I don’t want to buy something now only to find that it won’t work with the other components we plan to upgrade.

To exacerbate our A/V woes, this morning I awoke to the annoying news that our DVD player wasn’t working.  Heather thought she had just pressed some button or something and that maybe I could fix it easily.  I fiddled with it for awhile and I’m now pretty sure that it’s busted.  Bear in mind, this isn’t some cheap $50 no-name DVD player.  This is a $200+ Sony 5-disc changer.  We got it in 2003 as an anniversary present, so I suppose it’s had a good run.  It replaced a Sony 5-disc CD changer which had gone belly-up for the 2nd time (my parents had paid for repairs on it after it died the first time).  Looking back, I think my CD player had an initial life of about 5 years, which was stretched another 2-3 years with the repair.  So, maybe 5 years is a reasonable life expectancy for one of these things.  I don’t know.

Anyway, I looked into getting it repaired.  Rather than having me bring it in somewhere to get a quote, they told me I could just get a replacement.  I give them my busted one and they give me a new or refurbished one and it costs me about $105.  That seemed reasonable.  Then I decided to look at what that $105 would buy me if I bought new.  It turns out that Sony has a single disc HD (1080p) upconverting DVD player with component and HDMI outputs for $80 or a 1080p upconverting 5-disc changer (also with component and HDMI outs) for $130.  So, for $25 less than the replacement cost, I can get a single-disc upconverting player and for $25 over the replacement cost, I can get an upconverting 5-disc changer with HD outs.  I’m pretty sure I’m not going to pay for the replacement.  I just have to decide if it’s worth $50 to get the 5-disc changer.  In any case, I hate the idea of this thing just going into a landfill.  So, I may see if I can just give it back to Sony so they can refurbish it and give it to someone else.  If they won’t take it, I’ll try to give it away at MIT.  Perhaps someone here can fix it, or, failing that, use some of the components that still work for some awesome project that may get them arrested at gunpoint at the airport.

19
Jun
08

A note for those looking for Wii Fit

In about mid-May, I decided to buy Wii Fit for my wife for her birthday.  She had indicated that she wanted to be pretty aggressive in trying to lose her baby weight and from what I had read about it, Wii Fit seemed like a good way to kick start and keep track of weight loss progress, so it seemed like a good, um, fit.  However, I knew it would be tough to find.  I thought about going out to try to find it on launch day (May 21st), but that was my daughter’s birthday and we had a whole day of activities planned.  The following day it was sold out everywhere.  Furthermore, the more I read about it online, the more it became clear that it wouldn’t be easy to find.  I had looked on Walmart.com and used their inventory reports to see availability at brick and mortar stores and while they sometimes reported that they had units in stock, when I called, they inevitably told me that they had just sold their last unit.  Plus, the nearest Walmart is not very near, so this wasn’t a great solution.

On Monday, I decided to step up my game.  I did some more digging online and I found the following two sites: WiiTracker.com and WiiAlerts.com.  These two sites have scripts that trawl all the main retailers and can report their inventory status nearly in real time.  WiiAlerts allows you to enter your cellphone number so that when a product is in stock, you can get a text message telling you so.  It paid off for me this morning.  I got a message shortly after I got up telling me that Circuit City had Wii Fit in stock.  I quickly ordered it and about half an hour ago, I got a shipping confirmation from them.  So, if you’re interested in getting Wii Fit without having to pay extra on sites like eBay or Craigslist, check out the two sites above.  They worked for me!  (Queue cheesy smile and thumbs-up gesture.)

14
Nov
07

Looking for more photography-related tips

In addition to soliciting suggestions on techniques and products for cleaning DSLR CCD/CMOS sensors, I also have a couple of other things I’d like help with.

1) I bought Adobe Lightroom with money I got for my birthday. I’m trying to learn how to use it. Has anyone used it and/or can anyone recommend useful books or web resources about how to use it effectively. It seems like most books on the subject are already outdated (i.e. pertain to version 1.0; I have 1.2) or are not good.

2) Pinhole photography. I’m interested in trying this out. I asked for a couple of extra body caps for Christmas so I might try my hand at making a pinhole “lens” or two. Are there practical considerations regarding the construction of a pinhole “lens”? Is it worth buying a set of different diameter pinholes, like this?  What about practical considerations when taking a picture using a pinhole camera?




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