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?

25
Aug
07

SLR photography: a retrospective and a new chapter

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post asking my readers about digital SLR cameras. I was theoretically considering getting a digital SLR because I wanted to learn to take beautiful pictures. A former member of my research group had recommended learning SLR photography using digital SLRs because you get instant feedback. However, in the comments responding to my post, a couple of people suggested getting a fully manual film SLR instead – at least initially – so I would be forced to learn how to use an SLR properly. Then, once I had mastered taking pictures manually, I could move on to a digital SLR and actually take advantage of its features, rather than treating it as an expensive point-and-shoot. I took their advice and got a Pentax K1000 from eBay. I took lots of pictures with it and even entered my first photo competition with a picture from the Omaha Zoo, taken with my K1000.

Since last August, I have aquired 2 other film SLRs, both as gifts, in addition to my K1000. The first – a Konica Autoreflex T – was given to me by my wife’s uncle during our trip to Omaha this spring. I’ve probably taken 3 or 4 rolls of film with that camera. I like it, but I don’t know how to use it as well as my K1000. This mostly hinges on the metering system, which recommends the correct aperture to use rather than telling you whether your currently selected settings would produce a properly exposed picture.

In addition to the Konica, when my friend Scott moved out of Cambridge, he gave me a Canon EOS IX Lite, which uses APS film. This is a much more full-featured SLR than my other two, including auto-exposure, auto-focus, aperture- and shutter-priority modes, fully automatic shooting, and other goodies. He also threw in a Canon 22-55mm f/4-5.6 wide-angle zoom lens and a Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 telephoto zoom lens. These are both auto-focus lenses with built-in motors, so it’s a very nice package. I used this camera primarily when my brother-in-law and I took our Photowalk in the Back Bay. I like it a lot, but the APS format is dying and both the film itself and the developing is getting expensive and hard to locate.

By the time I develop all the film I have, I’ll have taken 25 rolls of film with my various film SLR cameras. I feel like I’ve gotten much more proficient at taking pictures. I’ve developed an eye for what constitutes a good photo and I have a sense for how to compose pictures. I’ve learned about the effects of shutter speed and aperture. I’ve experimented with different film speeds and types, including black and white print, color print, and color slide. In short, I think I’ve accomplished what I had hoped to accomplish with my foray into film: I’ve learned how to use a manual SLR. Sure, there’s room for improvement, as there will always be, but I’ve definitely got the basics figured out.

In addition to having accomplished much of what I hoped to accomplish through the use of a film SLR, lately I have become more keenly aware of how expensive using film is. The cost of film plus the cost of developing has been preventing me from experimenting and I felt like my photography was beginning to stagnate. So, I began to think about a digital SLR again. Unlike many of my friends who, by virtue of the many lenses they already owned, were locked into buying a digital SLR of a particular brand, I haven’t invested much money in lenses, so I was free to consider cameras from many different manufacturers. After spending lots of time on dpreview.com and reading many reviews written by camera owners, I came to the conclusion that the Pentax K10D is a great value, providing many advanced features that are only available on significantly more expensive cameras from Canon and Nikon.

This summer, Pentax instituted a rebate program, which could give buyers a rebate of up to $150 if they bought the camera along with one of couple of possible accessories. The last day of the rebate was July 31st and, in the days leading up to it, I agonized over whether I should take the plunge. I like to keep my options open, so I find decisions like this stressful. Anyway, in the end, I bought a K10D with the kit lens and a telephoto zoom lens from Willoughby’s in New York. I’m suspicious of many of these New York-based camera stores because they have a reputation for ripping people off, however, so far, I’ve been happy with Willoughby’s. I had to have one of the lenses replaced because, at some point during shipping the lens cap had become loose and had been rubbing on the front glass of the lens, producing small scratches and scuff marks. They were helpful on the phone, paid for the shipping to return the lens to them, and got me a replacement very quickly. So, all in all, it’s been a positive experience.

So, long story short, I now have a digital SLR and I’m learning how to use it. There are a lot of things to master, even if you’re not shooting manually and I’ve gotten pretty good at using the delete button. However, I’ve also taken some pictures that I’m really happy with. Unfortunately, while we were in Pittsburgh, it was overcast much of the time and I have lots of pictures in which the sky is overexposed. If people have any recommendations on how to minimize this problem, I’d be interested in hearing them. Also, I may try to set up some kind of photo blog on my server, so if people want to give me recommendations on what software I should use, I’d be interested in that as well.

30
Jul
07

New sandals

Since Adrian is showing off his new footwear, I thought I would write about my new sandals.

When I was in college, I had a pair of sandals that I wore all the time.  At some point, the sole began to separate from the upper and they were unofficially retired.  Since then, I hadn’t been able to find a pair of sandals that I liked and didn’t give me blisters.  However, during my last trip to Pittsburgh, my mom wanted to help me look for a pair of sandals as a Father’s Day present.  We looked all around Robinson Town Center and finally managed to track down a pair of sandals that I liked and seemed to fit me.  I’ve worn them all day 7 or 8 times since I got them and I’ve yet to develop any blisters, so it looks like they’re going to be a success!  Plus, they ended up costing $5 since they were on clearance for $20 and Sears had a $15 off deal if you opened a Sears charge.  Not bad.

sandals.jpg

07
Apr
07

New camera

konica.jpg

While we were in Omaha, in addition to visiting Heather’s grandmother, we also visited a number of her other relatives. In particular, we spent some time with Heather’s Uncle Jeffrey, who has a reputation for having a large collection of stuff from all over. In fact, his house is like a museum. In any case, I mentioned to him that I was interested in photography and I showed him my K1000. It turns out that he had a K1000, but had given it, along with a number of lenses, to a friend of his. He was disappointed that he no longer had it because he seemed to want to give it to me due to my interest in it and experience with it.

The morning we were to leave, Jeff showed up at Heather’s grandmother’s apartment with a kind of suitcase and indicated that it was a present for me. Inside was a Konica Autoreflex T along with a flash and a couple of lenses. Among the lenses is a 57mm f1.4, which gives me 2 extra stops of low-light shooting over the 50mm f2 lens I have for my K1000. The camera has a mechanical timer, which will be useful for group shots where I also want to be in the shot. In addition, the camera is noteworthy because it was the first SLR to use TTL metering and what is now referred to as shutter priority for auto-exposure shooting.

I don’t think I’ll probably use this camera in shutter priority mode; rather, I expect I’ll shoot manually. However, the way I shoot manually with this camera could be different than the way I shoot with the K1000. This discrepancy has to do with the presentation of information inside the viewfinder.

Continue reading ‘New camera’




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