Archive for the 'photography' Category


Beard Experiment 2009

This year I’ve been hearing a lot about people growing “winter beards”.  This got me thinking about growing a beard myself.  I’ve thought about it in the past, but I never followed through on it because I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t look good.  The times that I had gone a week or more between shaves had taught me that my facial hair is patchy.  I could get away with a goatee but I couldn’t count on my whiskers to cover my cheeks.

However, I couldn’t help wondering if I would be able to grow a good looking beard if I only gave the empty patches some time to fill in.  I had never had the fortitude in the past to keep on growing it out after a week or a week and half.  So, this year during my January term, I decided to try and see what it would look like.

I shaved on January 2nd in preparation for a wedding I was in on the 3rd.  Since then, I’ve only shaved my neck and some little patches at the tops of my cheeks.  Here’s the result after a little over a month of growth:


I think it looks pretty good from the front.  However, the sides leave a bit to be desired.  As you can see below, the patches didn’t really fill in all that well, even after a month. In addition, the beard doesn’t connect to my hair at all.  There is no way I could pull off any kind of sideburns.

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Planning a future computer purchase

Our main desktop computer is now over 5 years old. It’s a P4 2.4GHz with an 800MHz FSB and 1.5GB of RAM.  It’s adequate for much of what we do, but it’s definitely showing its age when it comes to more demanding tasks, like processing my RAW photos, which I shoot in Pentax PEF format but convert to Adobe DNG during import.

So, at some point in the not-too-distant future I’d like to upgrade and I’ve been keeping my eye on what’s in the pipeline…

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Migrating photo galleries

If you have kids and live away from your extended family, online photo galleries are pretty much a necessity these days. I’ve been running one on this server since 2004, when our daughter was born. I’ve been using Gallery v.1 and it’s worked out pretty well for me. However, as I get closer to graduating, I’m aware that my ability to host this site will change. Figuring out what changes to make and actually making those changes could be both time-consuming and headache-inducing.

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The futility of the megapixel race

I was going to write a lengthy post about the physics of why point-and-shoot cameras with tiny 10MP sensors take terrible pictures but there are probably better writeups elsewhere online.  (For example, see here.)  So, instead I will just complain that camera companies have chosen to continually increase the pixel count in their cameras knowing full well that it’s making the image quality worse.  Someone needs to educate the public on the fact that more pixels doesn’t give you a better image.  Rather, it just gives you a noisy image with lots of noise reduction artifacts occupying a very large file.  I have a 3MP point-and-shoot from 2004 and it takes better looking pictures than most of the sample shots I’ve seen that were taken with 9 or 10MP cameras on the market right now.  Give me a 3-4MP camera with a better movie mode, a longer zoom, and a wider wide-angle focal length and I would be happy.



Ok, so this post isn’t actually about potpourri. Rather, it’s just a mix of a bunch of stuff that I’ve collected over the last two weeks.

  1. The Pirates won again tonight (2nd in a row) after losing 6 straight, including being swept again by the Cubs. Matt Morris and Adam LaRoche are officially terrible. Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, and Ryan Doumit are awesome.
  2. I had thought about starting a new segment on my blog where I post a line from a song to see if people can figure out what song it’s from. Then, I realized that, in the age of the internet, that task is trivially easy. I had planned on using the line “Who put the shield around the ‘k’?”, from “K for Karnival” by Nothing Painted Blue but just typing the line into Google gives you the answer. Curse you, internet.
  3. I also thought about introducing a repeating segment in which I would post a picture as a RAW file and have people submit their take on it. I may still do this if people are interested.
  4. On Patriot’s Day our family had an outing to see the Boston Marathon. On our way home, I saw this:



    That’s right, a “Wii Sports” jacket. Now, I like my Wii as much as the next guy, but I’m not about to wear something like this.  That said, the “Wii Sports” jacket is a step above the bowling pin costume I saw the same day:


    Alright.  I think that’s enough for now.  I’ll post more when the mood strikes.


Lens reviews on

If you’re looking for in-depth, detailed reviews of cameras, has been pretty much the best resource around for quite a while. Their focus has always been on higher end cameras, particularly DSLRs, so they don’t review every point-and-shoot that comes out, but the cameras they do review are given very thorough coverage. While they offer a lot of useful information on cameras, it used to be the case that their information became less useful once you had bought a camera and were looking to expand your lens selection. However, they’ve changed that. They just started doing lens reviews and they intend to expand this section of the site rapidly in the next few months. This could be a really helpful resource, since lenses are expensive and you want to make sure you’re spending your money well. Right now, they have reviews for two lenses each from Sony, Nikon, Canon, and Pentax, including the most common kit lens for each. Check it out:

I’ve looked at a few of the reviews and they have a really sweet interactive display for exploring the sharpness (MTF) and chromatic aberration of the lens as a function of focal length and aperture.  If you’re a photography enthusiast you should really check it out.


A new camera?

When Elizabeth was born, my parents lent us their video camera so we could videotape Elizabeth’s early activities. However, we weren’t very disciplined about using it since tape-based camcorders aren’t well set up for taking multiple short clips and getting the video from the camera onto the computer is a pain. We used our digital camera to take short clips but it can only do 15 frames per second for a maximum of 30 seconds. So, the video is kind of jerky and sometimes we missed things because the clips are limited to 30 seconds.

With a new baby on its way, we’re looking for a good way of taking decent videos. It might also be nice to upgrade our digital point-and-shoot camera, since it’s 4 years old and has only a 3x zoom. Camcorders are expensive and generally pretty bulky. So, it seems like a point-and-shoot camera with a good movie mode is our best bet. Right now, the camera that seems best for our purposes is the Panasonic Lumix TZ5, which is due to be released in March. It takes 9.1 megapixel pictures, has a 10x optical zoom starting at a 35mm film equivalent focal length of 28mm, optical image stabilization, and can take 720p videos (as well as VGA) at 30fps. Not only that, you can use the optical zoom during the videos. The MSRP is ~$350, but I expect it’ll be available for ~$280 or so before too long.  The one gripe I have is the video codec it uses.  Some cameras use good video codecs like H.264, but my current camera and the TZ5 still use motion jpeg, which produces gigantic files.  This means that, in order to post the video online, I have to convert it to some other format that isn’t so huge.  It would be nice if I could just upload the file without having to tinker with it.

Does anyone know of any other cameras that would work well as a camcorder replacement? I guess I’m mostly looking at cameras that don’t fit into the SLR-like or Super/Ultra zoom categories (e.g. Canon S5 IS, etc.).  I know that Casio cameras generally use a good video codec, but I don’t know of any that have a long zoom or allow you to use the optical zoom during the movie.



I like to celebrate the minor victories in life, so I thought I would post about this.

Today I upgraded the firmware on my camera from version 1.00 to 1.30.  This may not seem like a great feat, but firmware upgrades make me nervous.  It’s generally the case that if something goes awry during a firmware upgrade, the device you’re upgrading is permanently hosed. Plus, I’m not just speaking from abstract knowledge that something could go wrong;  a device in my research group actually did bite the dust after experiencing a problem while I was upgrading its firmware.  In any case, my camera’s firmware upgrade seems to have been successful, so I can exhale, go to bed, and sleep soundly.


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?


All clean

I had the CCD sensor on my K10D cleaned today.  I took it to Calumet, which is near our local mall and they cleaned it while I waited.  I’m glad to have it clean again because there was a really annoying “dark blob” that had appeared sometime in September that was ruining some of my shots.  Apparently, it was some kind of lubrication fluid or something that had gotten on the sensor.  The K10D has a nice sensor shake function that can shake dust off the sensor, but it doesn’t work for fluids.  Anyway, I’d like to avoid having to get my sensor cleaned professionally as much as possible, since it’s pretty expensive.  However, doing it myself is risky.  Without knowing what I’m doing, it would be pretty easy to scratch the sensor or damage the camera in some other way.  So, I’m looking for information on how to do it properly and what tools/supplies are best.  Any suggestions?


December 2021

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