Neutral Density Filters (Sony a7RII)- Singh-Ray and Breakthrough filters

In the fall of 2018, we took a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the hopes of capturing fall colors.  Typically, waterfalls on the Parkway are less than impressive in the fall, but this year, the waterfalls were quite elegant, while the fall colors were disappointing.  The impressive waterfalls begged for me to use my neutral density filters to give the wonderful creamy appearance.

Singh-Ray Variable Neutral Density Filter

I had a Singh-Ray 77mm (Thin Mount) Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density filter with me.  Fortunately, I had done some previous evaluation of the performance of this filter on my Sony a7RII with a 24-105 f4 lens, but I had failed to remember that my 16-35 f4 lens was only 72mm.  With a little bit of work, I was able to get some nice waterfall images.


Upper Lindeville Falls: 0.5 sec, f13, ISO 50 (Singh-Ray filter)


Rake Mill Pond: 1.6 sec, f11, ISO 50 (Singh-Ray filter

While these were satisfactory, in the top picture I had to push the f-stop up to f13 to slow the shutter speed to 0.5 seconds (sort of at the very low end for shooting waterfalls for the creamy look).  

In previous evaluations of this variable density filter, I knew a couple of very important things.  First, a bit of an explanation about the Singh-Ray filter.  The density of the filter (according to published specifications) is from 2.4 to 8 stops.  This variable density is accomplished by rotating the front right (below) from min to max.  I am assuming that the first line on the left represents about a 25% adjustment, the midline about a 50% adjustment and the right line about a 75% adjustment.


1. At a focal length of 24mm, there was some significant blue cast vignetting apparent on the Sony 24-105mm f4 lens at 24mm which improves at 28-30mm.  


1/160, f7.1 ISO 200 at 24mm

2. At a focal length of 16mm (72-77 step up plus Singh Ray Vari-ND), the vignetting issue gets much worse (see below) on a Sony 16-35mm f4


3. At a density setting of 75%, a purple hue effects the image (see below and compare to the one above)


4. At near maxium density setting, a horrible X shaped color cast forms (see below)


Singh-Ray Conclusions

1. The full range of 2.4 to 8 stops is not useable as color casting becomes a significant problem above the 75% mark.  I am guessing this is about 6 stops

2. Vignetting on the Sony 24-105 is evident at 24mm and disappears at 28-30mm.  On the Sony 16-25mm f4 (with 72-77 step up ring), vignetting is a severe problem at 16 mm and improves(nearly gone) at 20mm

Breakthrough X4 Neutral Density filters

Because of the Singh-Ray limitations, I decided to evaluate Breakthrough X4 neutral density filters.  I tested the 6 stop and the 10 stop filters on both the Sony 16-35 f4 (with a 72-77 step up ring) and the Sony 24-105 f4.  

Vignetting: Neither the 6 stop for 10 stop filters caused any vignetting on the 24-105mm f4 lens.  On the Sony 16-35mm f4, the 72-77 step ring did not cause vignetting (see below)


Adding the 6 stop filter caused a very small amount of vignetting that was easily corrected in software (see below)


Sony 16-35mm f4 with 72-77 step up ring and Breakthrough 6 stop X4 ND @ 16mm

Stacking the 72-77 step up, 6 stop and 10 stop neutral density filters did cause considerable vignetting at 16mm (see below), but the vignetting disappeared at 18mm (second picture below)


Sony 16-35mm f4 @ 16mm (72-77 step up ring,6 stop and 10 stop X4 ND stacked


Sony 16-35mm f4 @ 18mm (72-77 step up ring,6 stop and 10 stop X4 ND stacked)

No Color Cast with Breakthrough X4 ND filters

I did a very simple test of color cast with the Breakthrough filters.  I took three images with no filter, with the 6 stop filter and then the 10 stop filter using the Sony 24-105mm f4 lens.  The images are below and they are without any correction.  It appears that there is no to very minimal color cast with either of these two filters.


No filter


6 stop Breakthrough X4 ND Filter


10 stop Breakthrough X4 ND Filter

From each of the images above, I pixeled peeped to evaluation sharpness.  At a 2:1 magnification, I saw no evidence of loss of sharpness (see below)


Breakthrough X4 Neutral Density filters conclusions

1. On either the Sony 16-35mm f4 or 24-105mm f4 there is excellent vignetting control

2. There appears to be no to minimal effect on sharpness of the image.

3. There is no obvious color cast with either the 6 or 10 stop filters.

UltraLight Dual 36L Mindshift Bag

I recently purchased this bag for some very specific needs.   This discussion assumes you have viewed the details of the product offered on other sites. 

  1. I wanted to carry my camera equipment in a backpack but access it without putting the bag down on the ground.
  2. I wanted enough room so I could store extra clothing, such as a fleece or rain parka.

In the past during travel, I would carry three and 1/2 bags

  1. An Airport Essentials from Think Tank: two Sony a7RII attached to lens, Sony 16-35mm f4, Sony 24-105 f4, Sony 70-200mm f4, GoPro Hero 5 Black, computer, backup drives,  8-12 SD cards, filters, batteries and chargers, lens cleaning equipment and an Artic Butterfly blower.
  2. A Seattle Sports duffle bag with clothes, tripod, personal hygiene stuff, walking sticks, duplicate chargers and sensor cleaning equipment.
  3. And an empty 28 Osprey backpack packed in the duffle bag.
  4. The 1/2 bag was my wife’s carry on which included chargers for iPhones, iPads, outlet adaptors, my iPad and medicines.

Whenever we arrived at our destination and were out and about, I would transfer two camera bodies with desired lenses attached, the GoPro and stick (if they were going to be used), and a couple of extra cards and batteries to the Osprey backpack.  Whenever I wanted to use a camera, I just put the Osprey down and got the desired camera.  While this strategy worked, it had some serious draw backs

  1. There is very little room for anything extra in the Osprey bag.
  2. Always had to lay the Osprey bag down to access the desired camera body and lens.
  3. My wife was carrying a fair amount of my extra wait.

My primary purpose of this bag was to use it on a trip to Chile and Antartica.  Over the past week, I have tested the bag on a driving trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  1. I was able to pack all of my camera gear and ancillary stuff into the bag!  This allows me to get rid of 1 1/2 bags.  This included the following items:
  2. My tripod and walking sticks were packed in the checked luggage
  3. Upon arrival at our destination, I would simply remove the computer, all the contents in the upper chamber, and configure my two camera bodies with the lens that I wanted for that particular destination.  I could have carried all three lenses, but I very very rarely change lenses outside.  I was able to generate three different configurations depending on my needs.
    • I could leave the cameras in the lower pouch and rotate the camera bag as described in the MindShift videos.  In this configuration I found access to the cameras to be awkward when I had two camera bodies with lenses attached. If you are rarely accessing the cameras and not changing cameras frequently, this is workable, but care must be given that the other camera body does not fall out.  If you only have a single camera body with lens attached this will work just fine.
    • I could remove the bottom pouch with the cameras and use it as a shoulder bag.  This is a very workable solution in terms of camera access, but you lose the storage capacity in the top of the bag.
    • I could remove the bottom pouch with cameras, and attach it to the belt and shoulder straps with the tripod suspension kit.  MindShift refers to this configuration as Front Mount.  I found this configuration to be very workable with ready access to the cameras and lots of storage for clothes in the back top pouch.  The only issue that I noticed was when walking up steps or hills, the camera bag would hit my thighs, although I think I could have raised it considerably to at least partially avoid this problem.
    • In all of these options, I can have dry bags in the various lower pouch compartments to selectively protect the camera gear from rain.

  General Impressions

  1. The lower compartment of the bag readily holds two Sony a7RII bodies with attached lenses plus one additional unattached lens.  Lenses I used were the Sony 16-35mm f4, 24-105mm f4 and 70-200mm f4.
  2. In combination with the upper compartment, a lot of camera equipment can be transported in the bag.
  3. While some reviews commented on the difficulty of removing the lower compartment shoulder bag, after a few times, I found that it was not all that difficult.
  4. While the rotation concept is a great idea, I found it a bit awkward and leaves room for improvement, particularly when two bodies are used
  5. The ability to remove the lower compartment with cameras and lenses attached as a separate shoulder bag is great.  This will likely be my prefered configuration: a separate shoulder bag or the Front mount the Mindshift describes.

Sony RX100 V6

When we travel, my wife will regularly want to take some pictures.  On our last trip I packed a Sony 7R with an attached 24-200mm f3.5-6.3 lens for her use.  She never touched it, but instead would grab a GoPro Hero5 Black for both stills and video clips.  While this ‘works’ the quality of the images are just ok.  After doing some internet research, I decided to rent the Sony RX100 V6 from LensRentals for 3 weeks and test drive the camera and also to see how my wife would or would not use it.  I had two reasons for making this selection: the 24-200mm zoom and the small size

To provide some perspective, I shoot Sony a7RII with several of their zoom lens (16-35, 24-105 and 70-200mm all f4) and a couple of their prime lenses (28mm f2.0, 55mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.4).  Given this experience, I found the menu and controls of the RX100 V6 fairly familiar and easy to work with.

This is not a review of the capabilities of the camera as those can be found elsewhere, but I will assure you that this is a very powerful camera lots of functionality built in.  

There were two things I wanted to know at the end of the test drive: image quality and usability (would my wife use it).

With respect to usability, my wife did not hesitate to use the camera, although it had been configured in shutter priority, center focus, and auto ISO so minimal knowledge was need to operate the camera.  At one point, I changed the focus to spot focus and she adapted very quickly to the touch focus capability.  Perhaps the most remarkable observation, is I would also use the camera and could readily access many of the more powerful features. The electronic view finder was ok and ‘worked’ in a pinch when the back LCD could not be seen.  The built in flash also worked well within the expectations given it’s small size.

The only negative on usability is one must be very careful not to touch the lens accidentally (leaving smudges).  The only other negative for the camera is the video formats do not support MP4 and the time stamps for the AVCHD or XAVC files do not correspond to the actual time the video was taken, but rather GMT time.  

With respect to image quality, it was quite impressive.  I have provided a few examples below.  All pictures were processed through Lightroom CC using my standard work flow.  You can get full size version of the picture by clicking on it.   


Taken as a JPEG from an airplane at 1/640 sec, f4.5, ISO 125 at 45mm equivalent.


Taken as a JPEG at 1/60 sec, f4, ISO 640 at 46mm equivalent.


Taken as a JPEG at 1/250 sec, f8, ISO 125 at 72mm equivalent.


Taken as a RAW at 1/1000 sec, f4.5, ISO 320 at 195mm equivalent.


Taken as a RAW at 1/1000 sec, f4.5, ISO 250 at 195mm equivalent.


Taken as a RAW at 1/50 sec, f2.8, ISO 6400 at 24mm equivalent.


Taken as a RAW at 1/320 sec, f4.5, ISO 1600 at 195mm equivalent.


Taken as a RAW at 1/160 sec, f2.8, ISO 6400 at 24mm equivalent.

There two very cool features in this camera.  The first is the very high frame rate that you can achieve: 24 frames per second as stills for about 230 images!  The second feature is the ability to transfer JPEG files to your mobile device.  Other Sony cameras have this feature, but we really used it with camera because it allows for rapid uploading to social media.  The implementation is a bit cumbersome, but it does work reasonably well.

The bottom line is the Sony RX100 V6 is a very useable camera that generates high quality images in a compact, point and shoot format.

New Zealand with MoaTrek Tours

I generally find reviews that say “It was absolutely perfect or horrible” to be worthless so I decided to write a bit more detail about our New Zealand experience with MoaTrek.  If you dont want to read the whole thing our conclusions and picture link are in the first two paragraphs.  We found New Zealand full of beautiful and diverse scenery; and friendly and welcoming people.  Moatrek did a really great job introducing us to New Zealand.  Below are details as to why we make these comments.

If you just want to see some of our pictures, you can go here.

When we started writing this review, we wondered about the best approach to the review. What was important to consider?  The following major categories were considered

1.     General considerations-5 stars

2.     Pre-tour communication and arrangements-5 stars

3.     What was seen or experienced-5 stars-would give it a 6+ if that were on the scale.

4.     Communications during the tour-5 stars

5.     Accommodations 4+ stars

6.     Food-4 stars

 General Considerations:

First it is important to provide the perspective that we came to the tour with.  Our only tour experiences (one to South Africa and a second to Peru) were private tours.  The Moatrek tour was a small group rather than private.  The people on the tour were friendly and enriched the experience vs that of a private tour, but the trade-off was that the schedule needed to be adhered too more rigorously.

When we started looking at Moatrek as a tour service, there was a detail that we did not fully appreciate:  they provided information on various optional activities that would add an additional cost.  Originally, we had not planned on doing these optional activities, but in the end we chose to do several of them.  Without a doubt these optional activities greatly enhanced our overall experience and Moatrek did an excellent job integrating these optional activities into the tour. The optional activities we chose: Tiritiri Matango Island, Rotorua Canopy Tour Zipline, Te Pō, Zealandia, Abel Tasman hike from Awaroa to Tonga Quarry, Tasman Glacier Explorer Tour, and the Dart River Jetboat Wilderness Safari.  I will offer more comment on these optional activities later.

Pre-tour communications and arrangements:

We found these communications were excellent and all of our questions were promptly answered.  About 4 weeks before the tour, we received a detail itinerary that included all of the tour activities, our selected optional activities, accommodations (and contact info) and restaurant recommendations.  Moatrek recommends having a copy with you.  We agree and had a copy on our mobile phones as well as tablets.

What was seen and experienced (we saw a lot so this will be a bit long): 

We took the 14 day Kiwi tour that included Auckland, Rotorua, Tongariro National Park, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Methven, Mount Cook, and Queenstown.  And we traveled in a small van that could seat a maximum of 20 people.  We had 10 on the tour with us and that was a perfect number.  20 people was doable but it would have been pretty tight. 

We saw a lot of New Zealand in a very short time.  Nearly all was very interesting and there was very little wasted time.  The down side of this whirlwind tour was we found on many occasions a desire to linger and absorb the details, but were unable to do so.  There were many occasions we wish we could have stopped along the road to take pictures of beautiful countryside or stay longer to experience the bubbling mudpots or sit in the Lake Rotoiti Hot Springs longer.  Given the natural tension between wanting to see a lot and desire to linger, in our opinion, the MoaTrek Tours achieved a very respectable balance.

Our guide, Andre Booth, was very knowledgable and provided two very important functions: provided interesting history and details of New Zealand as we traveled to the different places and kept us informed to the day’s activities and options.  He also made sure everyone was doing ok.  He was great!

Some of things we did:

Sebel Hotel in Auckland: This hotel is located on the harbor.  The provided link does not really do justice to how great this hotel is.  It is within a few steps of a wonderfully entertaining and vibrant harbor area, with many great places to eat, places to relax and people watch.  Very enjoyable.  


Viaduct Lookout near The Sebel in Auckland 


Wedding Guest in the Viaduct Lookout

Tiritiri Matango Island:  This was a wonderful walk.  If it is your first visit to the island, we would strongly advise having a guide.  Don’t expect to get super great pictures of birds/wildlife unless you are willing to spend a fair amount of time on the island.  It is plentiful, but as to be expected, carefully hidden in the trees and ground.


Hobbs Beach on Tiri Tiri Mantangi Island


The rare Stitchbird near a honey feeder

Karangahake Gorge: a hike through an old mining area with very pretty views.  This is one of the places where some extra time would have been appreciated.


Suspenion Bridge over the Waitawheta River

KiwiFruit Country: This was a fascinating experience and Gavin Fleming, the owner, was very informative.  We learned a lot about kiwi farming, its history and tasted some very fresh kiwi.

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Golden Kiwi on the vine

Tiua Catamaran (Pure Cruise) ride on Lake Rotoiti: This is a relaxing experience, but for us marred by heavily over cast skies (lots of the beauty was lost) and a break down in communication to remind us to take our swim suits with us as we sailed to the Lake Rotoiti Hot Springs for a dip. Fortunately I was able to borrow a suit, but my wife was not able to.  This was a significant disappointment so don’t forget your swimsuit at Pure Cruise.


Manupirua Springs Hot Pools


Soaking in the hot springs

Rotorua Canopy Tour Zipline: This was an unbelievably positive and wonderful experience.  It is an adrenaline rush combined with the beauty of flying over the tops of very old trees.  Our two guides, Pinkie (Liv) (age 23) and Tom (age 19), were excellent and made us feel very comfortable doing something that seems inherently very dangerous.  One of us was really scared, but made it through with flying colors!!


 Getting fitted with lots of gear and safety devices with Pinkie




On one of the stands between 5 separate zipline paths

Lake Tarawera:  We had a sack lunch and a boat tour on the lake.  The history is fascinating and well told by Totally Tarawera.  Our trip was marred by heavily over cast skies.  Had we been traveling on our own, we might have stayed a day or two for better weather to experience the beauty of the lake.


Natural hotspring on Lake Tarawera

Waiotapu Geothermals: Fascinating geology and wonderful views.  We were able to see mudpots as well as the famous Champagne pool.  This is something you don’t want to miss, but also ponder what is brewing just below you.  Lots of fun colors but dampened by overcast skies.  This is one of those place where we might have lingered longer or stayed for nicer skies.

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 Mudpot of Waiotapu Geothermal area

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Waiotapu Geothermal Champagne Pool

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Waiotapu Geothermal Champagne Pool Bubbles!

Wairekei Geothermal Power Plant:  We were able to get an elevated view of the plant and marvel at both its size and complexity.  80% of New Zealand electricity comes from renewable resources and 16% comes from geothermal plants, such as this plant.

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 Wairekei Geothermal Power Plant

Taupo/Lake Taupo:  There are beautiful pictures of this lake, but the weather was overcast. We did eat lunch in Taupo and walked around a bit.  It seems like an interesting town.  This is another example of where lingering a day or two might have been worth the view.

Tongariro National Park: An excellent walking/hiking area.  We really liked the park and thought it was beautiful.  Views of Mount Ruapehu can be stunning if the weather cooperates.  This is another place where staying another day or so could have been fun, particularly if one likes to hike.  Our weather was quite nice here.  Hiked to Taranaki Falls.  This is a modest hike except for the last bit that is a very steep set of steps down and then back up returning.


 Chateau Tongariro Hotel

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Mount Ruapehu (Mt Doom in the Hobbit) from the Chateau


Taranaki Falls

Waipunga Falls: We stopped by a lookout over the falls on our way to Napier.  It is an impressive falls.  Would have loved to see these falls from below, but not sure whether that is possible


  Waipunga Falls

Napier:Art Deco Tour.  We stayed at the Scenic Hotel Te Pania.  We enjoyed the small city feel of Napier and there are lots of interesting buildings with Art Deco design elements.  The hotel is very close to the ocean, lots of small shops, restaurants and a beautiful park, Marine Parade.  We also enjoyed a lovely sunrise.  We felt it was a worthwhile visit.


 "A Wave in Time" statue


View of shoreline in Napier


Ocean viewing platform-part of Marine Parade Gardens

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Sunrise as seen from our hotel in Napier

Enroute to Wellington: As I mentioned we traveled on a small tour bus which was quite comfortable.  We could have flown between major cities, but would have lost so very much of the character of New Zealand.  Below provides just a small glimpse into understanding the value of traveling by vehicle  


This scene was between Napier and Dannevirke.  It is a fascinating building and an example of wishing there was more time to stop to get some great pictures.  This picture was actually shot from our moving bus using a very fast shutter speed (1/1000) and continous focus mode.  Not the most optimal way of capturing a picture, but this image creates for us a wonderful memory of New Zealand country side.  We took many pictures from the moving bus with similarly good results, just have to watch out for window reflections.


Cahoots Cafe in Greystown


Inside and menu of Cahoots Cafe


One tiny piece of Cahoots Cafe decor

We stopped in Greystown for lunch.  It is a tiny town of about 2200 people, but it has lots to offer. For lunch there were many choices, but we selected Cahoots cafe.  It was a great choice and other agree with us!

Wellington: We chose to walk along the harbor from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa back to the Bolton Hotel.  There were lots of fun things to experience: kids jumping off a plank into the harbor, reading love/memory padlocks firmly attached to a grid fence, people watching, sampling some ice cream, watching helicopters take off/land, and people kayaking and paddle boarding.  We also took the Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary by night tour.  It was a very pleasant walk and we got to see a single Kiwi, in addition to glow worms, and skinks.  During the nighttime walk, red lights are used to illuminate things of interest.  I took some pictures with very fast lenses, but the red light caused some issues.  Overall, this is an interesting walk.


 Boys enjoying a dip in Wellington Harbour


Love Locks at Wellington Harbour


Skink in Zealandia

Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton:  We traveled in the Premium Plus Lounge where we had breakfast and very comfortable seats.  This is a gorgeous trip, take a selfie or two and plan on watching the shoreline pass by.  Remember the hat in selfie picture because there is more story later on that subject.


 Interislander Ferry


Selfie as we approached the south island


View from the ferry as we pass through the channels to Picton

Forrest Estate Wines: We stopped here for a gourmet picnic lunch and sampled 3-4 of their wines.  This was a delightful stop and both the food and wine were excellent.  Well worth the visit.  Could have sat there for a couple more hours just enjoying the scenery, wine and good company.


 Jan setting up our picnic tables


Our tour group enjoying the wonderful lunch

Pelorus River: We stopped for a rest stop along the Pelorus River (famous in the filming of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings).  The river was tame and a wonderful green color.  Would have loved to explored this river a bit more, particularly the famous Pelorus Bridge.

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 Just a short way down river from the Pelorus Bridge


Our tour group enjoying a rest break by the Pelorus River

Nelson:  This is a great little town and seems like a jumping off point for adventures in the Tasman National Park.  We stayed at the end of Trafalgar St.  A short walk along Trafalgar St takes you to just below Nelson Cathedral and a wonderful fresco eating area.  We had excellent dinner here at Bacco and enjoyed people watching.


 Trafalgar St, Nelson, New Zealand


Nelson Cathedral (Christ Church Cathedral)


A common sight, people with various injuries.  Lots of adventure


Bruschette from Bacco

Abel Tasman National Park: We traveled to Kaiteriteri via the Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle and boarded a ferry to make our way to Awaroa Lodge.  Along the way to Awaroa Lodge, we saw Split Apple Rock, wonderful golden beaches, and a few seals.  There are several different tours to choose from, but we disembarked at Awaroa Beach, walked past Awaroa Lodge (after enjoying a coffee and pastries) on to Onetahuti Beach along the Abel Tasman Trail.  We arrived at high tide so there was only a narrow strip of beach to walk along and we had to walk through chest deep water to continue on the trail to Tongo Quarry.  At low tide, there probably would not have been nearly as deep of water to walk through.  A recent posting on the Abel Tasman website indicates that 4 hrs within the low tide time, the cross is dry.  The undulating trail is beautiful and well worth the hike. 


 Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle boarding at Kaiteriteri

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Split Apple Rock


Campers on golden sand beaches on the Abel Tasman Trail


First part of our Abel Tasman hike to Awaroa Lodge


First view of Onetahuti Bay and Beach


Onetahuti Beach at high tide

On to Methven: We had a long travel day from Nelson to Methven.  Along the way we stopped in the wonderful little town Murchison (pop about 500) and discovered Sweet Dreams French Bakery.  They had the world’s most delicious Custard Chocolate Twist!!  Sweet Dreams is rated 5 star on TripAdvisor and we would have to agree.  Then we stopped at Maruia Falls (33 feet high, but it looked higher to me) and watched several kayakers go over the falls.  Talk about an adrenaline rush.  It is also very beautiful both above and below the falls.  Then traveled on to Culverden (pop 426), shopped at the Three Bored Housewives (lots of interesting stuff) and had lunch at Red Post Café.  Very tasty and they had a cool, very old red refrigerator.  In Methven, while close to town (10-15 min walk) we decided to eat at our lodging, Ski Time Lodge and had a very good meal.


Country side between Nelson and Murchinson 


Sweet Dreams French Bakery in Murchinson


Kayakers going over Maruia Falls.  Talk about an adrenaline rush!


 Country side between Maruia Falls and Culverden


Three Bored Housewives in Culverden

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Ski Time Lodge in Methven

Akaunui Homestead Farm.  We met Ian and Di MacKenzie who were delightful and welcoming.  Ian showed us around the farm (dairy cattle and sheep, but most famous for carrot seeds), while Di prepared an unbelievably good lunch (more like a feast) with produce only from the farm.  The history is very interesting and Ian and Di tell some wonderful stories.  I think most people would have loved to stay longer.  Sadly, it was raining so we did not get to enjoy the surrounding gardens that Di manages, but the link provides a very good idea about the gardens.


 Ian MacKenzie


Di MacKenzie


Kitchen of the Akaunui Homestead

Lake Tekapo and Church of the Good Shepard:  The weather was very overcast and raining.  One can tell Lake Tekapo is a gorgeous blue-green lake, but we only got a glimpse of it in the weather.  The church had lots of tourist, like us, and while great to see up close, it would have been fun to see from a different vantage point than the parking lot.  This is another place where more time, in good weather, would have been very nice.


 Lake Tekapo


Church of the Good Shepard

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village: When we arrived, it was heavily overcast which was a major disappointment.  BUT, we had a wonderful dinner in the Panorama room at The Hermitage and rose early to find wonderful stars from our room balcony and then a spectacular view of Mount Cook (Aoraki).  Delighted to see the mountain and its surroundings.


Early morning stars from our room at Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village 


 Early morning view from our room at Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village 

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Mount Cook (Aoraki)

Tasman Glacier Explorer Tour:  We think this is one of the must do activities and it is very much worth learning about the history of the glacier and the lake.  We had a pleasant short walk from a car park to Lake Tasman with beautiful views where we boarded a small MAC boat that got us up close and personal with icebergs from the glacier as well as close to the face of the retreating glacier.  The views and experience on the lake have created lasting memories and our guide was excellent.  The blues in the ice can only be appreciated in person, but did  the best I could.  This is another place where more time would have been deeply appreciated. 

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View from our short walk to Lake Tasman.


 Our group walking down to the Mac Boat on Lake Tasman

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An iceberg on Lake Tasman


An iceberg on Lake Tasman)

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Full face of Tasman Glacier

High Country Salmon: Near Twizel.  We got some sashimi and smoked salmon and ate in Omarama.  It was delicious.  In Omarama we also found Kebabs at The Love Shack, a roadside food stand. 


 High Country Salmon near Twizel


Country side view between Twizel and Omarama


Love Shack Kebabs for lunch!

Mrs. Jones Fruit Orchard, Cromwell: A large fruit market with lots of variety.  The fruit was very fresh and tasty. We bought some pears and apples for snacks to eat in Queenstown.


 A small view of Mrs. Jones Fruit Orchard fruit market

Skyline Gondola ride to Bob’s Peak:  At the top is a spectacular view of Queenstown.  If you like high overlook views of cities, this view should not be missed.  Keep your eyes open for bungee jumpers on the way to the top.  Would have liked to spend a bit more time looking at the view and the paragliders catching the air lifts.


Boarding area for going up to Bob’s Peak


 View from the gondola part way up to mountain


Panoramic view of Queenstown and part of Lake Wakatipu


Selfie on Bob’s Peak with Queenstown in background

Milford Sound: Something that should not be missed.  Got up early and drove to the sound through Acton and Te Anau.  Lots of pretty views along the way and stopped at Lake Gunn to stroll through an unbelievably beautiful forest.  I could well imagine people from Middle Earth moving through these forests at one time.  Enchantment. Passed through Homer Tunnel (more like a hole drilled through a mountain).  If you have claustrophobia, close your eyes and don’t think about it too much.  We were very lucky and had a beautiful day for our boat ride though Milford Sound.  The views are stunning (e.g., Mitre Peak, Bowen Falls); the captain took us to the bottom of the falls where we could enjoy the water spraying over us.  Very cool and great fun indeed.

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Lake Gunn Forest


Lake Gunn Forest creature making sure you are safe


 Mitre Peak


Enjoying the mist of one of the Milford Sound waterfalls

1803080371 HDR

Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls

Air Milford: We flew out of Milford Sound on Air Milford and I would highly recommend this.  This shortens the time to get back to Queenstown by several hours, but more importantly Michael, our great pilot, gave us some very up close views of the rapidly vanishing glaciers and stunning views of the Fjord National Park from the air.  This short trip really gave us a much better understanding of the landscape in this part of the world.  Exquisite beauty.

Remember my hat in the selfie on the way to the south island.  This particular hat has traveled with me to South Africa and Peru so I am a bit fond of it.  Sadly, by accident, I left it on the Air Milford plane when we disembarked.  Jen of Air Milford retreived my hat and took to our hotel on the same day, but through a series of miscommunications with the hotel staff, I was not able to get it.  Now this gets interesting! I wrote a brief note to Air Milford inquiring about the hat.  With their help, our guide, Andre’s help, and the staff at the hotel my hat was mailed back to me in the States.  Remarkable!  Just great people  


Cruise boat at bottom of falls from an Air Milford flight


View of vanishing glaciers from an Air Milford flight


View of Fiordland National Park from an Air Milford flight

Dart River Boat: On our last day in New Zealand, we took a Dart River Boat.  These are basically water jet boats that can travel at high speed in very shallow water (think adrenaline rush) and the Dart River offers spectacular views (unsurpassed beauty).  Plan on getting wet, but not drenched, and having a lot of fun! 


View of Dart River


A 360° heart stopping turn around on the river, water spraying everywhere


View of Dart River at the end of the trail

Photography Kit

I took 7 camera bodies with me on this trip, 2 Sony a7RII, 1 Sony a7R, 2 GoPro Hero 5 and two iPhones.  The two a7RII Sony bodies were used extensively.    The GoPro cameras proved very valuable in certain conditions, such as selfies, ziplining, capturing some video on Lake Tasman and the Dart River Boat ride.  We also used the GoPro for selfies along with our iPhones.  The Sony a7R with the 24-240 was used once and not worth they carrying weight.

Lenses: I took 6 different lenses: 28mm f2, 21mm adapter for the 28 mm f2 lens, 24-105 mm f4, 85mm f1.4, 24-240 f3.5-5.6, and a 70-200mm f4, all Sony E mount lenses.  The vast majority of pictures where taken with the 24-105 f4 lens.  The 70-200mm was rarely used and the 24-240 was not used at all.  Occasional use was made with the 28mm f2 and the 85mm f1.4 lens particularly when light was challenging. 

Miscellaneous items:

1. Eight Sandisk 64GB Extreme PRO USH II SDXC cards-I was able to keep a copy of the pictures on the cards, just in case I lost the pictures on my hard drive.

2. A LaCie 4 TB Rugged Raid (Thunderbolt/USB 3.0) partitioned as a 3.5 TB and a 0.5 TB partition.  The smaller partition was a bootable version of my MacBook Pro Retina Display computer.  The larger partition served as a backup of my primary picture storage drive, a 4TB Western Digital Passport Ultra USB 3.0 drive

3. Retina Display MacBook Pro

4. Two Transcend Multicard readers

5. CamKix Wireless Bluetooth Camera Shutter Remote control for smartphones.  I used the GoPro app on my iPhone for GoPro selfies.  Both worked very well.  I made sure I had tested these before leaving for the vacation.

6. GoPro 3-way grip, arm and tripod.  This was an excellent choice.  Gave a lot of freedom but was quite rugged.

7.  Two  Visibledust Zeeion sensor blower.  

8. Three  Ceptic USA to Australia, New Zealand…. Travel plug with Dual USB Type I 


Below is the list of hotels we stayed.  All of them were more than acceptable.  All had buffet breakfasts that were quite acceptable.  The rooms were clean, the staff friendly and helpful.  You leave your luggage by your door and the porters transfer it to and from the Moatrek van.  This made the day to day traveling much easier.

Auckland: Sebel Hotel-Auckland: Right on the harbor with lots of restaurants close by and great people watching.  Very pretty.  They had an in room laundry, refrigerator, microwave and small cooking area.  We had a suite like configuration

Rotorua: Novotel Rotorua Lakeside: Right across the street from Tutanekai St with its many different restaurants.

Tongariro National Park: Chateau Tongariro-An older elegant hotel that has lots of charm.  The dinner and wine were quite good.

Napier: Scenic Hotel Te Pania-Beautiful location along the ocean and an easy walk to the town.  I think all the rooms have views of the ocean. 

Wellington: Bolton Hotel Wellington-Suite like configuration and in room laundry and small kitchen.  Very comfortable.  The hotel restaurant provided good food and excellent service.

Nelson: Trailways-Adequate lodging with excellent location to enjoy Nelson.

Methven: Ski Time Lodge: Rooms in a dispersed cluster of buildings, separate from the main building.  We had a nice dinner in their restaurant.

Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Village: The Hermitage- Very nice facilities with beautiful views.  Our dinner in the Panorama Room was very good.

Queenstown: Scenic Suites-Queenstown- A relatively large suite, with a kitchen, in room laundry, sitting area and separate bedroom.  The room was very nice.   The general room layout is irregular so it takes a while to understand how to get around the hotel.  While the walk into the Queenstown city center is not very far, returning to the hotel requires a significant uphill walk. 

Food:  Overall it was ok to the good side, but with one or two exceptions, not gourmet.

Breakfast: All of them were buffet and quite acceptable.  The only exception was The Sebel.  It was order off the menu and was good.

Lunch: Ranged from bag lunch, to small cafes in small towns to a wonderful picnic lunch, such as Forrest Estate, or the spectacular gourmet lunch at Akaunui fixed by Di MacKenzie.   Madam Woo in Queenstown was also extremely good. 

Dinners: Generally, we were on our own for dinners and they were acceptable.  Special note dinners: the dinner at Chateau Tongariro was above average with wonderful ambience.  In Napier, the Hunger Monger had delicious food and wine. Our meal at the Artisan in the Bolten Hotel (Wellington) was also very good as was our dinner at the Ski Time Lodge.  Both Bacco on Trafagar St in Nelson and Panorama Room in The Hermitage were very good and a wonderful dining experience.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me.  I will do my best to give an honest answer.

Synology 2415+: network attached server for digital files

About mid July of this year, I realized that my current storage solution had reached a breaking point.  With about 44TB of digital storage for both stills and video spread out over 3 Western Digital MyBook Duo drives and coming to grips with the fact that I was adding about 3.5-4TB of data every year, I decided I needed a fresh approach to the problem. This 44TB was backed up and archived on offsite drives as well so the total number of drives was rapidly increasing.   My wife had a replicate copy of those 44TB sitting on her computer, but there was no backup of her drives (not great!).

There are about 363,000 digital stills and an unknown number of video files on external drives.  The still digital files were all linked to two different Lightroom CC catalogs and the video files to two separate Final Cut Pro X libraries.  My Lightroom catalog over time has diverged from my wife’s catalog, but the FCPX libraries had not diverged.  This divergence creates some difficulties to think about.

Problem to be solved: Reduce the every expanding external devices with a limited amount of storage (16TB) available for individual external drives.

Current workflow: I use to shoot professionally, but now my time is spent mostly on photography of my family.  My workflow has been very simple.  I load new pictures onto a external WD passport drive (4TB) into a working Lightroom Catalog, once done editing I import the working LR catalog to a master LR catalog on one of my 16 TB My Book Duo.  The 16 TB drives were backed up and archived (an additional 32 TB of storage space).  I also move the working library on to a 16TB My Book Duo that was attached to my wife’s computer so she would have access as well.

After looking at the options and talking to a number of different people, I decided to build a network storage device (NAS).  Presumably, such a device would allow me to substantially increase my storage capabilities, allow my wife and I to share the same set of digital negatives (so I would not need to replicate them) and have a single backup and archive copy of the NAS.

We have three computers: a 2011 iMac, a 2014 iMac and mid 2012 MacBook Pro (Retina display).  These computers were linked to the external world via an Airport Extreme and Xfinity cable modem, but not really linked together.  So for the NAS, I wanted to set up a local area network so all the computers could attach to the NAS.  

HARDWARE: This is a list of the pieces of equipment I purchased to accomplish this goal:

1. A Synology 2415+: This is a 12 bay NAS and should satisfy my needs for a long time.  But if not it can be expanded to another 12 bays using a DX1215.  I also added a 4GB Synology DDR3 RAM Module (RAM1600 DDR3-4GB).  

2. I populated the drive with 8 10TB Red Pro NAS-7200 RPM Class 6 Gb/s 3.5 inch drives.

3. For my switch I purchased a D-Link 8-Port EasySmart Gigabit Ethernet PoE Switch (DGS-1100-08P)

4. Cat 6a cable

5. An APC Back-UPS 1500VA Battery Backup (SMC1500) because I wanted to protect the system electrically.

The following items are directly connected to the D-Link: iMac, Synology 2415+ NAS, Airport Extreme.  The cable modem is connected through the Air Airport Extreme.  My wife’s computer and my MacBook Pro are connected wireless through the Airport Extreme.

SET UP: The physical configuration of these pieces was relatively straight forward and the manuals and/or online support was pretty clear.  Initially, I formated the NAS initially as AFP, but learned later I should have formated it as an SMB drive.  The reason was I wanted to open FCPX libraries residing on the NAS and that required a SMB formatted drive.  This late learning cost me a fair amount of time as I need to rebuild the NAS.

Initial populating the NAS: This task required moving large amounts of data from my existing external drives to the NAS.  Initially I tried to use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) but my previous work created two obstacles.  First, my legacy was a migration from Aperture to Lightroom a couple of years ago and I had number of old Aperture Library just in case I might need them.  It turns out those Aperture Libraries have a huge number of very small files and this has a hugely negative impact on trying to copy files over to the NAS.  These old Aperture Libraries were unlikely to be important to me in the future.  Second issue was I had a number of files with special characters in them: mainly a ‘?’. While that was ok on an AFP formated system, the special character was not allowed on an SMB formated system.

Eventually I was able to copy the complete content of my external drives over to the NAS by connecting my external drive to the USB ports of the Synology and using File Station to move them over.  This allowed for transfer rates up to about 80-100 MB/s. But when I tried to create a backup of the NAS to a new drive (I wanted to save my original drives for a while) using CCC I received a number of errors.  These errors only occurred in old iPhoto libraries or .aplibrary files and were only a couple of 100 files out of 10’s of thousands.  All of the errors were Permission denial errors or special character errors.   

After some discussion with Mike B of Bombich software and a fair amount of work on his part, he suggested to delete the offending files on the NAS and then copy a fresh version from the original source on the NAS.  This worked!  I am speculating that some file attributes were not copied with File Station, thus resulting in the denied permission, but I don’t really know.

LESSON LEARNED: make sure there are NO special characters in any of the titles of your files and avoid data structures that have LOTS of small files, like old Aperture Libraries.  Another thing I learned was I could signficantly reduce the amount of files needed to be copied by simply cleaning of my original hard drive of data that I really no longer needed, but had retained ‘just in case’.

I now have three shared folders on my single volume NAS.  One for my 2001-14 pictures, one for my 2015-xx pictures and one for all of my video content.  I have been successful in backing up these shared folders without problem using CCC at roughly 30 MB/s.  My Lightroom catalog resides on an external SSD drive on my computer, and a preliminary test suggest that my FCPX library will actually open and run from the NAS just fine (more on this later).

At this point, I discovered Smart Previews in Lightroom.  These allow me to edit images without being attached to the original digital file.  I did a small test and discovered that Smart Previews were roughly 1 MB in size and it really allowed me to edit the picture and allows me to post Facebook pictures and email pictures.  My combined picture library (2001-14 and 15-xx) was 363,000 pictures so a 1 TB SSD drive could easily handle the complete Lightroom catalog, previews and smart previews!

At this point, I had to go back and create Smart Previews for all my pictures.  Not because I needed them, but it is not uncommon for me to be traveling and someone wants to post a picture on FB or email it to a friend.  NOW I have all of the pictures available!

LESSON LEARNED: If you want Smart Previews for your files, build those before starting your migration your originals to the NAS.  Building Smart Previews with the originals on the NAS is not particularly fast.

Connecting my LR catalog and my wife’s catalog to the NAS:  With my two separate LR catalogs, 2001-14 and 2015—xx residing on my SSD external drive, I made sure my original data files were disconnected.  When I started up each catalog on the SSD, the folders showed a question mark, but I was able to use the find the folder function in LR and very quickly, my catalogues were now connected to the NAS folders.  Once I had the individual catalogues connected to the NAS, I combined them into a single catalog and I had all 363,000 pictures in one catalog!

I repeated the process with my wife’s catalogs and since she had never changed the location of the original digital files, using an identical process, I was able to connect her catalogs to the NAS and combine them into a single catalog.  I am connected via an ethernet cable, but she is only connected via WiFi.  Her catalog is stored on an internal drive on a newer computer, but the speed of opening this large catalog is quite speedy and faster than my opening speed.  I suspect that my bottleneck is going through USB 3.0 to my SSD external drive.  CAVEAT: If either of us make changes to the processing of the images, those changes are NOT transferred to the other person’s catalog, but we can use the identical set of original digital files.

For pictures there was one last step: transferring new pictures into my catalog (originals sitting on the NAS) and then also transfer them to her catalog.  For my catalog it was relatively simple.  I opened my Master catalog (contained links to all 363,000 pictures) and imported the working catalog into the Master catalog while moving a copy of the original digital files onto the NAS into their proper location.

Moving the working catalog into my wife’s Master catalog required some additional steps.  

1. Opened my wife’s Master catalog and imported the working catalog (remember this working catalog resides on a Western Digital Passport with the original digital files) BUT, and this is important, I did NOT move the original files (selected that during the import process), but left them in place 

2. After the import process was completed, I closed my wife’s Master catalog and ejected the WD passport drive that contained the working catalog and primary digtial files.  I then re-opened my wife’s Master catalog and as expected the recently imported catalog information had question marks, indicating that the link between the Master catalog and the original files had been broken.  More importantly, the Master catalog showed the location to be the passport drive.

I then used the ‘Update Folder Location’ that is in the pop up menu with a right click on the folder.  Using the dialog box, I navigated to the folder location on the NAS.  When I did this the folder appeared as it should in my wife’s catalog with the parent folders properly displayed.  I repeated this process for each remaining ‘lost folder’ and used the ‘Merge’ option.

At this point I had accomplished the following critical steps:

1. Moved my original files to the NAS

2. Created Smart Previews for all of my pictures (optional)

3. Moved my Lightroom catalogs to an external SSD drive (Mobile catalog)

4. Linked the Mobile Catalogs to the NAS original files

5. Consolidated the two large Mobile catalogs into a single MasterCatalog

6. Backedup the original digital files to a fresh backup drive using CCC (Backup and Archive strategy for the NAS now working)

7. Moved new pictures and edits into both my Master catalog and my wife’s Master catalog


All of my video content was managed in a FCPX library.  To move the original and rendered files over to the NAS was a relatively straightforward task.

1. I created a new library (MasterVideoLibrary) on my external drive that contained all of the managed video content, but instead of have the MasterVideoLibrary manage the content, I only wanted it to reference the original media so the MasterVideoLibary would be relatively small.  I also wanted the orignal media on the NAS so all of our computers should access it, when needed.  To accomplish this task, when I created the MasterVideoLibrary, I changed the location for storage by selecting the new MastervideoLibary, File—>Library Properties and a dialog shows up on the right side that looks like this:

By selecting Modify Settings under Storage Locations, I was able to set the storage location for media and Cache on the NAS in a folder called MasterVideoCollection.  Once this was done, I simply dragged and dropped events and projects from my existing library (thus making a copy, but not moving them) into the MasterVideoLibrary.  In this process, FCPX rearranges the media into a strict date created folder system.   In the end, my MasterVideoLibrary was less than a GB of data pointing to the NAS for the 21250 original media files.  This MasterVideoLibrary resides with my Master Lightroom Catalog on the SSD.


For small editing projects, the speeds seems adequate to do some editing in FCPX with the original media residing on the NAS.  However, for larger projects, I will create a new Working Library on a fast external drive and copy the files over to the Working Library by setting the location of the original and cache media to the external drive and dragging the events/projects from the MasterVideoLibary to the Working Library.  Once my editing is done, I will copy the updated project and events back to the MasterVideoLibrary and then delete the content of the Working Library.  I have discovered that if I do not directly touch the original media (that is only work through the FCPX window), when I copy back it does not add duplicate original media, but simply relinks to existing original media stored on the NAS.  This copy back to the MasterVideoLibrary tends to happen very quickly and determined by how much new original media was added to the Working Library.


1. Make sure your original external drives have been cleaned up before moving the data over to the NAS.

2. I would set the NAS as an SMB format, but that may be a personal preference.

3. Make sure there are no special characters in your file names.

4. If you use Lightroom and want to be able to edit while not connected to the original media files, set up Smart Previews before you start moving data over to the NAS.

5. The Synology 2415+ and other necessary pieces of hardware were relatively simple to set up.

6. Carbon Copy Cloner is an excellent backup tool.  Learn how to use backing up individual folders in addition to whole drives. File Station can be used as well.  Much to my surprise my Journaled HFS+ drive was visible when connected directly to the NAS.  I had originally planned on directly connecting my back up drives to the NAS but did not like the backup solutions offered.

7. Have a step by step plan on the moving and organization before you start.

8. My final structure looks like this:

     a. My MasterLightroomCatalog (384GB with all pictures with Smart Previews)  and MasterVideoLibary (960MB) reside on a 1 TB external USB 3/USB C SSD drive from G-Technologies.  There are 363,000 stills and 21,250 video files connected to the Master catalogs/libaries. 

     b. The original media is stored on a Synology 2415+ NAS as a RAID 6 equivalent redundancy.

     c. The catalogs/libraries are connect to the Synology NAS via either hardware ethernet connect (my computer) or wirelessly for my wife’s computer or my laptop.

     d. Speed of access for the Lightroom Catalog for my purposes is more than adequate and workable for FCPX access.  Large FCPX projects will need to be checked out  to a fast external drive Working Library for significant work projects.

Albums and preservation of your digital pictures

I tell this story because others might relate to it and for some, my version might be useful to them.  I embraced the digital revolution in photography and have spent lots of money on ever evolving cameras and also on hardware to backup and archive all of my digital pictures.  When I first began, I would print some of the pictures, but over time I printed fewer and fewer so backup and archiving was developed into my strategy to preserve my pictures.

This collection of pictures starts in 2001 and new pictures are being added weekly.  There are approximately 400,000 pictures with about 20% of them worthy of retention (as judged by independent viewers).   

About 3 years ago, I came to the sinking realization that once I passed, it would be extremely unlikely that anyone would pick up the effort to maintain these digital assets over any significant period of time.  If I wanted future generations to be able to view the pictures, it was necessary for me to convert as least some of them to hard copy.  But how?

First, I needed to gather the pictures together into an coherent collection so I could readily review them and make selections for printing.  And then I needed to decide whether to print individual pictures and put them in shoeboxes (or loose print albums) or to print collections of pictures to tell a story in an album format.  The kinds of stories I envisioned were albums of family vacations, best pictures for a particular year, grandkid pictures through time, family pictures through time and the list of possibilities is significant.

A bit of history.  From 2001-2015, I used Aperture to manage all of the pictures, one Aperture Library for each year.  With Apple’s decision to kill Aperture, I was forced to transition to a new picture management tool and after some evaluation of alternatives, in the fall of 2015 I chose to more forward with Lightroom CC, first teaching myself how to use LR with new pictures and later converting all of my Aperture Libraries into LR Catalogs.  In the process, I realized that I could consolidate all of the pictures into a single LR catalog and this goal was achieved in July of 2016.  This was very exciting because I could now rapidly scan through each year and find the best of the best and flag them and I have written a bit about this process in a previous blog.  

Once this solution was available, I moved my focus to the question as to how I wanted to print the pictures.  I liked the concept of story telling in a album format and of the many choices, I decided to direct print the images into an album rather than assemble loose prints into an album.  This approach would allow me to attach relevant text with the pictures.  

In the final analysis, I chose two album printers: VisionArt and Mpix.  VisionArt produces absolutely gorgeous heirloom albums, but at a significant cost.  Mpix produces excellent albums that may not withstand the test of time (pictures will be great, but the album integrity is less than VisionArt’s) for significantly less cost.  The other very useful thing is, with careful selection of album size, one album layout can be printed at either printer with great results (there are few minor details that need to be addressed, but it is pretty simple).

After looking at several different album layout programs, I decided to use Smartalbums 2 from Pixellu. My primary reasons for this choice: 1. very large selection of album printers, 2. ability to output an InDesign file that would allow for more extensive text additions, 3. ability to edited the collection of pictures either in Lightroom (using the publish service function) or within Smartalbums 2 using Photoshop CC and 4. a relatively small learning curve to generate great looking albums.  I found many times that as I generated an album that the selected image was not exactly wanted I wanted so I could re-edit the picture in LR, publish the changes and they would automatically appear in the album project.  I found Jaret Platt’s comparison of Smartalbums 2 to Fundy to be a very useful conversation.  

The one feature I wish Smartalbums 2 had was the ability to update its image working set automatically, in the event a new picture was added to the folder.  Instead, you must manually import any new images you add as potential album candidates.

I have now done three albums with Smartalbums 2 and am extremely happy with the results.  Below are a few example spreads from one of the albums, a 10x10 design.

Grandkids Album 01

Grandkids Album 02

Grandkids Album 15

Grandkids Album 20

Grandkids Album 30

Grandkids Album 44

Long overdue update

It has been a very long time since I have updated my website.  I hope to get back into the swing of more regular updates, but for the moment I will provide some brief updates on previous topics

Aperture Death:  With the slow demise of Aperture, I needed to make a decision about which picture processing path I was going take: go with Apple’s Photos or switch to Lightroom CC.  In the final analysis, Photos was insufficient for my purposes so I started useing Lightroom CC about a year ago.  The task was two fold.  First I had to teach myself Lightroom and second I had to migrate my Aperture libraries (over 300,000 pictures as referenced files) over to the Lightroom system. 

While not a Lightroom expert, I now manage all of my pictures through Lightroom and I find Lightroom actually is much better than Aperture or Photos, at least for my purposes.  

With respect to the migration, I made sure each Aperture Library was clean: Libraries upgraded to 3.5.1, maximum size of previews, reconnect or delete missing pictures, all pictures are referenced, Trash was emptied, and the Aperture database was repaired.  With Aperture, I had libraries for each year from 2001-2015.  I then used the 'Plug in Extras:Import from Aperture Library function being careful to check two boxes under Options: 'For images which have been……' and most importantly Leave referenced files in your Aperture Library in their current location’  This left both Aperture and my new Lightroom pointing to identical RAW files with minimal drive space need for the Lightroom Catalog.  Ratings and keywords came over, but NO adjustments.  While not quite done, I can see the end of the tunnel!

Nikon vs Sony: I have been a Nikon shooter for many years with my D800 as my last Nikon body, but I have been interested in a smaller and lighter system.  I first used a Sony NEX-5N with the Sony 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 zoom lens.  While it took nice pictures, it was ackward to use with the two most serious deficiencies: ability to use flash and the absence of a viewfinder (in bright sunlight, I would not really tell what I was shooting).  I then migrated to the Sony a7R and while it took great pictures, I found it to be slow to focus, and their was no ability to do continous focus-shutter release on focus (so called focus-trapping).  I have now migrated to the Sony a7RII and now use it for all my photography needs.  I primarily use one of five lens: Sony 28mm f2.0 with and without a 21mm f2.8 teleconverter, 24-70mm f4, 70-200mm f4 and 55mm f1.8.  Interesting, I have moved to shooting more with prime lens because of weight and image quality.  

Somewhat to my surprise, I was always a bit disappointed with the a7R/70-200mm/f4 combination, but the a7RII/70-200 f4 combination is quite good.  Below is an example of the full image and below is a 100% section.


My wish list includes the Sony FE 85mm f1.4 and probably the HVL-F43M external flash.

Photos for Mac: Apple's betrayal of pro photographers?

I have worked for the past couple of weeks to set up a test Aperture Library so that I could begin to evaluate Photos for Mac, the application to replace iPhoto and Aperture according to Apple.  I built an Aperture library of 11,994 files which included RAW (Nikon, Canon and Sony), JPEG and video files that covered about 4 months of work.

A bit of perspective:  I don’t make a living wage from photography, but I do make enough to break even.  I estimate that I have between 300,000 and 400,000 images managed within the Aperture structure.  All of my primary images are referenced, but all of the editing information is stored within Aperture libraries.  This work spans from 2001-2015.   

My comments are based on Photos v1.0.  I think it might be easiest to describe what the program does.  Simply put, it is an iPhone/iPad picture sharing application with a core of picture editing capabilities and no meaningful data management or image editing capabilities other than the Apple proscribed method.

Importing Aperture Libraries

On your first opening of Photos, you are presented with a nice wizard that allows you to select an Aperture library to import.  During this process, a Photos Library will be created on the drive that the Aperture Library resides. 

Problem 1: You are not given a choice as to where the Photos library will go so you have to make sure there is enough room on the drive that holds the Aperture library.  

Problem 2: If you try to do a search to find solutions with Photos, you will pull up a ton of stuff that has nothing to do with Photos for Mac.  The choice of the name Photos is horrible for someone wanting to find help or information about Photos for Mac by doing internet searches.

Issue 1: You will need to decide whether you want to use the iCloud feature of Photos.  First, only one Photos Library can be enabled to share pictures via the iCloud structure.  Second, the pictures to be shared need to be managed and not referenced.  If your pictures are referenced in Aperture, they will remain referenced in the conversion to a Photos Library structure, but those referenced images can not be used for the iCloud feature. But it is possible to consolidate the referenced images into the Photos Library and make them managed.

Issue 2: I discovered another nasty problem this weekend.  I had built my test library and referenced images on an external drive attached to my iMac.  I was traveling so I took the external drive with me and connected it to my MacBook Pro Retina Display computer.  Opened my test library and it did NOT know where the original files were!  I relinked the originals through the dialogue box and the originals were reconnected.  When I returned home, and went to work on my test library on my iMac, again it did not know where the originals were and I had to relink them again!!  This greatly restricts the utility of storing your files and library on portable media.

My Aperture Library was 32.7 GB and my Photos Library was 39.5.  I am not sure whether the increase in size is proportional or fixed.  It took about 45 minutes to convert the test library.

There are several different views of the pictures.  Open the sidebar and you will see a folder labeled ‘Photo Events’ (mine was called iPhoto Events except it came from an Aperture Library).  I just changed the name.  Each of my projects came through as either an album or a folder (see below).  If they came through as a folder that meant I had albums embedded into a project in Aperture.


In addition to the sidebar view, you see your pictures in the ‘View>Photos’.  At the highest level, you can see the pictures by year as shown below (Titled Years).  One click on the arrow in the upper left corner, expands it to a weekly view (Titled Collections) and a second click expands the display to a daily view (Called Moments).


You can also view your pictures through the ‘View>Albums’ perspective.  At the highest level, you see the available albums with the top row being built in albums and below that albums I have created.

If I select an album, for example, my ‘Photo Events’ you will see the additional albums contained within ‘Photo Events’.  And if you double click on a particular album, you can see the individual pictures or sub albums.

Notice that the name of each album is displayed below the album picture (this can be changed if you wish by selecting the picture in the album you want to be the ‘Key Photo’)

When you open a particular album to see the individual pictures it will look something like this:

Notice that there are no names attached to the individual pictures.  That is because Photos wants to display the picture’s title rather than its file name.  

Titles vs filename:  I have had some interesting discussions about the use of Titles vs filenames.  Apparently, titles can be embedded into the image file where as filenames are not embedded into the actual image file as part of the metadata.  And Titles for pictures are part of the global standardization of metadate for pictures (IPTC) and also here. As OS systems change, there may be a need to change the filename structure whereas the embedded Title should be protected, thus making it more portable as technology changes.  

If you are like me and have never entered picture titles, there is small Applescript that will transfer your filename into the title field.  You can find it here.  I have tried this script and get an error message.   Or if you would like to change the IPTC Title Field to the existing Aperture version name prior to import into Photos, here is an approach.  I have tried this script and has worked with limited testing.  Just remember this will replace any existing IPTC fields with the version name.


1. Once you open an Aperture Library in Photos, the file name changes to ‘.migratedaplibrary’.  Should you delete the Photos library, you will not get a second chance to open this library in Photos as Photos will not see it as a choice.  Lesson:Make sure you have multiple copies of your Aperture libraries before even testing Photos.

2. The background color is white and there is no option to select your own background color.  I hate white, it is hard on my eyes and my eyes are drawn to brighter regions first.  In the Edit and Full screen mode, the background colors are dark

Import pictures from a card or camera.

Matters get a bit more complicated when one wants to import pictures and video from a card.  You need to make a couple of decisions before you import the pictures.  First you will need to decide whether you want your own filename structure and you will need to decide whether you want the pictures managed in Photos or whether you just want Photos to reference the pictures.

With respect to filename structure, Photos has no ability to rename the file upon import.  This was an extremely useful feature that allowed me to create a unique filename for each picture.  There is also no ability to create a unique Title for each picture either.  In my mind this is a very serious deficiency in Photos.  In its current state, my only choice is to either use the camera file name as is (this will result in redundant and not unique file names—not a good solution) or to drag the files over to the drive housing my pictures and use a renaming program (Rename works pretty well..there are multiple applications with the same name).

The other issue to decide is whether you want your pictures managed by Photos or just referenced.  Managed means the pictures are stored within the Photos Library.  Referenced means the pictures are stored outside the Photos Library and Photos just points to them.  BUT if you want to use the iCloud feature, the pictures need to be managed.  For many reasons, I prefer to have my pictures referenced and not stored in the application library.  

Another unpleasant surprise, if one initially decides to let Photos manage their pictures, but then changes there mind and wants them referenced, there is no relocate masters as there was in Aperture.  I can export the originals or an edited version of the picture, but now I have two digital copies of the same image.

In the final analysis, my tenative workflow will be as follows

1. Drag image and video files to the proper location on my external drives.

2. Rename the files according my filename structure that I have used for 15 years (and never lost a picture in 300,000 plus)

3. Import the files making sure the Importing box is unchecked.

I have not fully tested this approach particularly with relocating the Photos referenced library to a different drive.  Also with this approach there remains the nasty problem that the Title field of the picture remains empty.  Since Photos places a very high priority on the Title field, it becomes a very big problem quickly.

Library Consolidation

Part of my work flow was to create small Aperture Libraries on Western Digital Passport drives.  I would work on these libraries until project completion.  Once completed, I would import and consolidate the smaller Aperture Libraries into a master yearly library and this would become the final permanent storage location (backed up and archived).  I evolved to the workflow for a couple of reasons:

1. When actively working in a Aperture Library, performance and stability were better than larger libraries.  And if the library got corrupted, I would not loose everything.

2. I work at many different places and all I need to take was my current passport drive and plug it into my desktop when at home and into my laptop when traveling.  In this model, I could have all my active projects/edits and pictures wherever I was.

3. Lastly, it is a fundamental truth that where ever your pictures are stored, over time, you will run out of space.  And even if you store all your pictures as referenced, the library (either Aperture or Photos) will be come too large for your media.  And storage capabilities increase over time and so it would be very helpful to be able to consolidate the libraries together

Photos inability to consolidate libraries and export content into separate libraries is a very serious limitation.

Image Information

You can access the image information by clicking on the i icon at the top left of the window.  Below is the information provided.  This is a floating window so it changes as you change pictures.  It is a pretty limited set of information.  As examples of missing data: focal distance, aspect ratio, exposure bias, copyright notice and etc.  I would be nice to see all available information from the EXIF and IPTC data

Search Capabilities

At the present time, the only mechanism to find a particular picture or set of pictures is to create a smart album.  While you can edit a smart album definitions (see smart album editing screen), you are restricted to the Match All or Any in aggregate which complicates searching.

My preliminary working model will be to build a series of Smart Albums for my standard set of searches and then just edit them to the specifics of the task.  This is not a great work around.

In Aperture, I typically set my projects to display 1 star pictures, when I was done with them.  If I want to accomplish the same thing, I would need to create a smart album for each album.  

Photos needs a better search/find capability.

Image Editing

When you first open the Edit window, you will see the following screen.  There are 6 options.

With the exception of the Adjust choice, they are reasonably self explanatory.  When you select the Adjust choice, these are the options available: Light, Color and Black & White.  If you slide your cursor over the option, a light bar appears  in the image below.  You can move this to the left/right and invoke some embedded routine to make a Light adjustment, however, you can also select the down carat at the upper right

and this displays more detail of adjustments possible in the light pane (see below).

You can also add additional adjustment tools to this pane (see below)

While I have not critically examined all of these options, they include the vast majority of my routine image adjustments I make in Aperture.  I have not examined the quality of these tools in any detail.

An absolutely huge deficiency in Photos 1.0 is the inability to use external image editors such as Photoshop or Perfect Photo Suite.

Another significant problem is you can only stamp image adjustments made in one picture to a single picture at a time.  This substantially reduces the utility of the Stamp Adjustment Functions.   

My Summary of Photos 1.0

I believe my comments need to be interpreted within my environment.  I have 300,000-400,000 images spanning 2001-2015 stored on 4 main external drives (6-12 TB for a total of about 28 TB).  Some of these ‘images’ are video files.  Moving that content into some cloud format is not a viable choice.  

I rarely shoot pictures with my iPad/iPhone.  I alway shoot RAW at 40MB per image with my Nikon D800 or Sony a7R.  Moving 10’s of GB of image files for a particular shooting session into the cloud is also not viable.

Unless Apple decides to address these critical issues in future versions, I will likely never use Photos.  I believe it is possible to add these capabilities into Photos and if Apple chooses to do so, Photos could well be a very useful tool for the pro photographer (thus the ? mark in the title).

1. Digital Asset Management.  These are just a few of things that come to mind, but DAM in Photos needs to at least match Aperture’s capabilities

     a. Create a solution for the Title vs Filename

     b. Rename file upon import and auto insert Titles if desired

     c. Ability to import and export Photos Libraries

     d. Allow for relocation of master files outside of the Photos    Library

      e. Address the issue that the Photos Library and the computer reading the Library are linked so that if one moves the library and referenced pictures to a new computer, one is forced to relink the files.

2. Ability to edit with external editors.  The reason for this is obvious.  Also address the issue that only a single picture at a time can be stamped with image adjustments from another picture.

3. Expanded Image Information options.  The information exists, but can not get to it. 

4. Rating/ranking of pictures.  The capability in Aperture was so incredibility easy to use and useful to the process of culling through pictures.  The like/not like in Photos is not sufficient.  My practice was to rate pictures, usually on a 0, 1, 2 star basis, to begin the process.  Then I would review the 0 star (unrated) to see if I wanted to upgrade any of them.  Then I would review the 1 star pictures and determine whether I wanted to downgrade them or upgrade them.  Finally I would review the 2 star pictures and determine whether any of them needed to be down graded. The unrated pictures were ignored, the 1 star got standard adjustments and the 2 star pictures got stanard adjustment plus special detailed work to maximize their impact.  

5. Search/Find capabilities: There are many times when I just want to find a picture quickly without having to create a smart album.  

Sony ICLE 7R (alpha 7R)

I have been hoping that Nikon would come out with a professional mirrorless camera for a couple of reasons, but the two big ones are the mirrorless cameras are smaller/lighter and the sensor is easier to access for cleaning.  Alas, they have not moved in that direction so I test drove the Sony ICLE 7R a while ago (see those comments here) and then recently I acquired one.  The acquistion forced me to explore some new things in order bring the capability of the ICLE 7R up to that of my D800.

Quick Release for my Arca Swiss Tripod Head:  Not only do I want to mount the camera on a tripod quickly, but I want an L bracket so I can effectively do panoramics.  Fortunately, there is an excellent solution at Really Right Stuff with the BA7-L Set: L-plate for A7/A7R/A7S.  This L-bracket allows you to change the battery and to remove/add the L portion as needed.  The L-portion can also be moved away from the body so you can plug cables into the side.  It is very well designed and solid.

Wireless release and intervalometer:  I really do not like IR or optical release tools because in bright light or absence of a direct line of sight, they don’t work very well.  This forces me into a RF type of tool.  After lots of searching, I found a wonderfully effective tool in the Vello Wireless ShutterBoss Timer Remote (Sony Alpha Connection (RCW-S1).  You will also need a special cable (Vello 2.5mm Remote Shutter Release Cable for select Sony Camera with Multi-Terminal).  This is an RF based shutter release tool that also has an excellent intervalometer.  

Time lapse photography at night (or hunting for shooting stars): If I set my camera in manual mode, shutter speed to bulb, I can adjust the duration of the exposure, the time between exposures and the number of exposures from 2-99 or infinite….. til the battery dies).  The image below was one of about 225, 23 second exposures and I estimate with a full battery one could get about 300 exposures.  If you click on the picture below you can see a high resolution image.  The stars are not as sharp as I would like, but I made an exposure duration error relative to the focal length.


HDR and Focus Stacking:  One of my disappointments with the ICLE 7R is the rigid system for do HDR:  Your choices are 0.3EV x 3 images, 0.5EV x 5 images, 0.5EV x 3 images, 0.5EV x 5 images, 0.7EV x 3 images, 0.7EV x 5 images, 1.0EV x 3 images, 2.0EV x 3 images, 3.0EV x 3 images.  I tend to default to either 1 or 2EV with 3 images, with the Drive Mode set to bracketing S and I use the Vello Wireless system to minimize physical contact with the camera.  

With the focus set to manual and the camera set to manual at a fixed ISO, I was able to a series of 5 focal planes with a -2, 0, +2 EV for HDR at each focal plane.  The picture below is the result and you can click on the picture to get a higher resolution image.

Final Rose

Support for flash:  I personally believe this is one of the weaker areas for Sony, in part because third party support is missing (more on that later).  I read the reviews of the Sony flashes and looked at them, but can not develop much enthusiasm for them because there is not a RF off camera system available, or they are huge compared to the camera or they have have over heating problems (HVL-F60M).  Another issue is the mix of hotshots: Sony/Minolta flash mount and the a7R ISO type of hotshot.  When I have asked about adaptors, I have been advised of reliability issues.  UGH.  

But I have found two partial solutions.  The i40 Nissan compact flash works very nicely as a bounce flash in smaller spaces and so far it seems to work pretty well.  The picture below was taken with the i40 flash bounced over my left shoulder.  I have actually submitted this picture to the North Central PPA photography competition.

Simplest of Pleasures

For off camera flash, I have discovered that I can use some older Pocketwizard Plus and Plus II triggers linked to my Nikon SB800 and SB900 strobes.  I suspect that I can also link this way to my studio lights.  There are a couple of caveats: I have to manually adjust the output of the strobe at the strobe and you need the correct cables (something else to keep track of).  Why Sony has not directly addressed this issue for such a great camera is beyond me.  

April 6, 2015 update to off camera lighting:  I have now used my SB 800 strobes attached to Pocketwizard FlexTT5 with Pocketwizard Plus III on my camera.  I use the C2 channel for this capability, but under the ‘Misc’ tab, the FlexTT5 needs to be set to ‘Basic Trigger’.  The downside of this solution is I have to manually adjust the flash output.

Other issues: These are things that I have noticed in general use.

1. Battery life is not very good, but they are small and you can carry several with you.

2. Autofocus speed tends to be very slow and it will not focus in lower light conditions.  But it is possible to switch very quickly to manual focus with the AF/MF button and using focus peaking.  I probably would not use the a7R as a wedding photography camera.

3. Start times whether from a turn on or wake up from sleep seems to take a long time.

Conclusion:  I love the size, weight and image quality of the a7R and in my opinion the image quality is as good as my D800 and the size/weight is superior.  Hopefully Sony will address some of the deficiencies in the next generation of body.

Apple Aperture and Sony AVCHD

I am not sure how relevant this blog will be, but there are lessons to be learned.  I will need to bring a couple of different concepts together to fully explain the issue.

But before I make you read the whole thing, here is a top level summary

1. The creation date of the video (this only applies to the AVCHD structure) is the date of import into Aperture, and not the date the video was actually shot.  This change of date makes it very difficult to place the video into a time sequence relevant to when it was actually shot.  If one uses MP4 file structure, the creation date is correct.

2. On backup of a referenced Aperture library that contains AVCHD files to another drive, the Aperture link to those referenced files on the backup can not be rebuilt, thus permanently losing the connection.  If on the other hand, if one uses MP4 file structure on the Sony camera, the relinking capability of Aperture will work just fine.

The story line.

For personal work, I shoot both stills and video across multiple platforms: D800, GoPro Hero 3, Sony NEX 5N and now Sony alpha 7R.  The most straightforward work flow solution was to import all assets(stills and video) into Aperture(3.5.1).  When I was ready to work on the video, I selected just the video, export the original video file, import it into Final Cut Pro X.   I like storing the original copy of the video in Aperture because I can keyword the video files so they become a bit easier to find.

For stills, I record in RAW on the D800 and Sony and JPEG on the GoPro.  For video I record MP4 on the D800 and GoPro and on the Sony typically AVCHD.

In Aperture, on projects in progress, I keep all the assets as managed which means the stills and videos are stored within the Aperture Library structure.  When a project is completed, I import the whole project into a master library and then relocate all of the digital assets (stills and video) so they are referenced and stored outside of the Aperture library.  This allows me to find the actual original digital file quickly.  In the Aperture methodology, it knows where the digital asset is located not by the name of the drive, but by the UUID (universally unique identifier) of the drive.

The third part of this story is how I backup my digital assets.  I currently use Carbon Copy Cloner (used SuperDuper previously) and simply backup the original copy to a second drive.  Remember that the digital assets are not contained in the Aperture Library, but are referenced files.

The background information has been set.  Over the past month, I have been putting together a single 12 TB drive that will hold all of the personal/family stills from 2001-2014 for my wife.   For this construction, I used recently updated archive copies of the digital assets.  For the largest set, I used CCC, but for three smaller libraries I just did a Finder copy.  Once everything was copied to the new drive, I used the ‘Locate Referenced Files’ and it worked perfectly for all of the stills and about half of the video.  For about half of the video, the ‘Locate Referenced Files’ could not find the referenced filed although it was present on the drive.  In other words, Aperture could not relink to the original reference file.  This is bad news if one ever wants to recover the original video source!

If on the other hand, I kept the video files in an Aperture managed library when I did the copy, everything was copied over properly.  

How relevant is this story.  Well, that is hard to know.  With Aperture fading into the sunset with the rising of Apple Photo, no one outside of Apple knows the video processing capabilities of Photo.  I suspect it will not be able to handle video, but we shall see.  BUT the more practical lesson is when one makes backup drives, it is very important to test the integrity of that drive to serve as a faithful copy of the original.  I had done that testing in the past with stills and it worked perfectly, but had never properly tested the video side of the process.  Fortunately, I was able to generate a work around and solve the problem (just by keeping the AVCHD video as managed rather than referenced).  

A© 2011-2018 by Steven Seelig, Chicago Photographer                          630-561-6581