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.

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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.

Miscellanous

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.

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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).  




Weddings with two photographers

There are lots of reasons to have two photographers at your wedding.  The most important is final product quality with nearly simultaneous but different perspectives of events during your wedding day, thus enriching the story telling of your pictures.  In the first two pictures below, the bride was posing for a formal picture at the same time the guys were having a group picture. 

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The second example are pictures taken at the same time and at the same location, thus providing two nearly simultaneous perspectives of the same event.  This also greatly enhances the story telling of the pictures.  Your wedding day is a once in a life time experience and the memory of that day are best preserved through photographs.  Skimping on the photographer budget really raises your risk of not having those great memories in the future.  Below are three examples from a recent wedding of different perspectives takening at the same time and place during a wedding.   

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Advantages of two photographers:

1.  A very rich set of pictures of the most important day in your life.  This richness will enhance your memories many years later and helps create wonderful albums.

2.  Reduces the chances that something important will be missed.




 

Sony ILCE 7R Test Drive (alpha 7R)

So a bit of background information seems important so the reader can better understand my comments.  

First, I have shot Nikon for many years and most recently D800’s (before that D700, D200, and D70).  I shoot portraits and weddings.  Occasionally I escape into the landscape world, but it is not very common.  When I travel, in addition to at least one nikon, I will take a Sony NEX 5n with an 18-200mm 3.5-6.3/f.  I also use the Sony as a walk around camera.

Second, I am looking for something lighter and less obtrusive than my D800, but with excellent image quality.  For my Sony NEX 5n, there are three bothersome things:  it is very difficult to see the LCD display in bright sunlight, the touch screen LCD can activate and change settings just by rubbing against my shirt and the placement of the dials on the right hand side make random activation and setting changes fairly easy.  Lastly, the menu system and other tools to make changes is a bit cumbersome.

Having said all those things about the NEX 5n, please read my analysis as to how I have used the camera else where on my website.  In general, I have found it to be a very productive and useful camera.

Family vacation in Florida

Safari in South Africa

Trip to Peru

Second, while I find analytical analysis of lens and cameras helpful, I find it more helpful to understand how the camera/lens work in situations that I normally operate.  For this particular test, I did not have a wedding to shoot, but I was shooting various things common to my world.  

Third, where possible I will provide a comparative images with both the 7R and my D800, but this was not always possible.

Before I show images, I would like to provide some general comments based on my first four days having the camera in my hands.  I started from ground zero as I had never used this camera before.  The learning curve was not large for the majority of stuff (an evening plus some google searches), but there were a few things I had tried without great success.  Not sure whether this was my problem or how the camera worked.

I also rented three lens: FE 24-70mm f4, FE 70-200mm f4 and the FE 55mm f1.8.  Also used my 18-200mm 3.5-6.3/f and the camera automatically recognized the lens and reduced the captured area to 1.5x size.

Once I figured out a couple of things, I found the camera very simple to use.  Perhaps the most important was the Fn button.  This button brings up about 10 different areas that you can select in order to make changes.  I don’t remember all of them and I believe it is possible to customize them.  But many of the most important things to me were there such as ISO  control, choice of auto vs manual focus, selection of area metering or spot metering.  The second thing was the custom menu buttons, C1, C2 and C3.  These you can use to quickly select/active certain settings quickly. I believe C1 is defaulted to activating the location of the spot focus selection which you then change.

The only thing I did not like about the dials was the placement of the video activation button.  It is off to the right side and a bit ackward for me to activate.

Sony has substantially improved their approach to the array of Menu items.  All the items in a particular section are immediately visible and you don’t have to scroll through a large number of choices.  Much easier to find things.

Finally, I attempted to use the wireless control and while I could get it to work, it was very clumsy and I was only partially able to get pictures to transmit to my iPhone.  After a few hours of work, I ran out of time to explore it further.  Sort of frustrating. 

One of the things I find very intriquing is the  ‘Application’ portion of the menu.  The implication is with an expanding array of Apps, additionally functionality could be extended.  My desire for wireless control is also related to my desire for an absolutely still camera for long exposures or high detail work.  In this regard, the absence of a shutter delay option to reduce camera shake prior to actually taking the picture is a serious omission.  Also missing is a built in intervalometer.  There is an App for the intervalometer, but not the shutter delay.

There has been much discussion about the mechanical first curtain shutter and shutter noise.  I personally did not mind the noise, but I had to adjust to the fact there were two noises before the picture was complete.  As I use the shutter noise to guide me as to whether my shutter speed is getting too slow, the 7R shutter noise really was very confusing and it made me feel the shutter was always slow.  Once I got use to it, I learned I needed to monitor shutter speed my other approaches.  (I shoot Aperture priority or manual most of the time).

And now for images.  If you want to see a full size file, click on the picture or on the ‘Original image’ text below the image.  Right click and save the image for your analysis.  I have done some cropping of the original images to enhance their visual effects.

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Comparison of the 7R with a 24-70 f/4 with a D800 with a 20-70 2.8 lens.  Clearly the Sony is much smaller and lighter!  Part of it is the f/4 lens, but the body makes a big difference.

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Sony ILCE 7R with 24-70mm f/4 @ ISO 100, f4, 1/200 in manual mode (Original image)

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Sony ILCE 7R with 24-70mm f/4 @ ISO 100, f4, 1/400 in aperture priority (Original image)  Kid in motion ready to sample the fish food.  Not quite focused on the worm, but I was working fast to make sure the worm did not go any further!

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Sony ILCE 7R with FE 55mm f/1.8 @ ISO 200, f4.5, 1/2500 in manual mode (Original image)

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Sony ILCE 7R with FE 55mm f/1.8 @ ISO 200, f4, 1/125 in manual mode (Original image)

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Sony ILCE 7R with 70-200mm f/4 @ ISO 1000, f4, 1/160 in manual mode (Original image)

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Nikon D800 with 70-200mm f2.8 VRII @ ISO 800, f4, 1/160 in manual mode. If you compare this image to the image above you can get a feeling for the difference/similarity between image quality of the 7R and the D800(Original image)

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Sony ILCE 7R with 70-200mm f/4 @ ISO 100, f5.6, 1/320 in aperture priority mode (Original image).  Heard them calling and turned to see them.  Did my best to get the camera focused on one of the three birds on the right.  Fractions of a second to get this image.

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In summary, I believe the 7R is an excellent camera, substantially superior to the NEX 5N and while the image quality is highly competitive with the D800, other issues would not let me pick it for my professional activities.  These issues include the following:

1. Slow refresh rate after a picture has been taken

2. Lack of off camera lighting support (no miniTT1, Flex5 kind of support)

3. Single card rather than dual card.

HOWEVER, if I want an excellent camera for travel and weight/size are an issue, then the Sony ILCE 7R is a very good choice.  For me, the lack of  second card makes me pause a bit.

Still not sure, rent one and use and test it in your environment.  I rented from LensRentals, and excellent organization to do business.


Taking pictures of fireworks and other things in the dark!

Whether one is shooting fireworks or stars or anything else in low light with some discrete bright objects, there are a few critical concepts:

1. A steady camera is a must: tripod and release cable will work well and in critical situations you can even use shutter delay to reduce camera motion caused by the shutter movement

2. Exposure for the bright objects

3. Use shutter speed to capture difficult to time bright events

So the first two examples are just old fashion firework pictures.  These were taken at ISO 100, f9 (and perhaps I should have pushed that up to f11 or so), 24mm and a manual (bulb) shutter release controlled with a release cable.  Camera focus was focused on an object at about 7-8 feet and then switched to manual.  I selected this distance by calculating the hyperfocal distance for my lens/camera.  A nice piece of software for this calculation is called DOFMaster.

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If you want to see more examples, please visit this page of my website

For the next picture, I used ISO 100, f9, 58mm for a total of 30 seconds.  I adjusted the expoure duration and aperture so I can leave the shutter open long enough to capture the random and untimed firing of fireworks across the lake.  In this way, I did not need to time the firework which are quite bright when they are fired.  

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And for the last picture of a meteor, I first decided my exposure time maximum.  I determined this by dividing 600 by the focal length (24mm) or 25 seconds.  I then selected the aperture and ISO to yield a nice exposure of the stars.  In this case it was f2.8 at ISO 1000 and this exposure value did not blow out the lights on the ground too much.  I also focused my camera on the horizon and then switched it to manual so it would not change.  Once my exposure was set and my camera was placed on a steady tripod, I then turned on the interval shooting timer (in Shooting Menu on the Nikon D800).  I discovered the interval timer needed to be set longer than the exposure time.  I selected 28 second intervals so I lost about 4 seconds of exposure and to capture this one image I took 400 images for a total captured time of about 3 hours.  This is the single picture I got of a meteor during the Camelopardalids meteor shower. 

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Travel to Peru and Machu Picchu

Whenever I travel, I like to take my camera along so I can record the trip experience.  My wife and I traveled to Peru September 2013.  Many wonderful memories came rushing back to me this morning as I was looking at the pictures again (March, 2014).  I write this blog to tell how I managed the process and perhaps there is something of value to another person traveling.

First, I must say that our trip was arranged by Uncharted Outpost and they did an absolutely wonderful job and we had excellent guides throughout the trip.  We flew into Lima and then on to Cusco.  We immediately traveled to the Sacred Valley via car and stayed at the Rio Sagrado.  From there we traveled by train to Machu Picchu and the town of Aquas Calientes.  From Aquas Calientes we took the Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco and then back to the States.

For those of you that just want to see the pictures, you find them on my here.  But here is a panoramic taken from the Sungate at Machu Picchu.  You can see Machu Picchu along the left 1/3 line and the peak just to the right is Wayna Picchu.  We were advised that the hike from Machu Picchu to the Sungate was easy whereas the hike to Wayna Picchu considerably more difficult.  Since we changed our plans and did not hike to Wayna Picchu, but only to the Sungate, I can not compare the relative difficulties.  Nonetheless, I believe the Sungate is the easier hike, but that does NOT mean it is easy.  It took my wife and I about and hour to 1 1/2 hours up and then about an hour down.  We were tired and our legs hurt.  IT WAS WORTH IT. 

The below picture is a composite.  It represents a combination of high dynamic range imaging (HDR) and panoramic imaging.  The camera was placed in the vertical position on the Mefoto.  I used a shutter delay of 2 seconds to minimize any shutter actuation motion.  Each panoramic view had three exposures (+1, 0, -1 EV) and there were either 3 or 4 panoramic views.  The HDR component was recombined first using Photomatix Pro and then I used Photoshop CS6 to recombine the panoramic as an example.  So the picture below represents 9 or 12 different pictures combined into one.

Sun Gate #2 HDR v2


Metrics:

During the 10 day trip, I took 3187 media assets: 635 were video clips and 2552 were still pictures.  In the table below, I summarize camera use

Camera       Total Pictures    Kept Pictures   Publically Displayed

Sony                 1105                 254                        74

D800 (24-70)       1409                 237                        126

GoPro                36                      5                            0

More pictures were taken with the D800, but fewer of them survived the review process (17% vs 23% for the Sony).  This number is distorted some because I use the D800 for HDR image or panoramics (both require multiple frames to achieve one final picture).  Lastly, more of the D800 pictures were publically displayed, but this is distorted by the fact that we took more personal pictures (not fit for public consumption!) with the Sony.  Overall, both cameras were extensively used and if you go to the picture gallery, you can try to guess which camera took the picture (in the upper right corner of the picture there is an info icon.

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From my point of view, the Sony performs very well with adequate light and is a great walk around camera.  But if you want the best, the D800 is very hard to beat.

Equipment:

1. Nikon D800 with a 24-70mm f2.8

2. Sony Nex 5N with a 18-200mm f3.5-6.3

3. GoPro Hero Black

4. Nikon D800 with a 14-24mm f2.8--never touched this one during the trip

5. MacBook Pro Retina display with two 2 TB Western Digital Passport drives.  One drive was the primary storage device.  The second drive was partitioned into a bootable back up of the MacBook (about 512MB) and backup partition (1.5 TB).  I imported the pictures into a Aperture Library for each day or few days of shooting so I ended up with several Aperture Libraries.  Once imported, I would copy the most recent library over to the backup drive.

6. A Mefoto tripod.  I found the legs were ok, but the head was minimally up to the task of holding the D800 with lens.  In retrospect, I should have taken my Arca Swiss Monoball Z1 and attached that to the Mefoto base.

7. Miscellaneous: Multiple CF cards (8-128 GB), 3-4 batteries for each camera type, chargers, 2 USB 3.0 card readers and 3 cables, lens paper.

8. On the Machu Picchu segment of the trip, only the first three items, plus tripod, cards, batteries and chargers were taken as the train has an 11 pound bag limit.  No one seemed to be checking, but large bags might be challenged.

If you have questions, please feel free to email me.  Also you can see a similar analysis of my camera kit on an African Safari on my blog


iTunes Match and Sonos

As a photographer and one that does a fair amount of creative work on the computer, I love to have my music available to me.  I don't like playing it off of the computer as that tends to slow down the memory intensive photo and video editing programs.  For a long time, I would simply plug earphones in to my iPhone and listen to music that way, but I really wanted the ability to simply listen to music unattached, so to speak.

In a cottage, I have a Sonos system installed and love to work there as I listen to music so I thought I would replicate it at home.  Since I did not want to knock out walls, I decided to use the Sonos wireless system with a bridge.  Connecting that to my iPhone, iPod Touch iPad were very straight forward and simple to do.  I was readily able to play Pandora, connect to radio stations.  I was an excited and happy guy.  BUT, I also wanted to be able to play music from my iTunes Library.  

In particular, I wanted my iPod Touch to become the master controller for the Sonos system.  I attached it to my iTunes library and synced a few of my favorite playlists as a test.  I discovered very quickly that a fair number of songs were not playable from the iPod Touch to the Sonos!!!  Thus started a saga, with a successful outcome, but it took many hours of effort.  To see what happened and how I was able to get it to work read on.


Tunes Match repeating itself problem

So this note has two pieces to it, one related to iTunes Match and the other is Sonos Play 5.   First an observation about the iTunes Match repeating problem.  I wanted to start using iTunes Match for a couple of reasons so I started to run it.  It went through Step 1 and Step 2, started Step 3, stopped and restarted on Step 1. 

So I was reading trying to find a solution in the Apple Support Community.  Some suggested that there was a corrupted song in the library so I went back to watch to see if I could catch when it left Step 3 to go back to Step 1.  I was not really able to see exactly were it was reverting back to Step 1. 

I then discovered ajlewis1851 note about reset Match, Store and the computer (https://discussions.apple.com/message/20530276#20530276)

I also discovered a song that was not in my library so I deleted that from the library as well.  Neither of these seemed to work and it was back repeating itself.

I left Match running while I was doing more searching and I discovered the thread about gating the upload speed as the upload speed might be the problem.  Well I spent a long time trying to figure out how to slow my Airport Extreme Base Station down and then I noticed that Match was uploading between 2-15 files before it would kick back to the beginning and the total number of files to be uploaded was slowly decreasing. 

Low and behold after quite some time, Match finally finished and said it was done!  This has to be some serious bug in Match, but eventually it got done.  Not sure whether the two steps before helped or not.

Now to the beginning of the story.  I started down this path because I was setting up a new iPod Touch to serve as controller for my new Sonos Play 5 system.  Everything seemed to work fine with Pandora and I was very excited.  Synced a few playlist from my iTunes library and for many of the songs there was the dreaded ‘unplayable icon”-circle with a line through it!  Did some additional searching and discovered that the iPod Touch to Sonos Play 5 was only possible with DRM free songs.

This is an aside.  It is necessary to place this discovery against my experience of playing my iPod thru a Sonos iPod Dock without having to worry about the DRM status of the music.  My disappointment was nearly overwhelming.

But Sonos recommended a strategy of iTunes Match to remove the DRM from the songs in my library.  Hence, my need for iTunes Match from the beginning of this story.  But this is not a very clean solution.  Even after one has done the iTunes Match, it is necessary to find all of the ‘Protected AAC audio files’ in your library, delete them and then download the ‘Purchased AAC audio files’ from the cloud.  (https://sonos.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/626) and Apples directions (http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1711)

There are few tricks in doing this ‘Protected’ to ‘Purchased’ transition.  When you select Music in your library, and then right click on the top bar above the music you can select additional columns to be shown.  Select ‘Kind’ and you can see which music is protected vs purchased.  You can sort this column, thus bringing all of the ‘Protected’ files together, select them all and with one right click delete them!  (I very very strongly recommended you have a couple of backups of your library, just in case and there is a small box in the dialogue about deleting them from the Cloud as well---MAKE SURE THIS BOX IS NOT SELECTED).  Much to my delight, in the ‘Cloud’ column, you are presented with the choice to download the ‘Cloud’ version (now DRM free).  As best as I can tell, one has to download each song from the Cloud individually.  My fingers were very tired after millions of clicks.  I did a few at a time so it took me the better part of a day to accomplish.

I was very excited because I now had DRM free music in my library (I figured this would solve the problem).  I connected the iPod Touch to the library, choose not to sync my playlist so all the playlists from the iPod Touch were removed and then reselected the playlists of interest and had them placed back on the iPod.  I ejected the iPod and tested the playlist on the Sonos.  Much to my surprise, the unplayable songs were still unplayable!!! 

I deleted the Sonos App and reinstalled it (Did not work). 

I deleted the playlist from the iPod Touch, and resync it to my library (You really don’t want to do this as it also deleted the playlist from my library!)  Fortunately, I had one of those backups.

I then sync another playlist to the iPod Touch.  This second playlist was the complete album from which two songs were placed in the original problem playlist.  Much to my surprise, all of the songs from the album were fine, EXCEPT, the two songs that were unplayable in the original playlist.

I finally came to the conclusion that something had been stored on the iPod during the initial sync with the DRM containing music that prevented the non-DRM music from working properly.  With a deep breath, and only after I disable the iPod Touch connection to iCloud (in a couple different places), I then went to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings and ran it to restore original factory settings.  It was plugged into a power source.

After setting the iPod Touch up again, I reconnected it to my iTunes library and moved the problem playlist over that contained several unplayable songs.  IT WORKED!  All the songs were playable.

 

LESSONS: 

1. If iTunes Match keeps repeating steps 1 and 2 watch carefully to see if the number of songs to be processed is changing for the better.  If yes, at least in my situation, it completed the process, but it took much longer than I believe it should have.

2. My suspicion is that if you have installed DRM protected songs on an iPod Touch, the Sonos recommended solution will not work as stated.  Interestingly, it did seem work on my iPad and 4G iPhone. 

Addendum: I have discovered a few songs where the Sonos recommended solution did not work on the iPad and iPhone as well.  Several are from Madonna.


A© 2011-2015 by Steven Seelig, Chicago Photographer                          630-561-6581                                      e2photo@e2photo.net