Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Computer Build – Pain, Sorrow, Tears … but ultimate success …

As reported a while ago, I had a hard disk failure that really never got under control. I had to shut off all updates and watch everything I did in order to avoid stimulating even a single reboot, as this always caused a cycle of endless rebooting until the machine gave up and allowed Windows to finally boot. I did one last cycle before starting the new build and it came back only after 5 complete boot cycles.

So … the hard drive had to go. I ordered a 128GB SSD in order to treat myself to some real speed. This after toying with a 60GB boot drive, but realizing that this was not useful as I want my programs to come off the SSD as well (very, very fast.)

I had already taken a look at the motherboard and that reminded my that I had bought a cheap mainboard last time with a restricted number of SATA ports. DUH! I suggest that you always spring for a bit more board than you need. You may want more drives in here one day, or hanging off the back.

Once I had decided to buy a new mainboard, this led to a new processor. And that led to, well new everything. I actually bought and shipped a mainboard that could use my older DDR2 memory. But that was really short sighted since it also restricted me to SATA II instead of SATA III and it offered no option for USB III. was kind enough to prepay shipping back to their warehouse with no restocking fee, so I ordered a new mainboard and Thuban 6 core AMD processor. I wanted to go Sandy Bridge, but in the end I decided to cheap out a bit and get the extra cores. This saves me a bit of cash and helps out my video and image processing quite a bit. All in all, I am very satisfied.

The final machine then:

  • NZXT case – preserved from previous incarnation
  • Thermaltake TR2 RX 750W power supply – taken from my son’s machine as he needed a new power supply to run his new eVGA 570 GT … wicked fast video card that sucks unheard of power, we got him a massive Crucial 750W supply with 0.8 amps on the -12 rail instead of the lesser 0.3 amps that his previous Thermaltake and my previous OCX both had
  • ASUS M4A88TD-M/USB3 mainboard – new with 6 SATA III (6GB/s) ports and 2 USB3 ports to go with the usual huge number of USB2 ports
  • AMD 1100T 6 core processor – new with 3.3ghz and 3.7ghz turbo on up to three cores; I run it at 3.8ghz on all 6 cores with no turbo
    • Note: For those wanting the very best, get the Intel 2600K and overclock that sucker … it still blows my new chip out of the water on most benchmarks. Don’t ask why I decided to save the hundred bucks … maybe I just felt like giving the little guy a shot this time.
  • Zalman CPNS10X Extreme -- this thing is so big that it barely fits in the case. I cannot run the latest memory in the first slot because the newer tall heat sinks won’t fit. But that fan is really quiet, so I am very happy. And the 1100T can get pretty hot when running all six cores overclocked, but my temps remain very low.
  • G.Skill Sniper memory – 2x4GB P12800 1600ghz RAM.
  • G.Skill memory – 2x2GB P12800 1600ghx RAM from my son’s machine (we got him 2x4GB Rip Jaws memory for his older main board.)
  • Crucial M4 128GB SSD – wicked!
  • WD 2TB Green 7200rpm drive for my main images drive
  • WD 1TB Black 7200rpm for my main documents drive – retained from before
  • Thermaltake 750W power supply – a nice heavy supply that provides lots of stable power, but buy Crucial if you are into gaming and plan on a high end video card … my son learned that lesson
  • NVidia 9600GT video card – retained from before

This is a serious machine for anyone who edits video or images.

My first task in this area was to run Nero Recode 10 to create copies of a ripped DVD for Karen to give to some of the people on her tour to Niagara Falls last weekend. They did not finish the movie on the bus on the way home and some people asked for a copy so they could finish it. Past recodes on my Core Duo E6850 3ghz processor usually ran in real time. I.e. it took about the same time as the movie ran to recode it to the smaller size for single sided DVD.

But this new machine recoded it at 30x speed. That’s right … it was done in about 6 minutes. The first time I ran it, the machine suddenly blue screened half way through. On a new build in overclock mode I consider this to be not that unusual. So I cranked up the core CPU voltage to 1.5 and disabled Turbo mode and it ran fine the next time. Incredible speed, I must say.

Regarding the heat sink … these 1100Ts come with a little heat sink that is able to handle their needs well enough. I got a big one so that I could experiment with overclocking, and I had read that these chips get as hot as anything on the market today when running at high speed. I did not want to take the chance. But the new heat sink is staggeringly large when compared with the one you get for free …



It’s actually hard to see how incredibly huge this thing is, because the difference in height off the board is about quadruple … but of course I also wanted silence, and I can say that the three 120mm fans I have running in this machine right now emit very little noise. It’s not silent, but it is close enough for all practical purposes.



The mainboard is really very nice, and the whole thing fits into a small space, which makes the NZXT case really shine. So easy to mount drives on rails and to run cables through the back. This is as easy a build as you would find …

So where did the pain, sorrow and tears come from? Well, I was having trouble getting the crappy AMD clip to clamp down. Turned out to be fairly easy once I had screwed it up once or twice, but while I was doing that I had to reapply the very special and unbelievably thick thermal grease on the chip and heat sink.

After a couple of attempts, I realized that the grease had spilled out onto the mainboard and the chip socket, also down onto the underside of the chip itself. Now, this is a very bad thing because modern thick and expensive thermal grease is conductive, which means that at that moment I had just rendered all three parts useless.

So I spent the next hour cleaning everything off to bring it back to new. The hea sink was easy enough … 99% pure rubbing alcohol and Q-Tips got that looking like new with minimal effort. The socket took longer, but I left a tony amount of past inside the last few pin sockets because of course the extra conductivity would only affect the pin itself, and not create a short anywhere.

The real bear in the process was the pins on the back of the processor, of which a half dozen or more had been shorted by the grease. Of course, I had not applied power yet, so the chip was perfectly fine if I could get the pins and the spaces between them clean again.


The pins are magnified in that image. In fact, the rows are at most 1mm apart and the columns much less than that. It took forever to figure out that I needed to scrape the rows and columns with something safe, and the magic answer was a folded paper index card. Bingo! I was able to scrape each row and column in the affected area a few dozen times until the whole thing came about as clean as new.

And sure enough, it worked perfectly then next time I applied the grease (a pea sized dab in the middle) and clamped it down. The heat sink is so big and the surface of the heat sink so smooth that the grease slides quite easily. The AMD clamp is a single spring (like a reverse leaf-spring for you old-school types) that clamps the heat sink with a lot of pressure. The clamp itself has a hole that is hexagonal, but the pin that goes through it is round. So the heat sink can be twisted slightly with no effort. I wonder if that will be a problem in the long run?

The Intel system is vastly better. Plain and simple. But alas … I made my choice and I must say that 6 screaming cores just feels kind of manly … a little like driving a huge Dodge RAM pickup truck. You can’t help but drive like a jerk when you are driving what amounts to a surrogate phallus … that’s what six cores is like … sort of :-)

Your download link has expired …

There is a practice that has taken hold among the smaller software outfits (I prefer the impolite term “chicken-shit” outfits, mostly because of their behavior) whereby you must permanently save a copy of your downloaded software if you ever plan to rebuild your computer in the future.

I have just gone through a rebuild and am reinstalling all my applications. Adobe is giving me fits because I forgot to “deinstall” Photoshop CS5 and now they will not allow me to activate it. So I am going to have to phone them and scream at them to make sure I retain rights to my own software. Microsoft’s activation (remember, they invented this curse upon the consumer in Windows XP) is much smarter, rarely giving you fits and even when they do, there is a simple “by phone” activation method that usually does the trick (it did for my Windows 7 64 license, and I changed almost every single part in my computer.)

So back to my irritation …

I got to the point of reinstalling Lightning PDF Professional, a somewhat useful and inexpensive application for creating … you guessed it … PDF files. It works with older versions of Word (newer ones can go direct to PDF) and it allows you to scan pages in to create a complete PDF document. Very handy when you want to store documents.

Anyway, here is my order summary, which they have retained …


Grrrr … they can retain the records of my purchase so they know for a fact that I am licensed to run this product. They surely have an archive of that version of the file on their servers. But they still choose to play this chicken-shit game by trying to wring another copy out of me.

To which I say, go f-ck yourself Avanquest.


I was just being lazy … of course I had saved a copy. But I will certainly remember this the next time you send me yet another advertisement for a cheap imitation of the real thing …


Oh ……

My …….

God …..


What a chicken-shit outfit …

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rogers Internet … I’m feeling a bit better about my service (updated) …

It has been a nightmare trying to get images uploaded lately. The link will run fast for a few images and then bog down completely. This has been happening for months now and I finally was able to recreate it using … the results are horrible. I pay for a 1Mbps uplink and I get crap, as shown by these two straight tests. The second run after resetting the cable modem and router.



I don’t know what game Rogers are playing, but I pay far too much for my service to take this from them.

Update: Ok, I found out that my son has been leaving a P2P client running all the time, and of course Rogers’ throttling has been kicking in I believe. I also found out that servers that are not local seem to work better … for example, I was getting good speed to Toronto while Ottawa servers were crud.

My link to Kingston is spectacular …


So things might not be as bad as they seemed … however, I still don’t like the cagey way that Rogers chooses to shape traffic to and from my home. That’s just evil …

Update 2: After getting my new SSD set up to boot in AHCI mode and moving my entire user account onto a separate disk (using a link from C:\Users\kim to D:\Users\kim), I tried downloading iTines and setting that up. It’s the last major application that I needed to set up. My sustained download speed was pretty excellent …


Not too shabby …

And of course I immediately found out that the 32 bit version no longer installs on Windows 7 64 … but there was no obvious mention of that on the download page. Apple, for all their brilliance, are let down by crappy web designers just like everyone else …

Anyway, this download went incredibly fast … wow … this is at or above what I pay for (shhhhh … don’t tell them or I will suddenly end up clamped to 7kbps as per the small print in my contract …)


I’ll take it …

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ronnie Gaubert, may he rest in peace …

I’ve spoken of Ronnie Gaubert a few times on this blog, and I’ve mentioned his incredible nature photography many times on the various forums at Ronnie is an example to follow for everyone. A gentleman on the forums and a brilliant nature photographer.

He was diagnosed about a year ago with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) after being symptomatic for a year before that. He fought hard but lost the battle on May 3rd, 2011 at 5pm. For some reason, I find this incredibly sad. He was an extremely worthy person and it just seems so utterly unfair.

His family has said that his gallery will remain on pbase as he loved photography and he loved to share his work. This is an awesome thing and I hope that it stays there forever. He still has prints for sale here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

RAW versus JPEG

A very interesting exchange on the Fuji Forum this morning leads me to make a few comments on the never-ending RAW versus JPEG debate. By now, anyone who is paying attention understands that RAW shooting has (at least) these advantages:

  • Uses state of the art conversion that can perform adjustments that the camera cannot
  • Can save a significant amount of highlight and shadow detail where point and shoot jpeg engines cannot
  • Allows custom noise reduction and sharpening, dramatically improving high ISO imagery
  • Preserves more detail for cameras that have aggressive JPEG engines (like the HS10’s)
  • Can tailor each image to its individual exposure and lighting, thus making every image in a sequence a perfect rendition
  • Can be reprocessed into an even better image as RAW engines improve (e.g. dramatic improvements in ACR6 led me to reprocess some difficult images)

These advantages are why many professionals shoot RAW exclusively. The only real downsides to RAW are file size and shot to shot or continuous shot performance. The former is not all that relevant as we get cheap 3TB drives and fast SATA III and USB III transfer speeds. The latter is irrelevant to dSLRs shooters, as those cameras shoot RAW pretty much as well as they do JPEG.

But small sensor cameras tend to handle the larger files poorly and have much slower continuous shooting and buffers that can only store a few images before writing for a long, long time. Still, I shoot RAW+JPEG on the F550EXR as a matter of course now. I don’t mind the performance hit and some of the images are simply that much better than they would have been otherwise.

So it was with some amusement that I read through a thread about RAW shooting today. Someone with a weird handle popped in to ask about Raw Therapee, a freebee that I am not all that fond of. I really dislike the controls when compared with something like ACR. I would much prefer to use a real editor like Elements 9 with ACR 6 anyway. (Or Photoshop CS6 and the full version of ACR 6, which is what I do use.)

He (or she) was basically asking about batch processing to speed up the process. This kind of goes against the point of RAW shooting for most scenarios. RAW takes some time to process, but no more than JPEGs once you get used to it. In fact, I process all JPEGs through ACR6 in the same way that I do RAWs. They all need some tweaking too … sometimes more (to save wrecked highlights and shadows.)

I therefore agreed with Paul when he made this comment:

If you can't be arsed to convert them shoot in Jpeg. I never understand why people batch process pictures, they all require different levels of adjustment.

He is right that, for most people, batch processing a waste of time unless it is for proofs or something like that. It can also work for sequences of images shot in manual under identical lighting. That would provide perfectly consistent output. But this person was complaining about 160 images.

The other person’s response was fairly typical of people who are looking for short cuts:

I'd love to learn how to process RAW. but 160 of them!! That'll be like peeling potatoes!

Photography is a pretty technical craft. If you find the need to be organized and methodical that painful, like “peeling potatoes” for example, then perhaps you are not into the craft as much as you think you would “love to be” …

RAW is a wonderful tool. Once you get a handle on it, it will make a big difference in your output. But if you are not ready, or interested, then consider sticking to jpeg. Learn to get the best capture you can and just live within its limitations … I have a list of some great books here:

Some of them go to getting the best exposures, and some of them go to processing – including RAW processing. Think about the area you want to work on and try some of these out. They are cheap enough on Amazon, but you might prefer to hit the library. As you wish …

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Future Time Line

Nick posted a link to my Facebook wall and it is fascinating reading. It’s actually hard to remember that there is speculation involved sometimes, as these are very well written and seem extremely plausible.

What is most disturbing about this web site is how the environment is actually destroyed by the extreme short-sightedness of humankind. Who doesn’t find it endlessly tiresome to watch small-minded political and financial interests ignoring the obvious looming disasters around fuel and climate while they focus on getting theirs first?

Reading this timeline snaps all that pettiness into sharp focus, although of course it will not necessarily change much. We’re going to have to watch it all unfold, with much of the more serious damage becoming obvious in our children’s lifetimes …

It’s a great read though, as there is an overall positive tone that technology is advancing fast enough to preserve the human race. Whether we deserve it or not …

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One of those days …

Sometimes you just can’t avoid having one of those days. The ones that suck and never seem to get better. But after a good sleep you can look back and smile …

Not so for others …


Now … this image was shot by a friend of mine, John Buckhoff from the Fuji Talk Forum. His handle is Buckshot and you can find him shooting a dSLR these days, a Nikon no less. This image is part of a wonderful series showing the hawk diving, going under, and coming up with the prize. When I look at this last image in the sequence, it is obvious that the fish has had better days. But no more …

Anyway, I used the image without permission so I hope he won’t be too upset. These images are in his gallery on DPReview. Further, you see some of his very creative work on his main gallery.

F550EXR vs. D700 and the 70-300VR in Winnipeg – Zoom range and clarity …

I’ve just about stopped looking at the Fuji Talk Forum since there is little I can do there without having a voice. But now and again I note that he F550EXR has been largely dismissed. Apparently, the specter of a few images containing funky colored highlights and the ravings of a few of the haters (and they are very vocal on the FTF) has managed to create an impression that this camera is hugely flawed.

Which is very far from the truth. This camera is terrific. Before I left for Winnipeg, I set the camera to RAW+JPEG and never took it off that setting. I shot a lot of image inside my parent’s home, where the lighting starts at bad and quickly hits terrible. Fluorescent lights mixed with compact fluorescent mixed with daylight from windows mixed with blur light from televisions. Even the D700 has trouble sometimes because of the lighting. I convert to B&W a lot just because it is too much trouble to find that balance and my color deficiency makes it a nightmare.

So I often shot in B&W inside the house and this gave me the perfect world of a nice B&W JPEG with a RAW that I could try working with. I process only the RAWs now, but I still shoot RAW+JPEG because I prefer RAW files to be half-sized instead of the full 24MB. Fuji’s funky software team really do make you work for it …

Update: I’ve looked over my RAW images from Winnipeg, and to be perfectly honest I can see no pattern as to when you get 24MB files versus when you get 12MB files. There is no correlation to settings so it ends up looking completely random. I would not be surprised if we find out one day that they have a bug in their firmware. I wonder if the HS20 has the same “feature” …

So … on with the range … I stayed at a hotel called Place Louis Riel, named after the man who founded my home province of Manitoba. It is well located in central Winnipeg, with attached parking that is inexpensive and accessible from the inside elevators. The suite itself was amazing … it put the suites I have booked at the Airport Hilton in the past to absolute shame.

D700 ISO500

The furniture is all top-quality. The mattresses are pillow top, even the pull out couch has a thick and comfortable mattress, quite unlike the spring-fest I was tortured on at the Hilton. Those counter-tops are quartz if you are wondering. Absolutely stunning. Bathroom too.

The view out of my window was a bit mundane, but there was a church in the distance that I focused on now and again, finding some amusement in trying to isolate a screen on the openings in the tower. So here is the view itself at about 24mm … you can see my hotel reflected in the mirrored surface of the building in the center of the image.

The church is just to the right of that mirrored building. Note all the texture on the walls. Some of Fuji’s more expensive cameras have trouble with this in jpeg … I processed these all from RAW.

And the windows 1/3 from the top of the frame at 100% crop …

You will want to click through on that one to see the grate across the window. There is also some visible fringing, but this lens really does not fringe enough to take note. Nothing like older Fuji cameras.

Just for giggles, let’s look at how the D700 with the 70-300VR renders this scene.

Strangely, the actual reach seems rather similar. Hard to say though, as the aspect ratios are so different. Anyway, here’s a 100% cropped section around that window. Those who like to criticize this lens for being unsharp at 300mm are doing it a disservice.

You can see that every opening is covered with mesh, no doubt to prevent the gulls and / or pigeons from soiling the place …

So I think the F550EXR is a fine camera with terrific range. It does not quite compete with dSLRs, but only a zealot would think that it could.

The lens is just fine in my opinion, especially once you learn how to shoot and process RAW. ACR tweaks for distortion can be done quickly and come close to matching Fuji’s own algorithms in their JPEG engine. Fun cam …

I’ll have more from Winnipeg once I can process images with less risk. My computer continues to limp along on a mangled main drive, but the data drives are perfect so far, showing no errors, so I don’t mind doing a bit of limited processing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

IBM – The Centennial

Features IBMers discussing achievements that happened in the year that they were born.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

F550EXR -- Sparrow Sex

Ok, I lied. I said I would not blog while away, but I gave my sister copies of my images and movies so far and while I was on her computer I thought I would upload a cute movie showing a pair of what I presume to be Sparrows mating ...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Dearth of Posts

The lack of posts this week is a dead giveaway ... I am visiting family this week and will not be posting anything. Well, except for this notification that I will not be posting anything. Which kind of makes this post a lie. Although its content probably makes up for that. Actually, let's add an "else" on the end of that phrase so we all feel more comfortable with my lying ...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dear 16 Year Old Me

There are many things the average person would probably love to tell themselves or others at 16 …

  • Start your retirement savings early, small amounts early become big amounts later
  • Share your life with someone with whom you share values
  • Spend every free moment with your kids when they are young … you will be surprised at how fast they seek independence at 12 or 13 and the regrets cut deep …
  • If you are an asshole, don’t procreate … the world already has its fill
  • Get into the habit of regular exercise … you will thank yourself later
  • Follow your dreams when choosing a career … do something you love … you have plenty of time to become a wage slave if that is your destiny

And so on …

Now the big one, which is the point of this article: do not play fast and loose with the Sun. Take care when you are young and check your skin later on.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

D300 – Forsythia Blooms

I rarely manage to capture my Forsythia in full bloom. But today I was able to get a nice shot from above with the glorious 85mm 1.8D set at f/5.6 for some depth and perfect clarity of the whole bush and all its flowers. Impressive, even if unstructured :-)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

F550EXR – JPEG versus RAW versus Pro Low Light — Review Part 49

So here I am at lunch after visiting Henry’s to confirm that there are no Sony HX9Vs to be seen on these shores, and I am pondering the F550EXR in my hands once again. This building is interesting for some shots because I invariably sit all the way on the inside of the building where the only lighting is incandescent, and yet I face the outdoors which has rather blue light by comparison.

And it’s pretty dark, so 1600 ISO or 3200 ISO are needed for decent shutter speeds.

So I shoot the coke and water as my opening bid. A few people down the right side of this section get caught up in the 24mm image, and the camera resolves them pretty well, especially when one considers the very bright windows in behind. I shot this at +1EV in order to pull out detail in the stuff on my table and the face of the girl on the right. The windows were lost anyway, even at DR400.

As far as I am concerned, the new Fuji jpeg engine is pretty amazing. The painting at top left and the girl’s hair far right all show detail that the older Fuji engine would have struggled with. Images got painterly a lot faster in the olden days :-)

Of course, I still favor RAW. Here, I have achieved a more open tone curve, but of course I could have done that to the JPEG as well. The results being a bit less predictable since the pixels are already somewhat bruised.

And then my wonderful C1 arrives. C1 is the designation on the menu … it’s some form of Thai curry I suspect and it is simply amazing. Here, I shoot it at 1600 ISO and 1/6s, which is low light in anyone’s book. This is the RAW image and I process it with white balance set for the plate with a bit of warmth added back in. The shadows are warmed a bit in the camera profile panel as the F550EXR does have a tendency to blue deep shadows under some circumstances.

You will not the wonderful steam coming off the dish … I love that look. The windows and everything lit by them are in blue tones. This because the interior is quite orange so when the blue channel is pushed to adjust white balance, the already blue / white outdoor light is greatly exaggerated. Nothing you can do about that except desaturate and I decided not to do that here.


Then I realized that I had not really done much with pro low light mode. So I set that and shot another image. I noticed three things immediately:

  1. Brain fart. I shot in 3:2. Doesn’t hurt, but I prefer to get the whole frame while testing.
  2. The four images are shot very quickly on this camera. Much quicker than on any other EXR that I can remember.
  3. The magnification of this mode is quite high. I had to back off quite a bit to frame the whole plate and that changed the perspective. The rim of the plate is thinner in this shot, which is caused by the perspective change. Interesting …
  4. I said three, but I just remembered #4. Even though the camera is set to provide RAW images, pro low light writes exactly one JPEG only.

The image came out so desaturated when compared with the RAW above that I took pity on it and performed some tweaking in ACR and CS5. I still prefer the RAW image, although this saturation might be a bit more accurate.

Because of the blending of four images, we lose the very clear steam imagery. That’s annoying. But otherwise, the image is nice. Not really any better than the processed 3200 ISO image, but still nice.

When I left the restaurant, I noticed a pigeon farting around on the pavement, searching for dinner [gag] … and shot him a couple of times before I realized that I was still in pro low light mode. And although he was walking about and I was following him, the images remain sharp and clear. That’s very interesting …

And at the very end, I shot one image in A prio mode again. This one came out slightly soft unfortunately, but I processed the RAW anyway and it is still pretty cool. He’s picking up some delicacy or other from the pavement … [shudder] …

So I think pro low light is very interesting … but maybe not quite as interesting as it once was. The high ISO on this beast is good enough that it really is not necessary to use pro low light and give up a RAW capture.

F550EXR – Changing my snow tires — Colossal Screw Up Leads to Bunnies

So there I was, enjoying a leisurely tire change. I got my little 3 gallon compressor pumped up and attached my air gun with the appropriate 13mm (IIRC) socket, grabbed my toy hydraulic jack and it’s little step to reach the bottom of my baby SUV and I was off.

But first I opened the windows and cranked up some tunes. I have a nice sub woofer and a decent deck with iPod connector so I was blasting some nice deep bass while I was working. I stopped after each tire to chat up one neighbor or another, they were out in the glorious sunshine.

By the time I reached the third tire, it had been pretty much two hours since I has started the job (did I mention leisurely?) And I started to hear my music stop and then restart. It did this three times before I got into the car to see what was going on. The whole unit was shutting off and coming back on, and that’s never a good thing.

To make a long story short(er), I had run the battery completely flat. So much so, that even after two hours of letting it soak in its own juices, it would not revive. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click …not good.

I popped into the garage to fetch the battery cables and then popped the hood and the hood of Nick’s old 98 Lumina, a very nice running car that has a nice big 6cyl engine and should do a great job.

Except the battery and terminals are hidden under a brace. Sh-t!

Plan B. Grab the battery out of the Honda (it was really old and past due for replacement anyway) and pop it into the back of the Lumina. Get the keys from the house and off we go.

Or maybe not. The car starts and runs great (first time in months) but it won’t budge. At all. I finally decide to see what a bit of gas will do and it starts to move, but under severe protest. The scraping sound tells me that only three tires are playing ball. The other is stubbornly refusing to turn. Again, sh-t!

Now this is getting a bit old. By performing my semiannual maintenance on my tires like a good soldier, I’ve managed to go from two happy cars to two broken cars and one of them has no battery and four open windows late on a Sunday afternoon. *sigh* …

I’ve been trying to think my way out of this, but there is nothing for it. I’ve rusted the brake drum all to heck. So now I grab the cross bar for the wheel nuts (not interested in getting the air gun all set up again) and grab the hydraulic toy without its step since this is a normal car, and just in case I feel the need to flip out on the car, I grab an axe.

Once the car is in the air and the wheel is on the ground, I grab the axe and hit the brake drum repeatedly with the back end of the head until the drum breaks loose and begins to turn. Once that happens I start hammering on it until I can get it off the bolts and expose the very rusty brake shoes.

After banging on the drum lying on the bricks to remove as much rust as possible, I put everything back together and again clean up the jack etc. Into the car and off we go. Lots of grinding and scraping as rust meets steel, but it moves without undue protest.

The brakes are awfully spongy though, so I stop at the local Home Depot lot, which is mostly empty on the side of the building and try to remember how to reset the rear brakes by driving in reverse and violently slamming on the parking break and then the real breaks. Somewhere in there, things tighten up a wee bit and off I go to Canadian Tire.

Which is closed. So I head off to Wal-Mart, which is reliably open even late Sunday evening. Except for the auto parts counter, which is closed. *sigh* …

I ponder total failure after all this hassle and while I am wiping the tears away (figuratively) I spot a great rack. Row upon row of fresh new batteries. Joy!

To make a tedious story finally end, I look in the book and find the battery that matches. They have exactly one. Grab it and carry it across the whole store (anyone who has ever carried one of these things knows that they are heavy.) Once home, my Honda is back up and running in minutes. And now I have two working cars again. Happy day …

Yes, that is an Energizer Bunny under my hood … the mystery title is finally resolved …

F550EXR – My Garden 2011 — Just Getting Started

Not much to say yet … we’re North American zone 5b I believe, which is really just to say that plants need to be fairly hardy to tough out the winters here. My original home town of Winnipeg is Zone 2, so plants have to be almost made of ice to survive. Kidding … their English gardens are pretty amazing …

Anyway, as I starting showing around mid-April, my French Lilac was budding then. It has now progressed to tiny florets, which means that next week we’ll be seeing flowers.

And, of course, the tulips are not to be outdone. These are some form or other of hybrid tulips, and I have always been led to believe that these things won’t come back year after year. And yet these things have been going a long time now … at least 5 years. And here they come again …

The rain has helped to green things up … and of course Photoshop made no small contribution :-)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nikon D300 prime versus mega-zoom versus F550EXR – Lens Test for CA and Sharpness

This is a rather eclectic test, mixing in several variables and factors and so is useful mainly for observational purposes. In other words, I did not state a hypothesis and then craft a test to prove or disprove it. No scientific method in this one. Sorry.

Anyway, I noted that my el-cheapo Velbon tripod from a century ago was standing in sunlight against a window with the sun hitting the top of it. This created an interesting test subject … dark subject in silhouette with harsh edges bathed in strong sunlight creates a natural test of resolution, shadow noise and chromatic aberration or purple fringing.


I was holding the D300 with the 85mm 1.8D mounted, a combination I almost never shoot. What I noticed right away was that it had staggering amounts of fringing when shot wide open. This makes some sense, of course, since fast lenses will do that when overexposed (I shot using spot metering to open the shadows right up, which blew out the edges completely.) Stopping down is normally the cure, so it struck me to run a quick test by shooting at 1.8 on up.

The way I shoot fast lenses is to go just above wide open, in this case f/2 instead of f/1.8. This gives an uptick in performance (better contrast and sharpness) with little loss in subject isolation. So it made sense to include those two apertures and then run a standard ladder … 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11.

After I was done with that, I thought I might try the 18-200VR, since it is so often maligned. And then I thought the F550EXR might make an interesting counterpoint, since it is also often maligned.

The D300 was set to 500 ISO to help the 85 get shutter speeds that were not terrible, as I was hand holding this test (what did I say about the informality of this one ...) In fact, all images were crisp except for f/11. 1/30s is just a little too slow for an effective focal length of 127.5mm hand held.

So let’s see the crops and then I’ll give my observations.

  • The colors captured by the 85mm are most accurate. The others are a bit too warm.
  • Fringing is rampant on the 85 until 2.8, where it is pretty subtle. It is completely gone by 5.6.
  • Sharpness on the 85 improves at f/2 and again at 2.8. Contrast continues to improve slightly, peaking around f/5.6. Amazing lens.
  • The 18-200 has some CA wide open, but not all that bad. About equivalent to the 85mm at f/4.
  • The 18-200 never reaches the same sharpness as the 85, but is still sharp. Enough that a downsized image is not going to be wildly different looking. Of course, the concept of “bite” in a lens is a subtle thing in the first place. A lot to do with subject isolation and micro-contrast. The 85 has some bite and the 18-200VR does not.
  • The F550 is completely outclassed, despite a 2.33 stop advantage in ISO.
  • Shadow noise is rampant on the F550, as would be expected on a 1/2” sensor.
  • CA (not the blue variety, nor purple fringing) is rampant on the F550, as would be expected from a 15x lens on a $350 camera.
  • The F550 image is still fairly sharp, though, so processing it with noise reduction software and improving contrast would provide a decent image.

A fun test. The prime is amazing, although it makes no sense as a wide open bright sunlight lens (which makes no sense anyway.) The 18-200VR is as good as I remember it … sharper than most people credit.

So what is the secret sauce here? Why am I seeing the 18-200VR (1st generation no less) as quite sharp when so many people lambaste it for for sharpness?

The answer is that I perform appropriate capture sharpening in ACR 6.4 on every image in order to overcome the anti-aliasing filter and any inherent lack of sharpness in the lens. This cannot add real sharpness that is not there, which is why the 85 looks better no matter what I do.

But it can allow all of the sharpness that is there to become visible. So yes, the prime took a bit less capture sharpening and so is even that little bit better than shown here, relative to the others.

But that’s the whole point of RAW processing. If you are not going to take advantage of the quality tools that are available, then you really cannot call yourself an enthusiast. By definition, someone who does not process is a point and shooter. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it tends to leave a lot of image quality on the table …