Tag Archives: camera

Polaroid past and present

I haven’t posted anything about photography lately šŸ™‚

I was clearing a loft the other day and came across an instruction manual for an old Polaroid Land camera, which I can only assume my father owned at some point (his writing is on the back page, I’m guessing maybe he was costing out a kit purchase!). I thought I’d scan it in for posterity.

Manual cover


Diagram

As a child in the late 70s and 80s, I used to love Polaroids, even as the format was in decline with the widespread rise of 35mm combined with Supasnaps for processing. As we know, Polaroid have stopped making film now so it’s hard to actually find people using them, although I was captured on Polaroid at a Flickr party in London a while ago.

So what are the options? Well, nothing really gets close to the original pleasure of having a photo pop out of the camera and then the image appearing as it dried. However, there’s a nice piece of software called Poladroid which attempts to replicate the look and feel of the images themselves (down to the texture of the paper, and the slow drying film!).

Maldivian sunset


That’s still not good enough really, of course… it looks good but it’s not the same. Polaroid have announced that they will combine their PoGo mobile printer with Zink technology with a digital camera this year, although that will be starting off with a low pixel count sensor, and the Zink paper at the moment is fairly small… but I see it as a promising step in the right direction to bringing back a more fun, tactile photography.

The light tent, and understanding white balance

Several weeks ago I had an email from a lady called Gwen Hartley who had read my articles about my self-assembled light tent (parts 1, 2, 3) but was having some issues with the colour of the images that came out. I’m reproducing our correspondence with her permission, as I think this is useful information.

Gwen wrote:

… all the pictures we take (without flash, right?) are YELLOW & people cannot see the true color of my husband’s artwork (he’s a glassblower).

… We’re currently using a larger, taller lightbox, as he needed to be able to put taller pieces in it to photograph for customers. We have 11 lights now — with 100 watt compact fluorescents in them, and they STILL look yellow & are not a true reflection of the piece’s color.

I attached 2 pics of the pieces we took yesterday… notice how YELLOW they look?! We even tried to brighten them in PhotoImpact… NO LUCK! What are we doing wrong? We are supposed to NOT use a flash, right, so we don’t get the light spot? It looks SUPER bright to the eye, but when we photograph it — it’s YELLOW.

IMG_8002.jpg    IMG_8007.jpg

At this stage I didn’t really have enough information make a definite diagnosis, but I thought it would be a good idea to work through the problem with her:

What kind of camera are you using to take the photos?

You need to set your white balance to compensate for the lighting conditions. If you are using a DSLR you can usually shoot in RAW and then change the white balance in your photo software. For a compact, sometimes they have an “indoor” or “tungsten / fluorescent” light setting… otherwise you can use some software to set the neutral colour – I’m not familiar with PhotoImpact though.

I use software called Lightroom which is intended for DSLR users primarily… by using the eyedropper white balance tool and tweaking the brightness and clarity / contrast settings the images look a little better to me.

Again, I don’t know enough about your specific situation, but basically you want to work out the colour temperature of the lamps you are using and compensate for it – lots of photo software has white balance or neutral balance tools – you just click on the bit of the image you know is white, and it rebalances the image for you.

I also attached some edited versions of the images she had sent me, which looked like this:

IMG_8002.jpg    IMG_8007.jpg

Gwen was pleased at the changes:

[we have a] Canon PowerShot S2 IS – 5 megapixels… I don’t need anything fancy – just TRUE COLORS of the pieces & non-yellow-looking images!

… I’ll check into the white balance… there HAS to be something on one of the many settings on this camera!

Now, luckily, if you don’t have a DSLR then something like a PowerShot S2 is just the kind of compact camera you’d want for this kind of photography, as it has the right level of manual control to allow adjustment of white balance etc.. I did a bit of research, and came up with the following advice:

A PowerShot is a nice flexible compact camera.

Looking into the details about the camera you have, I found this review.

It looks like if you set the camera to P or Av mode, and then go into the function menu, the second option down will be White Balance – try the Tungsten and Flourescent light settings (if you have the manual for the camera you’ll probably be able to learn more about this). That would help for getting the right colours straight off the camera. Custom WB would be even better, in this mode you usually photograph something you know to be white, and then tell the camera to use that as a marker to where the white is in the image.

I also did some reading up on the software you have, PhotoImpact, and I found this. This describes doing basically what I did with your other images – you get an eyedropper to pick a colour from the image that should be “white”, or the software can try to fix it in Auto mode.

I have to say that Gwen’s husband Scott does produce some truly beautiful artwork – check out Infinity Art Glass to take a look. I’m really glad to have been able to help them.

One photo, eight views

Although the iPhone camera is not the best by a long shot (although the recent addition of the Clarifi has helped, in the case of close-ups anyway), it is still possible to do some interesting things with it. The App Store helps a lot here. There are one or two really handy applications for playing around with images ā€“ I actually have a whole page of them. Iā€™m not going to list them all, but my top picks are probably Photogene, which is a small photo editing program for cropping and adjusting levels etc.; and CameraBag, which can apply a number of different processing effects to images either from the camera roll, or taken straight on the camera.

Consider the shots below ā€“ the first one is the original, and the others were all created with CameraBag.

IMG_0418 IMG_0421   IMG_0423IMG_0425IMG_0427IMG_0424IMG_0426IMG_0422  

For uploading I tend to use Tumble to post snapshots to my tumblelog, or FlickUp to get them up to Flickr.

Gadgets part 3: Eye-Fi

Here’s something I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while now… an Eye-Fi SD card. If you don’t know about these things, essentially they are standard 2Gb SD cards that fit into any camera that will take the format (or others, with e.g. a Compact Flash/SD adapter). The good part is that they make the camera wireless-capable….

Pull the tab!

So I picked up my Eye-Fi card and the first thing that I noticed was the cool packaging… pull on the tab on the right-hand side of the box, and the box slides out to the left, revealing a USB dongle and the card already inserted. You need the dongle, because you need to use the computer to configure the card.

Once I plugged the dongle into the machine, an Eye-Fi item appeared on the desktop… it was pretty simple to just install the Mac software. Once I’d done that, I hit a small snag… I got a message about the Eye-Fi Manager software being unable to initalise the card. I tried running the Eye-Fi Manager a few times, but the same thing happened… until I took the dongle out of the USB port on the right-hand side of my machine, and plugged it back in on the left. That time, I got a set of dialogs enabling me to register an account. Not sure what happened there!

Eye-Fi error

Actually this seems to be an issue on my MacBook Pro… for some reason the Eye-Fi Manager software will never “initialize” the card when the dongle is plugged in on the right of the machine (although it still shows up as a mass storage device, and Lightroom sees it and offers to import images from it). Worked fine over on the left, but then the dongle is a bit too wide to enable the Magsafe power plug to be connected at the same time. Actually it seems a little random, unfortunately. I raised a problem with Eye-Fi support and they basically talked me through steps for checking that nothing else is using the port, plugging and replugging – nothing specifically useful. YMMV.

Card and card reader

Right, so here’s how this thing works. You start the Eye-Fi Manager software, which opens a web page to configure the card. Here, you can add wireless network details (it supports a whole range of network settings including WEP and WPA keys), rename the card if you want, and configure a huge variety of online services. I have configured mine for Flickr… but the software supports Facebook, SmugMug, WebShots, SnapFish, Picasa, Photobucket… and a gazillion others that I’ve not heard of before (oddly, Movable Type, Vox and Live Spaces, but not WordPress – hmm!). Once you’ve done that, you put the card in the camera, and it will automatically connect to the network and start uploading shots any time you take them.

EyeFiUpload

What appears to happen, is this: the camera uploads to Eye-Fi’s site, which then transfers to your chosen / configured photo service. The next time the Eye-Fi Manager sees the Eye-Fi site, it then mirrors the photos to the local disk (you can specify a location in the Eye-Fi Manager). I’m not 100% certain that this is how it works, but that’s what I’ve observed.

So now what about the downsides to this? Well for starters, the only supported file format is JPG. That’s OK, but of course Flickr now supports video too, for instance. Oh, and by the way, this is going to upload all your photos, anytime you take any, so I’ve set the default privacy option to private for Flickr uploads so I can review and tag etc. before publishing. The photos are obviously not titled or anything when the Eye-Fi uploads them, and they get a simple tag “Eye-Fi” set, but that’s all. So you will want to go and change title, tags, description, potentially rotate and so on once the image has been uploaded. Now that Flickr has Picnik integration, you can of course do some simple editing later as well. This does all bypass my “standard” photo workflow of Lightroom import, catalog, edit, and then upload, though.

One thing that the Eye-Fi does not support is wireless networks with certificates. Other than that, Open, WEP, WPA/WPA2 are all OK. It’s only going to work with networks it knows about, too (although you can configure more than one) – there’s no UI on the camera for configuring the card, you have to use the Eye-Fi Manager software while the dongle is plugged in to the camera.

Also, because there’s no UI on the camera side, there’s no visual indication as to what is happening… the Eye-Fi will silently upload your shots, and there’s actually no way of knowing that it is doing it, or when it has finished doing it. Of course it would be amazingly difficult for this to integrate with every camera if the makers had tried to build the Eye-Fi into the camera’s user interface, so I understand why this is the case – it’s just a little bit disconcerting! One nice feature is that there appears to be support for “interrupted” uploads, I see there’s a “Receive interrupted” comment in the Eye-Fi manager UI, so I think it will support partial upload and then resume.

Overall, it’s a neat idea, and certainly pretty cool for quick shoot-and-upload scenarios. Of course I often want to catalog my shots and touch-up on the computer first, but I can see cases where this could be really cool. Very handy for conferences etc. (oh, and that USB dongle can act as a reader for any SD card, too – handy). A qualified thumbs-up!

Here’s a link to a nice review, and here’s some news about the new models coming soon.

(post updated 14th May 2008 – a couple of additional details about workflow, the card initialization error, and the screenshot of the local machine import was added)

Back to the light tent – sort of

Some of my most regular blog traffic comes from a short series of posts I wrote a year ago, about building a tabletop light tent. I also sometimes receive questions and comments about it.

The most recent query appeared over in my guest book, from a gentleman called Buzz Coren. He wrote:

I’ve already built my light box and have been fooling around a bit with different lighting setups….I’m getting very fuzzy results and wondering if I might need a higher MP camera than my 5-year old Canon 2.3 digital elph. Comments?

In the spirit of open communication, I’m going to reply to that question here, as well as dropping Buzz a line directly.

The first thing to say is that I’m probably just as new at this – light boxes and lighting – as Buzz is! In fact the photos on his website look as though he’s probably spent a lot more time on lighting than I’ve ever done.

I took a look at Buzz’s site (which is really nice by the way – I like the “made on a Mac” part especially!) and to be honest, the photos there look fine. They are obviously not very large size, so I can’t assess how noisy / fuzzy / grainy they are. I don’t know whether they are taken with the 2.3MP camera? They are pretty good if they are!

My view is that yes, you’ll certainly get better results in terms of definition, detail, fuzzy/grainy-ness if you move up to a newer model of camera… most compacts start at around 5MP now, and the IXUS / Digital Elph I own has 7 (I think) which has been superb for outdoors photography and snapshots, although I’ve not used it in the context of the light tent. Here’s what I wrote about it back in May.

I’m not sure what Buzz’s precise problem is, though. With these kind of images you will also get better results if you can use a tripod, and a timer or remote release to avoid shaking the camera. Lighting is key too, I think even the lamps I got for the light tent were a little under-powered.

To be fair, I have not done a huge amount with the light tent but I have found that shots are noisier, and I put this down to lighting and the length of exposure. Someone else who contacted me about the light tent articles suggested trumpet bulbs, which are apparently available on eBay – these are supposed to be pretty good for this kind of photography too (thanks to Fiona Sands for this tip, which she shared with me back in September).

The moral of the story is, now that I’ve got a nice macro lens and external flash, I really ought to invest in some more bulbs and pop the tent up again! It’s fantastic that my articles attract so much interest.