I’ve started geotagging my photographs recently, now that Adobe Lightroom supports mapping (since last year’s V4 release) it’s a relatively straightforward job – simply drag the picture onto the map and job done. At least it is if you know exactly where the photograph was taken from…
That is where the GPS Receiver comes in. I’ve found too frequently that Google Maps doesn’t show me some locations at a resolution I’m happy with – cities are fine, the wilds of India, China and Spain leave something to be desired – the result is that many of my pictures are approximately geotagged.
I’m a technologist and ‘approximately’ doesn’t cut it for me. The crunch came when I was applying for insurance on our house in the Alpujarras. Rural cortijos don’t often have a postcode, or even an address. So the insurance company asked for the co-ordinates. “Find it on Google maps” they said “..and just send us the location”. “Aha” I thought, “How very modern!”. I then discovered that Google had omitted to send one of their street cars into the low Alpujarras and making the house out on the map was something of a challenge. It occurred to me then that the best way of locating the house beyond any doubt would be to pin it down with a GPS receiver.
The Canon GPS-E2 is a pretty remarkable piece of kit. It works with with the 1D, 5D and 7D cameras, (on the 7D you have to plug it into the USB port, on the 5D it just sits unobtrusively on the flash plate). It takes a single AA battery (not supplied) and once it is locked on, will provide Google Maps compatible coordinates, altitude and direction data to the EXIF fields embedded in each image. This means that when the photograph is uploaded to Flickr or submitted to Panoramio, the location is automatically recorded.
Additionally, the system will record the complete sequence of a journey. This can be downloaded to the suppplied software and be embedded in a map for use in a blog post for example. It functions in this mode, separately from the camera, so if the mapping capability is what’s wanted it just sits on your belt and records your movements every few seconds.
So what are the alternatives? iPhone certainly, and probably most other smartphones, supports GPS based location services as a matter of course. That’s great as long as you are using the iPhone. I habitually take an iPhone picture of all the locations I visit, so it is possible for me to pinpoint most places, its just that there is no smooth workflow to getting the data applied to pictures taken on other devices. Its a manual process. This little gadget just works. Straight out of the box. Well, straight out of the box after a Firmware update has been applied. (My 5D Mk III purchased last October needed April’s 1.3.1 update to recognise the device.)
In summary, if you are a travel or landscape photographer and want to share location data or even record it for your own purposes, this is a great tool. One caveat – probably best not to broadcast the exact coordinates of your house. You never know who’s looking!
The notion that what is in effect a second lens, inserted between the real lens and the camera, will not detract from image quality is counter intuitive to the point where I have never seriously considered using one of these devices to extend the reach of my lens.
The lens extender is not the same thing as the extension tube that we use to magnify small objects for macro photography. Both devices maintain the electronic link between lens and camera, but the extension tube has no glass, it achieves the required magnification simply by moving the lens away from the sensor.
The Lens Extender is designed to work with Canon L series lenses and is in effect a second lens. The reason I became interested was that during the course of a landscape photography workshop I was unable to get the framing I wanted, even at the maximum zoom length of my lens. A quarter of a mile walk may have done the trick, but I would then be shooting from a completely different angle. So longer lens? Or Lens Extender? The lens extender costs approximately 30% of the price of a longer lens. That sharpened my attention.
So what’s the pay off? The lens extender loses you a full stop in maximum Aperture, so the f4 becomes an f5.6. This shouldn’t be an issue for landscape photographers who will tend to want back to front sharpness and will often opt for the lenses comfort zone – around f11. I tried some test shots with the 70-200mm lens. I discovered that autofocus was struggling, but that’s not a major issue, I tend to use manual anyway with landscape photography. There appeared to be some chromatic aberration introduced around high contrast edges, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed in post. In the viewfinder, I thought there was some vignetting, but that disappeared when I imported the images into Lightroom. As for sharpness, this is a crop from a larger photograph shot at a distance of 150 metres. At full magnification you can see the detail of the seagull sitting on the chimney. Its as sharp as it probably needs to be!
The outcome? The downside is that it is more fiddly to put on the lens extender, then the lens than it is to just swap lenses. Again that is unlikely to matter much to a landscape photographer. Some aberration is introduced, but a very small amount. I would expect considerably more actually since we’re introducing a whole extra layer of light processing before it gets anywhere near the sensor! I guess the verdict is that this is a useful tool for landscape photographers. It is not the same as having a longer lens, but it is cheaper and lighter and both of those things count.
I’ll be adding one of these to my kit. In terms of lightness, that alone earns it a place. Last year I visited China, India and Spain. And in China, I really regretted not taking a longer lens. This year I’ve already been to Spain once and have trips to India and France planned already. I don’t have the room or the strength to carry a flotilla of lenses around so until I actually invest in that longer lens, this useful piece of kit will do a good job and save my aching back!
Silky smooth waters and frantic skies are the outstanding features that we see in a lot of daytime long exposures and so I decided to take the filters out to Seven Sisters Country Park in East Sussex where there is an abundance of both, to continue my experiments with the Lee Big Stopper.
Having checked the calibration of the filter and finding it to be closer to 11.5 stops than 10, I had a much more productive day today. I was also a lot more comfortable with the physical process of setting up the image:
A couple of tips – I noticed on day 1 that sand and dirt were blowing onto the filter wrap while I was working. Obviously sand and a glass filter will not mix, even worse with the Resin filters – a scratch will ruin the filter permanently. I also worried about accidentally treading or kneeling on one while adjusting the camera settings. The solution, for me was to invest in another camera bag. The Kata DC445 is perfectly sized for the filters in their Lee protective covers. I carry two sets of ND Grads, hard and soft at 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9, a set of ND Glass Filters at 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 and the Big Stopper. There’s room left over to carry a pan & tilt tripod head too, separated by the dividers provided. As a bonus, it also provides a platform to shield the wrappers from the wind and keep the filters off the ground. A good investment? Well it works for me. Using the Lee filter system is most suited to Landscape photography where setting up the shot and waiting for the light can take hours, a modus operandi that is a world away from the rapid response mode of the street photographer! Taking one extra bag in addition to the camera bag and tripod is not a big deal if I’m setting out to take landscapes.
On with the show – The shot at the top of the article was 23 seconds at f22. The water in the foreground was very fast moving and this length of exposure was enough to render it milky white. The shot of the river was made with a 30 second exposure at f22. The intention again, was to smooth what was a fairly briskly flowing river until it was glassy smooth. The light was different in this shot, hence the slightly longer exposure time. I was happy to use relatively short exposures because there was so much cloud and I wanted to keep some of that texture.
Learning point was that now that I have the right calibration to use as the basis for calculating the exposure, I can get to a usable image much more quickly. Its still a little less scientific than I would like, but I’m finding that I’m developing a feel for this filter now that allows me to take the calculation and adjust it for changing light conditions etc without engaging in complex mathematics.
Perhaps the greatest lesson was one that has been true for the whole of my experience with photography. At first, engage with the technique. Once you are comfortable with the technique you will find yourself able to engage with the creative side of the image much more effectively.
Lee Filters “Big Stopper”, a filter that has become so popular that queues last for nine months, E-Bay prices mark up to around 175% original price and getting your hands on one quickly is frankly in the hands of the gods.
I’d been waiting since last September for one on backorder and finally lost patience and paid £175 for one on E-Bay. Which arrived very promptly, in three pieces. Thankfully, the vendor refunded all my money + the cost of returning it, so thinking that the gods were on my side I bought a lottery ticket and searched on Google for another. Well, I didn’t win the lottery but I did find a seller who had just received stock. So perhaps the gods were smiling just a little that day!
This post is a quick guide to using the thing. Sounds straightforward, but there are a couple of gotchas I’d like to share.
First and foremost, the Big Stopper is hand made and almost never exactly 10 stops. You need to work out what your filter really is because it will save you hours of pain in the field. To do this, you need to take a photograph in consistent light without the filter. Then look up the equivalent timing for 10 stops and take a picture with the filter. Compare the two. If your second picture is darker than the first, extend the time and try again. Repeat until the two pictures more or less match. Then work out the difference.
In my case, I shot indoors to get a constant light source and boosted the ISO and aperture until I got an exposure of 1/250 seconds for my first shot, without the filter. From the table included with the filter, this gives you an exposure of 4 seconds. My 4 second exposure came out underexposed, so I adjusted up a full stop – to 8 seconds. Amazingly, this was still too dark, so I adjusted up another half stop to 12 seconds. Still too dark. I eventually settled on 14 seconds, very nearly two whole stops. So my Big Stopper appears to be about 11 2/3 rather than 10 stops. The Bigger Stopper?
The picture at the top of the post was timed at 15 seconds with an aperture of f22 in very bright sunshine. I used an additional Lee ND grad 0.6 to balance the exposure, otherwise I wouldn’t have got the clouds.
All of these things I learned the hard way.
On the composition front – if you have a lot of cloud and its windy, they may look spectacular to the naked eye but with a long exposure it will probably come out white. You’re much better off with a few well defined clouds moving slowly.
I like this filter a lot and I’m going to keep experimenting, so I’ll post updates from time to time. hope this has been useful in the meantime.
One of the hats I wear as a technologist is that of adviser to a small independent Television production company. A discussion we had last week centred around the viability of equipping a video editing suite against the expense of hiring it. The economics of that discussion are not the subject of this article, but the conversation did touch upon the different technologies available and the possible futures.
Photographers and Filmmakers have similar challenges around workflow and since these two industries are increasingly overlapping with the video capabilities available in modern DSLR’s it makes sense to discuss this storage question here. I wrote about the RAID storage solution I use for my photography last week, but that was obtained several years ago and although ethernet is fast, moving video data off a RAID and into an editing tool such as Final Cut Pro is demanding in ways that still photography just isn’t. What is required is super fast connectivity between storage and workstation. Fibre fits the bill, but for the photographer it is unnecessary. (It is appropriate for a professional video editing house using racked storage arrayed across multiple hard drives). For Photographers and Video makers, eSATA and Thunderbolt both offer very fast connectivity between storage and workstation. The problem here is that various vendors have adopted different technologies. G-Technology, the makers of the G Drive I raved about in my previous post use eSATA, and Promise, the makers of the Promise Pegasus solution have adopted Apple’s Thunderbolt technology.
eSATA boasts data transfer speeds of up to 200MB/second which is plenty fast enough to edit video. Compare with Ethernet at 125MB/second, Firewire 800 at 98MB/second, Thunderbolt weighs in with a staggering 1.25GB/second. Now be aware that data will only move at the speed the slowest component dictates, so if you are using a 7200 rpm disk drive it will deliver approximately 50-60MB/second. SSD drives on the other hand offer 100-500 MB/second depending on type. These figures are approximate and in the case of the traditional spinning disk drives, factor in the delay in locating the data on the disk.
At one level the debate boils down to identifying the slowest component on the network. If you’re going to invest in high speed data transfer and then use wireless to connect your laptop, you’ll see a data transfer of only 75 MB/second, making your investment in fast storage completely redundant!
So which one is king? Thunderbolt is clearly the fastest by a long way. It is also the newest which means it has the least support in the market at the moment. It does offer one very interesting capability though, which Apple have been quick to exploit. You can daisy chain Thunderbolt devices together in a way which has been commonplace in storage for years, but Apple have extended the principle to include other hardware components, notably monitors and desktop computers. This means that you can plug a Thunderbolt enabled storage component into your Apple Thunderbolt enabled monitor into your AppleMac Mini Server. Hmmm…. attach that server to your Ethernet LAN and you have a solution only limited by the speed of Ethernet. Install FinalCut Pro on the AppleMac Mini and you have all the speed that Thunderbolt allows.
On the other hand, eSATA boasts wider support, is plenty fast enough for local editing and substantially cheaper. You’ll need to buy an eSATA card or adapter to realise the full speed, but the drives all support Firewire 800 as a matter of course. As a photographer, I’d go with eSATA as the data speed is sufficient to make photo editing seamless. As a videomaker I would seriously consider whether my requirements justify the additional expense of Thunderbolt. Having said that, I wouldn’t underestimate Apple’s ability to push Thunderbolt to the forefront. They succeeded with Firewire, but at the moment, and this is to my mind a big disadvantage, the Mac Pro cannot support Thunderbolt. That support will be forthcoming when the next overhaul of the Mac Pro architecture is completed.
In conclusion, Thunderbolt is exciting, no question, but for my purposes, unless I win a lottery sometime soon I’ll be sticking with my ReadyNAS Ethernet based RAID and my eSATA back ups.