Grant McWilliams

Photography

Photography Blog

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Possible G7 replacement

I really did like my Canon G7 but since I broke it I've been trying to figure out what to do. Canon will fix it for $160 but I've not had the time to send it off. They'll replace it for $275 if I send the old one in but again I don't know how long that takes. I have no problem replacing the camera if there is an alternative. I thought Nikons P series camera may be a contender but all the reviews have shown it to be dog slow. Before buying the G7 I seriously looked over the Panasonic DMC-LX1 but reviews showed it have outrageous overpowering noise cancelation to the point that any photo taken above ISO 200 looked like mud. The Panasonic DMC-LX2 came out with the hope that they'd fixed the noise situation but they only slightly improved it. Again any photo taken at ISO 100/200 looked as good as a Sony or Canon but as soon as that ISO reached 400 it was all over. I'm not sure why Panasonic's sensor is so noisy but it's really bad. Let it be known that on paper the Panasonic cameras have been virtually perfect for my needs in my eyes.

The reason I'm dwelling on the LX series once again is because Panasonic just announced the DMC-LX3. As usual the paper specs are just about ideal for what I want to do. The question is can it take photos without messing them up intentionally.

Here's what I like about it compared to the G7:

  • Large 1/1.63 sensor for the camera size. This is larger than the G7s 1/1.8
  • Shoots in raw - G7 does with chdk hack
  • Built in 24 mm wide angle. Even with the huge wide angle adapter my G7 was 28mm
  • Fast F2.0-2.8 Leica lens - G7 f2.8-4.8
  • Hot shoe for flash
  • 720p video at 24 fps
  • 2.5 fps continuous drive (8 frames max)
  • high burst mode of 6 frames a second, I don't know the limit
  • 3.0" LCD with 480,000 pixels - G7 2.5" with 200,000 pixels
  • Lighter, 9.3 oz - G7 13 oz
  • Smaller, half inch smaller in two dimensions 4.3x2.4x1.1 - G7 4.2x2.8x1.7
  • Extra wide angle conversion lens takes it to 18 mm
  • All manual functions - aperature and shutter priority
  • Has a grip
  •  

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Videos while snorkling

So I'm going to be in Thailand for 3 weeks this summer and I've really been wanting to grab more video while I'm on holiday so I've combined these two things and decided I'd like to record video in less forgiving environments - namely in the rain and underwater. To do this I have several choices - get a waterproof case for my digital still camera that does video, get one of the three waterproof digital cameras on the market. I read all the reviews and I just bought a Sanyo Xacti E1.

Here are the specs:

The new waterproof SANYO Xacti E1 captures stunning digital video and beautiful 6MP photos...on land and underwater!

  • Waterproof digital camcorder
  • 6 Megapixel still photos
  • 5x Optical zoom
  • 2.5-Inch LCD display
  • Up to 1hr. 20min. digital video per 1GB memory card

Practically four cameras in one, the Xacti E1 will become your camera for every picture and every video, everywhere! Take still photos and video above water as well as still photos and video underwater.

Amazing image quality is what you'll get with the Xacti E1. Its advanced 6.37-megapixel CCD image sensor allows you to capture stunning still images and high-quality digital videos with full-range stereo sound (even underwater!)

Easily share your photos and video. The Xacti E1 incorporates the highly advanced AVC/H.264 video compression, giving you better video quality with a reduced file sizes.

 

So it takes 6 Mpixel stills and records TV quality video. Most still cameras do both of those things so you're probably wondering how I justified spending $399 instead of $30 on a waterproof baggy for it. I have a few reasons for putting out the cash 1) h.264... What can I say the videos are great quality (not perfect) and take up 1/10 the space of my mjpeg videos 2) Stereo sound.  I know the sound quality isn't going to be steller but at least it's stereo something that the digital still cameras can't do. 3) who wan'ts a bulky waterproof case around their point and shoot that makes it so large they can't get it in their pocket or a camera in a bag? The Xacti will still be small.

I guess in the past I've made compromises in order to save money and regretted it. I'll let you know what I think of it when it shows up. I should have it by Friday.

 

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Recover pictures from flash cards

I don't currently have a problem with one of my flash cards but I thought I'd throw this out there anyway because I ran across magicrescue which is a Linux program for recovering data from flash cards. From the man page...

Magic Rescue opens devices for reading, scans them for file types it knows how to recover and calls an external program to extract them. It looks at ``magic bytes'' in file contents, so it can be used both as an undelete utility and for recovering a corrupted drive or partition. It works on any file system, but on very fragmented file systems it can only recover the first chunk of each file. These chunks are sometimes as big as 50MB, however.

 

So even if you're operating system can't read the file system on the card you should be able to recover something. Before you use magicrescue you might want to make a copy of the flash card. First we need to know the actual device number of the card. We'll assume we actully looked at the label on the card before inserting it into our card reader and we know it's a 4GB card.

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New mini HD video camera

As many of you know I'm always keeping an eye on weight when I travel. I'll be in Asia for two months this summer and I'd like to start filming more video of people and places but most video cameras are either not very convenient or are too large. I took several hours of video in 2004 of London and Venice and it sat on tapes for 2 years before I got to it. Yes, I only needed to plug the camera into a firewire card and send it to the computer but it took quite a while to do this and once I had the video it was DV so I still needed to process it into something else before I could really use it. That and I had to lug that camera around.

So what I've really been looking for is a decent quality (We're not talking professional level HD video here) camera that saved video on flash cards in a format that I can view and edit easily. You might be wondering why I just don't take video with my still cameras because they do a pretty good job these days. The answer is my Canon still cameras only record in motion-jpeg. The quality is good but at 10 minutes a GB you run out of flash fast. I've really been looking for something that would film in mpeg2 or mpeg4-h.264. Sanyo who is the pioneer of small flash based video cameras has not been sitting on it's laurels in the past couple of years. I originally checked out the Xacti line and found the low light quality to be lacking and overall the video was not up to snuff. Since then they've released about 6 different cameras so it's time to investigate again.

What you see at the right is their new Xacti HD-1000 camera and you'll probably notice it's all lens!  I'm not going to just copy and paste the info from Sanyo's site because you can go there and read it for yourself but here's a synopsis.

The SANYO Xacti HD1000 camcorder combines the superb image quality of full 1080i high-definition video with 4 megapixel still images in a single compact and elegant design.

  • Full 1080i HD Recording
  • 10x Optical (f/1.8) HD Zoom Lens
  • 4 Megapixel still photos
  • 2.7" Widescreen Display
  • Advanced MPEG4 AVC/H.264 Format
  • HDMI high-definition output
  • Records Directly to SDHC Memory Cards

Sanyo Xacti HD1000

 

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Digital image comparison site

Imaging-resourceWhen trying to decide which camera to get it's good to read the reviews (especially at dpreviews.com) but sometimes you just want to compare apples to apples photo quality. While digging around in dpreview's forums I found a link to this site that has photos taken by a bunch of different cameras. The great part is you can choose two cameras, then choose the same photo for each and compare the image quality. You might be surprised at what you see like the G9 being able to take photos as nice as a Rebel XTi at low ISO or how bad the photos coming out of a Panasonic (anything!) are at ISOs 200 and highers.

Imaging Resource Comparison Site

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Maybe my other next point and shoot?

I recently blogged about the Fujifilm  F50 fd as being a possibility for my next point and shoot camera. It has some great features and more importantly a decent manual mode and low light performance. I've been using Canon cameras for quite a while because they are built really solid, have a great menu system and the image quality is among the best in the industry. They also have a low noise suppression philosophy which I like because you get a photo that may need to be touched up in the Gimp but it's closer to what the camera saw. In the case of Panasonics and a few others the blur the heck out of the photo in order to suppress noise. Once the photo is mangled there's no turning back, it's done.

I've been wanting to replace my SD-500 with something better and I'd listed a wide angle lens and image stabilization as  two key features. The SD-800 IS has both of these but scored poorly in DP-Reviews test . The image quality wasn't as good as the non wide angle cameras of the same level so I scrapped that idea. The SD-870 has now been reviewed and the image quality is much improved over the SD-800 or maybe they just got a better sample. Anyway I'm considering it again as it has most everything I want outside of more manual controls. And as I've proven to myself over and over you can't have everything in a digital point and shoot camera - at least not yet.

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Maybe my next point and shoot?

 I've been soldiering on with a Canon D500 point and shoot for several years now mainly because nobody seems to be able to make a better one. There's nothing fancy about the SD500 (7MP, 3x zoom) but it takes decent pictures and is built like a tank. I thought about going with an SD800 because of the wide angle but the sensor was smaller and the picture quality suffered because of the wide angle. My G7 (electronics, asphalt = bad) died so this summer I had to rely solely on the SD500 this summer for the 14 GB or so of photos I took. It did ok but it got me to thinking about a new small point and shoot pocket camera. The SD500 would still be great if it had image stabilization and some manual controls. I've been watching Fujifilm and it's SuperCCD for quite a while and I think they might have created my next camera....
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Gorillapods for cheap!

 I just ran across this news item a minute ago. Some of you know that I love my Gorillapods and take them everywhere. There are many shots that I just wouldn't have gotten without the gorillapod. Actually I don't use it quite as much as I used to since I got optical image stabilization which helps a great deal.

Anyway Deal Extreme has the original gorillapod on sale for about $6 including shipping! That's about 1/3 what I paid. Buy one now.


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Epson borderless printing in Linux

I got a wonderful new Epson Stylus Photo R300 so I could start experimenting with printing my photos. As most of you know I use Linux for everything and normally it works great but there are areas in which it's behind, mostly Desktop stuff. Well, printing photos is largely a desktop thing. To make matters worse I wanted the printer to be available across the network but since it's a low end photo printer it doesn't have a network port like my color laser so I plugged it into my CentOS server via USB. Problem is CentOS is a server OS meaning the lackluster Linux printer drivers are even older. It does work pretty good however and I can print in 2880x1440 dpi and the output looks great. The problem came when I bought some  8.5 x 11 inch frames  (for $5 at Michaels) for framing printer art. My "borderless" printing in Gimp-print 4.2.7 leaves a 1/4 inch border on one side which could be matted over but these frames are made for a picture exactly 8.5 x 11.

The solution:


Everytime I buy a digital camera it comes with a pathetically small flash card around 32 MB. I inserted one of these otherwise worthless flash cards in my camera, formatted it and took one picture. This was vital to set up the directory structure etc.. for the printer. I then inserted it into the printer permanently and mounted it as /media/printerflash in Linux. Now whenever I want to print true borderless prints I just save the photo over top the one on the memory card and print it from the LCD screen on the printer. A hack I know, but it works.

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Monsterpods ooz from the swamp

I'm always looking for a smaller lighter tripod because ounces count when you're traveling like I do. That's how I found the gorillapod which I swear by. It's not perfect for everything but about 20% of the shots I've gotten in the last year are because of it.

And now for something completely different.... Monsterpods!

The MonsterPod™ has no telescoping legs, clamps, beans, straps, glue, or suction cups, not even magic. Instead, the MonsterPod™ sticks to surfaces via a patent pending “viscoelastic morphing polymer

It's not a tripod, a monopod, or hovering robot. It's MonsterPod™, the gravity defying tripod that holds your digital camera motionless, vertically, horizontally or upside down!

Hmmm, sounds interesting. It's made to support up to a 10oz camera which would include all sub-compacts and about half of all compacts including my future one. I'm still a bit sceptical though so I guess I'll have to try it. At the time of this writing though you couldn't yet purchase them.

Here's the link - www.monster-pod.com

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