Golden Fairy Evolution

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Every year in October the Tiergartenfest ist held. The Hannover Tiergarten used to be the royal hunting grounds, reserved to the king, his family and other noblemen. Today it is a public park where deer roam freely. Once a year a festival takes place in the Tiergarten. It is aimed at children with many fun activities: Exploring a firefighting truck or an ambulance, building birdhouses, tinkering small toys and pendants, having fun in a bouncing castle.

To enhance the atmosphere walkers mix in with the crowd, wearing colorful costumes. I managed to get this shot of a golden fairy:20141011-Fairy-Evolution-Original001

As you can see there are several unwanted elements in the shot (sorry kids !). Nothing the repair tool in Lightroom can’t handle. I made a 60 second video of the editing process. Mainly I used the repair tool to remove the people and the buggies in the picture. Note that not everything is perfect at the first try. I deleted the repair patch a few times and did it again to get better results. After I removed the unwanted elements I made some local adjustments on exposure and color, contrast and added saturation. Then I added some local exposure to the fairy using the brush tool to make her pop out and applied a vignette to the image.

The editing process took around 12-15 minutes. If you pixel peep you will notice that the patches are not perfect everywhere, but I’d say they are 90% perfect. Since the images are scaled down before I upload them to the web some of these “impurities” become so small you won’t recognize them anymore.

Here is the final result:20141011-Golden-Fairy-001

Workspace re-organization

20141017-Cabling-Header001In my daytime job I work in an office, meaning I sit a lot. But as a photographer I also spend a lot of time before the computer at home. That’s too much sitting and so I decided to get an electrically actuated desk which enables one to work while standing. After some research I chose the “Masterlift 2″ from the german manufacturer Inwerk. I purchased only the table framework because I wanted  to keep my IKEA beech table top. The installation also called for a for a subsequent clean-up of my cabling. Too many power adaptors, USB cables and whatnot that formed a twisted mess of copper-and-rubber-spaghetti. The video below shows a timelapse of the desk assembly and the recabling operation.

At first let’s take a look at the electrically actuated desk. The motors are integrated in the two legs, the main control unit is housed in the cable tray between both legs. Due to the motors the table is ultra heavy. The motors run (very smoothly and quiet) with a speed of around 40 mm/sec. Movement is controlled with a simple up/down control pad. The USB plug in the image is for scale.  I decided not to fasten the control pad underneath the table since I have two little kids running around – they would play elevator with that thing. The manufacturer Inwerk also offers different control units. More sophisticated ones have a memory function, another option is to control the table from your PC or Mac. But that was too costly for my taste so I skipped that and stuck to the siple up/down button solution. What I bought on the other hand is a collision sensor. That is a small dongle which is plugged into the power unit. The collision sensor detects, well, whenever the table collides with something, immediately stops the motors and drives the table around 25 mm in the opposite direction. Remember one thing when you have set up the table and put the computer back onto the desk: You need to leave enough cable length to drive the table into the upper most position ! Don’t fasten the cables somewhere, leave sufficient room for cable movement.

The recabling operation took around an hour. At first I unplugged most of the cables to get them sorted. Then, piece by piece, I reconnected them and bundled the cables as I went. As mentiones above, cable binders are your friend. In case you wonder what the white box with all the cables going in and out is: It is a battery charger / USB hub connection center I built a while ago. Read about that here. The result of my recabling operation might not be perfect, but at least the situation went from cooked spaghetti to uncooked spaghetti. I am not too comfortable with all the loops I made since every loop is a spool causing induction, but since all cables are different surplus cable length is not avoidable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Offtopic] Help to battle leukemia by becoming a cell donor

Offtopic post today. I decided to become a stem cell donor to help people with blood cancer (leukemia). The organization managing the donations is the DKMS – Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei (German Bone Marrow Donor Center). The registration procedure is quick and easy and free of charge (although a donation of 50 € is encouraged to cover the cost of the registration process).

I made a video explaining how this works. Not my best video since I am moving on unfamiliar terrain talking about a medical subject but you’ll get the point.

Like and share this post to reach as many potential donors as possible ![Offtopic] Help battle leukemia by becoming a cell donor

New Wallpaper: Fish tank

 

Time for another wallpaper ! The following image was shot on the island of Tenerife, Spain. They have a famous park with aquatic animals and birds, the Loro Parque. In one building they have a giant spiraling ramp which winds around a large fish tank. The image is 2560 x 1440 Px. Download, share, enjoy !20140325-Fish_tank.

Switching from iOS to Android

20141001-Galaxy-S5007People say “Once you go Mac, you never go back”. While this is still true for my stationary computer (love my iMac) I broke with that saying regarding the smartphone. Here is my story.

Prequel
After using the iPhone4 for about four years the device started to show first signs of wear. The home button did not work properly, applications and interaction became slow and laggy. Slowly but surely using the iPhone evolved (or better de-volved) into a nerve-straining routine. Time for a change. My affection for Apple products might be a big one but it is not blind love. I am well aware about other devices on the market and their price/performance ratio. At the time the iPhone6 was announced my plans for getting a new phone were entering the realization phase. I had noticed the Samsung Galaxy series as I know some people who own one but my decision was not made yet. Apple was so kind to make the decision for me. Once I learned about the prices of the iPhone6 the switch to an Android phone was sealed.

I have to note that I do not have a mobile contract with my provider but a postpaid plan (=no contract fee, pay only for what you use, can be cancelled with one month notice). While it gives me the freedom to pay only for what I use without a basic fee there comes no phone with that plan. I have to buy the phone by myself and there is no option for a new phone after X months.

That situation made the iPhone6 totally uninteresting for me. The 4,7” version with 64 GB is 799 € and I was not willing to pay that much when the competition offers fantastic phones for much less money. I decided to go for a Samsung Galaxy S5. It cost me 490 € (still a lot of money for a phone) plus 50 € for a fast micro SD card. That left me with 540 € spent – 259 € less than Apple would have charged for a 64 GB phone.

20141001-Galaxy-S5002The migration
Since I am still using my iMac and an iPad I needed a solution to sync all these devices. Here is how I did it.

Calendar
That was easy. iCloud calendars work only with iOS devices (if one does not use a special App on Android devices), so I simply copied all events from the iCloud calendar into a Google calendar. All Mac, iPad and Android can automatically sync with Google.
Mail
Also simple. I registered all my mail accounts on the Galaxy S5 and tadaa, works.
Contacts
Here I still wanted to use Apple iCloud. I installed SmoothSync for iCloud Contacts (costs something between 3 and 4 €), started the app, logged in with my iCloud account data and – finished. The app runs in the background and automatically syncs any changes both ways.
Images and Music
Image and music files must be copied manually onto the phone’s memory. That can either be achieved by inserting the micro SD card into a reader and connecting it to your computer (what I initially did), but you might not want to disassemble your phone every time you add music. Here two different methods are possible, depending on whether you are using a Mac or a PC.
PC: For once (!) the PC users have less hassle. They connect the phone with a USB cable to the computer and the phone is mounted like a USB stick. Drag and drop images and music to the specified folders on the phone and you’re done.
Mac: For some reason plug’n’play does not work on a Mac. We all know the golden cage-mentality of the Apple world, so it is not surprising that one has to take a detour to access the files on an Android smartphone. The solution is called “Android File Transfer” (free software). This small piece of software gives you access to the file system of the phone in a similar way the Mac Finder does to a USB device. Drag & drop files from the Finder to the phone, delete and move files on the phone as you normally do on the Mac. (Please note that if Samsung Kies is installed (something like poor man’s iTunes) the file transfer utility can not access the phone ! Took some googling until I learned about that. Download Samsung Kies, mount the image and use the uninstall utility. Do NOT simply delete the program, uninstall it properly).

Using an Android phone aka “what does this button do ?”
Coming from iOS I needed some orientation on the new phone. There are way more settings which can be individually configured, also the phone comes with many apps already pre-installed. Much of the pre-installed stuff can be deinstalled immediately (e.g. I don’t use EverNote, Groupon or Dropbox => Delete). Once you get the concept of the UI navigation is easy. I did not need any tutorials but basically did learning-by-doing.

I learned about the complexity (complex in comparison to an iPhone, Android is not rocket science) when I was flabbergasted that the battery did not even last a day. That felt very odd and it took me a while to figure out what was behind it. When adding a Google account all Google services are set to sync by default. The phone tries to sync Google Books / Kiosk / Movies / Music / Drive / Contacts / Chrome….. The setting is hidden in the “Accounts”-section, one has to dig a little. Once deactivating all unnecessary syncs battery life expanded.

This is just an example for the difference between Android and iOS. While iOS is slim with a shallow menu depth Android offers a broad variety of options. That is nice because one can customize the phone to the max, on the other hand one can lose the overview quite quickly.

Some stuff Apple does not offer
Apple has an incredible branding and reputation. Many people think that Apple is always spearheading new technologies. Well, that is not the absolute truth. Here are some nice features of the Samsung Galaxy S5 the iPhone does not have.

Inductive Charging. Smartphones need juice and the battery has to be recharged every two days if you are lucky. The Galaxy S5 can be outfitted with an alternative back cover with an induction coil (see images above). Together with a charging pad this is a very convenient way to charge your phone. Just place it on the pad and charging commences. The best part – what do you think this inductive charging kit costs ? 150 € ? Hey, it’s not Apple, calm down ! I only paid around 36 € for the complete kit (phone back with inductive coil, charging pad, cable). One word to describe this: Sweet !

IP67 certification, aka watertightness. The IP XX scale is a system to describe how well an electronic product is protected against dust and water. IP67 means that you can submerse the phone in water and it won’t take any damage. Note that this does not mean you have bought yourself an underwater camera ! The certification is valid only for fresh water, a depth of 1m and a submersion for an hour maximum. It means that your phone is safe when you use it in the rain, or when you accidentally pour some water over it or if you are kicked in the pool at a party.

Other technologies like near field communication or 4G support are now found on iPhones, too, but Android devices did have these features much earlier.

Bottom line
I have made the switch from iOS to Android and still don’t regret it. It is too early to draw a final conclusion if switching was a good or bad idea – I own the Galaxy S5 for only three weeks as I write these lines. But from what I have seen and experienced in the day-to-day use so far is convincing. The phone did not cost a fortune (and I got a flagship smartphone, other models are even less expensive). The migration was not as gruelling as iPhone users might expect and I have more freedom on my device (that’s an opportunity as well as a risk).

D750 vs. D800 High ISO comparison (2nd post because I screwed up)

20140928ISO-Header001Dear readers,
I have to say SORRY because I screwed up the previous post about the ISO performance of the D750. When editing the sample images I did not turn off the noise reduction in Capture NX-D, thus the high ISO images were mashed into a blurry pulp without any noise. In my defence I have to say that this was the first time I used Capture NX-D (since Lightroom can’t read the D750’s RAW files yet). On the other hand I could have noticed by looking and thinking for just a second. I withdrew the post from the blog and here is the new version – this time with noise in the sample images.

All images taken with the NIkkor 50 mm at f/8 at aperture priority. ISO was changed manually to 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250, 1600, 2000, 3200, 6400, 12800, 25600 and 51200 (last one D750 only, the D800 stops at 25600). Click on the image for a larger view. When looking through the samples I have to say it is hard to determine who performs better. Both cameras start to show noticable grain at ISO 6400, but images stay quite usable up to ISO 12800. “Usable” depends on your personal standard and the intended use of the image. I personally share many images online at a resolution of 2000 Px (long image side). A lot of noise “drowns” when the image is downscaled from the full 24 (D800: 36) megapixels.

This comparison is a quick shot at the D750’s performance. There are other websites who can do such tests under lab conditions and are far more technical at evaluating the results. My intention is to show you some images and give you a reference on how the camera performs in high ISO conditions.

Attention, files large ! First one 41 MB, second one 12MB

D750-D800-ISO

D750-D800-ISO-Detail

****Update October 3rd, 2014****
I used Capture NX-D (the free version) to process the files. In the original post I wrote that I used Capture NX, which I do not have. Thanks Roland Mathis for the comment !

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Focussing in dim-lit situations

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Focussing in low light situations can be tricky. As light becomes scarce eventually even cameras with a high-end focussing system will struggle and finally wave the white flag. But there is a simple measure to counter this problem. It’s in the standard repertoire of your equipment but you might not have thought of it until now.

Most flashes have an autofocus assist-light. Ever wondered what the red plastic window at the front of the flash is for ? It houses sensors and stuff, but also th AF assist light. When the camera signals “Yup, it’s too dark, some help please !” the AF assist light is activated and projects a pattern onto the subject, thus helping the camera to focus. Then the shutter button is pressed the light is switched off and the flash fires, giving you a perfectly focussed image. So far every photographer should know that this function exists. Now comes the part less photographers might be aware of.

Sometimes using a flash is not an option since it would destroy the atmosphere. What now ? Well, most flashes can activate the AF assist light and suppress the flash. Your flash unit becomes an autofocus assist-unit. The function is called differently with each flash unit. At the Nikon SB-800 one has to set the “FIRE”-option to “NO”. Not so intuitive if you ask me. At the SB-910 there is a dedicated menu for the AD assist light: On, Off, AF-Ill only. Consult your flash manual about this function, it should be described in the AF assist section.

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This AF assist light mode enables one to focus even when there is only few light. You can photograph the party (barely) unnoticed. The red focus assist light is activated only for a brief moment.

Please like this post and share if you want. Likes and shares will draw more attention, thus reaching more photographers with whom I would like to share my experiences. Thanks !

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