An Update on Updates Courtesy of Hurricane Matthew

I don’t generally make a point of posting updates about the goings and comings of content on this site, and in the past I’ve disappeared for months at a time with nary a word. However, this year I’ve been pretty consistently putting up at least something weekly.

That said, since I started Points in Focus, I haven’t been in the sights of a Category 4 hurricane either.

In fact, South Florida as a whole, hasn’t see a significant hurricane in over a decade.

So here’s the deal as far as content goes for October and November.

I already noted in my podcast a couple of weeks ago, that I would be backing off on normal written articles for a while. So that’s pretty much covered. I already had a lot on my plate for the second half of October and pretty much all of November so I wasn’t planning on getting anything significant out over that time period anyway.

On the other hand, I had intended to keep doing my weekly podcast through most of this time. I’ve already recorded and uploaded the podcast for Thursday Oct, 6, 2016. It will publish at it’s expected usual time.

Going forward, however, things depend entirely on the effects of Matthew on South Florida. Right now, by my estimates, the best case scenario I see is that my next podcast will be published on or after November 3rd, 2016. However, depending on the exact situation with Matthew, resumption of content may be considerable further in the future.

I’ll try to keep this post updated if things change significantly in the coming days.

Update 2016-10-14: The good news, for me and my family at least, was that hurricane Matthew passed far enough northeast of us that we didn’t receive anywhere near the winds and weather that I had anticipated, even in the best case. In fact, while we have notoriously unreliable power when there’s any kind of wind involved, we didn’t even lose power here.

That said, while we weathered the storm much better than I had expected, between the mental and physical stress of preparing for Matthew, and the process of moving all the crap we moved inside back outside to where it normally lives, I’ve decided to stick with my previous schedule of posting my next podcast on the 3rd of November.

See y’all in a couple of weeks.


An Idea, LED Modeling Lights in Speedlight Flashes

For the last year or so I’ve been talking about features I’d love to see implemented in camera gear. This time I want to talk about having a proper continuous modeling light built into a hotshot flash.

Before I get into the meat of my idea, the first question one might ask is simply, what’s my problem with the status quo?

After all, most hotshoe flashes in addition to being a flash, have some form of modeling capability (by strobing the flash tube) along with some form of autofocus assist capability (typically with red or near-IR LEDs). After all they do provide the intended functionality to a large degree.

So what does having an actual LED modeling light enable that having IR autofocus LEDs or strobing the flash tube doesn’t?

I have two main use cases where I think this would be a beneficial idea. First is for people who need to shoot video. Specifically I’m thinking about photojournalists, who are increasingly being asked to get video clips for their publication’s website, but the idea applies elsewhere too. With things as they are now, you ideally need a speed light for stills in a wide range of conditions, and a separate video light of some sort — at least potentially — for video. With my idea, you’d just have your speed light.

The second case where I think it would be useful is in strait up using speed lights as a replacement for studio strobes. Admittedly this is also a personal point for me. I have nothing against studio strobes, I just never went down that path. However, I do a lot of product photography for this site, where I use speed lights in various modifiers (e.g., the Lastolite EzBox Hotshoe).

The thing with studio shooting is that you don’t want ambient light contaminating the colors in the images you make. That means generally you keep the studio dark so the only light comes from the strobes themselves. With speed lights, that also means you don’t have much if any light illuminating the subject matter for focusing and composition.

Okay, so clearly the idea here is that I’d like to see a continuous LED modeling light in a flash. Canon already did something kind of like this in their Speedlite 320 Ex. Well except not really. Yes, they put an LED on the light, but it’s not integrated with the zoom head, so it doesn’t actually model what the flash would do. Moreover, as far as I know it doesn’t track flash power, or have any kind of power adjustment at all.

Read the rest of the story »

Backing up your Photos and Data

This is a drum that bears beating as often as possible.

Backup your data.

I was reminded of this point again recently, when a friends granddaughter lost all, or at least most, of her collage school work and pictures when the drive in laptop died. And with no backups, I don’t even want to think about what that must have been like for her.

In my experience when I’ve done IT consulting work in the past, backups are one of the first things that get overlooked, ignored, or forgotten about. This is even more true, when the backup requires some level of user interaction.

Proving my point, when I mentioned the above incident to my parents, my mom realized that she wasn’t backing up her computer at work. When it was setup, it was setup so that it could be backed up, but the act of plugging in a USB stick and running the backup command… Well, lets just say it got lost in the cracks.

At the same time, backups need to be taken offline to be truly safe. If you’re backing up to say USB disk, and it’s still connected to the computer, the chance is always there that you might accidentally delete it. Or that one of the crypto ransom viruses, could encrypt it rendering it useless. Moreover, if the backup disk is still attached to power, there’s always the possibility that a power surge or lightning strike could destroy it.

In short, if the disk is plugged in; it’s not a good backup since it could be erased or killed by a power surge. But if the disk is left unplugged, then the act of having to plug it in becomes a hurdle to getting people to actually back things up.

Ultimately, I have 3 points in writing this.

  1. Remind people to backup their data
  2. Remind people that are backing up their data to make sure their backups are actually working
  3. For those that aren’t backing up their data offer up some options that they might find useful to start backing up their data.

Read the rest of the story »

An Idea, Camera Makers Should Provide Performance Data

A couple of weeks ago, when I was talking about the D500 again, I started to develop the idea that we photographers should be demanding more from the companies the make our cameras. At that time I was just thinking about quality standards. That got me thinking. Better quality is great, but you still need to understand how the camera behaves to use it optimally.

When digital sensors replaced film, the cameras became more than just a vessel to hold the image forming material. They literally became the film too. Yet when this transition happened, we lost information that we previously had at our disposal too.

If you’ve never shot film, or at least seriously investigated it, you’ve probably never seen the graphs below.

Excerpt from the Kodachrome 64 datasheet

These graphs are the characteristic curves for a piece of film, in this case Kodak’s now discontinued Kodachrome 64. More importantly they tell you almost everything you could want to know about the film and it’s capabilities.

Read the rest of the story »

Personal Minimums

I’ve been talking a lot recently about camera acclimation testing, and getting to know your camera. In that same vein I want to talk for a moment about personal minimums for image quality. I’ll be honest, I never thought a lot about how far I can push the quality before the results became unacceptable.

Moreover, I need to be right up front about this. I can’t tell you what you should consider the worst quality you’ll accept. What I can do is point at some areas that I’ve found illuminating or instructive and maybe that can lead you to figuring things out a bit better.

My first real exposure to just how far I could take things was back when I was shooting waterfalls in Alaska at ISO 1250 and 1600. I figured I wasn’t going to get anything worth keeping, but I had no idea if or when I’d have the opportunity again, so I shot anyway. I printed one of those images just for kicks. The quality isn’t great at nose limited distances, but it was perfectly fine at more reasonable viewing distances. Shocker! ISO 1250–1600 on the 5D mark III isn’t as unusable as I had though it was.

Alaskan Falls
Alaskan Falls

Read the rest of the story »

ISO vs. Effective Resolution (5D mark III tests)

Noise is pretty much the enemy of everything in digital photography. Increasing noise levels limit dynamic range, color fidelity, and even cause compressed images files to become larger[1]. Along with all of that stuff it also reduces the effective resolving power of the camera too. And that’s what I want to talk about a little today, at least put up some practical illustrations of.

Of course, the entire premise here ought to be pretty obvious to anybody who’s ever really looked at their images from higher ISOs. They just aren’t as sharp and don’t have the fine detail that lower ISO images have.

Unfortunately, this is also a place where very few reviewers ever really provide any kind of quantitative measurements either. That, of course, means that us photographers have to do the measurements ourselves, or just ignore the situation as a whole.

Figuring this stuff out, at least to a level that I’m satisfied with, is part of my camera testing and acclimation procedure. However, I’m also adding this information as part of my standard review data sets, and will likely be updating old camera reviews to include it when I get a chance.

I used my custom test target for these tests. You can find a download, and overview of that target here.

With that said, before I dive into the data, I do need to get a couple of things out of the way.

Read the rest of the story »

Goodbye DreamHost Business Lessons Learned

Almost a decade ago, started hosting my blog with DreamHost. Needless to say, I’m no longer a DreamHost customer. I had intended to let this change pass without any mention. That was until I went through DreamHosts’s account closure process.

I think many times people on both sides of the fence, take these kinds of decision personally. And many people make decisions like this when they’re angry immediately in the aftermath of something happening.

I don’t bear any ill-will towards DreamHost, while they’re actions played a large part in why I left, so did their product portfolio at the time, and even my own preferences for how I wanted to do things going forward.

Being passionate about your business is important for small business owners. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that some customers are going to leave. Some will be happy; but external factors demand they go elsewhere. Some will be angry; because of something you’ve done, or haven’t not done. Some will be in the middle.

Moreover, these kinds of changes are stressful. Certainly to the customer, and potentially to the people who make up the business as well, especially if it’s a small one.

For the business, especially a small business, a customer leaving can raise all kinds of concerns. Why are they leaving? What are they going to tell people about your business? Aside from the direct loss in income, if they start telling people the business sucks, how might that going to affect future income?

As a customer, I don’t like being in the position where I’m being forced to explain myself before I can’t close my account.

In some very real ways, I think it’s a good sign that a business cares enough about their operations that they want to know why a customer is leaving.

At the same time, when a customer is leaving don’t get in their way or come across as demanding. The soon to be ex-customer does not owe you an explanation for why they’re leaving, and if they choose to share any information with you, you should be thankful for that and not demanding more.

This was the problem with my parting experience with DreamHost — demands that I answer questions about why I was leaving.

When I closed my account, I was presented with a survey about why I was leaving, where I was going and so forth. A survey that I couldn’t leave empty or partially filled out.

I don’t feel I owe DreamHost an explanation. I don’t feel my clients owe me that explanation either. And as a customer, I don’t like being in a position where I’m being forced to explain myself before I can close my account.

On what’s very likely to be my last interaction with this company, they wouldn’t just let me go in peace. As a customer, this relatively minor action was sufficient to prompt me to write and talk about something that I had no previous intentions to do. My final experience with DreamHost wasn’t positive, or even neutral. I’m going to remember this, and when people ask me who is a good hosting provider, I’m going to be much more inclined to say nothing or respond negatively, than recommend DreamHost now.

Read the rest of the story »

Amazon Basics NiMH Batteries Revisited

A little over a year ago I wrote about replacing my old Eneloops with Amazon Basics High Capacity NiMH batteries. In that article I said I wanted to look at their performance a year later after they’ve been used a bit to see how they were holding up.

Here we are a little over a year later, and I’ve run my batteries through the test cycle on my LaCrosse changer again to determine their capacities.

Unfortunately, in the last year, I haven’t used my flashes nearly as much as I have in the past, and as a result I’ve probably only run the batteries through 2 or 3 charge cycles each. Admittedly I was hoping to have 10 or more cycles on the batteries by now, but that’s just not how things have worked out.

Self discharge stability has been, subjectively, pretty good; though I don’t have hard numbers. I have 4 sets of 4 batteries for my flashes, and they rotate every month or two or so just with normal use. As a result replacement batteries will likely have 2 to 8 months of shelf time before they get used. Generally speaking I don’t see much in the way of loss of capacity in terms of numbers of flashes or recycle rates over that range. There may be some, but it’s not something that’s been especially noticeable.

In my initial testing a year ago, one battery rated slightly worse than the 2500 mAh typical advertised performance (battery 1b, rated 2470 mAh). Most of the rest of the batteries had preformed in excess of 2500 mAh, some even exceeded 2600 mAh.

In this round of testing, there was mostly a minimal loss of capacity across the board. All but one of the batteries that tested in excess of 2600 mAh in the first round of have dropped under that level in this round of testing. Though in all cases they remain above the 2500 mAh typical rating.

The one battery that performed worse than 2500 mAh in the first test (1b), preformed identically in this round.

The table below summarizes the results as they are a year later.

Battery ID Measured Cap. % Capacity
Rated Typ Rated Min Previous Test
1a 2600 104.0% 108.3% 99.6%
1b 2470 98.8% 102.9% 100.0%
1c 2550 102.0% 106.3% 99.6%
1d 2530 101.2% 105.4% 100.0%
2a 2510 100.4% 104.6% 95.4%
2b 2550 102.0% 106.3% 100.8%
2c 2530 101.2% 105.4% 98.8%
2d 2540 101.6% 105.8% 100.0%
3a 2570 102.8% 107.1% 95.5%
3b 2520 100.8% 105.0% 97.3%
3c 2580 103.2% 107.5% 97.4%
3d 2530 101.2% 105.4% 96.9%
4a 2540 101.6% 105.8% 99.2%
4b 2520 100.8% 105.0% 99.6%
4c 2540 101.6% 105.8% 99.6%
4d 2550 102.0% 106.3% 99.6%

Ultimately, my goals with NiMH cells are two fold. First, I want the better recycle times I get with my flashes from them. Second, I want to cut my costs as much as reasonably possible and to a lesser extent waste too. The break even point with these batteries is around 5 charge cycles. I haven’t quite reached that, but the batteries are still meeting their advertised typical capacities, and well above the minimum capacities, so I expect to get a lot more cycle out of them.

D500, High ISO, and Marketing Revisited

When Nikon announced the D5 and D500 one of my biggest concerns was that marketing had run amuck and started writing ISO checks the engineers simply couldn’t pay out on. Then a friend of mine got a D500 and I got to sit down with him to dial in the noise reduction and sharpening settings in Lightroom to get as much out of the camera as he could. Part of that process — which I’ll be detailing in an upcoming article — is to generate a set of test images at all the ISOs on the camera.

The results, in my opinion at least, are every bit of what I was afraid of; marketing driven inflation.

Let me be clear about one thing though, it’s not all doom and gloom. Noise performance below ISO 102,400 is very good for a DX camera. I would even dare to go so far as to say it’s some of the best DX images I’ve seen to date

If anything, I think it speaks for just how much Nikon has done with the sensor tech in the last 4 years. Four years ago, the D7100 was topping out at ISO 6400 with only 2 stops of expanded ISO to 25,600. Now the D500 hits ISO 51,200 natively.

It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t exactly apples to apples either, nor is it supposed to be. I’m not trying to persuade you to switch brands or formats here. I’m not, and neither is my Nikon shooting friend with the D500. My interest here is firstly, just to get a feel for the camera in a context relative to what I’m use to, and secondly to talk about the high expanded ISO performance.

At ISOs below say 6400, I find the D500 is a quite compelling camera. From 6400 to 102,400 (H1), it hangs with my 5D mark III more or less; though at this level I really fell that we’re talking about images that are more important to have than to have be good, but it’s certainly acceptable quality.


ISO 1600
D500 – ISO 1600
D500 - ISO 1600
D500 – ISO 1600
D500 - ISO 102400
D500 – ISO 102400
D500 - ISO 102400
D500 – ISO 102400

Past ISO 102,400…well…

Read the rest of the story »