Friday, March 1, 2013

SSD's - A SOLID choice for laptop owners!

Computer performance is always of the utmost importance when you are dealing with handling and processing large amounts of data as is the case with digital imagery and video.
Most of the talk, justifiably, focuses on processor speed, video cards and RAM but, one of the newest things to consider when looking at this equation is the hard drive itself. Traditional hard drives are typically the biggest bottlenecking issue in that equation. It’s really amazing to me that it has escaped being under microscope for this long!

With this relatively new option of a Solid State Drive, we now have very powerful element to add to our systems.

As in any new technology, we find out fast when there is an issue, as is the case with SSD’s. The newer versions are starting to show more and more that they will become a bigger and bigger part of out system considerations and will only improve. Think about it…the traditional hard drive has been around since the 1950’s and drive capcity has been it’s biggest marked improvement. Smaller capacity, higher RPM drives showed some improvements in speed but physics shows us that these are even more prone to issues as was the case here with one of my Velociraptor 10,000 RPM drives. (I was truly bitten by a Raptor!)

Your standard SSD drives will more than double the read/write performance of these “elite” HDD drives ranging well into the 500 MB/s range

SSD’s, though more expensive per Gig (at least for now), offer a big performance boost and A LOT of ruggedness and durability which is HUGE for any on-the-go laptop owner.

Ever bump your Laptop or have a small spill and sweat those first few moments when you try and power it up? “Oh please God…please please please!…” With an SSD, you will more than likely break everything around it before you damage the drive itself. The spinning disks and moving reader arm in a traditional hard drive are VERY prone to shock …even more so when running.

That all said, HDD or SSD, a good back-up routine is always the best means of protecting your data. That plan should always include redundant data storage and OS drive imaging.

So here is some preliminary differences I saw with just changing our the hard drive…

System Specs:
ASUS G73SW-XT1 Laptop Computer
Intel Core i7-2630QM 2.0GHz
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Initial Hard Drives:
Segate Momentus 7200RPM 500GB HDD

New Hard Drive:
OCZ Solid 3, Solid State 480 Gb Drive

So right off the bat it cut cold boot times a least in half. I can now fully boot-up, sign in and get into an Adobe Lightroom Catalog, ready to work, in about 35 seconds

Adobe Lightroom preformance comparsions:
Importing from Same drive to Cat file (adding at existing location):
17.8 GB (19,202,928,640 bytes) 1307 RAW files
                                                                    SSD          HDD   
Time from start to Render                             00:29.0      01:21.0
Time from Start to end of 1:1 Render            18:32.0      20:17

Importing from USB 3 Card Reader with SanDisk Ultra 8Gb Card
(441 RAW files) 5.90 GB (6,337,811,06 bytes)                                  
                                                                      SSD            HDD   
Time from start to Render                               03:12.0        03:27.0
Time from Start to end of 1:1 Render              09:08.0        09:57.0

Some Pros and cons...
Faster boot times
Faster program launches
Faster performance overall
More durability (perfect for laptops!)
Easier to recover data

Smaller drive sizes
Cost per Gig
Newer technology

So in closing, though it may not be the right time for me (money and capacity considered anyway) to swap out my desktop drives. Keep in mind that I use my laptop to take work on the go. Our “Mobile Command” as we like to call it. The desktop and network at the home office is still the mother ship.

The SSD drives offer a hands down GREAT choice for a laptop user that boost performance and take the anxiety out of moving around with all that data.

A good read on the topic that doesn’t get too over the top technical…
Tech Work
Funny Video posted in the above article (also shows how rugged these are too)...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The "RAW" Deal: Part 1 - RAW's True Colors

So what is the “RAW” Deal?
Well, I wanted to pull together a couple of tests to visually show why, as professionals, shooting RAW is so important to us. Especially as Theater Photographers, it is an absolute necessity. I can’t begin to tell you how much variation in exposure and color temp we deal with within just one frame, never mind the 1500 or so we typically come back with from a dress rehearsal. The RAW file allows us the maximum adjustment potential from of each image.

With memory chips getting larger and cheaper, computers and cameras getting faster and faster, a lot of the old “drawbacks” to shooting RAW are rapidly fading away.

Add to this that Lightroom 4 is knocking on the door and, to me, it's a no brainer. Lightroom 4 will bring the ability to locally adjust images with unlimited variations of color balance, exposure, noise, sharpness…this is nothing short of MIND BLOWING. I have been personally waiting for this one for a while and I can’t wait!! This was made to truly exploit the RAW file’s power.

So what is it that you are looking at here?
Well, in short, I set-up a Color Checker card at the studio with a one light set-up. I metered the exposure to f8 then using RAW and JPEG formats captured the scene as metered. I also under and over exposed by a stop and a half using both Tungsten and Flash White Balance. Each over/under exposed image was pulled into Lightroom using all the same settings and corrected visually using the white balance tool and ONLY the basic adjustment panel. I glued them all together in Photoshop and put the screen shots of just the develop panel adjacent to each so that you can get some idea of what I had to do to obtain these results.

The facts behind the mechanics:

When you capture an image, a large amount of light data is collected by the camera's sensor.

The JPEG is the resulting compressed image file you get from the camera AFTER the data it is processed (developed) based on the settings you have plugged into your camera. All the data that it doesn't need based on the settings you chose (color balance, contrast, sharpness, luminance, exposure) is discarded. So, when you are shooting, if you don’t have all your settings nailed in camera or maybe you have a mix of color balances and varying exposures across a scene, you are already at a loss before you even get started.

As compressed files, JPEGs start to lose the quality of the original capture the second you take the image and continue to do so as you process them in any way. The advent of Lightroom and Non-Destructive editing has helped pull the reigns back on this situation to some extent, but your editing flexibility will always be limited by the data you are left with after the camera’s processor has dumped the information it deemed unnecessary.

RAW files send ALL the data originally collected from the sensor directly to the file and circumvent the processor thus maintaining the maximum amount of image data and post-processing power. Another nice benefit to RAW, you can forget about having to nail the color balance on location. Just shoot a color checker (as you always should) for a post processing reference. When you're shooting pick a setting that is close, lock it in and concentrate on getting the rest of it the way you want.

The old way of thinking, “I am a good photographer, I don’t need to shoot RAW!” is at the very least (and in my humble opinion) a naive and uneducated attitude. The fact is that no matter how good you are, within any one image you can have multiple sources of light (with a mix of White Balances) across varying exposures of light to dark. Looking at these test results, think about the fact that these images where taken in a controlled environment with the lighting, exposure and white balance already nailed. Look at the variations there and then think about how often do you get this much control in the field?

When you take all the other factors out of the equation, on some levels, the RAW file helps separate the Pro’s from the amateur shooters who everyday have more and more power in their hands. For those of us that obsess over quality and range in an image, the RAW file gives us that power to excel that not just anyone is going to invest the time and money into having or learning.

Ansel Adams spent hours and even days in the darkroom to get the final print, pulling off what we can do on screen in just minutes with one RAW exposure and some post processing. Just think about how jealous he would be at the power we now posses.

The dangers of flip-flopping:
Why not just switch back and forth based on the job? Switching your file format back and forth based on what you are shooting, at least in my experience, has proven more harmful then good. I have found it is just easier to leave the camera on RAW and forget about it. What inevitably ends up happening, sooner or later, is that in a rush to set-up your camera for a shoot, you will leave the camera on one setting when you wanted or needed the other. Not such a big deal if you accidentally shoot a RAW file but if you intended to have a RAW and shot a JPEG, that might be a problem! It happened to me once and my mind being so hell bent when it comes to shooting RAW, I actually felt about as sick as if I accidentally deleted the images. Sounds extreme, but that’s how I felt. Again shooting theater, I knew it was going to be a rough ride in post-production.

Q: So when do we shoot JPEG?
A: We only shoot JPEGs in our point and shoot for personal family photos.

Q: When do we shoot RAW?
A: Always in our professional work. It allows for the most processing flexibility - whether or not we've gotten it right in camera to begin with (which, by the way, should be something we all strive for!)

Test Set-up:
-Single 24x36” Softbox overhead.

-Middle images were metered and taken at 1/125s @ f8, ISO 200.
-With light settings locked in… Top row of images were all underexposed at 1/125s @ f22, ISO 200
-Bottom row of images were all overexposed at 1/125s @ f2.8 ISO 200
-Left column was taken using Tungsten white balance
-Right column of images was taken using Flash white balance
-The center column of RAW images was shot in both Flash and Tungsten. Showing both was irrelevant as once color corrected they looked exactly identical throughout the test range.
-Each over/under exposed image was then adjusted for color balance first using the LR dropper tool targeting the medium gray patch on the color checker card, then using on the basic development sliders adjusted by eye in efforts to achieve an image that most closely replicates the image taken at the metered exposure.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011 UPDATE: Using Lightroom Across a Network!!!

About a year and a half ago I posted this blog entry about a back door trick I found online that allows you to access Adobe Lightroom catalog files across a Network. This includes accessing them on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) or on another system on you network.

Well, I am here to tell you that we have had NO problems with it even after upgrading to version 3 and IT WORKS AWESOME!!

So before you read on, keep in mind that the instruction you are about to see here below amount to nothing more than writing a one or two line text file in Microsoft Notepad and including a shortcut to it in your start-up folder. We just broke it down as much as we could so it would be easy to follow.

So when we first started using this, I had some apprehensions as I was really worried about the potential for damaging a Catalog file when, inevitably, we would mistakenly try to simultaneously access a catalog file. When I first wrote this blog entry, I deemed this "CROSSING THE STREAMS"

Well, it did in fact happen to us and the only ill affect was that it did not open for the second user. Gail had a catalog file open on her system that I was also trying to access from mine. After waiting several minutes and not seeing it open on my system, I realized what was happening. So it looks as though Adobe already had some means of locking multiple users out of trying to access the same cat file.

So, why did we want this?
The problem Gail and I had was that in our small home Network, we always had an issue with me keeping the Lightroom catalog files local to my system. Granted I do 95% of the initial editing so it made sense, but the problem always came up when she needed to re-export files or modify images for the customer but, she did not have access to it. Previously this meant she had to interrupt what I doing and/or kick me off of my work station.

This is the plight of many Lightroom users and I think everyone would agree this is the last big step Adobe needs to take with LR.

One thing to note...
Anything you do to your system is YOUR responsibility. This is why I handed to our experienced tech.

That said, all the instructions you see here below amount to nothing more than writing a one or two line batch file and including a shortcut to it in your start-up folder. Our tech considers it pretty much harmless.


On the PC hosting the cat file...
If you plan to access a catalog file on another computer or a hard drive connected to another computer, it must be first shared under the properties tabs and also check "Allow users to change my files" otherwise Lightroom will fail to open from the remote system.


Go to the computer that you will be remotely accessing the LR catalog file from and obtain the actual network address for where the catalog files are located. Do this by opening the "My Network Places" window from the remote workstation and be sure to right click and use the "View Details" view. Looking at the below graphic, you can see that in our case "\\d63rgzc1\current lr work" is my system address followed by the specific folder I will be sharing with her over the network and “\\drobo-fs\asa-network” is our Drobo-FS (NAS system). We will be "mounting" both of these network locations as local to Gail's works station as far as Lightroom is concerned.


In Notepad, open a new file and save it as "Start.bat".

Using those addresses you located in the above step, create a command line in the "Start.bat" file for each of the drive(s)/network locations you would like to access that has your catalog files (might be only one in your case).

The “subst L:” command tells the computer to substitute/create a drive named “L” as a local address letter on that PC which points to "//d63grzc1/current LR work" which is the folder on my system where I keep the catalog file that Gail needs to access.

The "subst S:" command does the same thing but to a Drobo network attached storage unit on our office network.

Once you are done with that, save the “Start.bat” file in the “All Users” folder of that workstation (see below).

Then you want to create a shortcut of this file (right click, create shortcut) as seen below.

Font size

Rename this shortcut to something you might recognize or mistake for a virus as we did. In this case (below) we renamed the shortcut “Map Drobo Drive” just so we know not to scrub by accident thinking it was malicious. You can name it anything you want.


Drag and drop this shortcut into your Startup folder. “C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup” folder (as seen below). This will now run upon system start-up.

After which that drive(s) might start showing up as they did for us as "Disconnected Network Drive" (below). That is just the way they are going to show up, disregard it. Renaming it won't work as each time you reboot the computer it will most likely reset.


NOW REMEMBER! From this point on, whenever you are trying to access a catalog file remotely make SURE that you are pointing to the correct drive. Notice (below)how these drives now show up under “My Computer" and NOT “My Network Places”. This is important. If you try to access the same catalog file through "My Network Places", Lightroom will not allow it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lightroom and Photoshop: The Peanut Butter and Jelly of your digital workflow!

"Do you use Lightroom or Photoshop?"

I still hear this question all the time and it drives me crazy!!

The question was never there in my opinion.

How did it come to be that people felt they had to choose one or the other? These two powerful tools were meant to be used together in harmony. Sweet and Salty, Ying and Yang and ...oh yes...Peanut Butter and Jelly

I think this all started back when the awesome editing power of LR first came into light. People thought that PS was being challenged for it’s roll as the big Kahuna. Maybe because of this people felt like they had to choose sides, either Photoshop or Lightroom. I think somehow the purpose of these programs has been blurred. Not sure who’s fault it was…it just happened. Never the less, it is there and I see it and hear it all too often. The mindset must change in my opinion or else everyone will be missing the boat!

So lets stop putting these two into the same old “Nikon/Canon”, “PC/Mac” aurguments.

Is LR and awesome editing tool? Yes, absolutely. Does it replace PS. Without a doubt, NO. Now this is not to say that LR doesn’t have powerful editing capabilities and that it hasn’t greatly reduced my time spent in PS, because it does and it has. My ability to locally and globally edit and adjust LARGE amounts of images has skyrocketed while my time spent doing so has decreased dramatically. What LR brought to the table in addition to this is the ability to infinetly group, create multiple variations of, web publish, print, search and keyword images like never before. All this while keeping them organized! Spending less time in PS does not mean that it’s necessity has diminished. The beauty of this relationship is that when I do need to call in the power of PS, LR is the perfect launching point to go there and back again seamlessly. As soon as you save your file in PS, you jump back into LR and there it is: accessible, catalogued and even further editable within LR. What else can you ask for!?

Photoshop is, has been, and will continue to be (as far as I can see anyway) the go to program for major image modifications and element swap out. Not to mention all of the capabilities it gives to graphic artists and animators.

So lets look at some of the major issues people from both camps that I think are holding them back.

From Camp Photoshop:
A lot of people born into PS have a hard time getting there head around importing images into the LR catalogue. From a Photoshop users standpoint one has to think of it as the same task of copying your image files onto the computer itself. You can’t edit your files in PS without putting them on your computer, right? Importing into the catalogue in fact replaces the step of copying the files onto your system. Some people don't realize that importing into Lightroom and copying the images onto your system is done in one step at the exact the same time. As far as not “seeing” your files once you have start to edit them within LR…you just have to start thinking of the LR as you Explorer window or Bridge.

From Camp Lightroom:
Photoshop has been, is and will continue to be the most intricate program for image editing in the world. You have to know that and accept that as soon as you step in the door. So here is my analogy for you if intend to tackle PS. If your wife sends you to the grocery store with a growling stomache and $500 bucks in your pocket…the options are endless. However, if she sends you there with the list "milk and eggs" and gives you $5, your in, your out, end of story. The point to my analogy here is to know what types of things you need to do in PS, learn it, and use it. Get in and Get out. Going in to a program like PS without an understanding of what you need to do is a death trap. Go online and watch a few tutorials or get a book. It is so easy to find online tutorials these days…use them!

So in closing, the decision to use Photoshop or Lightroom is NOT a decision at all. I could not imagine having one without the other…Peanut Butter and Jelly!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hyperdrive in-field update: Down but NOT out!

So after being mis-handled and roughed up on many an occasion, we managed to kill (temporarily) the HyperDrive the other day when one of us (not saying any names, but it wasn’t me) decided to move our laptop at the theater the other night because I didn’t “properly distributed the table cloth from front to back”. Well, long story short she ran out of USB cable before the Laptop got to it’s new temporary destination and pulled the Hyperdrive right off the table. When I came back from the rest room she looked at me with “that face”. You all know that face right? I have had “that face” on a couple of times in my career unfortunately.

At first it did not turn on, but I was quickly able to deduce that it sounded as if the battery had come loose. Two screws got the back cover off and I could quickly see that the battery prongs actually were spread due to the impact leaving the battery floating free unable to touch both contacts at the same time. This was an easy in field fix to just bend them back inward. It still turned on and the OS seemed intact, but there was not reading the internal hard drive. This was really not big surprise to me however. That was a 32” fall onto solid a marble floor. Might have faired better if it was in it’s neoprene case, but it wasn’t unfortunately.

I was no doubt depressed as I felt my little friend had just kicked it.

The next morning after checking the support site to confirm the symptoms of the hard drive failure, I ran out to Office Max and picked up a new 2.5” 500Gb hard drive for $80 and I was back online again, but now with DOUBLE the capacity! Nice upgrade! It was an easy plug and play. Two screws to get the back case open, the old drive pulled right out and the new one popped right in. Upon start-up I was prompted to format the new drive, I confirmed, and the Hyperdrive did the rest.

So the conclusion here is that despite a lot of bumping and dumping, this unit has established itself as an ESENTIAL part of our workflow.

If you had read my original review on this, we use this as an intermediate step between our computers and our cameras. Why you might ask? Well here are three BIG reasons that I can not imagine not having this device in our workflow.

- First, for one or more shooters photographing on multiple cards at an event, this serves as an instant on location back-up of your files. We also make sure our clients know that we do this. Mind you we do not erase the cards as they are back, we are simply backing them up.
- Second, when you arrive home from a venue, in a lot of cases late at night, you now have a single source upload to you workstation. This means you can start your upload and go to bed…that's right, nighty night! No waiting around shuffling cards.
- Third, we now have another back-up of all our files dating back anywhere from 4 months to a year depending on our throughput. As the drive fills, I simply dump the oldest 50-100Gb at a time. Now with the new drive, I have easily 400Gbs of history in addition to our back-up systems already in place. This drive has saved our ass on a couple of occasions now.
Another thing to note is that the battery has outlasted my expectations. I have only needed to charge it via the supplied wall plug once or twice as it charges itself via the USB cord whenever it is plugged connected to my PC.

Why not an Espon Storage device you ask? Sure, it will provide the same function, but unless you want to pay almost double for the same amount of space and some extra features (that we have no need for) I would stick with the Hyperspace. (Why buy an expensive multitool when all you need is a screwdriver?)

Check it out…

Friday, May 21, 2010

RS DR-1 Double Strap

Double, NO TROUBLE !!

OK, so this is not me obviously, but this girl is far cuter looking in it than I am.
(This image is from the Black Rapid Website)

Talk about speeding up my shooting!

Felt a little anxious to sport this new gear at first. Then I thought to myself "is it really going to matter George!?" Like I would not look like a photo geek anyway with three cameras hanging off my neck using traditional neck strangling straps!! There really ain't no hiding that I am a photo geek, especially when I am working!

But seriously, talk about speeding up my camera transition time. Shooting theater, this has been one of the biggest improvements to my workflow in a while. Dare I even say that has improved my work.

I pick-up one body and just drop the other, then switch back again and the camera stays right were I left it always oriented, it seems, so my hands land right on the grip. No looking required.

They also have some cool accessory pouches that attach to the upper part. You can check them out in the video at the bottom.

Before that, check out this video Gail snagged of me putting the strap to work on a theater job. Watch how fast my camera transition time is and I am not even trying! Further, I don't even have to look at how the camera is oriented my eyes never leave the show. It is just grab and go!

As for the other dual straps out there (and there are a couple), I have not tried them so I can not pass ANY judgment. I would imagine that these would work similarly, but I will say that I can't imagine having the cameras hanging any other way would do anything but slow down my grip time. That is just me though and it could be just a matter of personal preference.

This is You Tube video from Black Rapid that shows off the strap systems pretty well...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dan Doke at ASA Photographic Studios

We are excited about this training "Dynamic Lighting for Weddings and Portraits"--Dan's work is outstanding and we are looking forward to training with him. We will be meeting with Dan early this week to firm up details and will get word out by Wednesday. But, for now, the date is April 25, 9am-4pm.

I am posting this info here because we just learned our server had a "problem" last night and is still being "repaired." UGH! So, if you have landed here after not being able to access our site, rest assured, we'll be back on line...shortly...isn't that what they always say?