Posted by: In: Camera Equipment 09 May 2015 0 comments Tags: , ,

16889839282_78f615cfcf_zSo as I said in an earlier post, I recently took the plunge and bought Fuji’s X-T1.

I’ve been using an X-E1 for a while now and one thing I only just realised was that most people are right eye dominant, which is why they get that “rangefinder feel” for the X series rangefinder style bodies. I’m left eye dominant and I get a flat nose.

So the central viewfinder of the X-T1 makes no difference to me, and after handling it in a shop, I went out and bought one. It’s absolutely beautiful. For me, it’s far more solid than the X-E1 and feels much better in the hands. The controls are superior and easier to access. Now I can have full back button focus and I can change the ISO with a dial without going through menus.

Two things though that I wanted to improve on.

Modifying an X-T1 in the ways below isn’t too hard or expensive. It does take a bit of care and time to get it right though, so if you’re going to have a go, make sure you clear a working space and some time.

The X-T1 ButtonsIMG_0102

The buttons are very low profile. For me, with the camera to the eye, they are hard to find. When searching for solutions I came across someone who’d used Sugru to enhance this. (You don’t have to use red – I liked it!)

The picture doesn’t look great, but as it’s at such a small magnification, when you look at it with a normal eye, it looks fine. I’ve raised the profile of the AE-L, AF-L, Focus assist and “OK” buttons on the back, the shutter release and the front button (which I have set to electric/mechanical shutter). Will it come off? I’m sure with a careful application of dental floss and patience it will come off fine. To be honest though, once I’ve changed cameras again (and I’m not convinced I will!) I’ll probably get it converted to IR and sell on the X-E1.

The trick to getting the Sugru to look good is to mould it using damp fingers. With damp fingers, the Sugru smooths under the touch rather than coming off on your finger, or leaving a fingerprint on it. I also used a nail file to help mould it – again pressed it to a damp cloth before beginning, to stop the Sugru coming off on the file.

One thing that has been suggested is to raise the profile of the direction arrows. I am usually looking at the back of the camera when I use these buttons so that wasn’t such a huge problem for me. They’re not great in terms of access, but as well as not needing to find them blind, I can’t mould Sugru into banana shapes.

It’s been on for a few weeks now, and still seems firmly attached. The benefit of being able to find the buttons by feel is enormous. Maybe I have desensetised fingers, or maybe I’m just fat fingered. Either way, I think this was a great benefit. Raising the profile of the shutter release also works well for me. My finger sits more comfortably on the raised button and I like the red. I guess weather sealing meant no screw in shutter release for the X-T1 but that’s OK. It’s a minor thing.

The Eye Cup

IMG_0101The eye cup modification though has been a real help. One huge problem I have with most eye cups is that the sun shines on your eye and half-blinds you if it’s in “that” position. This eye cup though moulds to the eye and removes all extraneous light.

I bought the larger X-T1 Eye Cup anyway and that meant I had the factory shipped one doing nothing. So I risked a Hoodman HoodEYE eyecup for Nikon round eye pieces and figured I could fix it myself.

The Nikon eye piece was a wonderful “guess” buy. Initially I was going to take the Fuji eye piece apart (there are two tiny screws) but when I saw that the threaded Hoodman almost perfectly “screws” into the rubber of the factory fitted Fuji eye cup, I went a different route.

I made a couple of “dry” fits first, and with a little pushing and fiddling with a small flat headed screwdriver, it’s possible to literally screw the Hoodman into the the Fuji eye cup. It’s a tight fit and you may want to remove the metal mounting bracket, to ply the rubber a bit. Do it a couple of times to me sure you can do it “wet”. I then liberally applied Superglue and Sugru (I had leftover an nothing to fix) before meshing the two together. Superglue is nasty stuff and I ended up sacrificing a bit of tidiness for not getting it on my fingers. It doesn’t look pretty from the back but when it’s fixed to the camera it’s perfect.

As you can see below, the metal mounting bracket is held in with two screws. The rubber looks distorted (and it is) but it’s perfectly functional. Obviously this is a permanent job. The Hoodman and the factory eye piece will not be usable for anything else, but as a final solution for keeping the sun out of my eyes it’s brilliant.

One thing to note though, is that it blocks the “face” sensor, so if you have the viewfinder/back screen set to auto-detect, it will always assume a face in the way and show everything in the viewfinder. Also, if you’re right eye dominant, the cup goes the other way and might block the AE-L button. As a left eye dominant person, it blocks visual (but not finder) access to the playback & delete buttons. These issues do get in the way of reviewing my images as I shoot, but that’s more than made up for with the comfort of the soft eye cup.

IMG_0104

 

I bought an X-T1 a few weeks ago. It’s lovely.

But one thing I wondered about was what to do with my X-E1. It’s a lovely camera, and the second hand resale on it isn’t great. So I began to think about getting it converted to shoot infra-red.

One of my favourite photographers of all time is Sir Simon Marsden. After reading the book “Ghosts“, which featured his images, I went on to buy “Ghosthunter: A Journey Through Haunted France” shortly after. Sadly, Marsden passed away in 2012, but his iconic photography remains and will always have a place on my bookshelf. His dramatic use of infra-red film to capture his subjects was almost a trademark, and the use of infra-red gives his images an ethereal, other-worldly feel, totally in keeping with his subject matter. Infra-red photography on a film camera is a tricky business and for me this really shows Marsden as a talented image maker.

Infra-red conversion in photoshop

As a beginning amateur photographer, and an ex-goth (!), I found it fascinating to try and recreate his “look” in photoshop. Not having access to an infra-red camera, or film, I made do. And I don’t think I did too bad a job of it. The essence of “normal” conversion to Infra red is all about pushing the greens and pulling the blues in a straight up colour to black & white conversion. A bit of dodging and burning goes a long way, but it wasn’t completely capturing the essence of the medium for me. The image above is one of my earlier attempts from a colour image and it suffers from blown white clouds.

The digital photographer has two real choices for shooting infra-red. Either a standard on-the-lens screw in filter, or a full conversion of the camera. Modern digital camera sensors are sensitive to infra-red light, so manufacturers put a filter in front of the sensor. The simple screw on filter therefore blocks out the visible light and lets only IR through which is then blocked by the in-camera filter. Consequently, exposure times are huge and can be a bit hit and miss.

Modifying the camera though removes that problem and also allows the photographer to put any lens on the front of their camera. You don’t need a 55mm filter and a 62mm filter etc etc. I had a spare body sitting idle so it was a simple decision to get it converted fully.

The first question, is who to get to do it. My wife tells me I’m clumsy – and she’s totally right, so the idea of me doing it was a no brainer. Best leave it to professionals! In the UK I could only find two companies that perform this service, and as a modern consumer, I went straight to Google to find out which is best. However, there are not that many reviews of either companies. Both companies had reviews from customers who had received a poor service (as well as good), but all the reviews I found were quite old.infra-red conversion in photoshop

Advanced Camera Services are based in Norfolk and their website is a bit sparse. They only do “strong” IR filters which are great if you just want to do black & white photography. The stronger IR filters block more light, so the images are typically sharper but you have less flexibility with colour ranges. 830nm is a strong black & white filter ranging down to 720nm which is considered “standard”.

Protech Repairs are based in Uckfield and their website is… colourful! It’s better than ACS, but still requires a bit of brain matter to navigate. They offer filters from 590nm (considered “super colour”) through to the stronger 830nm.

Prices for the two companies are relatively similar. It’s different depending on the camera so I won’t go into that here. the links above give you enough information to figure it out yourselves.

I sent out exploratory emails to both companies with some basic questions – including whether converting an X-E1 to infra-red was something they did as their websites didn’t specify my camera. I generally do this with un-reviewed sources as a matter of course because it’s a decent measure of their online responsiveness. If I get good, friendly help via emails I always feel better about parting with money, and an IR conversion isn’t cheap. To begin with you have the cost of your camera, and you have to add the conversion costs on top of that.

ACS never replied to that mail unfortunately and Protech did. Hmm… So from here on in, I’m going to talk about Protech.

Jo replied very quickly (same day – a Sunday) with helpful answers to questions as well as links to further reading. She also advised me of issues with the X-E1 and hotspots on zoom lenses. Not a worry for me as I use the 23mm and the 14mm for my landscape work. This was a nice touch and reassuring that Protech weren’t trying to sell out of the gate. They appeared to want an informed consumer which really went in their favour. Jo also advised that it’s possible to go stronger with screw in filters, so choosing a 590nm sensor filter would still allow me to put a circular 830nm filter on the front of the camera. It’s not possible to go the other way though for obvious reasons.

Protech were very patient with all my questions over the course of a week, and so I decided to pack up my X-E1 with a battery and send it off. Jo said it would take about a week.

And a week later, it was done! So for me, Protech did what they said they were going to do which is another bonus. I paid over the phone and the camera was sent RMSD next day. It arrived well packaged and wrapped up safely. The only moment of panic occurred when I turned the thing on and nothing happened… This was due to a) the on-off switch flicking to “on” in transit and draining the battery and b) the camera being reset to use the viewfinder so no rear screen came on when I switched on. Once I got my menus set up again, I discovered that Protech had also kindly set a custom white balance for me and that the camera was working fine.

So that’s a huge thumbs up to the people at Protech and a solid recommendation from me. To be transparent, I need to state that I get/got no revenue or financial reward from them for endorsing the service. They did a good job and I think it’s important to review good as well as bad.

One thing I think they could improve on would be to perhaps just ship the camera with an info sheet detailing how to get the best from your images. I’m not going to repost the content here, but I found the following article at Luminescent Photo to be extremely helpful in getting my IR workflow sorted out. I use Lightroom and Photoshop though so I don’t know how this would work for other software.

Currently, using the above tutorials, I have a custom profile set for my X-E1 now which auto white balances the shots at import meaning they just need exporting to Photoshop for a channel swap as a finishing touch.

converted X-E1 infra red

Now all I need is a bright blue sky and then I’m off to the local churchyards to revisit my old stomping grounds.

Thanks for reading!

Ian.

Posted by: In: Full Versions, Software 15 Mar 2015 0 comments Tags: ,

Backing up is one of those chores that needs to be done. I’ve been lucky in that whatever I’ve lost due to file corruption or drive failure… Well… I’ve forgotten about it… This isn’t a post about why you should back up – that’s a given in today’s media hungry society. It’s about how to back it up using GoodSync and why that software is better than free options. This isn’t an ad for the software either. It’s an article by an amateur photographer that uses the software and thinks it’s a good solution and is more of a Goodsync review. When I was looking for a backup solution there was precious little information on the web about things like this, so I’m just adding content!

Today I just can’t afford to let backing up slide. I’ve got music, movies and photos from many years of collecting and to lose it all would be terrible. Not only that, but I have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive at home that allows other people around the house to access the same media content, so keeping that up to date is important too.

Screenshots can be stored in the program location so if your Kerbals made it to Gilly and you want to keep that screenie, keep an eye out!

I started out like most other people, looking for a free solution, and to be honest, if you want free, you can’t get much better than FreeFileSync. It has a simple User Interface (UI) and is a small download. The only problem with it was the lack of ability to schedule backups within the software itself. I’m not a programmer, and writing batch jobs to kick off FFS was not something I wanted to do. I wanted a one-stop solution.

I’d been a user of Roboform (a password manager) for some time, and after reading a mention on a website, I discovered that the company also made a backup software called GoodSync. Having a read through the key features of the software I noticed that schedule backups were part of the solution. It’s also not an expensive solution and at £20 I thought I’d give it a go. After all, the peace of mind of a) not having to remember to back stuff up and b) knowing it was being done automatically, was worth the “night at the pub” fee.

Setting Things Up – What to Backup

I’m not going to repeat the tutorial over on the Goodsync Website because it’s comprehensive and easy to follow (as is their manual). The UI may look a bit clunky but it’s efficient and it works. I am going to talk about what to backup though.

Photographically speaking, you obviously have photos. But you may also have Lightroom settings, Lightroom catalogues, Photoshop actions and brushes, Nik plugin presets… The list goes on. It’s easy to backup just your “My Pictures” folder, but Windows stores a lot of settings in your Username>AppData folder. Not just Photoshop & Lightroom but maybe your Outlook .ost folder, or Excel macros.

I don’t backup Photoshop, Lightroom or any other programs themselves. I can always reinstall them in the event of a disaster. I just backup stuff I can’t replace. I also set up “copying” functions to move (for example) my Music, Photos and Movies onto the NAS when they’re created. Here are some things I look at…

  1. My Userdata (Users>Username) : This covers everything irreplaceable. Application data, movies, photos, music, documents.
  2. Program Data I Can’t Reinstall : Some programs store configuration data in their program folder. I haven’t come across anything photographic that does this, but games often have their “Screenshot” folder in the Program folder for example. It’s always worth a quick check to make sure you haven’t missed something.
  3. Other Drives : We have a 16Gb USB stick plugged into the Router that I use to get the family to back up their data to. Especially my daughter’s college work! I also have a partition on the NAS that I’ve been messing about with trying to build a website on. None of these are on my “home PC” but I can back them all up with Goodsync jobs because my home PC can see them.
  4. Copying : My movies all reside on a removable hard drive attached to my PC. The are copied (along with music and photos) to the NAS so that the rest of the family can see them.
  5. The Backup of the backup : Call me paranoid, but the NAS has space for 4 drives. I’ve configured it so that one pair of drives is “mirrored” onto the other. In case of hard drive failure, I still have a backup solution available until I can buy another disk. It’s probably overkill, but it gives me peace of mind and storage is cheap.

Goodsync has an easy facility to “right click & ignore” folders from selection. For example, Windows stores config information in AppData which you may not want to copy. You can just right click and “Exclude” the folder, file, or root folder from the job. Being able to exclude (for example) all .tmp files and is really useful!

Advantages of Scheduled Backups – When to Backup

goodsync1I don’t have to remember to do it! This is the only advantage of having the computer do the backup for you. However you do need to come up with a backup strategy. Other than the initial backup, I’ve not noticed any performance hit when a Goodsync backup is running. I can use my computer as normal. I do get the occasional error when programs are open during the backup (Outlook in particular) but it’s a minor thing.

Your decision about how often to backup is going to depend mainly on when your computer is switched on. I switch mine off every night, so I can’t schedule backups for when I’m asleep. If you leave your computer on, this is the ideal time to do it. Nothing is running and no files are being modified, so that downtime can be used efficiently.

Goodsync has an “Auto” button for each job which pops up the illustrated box. I use the following types of backup

On File Change will start the backup when a file in that job changes. So if you’re job is to backup “My Data”, every time a file changes, the job will kick off. I use this on jobs that are really important and need faster than a “daily” backup. My photos for example, as well as my Website folder (I don’t want to lose changes of coding). I usually set the delay to about 20 minutes (1200 seconds) to prevent constant backup of files I’m working on. Music isn’t in this category because I can just re download the album, or re-burn the disc.

On Goodsync Start for me, is when the PC is turned on which is every day. I put a 3600 sec (1 hour) delay on it to allow the PC to warm up and do the OnFileChange jobs above. This is my basic daily backup and is done on “switch on” rather than logoff because Windows has a habit of shutting things off when you click the shutdown button. All my non important backups are done daily with this setting.

On Schedule is the last setting. I do this once a week on a Monday morning at 11am and it is a weekly “backup of the backup” to my mirrored disks. It’s not just an insurance policy, but if someone accidentally deletes a file, the above backups might propagate that deletion before I can stop it. Having a weeks grace is an additional safety net. Note though – If your computer is switched off at the schedule time, the job will not run until the next schedule. This is why I don’t use the scheduler more often. If there’s a power cut or the PC is off, the job won’t run, but by choosing On Goodsync Start, I can be assured that as soon as the PC is switched on, the backup will run.

Time To Backup

It actually takes Goodsync longer to analyse the data for changes than it does to copy the data over. Obviously the first backup is going to take a while if you’ve got a lot of photos, but once it’s done, it’s done. Because my photos are set to backup on file change, I come back from a shoot, plug the SD card into the reader, download the images, and go have a cuppa. When I come back, not only have the images downloaded to the hard drive, but they have been backed up too.

Having said that, your backup time will depend mainly on your connections. I get 5Mb/s copying from an external (USB) hard drive, through my PC and off via the router to the NAS. This is as slow as it gets but because it’s running in the background and doesn’t hit my PC with performance problems (like I have experienced with Anti Virus checks) I just don’t notice it. It sits in the notification tray and runs happily. Occasionally it pops up an error that it can’t copy a file I’m modifying at that time, but this lets me know it’s working and is easy to fix.

Overall, I’m delighted with Goodsync as a solution. It’s completely removed the need for me to remember, or act on reminders to back up and freed me to concentrate on the fun stuff like taking photos and getting to Duna

Until next time…!