26 May 2009

DSLR modularity

Fellow blogger Miserere has called for a new DSLR paradigma with one key feature to separate it from status quo; modularity.
He points to how different photographers have different needs and how manufacturers could save money by building cameras with discrete modules to be fitted at the photographer's need.
It seems like a good idea at the surface. And indeed, Hasselblad's digital medium format cameras are taking a similar approach. What used to be film cartridges are now digital sensor modules.
My immediate thought was that if this was a good idea for the mainstream DSLR market, we would have seen modular DSLRs a long time ago already. And the more I think about it, the more certain I am that the nemesis of modularity is integration. The components of a camera are finely tuned to each other. By making cameras discrete and integrated units, one assures that the components are truly compatible and scaled to fit each other.
For example, Miserere suggests that mirror/shutter assembly and imaging sensor could be separate modules. The upcoming Pentax K-7 is an excellent case in point. It has the same CMOS imaging chip as its predecessor K20D, but with one important modification. In the new chip they have doubled the processing capacity of the output. To match this, the K-7 has a mirror/shutter assembly that moves to capture 5 frames per second (fps). In the K20D, the two components are matched to do 2.5 fps. In a modular approach, you'd need both modules to get the advantage of high fps. If you don't need high fps, you're unlikely to bother about paying extra for either module, just to make future upgrades easier.
I also notice that one component is spectacularly absent from Miserere's list. It is the one component that has caused me the most headache when building PCs from components. The power supply. When estimating the needed power for a new machine, one needs to know the power consumption of all the components. It's doable for stationary machines, but I'd never dare to choose battery for a portable computer, for examle. By the way, have you noticed how different generations of portable PCs have different batteries? And have you noticed the same trend in digital cameras? Looking at Pentax again, their first generation of DSLRs, the *istD series from Pentax used AA batteries. The K-series, however, switched to a videocam-style lithium, providing a higher and more stable power output. The K-7 will raise the bar another notch, presumably because of its higher processing power. For each upgrade bringing new and more advanced tech to the data processing parts of either PCs or cameras, it brings new power requirements. So upgrading the processing module without upgrading the power source doesn't make much sense either.
In all, I'm glad the camera manufacturers make these choises for me, rather than having to make them myself. I'd rather sell my old camera and buy a new one, just as I do with my laptops and stationary PCs. And my other advanced machines, such as cellphones and toasters. :-)

24 May 2009

Buttercup Basking

My back garden has a small patch of wild flowers. I tend to forget about it all together. It seems too small and insignificant to provide any good motifs. But perspectives change once a macro lens is employed. This shot was made with an A* 200/4 lens on a Pentax K20D.

23 May 2009

Congrats, Peter Lee!

Kudos to fellow Pentax photographer Peter Lee, who has also turned 100 photos in the Pentax Photo Gallery. He has even pushed me down to second place in numbers. :-)
Here's one photo taken almost exactly nine years ago in Hardanger, using the Pentax 645 and a 645A-75mm f/2.8 and a pola filter, on Kodak E100VS film. Really seems like a millenium ago, but I thought it would make a nice greeting to a very skilful fellow photographer.

Click on image for slightly larger version.

20 May 2009

As if Pentax listens

Click image for slightly larger version

After my little eagle adventure in January, I bitched about some missing or low-spec'ed features in Pentax DSLRs. I made a wish-list here.

Today the Pentax K-7 was presented. It boasts 5 frames per second and "improved autofocus". Fingers crossed that this is a kind of camera that will improve my success rate with wildlife. DPreview has made a relatively sober comparison to K20D here.
The above shot was made with Pentax K20D and FA* 60-250/4. It's a bit cropped at the top and left hand side. Full resolution JPEG can be found here (warning: file size 7.4 MB). EXIF data should be intact, but just in case:
Focal length: 250mm
Aperture: f/4.5
Shutter: 1/2000 s
ISO: 400
SR on.
The full res image was processed with Adobe Camera Raw v4.6 (CS3), all adjustments at default values.
Detail rendering is impeccable. I can only conclude that this lens is worth every penny.

15 May 2009

Bird cherry

Still testing the new DA* 60-250/4. I like the way this lens renders the transition from in-focus to bokeh. Shot with the K20D, at 1/2500s, f/4 and ISO 400. Focal lenght was 250mm. It was as close as the lens would focus. The close focus limit, by the way, is constant throughout the zoom range for this lens. Not bad for a trombone-style designed lens.

13 May 2009

Plum Twig

Our garden plum tree is forever optimistic. It blooms in splendour every year and doesn't seem to mind us cropping it down quite drastically every winter. Here's one shot from this afternoon, in the last rays of a sun that hasn't quite begun warming us properly yet. But spring is definately here. :-)

The photographer is quite optimistic too, by the way. This photo is obtained using the long awaited Pentax DA* 60-250/4 zoom lens. To try out a new piece of promising equipment is always a bit intoxicating, but this one seems indeed to have been worth the wait. The first few raw files I have examined look beautifully sharp, without vignettting, and without much colour fringing in high-contrast areas.

10 May 2009

Digital archiving: ThumbsPlus

Version explored: 8 beta 3

I have used version 7 of ThumbsPlus (T+) for five years, and was reasonably happy with my choice until halfway through my previous attempt at keywording my images. However it would be unfair to say my discontent was caused by the program itself. It was just that I found the job so boring that my mind frequently began to wander, wondering how T+ could be improved.

As it turns out, Cerious.com has implemented a lot of nice new features in the coming version 8, and some parts of my wishlist has been granted.

1. Magic words
Drag & drop for keywording works both ways with T+. Drop a keyword onto files, or drop files onto a keyword. I like that. In addition, there is a comprehensive tool for managing keywords. It has also picked up on XMP, so potentially the keywords could be compatible with other imaging software. Further, it simplifies keywording on the raw files directly.

Support for hierarchical keywords will be added to version 8. Here's a quote from the Release Notes:

  • Lengthened keyword size to 255 characters, with the ability to define categorical keywords, such as "Animal\Dog". The keyword list will be available in tree format easier handling during assignment.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work in the beta 3 version, so I can't make any assessment of it.

2. Version handling and bundling
T+ does not support any of this.

3. Backup, restore, and migration
T+ comes with support for many different database engines. The simplest one is actually a royalty-free Microsoft Access database, which can be backed up by ordinary file copying as long as T+ is not running when you make the backup. For more advanced database engines, you'll need a dedicated tool to make backups. I use MySQL, and rely on making database dumps to file which then gets backed up with the rest of the backup-worthy files on my system, but this assumes a geek factor that's probably too high for many.

And this is one area where T+ falls short because it does not provide any integrated backup. You have to set it all up using other software. Not a big deal if you know what you're doing and remember to do it frequently, but it's a hassle.

Restore is, of course, dictated by the routines you have set up for your backup. The upside of this, however, is that T+ is quite flexible when it comes to migration to new hardware. You have to retain the filesystem folder structure of your old disk, but that's just about all. Nice and simple. The only additional thing it requires is that you assign the same label to the disk as you had before the migration. Ie., if the hard drive of your old system was labeled "System" before the drive letter in Windows Explorer, it should be named the same way on your new system. The drive letter itself doesn't matter, just the label. Saved my ass once, this feature... :-)

4. Support for offline archives
The only features T+ provides to this end is an "import" and an "export" function that can assimilate or dump a text file containing selected fields from the database. Selecting the full range, you can have all the metadata stored in the database except the Galleries.

Galleries (equal to albums in Adobe nomenclature) are very convenient for visual grouping of related images. The manual warns against using Galleries for anything but temporary assemblages, but in practice it's terribly easy to let such structures become at least semi-permanent. However, T+ is neither better or worse than the other programs for overlooking the Galleries in export/import routines. And it's not a terribly big deal. Keywords and categories are much better for organising than Galleries anyway.

T+ can not branch out a portion of its archive for use on a laptop, and it can not add a branch to its main archive. What it can do, however, is to automatically import IPTC metadata from newly found files (see below). I assume this will apply to XMP too, when this becomes fully supported in the production release of version 8.

5. other stuff
T+ is a vigilant little piece of software. It looks out for changes in the folders you tell it to monitor, and updates its own database automatically. It will add new images and update thumbnails and metadata after edits. This is one of the things I really like with T+. It saves me from being mindful about telling the program to update such things.
I also like the interface in T+. Granted, it's old fashioned enough to look like something designed for Windows 95 or thereabouts, but it's clean and efficient.

T+ is usually also very quick to release support for new raw files. The only exception to the rule is K20D. Basically, I was told in the support forum that they didn't care since the camera supports DNG raw format.

07 May 2009


Observed at Heathrow, Terminal 5. Shot with Pentax Optio W60.

01 May 2009

In another 70 years

Robert Capa's Mexican Suitcase has been opened, and found to hold a historic treasure from the Spanish civil war in 1939.

Imagine, in 70 years from now, if a medium containing digital negatives by one of today's most prominent photographers were rediscovered. Bet a harddrive would be every bit as brittle as those old gelatine strips of Capa's.