In Defence of the Focusing Ring

What ever made digital camera designers think that a combination of buttons is a suitable substitute for the tried and true focusing ring on the lens?

One of my requirements when I chose my digital camera was manual control including focusing. I haven’t used full manual exposure but often use Aperture Priority and similar settings. I would like to use manual focusing too but I still haven’t mastered it. Usually I use auto focus which works fine in most situations but sometimes, such as in macro mode it does not work. Either the focus is on the wrong part of the picture or, and more commonly, it can’t focus at all. Manual control is essential or the picture is missed.

Trying to hold one button while adjusting others and concentrate on getting the right focus is just too much. Without a tripod it is impossible. With my film slr I just turn the lens ring and it is done. So disappointing and in every other way I love my Fuji S5500.

Does the above mean I am just trying to convince myself I need to invest in a digital slr? Mmmm… that’s not going to happen soon but time to dream.


Scanning Film under Linux

When I installed Linux I had a few issues to sort out. One of those issues was that I needed to get the film scanner working. When I finally got around to it, it became a case of 2 steps forward then 1 step back but the final result was positive.

I have a Canon FS2710 film scanner that connects to the computer via SCSI. For those who aren’t familiar with SCSI, it was the standard interface for hardware that required large amounts of data to be moved. It is only recently that ide hard drives have caught up with the speed of SCSI drives. While Macs had a standard SCSI port pcs usually needed a card. I had the original card so that wasn’t a problem.

Setting up the scanner was actually easier under Linux than Windows XP. While Windows 98 SE supported SCSI that support has been removed from XP. So I needed to find and install SCSI drivers before installing drivers for the scanners. Fortunately the Canon website had the details.

Linux supports SCSI and the scanimage -L command reported the scanner. However SANE, the scanner drivers, didn’t find it. I found it was necessary to edit the canon.conf file, I simply uncommented the line with the SCSI device number and changed the number to the correct one, 4 in my case as the card reader had used the lower numbers. SANE then recognised the scanner and I was away.

Remember the step back? Well I scanned a slide and it was fine but when I scanned a negative the result was very poor, washed out and noisy. I tried 2 scanning interfaces xsane and xscanimage. The results were the same.

Negatives are difficult to scan well. When you look at a negative you see the colour of the film and the colours in the picture are the reverse of the real colours. The scanner must “see” past the film colour and each film brand is a different colour. The scanner or the software must then reverse the colours in the picture. This is one reason I mainly shoot slides these days but I have a lot of older negatives. About 80% of pictures I have been posting on my photo blog are from negatives so the ability to scan negatives well is important to me.

I had heard of Vuescan, a commercial program, that had good reports. They provide a trial version so I downloaded that and tried it. The results are very good. It is available for Windows and Macs as well as Linux and supports hundreds of scanners and digital cameras. The trial version puts dollar sign watermarks all over the scanned image but you can see what the results will be. The control of the scan is greater than any other program I have used.

One other test I tried was to see how it scanned slides, some reports I have seen suggest Vuescan outperforms the Canon software. Vuescan also supports the transfer of files from many digital cameras. Those same reports suggest it is superior to the software supplied with many digital cameras to process their raw files. I can’t test this as my FujiFilm digital camera is not supported under Linux at this stage.

My choice was to purchase Vuescan or continue the hassle of rebooting in Windows to scan negatives. After a few days of rebooting I registered my trial copy of Vuescan and am still happy with it.

Attack of the Gorillapod

One of the things that sets a serious photographer apart from a happy snapper is the use of a tripod. Supporting the camera allows a greater range of photographic opportunities whether it is shooting in low light or the option to use different aperture / shutter speed combinations. Sure modern cameras allow fine photos to be taken hand held but supporting the camera in some way give you so many more options.

However a tripod is not always available. They tend to be large and awkward items particularly if you are on foot or public transport. There are smaller and lighter variants but few are sturdy enough to be truly useful. There are also places where tripods can’t be used or can’t be set up in such a way to allow the desired shot.

A new option for holding the camera steady is the Gorillapod from Joby. Its only similarity to the traditional tripod is that it has 3 legs. These legs are a series of articulated joints that can be twisted in any direction. With a little practice it is possible to twist these legs around almost anything. It takes little effort but they hold on tightly.

I tested it out on a steel fence and a tree branch. Using the upright parts of the fence for support gave greater stability but it was steady even with my 300 mm lens.

Testing on the FenceAt this point it is worth mentioning that there are 3 sizes, one for point & shoot cameras, a larger one for slrs and the slr zoom for cameras with large zoom lens or video cameras. I have a SLR Zoom which can support up to 3 kgs. It certainly had no trouble holding my camera.

The SLR Zoom also comes with an adapter that will allow the use of a tripod head if you have a special purpose head you would like to use. I mounted the camera directly to the Gorillapod.

I had no trouble making it secure in the tree except after I got it in place I realised I couldn’t get my eye to the viewfinder, the branch was in the way! But it proved that it could be used in just about any location and not just with horizontal supports.

Testing in the TreeOh and you can use it as a regular tripod by just standing it on the legs!

A recommended addition to your camera kit. Prices seem to range from $A39 to $A89 in Sydney.

For something a little different there is even a page on Flickr devoted to “gorillapod love”.


A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs

High-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse. Many bloggers have been the victim of abuse, harrassment and even threats. Now some are suggesting a voluntary code of conduct among bloggers and commenters.

While the internet is a place for free speech does that free speech give everyone the right to abuse anyone they choose? Does a blogger have the right to delete any comment left on their blog?

What do you think?

read more | digg story

Getting Organised

When I started using Google Calendar I wished it had a “To Do List”. Well it doesn’t but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one on your Google Calendar. A great Australian site Remember the Milk, what a great name!, allows you to create a To Do list and link it to your Google Calendar.

I have been using it for a few months now and find it works well. Each day in the calendar has a button at the top which will display your tasks for that day. Very handy.

The Remember the Milk site allows you to categorise the tasks, defaluts are work, personal etc. but you can make your own. There is also the option to link a map to a task so you can see where you must be for each task. Very clever. there are some other features I haven’t explored yet too.