Tigraine

Daniel Hoelbling-Inzko talks about programming

Focus point tester

I am currently trying to reduce my reliance on the backside display on my camera. All relevant information on the current frame are right inside the viewfinder, so taking the eye away from the finder to fiddle with controls is really unnecessary.

This works reasonably well for normal settings, but I quickly became annoyed with my own clumsiness with the two dials when selecting a new focus point (since there is that handy button next to the shutter).

Canon 70D AF Control Scheme. Image Taken from Canon EOS 70D Manual

So I wrote a little page that helps me practice the AF selection by providing me with a point grid and randomly selecting one point to manually change to while looking through the viewfinder.

You can find it here: http://www.tigraine.at/uploads/focus.html

Filed under photography

How to upgrade to an SSD with minimal effort

We have all been there - that dreaded family gathering where some relative walks up to you and starts complaining how slow his computer has become and that he needs a new one. In the old days this was a serious problem. They really meant what they said: They need a new computer and you are the only one to make that happen. Go buy and setup a new rig, then spend at least an afternoon installing all kinds of things so the new computer works just like the old one, but moderately faster.

Thank god we got SSDs now, so I can make any computer ten times faster without having to replace the whole damn thing. And there is even a trick how you can migrate from the old hard-drive to the new SSD without you having to reinstall Windows or anything. The trick is to clone the existing drive using a nifty tool called GParted. Here is how it's done:

(It's kind of a long post, but believe me you can do this in less than 20-30 minutes)

Prerequisites

Buy an SSD

Don't waste money on anything fancy. Any SSD will make a PC fly compared to a mechanical drive. So just get a decent drive with the capacity you feel is required and be done with it. (I just got a 240GB drive for 150€ and score a 7.9 in Windows Performance Measurements)

Backup the old Data

As always with disk operations, they might result in lost data if something goes wrong, so please back up any relevant data on the drive you want to copy.

Step 1- Prepare a GParted-Live USB-Key

Get an USB thumb-drive and install GParted-Live using the excellent Pendrive Linux installer. That's simple:

After that it's as simple as selecting GParted in the dialog, pointing it to the GParted iso file and selecting the USB drive letter you want to install your GParted image to.

Step 2 - Delete some data from the original drive

Usually the new SSD will have less capacity than the existing drive (you're usually going from 500GB to 240 or something) so you have to make sure the old data fits on the new drive. Uninstall applications, move data - make sure the used space on your old drive is less than your SSD capacity before proceeding.

Step 3 - Unplug all unnecessary drives

You're going to do some pretty low-level disk operations and any chance you can mess up drive letters is a recipe for desaster. So I like to just disconnect all drives except for the old drive that contains Windows. Just to make it harder to accidentally screw up.

Step 4 - Install the SSD into the computer

Step 5 - Plug in the USB-Key with GParted and boot it

You will soon be greeted by GParted running in a rather hideous Linux GUI.

Step 6 - Shrink the old disk (optional)

If you are trying to fit a bigger old drive onto the new SSD you have to shrink the old partition to a size that's smaller then the new SSD. That's important otherwise you'll screw up the partition table when copying the disks.

Thankfully GParted can do that for almost any file system, even with NTFS. Just select the old partition and shrink it. All partitions together should be less than the new disk capacity - the rest should be unpartitioned space at the end of the disk.

Step 7 - Clone the disk

What you need next is to use GParted to find out the drive paths of your old drive and your new one. This can usually be deduced from their respective sizes, but also the new one should not contain any partitions yet.

Just click the drive path to the top right and you will see a listing of all connected hard drives with their linux mount point (/dev/sda is the first one and /dev/sdb the second etc..)

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Once you know the respective drive names, open up the Terminal and run the dd command like this:

dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb bs=100M

if should point to the old disk and of is the new disk. (if is short for InputFile and of for OutputFile)

Make sure that you get this absolutely right, otherwise you end up cloning the empty disk onto the full disk! Once done just restart the computer and boot once again into GParted.

Step 8 - Grow the new disk.

You are almost done, but you usually have a bit of unused disk space on the SSD left - so you GParted to grow the partition to fill the whole space.

Step 9 - Format the old disk

If you are feeling brave you can do this right away, I like to unplug the old boot disk and reboot from the SSD to make sure everything is working. After you are sure the new SSD boots into Windows, plug the old hard drive back in and boot into GParted again. You should now just remove all partitions from the old disk to free up the space and make sure you don't accidentally boot to the wrong Windows. (Don't worry about new partitions, you can do that from the Windows disk manager).

Step 10 - Reboot into Windows

Done! Unplug the GParted USB-Key and boot the PC. You will be greeted by checkdisk, but once done you should see a very speedy boot into the old desktop. Now you can use the disk-management tool inside Windows to create a partition on the old disk and you are done.

Everything works as before, you just saved yourself countless hours of reinstalling every spyware/malware the relative has accumulated over the last few years.

Filed under howto, computers

Thoughts on photographing fireworks

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I have recently rediscovered my love for photography, and have been looking forward to New Year's Eve 2013 for quite some time as I expected to be able to get some pretty spectacular firework shots. The rationale was simple: Photographing stuff with a slow shutter speed is incredibly easy - anyone getting into photography should get a tripod and experiment with low shutter speeds and moving lights. And when applied to fireworks the results look really spectacular.

So I looked at a few places around Klagenfurt (my home town) for one with convenient access and a decent view on the action. I did not want to go too far out on any of the surrounding mountains since the weather had been a bit unpredictable lately, and I figured inside the city I'd at least see some fireworks, even when they are a bit obscured by fog. Outside you could end up with zero visibility on the action.

But still I needed something with elevation, so after visiting a few locations I decided on this nice view from Kreuzbergl:

Kreuzbergl View

I figured the road straight to the city center would give the pictures some depth, while the sky around us should be filled with exploding fireworks.

So at 23:00 our party headed out to the chosen spot and on to my first lesson: Take the whole bag!

I figured I'd best use the EF-S 10-22mm for the fireworks and thought I could save myself the hassle of taking the whole heavy camera bag with me. So I left the camera bag in the car and just took camera + tripod with me. 20 Meters down the road I noticed that I had forgotten the lens hood and darted back to the car. I picked up the lens hood and ran back to where I had left the tripod, just when I remembered that I had forgotten the cable release in the bag too. At that point I decided to just pick up the whole bag and be done with it - really annoying.

Taking the whole bag was a great idea, because lesson #2 presented itself to me at 00:00 - I had not bothered to ask anyone who might know if there are any fireworks at all at Kreuzbergl. So when the new year came, the fireworks where concentrated on the horizon, but there where virtually none in the sky above me (and I was zoomed out to 10mm).

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As you can see there where a lot of fireworks in the distance, but none above me. Apparently nobody shoots fireworks in this part of town :(. And I was now stuck with the wrong lens on my camera. Thank god I had taken all of my gear, so I decided to switch to the 70-200.

After changing the lens, screwing it to my tripod and adjusting my exposure I managed to get some decent shots of the fireworks. But the whole process had taken too long, and I missed most of the initial action. My friend next to me who shot at 55 mm focal length managed to get this really awesome shot (while my keepers consisted mostly of crops with one or two fireworks in the distance):

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This then led me to lesson #3: Ask around for commercial fireworks.

Around 200 meters behind the spot where I was shooting towards the city center is a really nice restaurant that traditionally shoots a lot of fireworks. I did not know that! They waited a few minutes for the initial burst to die down, and right when I had finished switching from my ultra-wide lens to a telephoto they started lighting the sky right above me.

The fireworks display from Schweizerhaus was impressive. Had I not bothered with the rest of the city, just shooting the fireworks from the Schweizerhaus would have been awesome. Especially since it's location was very predictable, the delay between explosions was essentially fixed and they all exploded at roughly the same height. So if possible, ask around what hotels or restaurants put on a fireworks show and find out where they usually launch theirs. It's a lot more predictable than hoping for random fireworks to appear in your frame.

Anyway, at that point I took my camera off the tripod, and shot the fireworks @70mm 1/200 f/2.8 and got some really nice action shots of exploding fireworks. But once again I had the wrong lens, unable to do the shots I had planned initially.

So to sum up the lessons I learned this year:

  • Take the whole bag - you never know when you need another lens. (I never thought I'd need a telephoto when shooting fireworks!)
  • Either shoot in locations where you know there will be plenty of fireworks in your frame - or ask around.
  • Use the right lens. Great fireworks that cover only 20% of your frame look really unspectacular.
  • Ask for commercial fireworks displays. They are usually well done, their location is quite predictable and once you know where to expect them you can usually find a nice spot to shoot from knowing you'll get some action inside your frame.
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