Monday, April 28, 2008

Bibble Addendum... and RawShooter Premium

Well, Bibble's two week trial ran out this morning.

I miss it already.

I figured a few more things out about the program since my review. First, I think you can tell the program to sharpen/reduce noise in downsampled images using Batch Settings->Force Processing Size/Quality (inside the Image Settings box, see the help page). I didn't have a chance to fully test it, but I'm pretty sure it works.

Aside from that, I've been digging a bit further into image settings storage, which was an (unvoiced) concern. In particular, a big reason for using Bibble is the work queue construct -- essentially a grouping technique which lets me make and maintain groups of any sorts of images I want to sort. So if I want to easily access all my best baseball images, I can just hit the queue. Or if I want to see all images of a particular family, blam, I'm there. Also, during my many stages of editing, work queues keeps me from forgetting what I'm doing (a to-do list of sorts!).

To my knowledge, RSP has no capability similar to the work queue. My only concern is where these 'groups' get stored -- it'd be important to me to be able to transfer my image groupings and back them up. I'm still looking around to figure it out, because I'd like to be able to back up my work queue settings when I need to. BTW, Bibble's image settings are stored in files in the same folder as the originals, so those are easy to back up.

Oh, and did I mention that Bibble automatically imports RSP settings?


Also, it turns out there is a trojan-free crack of RawShooter Premium out there as pointed out by a commenter on my RSP trojan post. The safe version (according to my scans) of RSP is here.

For now, I'm going to give Lightroom a try for completeness, and then I'll probably go back to Bibble. Once I get past the learning curve, Bibble seems to be a great time saver and worth the $130.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Birds at 600mm

This is a photography blog, after all, so I should probably post some photographs. These are from a few weeks ago when I walked around Stanford with my Sigma 600mm and monopod (it was mostly a test of my monopod).

This first guy is an Acorn Woodpecker (Whatbird) I've seen him and his type all over the place on campus drilling holes in palm trees. Since the trees are 50 ft or so high, the 600mm is really necessary for reach (this is approximately half the frame -- he's really high up!).

The next two hummingbirds I found in the Cactus Garden (Arizona Garden) and I don't really have a good enough shot to get an identification. Of course, hummingbirds all look alike to me anyway :)

I just love this one, even though you can't see the bird's head. I just really like the color, composition, and motion. FYI, this is the full frame.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Review: Bibble 4.9 Pro

I've been evaluating Bibble 4.9 Pro for a little over a week (ever since I found a trojan in RawShooter) and I'm ready to provide a mini-review for those of you considering the switch. Honestly, I like it a lot, although it has a pretty nasty learning curve and I found it necessary to watch the Advanced Workflow video to figure out how things work. Now that I've gotten used to it, I find it more powerful than RawShooter Premium but slower and less intuitive.

In particular, it isn't nearly as easy to figure out as RawShooter. Even now, after I feel like I know how to use it (and I've run a few image sets through it), I still don't fully understand how it switches between the various layout modes using F6-F9. I almost feel like the interface has some bugs in it, but it may be I just don't understand the modality of the UI. On the bright side, the user interface is highly customizable with tons of hot keys so once you learn it, it can be quite efficient.

The other major annoyance is the speed. RawShooter is optimized to let you zoom through images near-instantly no matter what you are doing in the background. When I first switched to Bibble, I noticed a huge difference in speed. Getting the extra 2GB of RAM helped a ton by eliminating the thrashing I was experiencing with 1GB. After all, Bibble was using half of the available memory! I wouldn't recommend running Bibble with 1GB of RAM unless you are able to close all other programs while you work. With the extra RAM, I find Bibble only marginally slower than RawShooter.

There's a bunch of little things in Bibble that really make the upgrade worth it to me. The lens correction tab (pictured above) includes chromatic aberration support and a vignette tool, letting you apply a vignette without leaving Bibble! It also has better noise reduction, highlight recovery (which I haven't spent a lot of time with, but like the idea in theory), spot healing (which I've had very little need for but it should be great for getting rid of sensor spots), and a ton of special effect plug-ins which I haven't even touched yet.

In particular, the features I like the most are Work Queues and Batch Queues.

Work Queues are image grouping constructs that let you create arbitrary lists of images from anywhere on your disk. This is the same idea as albums in Picasa, but with a more powerful image editing backbone. I can create a queue (for instance: the images for my son's baseball team), add to it as I get more images, then easily find the whole group later on if I need to convert them. Work queues also give me a method of binning and organizing my processing stream, which is great because I often get interrupted/distracted while post-processing.

Sadly, work queues are only available in the Bibble Pro version ($130). But the extra $60 would be well worth it to me. The pro version also includes tethered shooting (not very useful), advanced Noise Ninja support (if you purchase Noise Ninja for $35+), IPTC editing (could be useful), and multi-core processor support (useful to me).

Batch Queues are the second, really great thing about Bibble. Batch queues are like streams in C++ -- you throw data in (images) and the batch queue takes care of all the output processing automatically based on your configuration. For instance, there are batch processes for full size images, proofs, downloading images from your memory card, and even automatic creation of a web gallery. So, say I'm working with the pictures for my son's baseball team: once I've created the work queue and applied quick edits and crops to all images, I can drag all the images to the web gallery batch queue to automatically generate a web page gallery! A week later, if the coach asks me for a CD with the full size images on them, I just drag the images to the JPEG full size queue and burn the resulting images to disk.

Batch queues are highly customizable and I've already created a queue for blog images. Let me tell you, it is so much easier to let Bibble resize, saturate, reduce noise, etc. all in one step instead of my previous workflow. It makes blogging images almost painless!

Finally, I should mention the improved noise reduction. By it's nature, noise reduction should be applied before any curves/exposure adjustment to allow the software to analyze the true sensor noise. Normally, this would take an export to the noise software then an import back into the image manipulation software, but with Noise Ninja built in, Bibble can do it all at once. Although I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, the default noise algorithm in Bibble does a better job than that in RawShooter or PSP XI. And registered Noise Ninja support allows me to take noise processing a step farther if I want to.

My one major complaint about Bibble is that there is no support for a final sharpening pass after images are resized. Maybe I just haven't found it yet though.

When I post an image on my blog, I like another hit of USM independent of RAW conversion sharpening. For now, I have Bibble automatically push the images to PSP XI where I can apply that sharpening. It doesn't take very long, and with the new memory, running PSP isn't that bad. But it'd still be nice if one of these programs gave an option for a second pass of sharpening at the output resolution.

Aside from that, I'm really leaning toward purchasing Bibble Pro. And, if I buy it now, I'll get a free upgrade to 5.0! But before I buy, I need to evaluate Lightroom, so I'll probably wait until Bibble's trial runs out and then give Lightroom a solid try before I purchase.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Baseball Photography

I've mentioned before that my son is in the MVLA PONY baseball league this year (Mustang-1). This is a new one for me and my wife, because he's never been really that interested in participating in a sports league. He's doing well and learning quite a bit, but we really have to urge him to get the bat off his shoulder and not go for the walk!

Of course, for the photographer in me, this is an ideal time to get some hands-on sports photography practice.

Instead of a detailed post on where to stand, what settings to use, and how to get the best action, I'll point you to two good resources (these are some of the best of the many pages I found):

I recommend going right now and reading those two links first, then come back here to hear the few lessons I've learned. Also, I've posted a number of my best shots, so click to see them larger.

Just Another DWC

Cheap dSLRs have made the DWC (Dad With Camera) very common, but surprisingly, I'm really the only one that regularly tries to get pictures of my son's team. I have swapped photo tips with guys on other teams though! PONY League/Little League games are nice because there's not much of a crowd and there are few restrictions on where you can go. One thing I'm really sensitive about is posting photos of other people's kids; that's why all my images here of children besides my son have their face pixelated out.

A number of people have commented on the size of my lens (just my Canon 70-200mm f/4 USM with the hood on) and one woman asked what newspaper I worked for when I was shooting with a monopod in the outfield. I clumsily explained that I was just a DWC...

This is probably a good segue into a discussion of what hardware I use. I tend to rely on my Canon 70-200mm the most, and during the last game I added the Tamron-F 1.4x teleconverter to it. Sometimes it is hard to frame action on the near side of the field well, but it is great for picking off action across the field. I've also experimented with my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 behind home base and for dugout shots, but it really doesn't have the reach I'd like. Finally, last game I tried my Sigma 600mm f/8 Mirror from the outfield, and was actually really surprised how well it worked.

Two Key 'P's: Position and Patience

I tend to enjoy action shots the most so I focus most of my attention on getting good action shots. Since it is a baseball game, good action doesn't happen that often and me hitting the shutter at the right time even rarer still. Baseball is a game of patience, and so is the photography relating to it.

Obviously, positioning is very important, and I often do test motions (like how can I re-frame and focus on third base if the runner on second steals). I have missed so many good shots I can't even count them. Luckily, there's enough action in one game to fill a memory card, if you are in the right place at the right time.

I should mention you can get some great 'safety' shots if you shoot at the point of anticipation: right before the pitch.

This works for batters, fielders, and base-runners; pretty much everyone. Heck, you could probably get the best shots of the crowd right before the pitch. You'll notice that pretty much all the shots of my son on this page are of the anticipation type -- if you have to get a shot of a particular player, go for anticipation to guarantee you'll have something to go home with.

But, again, it all comes back to positioning. My favorite positions are:
  • Just past the fence near first base (70-200mm). Gives me a good angle for action at third, plays at home, and for right handed batters. Second is decent, but in my son's bracket, most teams don't bother trying to pick off steals at second anyway. And, although my lens can't cover first base, first base usually just has a bunch of run thrus, so I don't miss much. The image that began this section was shot from next to first base.
  • Just past the fence near third base (70-200mm). While I lose a little of the ability to catch plays at third (although you can do great closeups of slides at third) I can catch left handed batters well, good shots of the pitcher's windup, and action on second and first. In any given game, I usually favor the first/third base side that isn't shooting into the sun.
  • Behind home plate (70-200mm for pitchers, 17-50mm for batters). All of the fields my son plays have a chain fence behind home plate which I can shoot through. I'll take my hood off, hold the end of the lens (to get it close to the fence but prevent the lens from getting scratched) and shoot our pitchers right as they release the ball. With a short shutter speed I've gotten some really good 'pitching faces' with the ball in the frame. It helps to focus on the ground a little in front of the mound. I'll also use a wider lens to get the batter, catcher, and ump as the ball comes across the plate. Be extra careful to not include the fence in your composition, or use holes in the fence to frame your subject (like the closeup of my son early in this post which was shot through the dugout fence).
  • From the outfield (600mm). Shooting from behind the outfield is really not even possible without a really long lens -- a 300mm won't cut it. But a 500mm or 600mm lens (assuming a crop body, so a 900mm equivalent) will let you do one of those long, TV-like shots including the pitcher, batter, catcher, and ump, all in one shot. Actually, with the 600mm, I found I needed to back up quite a bit! I would not be able to get these shots as reliably if I didn't have a monopod, and I expect I'd be pretty successful using the same setup from the stands at a major league game (if I could even get in carrying a camera).

A Few More Tips
  • Carry extra batteries and memory cards. An obvious thing, but one guy shooting last game had his battery die. He was telling me how he can get nearly 1000 shots on one charge, but that doesn't help when you don't have a spare and you forget to charge your battery!
  • Know your focus modes. Most sports photography happens at large apertures (often wide-open, f/4, on my 70-200mm) and if you miss the focus you'll miss the shot. Oddly enough, I've gotten the best results using just the center focus target in single shot mode. The automatic, special modes often seem to focus on the wrong thing, but I honestly need to experiment with them more. For now, if a play develops at third, I'll swing over, focus on the ground where the action will be, then re-frame and wait for the action to come to me.
  • Stay out of the way. Make sure you don't set up shop right in front of spectators or in an area which will be distracting to the players.
  • Use your motor drive. My 20D has 5 fps shooting capability. I use it whenever I can (usually trying to time the first or second shot to the peak of the action).
  • Shoot RAW. Many sites say to shoot JPEG to keep from filling up your camera buffer on long plays, but I usually shoot RAW because I'm a little more spare with my shooting (I don't usually crank beyond a 3-4 frame burst) and it gives me a lot more latitude on exposure. With JPEG, especially if you switch directions quickly, the auto-exposure can get confused and blow your highlights, which you'll never get back. Plus, the white uniforms have a lot of dynamic range!
  • Shoot Manual? This is something else I've been experimenting with after reading about it on another site. Locking in your exposure ahead of time in manual mode should keep the camera from screwing up exposure, and it seemed to help a bit for me.

Finally, I'll leave you with my favorite shot so far -- in this play, a kid on our team knocked the helmet off a kid on the other team during a tag at third. This was the first game, and amazingly, I was able to get the shot!

Monday, April 14, 2008

It is a good time to buy RAM!

A shorty since I'm running late an working on a bunch of other posts right now.

After working with Bibble this morning, it really became obvious that I need more RAM for my computer. Mostly because I have 1GB and Bibble was using half of that.

But I'm in luck... this Washington Post article says that RAM prices are bottoming out due to excessive supply and the good prices should persist for some time.

So, I went ahead and picked up 2GB of DDR2-800 RAM at NewEgg for $47 including shipping and tax (I went with A-Data 2x1GB because it was well reviewed and had a really low price without messing around with a rebate). What an amazing price to triple my RAM!

This is a great time to add some more RAM if you do a lot of image processing!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cracks, Rawshooter, and Trojans

So I cozied up to the computer to do some exposure blending (more on that in a later post about HDR) and I realized that my images needed to be reconverted from RAW to get a better exposure range. So I clicked on RawShooter Premium only to get me an error telling me the shortcut didn't point to anything.

That's odd
, I thought.

Time to look on the disk where the executable should be -- it was gone... My next thought was, Maybe Windows XP automatically removes cracked software... I wonder if I can put a new copy on?

So, I located the zip file on my desktop which included the executable and decompressed it... everything else got decompressed, but not the executable. So, I tried only extracting the executable -- but it didn't actually land in the folder I dragged it to?!!?

Now I was officially confused...

What was keeping the file from being decompressed?

And then I remembered my antivirus software, Symantec Antivirus.

Checking the logs, it turns out my cracked version of RawShooter Premium included a nice little trojan horse called InfoStealer.Gampass that Symantec didn't pick up right away. And when it realized it was a danger, it quietly removed the file. I suppose it could be worse. After all, InfoStealer.Gampass has a low Threat Assessment in pretty much every category and is probably harmless on my machine since I don't play any of the games it steals accounts for. FYI, my cracked copy was from a group called ICU. Although the crack is dated 11/30/2005 which should precede the first discovery of the Trojan, and especially the updated Trojan I contracted... Note also the 11/30 date doesn't match the date listed on ICU's site.

On one hand, I'm inclined to just disable that virus scan and keep working with RawShooter. It is very unlikely that InfoStealer.Gampass will cause me trouble since I don't play any of those online games. But on the other hand, I'm not wild about ANYTHING polluting my computer, even if it is most likely harmless.

So, I think it is an ideal time to give Bibble and Lightroom test trials to see which I like better, and then actual pay for one of them :)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Purchased: Giottos MM5580 P-pod

I'll admit it, I've been holding out on you.

I decided to purchase the Giottos MM5580 P-pod because it can serve sextuple duty:

  • Monopod
  • Tripod (not a very stable one though)
  • Macro tripod (this should be very useful to me)
  • Light stand (in tripod mode)
  • Background light stand (in macro mode)
  • Walking stick (well, maybe)
Ok, let's be honest, the main selling point beyond the monopod aspects is the fact it can double as a second light stand, which I dearly need and it will save me $25+.

I've found some good deals for the MM5580 on eBay, but I didn't want to post because I didn't want extra competition for the one used MM5580 I was going after. I ended up winning that auction for $53.25 + $10 S/H + $4 tax = ~$67. The best price I found beyond that was $80 with free buy it now shipping (according to the listing) from a seller called vcc113. Be warned though, I sent vcc113 an e-mail to confirm the free shipping, and got no response. From Amazon and other sources, expect to pay around $90.

Once I've had some time with the pod, I'll post a review. For now, here's a list of current eBay listings of the 5580:

Strobist: Birthdays, Heresies and Watt-Seconds

I didn't say anything, but for the past few months I've been pretty disappointed with the posts on Strobist. Not that they are that bad, but since Mr. Hobby took a leave from his staff job, he seems less... inspired. Maybe that's just me projecting my feelings onto his writing though; a lot of the draw of reading Strobist was getting an inside look into the types of jobs and thought processes of a staff shooter.

So, I was happy to hear that he's going to be shifting the direction of Strobist slightly to, **gasp**, even talk about non-speedlight off-camera flash. He's also planning on adding more guest On Assignments (including this really good one about Peter Yang) and actually pimping himself out to get some paying jobs.

Read about it here: Strobist: Birthdays, Heresies and Watt-Seconds.

What about me? Well, I've got a huge backlog of stuff I want to write about including Baseball photography, HDR, snooting an SB-20, reviews of the Tamron-F teleconverter and the Giottos MM5580, a report from a recent Strobist meetup, and more.

The difficult part is finding time to process the photos and write up the posts...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Fingertips are Melting!

So what exactly is that picture above?

That's what happens when twenty-year-old polyurethane fingertips break down. Gooey mush.

My advisor had this robot hand in his garage for a long period of time and then moved it into his office. After that, I guess, the PU really started dripping. BTW, if you don't know it, polyurethane is what skateboard wheels and many foams are made out of.

On the photographic side, these images were a nightmare when it comes to color balance. I just couldn't seem to get it right. Too bad I didn't have my gray card as a reference -- I lost it about six months ago but I know it is somewhere around my house or office.