Friday, August 31, 2012


[Note:  this is another in a series of postings that were originally hosted by Apple but went away when Apple cancelled]

   My old pappy used to say you could fix about anything with bailing wire and duct tape, with emphasis on the duct tape.  Unfortunately, when it comes to video and photo use, duct tape, the silver-backed tape you buy at the hardware store is NOT the solution.  Conventional duct tape is not only hard to remove it also leaves a sticky residue on most stuff that is a pain to remove.

   The "pros" in our business use something called "gaffer tape".  This tape is not only easier to remove but it doesn't leave any sticky residue when removed.  Everyone should have a roll in their "kit" when out on a shoot.  I use the black version but you can get it in a variety of colors, including camouflage.  The most-used width is 2" but other widths are also available.  You can tear the tape down the middle to create narrow width pieces from the 2" rolls.  Here are a couple of sources from which I get a small consideration:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


  This time of year in Tucson is referred to as "monsoon season".  We are subject to occasional severe thunderstorms accompanied by lightning and thunder.  I recently spent the day on a nearby mountain - Mt Lemmon - which is some 8,000 feet higher and 25-30 degrees cooler than Tucson.  While there I was a spectator for a pretty spectacular afternoon thunderstorm over the Tucson valley.

  I was doing some testing that day with my Sony DSC-RX100 so I decided to set it up to take  video of the storm.  The short Vimeo clip below is an edited version of what I took.  I used my Casablanca to edit out the "dead space" between strikes to speed things up.  I also edited the thunder audio to better match the video.

  I was using the 1080/60i mode of the RX100.  I set the video mode to "Program" which allowed me to vary the shutter speed and aperture simultaneously, keeping the exposure constant.  For most of the video I set the shutter speed to 1/4 second.

  The next time I do this I would like to set the RX100 mode to 1080/60P which provides a 2:1 slow-motion clip on the Casablanca.  I would also try a very fast shutter speed to see how that affects the video of the lightning.

Monday, August 27, 2012


  Now that many "point & shoot" digital cameras are approaching almost pro image quality they are being used by many of us in situations that formerly we only used bigger cameras for.  Examples of such high end cameras are the Sony DSC-HX10 and DSC-RX100.

  Unfortunately, because the principle design goal for these cameras was to make them easy to use by most anyone, they lack some features that some of use need.  One such desirable feature is the ability to add filters such as polarizers or neutral density.  Such filters can help in many lighting situations.

  If you look at the front lens barrel on these cameras, like the HX10 to the right, you note that it is totally smooth and without any way to use a normal screw-in filter.

  I have seen indications on the internet of developments that will lead to being able to attach screw-in filters to such cameras but it is not know on what schedule these developments are proceeding.

  I just ran across a YouTube video that provides a "quick and dirty" way to attach a filter to such cameras.  I've already tried this technique with my Sony RX100 and it works.

  The preceding video mentions the use of a 49 mm filter but I happened to have a set of 46 mm filters and they are sized perfectly for this application since the 1/2" square Scotch tabs fit inside the filter rim without interfering with the camera's lens port when open.  Smaller filters can be used but will require cutting down the size of the tabs.  The Scotch restickable tabs I used can be found at Amazon.  


  I came up with what I believe to be improvements on the above technique.  

  First, because I didn't want to remove the filters each time the camera lens retracts, I actually stacked two of the Scotch tabs so that the screw-in clear UV filter I am using as the base filter is held clear as the lens retracts.  Note in the photo at right that's there's a small gap between the attached UV filter and the camera's front lens body when the camera is off.  Thus, the filter doesn't have to be removed each time the camera is turned off.

  Also, different from the technique in the video, I applied the restickable tabs to the screw-in side of the filter (rather than the front) so that additional filters can be added to the attached filter.  

  After attaching the UV filter to the camera using the restickable tabs additional filters can be screwed into it as desired.  The RX100 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second.  In bright lighting conditions this may not be short enough to get the aperture open as much as desired.  I can now add an ND filter by screwing it into the UV filter and have better control of exposure.

  Or, I can screw a polarizer filter onto to the UV filter to improve image quality.  (See my previous post on polarizers for why polarizers can be helpful.)

  It's quite easy to remove the filter attached with the Scotch restickable tabs and re-attach it using the same tabs.


  The small gap indicated by the arrow in the image above can be a problem if you're using a darker filter outside in the sunshine.  An bright overhead light (like the sun) can leak through an create extraneous light on the image.  The image on the left below show an example of the light leakage when in the bright sun.  I had an ND3 neutral density filter screwed into the base filter for these shots.  The picture on the right was taken with my fingers covering gap between the RX100 lens barrel and the base filter.

  You can avoid this in a couple of ways - either make sure the camera is in the shade or by putting something over the gap like gaffer tape.  Of course, using gaffer tape to cover the gap will prevent the camera lens from closing when the camera is turned off.


  This technique for adding filters may be a little "Rube Goldberg" but it does work and can be used until something better comes along (which I believe will happen in the not-to-distant future).

Sunday, August 26, 2012


[Note:  this is another in a series of postings that were originally hosted by Apple but went away when Apple cancelled]

  There is a filter that I use frequently, whether shooting video or stills.  That filter is a polarizer.  For those of you not familiar with a polarizer filter, it can do a couple of things that can improve your images, both moving and still.

   First of all it can potentially give you a very blue sky in your sunny day images.  (Note the deep blue sky in the image above.)  I say potentially because a couple of conditions need to be met: 1) the sun must be at the proper angle to the scene you are shooting; and 2) you have to have the polarizer filter rotated to the correct angle. 

   The image at left shows how a polarizer can change the depth of color in an image.  Note the increased contrast of the clouds on the left compared to the right. ( Polarizers can also affect black and white images but that will not be discussed in this post.)  A polarizer can help reduce the dynamic range or ratio of bright to dark in the image.  The shadow areas on the left side of the image are lighter because the sky isn’t so bright and taking up so much of the camera’s dynamic range.

   Secondly, a polarizer filter can reduce reflections from objects in your camera's field of view.  These can be from highly reflective objects like cars and windows or those from water surfaces.  Similar to the sky enhancement of the previous paragraph the degree of reflection reduction depends on sun angle and filter rotation.  The image at right is an example of reducing reflections using a polarizer.

   I personally try to have a suitable size polarizer filter available on all my shoots, particularly if I know they are going to be in bright sunshine.  If the shoot is going to be outside on a bright sunny day I usually install a polarizer even if I don't need it for sky enhancement or reflection reduction.  This is because a polarizer has a about a stop of light reduction so it can act as a neutral density filter.  This can help keep your lens from having to be stopped down to f/11 or f/16 which is not usually a good thing for best image quality.

   Polarizing filters come in a variety of sizes and styles.  The ones I have range from 37 to 95mm in diameter to fit the variety of cameras I use.  I also have a 3" square filter that fits into a matte box that can be mounted on my larger video cameras.  Most of the round filters I have also have threads on their front so that another lens can be screwed onto it but a couple of them are "thin" filters that have no front threads and thus don't stick out quite so far.  This can prevent vignetting when used with wide-angle lenses.


   Polarizers do not work at every direction.  They work best when the sun is 90 degrees to the camera’s line of sight.  In other words the sun should be at your right or left.  If the sun is at your back the polarizer will have little effect on the sky’s color.  Also, if you are facing the sun you won’t get any sky effect.

   To maximize the polarizing effect you need to rotate the polarizer while watching the scene through through the camera’s viewfinder.  As you rotate the filter you should note the sky’s darkness changing.  TIP: This works best if you turn off auto exposure while adjusting the rotation.  With auto exposure turned on the camera will compensate for the change in light coming through and if you don’t rotate the filter fast enough you may not notice the sky changing that much.

     Also, the polarizer won’t necessarily affect the total sky area seen, particularly if you are using a wide angle lens on your camera.  That type of problem is illustrated in the image at right.  Note how there’s almost a stripe of darkening.  You can minimize this problem by either zooming in some or changing the  shooting direction.

   A polarizer can add “snap” to nearly any outdoor sunlit scene, be it a sky background or closeups of colorful flowers.  Try it.  I think you’ll see the difference.

   There are a variety of sources for polarizer filters - your local camera store or the the web.  Both Amazon and B&H Photo Video carry a large variety of sizes and brands of polarizers.  If you decided to purchase a polarizer via the links below I get a small consideration.


Thursday, August 23, 2012


  Sometimes we are in with situations in which shots that should be done from a tripod must be done without a tripod.

  The video below, done by a young Brit, shows some examples of "workarounds" for those situations that should be done with a tripod.

  The more-experienced amongst you have probably used one or more of the techniques here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

THE BIG COVERUP (repeated)

[Note:  this is another in a series of postings that were originally hosted by Apple but went away when Apple cancelled]

   Unless you use an armored truck to transport your equipment to shooting site the equipment is probably visible from the outside of your vehicle.  I’m assuming here that if you’re using a car then you may have some equipment in the back and or back seat, or if you’re using an SUV it will be visible through its windows.  Having such equipment in full view of potential thieves is an invitation to disaster.

   I saw this particular tip somewhere on the internet and, having applied it, can recommend it highly.  

  Go to your local fabric shop and buy a couple of yards of some lightweight black cloth.  Use this to cover your equipment and it will prevent “looky loos” from seeing precisely what you have in there.  

  If you have tinted windows like most of us in the southwest have, the equipment covered with the black cloth will be almost invisible to an external observer.  If you have an enclosed van for equipment transport obviously this tip doesn’t apply.

   Otherwise, try it, you’ll like it.

Friday, August 17, 2012


  In a recent blog posting I described a way to improve the holding of the Sony DSC-RX100.  But you're not always able to use the "handle" solution described in that post.

  The small size and smoothness of the RX100 make it easy for it slip out of your hands if you're not careful, particularly if you're holding mainly with your right hand.

  The RX100 has a small raised grip on the rear on which your thumb can rest and which helps grip the camera.  You can see how most people will hold the RX100 in the photos below.

  Most larger cameras have some form of grip also on the front of the camera around which your other fingers can wrap, improving on the grip of the camera.  Unfortunately, the RX100 has no such front grip, which means you must be careful to hold it firmly.

  Fortunately, an inventive photographer named Richard Franiec who is also a photgrapher has come up with a neat solution.  He machines form-fitting add-ons that provide some purchase for your middle finger to help hold the camera firm.

  The following images show the camera on the left without the add-on and on the right with the additional grip installed.

  Both sides of the add-on grip are shown at right.  It is attached to the camera with some 
3M VHB high-strength bonding tape.  This is basically two-sided tape with a very high bonding capability.  The grip comes with the tape applied.  To install the grip the backing is peeled off the tape pieces and the grip carefully fitted to the camera.

  The grip comes with written instructions and the maker provides several close-up pictures of the installation.

  The grip costs $34.95, plus a small shipping charge.  You can order it here.

  The grip doesn't protrude beyond the current depth of the camera so it doesn't reduce the "pocketability" of the camera.

  I've received my grip and successfully installed it.  It really does increase the confidence of hand-holding the camera although Richard recommends the use of the RX100's supplied wrist strap for additional safety.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


  About a year ago I reported on my ever-continuing search for the perfect flashlight.  Even with the variety of flashlights that I reported on at that time I still watch for new developments in flashlights as LED technology progresses.

  Well, Surefire has tempted me again with a new LED flashlight that provides a combination of capabilities that none of my other flashlights provide.

  Their recently-released P2X Fury is a palm-size flashlight that has a maximum light output greater than anything I've seen in a light this small.  It's small enough to carry in your pocket without making all the girls think you are glad to see them.  Or in a woman's purse for night-time defense.

  The photo on the right shows the size of the flashlight in compared to my medium-size hand.

  The amazing thing about this light is that it has a maximum output of 500 lumens!  It puts out a light beam that's essentially as potent as my Fenix TK45 "gorilla" light that is much bigger physically.  (The Fenix is rated at 760 lumens.)  

  I haven't included a light pattern for these two flashlights but a my subjective comparison shows essentially equal brightness. 

  Here's a picture of the Fury next to the TK45.  The Fury uses two CR123 lithium batteries compared to the eight AA lithiums that I use in the TK45.  The TK45 is about the size of a classic two D-cell flashlight.

  The Fury has two light outputs both selectable with a pushbutton at the butt of the flashlight.  The lower level is 15 lumens which is the one you'd use most for normal operations of a flashlight.  But with a quick double-click of the button you get the eye-dazzling 500 lumen beam.

  The Fury has become my "go-to" flashlight for around-the-house use.  I can stick it in my pocket when I walk the dog at night and its available for quick access if needed.  The low level setting is enough for avoiding potholes in the streets around our house and the high level would dazzle any coyote or javelina that we could encounter.  (Yes, we actually have coyotes and javelinas in our central Tucson neighborhood!)

  I put the TK45, that was previously my around-the-house light, in my car for emergency use.  Its four levels of illumination, plus strobe and SOS, gives it great flexibility for such applications.

The Surefire MSRP for the Fury is $155 but it is available at lower cost at Adorama, Amazon, and B&H.  Adorama currently offers free shipping for the light.

  (If you purchase a Fury from one of the links in the previous paragraph I will receive a small consideration.)

NOTE:  If you are more amendment 2 oriented, Surefire has just announced some "tactical" versions of this light.  You can see one of these versions here.P2X Fury™P2X Fury™P2X Fury™

Monday, August 6, 2012


  In recent postings, here and here, I discussed the great new Sony "professional" point-and-shoot digital camera, the DSC-RX100.

  The camera has received rave reviews throughout the internet.  I can attest that I love mine.  It is such a big step forward over even my beloved Sony DSC-HX9/10.  Its controls are much more dSLR-like than any small camera to date.  And it will fit in your pocket.

  Unfortunately, the small size comes at a price.  It is harder to hold steady in critical shooting applications.  Even though it is pocket sized, its outstanding image and video qualities means that it will sometimes be used in critical imaging applications.

  I recently reported on the Schneider iPro Lens System for the iPhone.  One of the great elements of that system was the capability to use the lens case as a handle for the iPhone for enhanced stability and steadiness.

  The use of the lens case as a handle for the iPhone gave me the idea for using it in a similar fashion for the RX100.  It turns out that it is ideal for that application also.  The following video shows how to use it with the RX100.

  Although I was able to use the iPro Lens System case as a handle, the idea for a handle presented in the above video could be implemented with most any camera handle with a suitable mounting.  

  I carry my iPro Lens System in my briefcase so it is virtually always at the ready for use, either with my iPhone or now, the RX100.

  You can see pricing on the iPro Lens System at either Amazon or B&H.

  Likewise you can see pricing of the Sony RX100 at either Amazon or B&H.

  Should you purchase anything at Amazon or B&H via the preceding links I will receive a small compensation that supports this blog.

PS: Most of us that have been in the photo/video business for years have the parts needed to do the above procedure.  But if you are looking for the short 1/4"x20 stud I found a source on eBay from which you can order the studs.  The knurled knob is easier to find at most any camera store or online.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


[Note:  this is another in a series of postings that were originally hosted by Apple but went away when Apple cancelled]

   Many of our shooting venues are dark in the place we have our cameras - churches, theaters, and the like.  A small flashlight will solve the light problem but often we can’t spare a hand with which to hold it.  The pilot community has a similar problem and has come up with a neat solution the problem.

   Here’s a small LED flashlight that mounts right on your finger so you can continue to use your hand for most activities while get the light where you need it.  I keep one of these strapped around my tripod handle so that it’s always available when needed.

   Here are some sources for the light:

Thursday, August 2, 2012


[Note:  this is another in a series of postings that were originally hosted by Apple but went away when Apple cancelled]

  Many of the prosumer video cameras that we use today have a external microphone built into the handle of the unit similar to the Sony HVR-EX1R shown above.  As you have undoubtedly found these microphones can be quite sensitive to the wind when they are used in an outdoors setting.  

  Although in some cases the cameras have user-settable "wind noise reduction" settings that attempt to filter out wind-caused noise they are usually not very effective.

  Here's a technique that can provide even better reduction of the problems caused by the wind.  I toddled on down to my local Radio Shack store and picked up one of their microphone wind protectors normally used on handheld mikes.

  I need the "large" version for my Sony cameras but your mileage may vary, depending on the specifics of your camera.  I have found a definite improvement when using such a wind protector during windy conditions.  I've listed a couple of sources below but your favorite audio shop probably carries a suitable unit.
      If you happen to purchase via these links I'll receive a small compensation.


      Here's a picture of how I used a strip of foam for wind protection on cameras that have built-in, flush, mikes.  In this particular case I glued some Velcro on each end to permit ease of putting it on/taking it off.  But one could just wrap the foam around the edge of the camera and hold it in place with tape.  A commenter below mention the use of insulation foam tape to cover such mikes.