Canon PowerShot G7 X

 

Prior to the recent Photokina in Germany there were many rumours about what products Canon might introduce. On the DSLR front, there was much expectation for a new EOS 7D Mark II, and that wish was granted. I think the surprise of the show (simply because nobody was expecting it before-hand) was the the introduction of the PowerShot G7 X. Following the discussions in camera forums after its introduction, it is clear that the high-end compact is an important camera segment and that this camera in particular may have been the most important release by Canon this year.

The high-end compact camera segment sits somewhere below interchangeable mirrorless cameras and above traditional small-sensor point-and-shoots. I have been shooting with Canon S-series cameras for years (S80, S90, S110) and would describe that series as being in the high-end compact segment. They provide full manual control, have fast, wide lenses, and allow you to save raw files. Sony raised the bar several years ago when they introduced the the famous RX100 with it’s large 1 inch-type sensor. I considered the RX100 when I bought my S110 two years ago, but at more than double the price, I wasn’t sure if it was a piece of equipment I wanted to carry with me on canoe trips, backpacking, skiing, or on slightly dodgy travel forays. I went with the S110 and love the pictures and usability of that camera (I also have an EOS M so I have a larger sensor and better lenses when I need them and still in a fairly compact package — no amateur needs a mirrored DSLRs).

When the G7 X was introduced I was immediately intrigued. For the past two or three years the point-and-shoot category has been dying a speedy death due to competition from smartphones. However, for me there will probably always be a place for a quality manual compact camera. Unless the physics of the universe are altered, smartphones will just never a have room for a fast zoom lens and a sensor larger than the head of a pin. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the camera in my iPhone 5 — not to mention the 5S and 6-series — especially with the addition of more manual control in iOS 8.)

The G7X is clearly designed to compete head-to-head with the latest edition of the the RX100 III. The rumour is that it even uses uses the same Sony-built 20.2 megapixel sensor. Couple that large sensor, with an amazing Canon lens with image stabilization, the DiG!C 6 processor with 6-frames per second shooting capability, a tilting screen, and cram all that into a body that is not much larger than the S120, and you are going to have a winner.

Of course I am not the first to review the G7 X, so I won’t cover what others have already said. Instead, I’ll highlight some of the key differences compared to the RX100 (good and bad, based on my very limited hands-on experience) and note some of my favourite features.

The first thing you will notice when handling the the G7 X is that clicky-ness of the large front control ring. While some may enjoy the positive detent action of the ring, forget about using this noise-maker while shooting video. I feel that Canon could have made the click action less aggressive. Based on my experience with the S110, I doubt it will become smoother over time. This may be a deal breaker for some potential buyers. The RX100 front control ring is smooth as butter in comparison. I don’t shoot video, and like other reviewers I prefer some positive detent action in the control ring.

The G7 X does not have an electronic view-finder (EVF). The RX100 does and it seems pretty darn nice. Again, for some buyers this will be the deciding factor. I haven’t looked through a viewfinder in 5 years. I do 90% of my shooting outside (70% of that around water or on snow). While an EVF would be brighter than a naked LCD screen, especially in daylight conditions, squinting through a little hole taking pictures is not my kind of fun, so the EVF is more of a nice-to-have than an important feature for me.

The G7 X screen tilts up 180°. This is great for low angle shots and (god forbid) selfies. I keep wanting it to tilt down too, so I can compose while holding the camera up high, but it doesn’t. I’ll get over it. The RX100 screen tilts both up and down. This is great, though the Canon hinge mechanism is much, much, much simpler and seems less likely to be damaged. The G7 X also has a touchscreen (the RX 100 does not). Try entering a Wifi password with a dial versus the touchscreen keyboard and you’ll realize how valuable this feature is.

The G7 X includes an exposure compensation dial under the mode dial. I love this feature when shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes. The S-series has always had an exposure compensation button which gave one-click access to this feature. The RX100 has a button as well. A dedicated dial is even better though.

By all accounts the Canon lens on the G7 X is fantastic, and my own tests so far confirm this. It has a longer zoom range that the RX100, extending from an equivalent 24 mm to 100 mm. The aperture varies from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/2.8 depending on the focal length which is nice and fast even at 100 mm. Variable aperture lenses are not all created equal. Sometimes they stop down to smaller apertures fairly early in the zoom range. Not so with the G7 X. I saw a chart, which of course I cannot find now, which compares the maximum equivalent apertures at various focal lengths across the high-end compact segment — the G7 X is the clear winner in this spec compared to the RX100. Couple the zoom range and the fast aperture with image stabilization and the low-noise CMOS sensor and you get great photos even in very low light situations.

[table th=”1″]
Zoom range and maximum aperture
24 mm,f/1.8
35 mm,f/2.2
50 mm,f/2.5
85 mm,f/2.8
[/table]

For me the deciding factor when choosing between the RX100 III and the G7 X was Canon’s superior interface usability. Canon’s button and menu system are highly refined. Everything is there when you need it and hidden when you don’t. Button and front control ring functions are highly customizable. Even the icons shown on the settings screen can be moved or hidden (e.g., I never change the compression level so I don’t need to see that setting, ever). While I don’t have a tonne of experience with other camera brands, I have used some that have downright atrocious menu systems. The Rx100 seems very customizable, but Canon is consistently reviewed as having some of the best ergonomics and usability. The touchscreen helps in this regard. And, the fact is, I can pick up any Canon camera and use it’s most basic or most advanced features with out any sort of learning curve. I want shooting to be fun and intuitive. If something is annoying, I won’t use it. End of story.

I can highly recommend the Canon G7 X. You really should also look at the Sony RX100 III. Sony pioneered the 1 inch-type sensor high-end compact segment and it is about time that Canon stepped into the ring. The G7 X and RX100 are both fully-capable manual cameras. If this segment is for you and you are in the market for a new camera, simply buy the one that feels the best in your hands and go out there and shoot something.

Summary

[table th=”0″]
Item,Canon PowerShot G7 X
Price,C$750
Pros,”wide and fast lens, large sensor, compact body, customizable, touchscreen, ergonomics”
Cons,”aggressive detents in front control dial, lack of EVF”
Summary,”Finally, a competitor to Sony’s venerable Rx100 series, with an even better lens. If you are a serious amateur looking for a compact manual camera, this could be the one. Long live high-end compacts.”
Rating,[rating=5]
[/table] 

Samples

Some sample images taken over the first few days with the G7 X.

Manual this, auto that

I think the portraits, hands, coffee, rocks, and Rocky Mountain Ash leaves were shot in full manual mode with auto-focus. The flower vase was shot in manual mode with manual focus and focus bracketing. The grass and berries were shot full manual with manual focus. The red leaf bush in front of the gold leaf bush was shot with the in-camera HDR mode — some ghosting is visible due to branches moving in the wind.

ISO

Most images were shot between 125 and 320 ISO. The coffee and leaves on a wooden table were shot at 1600 ISO. The flower vase was shot at 6400 ISO.

White-balance

The hands and the first portrait were shot with “cloudy” white-balance. The coffee through to the last portrait were shot with auto white-balance (I would prefer most of them to be a bit warmer). The ash leaves and flower vase were shot with daylight white-balance (even though they were not taken in direct sunlight).

JPEG

Though I shot RAW+JPEG, these images are all taken straight from the JPEG versions imported into iPhoto (except for the coffee shot which had some manual adjustments applied to recover some shadow detail and tweak the colour balance).

Fun With GPS

Today I went for a walk in at Fish Creek Provincial Park with a friend and I brought my GPS receiver (GPSr) along. I almost always run my GPSr when walking, cycling, or canoeing — even in familiar areas. My friend was curious so I shared my thoughts on GPS, the benefits of non-commercial maps and my enthusiasm for geocaching, geotagging, navigation, athletic training, etc.

I wanted to share today’s GPS track and data with my friend. I thought I would make it even more useful by sharing it here, as I think it is a good explanation of why I like using a GPS to record my adventures (no matter how close-to-home or seemingly insignificant).

Fish Creek - Trees Fish Creek - Cattails

Cheap GPS

When I first bought my GPS, I made it a goal not to pay for maps. I had three reasons for this:

  1. commercial maps are expensive (and, from what I have heard, often not very good quality);
  2. I believe that map data from government sources should be freely available to citizens (i.e., it was already paid for with taxes);
  3. Open Source maps, updated and prepared by millions of people, are better than most commercial maps, and more up-to-date than most government data.

Free and Almost Free Maps

I have a Garmin eTrex 30 GPSr and use the following free maps:

I also subscribe to openmtbmap.org because I think the operator does a worthwhile service packaging up OpenStreetMap based mountain biking maps.

My wife just complete a canoe trip along the Gulf coast in the Florida’s Everglades National Park. Before she left I found a free Florida topographic map that contained depth soundings for the area she was going to be in. Just today I discover OpenSeaMap, an open source initiative to provide free global nautical charts — they have Garmin downloads, but I haven’t tried them out yet. Looks interesting.

Of course, each map source provides different features. There is no ideal map — the best map to use will depend on your activity.

(Not strictly GPS related, but I today I also discovered OpenWeatherMap — an Open Source weather mapping initiative. See the embedded sample at the bottom of this post. Just yesterday I completed the build of a Phidgets-based weather station. I will have to look at OpenWeatherMap in more depth.)

BaseCamp - Global Base Map
Global Base Map
BaseCamp - Ibycus Topo 3.2
Ibycus Topo 3.2
BaseCamp - OpenMTB Map
OpenMTB Map
BaseCamp - OSM Cycle Map
OSM Cycle Map
BaseCamp - OSM Generic
OSM Generic
BaseCamp - Southern Alberta Tail Maps
Southern Alberta Tail Maps

Track Data

As you can see in the above screen shots, once you get home it is easy to review the GPS track (recording of where you went with the GPSr), but what else can you do with such a track? Well, I like to take a look at the speed and elevation plots of the track just to get a sense of of my performance, especially after a bike ride. I don’t use my GPSr as a religious training tool, though a lot of athletes do. I also use the track data to geotag any photos I take on my adventures. I use PhotoLinker to merge my track location data with any un-geotagged photos. In the case of today’s walk, I only shot a few photos with my iPhone, so those were already geotagged by the camera.

Here is the track data from today’s walk:

  • GPX (GPS Exchange format — compatible with most GPS receivers and software)
  • KML (Google Earth file)

(Note: Below, the second spike in the Speed graph up to 8 km/h, is me sliding on my butt down a frozen, mossy, leaf covered hill in the trees then coming to a sudden stop with my feet against a log just before I would have hit a tree. The dangers of walking on icy, north facing trails never ends. The subsequent lull in movement for 15 minutes is my GPSr sitting idle under the aforementioned log while my friend and I continued our walk, unaware that the GPSr had been ripped off my belt. When I realized it was missing we knew exactly where to look for it. Previously, I always carried my GPSr in a pocket or in my pack, and I will do so from now on. The first spike might be an error, because I don’t ever remember running that fast — and I only fell down a hill once.)

Graph Plot - Track Points
Track Points
Graph Plot - Speed
Speed
Graph Plot - Elevation
Elevation

Geocaching

Geocaching is a great way to get familiar with a new GPSr. If you expect your GPSr to save your butt on a glacier in a whiteout, then its use better be like second-nature to you. Geocaching is also a fun hobby in its own right. When I go looking for geocaches I always learn something new about an area — wether it is half-way around the globe or in my own back yard — even if I don’t actually find the cache I am looking for (which happens quite often). Today, I didn’t have geocaches in Fish Creek Park loaded on my GPSr, so I just used the Geocaching iOS app, which is a great place to start if you just want to try out geocaching but don’t own a dedicated GPSr.

Geocaching iOS App

I Heart GPS

I’ve written a bit more about GPS in the past, so feel free to review those ramblings if you are so interested.

I Heart My GPS Button

[osm_map lat=”50.999″ long=”-113.995″ zoom=”6″ width=”600″ height=”450″ type=”OpenWeatherMap”]

GPS Drawing

Last year, after I started geotagging my photos, I did a few visual art projects combining photography and GPS technology. I am fascinated by maps, how we imagine the world around us, how we communicated that world to others, etc.

A GPS receiver (including many smartphone apps) can record a GPS track — that is, a series of linked points recorded at regular intervals or distances as you move. Normally, these tracks are used for navigation — record where you have been so you can later retrace your route and thus find your way back home. These track files are also good for post-adventure analysis. Your can plot your speed, heading, elevation, etc. You can also use the point data in the track to geotag your photos so that you, and others, can see exactly where a particular photo was taken.

Beyond their practical uses, however, GPX tracks, when displayed as a line on a map, have an aesthetic value as well. They are a virtual mark on the land — the mark of an adventurer expressing some desire to explore. In this way they are not unlike the marks an artist makes on paper or canvas. Lines creating shapes, outlining objects, representing barriers overcome or avoided. Lines demarcating space and time. Tracings and recordings of life.

A Walk In The Park

After a long walk at Bowness Park last March, I overlaid photographs I had taken with the abstract and graphically rich tracings of my GPS tracks. Typically, one displays geo-located photos on a map — saying “this is where these photos were taken.”

But the map is not the terrain. The map is not the location.

Instead, I am displaying the map (in the form of the track overlay) on the photo. This gives the photo context. The image exists in concert with — because of — my movement across the land.

IMG_0977 TrackIMG_0985 Track
IMG_0990 TrackIMG_1008 Track

Photo Walking

The other project I started, is a series of large scale conceptual drawings. By walking a path across the land tracing the shape of a word, I am making visible some thought, some meditative idea. The word — the path — is not visible to others even though it’s creation is a very concrete act. However, by capturing the path in the form of a GPS track, I am able to share the act with others. The track image, is combined with photos taking during the walk so the viewer can experience the original event.

Winter

Winter - West

Winter - Map

Winter - East

Home

Home - Up

Home - Map

Home - Down

Computer Monitor Colour Calibration

I’m pretty picky about colour. I spend a lot of time fine-tuning my colour management workflow from camera to print. Of course making sure you have well calibrated devices is a critical step in ensuring colour accuracy. But what is calibration? Calibration is the process of tweaking your camera or scanner, monitor, and printer to consistently represent an image to the best of the equipment’s abilities within your viewing environment. I’ve dealt with digital camera calibration in the past. Today I will focus on the next link in the chain — computer monitor colour calibration.

Monitor Calibration Primer

While I will try to make this article as simple as possible, I do assume a certain familiarity with colour calibration terminology. I will deal only with LCD displays, because discussing CRT displays would be like learning about horse carriages in an automotive class — CRT technology is so 20th century. I also place the caveat that I only work with OS X operating systems and Apple Cinema Displays. While these procedures can certainly be transferred to other operating systems and display manufacturers, you will have to figure that out on your own.

Of course, computer monitor calibration has been dealt with by numerous articles in the past. Therefore I will focus on techniques or concepts which I think are novel, unique to my workflow, and helpful to others. Specifically, I will show you how to use your digital camera to assist with monitor calibration. I also touch on using Philips Hue lights to tailor your workspace lighting.

There seem to be two schools of thought regarding monitor calibration. One school says you should be setting up your monitor to match some theoretical viewing standard. The other school says you should be setting up your monitor to work well in the ambient lighting of your environment. I stand firmly in the latter school for two reasons: one, you can much more easily evaluate prints if your monitor matches the ambient light conditions of your workspace; and two, I find there is much less eye strain if your monitor is not excessively bright or dim compared to the ambient light and if the overall monitor colour temperature is as close as possible to the room ambient colour temperature. I will therefore show you how to achieve a calibration which matches your monitor to your work environment.

Calibrated versus Uncalibrated
Calibrated (left) versus Uncalibrated (right). Ambient brightness = 40 cd/m2. Monitor brightness = 60 cd/m2

There are four primary variables that can be adjusted in relation to monitor calibration: brightness or luminance (both minimum and maximum); white point (temperature in degrees kelvin); gamma (overal output curve); and individual red, green, and blue colour response curves.

The monitor manufacturer’s default settings (based partly on ISO standards ISO 3664:2009 and ISO 12646:20081) are usually a maximum luminance between 80 and 120 candela,  a white point temperature of 5000K or 6500K, and a gamma of 2.2. 6500K is the approximate colour temperature of noon-day summer sky lighting. A luminance value of 120 cd is equivalent to an average home interior.

The target gamma of 2.2 matches the sRGB specification which is the default colour space use by most cameras and HD televisions and is therefore probably the most appropriate choice.2

Throwing Out The Rulebook – Sort Of

For those rare people whose workspace is lit by dim daylight (an oxymoron to be sure) the manufacturer’s default will probably be fine. For everyone else, some tweaking, or even major adjustments to these defaults is required. Remember, calibration is about getting things to look consistent in your work environment. In order to do this you need to understand two things about your environment. One, how bright is your work area, and two, what is the colour temperature of the ambient light in your work area.

If you are a photographer and are selling or displaying prints of your work, then I would start by trying to set up your work environment to match the conditions most commonly found where your prints are shown. If you sell in a gallery, then create a bright space using the same types of lights that the gallery uses. If you hang your prints in your living room to share with friends and family, then match your office/studio lighting to that of your living room. Matching room lighting to the display area is not critical to the monitor calibration process, but it makes print evaluation much easier — you will be viewing your fresh prints under the same conditions as they will be displayed.

If you don’t do much printing, or if your prints will be displayed in a wide range of environments, then just set up the lighting around your computer so you are comfortable — moderately bright with standard incandescent lighting (or better yet, make the switch to LED).

If you primarily work on a laptop computer and in several different locations, then do the calibration under the most common working conditions.

Now, most of us are not going to end up with a 6500K work space illuminated by 120 candela worth of ambient lighting.

In my small home office, for instance, the two 60 watt tungsten bulbs in the diffuse ceiling fixture produce about 40 candela — nowhere near the standard 120 cd. If I set my monitor luminance to output white at 120 cd I would probably go blind from the brightness of the monitor compared to the ambient light.

On the other hand, an ambient brightness of 40 cd is quite dim. Setting the monitor luminance to 40 cd would also be problematic because LCD displays tend to have quite bad colour accuracy at lower brightness settings. I can dial my Cinema Displays down to 40 cd, but I loose about 10% of the sRGB gamut in doing so. The monitors also exhibit visible colour artifacts at this setting.

What to do? I started by adding several more incandescent bulbs in lamp fixtures throughout the room. I was aiming for a nice diffuse light with a luminance of about 60 cd.

The colour temperature of my office lighting was also nowhere near the 6500K default. In fact, using the Custom White Balance feature of my digital camera and the neutral card off my X-rite ColorChecker Passport, I measured the colour temperature of my office as 2300K under tungsten lighting. This is quite a warm (amber) colour. In fact it is quite warm compared to the ~2800K usually expected from 60 W tungsten incandescent lightbulbs. I attributed the warmth to three factors — the colour of the diffuser glass on the light fixture, the warm eggshell tone of the “white” walls, and reflections off the light birch wood furnishings.

Now, I would not mind matching my monitors to 2300K. I have the window mostly covered, keeping out excess sunlight, and thereby reducing colour temperature variation. However, the DataColor Spyder4 software that I use for monitor calibration only allows a minimum target white point value of 3000K. Using this setting, my monitors were still slightly blue compared to the room light, though much better than a setting of 6500K or even 5800K (the colour temperature of noon-day summer sun with out the influence of blue sky). However, after running my monitors calibrated to a white point of 3000K I was unsatisfied. The Apple Cinema Displays produced too many artifacts at this temperature. Still images and video displayed properly, but scrolling text exhibited a dreadful red ghosting that was just unacceptable.

In other words, you are unlikely to be able to properly calibrate a monitor to match the colour temperature of pure incandescent tungsten lighting.

In the end I swapped my tungsten bulbs with Philips Hue LED lights which can have their colour adjusted. I have played around with several colour temperatures and settled on 4800K (Hue’s Energize setting) as an acceptable compromise between warm home interior lighting and excessively blue daylight.

Calibrating Your Computer Monitor To Match Your Workspace Ambient Lighting Conditions

Calibrating your monitor to match your workspace ambient lighting conditions is a simple process requiring few specialized tools. In summary, you will: evaluate the brightness and colour temperature of your workspace lighting using your digital camera; calibrate your monitor using the measured settings; and double-check that the calibrated monitor matches your workspace lighting, again using your digital camera.

You will need:

  • a digital camera with custom white balance function (the ability to create a custom white balance from a photo, not just by entering degrees kelvin), histogram, manual and aperture priority modes, and the ability to save RAW files;
  • photo editing/viewing software which allows you to review the colour temperature setting stored in a RAW file (such as Adobe Camera Raw);
  • a grey card or white balance card (neutral photo card);
  • a bright white piece of paper (may be used in place of neutral photo card); and,
  • monitor calibration hardware and software that will accept white point and brightness/luminance target values (you could also us OS X’s built-in assistant)

Preparation:

  • Turn on your computer monitor and allow it to warm up at least 1/2 hour before starting the calibration. You can perform the workspace set-up and evaluation steps in the meantime.

Procedure:

Workspace Set-up

  • Turn on the room lights and allow them to warm up.
  • Your workspace should be moderately bright — not candlelight dim and not daylight glaring.
  • Try to avoid too much window light as this will cause the brightness and colour of the ambient light to vary too much throughout the day.
  • For more efficient lighting, neutral white walls and ceilings are preferred.
  • Do not allow bright direct light to fall on the monitor surface. Overall diffuse lighting is best.
  • I personally prefer and recommend a dark neutral virtual desktop background for all photographers and graphic designers.

Workspace Lighting Evaluation

Workspace Brightness Evaluation

Turn on your camera with the the following settings:

  • live view on (preferred)
  • histogram on
  • RAW image capture on
  • white balance appropriate for your workspace (probably tungsten or custom)
  • aperture priority mode
  • ISO 100
  • aperture ƒ/5.6
  1. Use your camera to take a meter reading of the area in front of our computer (around the keyboard). This will give you an idea of the ambient light levels. You can use trust your camera’s evaluative metering mode for this, or you can meter the light falling on a grey card. Check the exposure with the camera histogram — there should be no clipping of the highlights or blacks. Do not allow the computer monitor to cast a strong light on the metered area during this step. If required, temporarily cover the monitor with a neutral coloured shirt or towel.
  2. Compare the metered shutter speed with the following list.
    • 2 sec., 4EV, 40 cd/m2, dim, candle light
    • 1 sec., 5EV, 80 cd/m2, low, night home interior
    • 1/2 sec., 6EV, 160 cd/m2, medium, bright home interior
    • 1/4 sec., 7EV, 320 cd/m2, high, indoor sports stadium
    • 1/8 sec., 8EV, 640 cd/m2, very high, very bright interior with fluorescent lights

You need enough light to achieve a shutter speed between 1 second and 1/8 of a second. Outside this range and your monitor will not be able to match the ambient light levels. You can either add more lights and do the evaluation again, or accept that your monitor brightness will differ front the ambient brightness and simply continue to step the Workspace Colour Temperature Evaluation step.

Calibration - Ambient Brightness

In this example, my camera is reading 2 seconds at ƒ/5.6 and ISO 100 (4EV or 40 cd/m2). Obviously my workspace is still quite dim and I would have a hard time matching my monitor luminance to the ambient brightness.

Workspace Colour Temperature Evaluation

For this evaluation you will use the same camera settings as above, but you will have to increase the ISO to 3200 or 6400 in order to capture a photograph without excessive camera shake (or use a tripod). You can also change the metering mode to manual if you prefer.

  1. Once again, meter the area around your keyboard.
  2. Place your neutral photo card or piece of paper on your keyboard, again taking precautions to prevent monitor light from casting on this area.
  3. Use your camera’s custom white balance function to get a white balance reading from the card/paper. The custom white balance procedure varies by manufacturer and I will leave it to you to figure out. Once you have the custom white balance set, if your camera displays the colour temperature in degrees Kelvin then you can skip the next step.
  4. Take a photo with the custom white balance. It doesn’t matter what is in the frame — you just need to record the colour temperature in a photograph so you can retrieve it. To that end, make sure you are shooting in RAW mode. Load the RAW file into your photo viewer/editor and note the colour temperature that was used.

Calibration - Ambient White Balance

Will the measured colour temperature work with your monitor? A measurement between 4000K and 6500K should be fine. If the reading is below this range then the monitor probably will suffer colour artifacts of some sort. This is sad, because in my experience home lighting is usually in the 2600K to 3500K range. Office lighting is probably in the 3400K to 6500K range. Why manufacturers can’t or won’t make a monitor that is capable of good performance in the home office environment I do not know. If your ambient colour temperature is below 3500K you have three choices: 1) calibrate your monitor to the ambient colour temperature and see if the colour performance is acceptable to you; 2) calibrate to a higher/cooler colour temperature and accept that your monitor and ambient light will not match (print evaluation will be more difficult); 3) change the colour of your ambient lighting by switching to “cool white” tungsten bulbs, switching to halogen lighting, or using colour changing LED lights like Philips Hue (you need a bulb that produces a good “white”).

Some common colour temperatures:

  • 2800K = 60 watt incandescent tungsten bulb
  • 3200K = halogen
  • 3400K = photoflood
  • 4800K = daylight blue photoflood
  • 5400K = average summer sunlight at noon
  • 6500K = average summer sunlight with the effect of the blue sky
  • 8000K = summer shade on a blue sky day

Hue recipe colour temperatures:

  • Relax = 2200K
  • Reading = 2800K
  • Concentrate = 3700K
  • Energize = 4800K

I am currently using Philips Hue bulbs in my office with one of the standard Philips recipes — Energize — which has a measured temperature of about 4800K.

Monitor Calibration

Spyder4Elite 4.5.6

If your workspace ambient light brightness and colour temperature are in an acceptable range, then you can move on to calibrating your monitor.

Launch your calibration software and follow the on screen instructions. Use whatever mode allows you to set a target white balance and target brightness/luminance.

Display Calibrator AssistantIn my case I am using Spyder4Elite and I set the target white point to 4800K and the target white luminance to 60 candela (brighter than my room, but the darkest my monitor will tolerate) in the Expert Console (see the screenshot). Alternatively, you can use the calibration tool in the Displays panel in System Preferences (turn on Expert Mode) on OS X. In my experience a hardware calibrator is easier to use and more accurate, but visual calibration using Apple’s Display Calibrator Assistant is acceptable.

Calibrated with Spyder4Calibrated with Display Calibrator Assistant

The left monitor shows the Spyder4 result. The right monitor shows the Display Calibrator Assistant result — slightly warm.

Calibration evaluation

Now it is time to evaluate the results of calibrating your monitor to your workspace ambient light conditions.

Calibration Brightness Evaluation
  1. Open an empty document on your monitor. You can use an empty word processing document or empty Photoshop document. What you want is a pure white background that fills most of the monitor. Another option is to set your desktop background temporarily to solid white.
  2. Point your camera towards the white part of the monitor and adjust the exposure settings so the camera histogram peak corresponding to the monitor white is near, but not touching, the right edge of the histogram.
  3. Now place a piece of white paper in front of the monitor or on your keyboard.
  4. Maintaining the camera exposure settings, point the camera so that both the white document on the monitor and white piece of paper are in the frame.
  5. Compare where the highlight peaks occur in the camera histogram. Ideally, the computer screen maximum brightness and paper maximum brightness should coincide. If the peak from the paper occurs somewhere between the middle of the histogram on the left and the monitor white spike on the right, then this is probably still acceptable, though your monitor is slightly brighter than the ambient light. If the paper is brighter than the monitor, then something went wrong during calibration and you need to start over. If the paper spike appears to the left of the mid-point of the histogram, then the contrast between the monitor and ambient brightness is quite high and will likely lead to eye fatigue and difficulty evaluating prints.

Calibration - Ambient Brightness Confirmation

Calibration Colour Temperature Evaluation
  1. Place a colourful photographic print or colour chart of some sort on your keyboard. I use the Xrite ColorChecker Passport for this step. Any card or photo with a broad spectrum of colours will suffice.
  2. Photograph the colour sample using the same camera settings as in the Workspace Colour Temperature Evaluation step and the measured ambient colour temperature/white balance setting.
  3. Load the colour sample photograph you captured in step 2 into your photo viewer/editor software. Expand the image to fill the monitor.
  4. Take one final photograph framing both the physical colour sample on your desk and the virtual colour sample photograph displayed on your monitor in step 3. Base the exposure settings on the brightness of the monitor image.
  5. There should be little if any colour cast between the physical sample and the virtual one. If the room ambient brightness is lower than the monitor brightness then the physical sample will be darker — too dark and it will be difficult to evaluate any colour differences (this is the same trouble you will encounter when trying to evaluate prints!) If the room and monitor brightnesses are quite close then your eyes should actually have difficulty determine which sample was on the desk and which one was on displayed on the monitor. If you set the calibration target white point to the same as the measured white balance, but the virtual sample and physical sample colours differ significantly, then something went wrong somewhere and you will have to start over.

Calibration - Temperature Evaluation without brightness difference

Conclusion

It should be apparent that using your digital camera to assist in monitor calibration has a few benefits. It is a readily accessible tool for measuring both brightness and colour temperature. Today’s photographic sensors are very good, but they are still not as adaptive or dynamic as the human eye. This is actually a benefit in this case, as the photographic image captured by your camera can highlight brightness and colour differences between the ambient workspace light and your computer monitor for which your brain might simply compensate.

Philips Hue lights seem to be a good, if expensive, way to tailor your workspace lighting conditions. They are high quality LED bulb and if you are making the switch to LED you might as well pay the extra money to get a much more advanced lighting system. I already had Hue installed in parts of my home and was planning to switch over my office lighting anyway. It is easy to set up different light recipes and to switch between them while you tailor your workspace lighting.



1. http://www.metalvortex.com/chart/

2. sRGB is based in part on the output capabilities of CRT televisions, the most common display technology at the time of sRGB’s introduction. CRTs did not have a particularly large gamut and therefore could not represent a very wide range of colours. AdobeRGB is a much larger colour space, which many cameras are capable of shooting. If you are primarily producing prints within your own studio environment then you might want to investigate switching to AdobeRGB throughout your workflow. This will however cause some colour compression when you go to display images on the Internet because the vast majority of web browsers assume sRGB images. Some web browsers, such as Safari, will respect embedded colour profiles, but embedding colour profiles increases the image file size and therefore load times. It is also a gamble whether or not photo sharing websites will maintain the embedded profiles when creating thumbnail images. For these reasons, I stick with the inferior, but painless, sRGB colour space throughout my workflow.

A Walk In The Park

I went for a walk at Bowness Park yesterday. Bowness Park is a major regional park in Calgary. In the mid-twentieth century it was part of the small village of Bowness and was a weekend getaway for city dwellers looking for some rest and relaxation. In 1963, the village and the park were merged into the growing metropolis. The park remains a relaxing destination.

The main park is covered by manicured lawns, open forests, walking paths, picnic areas, and a well-known lagoon. Adjacent to the park is the Bowness Forest, a wild and natural treed land clinging to a precipitous hillside adjacent to the Bow River.

The natural area is home to one of two stands of Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir trees in Calgary — the eastern most stands of this magnificent conifer species. The Bowness grove, known officially as Wood’s Douglas Fir Tree Sanctuary, is a provincial Heritage Place listed in the Alberta Heritage Registry:

The inland variety of the Rocky Mountain Douglas fir is a majestic, imposing tree; the largest species of tree in Alberta, it can measure over 1 metre in diameter and rise up to 45 metres tall. With a potential lifespan of up to 400 years, the Rocky Mountain Douglas fir tree is also one of the most enduring tree species in Alberta. Some trees in the sanctuary are several centuries old.

On the very chilly second day of Spring, 2013, I made the grove of Douglas Fir trees my destination. I have started a project to locate and photography the Calgary trees listed as Heritage Trees by the Heritage Tree Foundation of Alberta, and these Douglas Fir Trees are on this list. So, with fairly rough GPS co-ordinates (the trees are discernible in Google satellite images), I headed into the park to explore, enjoy nature, and snap a few pictures.

Having spent most of my childhood free-time roaming wild in the Bowness forest I knew that it was dense and dark place. I knew that nothing but an ultra-wide lens would be capable of capturing the entirety of the massive Douglas Firs. However, I wanted to travel light so I just took my iPhone 5 and ōlloclip 3-in-1 fisheye/wide-angle/macro adapter. As It turns out, the space is so confined and the trees are so large that there really is no way to photography the entirety of these trees.

Bowness Park is currently undergoing renovations and the nearest parking lot is quite far from the Doulas Fir grove. That is for the best I suppose. I got a lot of nice shots walking to and from the grove, so I was happy.

The Douglas Fir trees appear in photos 23 to 29, and 31.

 

[osm_map lat=”51.097″ long=”-114.228″ zoom=”16″ width=”600″ height=”450″ gpx_file=”” map_border=”thin solid black” marker_file=”https://springerphotographics.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/bowness-park1.txt” control=”scaleline,mouseposition” theme=”dark” type=”Mapnik”]

 

Photographic Geotagging and Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver Hacks

My Motivation

iPhoto on iPhone Map View
Map view in iPhoto on iPhone

I blame my father in-law. He keeps dissing the iPhone’s geotagging functions. Apparently, on his Android phone, it is easier to see where a photo was taken. Alas, this appears to be true.

On iOS, in the built-in Photos app you can choose Places and see all your photos on a map, but you can’t do the reverse (i.e., choose a photo and see it on a map). You have to install Apple’s iPhoto for iOS ($4.99CAD) to get the ability to click on a photo to see it on a map (see screenshot to the right).

Fathers, like customers, are always right.

The problem is, he got me interested in geotagging. Geotagging is something I have casually investigated before, but not something I got into seriously. I have become intrigued and after some intensive goofing around I spent the last week compiling what I now know about geotagging. Enjoy!

[toc]

How-to Geotag Photos

To paraphrase the clerk at my camera store, GPS tagging of photos is still in its infancy. While not really true (geotagging has been going on since the dawn of smartphones) geotagging falls under the category of “techy” at the moment. It should be more ubiquitous, but the technology is not as prevalent, or easy to use, as it should be. In the current state you have several geotagging options to explore.

Drag-and-drop Geotagging

The simplest, but perhaps the least inviting way to geotag is the drag-and-drop method. First, you need software that lets you drag photos onto a map (Flickr has this feature, as do Google’s Picasa and Apple’s iPhoto).

To geotag a photo, simply navigate the software’s map to the location where a photo was taken, drag the photo onto the map, and the software writes the geolocation data for that location into the photo. Do this for all your photos and you will be able to explore them on a map.

Flickr drag-and-drop geotagger
Flickr drag-and-drop geotagger

Their are two downsides to this method. One, it takes some time to do. Two, it is error prone. Many people (not me) are not very spatially aware and might have trouble remembering exactly where a photo was taken. Also, do you drag the photo onto the location where the photographer was standing (e.g., somewhere along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris), or the location of the photograph’s subject (e.g., the Arc de Triomphe)?

Additionally, if you use a photo site (such as Flickr) to geotag your photos, then your original photos (presumably backed up on your computer) will not be geotagged.

Smartphone Photography

Of course mobile phones and tablets almost all geotag by default. They have either built-in GPS receivers, use Wifi to mimic global position (WPS), or combine these two approaches. If you haven’t played around with your geotagged mobile photos then this is a good place for you to start exploring. Try using iPhoto’s Places feature.

GPS-equipped Cameras

GPS-enabled Panasonic CameraThis should be the future of geotagging. Every camera should have a built-in GPS receiver and Wifi. These microchips are cheap.

Currently, there are several dozen consumer-grade cameras with built-in GPS. The main concern with using built-in GPS seems to be deteriorated battery life.

My wife has a Panasonic waterproof camera with GPS, but we never use that function for fear of depleting the camera’s battery. She uses the camera primarily on canoe trips and a battery recharge could be days, or even a week away.

Buil-in GPS is the simplest option though and is really the only viable option for the average consumer.

(If you use Eye-Fi Wifi-enabled SD cards you can take advantage of WPS geotagging, which in urban areas is going to be almost as accurate as GPS. Outside of urban areas, or away from any wireless access points, WPS geotagging will not work.)

Combination of Camera and External GPS Receiver

If your camera does not have a built-in GPS receiver then you can still geotag your photos with the help of  an external GPS receiver (logger). This is more cumbersome than having built-in GPS, but more accurate than manually geotagging with the drag-and-drop method.

I’ll break down this method into two categories: using your GPS equipped cellphone as a logger, or using a stand-alone GPS receiver (i.e., a receiver that is not also a web browser, email client, and espresso maker).

Smartphone GPS Logger

GPS Tracks iPhone Logger

I can quite easily do geotagging with my iPhone and my Wifi Canon PowerShot S110 via Canon’s CameraWindow iOS app. All I need to do is start the geo logging function in CameraWindow and then go shoot some photos. When done shooting, I stop geo logging, connect my iPhone and PowerShot S110 via Wifi, and tell CameraWindow to tag all the new photos on the camera. Done.

Canon’s Camera Window app for iOS, which works with their Wifi-capable cameras, has a major flaw — you cannot export your geo location log. You can only tag photos that are on your Canon camera by connecting it to the iPhone via Wifi after generating a log. I can’t, for example, use the CameraWindow app to tag photos from my EOS M.

GPSPhotoLinker GPS Data Viewer
GPSPhotoLinker GPS Data Viewer

Thankfully, there are other apps available that geo log and allow you to export your logs. I’ve been trying out Geotag Photos Pro. The app’s logger fits in the functional category — full featured but not pretty. (The same company’s off-line desktop Java app for marrying the log data with your photos blows chunks. Their on-line version of the app is even scarier. Avoid them.)

After you create your log, you need to do something with it. The workflow generally looks like this: log with your smartphone while you take some photos; export the log to your computer (usually via email); and, on your computer run the log and your photos through some software to automatically geotag your photos.

Most logging apps export logs in standard GPX (GPS eXchange) format so you can use them in whatever software you choose. Adobe Lightroom has a geotagging feature that supports GPX logs. I currently use Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw for my workflow, neither of which natively support geotagging. I did find a plug-in script for Bridge by photographer Yagor Korzh that accepts GPX logs as input. It is no frills, but it seems to work fine in the few tests I ran. However, on OS X, I’ve settled on GPSPhotoLinker as my third-party geotagging software.

Traveling, which I have been doing a lot of recently, plus photography, just screams for geotagging. I almost always have an iPhone and a camera with me wherever I go, so I would like this geotagging method to work for me.

Apps that use GPS for extended periods have a tendency to deplete your phone battery rather quickly. When I am travelling I just never know when I might be able to recharge, so phone battery conservation is a high-priority. Thus, I have not used this method extensively in the real world.

This method also requires that you remember to start and stop logging. It seems like a lot of work.

(Here is a quick travel tip: charge your iPhone faster with Apple’s larger and more powerful 12 watt USB power adaptor (the kind that comes with the iPad) rather than with the slower 5 watt iPhone-standard power adaptor. Make the most of those few minutes in the airport boarding lounge. Carry the larger adaptor and you’ll also be ready to save a fellow traveller with an iPad in need of juice.)

Stand-alone or Dedicated GPS Receiver/Logger

Canon GP-E2 GPS ReceiverIf your camera does not have built-in GPS and/or you do not want to use your smartphone as a GPS logger, then you have two other options: use a stand-along GPS receiver that can log tracks and export those logs to your computer (e.g., a Garment eTrex); or, buy a dedicated external GPS receiver that is designed to work directly or indirectly with your camera model.

If you already have a suitable stand-alone GPS receiver, start there.

Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver
Preview.app GPS Info Pane illustrating the plethora of geotag data added by the Canon GP-E2
Preview.app GPS Info Pane illustrating the plethora of geotag data added by the Canon GP-E2

At the moment I do not have a Garmin, Magellan, or other GPS receiver. As a Canon user my first option is the Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver. The GP-E2 is a hotshoe mountable GPS receiver that is specifically designed to work seemlessly with Canon’s current line-up of EOS cameras. Thankfully, that includes my EOS M.

With the GP-E2 mounted on the EOS-M, photos are tagged with latitude, longitude, and direction of shot (thanks to a digital compass) the moment each photo is written to the camera’s SD or CF card. The GP-E2 also has a log mode which periodically writes location data to its own memory.

GP-E2 battery longevity is essentially a non-issue. On a single AA battery it can log every 15 seconds for up to 39 hours. If I shot four hours a day, I could get 9 days out of a single Ni-MH rechargeable. 1, 5, 10, 15, or 30 second, and 1, 2, or 5 minute intervals are also available.

I won’t have to worry about daily logs filing up the device either. Using the default 15 second interval, 69 days worth of logs can be stored on the device. At longer intervals, up to 128 days worth of logs are kept. That is plenty of time to get back to the computer to backup the logs. When the device memory is full the oldest logs are deleted to free up space.

This all sounds great, but there are a few downsides to the GP-E2.

One, it is bulky. On professional or pro-consumer EOS bodies it won’t really be noticed, but it sticks out like a sore thumb on my EOS M, especially if I use the tiny EF-M 22mm pancake lens. Though, at only 81 grams, weight is not a problem. Also, it can be used off-camera by attaching via the DIGITAL ports with either the supplied 25 cm or 1.5m cables.

Two, it is expensive. At $350CAD, the price is as high as the GPS satellites it communicates with. For $259CAD I can get a great stand-alone Garmin GPS that has almost all the features of the GP-E2 and then some (more on this option in a minute).

Three, while tagging photos in-camera on the EOS is super simple, using the logs to tag images from non-EOS cameras is a bit of a pain, to say the least (again, more on that later on).

Other GPS Receivers

Garmin eTrex 30

As I mentioned above, the Garmin eTrex-series is very enticing. I have investigated the eTrex 30. It is relatively compact, which makes it a good option for travelling. If I had one, I would also use it while backpacking, canoeing, and mountain biking.

As a GPS logger, a device like the Garmin eTrex 30, would work essentially the same as any of the smartphone apps available, with one exception. A stand-alone GPS receiver is going to have substantially better battery longevity — 25 hours on two standard AA batteries, according to Garmin.

Where Am I? (Pun Intended)

Yesterday, I decided I would not get the Canon GP-E2 or a Garmin eTrex. I decided I would play around with iOS loggers for a little while longer.

Today, I changed my mind. My credit card company thanks me, I’m sure.

After purchasing the GP-E2, I took it home and put it through its paces. Though happy with the final results, I had a frustrating time getting it to do all that I wanted. Rather than keep that suffering/knowledge to myself, I decided I would share so others might have an easier time of things. Beneficence or catharsis — you decide.

Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver Hack-a-thon

For the price I paid for the GP-E2, I rationalized that it would have to be a fully-capable device. It had to do the following, or I would consider returning it:

  • tag images on my EOS camera while mounted on the hotshoe;
  • easily log tracks, and allow tagging of images from my other Canon cameras;
  • allow exporting of track logs for use in other software if I choose not to use the Canon’s MapUtility;
  • and finally, allow tagging of photos from non-Canon cameras (contrary to the marketing material).

Geotagging Is For Techies

Canon MapUtility GPS Track
Canon MapUtility GPS Track

I’m a pretty sophisticated guy. I was a CTO and VP of Technology in a former life. At least I think I know computers and gadgets. However, it took several hours of Googling and goofing around before I was able to do all the things I wanted with the GP-E2.

First, the Canon MapUtility that comes with the GP-E2 isn’t as bad as most reviewers would have you believe. (Heck, it is not as bad as most software Canon produce.)

There is a gap in the GP-E2 manual though — they don’t actually tell you how to connect the GPS unit to the computer. So, let’s start there (I assume you’ve installed the included MapUtility software already).

Loading GP-E2 Log Data Onto Your Computer

If you are using the log mode of your GP-E2 you need to get the log onto your computer:

  • First, plug a mini-USB cable (which Canon does not supply) from your computer into the DIGITAL port on the GP-E2.
  • Then, turn the GP-E2 mode switch to ON.
  • Next, launch MapUtility.
  • Finally, import your logs. In the upper left of the application window, select the “GPS log files” tab. At the bottom of said tab, there is a button with a grey box and a blue arrow. Click this button to import your logs from the GPS device (you can also perform this operation using the File menu).

Congratulations, you now have your logs. What to do with them?

Map Utility window and log import button

If you have photos shot with a Canon camera during the log timeframe, then you can simply drag them into MapUtility and have them automatically geotagged. Like all other geotagging utilities, MapUtility simply matches the time the photo was taken with the corresponding time in the log and assigns the most relevant location to your photos.

For example, I went outside to shoot some photos with my EOS M with the GP-E2 installed. I had the GP-E2 in LOG mode. As I shot photos on my EOS M, they were immediately tagged with location and direction data. I also had my PowerShot S110 along. While the GP-E2 was logging, I shot a few photos with the S110.

Back at my computer, I imported the geotagged EOS M photos and the non-geotagged S110 photos. I loaded the S110 photos and the GP-E2 log into MapUtility, and voila, the S110 photos are now geotagged.

Skirting Canon’s Proprietary-ness

What if you want to use your GP-E2 logs outside of MapUtility? Maybe you want to use the map features in Lightroom instead. Or, what if you want to use your GP-E2 logs in MapUtility, but with a non-Canon camera?

In these cases you will need to either, a) get your logs out of MapUtility; or b), get MapUtility to play nice with your non-Canon photos.

This is where things start to get messy.

Exporting and Translating the GP-E2 Logs

First, getting your logs out of MapUtility.

If you select a log in MapUtility’s “GPS log files” tab an enticing button becomes available which offers to “Export file for Google Earth”. Unfortunately this button does not do what you want it to. It exports a KMZ GPS track file which is stripped of any and all timestamp information. This KMZ can be converted into a KML file, and then into a GPX file, but your geotagging software will not be able to use the GPX file to match photos via date and time alignment.

This is where I found myself banging my head on my desk and preparing to return the GP-E2. At that moment however, I happen to open iPhoto, which I don’t use that often, and which really only contains my iPhone Photo Stream.

In a mapping sort of mood, I clicked on iPhoto’s Places. I saw a map plotting where each of my recent iPhone photos had been shot — on four continents in just five months! I was a bit taken aback and a bit impressed.

iPhoto Places

As I looked at a map, I saw a pin at a location where I didn’t recall taking any iPhone photos. I clicked the pin and saw photos of my wife huddled in her sleeping bag in the back of my pick-up truck a few hours before we started paddling down the White River last September. I clicked other pins, in strange or distant places and memories started flooding back. I never drive down that side-street, I thought. And then I saw pictures of my wife rolling our canoe towards the river on a crazy urban adventure. I don’t mind saying I had tears in my eyes.

I wanted to be able to explore all my photos that way. I was more determined to make the GP-E2 work for me. I had figured out how to tag photos from any Canon camera, EOS or not. Maybe I didn’t want to use MapUtility, but I could.

I decided to make one more attempt at exporting the GP-E2 for use in an alternative geotagger.

At the bottom of a forum thread I had already read, I re-examined a post that I had previously glossed over. I had already found the location of the log files on my computer and taken a look at them. They were in plaintext which was promising. The post I found made things clearer. The Canon GP-E2 is an NMEA-0183 compliant device. There is an excellent free utility available — GPSBabel — that can convert NMEA files to GPX. I quickly tried out the on-line version of GPSBabel and found myself with a lovely GPX file.

I loaded the GPX file and some sample photos into GPSPhotoLinker, and lo and behold I had geotagged photos.

So in short, to convert your GP-E2 logs to GPX format:

  • import your logs from the GP-E2 into MapUtility as described above;
  • located the imported logs on your computer (on a Mac they are in /Users//Documents/Canon Utilities/GPS Log Files, on Windows try C:/users//Documents/Canon Utilities/GPS Log Files);
  • use GPSBabel to convert the log file from NMEA-0183 to GPX.

On OS X, when you download and install the GPSBabelFE.app GUI, then the command-line executable binary is located at /Applications/GPSBabelFE.app/Contents/MacOS/gpsbabel. If you use the command-line version of gpsbabel, the conversion command will look something like:

gpsbabel -t -i nmea -f "20130308.log" -x nuketypes,waypoints,routes -o gpx -F "20130308.gpx"

If you use the on-line version of GPSBabel then the conversion form should look something like this:

gpsbabel on-line version example

Using Canon MapUtility to Geotag non-Canon photos

But what if I want to use Canon’s MapUtility to geotag non-Canon photos rather than exporting the GPS track log to another program? Well, I figured that out too.

Map Utility simply uses the EXIF “Make” tag contents (the name of the camera manufacture stored in each photo when it is produced) to restrict geotagging to photos taken with Canon cameras. Lame. Are Canon afraid that users will mess up existing goetags from other manufactures? Maybe, but this restrictions seems useless.

I used OS X Terminal.app and ExifTool to read the contents of of the “Make” tag on a sample photo…

exiftool -Make Non-Canon-Photos-Folder/photo1.jpg

Make                            : Panasonic

…temporarily changed the tag contents of a bunch of photos to “Canon”…

exiftool -Make=Canon Non-Canon-Photos-Folder/*.jpg

…imported these non-Canon photos into MapUtility, geotagged them, and then set the “Make” tags back to their original values…

exiftool -Make=Panasonic Non-Canon-Photos-Folder/*.jpg

As you can see, with exiftool you can easily batch manipulate EXIF data. You are not limited to JPEGs. ExifTool works with almost any file format that can contain EXIF, IPTC, etc.

Also, in the exiftool command you have the option of specifiing a single file as your source, a directory of files, or a list of files identified using wildcards.

In the above examples, the original files are renamed and kept as backups, but you can turn off this behaviour.

And finally, ExifTool can be used to geotag your photos using the data from your GPX or NMEA log files, allowing you to skip the MapUtility altogether. I think I’ll be working on a script to automate this soon.

If you are not comfortable using the command line, then I’m sure there is a GUI utility out there for you. Unfortunately Adobe Bridge does not let you modify EXIF camera data such as the “Make” tag. Not sure about Lightroom.

Conclusion

Which way? Canoeing on Black LakeI’ve always loved cartography, globes, and paper maps. Maybe this is why I am so late to the GPS game. Except for navigating with digital maps on my phone, which I use when travelling in foreign cities, I’ve not used GPS much.

Last year, on a canoe trip, while navigating a huge lake, we got turned around and disoriented (well some of the group got disoriented). I knew which way we were supposed to be going because I photographed the sun rising that morning and I knew which way was North. We were supposed to be heading North. At that moment we were heading Southwest. The low autumn sun and the monotonous topography had confused people. One person had a handheld GPS receiver along and they simply confirmed the position I gave them. You see, GPS (technology) isn’t everything.

In the world of digital photography, however, I’m finding that GPS can be an interesting tool for documenting, remember, and telling a story.

This is what I have learned so far about geotagging. Well, actually just about getting photos geotagged in the first place. There is a lot still to be learned.

HDR Day At The Cabin

I’ve played around a bit with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography before, but I often find the results overdone and unrealistic. Usually when an HDR image is overdone, the photographer simply labels it as “creative”. [pullthis id=”creative”]Creativity comes from mastering skills and having a vision — not from letting software get out of control.[/pullthis]

[pullshow id=”creative”]That said, there are times when I do find HDR useful and I wanted to get a little more practice with HDR techniques using the bracket exposure method (-2, 0, +2).

Yesterday was a good opportunity to get some test shots. I spent the afternoon wandering around the property at our cabin, creating some bracketed exposures. It was a good day day for HDR: the sun was out in full force; a recent blanket of snow was lingering in the trees; the trees were casting deep shadows all around; and, not to be under emphasized, there was very little wind, which meant that ghosting between frames could be minimized. For my own sanity I shot everything on a tripod.

Back at my computer I downloaded a few HDR software trials. (I find the Merge to HDR Pro feature in Photoshop to be a bit junky.) I decided to compare the results of Photomatix Pro, by HRD Soft, and HDR EFEX PRO 2, by Nik Software (I have been using Nik Software’s Snapseed on my iPad).

HDR EFEX PRO 2 seems like a good piece of software. It runs as a Photoshop plug-in, which I like the idea of, in theory. In reality however, it runs a bit slow for my tastes (I have a new Mac Mini on order, so I’ll try it again on on more modern hardware). There seem to be a lot of bells and whistles in HDR EFEX PRO 2 which can be good or bad depending on your point of view. I do like the before and after comparison view. The end results, from my limited testing, seemed fine. There seems to be a steep learning curve though to get the results I want.

Photomatix Pro might not be as pretty as HDR EFEX PRO 2, but what it lacks in sex appeal it makes up for in speed. It’s ghost removal tool is very easy to use and works wonderfully (again in my limited testing). I settled on using “fusion” mode for my images, as it was the easiest to work with and gave me the visual results I wanted — a little more contrast but at the expense of some shadow detail. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles in Photomatix Pro, but for the moment it will do for me. I do wish it had the spot adjustment and graduated neutral density features of HDR EFEX PRO 2.

So, for $99 (minus a discount), I got the watermarks removed from Photomatix Pro and went to work.

I used unprocessed raw images from my Canon EOS M for all the HDR photos. Since this was my first time doing bracketed exposure HDR I made more exposures rather than less, and I am glad I did. I’d dug out and used my old Seconik L-508 light meter yesterday. I hadn’t used it in years and hadn’t bothered to calibrated it to the EOS M. It looks like all my neutral (0) exposures were underexposed by about half stop. As a result, I had to compensate in Photomatix Pro by boosting the mid-tones. Once I settled on a good group of settings though, I was able to use them with only minor tweaks for the rest of the images.

[pullshow id=”screaming”]I like the results, as images in themselves, but I’m still not sure HDR is the right look for me. [pullthis id=”screaming”]Hopefully, these images are not screaming “HDR” at you anyway.[/pullthis]

I also made some exposures with my Lensbaby Pinhole optic while I was out walking around. That lens creates the softest focus, lowest contrast photos you are ever likely to capture with an 18 megapixel sensor! At f/177 it might also be the smallest aperture 50mm lens I will ever own. The results are at the opposite end of the spectrum from HDR, technology-wise, but are fun none the less. I will share some of these pinhole photos if I get a good set created sometime.

Click each thumbnail below for a larger version.

P.s., A big thank you to my friend and fellow photographer, Rob. Rob is technical wiz and the first person I go to when I have questions about some new photography technique. Chances are pretty good that Rob will already have tried it out, tested the hardware, evaluated all the software, and will be ready to jumpstart me on the road to photographic discovery.

 

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iPad Photo Editors

In Search of the Holy Grail of Mobile Photo Editing

I occasionally use iPhoto on iOS to clean up pictures to share while I am on the go. That is, if I am using an image from the built-in camera app or uploaded from my Wifi-capable Canon PowerShot S110. If I shoot something with Hipstamatic I usually just share the shot without any editing, and then clean it up later on my Mac in Photoshop if there is something I want to change or improve.

I’ve been travelling a lot recently and I’d like to have a fully mobile, professional-quality, photo processing solution with me on the road. Usually I do all my post-processing on my desktop Mac after returning home from a trip. But for longer trips, I’d like to being to do some post-processing on the go. For example, I’m going to Europe for two months this spring and will only be taking my cameras, iPhone, and iPad — no laptop (well, I don’t own one anyway). Normally, I don’t even carry my iPad while travelling, but this time we will mostly be staying with friends and family, so I don’t mind lugging it along.

There is one serious limitation to using an iOS-only post-processing photography workflow — there are no RAW photo editing iOS apps. While the iPad can import RAW files via the camera adaptor kit, there is no software available on iOS with which to take full advantage of the RAW camera data. (BTW, Macworld has a nice article about using the iPad in your photography workflow.) The holy grail would be the equivalent of Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw on iOS.

In the absence of the holy grail, I decided to compare a few iPad photo editing apps to assess there strengths and weaknesses. My basic evaluation criteria was to what degree I could use each app to do my basic post-processing operations:

  • color balancing;
  • contrast adjustment;
  • selective dodging and burning (lightening and darkening for you new-school photographers);
  • cropping;
  • vignetting or de-vignetting;
  • sharpening;
  • black and white conversion;
  • batch processing; etc.

The ability to apply filters or effects was secondary in my evaluation. I didn’t even consider sharing capabilities. Again, I’m looking for something I can use to make my images look as good as possible (100%) using only an iPad (or iPhone), so I can shoot, edit, and share professional-quality photos I can be proud of while on the road.

The Apps

Photos

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The built-in Apple Photos app has some editing features, so let’s start there. The tools at our disposal are: rotate, enhance, red-eye (reduction presumably), and crop. The crop tool is useful, as is rotate for those times when your cameras orientation sensor gets confused (looking up or down at an extreme angle). But rotate only works in 90° increments so it does not work for straightening slightly crooked photos. The improvements offered by the enhance feature are minimal (basic contrast correction as far as I can tell). I can’t speak to the quality of the red-eye feature as I so rarely use flash that my subjects never have the chance to get red-eye. That, and the fact that my wife blinks a lot, so even if I use a flash, hers eye are probably going to be closed anyway. (Pro tip I learned from Steve McCurry who shot the last roll of Kodachrome ever manufactured and who needed to make every one of thirty-six exposures count: give your subject a countdown from 3 to 1, tell them to pre-blink on 2, and then take the picture on 1).

iPhoto

App-Icons-iPhoto

iPhoto was the first serious photo editor released for iOS. And in many ways it is still the best. The UI is a bit confusing and clunky, but generally usable. The functionality is excellent and for a $5 upgrade over the built-in Photos app you get an advanced straightener; contrast and saturation correction sliders; a crop tool with free, constrained, or ratio modes; local adjustment brushes; and effects including gradient neutral density, vignette, black and white, vintage, toning, etc.

I try to get things right in camera as much as I can. Correct composition and crop. Proper white balance and exposure. But I still consider images just out of the camera to be about 75% complete. With iPhoto I can elevate that to about 85% complete.

Photoshop Touch

App-Icons-Photoshop-Touch

The iPad version of Adobe Photoshop Touch has been available for a while now. Surprisingly, the iPhone version of Photoshop Touch was only released this past week.

Photoshop Touch for iPad is quite a capable photo editor. On the one hand it supports layers, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. I do very little compositing. On my Mac I, when editing photos, I using Photoshop layers almost exclusively for adjustments tweaks after doing most processing in Adobe Camera Raw. The layers feature in Photoshop Touch is just in the way. Now if I could add adjustment layers, I’d be a fan. But not yet.

One of the tools I use a lot on my Mac, be it in Adobe Camera Raw or in Photoshop, is the curves adjustment tool. This goes way back to my days as a scanner operator in pre-press. Thankfully, Photoshop Touch has curves and levels adjustment tools.

Photoshop Touch’s crop and rotate tools are superior to iPhoto’s due to the fact that you can enter numerical adjustments. Skew and reflect tools are also available. There is a comprehensive choice of selection, drawing, cloning, and touch-up tools. I can’t say much about the supplied effects, except that there are some.

With Photoshop Touch I feel I can get done about 90% of what I usually do on the desktop (accepting the fact that RAW processing is missing).

Snapseed

App-Icon-Snapseed

Snapseed, by Nik Software (a Google Acquisition), is an innovate app with a large suite of both basic tools and powerful effects. The UI is unique among apps I have tried, but is highly usable once you understand the basics. It has almost all the features of Photoshop Touch minus layers and the drawing and selections tools. And in a lot of ways the Snapseed offering is better. It has a nice Structure function in its Details suite (equivelant to Adobe Camera Raw’s Clarity function). I often prefer to use this type of local contrast enhancement instead of making global contrast changes (which I usually do with curves).

For basic photo post-processing, Snapseed seems like it could get me to 93% completeness. There are still several things missing though.

In particular, a histogram would help to ensure whites and blacks are not being clipped and make overall analysis easier.

The white balance tool leaves something to be desired. Why can’t they just offer an eyedropper for sampling neutrals?

The effects suite of Snapseed is better than any I have seen elsewhere. For the occasions when I want to get a little messy this is going to be my go-to app. One of the reasons that the effects are so good is that they are all parametrically driven. Every aspect of an effect can be adjusted.

This brings me to a suggestion that would make this a 95% app. Since all the adjustments and effects are parametric, having the ability to store personal presets would be amazing. Well, in the mobile app world this would be amazing. In the real world, the ability to store presets and batch process images is a necessity. So far I have not seen any iPad/iPhone app with such essential capabilities, with one exception. Which brings us to B&W Lab.

B&W Lab

App-Icons-B-W-Lab

Between 5 and 10% of the images I shoot I end up converting to black and white (or some sort of monochrome).

More photographers should explore black and white. Just because most digital cameras capture color images all the time, does not mean this is the best way to represent a scene or the photographers vision. When the photo is about shape, line, texture, or structure, it would probably be a more powerful image if rendered in black and white.

B&W Labs is the best app I have found for making black and white conversions on the iPad. It surpasses Snapseed’s Black and White suite. In Beginner mode there are very usable presets provided. Additionally, after you choose a starting filter you can modify every parameter of the preset via sliders. (The method of choosing a starting point in Expert mode is a little different). There is even a useable Tone Curve tool. You are limited to five handles on the curve, but that is more than enough for most situations. Performance is little slow, but not horrendous.

B&W Lab allows you to load the settings from any previously edited image into the current session. The feature, labeled History, is a little counter intuitive as are most of the UI elements. I’ve gotten used to the idiosyncrasies though and have no problem making great black and white conversions with this app. If they could allow you to batch apply History settings, then this app would be amazing. A histogram wouldn’t hurt either.

For black and white processing only, this app actually gets me about 98% completeness.

Image Blender

App-Icons-Image-Blender

Image Blender is a little different from the other apps reviewed here, designed purely for compositing two images together.

The art of multiple exposure is almost lost in this era where every click of the shutter button results in a separate image file. In the age of film, creating multiple exposures was easy. Most cameras had the option to cock the shutter without advancing the film. Other cameras, like my 4×5 field camera, required the photographer to change film after each shot, and if they didn’t they could keep exposing the same piece of film over and over. (There used to be studio techniques involving multiple strobe flash bursts, one after the other, that required the ability to do in-camera multiple exposures. Alas, those techniques are lost to us digital photographers.) But I digress.

Much like Photoshop Touch layers, Image Blender allows you to set the blending mode between two images as well as the opacity of the top image. The output file always has the resolution of the smallest input file (not a problem if both inputs are the same size). Image Blender also has some masking features that I haven’t played around with yet.

Image Blender wouldn’t ever be my first choice for general post-processing of course. That’s not what it is designed for. But if I want to make a conceptual multiple exposure from two images, I would probably use it over Photoshop Touch layers. And if I need to make an illustration or banner for a blog post, I might use its masking features, although I might just go to the more familiar Photoshop Touch instead.

Conclusion

All of the main photo editing apps mentioned here — iPhoto, Photoshop Touch, Snapseed — were released over a year ago. That’s not to say nothing new is happening in this space. These apps are actively being maintained with updates coming out about quarterly. They keep getting better, but in my view as a photographer, looking for a professional mobile editing and workflow solution, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Whichever developer first releases a RAW processor with camera profiles and lens correction capabilities is going to make a lot of money.

In terms of display quality, processor power, and connectivity, I still believe in the promise of the iPad as a professional, mobile, post-processing solution. But at the moment, even after editing and sharing some of my creations while on the road, I will still be going back into Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop on my Mac to re-edit images in an effort to eek out those few remaining percentage points of quality. Nothing but 100% will do.

Samples

For each app reviewed, I used an image from my iPad camera as a starting point and pushed the software to see what it could do. In iPhoto and Photoshop Touch, I just tried to improve upon the output of the iPad’s camera. I didn’t necessarily do the same operations in each app. I just used the tools at hand to maximize the image’s potential (not that it was a great image to begin with). I did the same in Snapseed, but have provided here a sample of one of the Vintage filters instead. The B&W Lab and Image Blender samples are self explanatory, I hope.

IMG_0114
Original from iPad camera
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iPhoto
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Photoshop Touch
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Snapseed with Vintage filter
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B&W Lab
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Image Blender

Paper Shadow Macros

Table-top Studio

I’ve always been intrigued by the abstract lines, shapes, and shadows that are created simply by fanning out a stack of paper. After printing some greeting cards today I was playing with some cut-offs and decided to see what things looked like through a macro lens.

In about three minutes I had created a simple tabletop studio: white paper backdrop supported by my 80-200mm f/2.8; desk lamp with a 60 watt incandescent lightbulb as a light source; strips of heavyweight rag photo paper fanned out and held in place with bulldog clips as my subject; Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro on a Canon EOS M body; Manfrotto 190 series aluminum tripod with ball-head and Really Right Stuff Panoramic quick-release clamp mount.

I just played around with moving the paper and the camera around to get different graphic compositions. The EOS M wouldn’t focus the 100mm macro at such close distances, but that was okay, because using manual focus I was able to experiment more. I was shooting at 100 ISO to keep the noise down and had a bit of trouble getting perfect exposures — with the shutter speed set to about 2.5 seconds the EOS M live view histogram, exposure meter, exposure simulation, and final exposure never really matched up. I set the exposure using the live view histogram and then adjusted fire based on the post-exposure result.

After a little whiskey, and a bit of post-processing, I had a half dozen interesting abstract shots. Click the images to see larger, un-cropped versions.

 

Canon PowerShot N: Reinventing The Compact Camera?

I was probably the last to hear about it as I don’t really pay too much attention to news or announcements regarding compact (point-and-shot) cameras, but on January 7, Canon announced a very sleek looking little package they are calling the PowerShot N.

Like any camera (even pro-DSLRs) the Canon Powershot N has a few “flaws” (the built-inLED light — one cannot call such thing a flash — is a joke), but overall I like that they are pushing the concept of what a compact camera can be.

Aesthetically it is a cross between my Canon Powershot S110 (with the lens ring functionality) and my EOS M (with its round-edge squared-off body and strap mount posts). I absolutely love the symmetrical layout. A tilting screen always makes me nervous (durability), but is also a big aid in off angle viewing.

Canon Powershot N Aesthetic Lineage

In fact, the way you can operate the camera controls and shutter from the lens rings, and hold the camera at waste level is very reminiscent of shooting with a twin lens reflex camera. Waist-level shooting is actually the best position for shooting street photography. It is a very stable and compact position (especially when the camera is tensioned off of a kneck-strap) and very stealthy (you are not holding a camera up in front of your face saying, “Hey look at me — I’m taking your picture!”)

Waist Level Photography
Waist-level photography compared to eye-level photography as illustrated in the BlackBird Fly Camera manual

It sounds like Canon are striking the right balance between serious camera and mobile photography accessory. I quite enjoy having Wifi on my Powershot S110, especially as I have not been travelling with a computer or even an iPad lately. The ability to photo-blog, or keep family up-to-date via my iPhone while still using a quality camera is very much appreciated. I also really like the PowerShot N’s ability to charge via a USB cable. A wall mounted charger is just one more thing to carry and you are not likely to have it with you when you really need it. It would be really special if the PowerShot N would automatically back-up files to the cloud when plugged in to a power source, the way iOS does with Photo Stream (this saved my butt in Argentina when I had my iPhone 4 stolen by pickpockets on the metro — I didn’t lose a single Hipstamatic because they had all been backed-up to my iCoud Photo Stream).

Canon PowerShot N Waist Level Shooting

Personally, even with a go-everywhere, slide-in-my-pocket compact camera, I put RAW storage and Manual mode on my list of criteria. These are the reasons why I use the PowerShot S110. For the PowerShot N, RAW storage wasn’t mentioned in Canon’s press release, so maybe it will be included, but I have my doubts. If everything else was incredible, I could work with Program mode, but Manual mode would be so much better, especially as this is being positioned as a “creative” camera. To be creative you need control and that just doesn’t mean just having a half-dozen toy camera filters available.

I think I have enough camera’s to satisfy all my wants and needs at the moment, but I’m still interested in trying out the PowerShot N when it becomes locally available.

Read the Press Release and get the camera specifications over at the dpreview.com (the best photography review site in my opinion).