MY BLOG & SOAPBOX

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

MEIN BLOG & SEIFENKISTE

Die Dinge niederschreiben hilft mir, sie zu ordnen und einzuordnen. Hier ist der richtige Platz dafür. Nicht immer geht es um die Fotografie und nicht immer schreibe ich auf Deutsch. Manchmal auf Englisch.
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein neues Blog:
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein altes Blog:

15 feet USB

I did some research, then got myself a long 5-meter/15-feet USB cable that has a USB amplifier built in. It allows me to take tethered pictures from my camera right into Lightroom. And it works no matter if I press the shutter button in Lightroom or on the camera. In both cases the picture ends up on the computer a few seconds later.

It's the ideal teaching tool along the lines of PocketChris! Instead of explaining and painting pictures of what happens when you do this or that with your camera, I can now simply take the shot and it'll show up on the monitor for all workshop participants to see.

Learning by seeing what happens. I like it. It's brilliant!

Not my idea though, I saw it first on Joe McNally's workshop in Dobbs Ferry last year.

Taking the 2011 workshops to the next level, step by step.
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Dirty little iPhone secret

Non-photography infrastructure time! I listened to the German Bits und so tech podcast the other day and they talked about apps automatically starting in the background when you boot your iPhone 4 - and potentially other multitasking iPhones.

Wait a minute.

I was under the assumption that only Apple stuff was starting up during an iPhone boot, such as the mail system, and various other daemons (that's how background processes are called in the unix world, and iOS is a unix-type operating system).

So I did a little testing using iStats, an iOS app that will give you a list of running processes.

Here are my findings - and they explain why even the very fast iPhone 4 tends to get a bit slower over time, depending on what you install:

Skype: starts up in the background automatically after reboot if it's been running at shut down time. If you kill Skype and then reboot, it won't automatically start.Pocket Informant: seems to start up in the background automatically as long as it's installed. Haven't found a way to keep it from doing that.Google Latitude: starts up in the background as long as you are logged in inside the app.


These were the processes that were obvious to me, I might have missed some though.

Fact is, there apparently is a mechanism for apps to automatically start up when you boot the iPhone. They then consume RAM and CPU without you being aware of it, which will result in some form of slowdown and battery drain.

On the one hand I am totally for making this device a black box, the user shouldn't have to know about processes, daemons, background execution and so forth. On the other hand I'm enough of a geek to want to know why my iPhone gets a bit sluggish from time to time.

It obviously makes sense for something like Skype to run in the background, so you can receive calls, but in case of Google Latitude I was under the assumption that if I didn't start it, it wouldn't run. Now I finally understand why Google keeps sending me emails reminding me that I've got Latitude running. They want to make sure this doesn't turn into some form of shitstorm.

I'm still a bit surprised that it took me so long to find out about this.
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The International Pinhole

Update: Here is a video shot during the first test and here is the first picture out of this camera.

» offical website

Building pinhole cameras is easy and fun. All you need is a box, some tape, aluminum foil, a pin, and joy in experimentation.

Unless you're me and your landlord is a cabinet maker. Then creating a pinhole camera might as well turn into trying to make a really awesome one.

Since I've been dabbling in large format photography I had the idea of creating a beautiful pinhole camera that would accept large format film. Not just film though, but also the according large format film cassettes, Polaroid backs and other backs, including 6x9 backs for example. All sorts of formats.

When I ran across a wonderfully made DIY pinhole holder and tripod mount, I knew that this would get me one step further, so I talked to my friend and landlord, and the other day we made a first prototype.

IMG 1169It starts with just some material, cut to the right dimensions. Here is the front wall, the sides and the top and bottom. Once finished, the camera will feature an open back that has the right dimensions to hold large format view camera backs (also known as Graflok backs). It will be able to easily fit a 4x5" film back or even a Polaroid back.


IMG 1171This is how the side walls will interface with the top and bottom pieces. This will guarantee that no light can leak into the camera and that the camera is really stable and robust.


IMG 1176Making progress detailing the parts.


IMG 1178This is the first test to see if our measurements around the international back were right. It's a perfect fit, sliding right into the slot. We still need a mechanism to fix it in place, but we've got a few fun ideas on how to allow backs of different depth, such as a Polaroid back, to fit well and be easy to attach and detach. Easier than on most monorail cameras actually.


IMG 1204Black MDF is great to work with, but it also ends up creating quite a bit of dirt. Here you see the main hole for the "lens" being drilled.


IMG 1207Test fitting of the "lens" - it's a beautiful piece of solid steel that allows to fit several different size holes, zone plates and more.


IMG 1210The outer casing is being fit together. The bottom of the camera features a beautiful and solid steel tripod mount. As you can see, the focal length on this prototype is pretty short, around 55mm. Given the size of the large format negative, this results in a pretty wide angle picture. Future models might feature longer focal lengths, even though the wide angle in conjunction with a pinhole is a lot of fun, because it doesn't know any depth-of-field issues: everything is equally in focus. Maybe we'll even find a way to do a variable focal length model. How does "first international back large format pinhole zoom camera" sound like?


IMG 1214The prototype will be held together with screws. The future models' surface will be undisturbed by screws.


IMG 1216First working model finished! Still looking for a good name for it.


IMG 1220Test fitting a tripod plate and a Polaroid back.


IMG 1221The open prototype...


IMG 1222...with a film cassette on.


IMG 1224The film cassette is a snug fit. The surface of the camera will look quite a bit different once its got the according treatment including sanding and several layers of oil, also the final model won't use screws, so this will look very different once it's in its final stage.




Still on the todo list: implement mechanism to fasten different backs to the camera (got a simple idea, more on that at another time), work on surface, make the camera a bit lighter, find a good name for it.

Yes, find a good name for it. "Large format international back pinhole camera" doesn't have enough of a ring yet.
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FIVE. HUNDRED. EPISODES.

tfttf_wiki_logo.gifWOW. WOW. WOW. Is this really true? Chris, you've stuck to this for five and three quarter years, you've done it more than once a week, and you have released five hundred episodes of Tips from the Top Floor.

Okay, that's not really true. Matt has released them, put them up on the feed and kept the tfttf blog that hosts the show in good shape. I have only produced them. But thinking about it, even that is not entirely true. There were a few episodes that were produced by the community.

I think what I want to say is that Tips from the Top Floor wouldn't be anything without the people who listen to the show, the people who are subscribed, the people who send in questions and comments and feedback and show openers. Chances are you are one of them. If not, what are you waiting for?

Five hundred episodes. This show has really changed my life. It has changed a lot of other things too. Over and over has it given me a reason to do research, to try out things, to immerse myself in photography, to read about other photographers, to surround myself with things photography, to lead a photographic life. Without Tips from the Top Floor it wouldn't have happened like this.

Five hundred episodes. This show is one of the things in my life that I have stuck to longest. Tips from the Top Floor is my way of giving myself a kick in the butt and do something. It's my therapy against procrastination.

Five hundred episodes. This show has been an enabler for me on so many levels. It has allowed me to find an audience and this audience has made it possible for me to travel to interesting places, meet great people, hold workshops, and do what I love to do (which includes talking lots ;))

Five hundred episodes. This show has allowed me to see places that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. It got me on a train ride through Switzerland, right in front with the train driver. It has allowed me to hike up to 18,500 feet. It has even made me run into an electric fence. And a cactus. On air. Ouch.

Five hundred episodes. Above all, doing this has allowed me to meet so many great people, to make friends with so many of you all over the planet. Whenever I meet people who tell me that they've listened to me for years, and that they have pursued a career in photography because of Tips from the Top Floor or even just that they appreciate what I do, then I know why I'm kicking myself in the butt every week to do another show.

You are the absolutely awesomnest audience and friends that anyone could wish for!

Thanks for everything.

<3

» TFTTF: Episode 500

» Video: Unboxing of the "You Know What"

» Pics: The "You Know What" pictures

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PocketChris Fun Fact #8: How much is enough?

iPhone4AppIcon.pngHow much information is enough? And how much is too much?

In the context of PocketChris this was a question that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out.

If you have ever been on one of the workshops, you know that getting me to talk about photography is a lot easier than getting me to stop talking.

After having built several test versions with different chapter lengths and after carrying them around on my iPhone for a while, about 1000 words per chapter felt about right. Short enough to provide for a quick five-minute information snack, but long enough to feel like you got your money's worth.

This is actually a huge problem that a lot of writers face. Writing a lot of text is easy. Expressing an idea in many words is simple. Simple for the writer that is. It places most of the strain on the reader, who has to sift through more text to pick out the good information.

So less words in a PocketChris article does not mean that I was too lazy to write more. It means that more time has gone into making the chapter contain all the important information in an as easy to digest way and in as little writing as necessary. One thousand words to be precise.

There are audiobooks that cost a lot more in their abridged form just for that reason. Time is a valuable good in today's world as much as I don't want my own time to be wasted, I don't want to waste anybody else's time.

I didn't always manage to hit the 1000-word mark. Some of the articles are over 1200 words long, but I still feel comfortable that I've managed to boil things down enough to give you your money's worth.

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Best app for writers. But the logo...

scrivenerlogo.pngI write. Articles, chapters for PocketChris, notes for podcasts. A lot of this writing needs to be managed, some chapters for PocketChris are in draft, some in review, some at the editor, some ready for testing. It has a tendency to turn into a real mess.

Things have been a lot easier since I found Scrivener. It helps me structure the work and it helps me track status. It helps me output my work into a clean format. It is not a word processor, it's a writing tool.

There's just one thing that keeps bugging me, one thing that I keep tripping over again and again, several times a day, and it happens while I'm not even using the application.

It's the icon.

Or rather a side-effect of it. It's not that I don't like it. This is about the way it interacts with the OSX dock.

The dock has been designed among other things to give you one important piece of information at a glance: if an application is running or not. For a while now, OSX has been doing that by placing a bright dot below the icon.

Here's the Lightroom icon with the app not running:

Dock.png

And here it is while Lightroom is on.

LR_on.png

Here is the Scrivener icon with the application not running:

Dock-1.png

And here it is with Scrivener running:

Dock-2.png

Do you see the difference? The reflection of the white dot/apostrophe/comma of the Scrivener icon almost looks like the dot OSX adds when the app is running. The placement of the reflection is almost exactly where the dot is. And it's bright enough that almost every time I look at the dock I do a double take to see if Scrivener is running or not.

It's a minor thing. It's small. It's really not important. Most people will never notice it.

It drives me nuts.

(I still love you Scrivener)

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Fujifilm X100: The digital camera I might actually get really excited about

Wait a minute, excited about a digital camera? After all the analog journey you've seen me take?

That journey is still in full swing, and I still have quite a few things to learn in the analog realm. But I'm also a digital photographer, I use the 5D Mark II, I've got the older 5D Mark I as a backup, the Panasonic LX3 is my main point-and-shoot camera and of course there's the iPhone that I use most often simply because I always have it with me.

I have a soft spot for rangefinder cameras. They are smaller than DSLRs, they are quite inconspicuous, they have an optical viewfinder that shows more than the actual picture, so you get lots of context when composing an image, you frame the image by using a bright frame inside the viewfinder, the viewfinder is all the way to the left of the camera, so you can compose without squeezing your nose against the back of the camera and with your left eye unblocked, so you can get even more context of the scene when composing.

All that together makes an ideal street photography setup, as demonstrated by innumerable street photographers over the years.

Epson of all companies tried with a digital rangefinder and stopped the experiment after a while. Leica came out with the M8 and now the M9, but those are not really on the affordable side. Then Leica released the X1 in the rangefinder form factor, using an APS-C size sensor with a fixed focus f/2.8 36mm equivalent lens.

The concept of the X1 appealed to me. The form factor is great, the rangefinder concept in general is pretty much up my alley, but after a short while it started to become apparent that the camera apparently wasn't without its issues. Slow AF, no video feature, no built-in optical viewfinder (you can get an optional one) and the list doesn't seem to stop there.

Then I heard about the upcoming Fujifilm X100. It's supposed to be out in March. It's supposed to cost around 1000€/$1200. And it has gotten me very excited even though I still have to see a single test shot or review.

A few of the things that got me interested:

1. Control: direct access to shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation through wheels. Aperture ring is on the lens where I want it. Manual focus ring is on the lens where I want it. OVF/EVF switch is a real hardware switch. Automatic modes: shutter priority, aperture priority, program, manual. Scene modes: none (Yey, no "baby's first steps" or "fireplace in the log cabin" or "group of three people in front of sunset" scene modes. Thank you thank you thank you!). Dioptre correction for the viewfinder.

2. Viewfinder: Optical. Wait, electronic. Wait, both! The hybrid viewfinder gives you an optical picture that shows more than the actual picture will show, so you get the context. It will give you a bright frame inside the viewfinder so you know where the image ends. Nothing too spectacular so far, cameras had that fifty years ago. But this bright frame and the surrounding information such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and quite a bit more comes from a 1.4 megapixel LCD panel and is an overlay to the optical view you have. It's like a fighter jet heads-up display providing you with accurate information but it won't obscure your fast and precise optical view. It could be a dream come true. Nice tidbit #1: the switch on the front of the camera will switch between the hybrid and an electronic viewfinder, so you can also use an electronic picture inside the viewfinder if you prefer. Nice tidbit #2: the bright frame will give you an automatically parallax corrected placement depending on your focus. Someone's been doing some serious thinking here, and I like it.

3. Lens & Sensor: Apparently the first thing Fuji started to work on was the lens in conjunction with the sensor. The sensor is an old friend, I've read that it is the same 12 megapixel APS-C sensor used in the Nikon D90. The lens is a completely new construction. Actually Fuji says they had to start from scratch a few times to incorporate all the wish list items without compromising on image quality. The sensor has received a new micro lens array and the back element of the lens is about the size of the sensor, helping to keep the incidence of incoming light in check. They also say that image quality was always their highest concern. They are clearly competing with Leica here.

4. Build & Design: The camera hits a nerve with me. Its retro design gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, and if the build quality is as solid as I've been told, I am going to feel right at home with it. I've seen enough plastic cameras lately.

Here are some interesting bonus features in no particular order:

The X100 features a RAW button. My understanding is that it lets you shoot JPG and if you decide to shoot the next picture in RAW mode, that's when you press it. Supposedly it will also be used to do in-camera RAW to JPG processing of individual pictures.

The camera also features a 3-stop ND filter that you can engage. I've had enough sunny days where I wished to have an ND filter, just to be able to open the aperture a bit further or to get a shutter speed a bit longer. Now it's built right into the camera the same way you find it in many professional video cameras. If you don't use it, it's completely removed from the optical path and out of the way.

The shutter button features a nice retro touch that made me smile: it allows you to use a screw-in remote release.

The X100 is also said to feature a 720p24 video mode with stereo sound. Did I mention video is important to me?

The autofocus is supposed to be super fast, the official FAQ states that the shutter lag is extremely short, I actually find it hard to believe that they expect it to be only 0.01 seconds. Of course I so want that to be true!

The shutter is built into the lens, which will allow the X100 to offer high speed flash sync, something photographers love outdoors on sunny days.

If you shoot JPG, the X100 offers you PROVIA, Velvia and ASTIA film simulation modes. I know I know, I'd rather shoot those actual films, have them developed and scan them, but hey, it's Fuji. Adding simulations for the dynamic and color characteristics of some of their signature films into this camera is actually a nice touch.

It will use the pretty standard NP-95 battery which is readily available and not as overpriced as many other camera manufacturer's batteries are.

The X100 features a 49mm filter thread, a fairly standard size that should make it easy to get high quality filters at decent prices.

I could go on and on with this list, there is plenty of official information out there, but I have still to find the one thing that would make me go meh. I find it hard to believe what a prefect match this feature list is for what I wish in a camera this size.

But of course no matter how much a feature list makes me smile, the real test will be in using the camera, spending time with it, and looking at the pictures that it will produce. Until then I will say a little prayer to the photography gods each night before I go to sleep and really hope I will never have to write a disappointed follow-up post to this one. Ever.

Is it March yet?


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PocketChris Fun Fact #7: Many Apps vs. In-App Purchase

iPhone4AppIcon.pngI have often been asked why I don't just add new chapters as in-app purchases instead of doing several apps in parallel.

Here's my reasoning behind that:

Size vs. Ad-Hoc Download

I want to keep the purchase hurdle for PocketChris as low as possible. If an app is over 20 MB in size, you can only download it over WiFi or through your Mac that the iOS device syncs with. I have often ended up at a point where I wanted to impulse-buy an app, but couldn't because I was on 3G or EDGE. In some of these cases I forgot about it again and didn't buy it once I was back home.

Infrastructure

There are several ways to provide in-app purchases. One is to deliver the content with the app, but only making it accessible to the user once they paid. This could easily drive the app over the 20 MB limit. See above. An alternative way is to download content from a server after purchase, but that would mean to maintain server infrastructure, and potentially a lot of it, depending on how successful the app will be.

Psychology

Maybe it's just me, but I kind of like to buy something and know that I own the whole thing. The freemium model where you get the app for free and then buy advanced features as in-app purchase never really appealed to me, because it always tends to give me the feeling that I'm being cheated. I'd much rather deliver individual apps that are complete entities, and where you know what you'll get before you buy. The PocketChris model is very traditional: you can try it out because the first app is free (but still gives you great value), and if want more of it, there are other packages in the series that you can purchase.

Collectability

The collector's instinct is strong. A lot of People want things to be complete. The greater plan is to make PocketChris into its own little universe of apps that complement each other. iOS folders facilitate this with ease, and my hope is that PocketChris owners will have a PocketChris folder on their iPhone that they fill with good content over time.

» more PocketChris fun facts

» PocketChris website

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New And Noteworthy

Wahoo, look, PocketChris made it into the New & Noteworthy section in the Photography section of the US iTunes store (Update: and of the German one), right on the first place in the left top!

pocketchris.jpg

That's YOU who did that!! Thanks to all who left comments and who bought the app in the first place, you wonderful people you!

If you're still on the fence, have a closer look here.

Addendum: I also really liked this search results page in the German iTunes store when searching for the term photography. No, liked is the wrong term, I'm actually mighty proud of it!

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It's the lizard's fault...

STOPI love reading Seth Godin's blog. He often puts up one of those little pieces of wisdom that make me go "oh, right, I knew that..."

This one is about the lizard brain and how it gets in the way of shipping stuff.

With shipping Seth means about anything that you produce, anything that gets out there and that can be criticized. By you, by others. It goes even beyond that, but we'll stick with this for the sake of this article.

Several years ago I underwent an important transition. I began to allow myself to not be perfect. To ship stuff that my lizard brain would've not be happy about. This lead to a lot of good things. I got more practice in shipping stuff and thus got better at it. With practice I became better at judging when things were ready enough to be shipped. And as a result I gained more experience in dealing with the things that frightened me.

I learned that people will accept it even if it's not perfect. People will even appreciate to see that you are a human being with flaws like theirs. You will not be ripped to pieces when making a mistake. As long as you own up to it and fix it.

Case in point: Today I got an email from my friend Andres in Argentina. He has an old iPod touch that is caught in iOS 3.1.3. No update possible. I though it was a good choice to release PocketChris Advanced with a minimum requirement of iOS 4.0. What I didn't account for was that iTunes on a computer will allow you to download any version of an app, no matter if your device supports it or not.

So here's a case where people potentially can spend a couple of bucks on something and then find out they won't be able to use it. Not a lot of people, but still too many.

Instead of spending a lot of time trying to think up each and every corner case that might happen, and in the process losing a lot of time, I decided to take a decision that felt right and go with it. As a result we now have a problem. But we also have an app out there that works for 99% of iOS device owners out there.

A quick conversation with Johannes who does the software dev on PocketChris and I knew we had a way to fix it.

So the fix is now in the app store, PocketChris Advanced Photography will be available on devices as low as iOS 3.1 and we'll work around the potential issues with that inside the app.

So there, lizard brain!

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