ELPH Techniques

Shooting fast moving subjects without motion blur is a challenge. You need to get a fast shutter speed. Since it isn’t possible to set the shutter speed on the Canon ELPH cameras, I needed to figure out how to force a fast speed. I tried a bunch of that shot with flash first but that gives a different look that some people don’t like. This shot probably isn’t the subject you are trying to shoot, but did require a very fast shutter speed. I got my SD800 up to 1/1600 exposure with f/7.1 aperture.

Of course, for all the stuff I have mentioned you have to be in Manual mode. I have never messed with the scene modes much. It isn’t really manual compared to a more complicated camera so don’t worry too much about that. I have not used them, but on recent ELPHs there is a kids and pets and/or a sports setting in the scene menu which should give faster shutter speeds.

You can turn the exposure down so the camera doesn’t expect as much light and will use a faster shutter speed. But you loose DOF that way and your shots will be darker. You probably can’t go too far down.

You should also zoom the least amount possible, none is best. The wider the shot the more light is let in so the camera can use a faster shutter speed. Wider shots also help catching your subject. Mine is usually jumping cats and it helps make sure I get the whole cat in the shot.

Setting your ISO to at least 200 is probably a requirement for catching fast action unless in the brightest sunlight. The higher the ISO the less light the camera needs so can use a faster shutter, but the image gets noisier the higher the ISO. Don’t be afraid of 400 if you have too, grainy shots are better than blury shots. Sunlight is extremely important if you don’t want motion blur. If you can live with a small amount of motion blur, which can sometimes be interesting and shows the action, then a bit shady or not so bright sunlight will do. Example 1, Example 2, Example 3.

Your other option is to use the flash even in daylight, just turn your camera from automatic to always flash. It will slow down how fast you can shoot and you will probably want an extra battery if you do it a lot since it will drain much faster, but it will help you freeze the action if you are close enough to the subject. Here is an example in the dark. And another example (don’t look if you are mouse fan).

If you get blurry pictures with the flash because the shutter is staying open too long you might have the Slow Synchro setting turned on. You can turn it off in the Menu. It could also happen if you are too far from your subject for the flash to have much effect. For example, when shooting an event from the stands flash (on any camera) isn’t going to do you any good. You are better off with high ISO.

Cosina 100mm F3.5 Macro

The Cosina 100mm is a pretty decent starter macro lens with good sharpness. You may also find the lens branded as Vivitar or Phoenix. But to get actual 1:1 magnification, it comes with a matched adapter. 1:1 isn’t always necessary, but its certainly good for anything smaller than a butterfly. While using the adapter, you loose infinity focus.

The image quality is good, but I prefer my old Minolta 50mm f2.8 1:1 Macro since the focal range is more useful for non-macro shots and it doesn’t require an adapter for 1:1 so it is much more likely to stay on my camera. Until I got the 50mm, I prefered using a Raynox macro adapter on my zoom lenses instead of the Cosina for shooting macros. Since I was using an adapter either way, I preferred the flexibility of the Raynox DCR-250 which I could use on any of my lenses.

After using the 50mm for a few years, I wish I had a macro lens with 90mm or more so I could shoot from a bit further away. Scaring bugs off isn’t usually a problem for me, but lighting them with my flash at 1:1 can be difficult since the lens is so close to the bug.

Not So Shiny Chrome

When I heard about Google’s Chrome browser yesterday, I was worried for Mozilla. Google is their biggest source of income and if Chrome became popular, there wouldn’t be much use in continuing that relationship. Now that I have tried it, I don’t think Mozilla has much to worry about at least for a few years.

There is much other browsers can learn from Chrome, but I think
Chrome is too simplified for most advanced users and those are the people who will most appreciate the big improvements. Having tabs in separate processes seems to be a very good idea. And being able to disconnect and reconnect tabs is convenient. Memory usage does seem pretty comparable to Firefox 3.

Popups and spyware problems are not improved much, if any, over Firefox 3. It does block some popups, but I still found plenty. One seemed triggered by Flash ads. I got one when clicking unrelated links on a hacker search engine. And I got one that seems to be a javascript redirect on a compromised blog that warned me I had viruses and is very effective. The same site twice convinced my mom that she had viruses. If you click anywhere on the site, two EXEs are downloaded automatically. With Firefox, only one was downloaded. The only thing Chrome did better was not allow the site to hide the browser window by resizing it and moving it to the corner behind the popup dialog. Firefox can be set for that too.

Chrome is missing an easy way to reopen accidentally closed tabs. You can do it from the Opera Speed Dial like home page, but why not from the context menu when you click on the tab bar? Having close buttons on each tab makes it too easy to close them. I set Firefox to show close buttons only on the active tab.

I didn’t do any official timing tests, but to me Chrome feels slower than Firefox. Loading javascript heavy pages might be faster, Gmail did load pretty fast, but loading regular HTML and images seemed slower.

The best part of Chrome is that it will advance web standards. Google’s Chrome comic explains how they test page rendering automatically on tons of the most popular pages found in their search engine. Any improvement they make will be able to benefit Apple Safari’s WebKit core which eventually works its way back KDE’s KHTML in Konqueror.

Chrome is an extremely polished beta, but if you use anything more than the back button on your browser, there is nothing really great about it that will convince people to switch. IE8 beta looks pretty good too, but I will be sticking with Firefox. Mozilla keeps actively working on Firefox. From past experience with Google software, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get board with the project and development stalls for long periods. Google’s Browser Sync was long neglected and is being discontinued. Google’s Picasa is finally nearing a beta for 3.0 but has not had a major update since June 2006 when 2.5 was released. Hopefully this one is better, but take a look at their Mac and Linux support if you are waiting for this browser on other operating systems.

Update: I gave Chrome another try after it was developed a bit more and started using it more and more. I love the speed improvements and use it 90% of the time now even though I miss a bunch of Firefox extensions and Greasemonkey scripts.

Cats Can Reddit

Cats Can't Read

Today my Cats Can’t Read photo was posted to Reddit by PaperLess. I don’t think it made the front page, but it did do well on the Pics page, making it up to at least number 6 today. Back on February 16, 2008, this shot had 3,676 views and 33 faves which I thought was pretty good. When I first learned of it being on Reddit on March 10, about eight hours after it was posted, it has 24,176 views and 44 faves. Now, around 13 hours since it was linked, it is up to 32,022 views and 47 faves. According to Flickr, there have been over 28,000 views from Reddit users in just over half a day. Thanks for posting it, PaperLess.

I do have one request though of anyone who posts links to photos. Please link the post to the main photo page, not the original size or the JPEG itself. I often find posts directly to JPEGs, that is not allowed by the Flickr TOS and is rude. The photographer gets no credit for the image that way. Linking to the larger size pages is better because the photographer’s name and copyright information is there, but the viewers won’t likely see the caption under the photo or the photographer’s other work. Reddit users don’t have a reputation for exploring a site that has been linked. Even though I have had over 28,000 views on this photo alone today, views on the rest of my photos and my Photostream are maybe at most very slightly above average. I do have a lot of other good stuff people would enjoy and usually so do other photographers that get linked.

If you ever do come across a JPEG only photo on Flickr’s servers, this bookmarklet will take you to the photo page (if I can figure out where I got it I will add a credit). I use it frequently. Often you will find other interesting work by the same photographer.

For those that don’t know, Reddit is a site like Slashdot or Digg. You have to be a computer geek to have heard of them, but they are huge in the world of computer geeks and programmers. I get most of my news and interesting links from them. On Digg and Reddit, people post links they find interesting and they get voted up or down so the really interesting ones make it to the front page. As new stuff becomes more interesting they move down the list to make room. Unless its really good, most stuff doesn’t stay near the top for even a day. The amount of traffic these sites produce if you get linked and are popular can be enormous. Frequently it is enough to knock a site temporarily off line or at least make it unusably slow.

Update: One week later and I get another shot on Reddit thanks to digital. It got about 5,000 in the first three hours it was there.
Before Microsoft Word

Hard Drive Troubles

In the last week I have had several hard drive problems. First was my external USB hard drive got corrupted so none of the thousands of photos over the last several months in the folder for my S5 showed up. Luckily it happened while I was copying them off to my ReadyNAS NV so more than half copied fine. I just had to make sure I could get the other half. I knew exactly what program to use. GetDataBack from Runtime Software. But I only had the version for FAT and this drive was NTFS. I downloaded the trial version and confirmed my photos could be recovered. So I paid $79 for the license. In the comments where it asked where you heard about the program, I mentioned that I bought GDB for FAT six years ago. They have a bundle where you can buy both the FAT and NTFS versions for a discount, but I assumed that was if you bought it at the same time, certainly not 6 years apart. A day or two later, I got an email saying I was only charged $50 (the difference in price from the bundle and the NTFS version). Even $79 would have been a deal to get my photos back. GDB has saved me a ton of data over the years that was not properly backed up. Runtime Software has great software and great people.

My second hard drive problem was with the ReadyNAS. I bought it when it was Infrant, now Netgear owns it. It is setup with X-RAID (eXpandable RAID) and one of the four drives died. That is what RAID is for though. One drive can die and you don’t loose anything. So I went hard drive shopping. I had four 400 GB drives in there which gives around a Terabyte of room (and nearly full). I couldn’t find any 400 GB drives locally and could hardly find any drives at all that were listed as compatible. So I made it all the way down to poor CompUSA. I didn’t realize they had started their going out of business sale already. I never really liked the store, but it was better than Best Buy or Circuit City and you could find most anything that the others didn’t carry (maybe that was their problem). For that it will be missed. The only compatible one large enough was a 750 GB Seagate drive, it was way more than I planned even with 10% off. Until I can replace the other three drives though, the extra 350 GB is just sitting there unusable.

Credit Cards Suck

I tried very hard to get one of my credit cards canceled. Finally after lowering my rate and agreeing to remove one of the two late charges on my card, I agreed to stay. Several days before, I had talked to someone else who agreed to remove the second late charge once I got my account current (paid the minimum necessary). In August I used this card by mistake for $40 (I have only used this card three times in the last six months). Now I owe that and $32.13 more in late fees and finance charges, almost doubling the cost of my purchase.

I didn’t look at the bills since I pay all my other credit cards online automatically and have them set to auto deducting the minimum so I never have to worry about missing and getting a late fee (a feature this card doesn’t offer). I forget about this one since I don’t use it. Their website sucks too which makes me even less likely to use the card. My pretty unique username (not jciv) that I used when I first signed up is now taken and can’t be used. It has to be a dead account I created, even though after 6 months you have to re-register. So now I have to remember to put a “1” at the end. And they misspelled my mother’s maiden name so whenever I have to re-register or recover my password, I get locked out for 24 hours until I can figure out how they spelled it. How would you ever know they misspelled it? It still sounds the same when you have to give it to the phone people. One time I just decided to try some variations.

Once I found the problem I tried to pay online, but for people who are behind, they change the payment system. I have to re-enter my checking account number (I don’t have my check book with me either). So I have to try again later. When I get it, they require you to tell them why I didn’t pay, how many months has my financial situation been bad, etc. Idiots. I can see asking this stuff if I were thousands of dollars behind, but $72.

They have my email address, that is how I got notified about my Reduced Purchases Rate quickly after talking to the first person. Why was I not contacted by email about missing two credit card payments? I also got an email about filling out a survey on how my dealing with customer service was. That is where 90% of this blog post comes from. Clearly they have my email address. But notifying me that way would cheat them out of the late fees because I would have paid it instantly so they don’t use it.

Long ago I stopped using this credit card completely but never canceled it because canceling a card can hurt your credit score and I was lazy. I never called in to activate my new card when it arrived and eventually just stopped getting bills in the mail. Several years later they sent a new card, it looked similar to one I was using so I assumed that is what it was and activated it. Its all been downhill from there.

Mainly I use a Sony branded credit card and am saving up points to get a Sony DSLR. I don’t really want a Sony camera, but I was already half way there when I realized that. When the Canon Powershot S5 came out, I had to decide between paying $500 or getting the Sony H9 free. I chose the Canon and saved my points hoping Sony’s SLR would be better. For free I can live with it, but as soon as I get that camera or give up and get a huge TV, I plan to get an Amazon card. They send you gift certificates for stuff on Amazon. Amazon usually has good prices and I won’t be locked into one brand.

Plus, the Sony Card’s website’s improved security measures means every time my browser is upgraded, I have to go through a verification (by email or phone) step because they don’t recognize my computer. If I was using IE and it only updated a few times a decade, that would be fine. But Firefox updates frequently (a little too frequently sometimes). Every time the UserAgent changes, I have to go through the verification again.

KDE 4 Oxygen Wallpaper Contest

With the upcoming release of KDE 4.0 (a Linux desktop environment), four of my photo will be among the fifteen included wallpapers users around the world get to choose from. They were chosen from over 2000 entries. The announcement is here or here. You can view all my entries here.

My Winning Entries for the KDE 4 Oxygen Wallpaper Contest

You can download and use the wallpapers from my site for your own personal use, but please don’t repost them anywhere. Unless you download them from KDE, they are still © All Rights Reserved. I have recently started putting up my images for sale at Shutterpoint if you are interested in using them commercially. I am willing to discuss licensing them for free in other large open source projects too, but you must ask first.

You can see a lot more of my photos on Flickr.

Canon Powershot S5 IS

S2 vs S5

I am pretty excited about my new Canon Powershot S5 IS. Since it is so new and there are few reviews of it around I thought I should post my “review.” If you skipped the S3 waiting for a big improvement like I did, this might be what you have waited for. But it is still not a huge improvement. If you have an S3, it might not be worth it at least till the price drops a bunch.

Major updates since I originally posted are in blue. Last updated November 24.

I was very happy with my Canon Powershot S2 IS and it still works fine (except for some grinding noises sometimes). So I was having trouble deciding whether to get the S5 or not and a lot of the early information about it was killing my excitement for it. I had been looking at alternatives in case I decided not to get the S5, but I didn’t see any that really stood out. And after finally getting to look at some of the other SLR-like cameras in person I decided just to go for the S5. There is always eBay or the 15% restocking fee if I just can’t stand it.

You can see a growing number of samples of my shots with the S5 here. Hopefully they can help you make your own decision on image quality.

The S5 is available now at Best Buy where I over paid for mine. I normally would only buy a camera online since you can find it cheaper, usually pay no tax, and likely get free shipping. But I was impatient this time and I had a gift card I was tired of carrying around.

Circuit City’s website has the camera with an unadvertised low price ($25.00 off). I don’t know how long that price is good or if it will be good in store. But the camera isn’t available yet in the store anyway and the employee I talked to said it isn’t in the computer yet and usually things show up in there about a week before they get them. Best Buy seems to have got an exclusive release date. I called Circuit City and asked about the camera, they said they are shipping them now if you order online, but he didn’t know when they would be available in stores. Checking again on June 23 on their website, Circuit City now says it is available in stores and that lower price is still listed.

Image quality seems to be a slight improvement over the S2. It may be a tiny bit softer, but not by much (if any) and more small detail is visible. You can see noise reduction effects sometimes when “pixel peeping,” but for regular viewing and printing it isn’t an issue. The noise reduction isn’t horrible and I have seen much worse samples from other cameras. Without moving up to an SLR, you aren’t really going to improve much no matter what. The sensor size and lens of the S5 are the same as the S2 but the megapixels keep going up since most people believe megapixels are everything. Canon had to increase it or it wouldn’t sell, and they seem to have done a decent job getting a bit more detail from this small sensor. I took a set of images comparing noise at different ISOs between the cameras. In those well lit indoor shots, the S5 always appear a little better. Outdoor shots are harder to determine. I have seen a small bit of purple fringing in a few of my outdoor max zoom shots especially around overexposed areas but not enough that it bothers me. Indoor zoom shots, even not so well lit, show the same minor improvement over the S2.

The feel is good, though I don’t like the minor changes with button placement. They moved the customizable button to the left side of the camera where it is basically useless. If the LCD panel is out, getting to the button with your left hand is not convenient. Since they moved that button they moved all the others down. The buttons are slightly less easily pressed compared to the S2. I guess that could be a good thing or a bad thing. You are less likely to accidentally press a button, but you will have to get used to pressing harder.

Color saturation is a bit better than my S2. Low light focusing appears slightly better but still can be trouble. Focusing in regular light on even a moving target seems improved. The view finder is brighter (and bigger too I think) though the resolution still isn’t great. And the larger LCD screen is brighter and amazing. I can’t believe I have been happy with the S2’s panel before now that I have used this giant.

ISO 400 seems ok. Some people will claim it is still unusable. Others will say it’s decent. Going higher than ISO 200 is still something to avoid if possible but I would rather have a noisy image than a blurry one or none at all. Noise reduction software can do an amazing job even on ISO 1600 images.

I really like the hot shoe for using an external flash even though I probably won’t use it that often. I have an old 1980’s Canon flash that isn’t able to talk to the camera so I had to set things manually on the camera and flash, but it is nice to have a very powerful flash. There is an annoying delay between hitting the shutter and the flash firing though. If you are shooting a fast moving target, you have to track it or won’t be in the shot by the time the flash fires. Before you use an old flash you should read this and check this chart, certain old flashes have very high trigger voltage which will over time burn out your hot shoe.

The old flash stopped working with my camera after a few months (it’s connector was nearly broken when I started using it) and I liked having the extra flash power so I bought a Sunpak flash which should have worked fine, but for some reason didn’t so I exchanged it for a real Canon flash, the Speedlight 430EX. Much more expensive, but now that I have it I am glad I didn’t stick with a cheap flash. The refresh rate of the 430EX (until the batteries are low) keeps up with the speed of the camera’s continuous shooting mode (compared to several seconds between shots with the other). So far I use it mostly for macros which it is not well suited for (the 530EX is). But a home made diffuser/reflector helps a lot. So it turns out, I do use the hot shoe a lot. Since I got the new flash, I hardly shoot macros without it.

The S5 has several new features that I like in theory, Face Detection, Continuous Shooting AF, and Safety Manual Focus, but I will have to wait and see how useful they really are.

I have not yet tried Face Detection much but it sounds like it works well for other people. It is on by default for the more automatic modes, but it must be activated manually for P mode and higher. Unless you turn off FlexiZone, face detect is not very useful. Once detected, the auto focus box would stay on the position the face was when detected. If you turn off FlexiZone, Face Detect can be activated all the time with the set button and is just like in the automatic modes.

Continuous Shooting Auto Focus seemed to work ok but is not perfect. The speed isn’t too much lower than the regular continuous shooting. But there is no focus box to aim to help keep focus on your subject so some shots may be focusing on the subject and some on the background but it will be nicely in focus. It is not hidden away in a menu option so is easy to activate, it is right there as a choice next to regular continuous shooting when you hit the button.

Safety Manual Focus is a feature I think might be extremely useful. I have a Raynox DCR-250 macro adapter and at its maximum magnification, focusing is extremely difficult so manual focus is almost a must. But even then I miss a lot of shots just slightly due to the very narrow DOF so I hope safety focus help. I haven’t yet really put this feature to the test.

The lens cap does seem like it will stay on better than the S2, it is now a sort of clip on lens. But it still pops off so it doesn’t put any pressure on the lens motor if you forget to remove it. So it may still not stay on all the time, but I have not knocked it off accidentally yet.

The plastic tripod mount threads on the S2 have been replaced by metal. That was a common complaint with reviewers but I didn’t find it that bad. But now that it can have an external flash it does need the better thread.

There is now an ISO Speed field in the EXIF that Picasa and Flickr both read now so you don’t have to look in the Maker Notes fields to find it.

Canon got rid of the intervalometer and the high speed continuous shooting mode, but I suspect the majority of users never even knew either of those features existed. I will miss the high speed mode’s 2.4 fps. Regular continuous mode is the same as the S2 and S3’s 1.5 fps.

Actually comparing regular continuous shooting on the S2 with the S5, both cameras do seem about equal though not exactly the same. The S2 seemed to start off faster I think but over a minute slowed down slightly a few times in my first test. It was on an older smaller card but both were SanDisk. Neither had been formated recently and both had images already on them.

shots size time fps
S2 89 66 mb 1 min 1.483
S5 91 102 mb 1 min 1.517

I did some further tests comparing the speed of the two cameras. The S5 is a tiny bit (one shot per minute) faster than the S2’s normal continuous shooting mode. I used the same memory card in both cameras this time and included low level formatting it as a test for each camera which made no difference. Having the LCD panel open or closed also made no difference. I set the cameras to manual on ISO 80 and the fastest shutter speed I could at F2.7, 1/1600s. I also tried shooting with the S5 in lower resolutions, which slows it down slightly because it must resize.

shots size time fps resolution
S2 92 40 mb 1 min 1.533 2592×1944
S5 93 36 mb 1 min 1.554 3264×2448
S5 89 22 mb 1 min 1.483 2592×1944
S5 91 1.8 mb 1 min 1.517 640×480

In regular shooting there is a longer black out moment right after you hit the shutter. On the S2 it was so short I didn’t even realize it was there until now. The S5 seems to double the length of the blackout which is still extremely short and certainly not measurable by me, but seemed odd until I realized the S2 did it also.

The memory card slot is now under the battery door which is probably good for retail marketing since they can leave a card in there now and not have it stolen. That is good for trying the camera in the store which used to be difficult with no memory, but it is annoying for owners. I prefer to use a card reader so I take the memory card out frequently. Now I have to worry about not turning the camera over or I have to close the door so the batteries stay in. I found that if I left the door open on the S2 I was less likely to forget to put the memory back in. Going out to shoot with no memory card sucks. The door now opens different, instead of front to back like the S2, it opens to the side. And thanks to the extra strong springs on the batteries, closing the door is difficult. I wonder if I will download images less frequently to avoid using that door. Maybe it will improve with use as the springs get softer, but closing the door is my biggest complaint about the camera.

I have read some places that claim that the focusing on the background problem has been improved. If it is, its still far from gone. Just ask the blurry bird I shot tofday. The camera liked the leaves behind him better since they were lit better and higher contrast even though the bird took up more than 90% of the focus box on the screen. Five out of nine shots focused on the background or at least tried to. Some of those the whole shot was blurry but the leaves were less blurry. I finally had to go into Digital Zoom so there was very little background visible to get the shot. It doesn’t actually look too bad. Even with the S2, the background focusing problem was never a big issue. It is annoying when it happens, but it isn’t common and can usually be worked around by adjusting your angle or focusing on a nearby object.

Even though the flash is a tiny bit higher than the S2, it is still partially blocked by the lens when in Super Macro mode. But that can be easily overcome with a home made ring flash diffuser. It is made out of a Styrofoam bowl and called the CCRRFD. Once I learned about it, I have used it for most of my macros.

DCResource.com has up sample photos from the S5. He says the review probably won’t be up till July though. These aren’t completely controlled studio shots so it is difficult to compare them, but his S3 gallery has three very similar shots between the two cameras.

CNet has a review up. I prefer DCResource and DPReview‘s more in depth reviews but since they aren’t out, you have to decide without them if you can’t wait.

DCRecource and DPReview posted their reviews. Here are a couple other informative reviews that have popped up recently: dpinterface.com, photoreview.com.au, mycanong7.com.

There is also a Flickr group for the camera and you can view photos taken with the S5 in Flickr’s Camera Finder. When I first posted, the group only had four photos and they were all mine. Now we are nearing 200 photos. In the group, I started a discussion of things that annoy users about the camera.

Overall I like the camera. It’s not perfect, but no camera is. I would recommend it. But I also recommend you find it online for less than $500. It isn’t hard if you can stand to not have it right away. If you aren’t already an S series user, you should look at the S3 too though. You can find it for about half the S5 price online. If the new S5 features don’t interest you, the S3 is a much better deal and there is likely less difference in image quality than there was from the S2. Don’t focus on the megapixels, six is plenty for most people.

I will keep this post updated as I learn more about the camera. I have had it for less than 24 hours so far so I am sure there is a lot more to learn. I bet reading the instruction book would help. I have now read some of it. It did help.

Jedi vs. Sith Squirrels

'those' jedi squirrels

Not too long ago, digg had a post linking to a Flickr photo of squirrels with lightsabers. The post probably had something to do with having just passed the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars. But the image was not new, according to another Flickr user, DaveBr, who had just signed up to point it out, he created the image in June 2004 for a satirical site, b3ta.com. The image was so popular it went viral and is now posted all over the internet uncredited. It doesn’t seem to bother Dave that much since there is nothing he can do at this point, but I think he should get the recognition for creating such an awesome image. Dave’s version is a bit higher resolution and he has other Star Wars related photo manipulations with his signature on them and seems believable. His off Flickr gallery holding more photo manipulations is here.

Anyway, it looks like Sith Squirrels get around, this squirrel with a double ended saber like Darth Maul’s was trying to scare me away. His name is Darth Hoard.

Darth Hoard