Perseid Meteor Shower

One shot from the Perseid Meteor Shower. Taken on August 12 near Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver, BC).

Canada Day Fireworks At Canada Place

I haven’t had time to process my photos from last night and given my backlog it may take some time :) I did want to get a few posted though, for those that missed the festivities at Canada Place.  These shots are taken from Waterfront Centre with the Vancouver Convention Centre on the left and Canada Place on the right.  Before the fireworks started, I managed to get a couple of short Hyperlapse videos of the crowd. This was my vantage point, couldn’t ask for better (iPhone panorama). A few photos from the evening, I’ll try to get some better edits and more photos up soon.  ...

Nikon D810 Setup and Configuration

Updated on August 21, 2016 for Nikon’s latest D810 firmware: C 1.11, L: 2.013. The Nikon D800/D800 Setup and Configuration post I made a few years ago has been one of my most popular.  Now that I have the Nikon D810, I decided to create a new list of my settings (and a new setup file for download).  If you want more info on why I upgraded to the D810, you can read about that here. The menu banks are not great because they don’t save all of the settings you need to change, but they are better than nothing.  The U1/U2 settings of the D750, D610, and D7100 are superior to the menu banks both in terms of features and ease of use.  I have no idea why Nikon has decided to leave out such a fantastic function on their high-end cameras.  Neither the D800/D810 nor the D4/D4s have the U1/U2 settings.  Nice work Nikon. Here are the four menu banks I created: Landscape & HDR – sets up the camera for landscape or high dynamic range shooting.  I usually use a tripod and have time for manual focus, etc. Action – I usually use this setting when chasing my young kids, but also for my dogs or any other moving subject. Portrait – useful not just for portraits but for any stationary or slow moving targets. Point & Shoot – Since I use the “AF-ON” focusing technique (*1), it makes it difficult for my wife or friend to use my camera.  Rather than try to explain the technique, I just change the settings and let them shoot.  Since my wife often just wants a couple of quick photos to post online, this is the only bank where I also shoot JPEG. The settings for all four modes are outlined below.  Note that the settings just make the starting point for configuration easier.  It doesn’t mean these are always the settings I use when shooting.  I may not use ISO64 for all situations nor the same AF settings.  If you want to use them as a starting point for your own custom settings it is easiest to just download my config file here.  Choose the right file for your firmware (check your firmware SETUP MENU -> Firmware version). C: 1.02, L:2.005 : Download Nikon D810 custom settings file 1.02. C: 1.11, L: 2.013 : Download Nikon D810 custom settings file 1.11. To use the custom settings file, copy it to the root folder of your media card using your computer, insert the media card into your camera and navigate to SETUP MENU -> Save/load settings -> Load settings. This will copy the settings over to your camera.  You may want to save your own settings before you copy mine to your camera in case you need to revert back. Note the [change this] in the settings below, these are things you will want to change in your own camera before you start shooting.  At the bottom of this post, you can also see what I put in “MY MENU” to access some controls I often change on the fly. To switch between the various menu banks, you have several options: The slow way: Shooting menu bank: go to menu -> shooting menu -> shooting menu bank -> select your bank. Custom settings menu: go to custom setting menu -> custom settings bank -> select your bank. The fast way: Press the “i” button on the back of the camera (no idea why Nikon gave us yet another button, sigh). “SHOOT” should be selected, press the center button in the multi-selector, pick your setting.  Do the same for custom settings bank (“CUSTOM”). If you have questions, or a suggestion feel free to leave them in the comments at the bottom of the page.  If you want more detail on the settings below download Nikon’s D810 manual (free). Landscape & HDR Action Portrait Point &...

Why I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a D810

  Why I Upgraded In this section I list the main reasons I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a Nikon D810.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the D800, it was an amazing camera capable of fantastic results.  There were a few things that made the difference though.  In general, Nikon took an already great camera and made it better. No anti-alias filter.  Also known as Optical Low Pass Filter, Blur Filter, and probably a few other names.  When the D800 and D800E were released, it created a lot of speculation about the potential moire and false color problems that the D800E would face.  I had actually planned to get a D800E but my local shop had the D800 first and said I’m facing a 4+ month wait for an E model.  I decided to get the D800 and start shooting.  In the end, the fears around no AA filter in the D800E were unfounded, the vast majority of shooters have never had a problem.   Given the lack of issues, Nikon didn’t even bother with a filtered version of the D810.  In fact, it improved on the D800E even further.  Where the D800E had an AA filter that cancelled itself out, the D810 has no AA filter at all in the stack.  The sharpness benefits are not drastic, but there are there and I’m happy to have the best possible starting image. Frame rate.  5fps in full frame mode (36 megapixels) with full AF and metering.  Drop it down to 1.2X crop and you get 6fps and 24 megapixels.  Plenty of resolution, plenty of speed, and no battery grip needed.  I really don’t need more than 6fps, when I shoot bursts it’s often chasing my kids so the 1.2x crop suits me just fine.  The rest of the time I’m shooting landscapes or architecture. The D810 feels like both an action cam and a landscape cam in one body.  Perfect. Improved autofocus. I had plenty of problems with my D800 autofocus.  It was plagued with the ‘left focus problem’ and went to Nikon three times before it finally came back fixed.  The D810 seems to work great out of the box and now has group AF mode and better face detection. Improved bracketing.  The D800 was limited to +/- 1 EV between exposures, the D810 extends that to +/- 3 EV (it can also do 1 and 2 EV).   To get a standard -2/0/+2 exposure for HDR I had to take 5 shots with the D800 and then throw away two of them.  With the D810, I can take the 3 I need and call it a day.  More flexibility, more options, and solved something that always bugged me about the D800.  Worse still that this would have been a simple firmware fix for Nikon. Electronic front curtain shutter.  The D800 had mirror up (MUP) and exposure delay modes to reduce the vibration effects of the mirror.  The D810 takes it a step further by also eliminating the vibration effects of the shutter.  Well done Nikon. ISO 64.  Base ISO is now 64 (instead of 100 in the D800).  Gives me options for long exposures and bright light with fast lenses. ISO 12,800.  I’m unlikely to shoot at the upper end of the ISO range often, but noise performance has been improved at 3200 and 6400 as well, which is a bonus. Live View improved.  Nikon made great improvements in Live View over the D800.  Not only is the LCD a higher resolution screen, but the nasty artifacts that plagued the D800 are now gone.  I use LV frequently, especially at 100% zoom, for critical focus work so the D810 is a joy to use. Hand grip improved.  I have large hands, and the D800 never felt that comfortable in my hands.  The D810 brings some much welcome changes here, the grip is noticeably improved and the camera feels much more secure...

Home Computer Backup Strategy

Updated May 5, 2015 Since I work in the IT industry, several of my friends have asked me how I back up my home computer.  Rather than repeat the same thing over and over, I decided to create this post to try and outline how I do things.   I’ll also tell you what you should do as a minimum to ensure the safety of your data. If you don’t currently back up your data, you should.  That is of course if you would experience any grief if you lost all of your photos, documents, email, calendar, etc.  Personally, I have a TON of photos that I simply can’t get back if I lost all of my data.  I can re-write my resume if needed, download some music, but I can’t go back in time to capture an image I took on vacation five years ago.  I make sure I have several copies of ALL of my photos as I never want to lose any of them.  Beyond my photos, I treat most of my data in the same way, I ensure it is safe. Some people think their data is safe because they back up to DVD or an external hard drive.  This is better than doing nothing, but ineffective for two main reasons.  First, no one I know keeps up with a regular schedule of burning DVDs.  Their most recent backup is from 8 months ago and they don’t even know where the discs are.  Also, the sheer volume of data we have these days makes DVD backup cumbersome.  If I had to back up all of my data I would need 181 DVDs!  No thanks.  Second, local media like external hard drives are typically plugged into or stored right next to the computer.  If you have a fire, flood, experience a theft, or some other major issue, your computer and backup are both gone.  If you can maintain a rigorous schedule of rotating hard drives off-site, more power to you, but I like to do things the easy way.  In the words of Ron Popeil, I need to “set it and forget it“. Most people I know don’t back up their data, they never had a major failure and assume it will never happen to them.  It will happen to you sooner or later, no sense sticking your head in the sand.  Others think that is part of the risk in owning a computer, it just happens or it’s too hard to keep data safe.  Below are a few quick and easy things you can do to immediately improve your situation.  There really is no excuse not to do this. With that rambling out of the way I’ll cover what I consider the minimum effort needed to ensure that your data is safe.  I’ll also cover what I do with my data which is beyond the minimum but that is what IT guys do. PREAMBLE Data backup needs to be easy and automated.  I’m lazy and don’t want to be constantly doing something, it should “just work“. I assume you have a broadband internet connection.  If you are on dial-up or some back-woods connection this will likely not be helpful for you. I’m running Windows but this applies equally to Mac (though I don’t provide links). THE MINIMUM DATA SAFETY STRATEGY First, ensure you have some kind of anti-virus software running on your computer and keep it up to date.  If your Norton subscription expired two years ago it’s not doing much to protect you.  You are unlikely to be infected by a virus from a few years back, and much more likely to get something released yesterday.  There are good options out there for free, so please install one.  Avast is the one I use, it’s FREE and scores very well on the various tests conducted by third parties.  If you use Microsoft Security Essentials, I suggest...

A Short Visit to Wrocław, Poland Mar02

A Short Visit to Wrocław, Poland

Being a native of Poland (specifically Łódź), I was happy to book a return visit to my homeland.  I haven’t been back for many years, and it being a work trip I didn’t have much time for sightseeing.  I flew to Wrocław via Frankfurt, and while at the Frankfurt airport I had the chance to stretch my legs so I took my camera along. They have a great kids area complete with a plane and a soft rubber floor.  I didn’t have the twins with me, so they couldn’t enjoy playing pilots.  Click any photo to enlarge. I also got my first glimpse of the new Airbus A380, the largest passenger airliner in the world.  I actually saw many of them so Frankfurt must be a hub for these monsters.  It’s an impressive machine. I spent my week in Lubin, Poland and unfortunately have just one photo to share.  I took this at a park near the Astone Hotel on a cold and foggy morning.  The toned black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro.   The night before my flight home, I did have a few hours to spend walking around Wrocław.   It was late so I was unable to enter any of the fantastic cathedrals and churches in the city (I am fond of these places: 1, 2).  It was also very cold and I was poorly prepared for the elements :)  Regardless, I did get a few photos from this beautiful city.  Next time I intend to spend more time there. First, just a quick shot as I was on my way to the city square (Rynek). A quick stroll through the city square, very beautiful and not something I find in my home town of Vancouver :) As you may notice, it’s now dark.  I may have stopped for a pint, maybe.  Below is a photo of the University of Wroclaw with the River Odra in the foreground.     My chilly walk continued and I was treated with a great view of the Cathedral Island (cathedral right and church of the Holy Cross [Kościół Świętego Krzyża], left). Getting to Cathedral Island meant crossing the Tumski Bridge (Most Tumski).  From Wikipedia: Tumski Bridge is also called Lovers Bridge, Cathedral Bridge or Green Bridge. It’s a place of enamoured tradition for lovers. The bridge is full of padlocks which lovers leave to cherish their feelings. An important part of the ceremony is to throw the key into the Odra river.   Now on Cathedral Island, the Church of the Holy Cross. At the side of the big Cathedral.  Very sorry I was unable to go inside. Now off Cathedral Island, I took a few photos of the National Museum.  Such great architecture, I spent some time here.     Looking back towards Cathedral Island, I took one more shot before heading back to my hotel cold and happy.      ...

The Grid: A New Way To Design Websites?

I remember developing websites when the web was just starting to take off (mid 90’s). Coding HTML by hand and using Mosaic 0.9 Beta as my browser. Over time, tools like Dreamweaver gave us WYSIWYG editors to make things easier. Today, this site is based on WordPress, one of the very successful web publishing platforms that sprung up in recent history to make creating websites and posting content easier still.  Themes, plugins, widgets, and other shortcuts means you never have to see the code, or do any heavy lifting.  It’s a great way to create a site, but you still need some tech skills to get it up and running.  I still go into the code to make small changes to the templates and plugins, even making a child theme to keep my changes separate from the parent theme.  The beauty is that once running, anyone can post content.  It’s no harder than writing an email.   Switching themes in WordPress is not trivial, having done this a few times I know that the change isn’t seamless.  Layout usually looks terrible and requires some effort to fix.  It doesn’t help that themes have unique features (like shortcodes) that don’t work elsewhere, so you may also need to edit your posts.  Further, you need a plugin like WPTouch to make the content look good on mobile devices.  As good as WordPress is, there is room for improvement.   Today, I saw that a new publishing tool, The Grid, is being developed that hopes to make building a site even easier.  Sites look good in any browser or on any device (desktop or mobile), layout can be changed and everything continues to look good and work well.  The video below gives a quick into to the service.     The Grid harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to take everything you throw at it – videos, images, text, urls and more – and automatically shape them into a custom website unique to you.     AI sounds good, but will it actually work and produce what I want?  How much control will I have over the look and feel?  Are “layout filters” really different from templates?  Will the automatic selection of color palette and fonts look good? Hard to say right now, you can’t create a site yet.  It sounds good but it is too early to say.  If you are willing to sign up now and be a founding member, you pay $8/month and that rate is locked in for as long as you use the service.  One launched the service will be $25/month so I’ll take the chance that it’s something I want to use and start paying now.  It won’t launch for about six more months, so it’s a $50 roll of the dice but that seems like a reasonable amount.  You can also get referral credits if you spread the word and others sign up.  So visit The Grid and check it out for yourself.  ...

Making The Switch: Laptop & iPad to Surface Pro 3...

  As an IT professional I have used many smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. Each has its place, and I have all of these devices for different reasons. My current devices are: Smartphone: Apple iPhone 5S (32GB) Tablet: Apple iPad 4th Gen (Retina, 3G + WiFi, 128GB) Laptop: Lenovo X1 Carbon (i7, 160GB) Desktop: Custom (giant case, 7 hard drives, 5 fans, etc.) Though this combo has served me well, I took notice when Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3. It’s really the first time that I thought a single device could replace both my laptop and tablet, so I decided to buy one to test the theory.  I went with the top spec Surface Pro 3 because I was already running an Intel Core i7 device with 8GB of RAM and didn’t want to take a step back.  If I could have purchased one with 16GB of RAM I would have done so, but sadly that isn’t an option.  So how does the Surface compare with my old devices on specifications?   Specifications   Spec Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Lenovo X1 Carbon Apple iPad Gen 4 CPU Intel Core i7 4650U Intel Core i7 3667U 1.4 GHz dual-core Apple Swift Cores 2 2 2 Clock Speed 1.7GHz 2.0GHz 1.4GHz Turbo Clock Speed 3.3GHz 3.2GHz   GPU Intel Integrated HDGraphics 5000 Intel Integrated HDGraphics 4000 Quad-core PowerVRSGX554MP4 Display Size 12″ 14″ 9.7″ Display Resolution 2160 x 1440 1600 x 900 2048 × 1536 Display PPI 216 131 264 Camera MP (front/back) 5 / 5 1.3 / X 1.2 / 5   Though the clock speed is lower on the Surface Pro CPU, it benchmarks higher in both single-core and multi-core tests. Also, the updated GPU in the Surface Pro tests better than my Lenovo X1. I suspect that newer models of the X1 have better specifications, but for me it’s an upgrade over my existing hardware.   Physical Dimensions   Spec Surface Pro 3 Lenovo X1 Carbon iPad Gen 4 Dimensions 11.5” x 7.93” x 0.36” 13.03″ x 8.92″ x 0.53″ 9.5″ × 7.31″ × 0.37″ Weight 1.76 lbs 2.8 lbs 1.46 lbs Combined weight of the X1 and iPad are 4.3 lbs, which is more than double of the Surface Pro 3. The weight was one of the things that struck me when I first picked up the device, it was lighter than I expected. Granted, you need to add some weight and thickness when you attach the keyboard cover, but it’s not that much. I’m saving a lot of weight by replacing two devices with one.   When you compare the devices side by side, you realize how small the Surface actually is.  A lot of tech is packed into a small case.   Hardware   Pros Much lighter than I expected.  It’s not a small device, but MS did a great job putting this thing on a diet.  Nicely done. The keyboard (more below). The kickstand is great, you can adjust the angle to suit any position and it’s integrated so you don’t need to add a case (like you do with the iPad). The Surface Pro 3 docking station is easy to use, and has the ports necessary for a full office setup (3 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, ethernet, audio, and mini display port). The power brick has a USB port that I can use to charge other devices (iPhone, headset, etc.).  Brilliant, why didn’t anyone do this sooner.  When travelling I can leave my Apple charger at home (just bring the cable).  I realize I could have just plugged it into the Surface USB to charge, but it only has one (see below) and I’m not even sure it’s powered when the device is off. I can only review the writing experience with the pen, so far I have been unable to pair it with my Surface to make the button...

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