Graffiti in Santiago, Chile

Exploring Santiago

Though I'm posting this in September, the photos were taken in March. It has taken me ages to find the time to edit and post these shots but such is the life with young twins. I have been to Chile several times in the past but often don't have time to explore due to my work schedule. However, during this trip I had an extra day and decided to explore the city of Santiago.

I contacted Cat at Foto Ruta to see if she had time to plan a custom tour. Not knowing the city well, it's nice to have a local show you around. Cat was very accommodating to my schedule and interests and we planned an afternoon/sunset shoot.  We met at the GAM (Center of Arts, Culture, and People) and wandered the streets for hours from there.



Not far from the GAM is the "Cerro Santa Lucía".

My favorite photo from the fountain did not turn out great but I had a good laugh at the little boy playing in the water.



Here are my tour guides for the afternoon, Cat and Alex.  I never did see the photo from the other side :)2015-03-19-Santiago-Chile-0257-MKH

I did try my hand at some sweeping shots of traffic.  Need more practice.

A few shots while walking through the streets.

We then made it to this great plaza where guys sit around and play chess.  Maybe women play too, but likely few and far between. Some interesting characters, and a bit of street art too.

I love old and interesting churches, this one was beautiful.

Caught this guy in the plaza, his shirt says "I shoot people".  So do I :)


Some fantastic murals, they were huge and very well done.

This young guy looked relaxed and waved to us.  I like the long shadow in the waning daylight.2015-03-19-Santiago-Chile-0426-MKH

We got into an area of town filled with graffiti.  This is not the crappy work you see in a subway tunnel, but works of art by commissioned local artists.  It was brilliant.

My guides Cat and Alex looking for shots.


Even the people around here are covered in art.


A few shots from a rooftop to finish the day.  Thanks for the great tour Cat and Alex!


The next day, I only had a few hours before my flight but enough time to visit Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos.  This is a small village full of Chilean handicrafts and a farmers market.  Worth a visit.

My final stop for the day, and a place I have visited twice before, was the Cementerio General de Santiago.  It's an interesting place to roam around, with a blend of old and new.  I'll likely visit again in the future.

I "almost" sat on this at the end of the day.  No idea what it is but it was covered with long, hard, and incredibly sharp spines.  It hurt to even pick it up, so I'm glad I didn't sit on it. It would have been a LONG plane ride home.


Perseid Meteor Shower 2015-08-13

Perseid Meteor Shower

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

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015-08-13

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 2

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).

Canada Day at Canada Place iPhone Panorama : July 1, 2015

A few photos from the evening, I'll try to get some better edits and more photos up soon.

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 5

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 6

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 3

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 2

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 1

Canada Day Fireworks - Canada Place, Vancouver, BC - 2015-07-01 : 4



Nikon D810 Front

Nikon D810 Setup and Configuration

Nikon D810 Front

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 & HDRActionPortraitPoint & Shoot
Exposure ModeA (Aperture Priority)A (Aperture Priority)A (Aperture Priority)P (Program)
Metering Mode3D Matrix Metering3D Matrix MeteringCenter Weighted Metering3D Matrix Metering
BracketingAs needed (usually 3 frames +/-2 EV)OffOffOff
Shooting ModeSingle, Timer, or MUPCH (continuous high)CH (continuous high)CH (continuous high)
Autofocus Mode *1Manual or AF-C, single pointAF-C, groupAF-C, single point or groupAF-S, Auto

Playback folderND810 (default)
Hide imageDefault
Playback display optionsHighlights, RGB histogram, Overview
Copy image(s)N/A
Image reviewOff
After deleteShow next
Rotate tallOff
Slide showN/A
DPOF print orderN/A

Landscape & HDRActionPortraitPoint & Shoot
Shooting menu bankABCD
Extended menu banksONONONON
Storage folderDefaultDefaultDefaultDefault
File NamingMKH [change this]MKH [change this]MKH [change this]MKH [change this]
Primary slot selectionCF card slotCF card slotCF card slotCF card slot
Secondary slot functionBackupBackupBackupRAW primary - JPEG secondary
Image qualityRAWRAWRAWRAW + JPEG fine
JPEG/TIFF recording
- Image sizeN/AN/AN/ASmall
- JPEG compressionN/AN/AN/AOptimal quality
NEF (RAW) recording
- Image sizeLargeLargeLargeLarge
- NEF (RAW) compressionLossless compressedLossless compressedLossless compressedLossless compressed
- NEF (RAW) bit depth14-bit14-bit14-bit14-bit
Image area
- Choose image areaFX1.2xFXFX
- Auto DX cropOnOnOnOn
White BalanceAuto1Auto1Auto1Auto1 (change as needed)
Set Picture ControlSD (Standard)SD (Standard)PT (Portrait)SD (Standard)
Manage Picture ControlDefaultDefaultDefaultDefault
Color SpaceAdobeRGBAdobeRGBAdobeRGBsRGB
Active D-LightingOffOffOffH (High)
HDR (high dyn. range)N/A (disabled when shooting RAW)N/A (disabled when shooting RAW)N/A (disabled when shooting RAW)Off
Vignette controlNormalNormalNormalHigh
Auto distortion controlOnOnOnOn
Long Exposure NROffOffOffOff
High ISO NROffOffOffNormal
ISO Sensitivity Settings
ISO sensitivity6464 (adjust as needed)64 (adjust as needed)100 (adjust as needed)
Auto ISO sensitivity controlOffOn (Max ISO: 6400,Min shutter: auto, auto, max fasteraster)OffOn (Max ISO: 6400,Min shutter: auto, auto, max faster)
Multiple exposureOffOffOffOff
Interval timer shootingOffOffOffOff
Time-lapse photographyOffOffOffOff
Movie settings
Frame size/rate1920x1080; 60fps1920x1080; 60fps1920x1080; 60fps1920x1080; 60fps
Movie qualityHighHighHighHigh
Microphone sensitivityAuto sensitivityAuto sensitivityAuto sensitivityAuto sensitivity
Frequency responseWideWideWideWide
Wind noise reductionOffOffOffOff
Movie ISO sensitivity settings
- ISO sensitivity (mode M)100100100100
- Auto ISO control (mode M)OnOnOnOn
- Maximum sensitivity6400640064006400

Landscape & HDRActionPortraitPoint & Shoot
Custom settings bankABCD
a1 AF-C priority selectionReleaseReleaseReleaseFocus
a2 AF-S priority selectionFocusFocusFocusFocus
a3 Focus tracking with lock-onLongOffNormalOff
a4 AF activationOff (AF-ON focus technique)Off (AF-ON focus technique)Off (AF-ON focus technique)On
a5 Focus point display
- Manual focus modeOffOffOffOff
- Dynamic-area AF displayOnOnOnOn
- Group-area AF illuminationBoxesBoxesBoxesBoxes
a6 AF point illuminationAutoAutoAutoAuto
a7 Focus point wrap-aroundOn - WrapOn - WrapOn - WrapOn - Wrap
a8 Number of focus pointsAF 51 (51 points)AF11 (11 points)AF 51 (51 points)AF11 (11 points)
a9 Store by orientationOffOffOffOff
a10 Built-in AF-assist illuminatorOffOffOffOff
a11 Limit AF-area mode selectionAll checkedAll checkedAll checkedAll checked
a12 Autofocus mode restrictionsOffOffOffOff
b1 ISO sensitivity step value1/31/31/31/3
b2 EV steps for exposure cntrl1/31/31/31/3
b3 Exp./flash comp step value1/31/31/31/3
b4 Easy exposure compensationOffOffOffOff
b5 Matrix meteringOffOnOnOn
b6 Center-weighted area12mm12mm8mm12mm
b7 Fine-tune optimal exposure0 (for all)0 (for all)0 (for all)0 (for all)
c1 Shutter-release AE-LOffOffOffOff
c2 Standby timer10s10s10s10s
c3 Self-timer
- Self-timer delay2s10s10s10s
- Number of shots2 (N/A if bracket enabled)111
- Interval between shots0.5s0.5s0.5s0.5s
c4 Monitor off delay
- Playback10s10s10s10s
- Menus1m1m1m1m
- Information display10s10s10s10s
- Image review10s10s10s10s
- Live view10m10m10m10m
d1 BeepOffOffOffOff
d2 CL mode shoot speed2fps2fps2fps2fps
d3 Max continuous release100100100100
d4 Exposure delay mode3sOffOffOff
d5 Electronic front-curtain shutterOnOffOffOff
d6 File number sequenceOnOnOnOn
d7 Viewfinder grid displayOnOnOffOff
d8 ISO display adjustmentOffOffOffOff
d9 Screen tipsOnOnOnOn
d10 Information displayAutoAutoAutoAuto
d11 LCD illuminationOnOnOnOn
d12 MB-D12 battery typeLR6LR6LR6LR6
d13 Battery orderMB-D12MB-D12MB-D12MB-D12
e1 Flash Sync Speed1/2501/2501/2501/250
e2 Flash shutter speed1/601/601/601/60
e3 Flash cntrl for built-in flashTTLTTLTTLTTL
e4 Exposure comp. for flashEntire frameEntire frameEntire frameEntire frame
e5 Modeling flashOnOnOnOn
e6 Auto bracketing setAEAEAEAE
e7 Auto bracket (Mode M)Flash/speedFlash/speedFlash/speedFlash/speed
e8 Bracketing orderUnder > MTR > overUnder > MTR > overUnder > MTR > overUnder > MTR > over
f1 switchLCD Backlight and info displayLCD Backlight and info displayLCD Backlight and info displayLCD Backlight and info display
f2 Multiselect center button
- Shooting modeResetResetResetReset
- Playback modeZoom, 1:1 (100%)cZoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)
- Live viewZoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)Zoom, 1:1 (100%)
f3 Multi selectorOffOffOffOff
f4 Assign Fn button
- Fn button pressViewfinder virtual horizonViewfinder virtual horizonViewfinder virtual horizonViewfinder virtual horizon
- Fn button + command dialsOffOffOffOff
f5 Assign preview button
- Preview button pressPreviewPreviewPreviewPreview
- Preview button + command dialsOffOffOffOff
f6 Assign AE-L/AF-L button
- AE-L/AF-L button pressAE/AF lockAE/AF lockAE/AF lockAE/AF lock
- AE-L/AF-L + command dialsOffOffOffOff
f7 Shutter spd & aperture lockOffOffOffOff
f9 Customize command dialsDefault (Off, on, off)Default (Off, on, off)Default (Off, on, off)Default (Off, on, off)
f10 Release button to use  dialOffOffOffOff
f11 Slot empty release lockLockLockLockLock
f12 Reverse indicators- 0 +- 0 +- 0 +- 0 +
f13 Assign movie record buttonChoose image areaChoose image areaChoose image areaChoose image area
f14 Live view button optionsOnOnOnOn
f16 Assign remote (WR) Fn buttonOffOffOffOff
f17 Lens focus function buttonsAF lock onlyAF lock onlyAF lock onlyAF lock only
g1 Assign Fn buttonPower aperture (open)Power aperture (open)Power aperture (open)Power aperture (open)
g2 Assign preview buttonPower aperture (close)Power aperture (close)Power aperture (close)Power aperture (close)
g3 Assign AE-L/AF-LAE LockAE LockAE LockAE Lock
g4 Assign shutter buttonRecord moviesRecord moviesRecord moviesRecord movies

Format memory cardAs needed
Monitor brightnessManual (0)
Monitor color balanceDefault
Clean image sensorClean at shutdown (no sense delaying startup)
Lock mirror up cleaningAs needed
Image Dust Off ref photoAs needed
Flicker reductionAuto
Time zone and dateSet to local time
Auto image rotationOn
Battery infoN/A
Image comment *2None
Copyright InformationOn [change this]
Save/load settingsAs needed
Virtual horizonN/A
Non-CPU lens dataN/A
AF fine tuneSet for your lenses if needed
Location dataN/A
Firmware versionN/A

Never use it

c3 Self-timer
d4 Exposure delay mode
d5 Electronic front-curtain shutter
Time zone and date
Long exposure NR
Active D-Lighting


*1 - Autofocus : I use the "AF-ON" technique (for lack of a better term) to focus my camera. You can read more about the technique here. You will see that in my settings, I primarily use AF-C as the default focus mode when I use the camera. With the AF-ON technique, you decouple the focusing of the camera from the shutter press. The nice thing is that you can have both continuous and static autofocus at the same time. Focus and recompose is also easier as you don't have to keep the shutter half-pressed, just release the AF-ON button and the camera stops focusing. It works very well, but takes a bit of getting used to. This technique works on both Nikon and Canon cameras (likely other brands as well but I haven't checked into it).

*2 - Image comment : There are two spots to put your personal info into the file EXIF data: "Image comment" and "Copyright information". Some people use both, but there isn't really a reason to do so. I have found one reason not to use the 'image comment' field, and that is because the comment shows up in the description field when you post images online (facebook for example). At times, I post images to facebook and I don't want the description for each one to say "copyright Mike Heller Photography", blah, blah, blah. My friends want to see something about the image, not a copyright notice. For me, it just makes the upload process more time consuming and it doesn't add any value. You may want to use it, so feel free to use the field if that fits into your workflow.

Nikon D800 to D810 Logo

Why I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a D810

 Nikon D800 to D810 Logo

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 in my hand.

Nice To Have Extras

Here are some of the added benefits of the D810 that didn't have a big impact on my decision but I'm happy to have them.

  1. Highlight weighted metering.  An extra metering mode useful in some tricky situations.
  2. Metering and bracketing selection improved.  I'm usually not a fan of buttons getting moved around, but the new layout is actually easier to use.  The ring around the AF-ON wasn't the easiest way to select the metering mode, the button/wheel method is better.
  3. Quiet mirror/shutter.  Not Q (quiet) mode, but the operation of the mirror and shutter are much softer and better dampened than in the D800.  This likely improves sharpness but also makes the camera more pleasant to use.
  4. Split screen live view.  Limited usefulness, but I have used it a couple of times when leveling a horizon.  I think it would be more useful with tilt-shift lenses (which I don't have), to ensure critical focus in multiple areas of the image.
  5. Improved battery life.  1200 shots in the D810, only 900 in the D800.  Battery life was never a big problem for me, but I'll take more.
  6. Double the buffer size.  With the improved frame rates, this is an added bonus.   I don't often hit the limit with the D810.
  7. Timer function improved.  Just set up the number of bracketed shots you want to take, switch the camera into timer mode, and hit the shutter release once.  The D810 will take the full bracket sequence for you.  Easy.

Added To D810, But I Don't Care

Here are a few things added to the D810 that are of no use to me.  I'm not saying they are useless, some of you may put them in your own "this is why I upgraded" list.  For me, they are things I'm unlikely to use or gain any benefit from.

  1. Zebras in movie mode.  Shows you highlight clipping.  I almost never shoot movies with my DSLR so don't care if it shows dancing hippos.
  2. Two info buttons.  "i" and "info", why Nikon?  You had one button that you could click twice.  Now I have two buttons, and I usually press the wrong one.
  3. Flat picture control, clarity adjustment.  This only makes a difference for jpeg shooting, but I shoot 98% of my shots in RAW (NEF).  Which leads me to...
  4. sRAW.  Not real RAW, I don't care.
  5. 1080p 60p (full HD).  Again, I don't shoot video.  Even if it shot 8K... yawn.
  6. There are a few more, but I have forgotten about them already.

What Didn't Make It Into The D810 But Should Have

Nikon had the opportunity to fix some things in the D810 but chose not to.  Here are a few things which I would have liked to see (some could even be implemented with a firmware upgrade I suspect).

  1. EFC in timer mode.  Why only in MUP?  Give me a firmware fix for this please.   I want a 2-second timer, 3 second exposure delay, and EFC.
  2. User preset modes (U1/U2).  The memory banks suck, I use them but I would much prefer the preset modes present on other cameras in Nikon's lineup.
  3. WiFi.  It's 2015 Nikon, get in the game.  Give me wifi and the ability to use my iPhone as a remote trigger.  Even better, give me an app for the Apple Watch!
  4. Exposures longer than 30 seconds.  Why is this still a limitation?  I need my remote trigger with me at all times, and it would need it at all if I could set my exposure to any value.  Another firmware fix please. UPDATE (June 1, 2015): The Nikon D810A camera (targeted at astrophotography) has a new M* mode (Long Exposure Manual Mode) that allows you to set the exposure time between 4 and 900 seconds.  Would be great if Nikon made this available via firmware on the D810.


Data Backup Image 1

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.

Data Backup Image 1


  • 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).


  • 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 you stop and get Avast.  The Microsoft tools are just crap.
  • Turn on Windows Update and ensure it installs updates automatically.  Lack of updates is a primary infection vector.
  • Turn on your Windows Firewall, it helps.
  • Ensure the safety of your data by installing and running Backblaze (or another cloud based backup solution).  This is the most important part and the part that ensures the safety of your data.  I have tried several online backup options: Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox, Google Drive, and some cobbled together software sending data to Amazon S3.  Needless to say, Backblaze is very easy to install and set up, and cheap considering the alternatives.  It will cost you $50 per year, which is under $5 per month.  It is money well spent.  Once your data is gone, that $50 will seem like peanuts as most people would be willing to spends hundreds to get their data back.  In many data loss cases, it's too late.  The nice thing about Backblaze is that allows you to log into the web site and download individual files if you accidentally delete something or they will send you a DVD or hard drive with ALL of your data if you have a bigger problem. NOTE: If you have a lot of data to back up, this may take some time even on a high speed connection.  It took several weeks to complete my backup, but after that only your new files need to be stored so it is typically not an issue.

That's it, most of you probably have the first three done already as computers often come with anti-virus software installed and the Windows Firewall and updates are turned on by default.  Just install Backblaze and sleep well tonight.  I suggest you double check now and then to ensure it's running and sending your data to Backblaze.  You can probably complete all of the above steps in under an hour, even if you are not a computer pro.


  • Same four things as with the minimum strategy, that is a given.
  • I subscribe to the 3-2-1 data protection strategy, which means for all of my critical data I have:
    • 3 copies of the data
    • on at least 2 different types of media
    • with at least 1 copy being off-site (physically in a different location).
  • If you only do the steps listed above for my 'minimum' strategy you are likely to have just a 2/2/1 data protection strategy (2 copies, 2 media, 1 off-site) but that is still vastly superior to what most people have, no backups (1/0/0).
  • Install an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to prevent incorrect shutdown during power outages.  A UPS is essentially a battery that will keep your computer running during a power outage.  It gives you time to shut down properly or it can even do it for you if you are not present.  This helps prevent corruption of data if your computer suddenly loses power.  I like APC and Rocketfish brands for home use.
  • Install an internet router, which is a device you install between the device your internet provider gives you (such as a cable modem) and your computer(s).  Many people have one already, they are often used to provide wireless access (WiFi) for devices. I'm not going to cover how to do this, but it adds a layer of security to any computer running behind it as you create a private network inside your house that is not as easily accessed form the outside.
  • Turn on Windows Previous Versions for your data (formerly referred to as Shadow Copy).  Essentially what you are doing is reserving a portion of your hard drive to making backups of your data.  This is good for one major reason: version control.  Windows will create multiple copies of the same file which you can access relatively easily.   This is very handy if you need to revert back to a previous version and is faster than going to backup.  Also, your backup is unlikely to maintain many versions of the same file.  Windows does this in a very space-efficient manner and if you are not cramped for space on your drive you should turn this on.  More info on this at Wikipedia.
  • Use RAID if your computer supports it.  Most laptops don't since they only have one hard drive, but many desktop computers have the ability to run hard drives in various RAID levels.  Currently all of my data is stored on a RAID-5 set (more info on RAID levels at Wikipedia), which means I have three hard drives in my computer and data is written to all at the same time. This allows one of the hard drives to fail and my computer continues to operate without issue.  I can replace the failed hard drive, and carry on like nothing happened.  RAID-1, or a mirrored set, is also a good option for data security.
  • Use external storage, ideally network attached storage (NAS), to keep a copy of your data locally.  I have a Synology 5-bay NAS running in RAID-5 mode which keeps a backup copy of all of my data.  The RAID-5 configuration allows for one drive to fail with no impact on my data.  The NAS is also handy for sharing files between multiple computers on your home network.This is the third copy of my data in the 3-2-1 strategy (one copy on my computer, one on my NAS, one at Backblaze).  I use software called SyncBack (free) to make a copy of all my data from my computer to my NAS every night.  It only copies changed files, so once you have it up and running backups are fast.  I no longer use SyncBack, but instead use the awesome Synology Cloud Station.  Cloud Station enables me to sync my files from my computer to my NAS.  It has a a few benefits:
    • Agent on my computer that is easy to set up and manages all of my file copies to the NAS.  It scans my folders and immediately copies any new files to the Synology.
    • It has an overlay on my synced folders, showing me what is synced and what still needs to be copied.
    • It manages versions on the NAS, so I can roll back files to a previous state in time.
    • There is an iOS client that allows me to securely access all of my files via my iPhone.  Handy if I'm not at home and I need to pull down a file.

That's it, extra safety from several layers of security.  Hardware keeps my computer and network safe (UPS, router).  Within my computer, software prevents data corruption (anti-virus, firewall, updates).  If I accidentally delete a file or even part of a file, I can go to my previous versions or the backup on my NAS.  If I have a hard drive fails within my computer, my data is unaffected.  If a hard drive fails in my external storage (NAS), there is also no issue.  This will cover the most frequent problems and allow me to keep working and keep my data safe.  If I experience a bigger problem, such as a fire, all of my data is also off-site at Backblaze which constantly runs in the background and ensures new files are backed up and kept safe.

There are certainly things you can do beyond this, though there are diminishing returns as my strategy covers most contingencies.  Also, this covers data backup but some like to create a full image of their computer so they can restore their operating system and software in case of a problem.  I don't think that is necessary, I have no issue re-installing Windows and my associated software if I have a complete failure.  Those things are relatively easy to get back up and running, it's the data you can't get back that you need to protect.


Whatever backup strategy you choose to employ, it's important to periodically check things to ensure they are still working.  Services like Backblaze will send you emails letting you know how many files you have stored with them.  Compare this to your previous numbers to ensure new files are getting added to the backup.  Also, test your backups by restoring files.  I do this four or five times per year, less frequent than that and there is potential for loss beyond my comfort level.  Choose a few random files (I usually choose one old file and one recently created) and restore it to your computer from your backups (if you have more than one backup like I do, restore from all of them).  This ensures your backups are working and that you can get the files back if you need to.  Monitoring and sample restores are a critical part of the process.  There are many reasons backups can stop working, so keep an eye on things to ensure your data is safe in case you ever need it.

Feel free to post in the comments if you have questions or would like to add to the items listed here.


Wrocław, Poland : Cathedral of St. John the Baptist At Night : 2015-02-13

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.

Lubin, Poland : Moody Morning : 2015-02-13


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).

Wrocław, Poland : Church near Rynek : 2015-02-08
St. Elizabeth's Church / Kościół Garnizonowy pw. Św. Elżbiety

A quick stroll through the city square, very beautiful and not something I find in my home town of Vancouver :)

Wrocław, Poland : Rynek / Market Square : 2015-02-08
City Square Wroclaw / Rynek we Wrocławiu
Wrocław, Poland : Rynek / Market Square 2 : 2015-02-08
City Square Wroclaw / Rynek we Wrocławiu

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.



Wrocław, Poland : Wrocław University At Night : 2015-02-13
University of Wrocław / Uniwersytet Wrocławski

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).

Wrocław, Poland : Cathedral of St. John the Baptist At Night : 2015-02-13
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist / Archikatedra św. Jana Chrzciciela

Getting to Cathedral Island meant crossing the Tumski Bridge (Most Tumski).  From WikipediaTumski 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.


Wrocław, Poland : Tumski Bridge / Lovers Bridge : 2015-02-13
Tumski Bridge / Most Tumski

Now on Cathedral Island, the Church of the Holy Cross.

Wrocław, Poland : Kolegiata Świętego Krzyża i św. Bartłomieja we Wrocławiu : 2015-02-13
Church of the Holy Cross / Kościół Świętego Krzyża

At the side of the big Cathedral.  Very sorry I was unable to go inside.

Wrocław, Poland : Cathedral of St. John the Baptist At Night 2 : 2015-02-13
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Now off Cathedral Island, I took a few photos of the National Museum.  Such great architecture, I spent some time here.

Wrocław, Poland : National Museum : 2015-02-13
National Museum / Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu
Wrocław, Poland : National Museum Black & White 2 : 2015-02-13
National Museum / Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu



Wrocław, Poland : National Museum Black & White : 2015-02-13
National Museum / Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu

Looking back towards Cathedral Island, I took one more shot before heading back to my hotel cold and happy.

Wrocław, Poland : Cathedral of St. John the Baptist At Night 3 : 2015-02-13
Cathedral Island, Wroclaw





The Grid Website Builder

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.


The Grid Website Builder


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.



Microsoft Surface Pro 3 : Lenovo X1 Carbon : Apple iPad 4

Making The Switch: Laptop & iPad to Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 : Lenovo X1 Carbon : Apple iPad 4
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?



Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Lenovo X1 Carbon

Apple iPad Gen 4


Intel Core i7 4650U

Intel Core i7 3667U

1.4 GHz dual-core Apple Swift





Clock Speed




Turbo Clock Speed





Intel Integrated HD
Graphics 5000

Intel Integrated HD
Graphics 4000

Quad-core PowerVR

Display Size




Display Resolution

2160 x 1440

1600 x 900

2048 × 1536

Display PPI




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


Surface Pro 3

Lenovo X1 Carbon

iPad Gen 4


11.5” x 7.93” x 0.36”

13.03" x 8.92" x 0.53"

9.5" × 7.31" × 0.37"


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.

  • 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 work with OneNote.  This is likely because I have to run Windows 8.1 Enterprise (not Professional that comes with the device).  I worked with MS and they even shipped me a new pen. So far, no luck.   In general, the writing experience is great.  It is more natural, precise, and fast than other devices I have used.  A bit more on this below.


  • Only a single USB port on the device?  Seriously Microsoft, this is an oversight.  Everything connects or charges with USB these days, would adding a second port really be that hard?  Two should be a minimum these days.
  • The keyboard (more below).
  • No fingerprint login, I love this feature on my X1.  So easy to access my computer, now that I don't have it I miss it.  if Apple can put one on an iPhone this doesn't seem like an impossible thing to add to a Surface.
  • No 3G/4G/LTE option.  Both my iPad and X1 have the option to add a SIM card for data access while on the go.  Less of an issue now that I can set up my iPhone as a wireless hot spot.  However, for those that travel it's nice to have the option.  I use a SIM in my iPad to spread my data roaming charges while travelling.  Others use a different carrier to have a better chance of connecting in a foreign country.  The Surface doesn't have that option.
  • The fan is loud at times, and the device can get quite hot.  I never noticed this with my X1 and the iPad does't have a fan so totally quiet :)
  • The pen has been a problem.  Not only does it not pair with my Surface (tried two different pens), but the first one went through two sets of coin cell batteries in a few days.  More troubleshooting needed, but so far not a great experience.
  • There is no mute button for audio like there is on my X1 (and many other laptops).  When I need to mute the device (for an incoming call for example), it's a slower process.
  • No SD card reader.  It has microSD, which isn't helpful for most unless you just want to add some storage.   For me, I used it to download photos from my camera while travelling, which means now I need to bring a card reader.


This is my first Windows 8x device.  I have tried the OS in the past but didn't switch to it on my previous computers.  On the Surface, or any touchscreen device, Win8 is a must.  There is a minor learning curve, but in general you can use the desktop in much the same way as Win7 or previous versions of Windows.  Having said that, I have run into some problems and have wasted many hours trying to solve them (the issues persist).  First, I'm not running the version of Windows that came with the Surface.  It shipped with 8.1 Professional, however for work I need MS DirectAccess technology which is only available in 8.1 Enterprise.  That meant a complete wipe and reinstall, and since then I have two driver issues.

  • I'm unable to pair the Surface with the Pen.  I have tried multiple drivers, including the one from N-trig, nothing works.  Two phone calls to MS and a replacement pen, still no luck.  It would be nice to try the OneNote integration but this will have to wait. Not a show stopper.
  • The ethernet port on my dock is recognized but the driver doesn't load.  As with the pen, I have tried many ways to try and get it working.  Running on WiFi only right now, which isn't a big problem as I don't really do anything bandwidth intensive and if needed I have a Lenovo USB to ethernet dongle which does work.

One would expect MS hardware and MS software to play well together, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  I have been on the phone with MS three times so far, most recently with their Enterprise Support department. The technician had remote control of my Surface device for almost two hours and was unable to get it working. They collected some logs and are now investigating. I'll update this post when I get it working.

As A Laptop Replacement

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover : Lenovo X1 Carbon : Side-by-side

  • As you can see from the spec, I'm not losing anything in terms of performance (CPU, RAM, hard drive).  In fact, though the clock speed of the CPU is lower than what I have in my X1 laptop the processor benchmarks better in both single core and multi-core tests.  For me, I would say that the overall performance was a lateral move from the Lenovo X1.
  • The screen is give and take.  The overall size is smaller on the Surface (I liked the 14" screen on my X1), but resolution and general screen quality is much better.  It's a beautiful display, and despite the smaller size it's an upgrade over the laptop.  I'll note that the latest X1 notebook has a new 2560x1440 touchscreen though I haven't tested it.  In fact, Lenovo have updated the spec across the board but I'm comparing it to the model I have so don't freak out that this test is invalid.
  • The Surface Type Pad keyboard and trackpad is another story though.  I have long been a fan of ThinkPad laptops (well before they were Lenovo).  I consider them to have some of the best ergonomics in the game and the X1 is no exception.  The overall feel of the X1 keyboard is fantastic, and the dual mouse input (trackpad and the trackpoint) work well.  The tiny trackpad on the Surface Type Cover and cramped keys are a big step down.  I know they have design constraints but as a laptop keyboard it's average at best.  The trackpad issue is partly mitigated because it's a touch screen device.
  • I log into my laptop many times per day, locking it every time I step away from my desk (Win-L FTW).  Logins used to be just a swipe of my finger, but the Surface doesn't have a fingerprint scanner so I have to revert to the Triassic-era method of keyboard input.
  • Dock works well, I have the same general setup as I did with my laptop.  Two big screens plus the screen on my Surface.  Full size keyboard, mouse, speakers, headset, LAN, etc.  For general use at my desk almost no change in my workflow.

Surface Pro 3 : Three Monitor Desktop Setup

  • The Surface is light and very thin, not much different than a full size notebook.  I have yet to travel with it, but that will be definitely better.  Does anyone know if you have to pull the Surface out at airport security?  You need to pull out your laptop, but not your ipad, what type of device is this?
  • InstantGo is nice, boot time is obviously better than my X1 but this is not a big deal as I don't usually shut down my laptop during the day.


The X1 is a svelte laptop to start with, the Surface is even thinner and substantially lighter.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover and Lenovo X1 Carbon side-by-side

The keyboard on the Lenovo X1, the best I have used on any laptop.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Keyboard Detail

The Surface Type Cover is decent, but not nearly as good as the Lenovo.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Type Cover Detail



As AN iPad Replacement

  • There are a few apps only on my iPad that I wasn't sure if I could replace.
    • Zinio: I have used this for a few years to manage magazine subscriptions.  Much easier to use a device I travel with anyway rather than carry extra weight.  This app is also available from the Microsoft Store so easy switch.
    • Games: I don't play games much at all these days but I had a few I enjoyed on the iPad (Angry Birds, Osmos, Plague Inc., maybe a few others).  They can be good on long haul flights.  There are games in the MS Store, but right now nothing has really caught my eye.  More to come...
    • Keynote and Keynote Remote: A nice way to give presentations.  Keynote on the iPad and the Remote app on my iPhone to view and switch slides.  Slick.  I have PowerPoint 2013 on the Surface, but no slick remote.  A minor loss.
    • Movies: I use the iPad a lot for watching movies on flights (paired with my favourite travel accessory, the Bose noise cancelling headphones).  I don't see any issue with watching movies on the Surface, in fact it should be even better.  The screen is bigger and the great kickstand means I can adjust the angle far easier than on the iPad.
    • iAnnotate: I used this to edit PDF files along with a Jot Script pen/stylus.  It worked well, but the stylus was just ok.  It was by far the best stylus I used for an iPad, but it disconnected often and just never felt natural.  The pen on the Surface is night and day better.  Much more responsive and useful.  I have only tested the writing portion, the button on top doesn't work as I'm unable to pair it (see Software section above). I'm using OneNote to annotate PDF files, so far so good.
    • Adobe Lightroom Mobile: This is one tool I miss already.  Sure, I have a full version of Lightroom on the Surface but Lightroom Mobile is a great companion to Lightroom and they can work well in parallel.  When I shoot a large number of images, I just import into Lightroom on my desktop and sync with Lightroom Mobile.  I then use the iPad to pick and cull my images from the comfort of my sofa.  The swipe gestures make it very easy, and all changes immediately sync back to my desktop.  When done, I use the desktop to delete all my bad shots (most of them :) and then just work on the picks.  It's a nice workflow that is missing if I'm not using the iPad.  Maybe Adobe will develop this functionality for touch screen devices in the full version of Lightroom.
  • The on-screen keyboard on the Surface is about the same as on the iPad, not better and not worse.  Both generally suck for anything longer than a quick email.  However, the Surface has the Type Pad which is a must-have accessory.  As I stated above, it doesn't best a good laptop keyboard but it's infinitely better than the on-screen keyboard of the iPad. It's also better than any of the third party keyboards available that never work and have separate batteries and chargers.  The Type Pad attaches to the Surface with magnets and draws power from it's battery.  The physical connection just works.
  • The Surface is really not that much heavier than an iPad, you can barely tell if you hold one in each hand.  Impressive considering it has a bigger screen.
  • Battery life is good, about the same as the iPad in the limited use I have had so far.

You need to look closely to see a difference in the thickness between the Surface Pro 3 and the iPad 4.  Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Apple iPad 4 naked and side-by-side


With the covers, they are about the same, though the Surface cover is infinitely more useful.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover and iPad 4 with Apple Case side-by-side

The iPad on-screen keyboard

iPad On Screen Keyboard

And on the Surface

Surface Pro 3 : On Screen Keyboard

As A Desktop Replacement

Not even close.  Anyone who claims that the Surface is a desktop replacement does not have any significant computing needs.  If you are surfing the web and sending email then it's a great desktop replacement.  If you need some horsepower, it definitely isn't.

This is a photography blog, and I use my desktop for editing photos.  When I purchased my Nikon D800 a couple of years ago, I quickly realized that my old desktop would not handle the huge 36 megapixel raw files.  I decided to build a desktop, and with several upgrades over the years I'm running a Intel Core i7 2600K, native is 3.4GHz but I have it overclocked to 4.5GHz and it's very stable with just air cooling.  32 GB of RAM, 2 SSD drives (one OS/apps and one for swap, scratch, temp, etc), 5 hard drives in RAID-5 for data storage, and a GeForce GPU with 2GB RAM.  This desktop doesn't have any issues with photo editing, and is miles ahead of the Surface in terms of performance.
By the time a Surface model is released with this type of performance I'm sure my camera will be shooting 100+mp.  For some applications, there is no replacement for a fast desktop computer.


So far, the Surface as proved to be a device capable of replacing both my laptop and my iPad.  I'm still in the honeymoon phase and haven't used it in every scenario but I don't see it causing me any major problems.  When travelling, I will be able to replace two devices with one, and that is always a good thing.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover : Lenovo X1 Carbon and iPad 4 Stack

Surface Pro 3 : With Type Cover and Surface Pen




Nikon D800 Top

What is Nikon Thinking? D300S, D7100, D610, D700, D750, Df, D810, D4s Compared

With the release of the D750, I'm starting to wonder what Nikon is thinking with their lineup.  Shooters I know are waiting for a true replacement for both the D300s and the D700.  Arguments can be made that the D7100 replaces the D300s, and the D750 replaces the D700.  However, an equal number (and maybe more) arguments can be made that no replacements exist.  In this post, I'll quickly cover some of the specs that differentiate the cameras that are current in the lineup.  Nikon has a lot of bodies on their site but I wouldn't consider many of them current (D90, really?).  Here, I'll just look at the D300s, D7100, D610, D700, D750, Df, D810 and the D4s.  The other bodies (D7000, D4, etc. that Nikon still lists are all very similar to at least one model discussed below).












Release Date20092013201420082014201320142014
Sensor Resolution (MP)1224241224163616

 Nikon DSLR Lineup: Price vs Megapixels

Nikon DSLR Lineup Price vs Megapixels Sept 2014: D3300, D5300, D300s, D7100, D610, D700, D750, Df, D810, D4s

(Click for larger)


I'm not listing the spec of the lower end cams in the table, but they are shown on the graph above. In general the price curve makes sense, even if the D3300 is a kit price (with lens) and the rest are body-only. Higher spec bodies are higher in price.

  • The D4s takes a huge jump in price, but it is as the top of the lineup and does offer great performance.
  • The majority of the Nikon lineup now uses as 24 megapixel sensor, which is plenty of resolution for almost any application.  It must be a sweet spot for price and performance.  Now I realize that megapixels are not the only measure of performance but they do play a role, many consumers still stick to 'more is better'.  The current cameras present a marketing challenge for Nikon, and so far they have not done a good job of telling us why you would buy one model over another.
  • The D300s is sitting with just 12 megapixels (APS-C), for less money you get a much more capable camera in a D7100 but you give up build quality and familiar ergonomics.
  • The D700 is also sitting at 12 megapixels (full frame), and Nikon has options that are more capable but unfortunately not in the same body.  The D750 has a better sensor (six years of evolution is an eternity in the tech world), but in a lesser body.  The D810 has a better sensor (best on the market in any DSLR), but with a much lower frame rate.  There is no clear upgrade path.
  • The Df is an oddball too, having only 16 megapixels, no flash, no video, and a mix of modern and classic controls.

Let's look at a few more stats.










ISO Range200 - 3200100 - 6400100 - 6400200 - 6400100 - 12800100 - 1280064 - 12800100 - 25600
AF Points5151395151395151
Max Shutter1/80001/80001/40001/80001/40001/40001/80001/8000
Frame Rate7/8665/865.5511

 Nikon DSLR Lineup: Price vs Frame Rate

Nikon DSLR Lineup Price vs Frame Rate Sept 2014: D3300, D5300, D300s, D7100, D610, D700, D750, Df, D810, D4s

(Click for larger)


One thing that strikes me is that the D300s is a camera that was released in 2009 and Nikon has nothing since (outside of the very expensive pro bodies) that has bettered the frame rate.  If we look at the D700 it's even more apparent (8fps with grip).  Both the D300s and D700 feature pro build and ergonomics, fast frame rates, great autofoucs and other related 'pro' features (flash sync speed, max shutter, etc.).  The D7100 comes close to replacing the D300s, but you need to accept a different style body with different ergonomics.  Same for the D610 or D750 replacing the D700, they don't truly do so. To me, the Df is a waste of time.  Sure, it's good in low light but that is because it has a great sensor.  The rest of it is there just to get the old guys to buy it for nostalgia.  It is crippled with a poor AF module (relative to price), no video (that isn't a 'feature'), and more. Anyone who was going to buy one did so already, ditch it.  The D750 should have been a pro body (controls same as a D810), with 16 or 24 megapixels.  In fact, this is what I think Nikon should have done, if you don't agree let me know :)











Sensor Resolution (MP)242416243616
ISO Range100 - 6400100 - 6400100 - 6400100 - 1280064 - 12800100 - 25600
AF Points515139515151
Max Shutter1/80001/80001/40001/80001/80001/8000
Frame Rate6868511

To me, it's a more clear lineup. Two capable DX cameras, one in a consumer body and one in a pro body. The pro body will have a faster frame rate, a tougher build, and the same ergonomics as the pro FX bodies. The FX bodies also seem to have a clear distinction between them. Entry level D610 is a consumer type body, with a less capable AF system and slower max shutter (other features may also be worth discussing). The D750 should have been a true successor to the D700, same frame rate and build quality but with double the pixels. The D810 is the high resolution beast and the D4s the speed demon for those that need it. Each one has a clear place in the lineup and people may buy more than one.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : Anti-Glare and Standard

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector for Nikon D800


I'm giving away two Expert Shield screen protectors. Draw will take place on September 19, 2014. No stings, no BS. I have an extra Sony RX100 model and the D800 anti-glare model.


All you have to do is comment on this post with which model you want, add a valid email address (which won't be visible to anyone but me). Winners will be announced here and I'll contact you for a shipping address. Good luck!

Expert Shield Free Draw - Screen protectors for RX100 and D800


Update: I only had entries for the D800 model, and the winner is Peter Looper!  I might run another draw for the RX100 model at another time.

Draw Winner



Some time ago I posted about my issues with the GGS screen protectors.  The first one was faulty, second one was different from the first and had a plastic border which obscured the top and bottom of the LCD.  My third one (same as the first), arrived and it had some scratches on the glass.  I ended up using it, fed up with the whole process.  Needless to say, I wasn't happy with the experience and made worse because you can't seem to contact the company directly.

About a year ago, I purchased a Sony RX-100 and decided to use an Expert Shield screen protector on that camera.  It installed perfectly, no bubbles and you can't seven see it's there.  One year later, it's still on the camera and I have had no problems with it at all.

I decided to finally replace the GGS screen protector on my D800 with an Expert Shield.  I have the standard and anti-glare models, but decided to go with the standard one.  The installation was easy, as before, and the result looks like a naked D800 LCD but I know it's well protected.  Here are a few photos from the process.

The GGS, note how it sits raised above the body.  It isn't a perfect fit, and the one with the plastic frame (gen 2?) is a terrible fit.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : GGS on Nikon D800


Another shot of the GGS.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : GGS on Nikon D800 2


Last one of GGS.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : GGS on Nikon D800 Back


The Expert Shield covers, which come with a microfiber cloth to aid installation.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : Anti-Glare and Standard

Expert Shield mounted on D800, a near-perfect fit for the LCD.  It comes with covers for both the rear and top LCD plates.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : Expert Shield on D800


One more of the Expert Shield, looks and works great.

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector : Expert Shield on D800 Back


Overall, I'm very happy with the product and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good screen protector.  It's much nicer than the standard Nikon covers and works much better than the GGS covers I tried.  I will be using this on all of my cameras from now on.



Slow Road To Squamish: Cleveland Dam spillway

Slow Road to Squamish: Long Exposures on the Sea to Sky

A couple of weeks ago my friend Eli and I did a photohunting trip from Vancouver to Squamish.  The goal was to capture some long exposure shots along the way, below are some of the results.  Eli's Gitzo tripod was conveniently lost by WestJet, and a loaner fell through at the last minute.  A stop at the Salvation Army saved the day though as he was able to pick up a "pro quality" tripod for $9!

Slow Road To Squamish: Eli's Awesome Tripod




First stop was the Lions Gate Bridge.  Not a great day for long exposures as it was mostly clear skies.  We gave it a shot though.

Slow Road To Squamish: iPhone 5S Lions Gate Bridge - Eli


A shot with my iPhone 5S first.

Slow Road To Squamish: iPhone 5S Lions Gate Bridge

The resulting long exposure shot with my D800 and 24-70.

Slow Road To Squamish: Lions Gate Bridge


Next we went to a spot that I have never been to, the Cleveland Dam in North Vancouver.  I didn't even know this existed but, while waiting for Eli to do whatever it is he was doing, I found it on Google Maps.  It's a great spot that is worth visiting again. Eli set up on top, my tripod also ready to shoot the spillway.

Slow Road To Squamish: Shooting on the Cleveland Dam


A quick way to lose gear when looking over the edge :)

Slow Road To Squamish: Cleveland Dam spillway


There are a couple of holes in the fence where you can get a shot of the reservoir.

Slow Road To Squamish: Cleveland Dam Shooting

Too bad the clouds are not more interesting, you take what you are given I suppose.

Slow Road To Squamish: Capilano Reservoir


You can also shoot the spillway from below, here Eli stands on the edge shooting his long exposure.

Slow Road To Squamish: Eli on the ledge


Mine from that spot.

Slow Road To Squamish: Cleveland Dam spillway


We left Vancouver and stopped in Horseshoe Bay for a few shots.  I have a few more to look through, but in general I didn't get anything here that I was that happy with.  If I get something worth posting I'll just do an update.  However, on our way out I decided to set up my camera in the passenger seat of my truck, then use the remote release to get some shots while I'm driving.  I used a 6-stop ND filter and a circular polarizer to take out the glare from the windshield.  Looks odd, maybe like photo radar :)

Slow Road To Squamish: in-car camera setup

Considering that this was highly experimental, the resulting shots were not too bad.   Some were completely unusable, but others show promise.  I want to try it again, but play with the settings to see if I can get something better.  This shot was a 1-second exposure at 100Km/h, that is Eli in front of me.

Slow Road To Squamish: Long Exposure Experiments

We hit Squamish, had lunch at The Watershed Grill, and parted ways.  On my way home, I stopped at Shannon Falls.

Slow Road To Squamish: Shannon Falls

This is the creek below the falls.

Slow Road To Squamish: Creek near Shannon Falls


My final stop was at Porteau Cove, where I have been many times to dive but never to take photos.  Turned out to be my favourite shot of the day.

Slow Road To Squamish: Porteau Cove Ferry Dock


Black & White Long Exposure 2014-03-30: HR MacMillan Space Centre - Sculpture

Vancouver Long Exposure Black & White

A few long exposure black and white photos from a night in Vancouver.

Black & White Long Exposure 2014-03-30: Vanier Park

Black & White Long Exposure 2014-03-30: HR MacMillan Space Centre - Sculpture

Black & White Long Exposure 2014-03-30: Granville Island Harbour, Vancouver

Black & White Long Exposure 2014-03-30: Granville Island, Vancouver

Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Spring Melt

Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing

On the first day of spring, I had the chance to hit the snowshoe trails at Cypress Mountain.  Despite some initial clouds and light snow, it turned out to be a beautiful day on the mountain.  Here are a few photos from the day, apologies for the lack of information but I don't have a lot of time for a write up :)

Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Cheese Fondue on the First Day of Spring


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Snow Cat - Bombardier


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Clear Skies


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Snow On Trees and Sun


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Deep Snow


Fondue time at Hollyburn Lodge.  Food was great and our guides made the day!


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Hollyburn Lodge in the Trees


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Hollyburn Lodge


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Spring Melt


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: The Hiking Team


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Dusk in the Woods 2


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Beautiful Day for a Walk


Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: Dusk in the WoodsOn the way down the mountain, we stopped the lookout and were treated to a beautiful view.

Cypress Mountain Snowshoeing 2014-03-20: View of Vancouver - Panorama

Vancouver Skyline from Olympic Village

Cropped for Pinterest

This idea came from Trey Ratcliff, who cropped some of his images for an interesting display board on Pinterest.  I decided to do the same thing, cropping the images into long and thin slivers.  The full images are posted on this site, some in the gallery and some just in various blog posts.