Entries Tagged as 'Digital Media'

Canon D20 verses Nikon D40

Canon   Nikon

Neither of these digital SLRs are the top of the line or new models from either manufacturer; but I own one of each, and both are considered to be extremely good pro-sumer models.

With a DSLR, like an SLR, the quality of images you take will depend on the lens and skill of the photographer every bit as much as the equipment.

I’ve be interested in photography since I was a teen; and to be honest, I’m a technically great photographer, but I’m not a great photographer.  Or as I tell my friends, I’ve taken millions of technically perfect photographs in my years; and I have one or two that are actually good photographs.

What’s my criteria for comparison?

That’s easy.

I think you need to consider…

Price; that’s not easy with these two — in the years since I bought the D20 this technology costs significantly less — and even purchasing the 20D refurbished it will set you back substantially more than a D40 (you really have to go with a Rebel XSi or XTi or XS to be at a comparable price point, and those have plastic bodies like the D40 but more resolution than even the D20).

Construction; here there’s no comparison, while there’s nothing technically wrong with the D40, the 20D is solid, the magnesium alloy makes the plastic D40 body look like a joke.  And of course the additional weight of the 20D makes it handle like a “real” SLR, the D40 is so light that it has a bizarre center of gravity with even the lightest of lens attached.

Controls; both cameras are made by a camera company, so they act like cameras and you’ll be able to control them much like you can any SLR.  You might find the controls a little different than an SLR, but both companies have made an effort to make the cameras similar in many ways to their comparable SLR lines.

Ease of use; though rather than call it ease of use we should probably define this as straight forward controls that don’t require inordinate steps to do useful tasks; here the two are fairly similar, though I’ll have to say Nikon’s inclusion of “editing” features seems like a total waste, and serve only to clutter the menu.

Available accessories; both have an incredible range of accessories you can purchase for them, but I’ll have to say that in general the Nikon accessories will cost less than Canon.  Third party accessories for both are, of course, substantially less expensive.

Lens; again, both Nikon and Canon have an incredible range of lens for their cameras.  Nikon has, unfortunately for those of use who own an F series film camera, changed their lens (AF).  Third party lens for both are, of course, substantially less expensive — and you can argue the quality.

Raw imaging; both have raw imaging.  And both cameras offer

Image quality; both have impressive quality.  The 20D has more resolution than the D40 (you can get higher resolution Nikon models for about the same price, but the D40 is considered to have one of the best CCDs, and of course has a very attractive price).  The real difference for me in the image quality is I think the Canon has a more accurate rendering of color and detail (now you’re going to find people who say the exact opposite, in fact I was looking at a comparison between a Nikon and Canon model and the person was saying the Nikon was better, but in my mind 90% of the images looked like the Canon was better).  The bottom line of this is it’s going to depend on what you like individually — there’s no right answer, both of these cameras do an incredible job, and it’s DIGITAL, so you can apply some corrections with your favorite photo editing software.

Which is better… well, I’d give the Canon 20D that vote, which is interesting since I’ve used a Nikon F4 for years.

Whether you choose a Canon D20, a Canon Digital Rebel XSi,  Canon Digital Rebel XTi, Canon Digital Rebel XS, or a Nikon D40 you’ll be getting a quality photographic instrument made by camera company that will be a good general replacement for a SLR.  While all these DSLRs offer “point-and-shoot” modes, it really only makes sense to buy one if you’re a little more serious about photography.  As I said before, it’s also going to depend on the lens, accessories, and operator skill what kind of results you see.

For pricing and availability, you can check the price search engines on my side bar.  One word of caution when buying photographic equipment online; try and deal with a reputable company and avoid the headaches.  Also be mindful of grey market items and understand what you’re buying.  NOTE:  There’s no real issue with buying a grey market item (item that was not intended for US sale), but you should be aware of what you’re getting before you get it.

Originally posted 2009-02-26 01:00:22.

Hardware MPEG2/MPEG4/MPEG4-AVC/H.264 Transcoding

Leadtek Research Inc has release the WinFast PxVC1100 PCIe x1 add-on card which uses four of the Toshiba encode/decode cores  (SpursEngine SE1000 — BXA32110) derived from the joint Sony/Toshiba/IBM alliance (STI) Cell (Cell Broadband Engine Architecture, CBEA) processor (used in the Sony PlayStation 3 game console).

If you’re serious about video encoding this card is way more powerful than leveraging your GPU (nothing stops you from using both).

I couldn’t find a retail price on the PxVC1100; from what I’ve read it was delayed, but should be available in the US soon.  I expect it’ll be fairly expensive since Nikkei WinPC’s benchmark showed a high-def video in MEPG-2 TS format was transcoded to H.264 using the WinFast PxVC1000 about 2.9 times faster than a Core2 Q9650 (3GHz).

If you want to check out other vendors that offer a SpursEngine enhancement, some Toshiba Qosmio laptops and the Thomson-Canopus Firecoder Blu PCIe add-on card are candidates.

Originally posted 2009-01-03 12:00:46.

Flat Panels

So you decided to get that large flat panel high definition LCD TV for yourself…

That’s so last year.

The new display technology is based on organic light emitting diodes (OLED), and they promise to provide much high contrast images, blacker-black, and way better energy efficiency.

Right now there’s a premium associated with the price; but all that is changing (and changing rapidly).

OLED and related technology are becoming the commodity technology that’s used in computer monitors, televisions, and portable device displays.

Your big-block electronic store might only have one OLED model for every ten LCD models at the moment, but the CES is just around the corner, and manufacturers will be looking for ways to lure consumers to spend more of their hard earned money, and offering them compelling reasons (in the form of phenomenal displays at reasonable prices) to get their share of your paycheck.

Not to far down the road we’ll see PLED, the flexible version — which may finally deliver on the dreams of “LCD Paper”…

To help you understand the new acronyms, here’s a list you might want to familiarize yourself with.

  • OLED = Organic Light Emitting Diode/Device/Display
  • AM OLED = Active Matrix OLED device
  • FOLED = Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • NOID = Neon Organic Iodine Diode (CDT)
  • PhOLED = Phosphorescent Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • PLED = Polymer Light Emitting Diode (CDT)
  • PM OLED = Passive Matrix OLED device
  • POLED = Patternable organic light-emitting device
  • RCOLED = Resonant Colour Organic Light Emitting Diode
  • SmOLED = Small Molecule Organic Light Emitting Diode (Kodak)
  • SOLED = Stacked Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)
  • TOLED = Transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode (UDC)

For more information on these technologies, get yourself a snack and beverage and spend a few hours reading the results of an Internet search.

Originally posted 2009-12-19 01:00:36.

3D

The TV and Motion Picture studios have been discussing the relevance of 3D and the impact on the medium.

For the moment they’re taking the same stand they took in the twenties towards talking motion pictures…

Maybe they’re right – maybe resistance is futile.

Certainly we’re at a point in the technological curve where 3D can be in every display produced — whether it’s a big screen TV, a cell phone, or an ATM machine… so it may well be if the traditional studios won’t take advantage of the medium by producing content, and new generation of media centric studios will be founded.

Originally posted 2010-10-10 02:00:04.

Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit

Nikon

I purchased a Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit for my Nikon D40 DSLR.  Mostly I purchased the flash unit because I’d read some good reviews, it’s very small and compact, it’s inexpensive (about $99 online), and I had enough credit card point to pay for it (and nothing else I really wanted).

When I got the unit I was impressed with how small it was.  I’d expect it to be a little larger than it was, but I was quit happy (for reference, it’s about the size of the battery plus battery charger, but lighter).

The instruction manual is clear and simple (you can download that from the Nikon web site if you want to review it).  Attaching the flash and using it with a Nikon DSLR is straight forward.  You can also review the key features and specifications on Nikon’s site, I’m not going to copy them here.  See the end of the post for the URL for the Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit.

I immediately shot a dozen images inside under conditions ranging from almost not needing a flash (fill) to almost total darkness — with a distance of just a few feet to right around ten feet (all my tests were done bouncing the flash off the ceiling in landscape orientation — the flash only tilts, it doesn’t swivel, so you can’t bounce from the ceiling in portrait orientation).

The images I took that used the flash in fill mode turned out exceptionally well; and really showed off what an asset a small flash unit like this can be.  The images I took that used the flash in near darkness showed that this unit really isn’t capable alone of being used under those conditions, and you really should consider a dual flash setup if you’re going to shoot in total darkness).

My absolute biggest complaint with the flash unit is that it exacerbates my biggest complaint with the D40 — the body is so light, it has an unusual center of gravity (even with a small lens on it), by adding the flash unit it makes the center of gravity even worse.  NOTE:  The only solution to this I’ve read of is adding a battery grip, and while that would help pull the center of gravity back and down, it would make the camera substantially larger; and many of those units are reported not to work very well.

Pros

  • Small
  • Light
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive
  • Works well as a fill flash in landscape orientation
  • Well constructed
  • Uses two AA batteries

Cons

  • Not suited for near total darkness conditions
  • Does not swivel for use in portrait orientation

Personally I’d say the unit is an incredible value, and well suited for a number of indoor applications.  The one that came to mind immediately was using it to take pictures of small items you were going to sell online.  Of course it also works well for any type of general indoor photography, but you’ll have to get used to shooting in landscape (even in conditions where the subject matter is obviously portrait) and just crop down the image.

Would I recommend buying one.  Well, I think you have to consider what you want to use it for.  If you want something that’s very small, very inexpensive, you’re only going to use it indoors, and you can tolerate the landscape only limitation — sure, buy it… you’ll be quite happy with it.  But if you can afford to pay more, can tolerate a larger unit, and need to shoot outdoors or absolutely require portrait I think you’ll be happier with another unit.

Nikon SB-400 Speedlight Unit

Originally posted 2009-02-16 01:00:43.

Gallery Images

I’ve started to add more pictures to my gallery. The first set are in and around San Francisco, CA. Since I spent twenty years living there, and visited there uncounted times before there’s a great deal to post.

I will probably break from posting San Francisco pictures and post other things as I sort through my fairly substantial set of digital stills.

It will take quite awhile before I even thing about putting up any of my old film shots.

I may try my hand at posting some high definition h.264 video clips as well (but I’ll need to get a great deal better with the camcorder before that happens).

If you desire to use any of these images, you must obtain a written authorization from me.  While I’m happy to share these for you to view, they do belong to me and I do not want them used by others (not that I really think any of them are that great).

Enjoy.

Originally posted 2010-02-25 01:00:21.

So you want to be in pictures…

Or rather should I say that you want to be able to play “moving pictures” on your computer…

You computer may have come with software for playing back video, DVDs, etc — or the operating system version you installed might support some formats; but eventually you’re going to reach a point where you want to play something that you don’t have support for and you might not feel like spending a lot of money.

There are two major issues with playing back media:

  1. Your computer needs software that is able to decode the audio and the video portions of the media; and
  2. Your computer needs software that is able to “break apart” the audio from the video.

The first piece of software is call a “decoder” — or often times a codec.  And you’ll hear things like MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, etc for video and things like AC3, AAC, PCM, DTS, MP3, etc for audio.

The second piece of software is called a mux (specifically for play back a de-mux) — and those take particular containers and split them into the separate audio and video streams.  The file extension generally tell you about the “envelope” the data is contained in, or how it was muxed.  Some standards mux specifications, but even when the audio/video standard includes a way to mux the data, it might be in a richer envelope that supports alternate audio streams, alternate video streams, hyperlinks, closed captions, multiple languages, etc.

A growing open standard for containing audio and video is the Matroska format.  It’s generally designated as .mkv for audio/video files and .mka for audio files.

It’s a rich standard well supported on Windows, OS-X, and *nix platforms.

For more information visit the Matroska Offical Homepage:

You’ll not only find information on the Matroska format, but links to many free tools to help you play back that audio and video format you’re having trouble with.

Originally posted 2008-12-14 01:00:52.

Adorama — Follow Up

This is a follow up to a fairly unflattering post I made on a purchase from Adorama.

First, the time line of the entire espisode for reference, my thoughts follow.

  • 2008/12/26: I order a Sunpak CF-7078 Twin Filter Pack (52mm Ultra-Violet and 52mm Circular Polarizing) from Adorama through Amazon (Amazon was out of stock).
  • 2008/12/18: Adorama ships my order, and sends tracking information.
  • 2008/12/31: My order arrives, but Adorama has substituted a Tiffen filter set without contacting me (the invoice clearly indicates that it’s intentional).
  • 2008/12/31: I contact both Adorama and Amazon via Amazon’s web interface).
  • 2008/12/31: I contact my credit card company via telephone; they indicate their will be no issue initiating a charge back, but ask that I give the merchant time to resolve the matter first.
  • 2009/01/01: Amazon replies to my inquiry and indicates that vendors may not materially change an order and that the Amazon A-Z Guarantee would apply should I not be able to resolve the matter with Adorama.
  • 2009/01/04: Adorama has sends me a pre-paid UPS shipping label for the return of the items via email.  Though the instructions indicate that I must drop off the item at a shipping location.
  • 2009/01/05: I’ve also been contacted by Helen Oster, Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador who has read my BLOG post and interested in investigating the matter.  I’ve already sent her enough information to get her started.  I’ll be sure and post anything of interest that happens.
  • 2009/01/06: The Tiffen filters to Adorama via UPS, my regular UPS delivery person picked them up for me, so I didn’t need to drive to UPS to drop them off (but I was still out packing material and time).
  • 2009/01/09: Adorama has offered an explanation (that their buyer felt it was acceptable to replace an out of stock item with an in stock item that retailed for more, without contacting the customer first); while I accept this as an explanation, I find it an unacceptable practice.  Only I can decide what product has equal or greater value, since only I am able to gauge the metrics of the products I choose to fit my needs.  Also, Adorama is attempting to “make this right”, and I certainly applaud their effort — but it would have been easier on everyone had someone just ask what I wanted before shipping a substitution.  Additionally Adorama offers a single Hoya filter as a replacement; I reject that offer simply because I would still need to buy an additional filter.
  • 2009/01/10: Adorama offers two Hoya filters in place of the Sunpak.  I agree to this and they ship the filters (I have an order pending for the Sunpak filter set on Amazon; that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I’ll have — but I certainly felt like I needed to let Adorama exercise their right to “make it right”).
  • 2009/01/16: The Hoya Filters arrive as promised.

Let me start by saying that this matter probably should be characterized as one individual making a bad decision that was inconsistent with the Corporate polices of Adorama, I think Helen’s dedication to making things right, and Adorama’s willingness to incur substantial costs in this matter is evidence of that.

I rarely appraise companies by whether or not they make mistakes, but rather by how they address their mistakes.  While I would have preferred to just get the items I ordered in a timely fashion; or been told their was no stock, I would put forth that you simply could not find a company more willing to go the extra mile; or an individual (Helen Oster) with more moral fibre and tenacity to make sure the right thing is done.

Initially I felt that I would never deal with Adorama again; but my feeling is that they’re certainly worth a second shot (each of you will need to decide for yourself, since this is my only dealings with Adorama I do not have a feel for statistically how often something like this may happen, other than to say my gut tells me it’s rare).

Originally posted 2009-01-16 01:00:20.

GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

That’s what the GIMP site says; but what GIMP is is a free Open Source alternative to programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro that runs on Linux, OS-X, and Windows.

GIMP is reasonably easy to use, powerful, and rock solid.

If you understand the principles of image/photo editing you’ll be a pro at using GIMP in no time — far easier to use than Photoshop, far more functional than Paint Shop Pro.  And it’s free — totally free — just download it an install it.  There’s lots of plug-ins for it as well (so make sure you take a look at some of those add ins).  Be sure and review the online documentation, tutorials, and FAQ; plus there are a number of well written books on GIMP available for purchase.

GIMP.org

Originally posted 2010-03-08 02:00:45.

Panasonic HDC-SD10 High Definition Camcorder

I purchased a Panasonic HDC-SD10K High Definition Camcorder from B&H Photo Video a little over a week ago for $299.00 delivered.  The K suffix means black; which is I believe the only color available in the US.

I had originally found this model camcorder on Amazon for the same price as a customer return, but I was a little hesitant to purchase it, and by the time I decided it was worth the asking price it was no longer available; but as luck would have it a few days later B&H was offering brand new units for the same price.  The B&H price is good through 16 January 2010 while supplies last.

First, let’s keep in mind that $299 is less than half as much as the nearest comparable camcorder; so if it doesn’t seem like this is a Rolls Royce, perhaps that’s because you’re paying Yugo prices.

The HDC-SD10 was announced last year at CES, but didn’t ship in the US until this past Summer, and it was never really a very popular model since Panasonic offered an almost identical model with 8GB of internal memory (the HDC-SD10 has no internal memory) for $50 more.  Other than the internal memory, these models are identical.

A quick overview of the HDC-SD10 (for those who don’t want to just look up the specifications for themselves).

1920x1080i MPEG4-AVC/H.264 video, 2.1MP JPEG stills, 1/6″ CMOS, 16x optical zoom, 2.7″ touchscreen LCD, image stabilization, auto focus, built in light and flash.

When the unit arrived, I opened the box and allowed the battery to charge for a couple hours before trying it out.

While the batter was charging I looked over the unit.  It seemed reasonably well constructed, and it looked like a good deal of though had been put into positioning the controls.  The only thing I don’t care for is how the cover on the SD slot opens — I’m very partial to how Nikon did the SD cover on my D40, and this just seems far less well done.

I popped a 2GB SD card into the camcorder (I expected it to complain about the slow speed rating, Panasonic recommend Class 6 SDHC cards); but to my surprise it worked.  I would recommend that you use at least Class 4, and that you use at least a 4GB SDHC card.  But if you have other cards around, try them.

Unfortunately, by the time the battery had charged, the sky was cloudy and I was robbed of my opportunity to get some bright daylight shots — but I figured taking shots in overcast would give me an idea of how the camcorder worked.

I took two videos outside at the second highest quality setting (that’s the default); and I snapped about a dozen still images.  Then I went inside and did pretty much the same test.

The two video tests were:

  • walk back and forth with the camera
  • stand stationary and rotate around

Both tests involved using the zoom in and out (both moving and stationary).

I should note here that I did all of my initial testing without reading the documentation — this should be considered a testament to how easy this camcorder is to use for anyone who’s used a camcorder (or digital camera) before.  The controls were easy to find and use and there was simply no confusion about how to accomplish my task (which is good; my old JVC camcorder always seemed awkward to use, even after having it for several years).

With my test data collected I sat down and the computer.

I didn’t bother installing any software on my computer, I just popped out the SDHC and slipped it into the computer.

The digital stills were easy to find; same directory structure as most digital cameras.  The images are JPEG files, and contains EXIF data.

The video sequences took a little more looking to find, and they are standard AVCHD (MTS) files.  Both Windows Media Player and Live Movie Maker are able to deal with these files.

Let me pause here and remind you that what follows is my first impressions of the HDC-SD10; not a complete review.  My personal feeling is you need to use a camera or camcorder for several shoots before you’ve got a good feel for what it does and how well it does it.

The outside stills were good.  Certainly they don’t compare with either of my DSLRs or my high-end point-and-shoot… but then again, this is a camcorder, not a camera.  The only weakness I found with the digital still was that focus cycle requires a few seconds and the shutter release is not locked out during the focus cycle.  Which means you can snap a picture that is out of focus fairly easily if you’re not patient.  You can snap a still image when the camcorder is recording or when it isn’t.

The outside video was amazingly clear.  The color was very good, and the motion was acceptable.  Quickly panning produced some motion artifacts, but normal movement was far clearer than on my JVC miniDV camcorder.  I will have to say that my feeling is that the zoom is too fast; but I guess it’s better to be too fast than too slow; and for most people I would expect they want a fast zoom.

The inside still images were fine.  The flash works very well.  The colors were about what you expect from a mid-range point-and-shoot.  Nothing to write home about, but acceptable if you need to snap a still and you have the camcorder in your hands.

The inside video was actually quite impressive.  The reviews I had read of the camcorder indicated that low light performance wasn’t very good.  From what I saw low light performance was quite good.  In rooms with no lights on the camcorder was able to register a moderate amount of detail just using its built in light.  In reasonably well lite rooms the level of detail was quite good.  However, the color under LED lights or CF lights was definitely off (I don’t have any incandescent lights in my house, I suspect the color balance would have been better).  Comparing the performance of this camcorder to my JVC miniDV it is definitely better.  Better detail in low light, and equal or better color.  Obviously if I wanted to shoot any video that I was going to show someone I’d turn on some incandescent lights (bounced off the ceiling).

The sound quality on the recordings were fine.  There was quite a bit of wind outside, but the camcorder didn’t seem to be able to deal with it.  Obviously the stereo separation on any camcorder without external microphones is poor — and not a metric I’d concern myself with.

At this price point, the HDC-SD10 seems like a keeper.  You’d pay as much for a standard definition digital camcorder, and half this much for a standard definition miniDV camcorder; or twice as much for a camcorder with substantially better specifications.

I’m hoping the weather here warms up some so I can get out on a sunny day and really shoot some footage to fully evaluate how the camcorder works; and I’d like to do some shoots on the river and at the beach as well.  My expectation is that this camcorder will be fine for me, and I’ll be looking to purchase a few accessories in the near future.

If you want a really high end camcorder; this isn’t for you.  If you want a good quality high definition digital camcorder for hobby use and your not foolish about throwing your money away, perhaps it is worth consideration.


Optics

Sensor
1.47 Megapixel 1/6″ CMOS
Lens
2.95-47.2mm f/1.8-2.8
Zoom
Optical: 16x
Digital: 1000x
Filter Size
30.5mm
Recording
System
NTSC
Recording Media
SD/SDHC
Recording Time
Not Specified By Manufacturer
Video Format
High Definition
MPEG AVC/H.264
1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080
Still Image Resolution
JPEG: 2.1 Megapixel
Audio Format
2-Channel Stereo
Display
Display Type
LCD
Screen Size
2.7″
Touchscreen
Yes
Features
Image Stabilization
Optical
Lux
1400Standard illumination
91/30 low light mode
1Magic Pix
Built-in Mic
Yes
Built-in Speaker
Yes
Built-in Light/Flash
Light – Yes
Flash – Yes
Accessory Shoe
None
Tripod Mount
1/4″
Input/Output Connectors
Inputs
None
Outputs
1x A/V
1x USB 2.0
1x Mini HDMI
1x Component Video (out)
Microphone Input
No
Headphone Jack
No
General
System Requirements
Windows System

  • XP, Vista, Windows 7
Battery
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
Power Adapter
Battery Charger / Battery Eliminator
Dimensions (WxHxD)
1.87 x 2.48 x 4.51″ / 47.50 x 62.99 x 114.55mm
Weight
0.5 lbs / 226.80g

HDC-SD10

HDC-SD10K Product Information

HDC-SD-10K Support Information

Originally posted 2010-01-09 01:00:28.