Bottling Lighting: Long shutter night photography of the sound and fury

Taken on two consecutive summers in 2010 and 2011 using old cameras I can’t remember.  The first two are from 2011 and happened right after sunset with some lingering light in the sky.  The second set are from 2010 and happened several hours after sunset.

Long shutter shots (15-30 seconds) with preset focus and relatively low ISO settings.  All done from a tripod, obviously.

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On Bike 360 Video

Originally posted on Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries.

I’ve been messing around with 360° immersive video at work.  One of the best ways to quickly get familiar with the technology is to use it in a difficult circumstance so you can find its limitations.  At work we’re building immersive video to show a virtual walk-through of our school.  If the gimbal and camera we have will work on a motorbike, it’ll work stuck to a kid’s head as they walk through the school.

There are a number of barriers to admission with 4k video and image stabilization.  Fortunately, the 360Fly4k windshield mount I have is so over engineered that it easily handles the weight and motion of the gimbal and camera rig.

I’ve previously done 4k video with the 360Fly4k, but it has a big blind spot on it, so this would be my first true 360 4k video.  The Fly is a tough thing that takes great footage, but I’d describe it more as a 300° camera than a true 360 one.

This 4k 360 camera is the Samsung Gear 360.  I’m running it off the camera because the app won’t run on my Android non-Samsung phone because I guess Samsung don’t want to sell many of these cameras – it’s kind of a jerk move on their part so if these things don’t sell (because you have to have a Samsung phone to access it remotely), then they’re getting what they deserve.

The Gear 360 has a small screen so you can see settings and using the buttons is fairly straightforward, though you’ll find yourself constantly accidentally pressing buttons while you’re handling it.  The Ricoh Theta 360 is still my ergonomic favourite in terms of control and handling, and they just came out with a 4k version of the Theta – perhaps they’ll lend me one to test.

The gimbal is a Moza Guru 360°Camera stabilizer.  The typical gimbal design has weights to the left or right of the camera to keep things balanced, but on a 360 camera that means you’re blocking all sorts of sight lines.  The Moza gimbal is vertically stacked with the weights hanging below, mostly out of sight.  It has a power button and a push button joystick that lets you set shooting modes and centre your camera so it’s looking where you’re going rather that looking down the ‘seams’ between the two cameras.

Most 360 cameras are actually two or more cameras working together.  The resulting footage is then stitched together in software to make an every direction video.  The raw footage from the Samsung looks like this (on left).  A front and back facing fish-eye camera capturing separate footage.

Because both cameras are capturing different scenes, you can often see where they are stitched together because of a difference in ISO which shows up as a clear line of brightness difference (on the right).  They all tend to be identical, fixed-lens cameras, so the aperture and shutter speed tend to be identical.

The first test video has the Samsung camera set at highest resolution (4096×2048 pixels in video) and 24FPS.  The gimbal is in locked mode, so it’s always looking in the same direction even if I go around the corner.  The gimbal provides smooth video by taking the bike’s motion out of the video (it’s always looking in the same direction as the bike and I rotate around the shot), but a bike’s motion is one of the best parts of riding, so for the second shot I set it in tracking mode so it followed the bike’s motions.


Uploading it to YouTube out of the Gear 360 Action Director resulted in a flattened video that doesn’t allow you to pan.  In order to produce that kind of video in the G360-AD (what a ridiculous name), you need to PRODUCE the video in the software and then share it to YouTube from within the program.  My issue with this is that when you bring the program in it takes an Intel i7 VR ready laptop the better part of twenty minutes (for less than ten minutes of footage) to process it before you can do anything with it.  When you produce it (again) for YouTube you end up waiting another twenty minutes.  The Ricoh Theta saves the video (albeit 1080p equivalent) in a fraction of the time and the resulting saved version is 360 ready for YouTube; the 360Fly software is likewise efficient at 4k.  I’m not sure why I have to wait forty minutes to produce less than ten minutes of footage on the Samsung.  I know it’s a lot of data to work through, but it isn’t a very streamlined process.

So, after a lot of post processing, the 4096×2048 360° video out of the camera shows up on YouTube at 1440s (s stands for spherical rather than p – pixels – spherical footage is stretched across a wider area and tends to look less sharp).  I’m not sure where my 2048s footage went – I imagine part of that big post processing was to shrink the footage to fit on YouTube more easily?

If you click on the YouTube logo you can watch it in YouTube and adjust the resolution (bottom right) to see how it looks (make sure to do it full screen to use all your pixels).  If you’re lucky enough to be watching it on a 4k display, this will come close to filling it.

The quality is excellent, the microphone remarkably good (they get beaten up pretty badly on motorcycles), but the awkwardness of post processing and the ergonomics of the thing don’t make it my first choice.  Trying to manage it with gloves on would be even more frustrating.  What you’ve got here is a good piece of hardware let down by some weak product design and software.

The software does offer some interesting post processing options in terms of wacky arts filters, but if you’re shooting at 4k all this does is drastically reduce the quality of your video.  If you’re going to use those filters film at way lower resolution so you don’t have to wait for hours while they process.

I’m aiming to go for a ride tomorrow to look at the fall colours after our first frost.  I’ll bring the Samsung along and see how well it photographs.  It’s promising 15 megapixel 360 images and high dynamic range landscapes, so I’m optimistic.  Photography is timeless and my preferred visual medium anyway, I find video too trapped by the continuity of time.  Maybe the Samsung will be a good photography tool.  Of course, I won’t be able to fire the thing remotely because I don’t have a Samsung phone…

Follow up:

The next morning I set up the camera on the gimbal for the ride to work.  The camera epically failed to catch any of the magic of the morning mist.  The video I got was starting and stopping every minute and the footage was a mess, full or artifacts and unusable.

Compared to the robust Ricoh Theta (which I’ve had out in light rain with no problems) or the bullet proof 360Fly4k, which I’ve left filming through full on storms, the Samsung gave up the ghost at a bit of fog on an otherwise sunny morning.

This is not a tough camera by any stretch.  Dainty might be a better way to describe it.  For something that’s supposed to catch the world around you, it’s best used indoors.  Yes, I’m bitter that I couldn’t catch anything of that glorious morning ground fog.

Simulated image indeed – this camera wouldn’t work that close to an ocean!  If you’re looking for a resilient, tough, outdoor camera, this ain’t it.

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Super Moon Astro-Photography

It was a cool, clear night when we had 2017’s December super moon, so photos and video ensued.  The longest lens I’ve got is a fixed Nikon Coolpix P610.  It’s a whole camera that costs a fraction of the equivalent SLR zoom.  Since it’s build to use that lens, even though it doesn’t let a lot of light in, it does a lot better than you think it might.  The photo and video below were taken with the P610 on a tripod at about 8pm once the moon had cleared the horizon.

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Last Ride of 2017

A last double digit day before the snows fell meant one last ride at the end of November.  Photos all on the Ricoh Theta 360 camera.  


It’s hard to stay ahead of the dark this late in the year, so some pretty heavy photoshopping happened on these images (the Theta has a fixed lens so only so much light gets in)…


Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA






With the hand holding the camera photoshopped out and the image posterized.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA


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Riding the Roman Empire

Across the top of the Mediterranean over two weeks.

This time of year always feels like about as far from a ride as I’ll get.  It’s in the minus twenties outside and it’s been snowing for days straight.  Time for some cost-no-object daydreaming…

If I jumped on a plane late in the evening on Friday, December 22nd at the beginning of our holiday break, it’s a long slog because there is no direct flight to Athens, but I would eventually get there on Saturday afternoon. A night in Athens and then I could begin a long ride in a warm climate across the north coast of the Mediterranean on Christmas Eve, passing through the heart of the Roman Empire on my way west to Lisbon for a flight in time to go back to work.


I have to be back at it on Monday, January 8th. There is a direct flight from Lisbon, Portugal back to Toronto on the Saturday before.  Could I get from Athens to Lisbon in thirteen days? 

It’s about four thousand kilometers through Greece, Italy, France and Spain to Portugal.  That works out to an average of just over three hundred kilometres per day which means plenty of time to stop and see things or a big day of riding followed by a day off.  Because it’s Europe there are always autostradas to make up time if needed.  It appears Athens to Lisbon is a very doable two week ride.  

Here’s a possible day by day breakdown with a couple of days off.  All the maps are highway averse, looking for local roads and the time it takes to ride them.  Should things get backed up, big highway miles could happen to make up lost time:


Here’s a link to the spreadsheet with working links to maps.

There are a couple of longer days in there, but there are also two days off completely and some short, half days of riding.  There is plenty of time to stop and soak things in en-route to our western return point.

My weapon of choice for this trip would be the new Triumph Tiger Explorer I’m crushing on, in matt cobalt blue.  Tall Tigers fit me well and this one is perhaps the best one ever made.  As a cross countries mover there is little that can beat it, and that new blue is a lovely thing.  I think I’d do a burnt orange on the engine guards and pannier logos.  I’d also redo the badges in matching orange.


The new Tiger Explorer is 24 pounds lighter than the old one, gets better mileage and has a host of advanced features that make an already good long distance bike better.  The big three that powers it would comfortably carry a passenger if I could convince anyone to do this with me.  If we’re touring two up I’d luggage it up and make sure we could carry everything with us, but if I was solo I think I could just get by with the panniers and leave the back end looking less luggage-y.

Outfitting it with luggage and a few odds and ends from the extensive options catalogue is always fun.  I only got myself into four thousand dollars of trouble there:


The solo, lighter Tiger looks a treat.
  • Expedition Aluminium Panniers – Waterproof Inner Bags Pair $160.00
  • Engine Bars – Black $364.99
  • High Rider Comfort Seat $340.00
  • Heated Passenger Seat $535.02
  • Quick Release Tank bag $131.57
  • LED Fog Lights $555.00
  • Adventure Tail Bag $295.00
  • Aluminium Radiator Guard $84.99
  • Expedition Pannier Mounting Kit $450.00
  • Expedition Panniers – Black $1,265.00

In a perfect world I’d get my Tiger shipped from my garage in my England house to the Triumph Dealer in Athens where I’d pick it up on December 23rd.  I’d drop it off at the Triumph dealer in Lisbon on January 6th and either convince my cousin to ride it back to the UK or get it shipped back.

I’ve got the kit needed to do this now, but having a look at the latest European gear, I think I’d spring for a new helmet to do this ride with.  The Roof Carbon is a piece of industrial art that gives me the benefits of a closed face when I need it and an open face when I’m in need of some wind.  The iridium face shield would make this thing look like something out of battle of the planets.


Since it’s a daydream, it ain’t cheap.  I’d fly business there and back, so flights are north of seven grand.  Getting the bike delivered wouldn’t be cheap, assuming it was waiting for me in Europe to begin with.  But hey, if you can’t daydream big, why daydream at all?


NOTES:


Sat Dec 23 to Sat Jan 6

13 full days + 1/2 a day on each end


~4000kms – 307kms / day

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