Friday, 24 May 2013

October Dubbo Workshop

This is a two day workshop held in Dubbo, NSW.
October 4/5/6.  The workshop was originally designed as a precursor to photographers going on an African safari but it's perfectly suited to anyone with a love of animals and a desire to polish and master their wildlife and general photography techniques.

Friday PM: Check into motel. Meet for a briefing on what to expect over the two-day event. Robin will hand out assignments [optional] and provide information on how to edit your work then upload it to Flickr for [video] feedback a week or so after the workshop finishes. Group dinner (optional)
Day One - Saturday 7 - 9am: meet at Dubbo zoo for the early morning 'behind the scenes' escorted walk with a Zoo volunteer.
09 - 10am:  Group breakfast at the Zoo cafeteria
10-12am:  Escorted walk/drive round several [pre-arranged] exhibits to photograph the animals. Robin teaches participants how to get the sharpest images while using tripods, monopods and telephoto lenses. You will learn about how to control shutter speed and aperture relative to the lens used, how to apply the correct White Balance (colour), resolution and ISO settings, and most importantly, how to create great composition. Ongoing assessment.
Lunch in the zoo incorporates a short talk on how to put a digital picture book together. Robin will suggest a range of book making companies and outlines strategies for starting your own book, whether it's a big trip or just a personal theme. 
After lunch we continue shooting in the zoo, finishing up around 4pm
4-6pm: Free time
6:15-7:45: Dinner at [an excellent] local Thai restaurant

Optional Night Shooting Exercise

After dinner, those not wanting an early night can drive 20k into the countryside away from the built-up lights of Dubbo [to a prearranged spot] to learn how to shoot star trails for a couple of hours.

Day Two

Morning walk around the city centre photographing some of the unique architecture in Dubbo. Here we'll be paying particular attention to shooting HDR images for post processing in Photomatix Pro
Return to Zoo (tickets last for two days) for more animal photography
Midday: Group lunch at the Zoo cafe and briefing on the assignments
Return home at leisure

End of following week your assignments must be edited and uploaded to Flickr for critiquing by Robin.

Date: October 4/5/6 2013

Cost: $300 for the workshop tuition, notes and detailed photo feedback [once assignments have been submitted]
(Note: All other costs to be borne by participants.  For example, accommodation: Cattlemans Country Inn is good value at approx $100p/n, Western Plains Zoo entry fee = $46pp [look for discounts or become a zoo friend], + own transport costs and all food and drink).
Note, numbers on this workshop are strictly limited to 8.

Early morning at Ben Furney Mills, central Dubbo
Star trails: 8 time exposures sandwiched into one image

Early morning behind the scenes walk at Western Plains Zoo (Gibbon on a tightrope)
Foot of Galapagos tortoise
Meerkats on the lookout
Giraffe on our early morning behind the scenes walk at Western Plains Zoo

Monday, 20 May 2013

Check your Card Speed!

I just bought a Canon EOS 5D Mk3.  Because its continuous drive speed is nearly twice that of the Mk2, I wanted to test the benefits of using different speed memory cards (i.e. 30Mb/s over 45Mb/s over 95Mb/s, etc). 

Cameras, in continuous shooting mode, carry on recording files at the displayed rate (i.e. 6 frames per second, or 'fps') until the memory (or 'buffer') is full. Once full, the shot rate falls off dramatically. To something like one fps (depending on camera model). As the camera records, the red 'busy' light comes one. How quickly your memory card performs can be gauged by the time it takes for that red light to go out. Until the red light goes out shooting is either seriously slowed or, for slower (30MB/s) cards, stopped completely.

The time taken for the red light to go out (to clear the buffer and start rapid shooting once again) is where you see the difference between a 30MB/s card and a fast 95MB/s card (pictured above). Expect to get significantly different times between shooting/saving RAW and JPEG + RAW files.

What interested me was that the Extreme Pro CF 90MB/s card recorded significantly faster than the (supposedly faster) Extreme Pro SDXC 95MB/s card.
CF Extreme Pro = 45Mb/s [JPEG] and 60.6 Mb/s [RAW] 

SDXC  =  17.9Mb/s [JPEG] and 19.3 Mb/s [RAW]

So (I thought) what's going on? Why the significant record difference between identical cards? I did a little digging and discovered that it's not so much the card that's slow, it's the compatibility with the latest SD card speed rating - UHS-1.  That's where the bottleneck occurs. If the card is UHS-1, the device that reads it must also be UHS-1 compliant otherwise it defaults to a slower speed. While Canon supports the latest UDMA speed standard for CF cards, it appears NOT to support the latest UHS-1 standard for SDXC cards. 

Why support UDMA and NOT UHS-1? Back to my original question. What's the point of having two card slots if they perform at significantly different rates?

Moving through the forums and I found several individuals voicing the opinion that this might be a form of protectionism from Canon.  The Canon 1DX has twin high speed CF slots. If the 5D Mk3 had twin slots that performed at the same speed as the top-of-the-range Canon DSLR, it might eat into that pro market. Speculation.
Here are some results from my simple tests:
SanDisk Extreme III 4Gb Card = 12 RAW, 27 secs to clear buffer
SanDisk Ultra 30Mb/s 8Gb = 12 RAW, 16 secs to clear buffer
Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 8Gb = 12 RAW, 12 secs to clear the buffer
SanDisk Ex Pro UDMA 7 32Gb 90Mb/s = 12 RAW, 26 secs to clear(?) buffer Lexar Professional UDMA 7 1000x 16Gb = 24 RAW, 4 secs to clear buffer

What came from this test was that my new San Disk Extreme Pro 32Gb card was performing like rubbish, but a new just-purchased 1000x Lexar 16Gb card was performing brilliantly.
I did a few more tests and concluded that my  new SanDisk cards were certainly not what the label stated (bought off eBay for $100 each. Sounded cheap at the time...).
I contacted the retailer (in Shenzen) and, amazingly, was politely and fully reimbursed via PayPal within 24hours. The reseller told me my complaint was not the first it had received and so had referred the complaints back to the wholesaler.  Someone is selling re-badged CF cards online so I considered myself lucky to get my money back in this instance.

Another problem facing users of fast cards is in reading the data from card to computer. Regular old fashioned USB 2.0 readers work, but not optimally. If you have a Mac, you'll appreciate that it doesn't support USB 3.0 - so I looked around for a decent Firewire CF card reader - these are hard to find.
I eventually tracked down one - made in Germany (Delock) and distributed here by Borge Imaging.  Not cheap, at $69, but fast, at up to 800Megabits/s. One gripe: once installed, I still had to download a new (Mac) driver to get it working at the right (fast) speed. For PC users, USB 3.0 readers are rated as being even faster.

To get an idea of how your memory card should be performing, check out Rob Galbraith's Website [ 
On it you'll find a comprehensive database of CF and SD card tests.
It's a great resource.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Anzac Day at Tumut

The 2010 CCE Africa Tour team meet once again - this time in Tumut for an Anzac Day shoot...

Rusty in the sugar pine plantation, near Batlow. B/W by Glyn Patrick
Tumut ANZAC day march. A member of the Light
Horse Man Re-enactment Society wearing the WW1 Light Horse uniform complete with a 90-round leather bandolier and emu plumes adorning his hat. Pic by Glyn Patrick.
Pic by Fraser Burdon
Woodland walk by Fraser Burdon
Cross in the mist. Tumut. Pic by Fraser Burdon
Tumut landscape by Carolyn Grattan
Tumut landscape by Carolyn Grattan
Tumut landscape by Carolyn Grattan
High contrast high country. Alan Stern
Early morning mist, Tumut, Snowy Mountains. Alan Stern.
In the sugar pine plantation, Near Batlow, Snowy Mountains. Pic: Alan Stern.
Autumnal scene, Talbingo reservoir, by Fay Burdon.
Walking in the high country, Pic by Fay Burdon
Photo by Fay Burdon
Dew covered cobweb, Tumut, by Lucie Loane
High country landscape by Lucie Loane
Tussock country by Lucie Loane
 Old road bridge over the Tumut river by Natalie Hitchens
Sunset reflections, Adelong goldmine site, by Natalie Hitchens
In the sugar pine plantation. Zoomed image by Natalie Hitchens
Gold mine site, Adelong Falls by Robin Nichols
Sugar pine plantation, near Batlow, Snowy Mountain. Robin Nichols
Batlow apple packing factory (closed) by Robin Nichols

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Online Shopping

As you will note, this BLOG now has an online shopping component enabling readers to purchase my Photoshop Elements 11.0 video tutorials. I currently have a little more than 50 online covering everything from setting the Organizer component up to complex retouching tasks. Click the Shop logo to get into the Shopfront and click the left and right red arrows to navigate to the next and previous pages...

You can buy one or a whole bunch of videos at a time. You have three days to download the files (although the download link should arrive in your inbox almost immediately) and, if there's a problem with the download, you are permitted to download twice. As a guide, most videos are 4-10 mins long. The 'setting up' tutorials tend to run longer - 15 or 20 mins. 

More videos will be loaded into the shop in the future.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A battery is a battery

In June I'm taking 15 keen photographers to South Africa and Botswana on a photography and wildlife tour. Lucky me!

There's much talk about what gear to take and of course the need for spare camera batteries has been raised as we plan to stay in at least two bush camps which are miles from the nearest Dirk Smuts store (that's the Botswanian equivalent of Dick Smith). This got me thinking about buying spare and replacement batteries for the trip. Buying branded replacements is an expensive business. But, for the budget-conscious, there's a staggering number of generic alternatives available. 
For example:

Canon lists its standard LP-E6 battery (for the EOS 5D Mk3) at $95rrp. offers a genuine LP-E6 for $89
It also advertises a generic version of the LP-E6 for just $39
On eBay I found another genuine LP-E6 costing only $65 advertises a generic LP-E6 for $37.95
But the deals get better.
Online retailers in China, Hong Kong and the US all offer (generic) LP-E6 batteries at prices ranging from a crazy $9 (now that is suspicious), to a more expensive $35...

Are they any good? Is there a risk using these cheap batteries?

A few years ago I was shown (by Canon) a few pretty scary photos of batteries that had exploded in the battery compartment - some had literally blown the compartment door off - but I suspect these incidents are relatively few and far between - otherwise we'd have heard more about it in the press. I took a closer look at the specs and discovered that not all the generic batteries could be recharged using the original OEM charger, meaning you need to buy a new battery charger for that particular generic battery.  This is more a bother than an expense.  There are several generic charger/battery combos advertised for around $12.  
Genuine Canon LP-E6 batteries store electronic information plus an electrical charge. Once in the camera, you can monitor battery level plus shots left.  The internal chip permits users to register up to 6 batteries so you can monitor power levels at all times. If you buy a generic, I think it needs to be one that also displays battery status in the camera. Otherwise you might get stuck in the wilderness somewhere with little idea how much power is left in the battery. Not all generics have that capability. That said, batteries seen on eBay are clear if this information is relayed to the camera, or not.

Note that several generics display different specs to the original Canon version: some have 7.2volt or 7.4volt ratings but more importantly come with 1800mAh, 2200mAh and 2400mAh ratings. The higher this number, the longer it's going to hold its charge. Canon specs are for a 7.2v, 1800mAh battery.

I finally tracked down this website ( that advertises cheap electronics (sourced from HK and China). BUT most importantly it also features user reviews so you can glean information about the products you might be interested in from people that have already made the purchase. Buying from eBay is OK but most of the time there are no user reviews on the product (but plenty of reseller reviews).

At A$20.50 each, I bought four for the cost of one 'genuine' Canon LP-E6
The bottom line with (these) generic camera batteries is simple.
You pay a quarter of the price of the OEM product for a product that's seemingly identical to the original
(i.e. $20 versus an rrp of $90). I think most people can accept that...

My four generic LP-E6 batteries arrived OK - the free postage took three weeks to get to Australia - and, surprise, surprise, the batteries work exactly the same as the genuine Canon LP-E6 cells. Each produces more than 1200 shots per charge - the same as my original Canon batteries.  A bargain...