Category Archives: Technical

Solved: Canon 600EX-RT flash not turning on

I’ve had several situation where the low battery warning symbol on my Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT shows when I turn on the flash, even though the batteries are fully charged. The flash refuses to turn on despite trying to Clear settings, removing and installing fresh batteries, etc.  This has annoyingly happened on a few shoots.

I discovered by accident that this was due to my leaving the SCH-E1 clip-on colour filter holder on the front when I was turning on the unit.

I suspect this happens when:

  1. Colour filter is installed on flash
  2. Flash auto shuts-off (or left off a long time)
  3. Attempt to turn on flash with colour filter still installed

Simply removing the SCH-E1 colour filter from the flash and turning the flash on seems to do the trick in all cases. After that, I can turn off the unit with the SCH-E1 installed and turn it back on without any problems.

Since this happened to two units that had been used in the same session with the filter installed and left to auto shut-off, I am suspicious that it may be related to the auto shut-off or else the length of time the units were left in the off state.

Here’s the Canon advisory from a couple of years back that I found describing the issue:

[Canon Canada link] Service Notice: Speedlite 600EX-RT: Caution When Using Colour Filter Holder SCH-E1

 

Solved: iPhone 5s unable to activate touch ID on this iPhone error

About a month ago I encountered the following error on my iPhone 5S:

Unable to activate Touch ID on this iPhone

And sure enough, the Touch ID to log in was not working. When I logged in using my passcode, I went into the Touch ID settings in the Settings app, and saw that Touch ID was disabled. When I enabled it, it briefly popped up the setup screen to enrol fingerprints but then there was a further error window. After dismissing this window, I saw that Touch ID was  disabled again.

The other symptom I noticed on this was that it seemed to occur after I’d charged the phone and it was slightly warm. Once or twice I was able to get Touch ID working again after I powered off the phone and started it up. There was no real consistency in this.

The Investigation

Thinking it may be a potential thermal expansion issue, I opened up the phone. After lifting up the front display glass/LCD assembly, I noticed that the Touch ID / home button flex retainer bracket/clip was slightly misaligned but still in place. The retainer is a tiny metal clip that holds the flex cable from the Touch ID sensor/home button assembly.

I didn’t even think anything of it, since the home button worked, but I started getting a little suspicious. Perhaps the heat of the charging caused some expansion, causing just enough expansion to cause contacts to be broken, and resulting in this intermittent behaviour. And why was the clip slightly out of place? Maybe from dropping the phone, who knows…

I popped the clip in with a satisfying click and fired up the phone, hoping for the best. Sure enough, problem solved. It has been fine for a month now.

How to Fix

It’s an easy fix with the right tools (thanks, iFixit). There are two screws next to the Lightning connector on the bottom of the phone that have to be removed and the front glass assembly will lift off. The main trick is just being careful lifting up the front glass carefully from the bottom.

It’s a tight and frustrating to separate the two parts, and lifting the glass too far (about 2″) may stretch and damage the Touch ID flex.

No other parts need to be removed to fix this, so it’s easy.

Instructions on home button removal on iFixit are here:

https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iPhone+5s+Home+Button+Replacement/24983

You basically go to step 9, ensure the metal bracket is securely in place, then put it all back together.

 

London Drugs Print Quality – Wet versus Dry Technology

Backgrounder

I recently had a chance to compare some prints made on the new “dry printing” technology from the photo labs at London Drugs.  I had a print previously done by them on the traditional photographic chemical “wet” process (often referred as silver halide technology) and was able to informally compare with a new print done on their latest dry technology of the same digital file.  London Drugs’ photofinishing equipment supplier is Noritsu, who have provided both the wet and dry technology printers.  London Drugs recently received some publicity from Noritsu on the launch of their new printers.

In this blog post, I’ll outline my initial thoughts and impressions on the two technologies and do a bit of an informal shootout in a few categories.

Technical

Going beyond the marketing speak, Noritsu’s “dry print” process incorporates at its heart Epson’s four-colour inkjet technology, an excellent basis to start from.  I figure the term “inkjet” evokes the wrong image in the minds of consumers, specifically low-cost home printers, which are notorious for costing less than the cost of ink to refill them, and this association seems to compel marketers to substitute terms like “dry printing”, or in fine art printing circles, the term “giclée”.  This association is unfortunate, since there is a large gap between cheap consumer inkjet and high-end inkjet, as much as there is in between car makes and models.  Inkjet done properly can be very good indeed.

Inkjet technology, traditionally a higher-cost medium, is approaching a price point where prints from specialized high volume printers can start competing with the traditional silver halide minilab machines.  The environmental benefits of dry printing are also obvious — the wet process requires lots of chemical mixing and the printers discharge effluent that has to be treated, while the dry machines do not.  Colour inconsistency caused by variations in chemical strength is substantially less of a problem on inkjet, also helping to reduce overall waste from having to redo unsatisfactory prints.

The Prints

While scanned images of the prints don’t really convey what they’re like in person, I’ll show them here for completeness.  The inkjet print of Amy to the left is more faithful in colour to the original digital image although the real differences in colour aren’t as dramatic as it is here; I blame the scanner’s automatic exposure and colour settings in this case making the scan of the wet print a bit warmer in colour.  My descriptions are based on looking at the actual 4”x6” prints side-by-side, not at the scanned images, so you’re better off taking my word for it!

img010_resized img009_resized

Initial Impressions

The dry print gives an extremely good first impression.  When viewing the dry print after the wet print, there is an impression of greater clarity in the dry print that is instantly noticeable — the difference between is like viewing a scene with and without a glass window in the way.  The dry print paper also has a different surface texture and visual quality.  Depending on the lighting, the dry prints have less glare to them, adding to the extra impression of clarity.

Colour

Blacks are deep, dark, and black, without becoming the muddy brownish-bluish colour it is on wet prints.  Shadow details close to black are also rendered very well, keeping their details well.  This is probably the greatest difference I see between the two.  Amy’s dress is black, and details in the dark fabric definitely show better on the dry print than the wet.

The gamut (the range of colours that can be reproduced) of inkjet technology is wider than silver halide prints, so saturated colours like deep reds and purples that traditionally lost small nuances of details in a wash of similar colour are very well reproduced on the dry print.  Flower photographers should rejoice!

Compared to the original digital image on a colour-calibrated monitor, the dry print also matches the colours very well, so the overall ability to get a good colour match against what you see (presuming a colour-managed workflow) is good, thanks to the wide gamut and accuracy.

All in all, the colour on the dry print pops.  So much so that people might be a little surprised at first, sort of like when CD’s first came out and people were a little unused to the accuracy, clarity, and dynamic range of the sound.

Feel

Like most inkjet prints, fresh-off-the-printer dry prints have a slight vinegary smell that dissipates in a few days.  Fresh-off-the-printer wet prints have a similar sort of chemical smell, though less acidic, and also dissipate.

The wet print has a thicker, smoother coat on top of it that is shinier and reflects more glare back, while the dry print is a little grabbier in texture (it can squeak more if you run your finger over it) and better anti-glare properties.

The paper stock used for the dry print is not quite as thick as the Fuji Crystal Archive paper used for the wet print.  However, I’ve recently heard that the thick Fuji paper may no longer be available and that some thicker inkjet paper may be coming on the market.  So I think this concern may ultimately be resolved.

I did an informal scratch test on the paper surfaces using my fingernail.  I initially expected the grabbier dry print surface to perhaps be a little less resistant to scratching than the slicker wet print, but I was able to scratch both with about the same ease.  In fact, I think the wet print suffered more ultimate harm than the dry print as once you scrape to the paper below, the surface coating is easier to scrape off (just like if you are scraping paint, once you get through between the surface and the paint, the paint comes off easier).  It was a bit harder to do the same on the dry print.

Image details

Inkjet printers do not print continuous tone images — they are made up of microscopic dots of ink dye of one of each of the four ink colours.  The dots are more noticeable in large areas of lighter colour, where fewer ink dots are required and they stand out more in contrast with the white paper, and I find that it imparts a slightly grainier feel to the image in these areas.  Grain isn’t always bad thing as it can impart an illusion of high detail or texture even though they aren’t present in the first place.  Normal viewing of my prints shows good crisp, sharp details on both, and the only area where I saw any appreciable difference between the two was on an area of the image with fine hair (fine hair is always a good torture test for resolution and sharpness).

Below are the small crops (inkjet left, silver halide right) of that area.  As a reference, this is a magnification of an area of about 1/2” wide on the print.  There is difference in extremely fine details, such as in the fine strands of hair and eyelashes that is only just visible when viewing the print at normal distances.  I found this somewhat unusual since both prints seemed quite equal in sharpness except in this area.  I feel that these differences could be in part due to differences in the resampling of the original image to the specific printer resolution and sharpening algorithms applied to the dry and wet prints.  You can also start to see the individual ink dots, or at least the grain effect, as well.

image  image 

Banding

Extremely small banding artifacts are sometimes visible at very close inspection.  Banding is the appearance of faint horizontal lines caused by microscopic variations in the feeding of the paper through the printing mechanism (the print head traverses back and forth on one axis as it lays down the ink dots and the paper has to be fed through extremely precisely on the other axis).  Any subtle variation in the paper alignment or feed rate may show as a line in the print where a slightly wider gap or overlap with the previous print head pass occurs.  A similar problem with lines running through the print can also occur on inkjet printers if a print nozzle is clogged, but it is very obvious when this happens.  If you stare at the following image (about 1” wide on the real print) long enough, you might see a subtle, horizontal line about halfway down (right below her fingernail) that runs across the entire width of the image.

 image

Again, in most normal print viewing distances this is usually not visible, but continuous areas of the same colour could make it easier to spot banding if it does occur.  I presume that proper maintenance and calibration of these machines will be extremely important to retain good performance.  Similar problems can happen with wet printing technology as well — dust or other grit can also get embedded into the soft parts of rollers or squeegees and cause scratches to occur on the print surface.  These problem prints are normally spotted by the operator and never get into the hands of customers.

Getting the best quality

Out of camera JPEGs should look really good on the new dry technology.  London Drugs’ philosophy of having the lab technicians colour correct and inspect each image does help to deliver overall pleasing images; their overall “look” favours punchy, contrasty, saturated, customer-friendly images. 

Having viewed and printed thousands of images myself, my personal feeling is that all images do need some level of adjustments for best results, and while automatic correction technology has come a long way, there’s still no substitute for the human eye to spot and correct colour variations.

So while most people are best off allowing the lab operator to colour correct images, there is always the option to request images, especially those with a deliberate colour treatment, be printed directly without corrections.  It goes without saying that if one is to use this option and perform the image corrections manually, then it should be done with a properly colour managed and calibrated system.  For example, laptop displays typically tend to be on the bluish side in order to provide an impression of brightness, and these tend to skew colour.  The best colourspace to set your files to for printing to get a good match, as with most photofinishers, is sRGB.

Though problems have been a rare occurrence in my own experience, London Drugs has always been very accommodating of reprinting items to my satisfaction.

Conclusions

The jump in quality of pictures on dry compared to wet technology is quite obvious and has to be seen to be experienced.  The ease of obtaining image quality previously only available through much costlier home inkjet printing is a great thing, and is as easy as submitting images to one’s local London Drugs.

While I have written about downsides such as the lack of continuous tone, detail loss, and potential for banding, in actual practice and normal viewing distances, they are hardly noticeable by most people (if they are present at all), so the edge goes to the dry technology for its superior colour fidelity.

For professionals, the ability to get high quality prints at competitive pricing may make the need to maintain ones’ own inkjet printer (and the associated cost of ink, paper, and wasted paper) a lot less compelling.  Personally, I’ve chosen not to have my own printer for that very reason.  I hope to test the London Drugs offerings in the future to see how their enlargement sizes compare to both high-end inkjets and traditional wet process.

Having had the (messy) experience of darkroom work, I do lament somewhat the passing of photographic paper, which, as I discovered in my analysis, still puts up an impressive fight against the newcomer.  But there’s no denying the stronger and more accurate colours that the new dry printing technology brings, nor is there denying or slowing down the inevitable march towards the new technology just as there was with digital imaging.  Also the “green” aspect of dry printing is something that we can all enjoy.

* Full Disclaimer:  London Drugs is a client of mine.  This evaluation was conducted purely on my own time and without any prior knowledge or pre-arrangement on their part.  I use London Drugs for my personal and professional printing needs and recommend my professional clients do the same.

Nikon AF-S 50/1.4G and Sigma 50/1.4 DG EX HSM

I’ve had the fortune to have these two lenses to shoot with for a while now.  I own the Nikon (Nikkor to be exact) and the Sigma was a nice loaner from Gentec International, the importer for Sigma in Canada.  I figured I might write down a few thoughts.

Introduction

The "normal" 50mm lens is typically one of the cheapest lenses, included with many a film SLR.  On full-frame, it is a normal lens, offering a perspective that is fairly close to what the human eye sees, whereas on a cropped sensor camera, it offers a medium telephoto view, quite suitable for portraiture.  That being said, I rarely use one!  Why?  Simply because I prefer to use either the wider Nikkor 28/1.4, the longer 85/1.4, or for weddings I’ll use a zoom for flexibility.  I have recently become reacquainted with the 50mm range with these two lenses and it’s been a nice change of pace.

Build Quality

The Sigma certainly makes an impression with its size and heft.  It is a hefty beast — you get the feeling that the Nikon could easily slip inside it.  It’s a bit hard to believe that these are both 50/1.4 lenses — in fact, the Nikon 85/1.4 is just about the same size as the Sigma.  It’s obvious that Sigma threw their technological know-how at this lens.  It has a huge 77mm filter diameter, a huge front element, and is packed with aspherical elements, none of which are to be found on the Nikon.  The balance is pretty good, and it has a decent, solid feel.  The surface finish is a slightly rubbery, textured finish that seems to be flocked on, but I’m left wondering how durable it is.  I’ve always found Sigma’s cosmetic details just not up to the same quality, and this has probably nothing to do with the internal quality, but just purely the little details that are different.

Nikon’s offering matches their cameras, as would be expected, with the same textured plastic housing as its consumer-grade lenses.  Its build quality is different from the Sigma — not necessarily better or worse, just different as it almost feels like a different target market.  It has a rear rubber gasket to help seal off the gap between the lens and lens mount, has a useful lens indexing dot on the housing to help align the lens properly when mounting it.

Performance

Both lenses are awfully close in performance in many, many respects.  I don’t test lenses methodically with resolution charts, rather with real-world subjects, so I can only give you a qualitative feel for them, but my findings appear to echo the general sentiment on the Internet.  So here goes:  Both are sharp wide-open in the centre, but the Sigma may have a tiniest of an edge.  The Nikon appears to better the Sigma in the corners.  Wide open, both lenses do have a slight veiled softness to them, as would be expected.  By about f/2 or f/2.2, both lenses have cleared up, with Nikon probably still a bit ahead in the corners.  Above about f/5.6, they’re really tough to tell apart.  They’re as sharp as can be, even on the D3x I was testing with.

One thing that struck me right away was that the Sigma isn’t a 50mm lens.  Or the Nikon isn’t.  The Sigma is maybe around a 45mm lens in relation to the Nikon.  The difference is definitely noticeable when comparing both lenses side by side from the same shooting spot.  This may be focus breathing (i.e. the focal length changing a little depending on focus distance), but my shots were taken over a distance so that shouldn’t be a factor.  My particular sample might suffer from a tiny bit of a centering issue, with sharpness not quite the same from edge to edge, but you would have to be pixel peeping the D3x image to see this.

Fall-off (vignetting) is noticeable on both, but the Sigma is definitely better than the Nikon.  The Nikon takes until about f/2.8 to be mostly visibly clear of the darker corners while the Sigma is similar by f/2.  The Sigma’s ability to evenly light the frame is impressive, no doubt due to the oversized front element.

Bokeh appears better on the Sigma as well, wide open anyway.  The Nikon isn’t too bad, and it’s certainly better than the AF 50/1.8, which I think is one of the uglier lenses in this department, at least in my lens collection.  However, the Sigma is definitely smoother and somehow able to generate larger blur circles than the Nikon.

The Sigma is a faster focuser than the Nikon, but louder.  The Nikon is extremely silent.  I may have noticed perhaps a little bit more AF hunting on the Sigma, but it might just have been me.

Bottom Line

Not too surprisingly, the lenses are quite similar.  Sigma has taken a bit of a brute force approach with the lens, probably with a mission to make it the best 50mm SLR lens for full- and crop-frame cameras.  The lens gives sharp, smooth images, focuses very quickly, and feels good in hand.  It feels more biased towards someone that has some very specific needs for shooting wide-open or close to wide-open and retaining very good bokeh and optical performance as well, especially corner fall-off.  You can definitely shoot some nice portraiture on this lens.   The downside is that it is a fairly chunky lens, something that one might think twice about putting in the bag.

Nikon, on the other hand, has opted to keep the spirit of the 50mm lens and kept it pretty compact and light, yet endowing it with excellent performance.  It gives a different combination of characteristics, favouring corner performance and small size and while giving up a little on bokeh, fall-off, and autofocus speed.  It’s perhaps a bit more of an all-rounder, jack-of-all-trades lens.  And it’s cheaper than the Sigma by over $100 CDN.

Which one to choose?  I think it’s pretty clear you’ll get stellar images from either and they’ll be pretty tough to tell apart if you stop down a few to f/5.6 or better.  If you’re shooting wide open to gain a specific look, like great bokeh, or really crave the best low-light performance, the Sigma does everything a pro or discerning consumer would want from a 50.  If that isn’t quite your cake and you simply want something to put in your bag for the rare occasions when you encounter low light, or you want amazing quality across the frame, then the lighter, cheaper Nikkor would be the way to go.

D3x – first impressions

After much agonizing, I bought a Nikon D3x.  After owning the D3, unwrapping and getting started with the D3x is totally anticlimactic.  Everything is identical across the two cameras and instantly familiar.  This is definitely a good thing when using your muscle memory and working quickly under stressful situations.  I took it out, unwrapped it, slapped in a battery from the D3, and started shooting.

I took several frames with the lens I happened to have on hand, which was the 105/2.8VR macro lens.  Those first frames were stunning.  Out of my office window and down into the parking lot, I was able to easily resolve the expiry dates on license plates (and very nearly the smaller barcodes), and the subtle weave on a person's pair of sneakers.  They had extreme sharpness and bite and the per-pixel sharpness is better than the D3, which always looked a tiny bit soft without some sharpening.  Tonality, especially the crucial skin tones, seems to be extremely good.  I'd also noticed previously back around Christmas when I had one of the first D3x's in Canada on loan for a few days that the blacks were pure and noiseless.  I would extend that to say the D3x has incredibly low levels of noise across the board at its base ISO of 100 where it's noticeably less noisy than even the D3 at its base ISO of 200, where some noise can creep into the shadows and midtones.  This smoothness is visible when bumping up the overall exposure, and makes for a much more malleable file in post processing.

Noise does seem to creep in earlier than the D3, with a little graininess visible at ISO 400 and up.  Therefore you have to be more careful with exposure compared to the D3, which tolerated all sorts of sloppiness.  But the magic of having all these pixels is that if you resize downwards to D3 resolution, the noise essentially gets averaged out and the results aren't too far off the D3's sensor.  Now, some detail is being smoothed away by the D3x's default noise reduction that kicks in at ISO 400 and above (it can be turned off up until Hi-0.3 at which point you have no choice in the matter), but the final image does show more detail with very similar noise characteristics.  The D3x stops at Hi+2 or 6400 ISO, and while the D3 goes two stop higher, I wouldn't hesitate taking the camera up past 1600 with the downsizing in mind.

I can see that the camera is going to be extremely challenging on lenses, exposing any little flaw.  It'll be interesting to see what lenses fit the bill.  Even the 24-70 looks like it could be challenged, and it is an incredible lens.  It could well be that some decent primes are the way to get the best out of the body even though I'd pit the 24-70 up against the very best primes in its range, just as I would the 14-24.  Likewise, the camera is also going to expose every little flaw in shooting technique: Every bit of camera shake, lack of use of a tripod, focusing slightly off, and lack of depth of field control is going to show.  And don't think that increasing the f-stop to broaden the depth of field is going to cover up misfocusing because diffraction also kicks in at a lower f-stop and anything over f/8 is getting dangerous for sharpness; f/16 and above definitely are to be avoided.

Basically, I can say that if you don't invest in exemplary glass and technique, the D3x will be a disappointing waste of money.  You'd be better off with a D3, D700 or D300.

The D3x looks like it will be an extremely competent studio camera and I can't wait.  Its big draw, besides the resolution bump, was the native 100 ISO support, which helps in running larger apertures in the studio and in the many situation where studio lights can't be powered down enough and the D3's excessive sensitivity was an issue.  Running full-tilt at (only) 1.8fps in 14-bit RAW mode seems pretty workable, especially given that studio lights normally don't recycle that fast (except maybe the new Profotos), and faster shooting is possible in 12-bit mode.

For wedding or PJ work where high ISO is a must, the D3 is still the champion of course, and at usual print sizes I doubt most people will be able to tell them apart.  But I can definitely see using both D3 and D3x together and applying their complementary strengths.  They are different cameras, naturally, and it really does make a lot of sense for Nikon to release a camera like this in a role that is essentially a viable competitor to medium format, optimized for the best IQ at low ISOs, while the D3 excels at high ISOs.

As an aside, praise goes to Nikon Canada, who recently announced a free 2-year extended servicing period for D3/D3x owners.  This will take care of unlimited sensor cleanings, and one major tune-up per year.  This is a nice bonus for those who have shelled out for a professional body and often need the corresponding level of support.  In a great goodwill gesture, they've also included previous owners into the program by allowing the the servicing period to go to March 2010 or two years after the purchase date, whichever is longer.

A year with the D3

A year has passed since I rushed out of work to pick up my Nikon D3 at Lens and Shutter and arrived 10 minutes before closing time.  I had previously filled out the application form (aka Customer Worthiness form) that Nikon Canada was requiring all prospective purchasers to fill out and send in.  At the rate the camera was selling worldwide I had expected to receive it months later so I threw my hat into the ring just for fun.  To my surprise, only a couple of weeks passed before I got contacted to pick it up, so I ended up being one of the early adopters.

So how has it been?  Simply marvelous.  Nikon pretty much bet the farm on the D3, hoping to regain the pro market it squandered away in the 90’s film era to Canon, and yet again with the D2 generation of cameras.  The result is a resurgence of black lenses at major sporting events and a huge presence in professional circles.  The killer feature is the incredible sensitivity and dynamic range of the sensor.  The sensitivity allows shooting in ridiculously low light conditions, while the huge dynamic range allows for a wide range of flexibility in post-processing.  Images can be exposed a little under to preserve highlights and the shadows can be lightened later without incurring noise.  This dynamic range also allows for wonderfully smooth tonal transitions for skin.  Though very much branded as a sports and low-light camera, this is a gorgeous studio camera as well (a little more resolution and lower base ISO wouldn’t hurt there of course).  The camera has revolutionized my work and for the first time I don’t miss film.

The sensor is so revolutionary that I bought the D700 to act as a backup camera, replacing my D200 in that role.  It’ll probably see more action at family events since it’s just that much easier to tote it around without the vertical grip and I can leave a more compact prime or consumer zoom lens on it and get acceptable snapshots.  But when I do something serious, it’ll be the D3 I take out.

Ergonomically, the D3 fits very well with the way I do things.  There’s consistency throughout all of Nikon’s pro and prosumer bodies dating back to the film days (F5/F100) and it’s very easy for me to pick up a Nikon and start working with it.  I like the grip and controls and even though it is a bigger camera, I find it more comfortable than the D700.  The bulk helps to stabilize the large lenses that inevitably end up attached to it; the vertical grip I couldn’t live without for an extended shoot.  It just works, which is great praise for any tool. 

It’s a fairly well-traveled body so far – UK, all over North America and it’s held up well.  The only flaw is the paint on the corner of eyepiece shutter lever is wearing off and I’m not sure what it is in my camera bag that might have done that.  I recently brought back the camera to Nikon service to remap out a couple of hot pixels that showed up at high ISOs.  Nothing I couldn’t really live with, but I figured I may as well get in a last checkup before it’s out of the 1-year pro warranty.  Nikon fixed it in a few days and cleaned the sensor and I have to say that Nikon Canada’s service in Vancouver has been top-notch the rare times I’ve had to use them as well as through anecdotal evidence from others.