The Robservatory

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Photography

Things related to photography

Just some slow-motion snow…in early October

I find slow-motion video of falling snow oddly compelling, and was looking forward to filming some snow with my new iPhone 8 this winter. Little did I know that winter would arrive this morning, at least briefly in central Oregon (where I am for a few days).

It was too warm to stick, but we had a good 30 minutes of these huge, fluffy flakes falling early this morning. Here’s a decent-quality brief snippet in slow-mo (240fps at 1080p)…

I uploaded the original version (1:13, 122MB) if you’d like to watch a longer version—though I don’t know that anyone else finds this as visually interesting as I do.

An in-depth look at moving from iPhoto to Photos

As noted in prior posts, I’ve recently moved to Photos from iPhoto. So far, it’s been a mixed experience. There are some elements of Photos I like, but as of today, those things are outweighed by the things I don’t like.

I’ve vented on a number of the things I dislike on Twitter, but wanted to expand on both the positives and the negatives in more detail. Hence, this “one week in” review (of sorts) of Photos, from the perspective of an experienced iPhoto user.

I’ve also included some tips for working with and migrating to Photos for those who haven’t yet made the move from iPhoto. Finally, if you’re still reading, I’ve listed the key features I’d really like to see come to Photos in a future update.

Note that I am not a great photographer, but I do take a lot of photos—I have over 40,000 photos and a couple thousand video clips in my database. To keep things organized, I use lots of keywords and Smart Albums, so much of my feedback on Photos is concerned with those areas of the program.

First off, my time with Photos hasn’t all been bad; there are some things that I really like in Photos…

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Gain control over Photos’ floating windows

As a recent somewhat-forced convert to Photos, I’m struggling with a number of things—more on that coming in a future post. But one of the tougher adjustments for me is that Photos uses a floating Info window, whereas iPhoto had an embedded info panel.

I keep the Info window open all the time, because I do a lot of work with keywords and location. (I also like to keep the Keywords window open, though this one was also floating in iPhoto.) I resize the iPhoto/Photos window quite often, depending on what I’m doing with other apps—sometimes I want my photos covering the screen, sometimes I don’t.

In iPhoto, this isn’t an issue (left GIF), as the info panel is attached to the main window. In Photos, though, resizing the main window leaves the Info window floating in space (right GIF).

I don’t like the big gap, either visually or operationally, so I wind up moving the Info window next to the newly-resized main window.

There are a few solutions to this problem, the best of which only Apple could provide. They could make the Info window a panel below the photos, or they could make it magnetic so that it would stick to the edge of the Photos window, even as it resizes. I don’t suspect we’ll see either solution coming from Apple, though.

Instead of waiting for Apple, I used one of Many Tricks’ own apps, Moom, which (among its other tricks) has the ability to save window layouts, either within an app or across many apps.

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Apple says don’t use Time Machine if you take lots of photos

I know that’s a shocking headline, but that certainly seems to what they’re saying for a certain group of users (red emphasis added):

By default, your System Photo Library is stored in the Pictures folder on your Mac, but you can move it to another location on your Mac or store it on an external storage device.

WARNING: If a Photos library is located on an external drive, don’t back up the drive using Time Machine. The permissions for your Photos library may conflict with those for the Time Machine backup

That’s taken from the System Photo Library overview, part of Photos’ help. In a nutshell, Apple recommends that if you’ve moved the System Photo Library to an external drive—as nearly anyone who takes lots of pictures will have done, given space-limited solid-state internal drives—you do not use Time Machine on that drive. Not just “don’t back up the Photos Library folder with Time Machine,” but “don’t back up the entire drive with Time Machine.” Yikes!

Think about that for a bit…this affects anyone with limited internal storage space who has their photos stored on an external drive. And in today’s Mac world, that could be a lot of people—while you can configre some machines with up to 2TB of solid state storage (and iMacs with bigger Fusion drive), doing so is wildly expensive. So there are potentially a lot of Mac users with small internal drives who may be affected by this. Yikes again!

Apple’s writeup leaves me with a couple of critical questions…

  • What if I exclude the iPhoto Library folder from Time Machine—is that sufficient to prevent the permissions issues, such that I can use Time Machine for the rest of the drive?
  • How, exactly, am I supposed to back up my photos, if I can’t use Time Machine? (See update at end for Apple’s recommended solution.) Will SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner also run into permissions problems? I’m using a 1TB Flickr account and their upload tool as a backup method, but I have lots of upstream bandwidth, so it’s not bad…but not everyone is lucky enough to have fiber to the door.

I know Apple’s answer to the second question is “You shouldn’t be storing photos locally, they should all be in the cloud.” But if you have a huge collection of photos and videos, and/or if you’ve got slow or limited internet, this is not a realistic option.

My library is over 40,000 photos and 1,400+ videos, requiring in excess of 500GB of storage. At that level, I’d need the 2TB iCloud plan at $10 a month…versus Google and Amazon, both of which offer unlimited photo storage space for free (though Google has caps on image and video resolution). So if I have to go to the cloud for primary photo storage, I don’t think I’ll be using Apple’s solution (even though it’s obviously the best-integrated).

Seriously, Apple, tell me how to back up the 8TB external drive I’m using to hold my photos…there must be an Apple-accepted solution, right?

Update: Ed Mechem’s comment points out Apple’s Back up thew Photos library page, which recommends simply dragging your Photos library to another drive to back it up. Thanks Ed; that appears to address the second question. I don’t know if it’s OK to copy it to the Time Machine drive, just outside the Time Machine folder, or if you’d ideally need a third drive. You’d want to use an app like CarbonCopyCloner or similar to automate this process, obviously. Manual backups aren’t usually the best solution.

My thoughts on the new Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPhones…

In their September 2017 keynote, Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple TV 4K HDR, and three new iPhones—the 8 and the 8 Plus, and the X.

Here are my quick thoughts on each, and my buying plans…

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a nice evolution of the watch. The LTE doesn’t really interest me, as I’m sure it’ll require another $5 or $10 a month to my wireless carrier, and I almost always want my phone with me. (If I swam regularly, I might feel differently about that.) The much-faster CPU would be a nice upgrade over my original-generation watch, but the Series 3 is nearly a full millimeter thicker than the original…and honestly, I think the first version was already borderline too thick.

Will I buy? At this time, the outlook is doubtful; my watch is working fine, and a faster CPU isn’t worth the added thickness and $359 of my money.

Apple TV 4K HDR

Support for 4K is welcome, and long overdue. I’m not so sure about HDR; sometimes I find HDR images tend to look artificial, and I don’t know if I’d find the same issue in moving images. A real added bonus was Apple’s decision to provide the 4K version of movies you’ve purchased for free—this from a company that charged us to upgrade the quality of our music files a few years back.

I wish Apple wasn’t so damn set on streaming everything, though—I would much prefer to store movies directly on the device, to make it more portable and not subject to the vagaries of wifi, device positioning, and network load. Those times are gone, though, so now the only choice is whether or not to spend $20 more for the 64GB version.

Will I buy? Yes, and I’ll spend the extra $20 for the extra 32GB. I’ve been moving an Xbox One back and forth from the game TV to our 4K TV to watch 4K content, so this will be a simpler solution.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and iPhone X

Let me get this out of the way: I do not like the iPhone X. Well, that’s not true. I think almost all of it is absolutely stunning, and I really want one. Unfortunately, that’s “almost all,” and there are two things that aren’t perfect that will keep me from buying this phone…

The Notch. I absolutely, positively hate the cutout at the top of the phone for the sensors. In case you (somehow) missed it, this is the notch…

I would have much preferred if Apple just blacked out that entire region, giving up that marginally-usable pixel space for a cleaner appearance. I understand that videos can play cropped, so as to not be “notched,” but it’s the presence of the notch in other normal views that really gets to me. It’s everywhere.

Many people won’t notice, or won’t care about the notch. I wish I could be one of those people, but I can’t. During the keynote, all I could focus on whenever the phone appeared was the stupid notch. It simply grabs my eye, and I cannot unsee it when it’s there. (Maybe a future software update will stop drawing the desktop up there, which would make it look much nicer to my eye.)

Face ID. Apple has told us facial recognition is more secure, and I have no reason to doubt them. They also told us it’s fast, and it seemed to be in the demo. But secure and fast can’t override the absolute convenience of Touch ID. I can use Touch ID as I remove my phone from my pocket (press plus press-click), and it’s ready to go as soon as it’s out of my pocket. I don’t have to look at my phone unless I want to; if I have to look at my phone every time I want to unlock it, that’s going to get annoying. Very quickly.

Apple Pay is even worse. Today’s system is as near-magic as any tech I’ve ever used: Hold the phone near the register, rest finger on the home button, and you’re done. With Face ID, it appears (based on the demo in the keynote), I’ll have to both double-tap the side button and look at the phone to use Apple Pay. Ugh.

There are also some security considerations with Face ID, as pointed out by Ian Schray. The police cannot compel you to put your finger on your phone without a warrant…but can they compel you to simply look at your phone?

Other than these two no-go items, I really like everything else about the iPhone X. It’s only marginally larger (.20 inches taller, .15 inches wider) than an iPhone 7, yet has a screen that’s 30% larger and has more pixels than the gigantic Plus model phones. It also has the double cameras, which I would love to have on my next phone.

While you may not consider the notch and Face ID as deal breakers, they really are for me. I’ll go look at one in person, of course, but I simply cannot unsee the notch, and I hate the idea of having to look at my phone to unlock it, and taking more steps (and time) for Apple Pay.

So that leaves me with the 8/8 Plus versus my current 7. I think the new CPU, faster Apple-developed GPU, better cameras and sensors, 240fps slow-mo 1080p video, wireless charging, and the glass design make the iPhone 8 a compelling upgrade. As noted, I’d love to have the dual cameras to work with, but I think the Plus-size phone is just too big for daily use, so I think that’s out of the question. (I will visit the Apple Store again to see the 7 Plus before I decide for sure.)

Will I buy? As of now, yes, I plan on buying an iPhone 8, and hoping that…somehow…Touch ID survives for a long time to come, lest that iPhone 8 be my last new iPhone.

The Art of the Brick at OMSI

We recently toured Nathan Sawaya’s The Art of the Brick at OMSI, our local science museum. I had heard about this show, and seen pictures, but they don’t do it justice…so here, look at some of my pictures which also won’t do it justice. [View on Flickr]

Part of the reason photos don’t do the ehxibit justice is the lack of sense of scale—further accentuated in my photos due to the lack of reference points. Most of these things are quite large; the human figures are all life size (or bigger). The Easter Island head is maybe 8′ tall, the Whistler’s Mother figure is six or so feet long, etc. Each piece has a descriptive card that includes the total number of Lego pieces used. As you’d expect, it’s a lot of Lego!

If you’re in the Portland area—or The Art of the Brick is coming to your town—I highly recommend a visit. You don’t even have to like Legos; the art is just amazing…even without considering it’s made of Lego bricks.

Like a kid in a candy store…

Back in January, I spent a morning at the Portland International Auto Show, walking around looking at a huge assortment of new cars and trucks, and even a couple of campers.

As the title says, for me, short of actually buying a new car, that was peak fun. I love everything about cars, and walking around a car show is about as good as it gets: All the new cars, none of the sales pressure of a dealer visit! Here are some of the better shots from the morning’s virtual shopping trip. [View on Flickr]

Of the vehicles we saw, the Acura NSX and the BMW i8 were both very striking looking—much more so in person than in photographs. And I think the Audi RS7, especially in all-black, is one of the meanest-looking cars to come along in a long time. Now I just need to come up with the $7.5 million or so it’d take to buy all the cars on my wish list!

The above album is hosted on Flickr and displayed here via a plug-in; read on if you’re interested in how I did that…

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Review: Canmore G-Porter GP-102+ data logger

I recently bought a new big-size camera, bucking the trend of simply using one’s iPhone for photographs. That’s not to say I don’t use my iPhone; it is my main picture taking device. But I wanted a camera that could capture native retina iMac images (at least 5120×2880), and the iPhone can’t do that.

After much looking and sweating over the costs, I chose a Nikon D5500, mainly because I already had a Nikon and didn’t really want to replace all my lenses. While this is an excellent camera, it was a bit of a budget compromise—it didn’t have all the features I really wanted. In particular, it lacks a built-in GPS to geocode all the pictures I take.

As a workaround, I decided to buy a GPS data logger, which is just a small GPS receiver that records GPS coordinates at some interval. Toss the logger in your pocket (make sure it’s on and receiving the GPS signals first!), then go take pictures as you normally do. When you return, you can use an app like HoudahGeo to sync the recorded GPS track with the timestamps on each photo. (I’ll have more to say about this whole sync process in a future post.) Presto, instant geocoded images!

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Looking for a camera recommendation

I’m looking for some help from the camera experts out there for my next camera. At present, I own an aging Nikon D40x, which I generally love except, well, it’s bulky as heck, only shoots 10MP, and is getting quite old. So I want to replace it with something else, with these constraints:

  • Resolution of at least 5120×2880, the native resolution of the 5K iMac.
  • Smaller and lighter than my Nikon, so I think that means APS-C or Micro 4/3rds sensor size.
  • Weatherproof, so I can shoot outside in Oregon in the winter rains.
  • Total cost for the camera plus a base lens and a zoom lens in the $750 to $1500 range.

In my research, I’ve only really found one camera that actually meets all my criteria, that being the Panasonic DMC-GX8. It’s weatherproof (and shoots 4K video), and I could get the camera and a couple lenses for right around $1500. However, it just barely makes the resolution limit, at 5184×3888, leaving not much extra room for cropping.

Reviews have also noted that it’s quite large for a mirrorless camera, and that’s what I’m trying to get away from.

The Sony a6000 is a near-fit, as its 6000×4000 resolution easily meets my needs, but it’s not waterproof. It is, however, smaller and lighter than the Panasonic, and has a faster burst mode. Compared to the GX8, it only shoots 1080p video. But it would also be somewhat less expensive, I think, with a couple lenses. (The camera body is much cheaper, but Sony’s lenses seem much more expensive.)

Sony is also launching the a6300 in early March. According to this comparison article, it’s got a number of nice improvements, such as 4K video recording, a weather-sealed magnesium-construction body, many more autofocus points for fast autofocus, and a much better viewfinder.

However, this camera is about $500 more than the a6000, which means I’d be close to the budget limit after adding a zoom lens.

I’ve visited Digital Photography Review to read reviews, and to compare the samples for the A6000 and GX8 … but I’m still no closer to a decision.

I welcome any advice from those with experience in these cameras, and/or more information on image quality comparisons and lenses. At present, I’m leaning to the a6300, even though it’s quite a bit more money. It meets all my criteria, has the fastest burst rate, shoots 4K video, and is smaller and lighter than the GX8. But is there something else I should be looking at instead?

Retina lollipops

A candy store at the local mall had the most amazing wall of colorful lollipops, and I thought it’d make a wild desktop image for a retina iMac. As I snapped the pic on my iPhone, it took a bit of upscaling to reach 5120×2880, but I think it still looks fine; here’s a small-scale version:

I also thought a tunnelized version would be interesting; here’s how that came out:

I have these in my normal “rotate random every 15 minutes” cycle, and still get a kick out of the lollipops when they get chosen.

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