Saturday, February 28, 2009

Post your top three shots!

One of my colleagues in my photography group this evening suggested that everyone submit three of their favorite photos so we could get an idea of everyone’s work. I thought this was a great idea and it has spawned a very fun email conversation. Thanks Justin for kicking this off (and don’t forget to post yours here)!

In the spirit of doing the same here, I’d love for my blog readers to do the same. Here’s the short rules:

  1. Using a comment to this article, submit three links to your favorite photos. If you use Flickr, then post them to the blog readers pool.
  2. Three and only three – I know, it can be hard.
  3. These are your favorites – they don’t  need to be others favorites or professional. Point and shoot shots are okay.

Here’s my favorite three:

Chicago-165 Kimi Räikkönen - Canadian Grand Prix 2008 Raia 533 - Color Stylizer

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Smugmug is now using Bay Photo for printing

They compare results here from Bay Photo, MPix, WHCC, and others and show how they decided which pro printer to use. The results were pretty surprising to me!

This is very cool to read even if you don’t use smugmug because they point out how WHCC had damaged shipments during there tests and what the criteria were for selection.

I love the folks at smugmug for being so “real” when it comes to making decisions and helping customers. Those guys rock!!!!!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

REVIEW: onOne Focal Point 1.02 -vs- Alien Skin Bokeh

Lately there seems to be a trend of trying to create that sweet bokeh you get from expensive lenses using Photoshop add-in filters. This article will compare two add-ins from two top notch companies - onOne Software and Alien Skin Software as well as Photoshop CS4's own Lens Blur filter.

onOne Software Focal Point 1.02

FP_BOX_3-web 

onOne's way of trying to simulate the sweet bokeh created by great lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G is to apply a radial blur to the entire image and then let you tweak the settings in its UI as shown below using its unique "spider" control:

Click to learn more about FocalPoint

This control works great if you have a fairly simple oval or planar region that you want apply your blur towards, but it has holes in real world applications such as the the situation below where we want to make my lovely expectant wife the focal point and ignore my daughter and the noise in the background. In addition, using its strongest blur, still results in a blur that isn't super strong as shown in this image:

Click for the original 

FocalPoint is easy to use and offers a fantastic UI, but its spider control doesn't yield the best results for a shot like this.

However, there is an added benefit to FocalPoint in that it offers some interesting presets for nice vignettes and the spider is great for offering control over the effect for a really slick border to your photo.

FocalPoint is included with the great product suite offered by onOne Software called Plugin Suite 4.5 which is offered at a discount for readers of this blog.

Click here to learn more about FocalPoint.

UPDATE: Click here to see my new review for 2.0.

Alien Skin Software 1.0.0.174

 BokehBoxShot

Alien Skin Software is known for great quality software, and pretty basic (i.e., no-frills) user-interfaces. They offer a wide variety of simulations of great lenses like the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, and the bokeh is absolutely beautiful. Here's a view of its crude user-interface:

Click to learn more about Bokeh

However, a big challenge (although some would call it a benefit) of Bokeh is that you must apply your selection of the area you wish to protect (i.e., not apply the blur to) prior to running the Bokeh filter (unless you use the focus region options). The results can be great if your selection is good, but if your selections are off (as mine was in this example which was done with a fast quick mask selection) then you'll have nasty holes without a nice feather like FocalPoint offers (at least using the preset options):

The result is that you end up with something that can be great if you take the time up front to make sure your selection is spot on. This of course, makes it not much different than applying a lens blur in Photshop itself which makes you wonder what it is you are really paying for? The answer it seems, is the magic settings that simulate some famous lenses known for fantastic bokeh.

CORRECTION (6/25/09)

When I wrote this article I made a huge mistake because I hadn’t noticed the focus region section of the Bokeh UI which allows you to use a tool similar to what Focal Point offers. While I still like Focal Point’s “spider” better, this gives this product a lot more functionality than I had originally given it credit for.

image

Alien Skin has decided to discontinue its discount, but you can support this blog by purchasing through this link. Your support is GREATLY appreciated!

Photoshop CS4 Lens Blur

Since Bokeh isn't much better (but it is MUCH faster) than the Lens Blur filter in terms of flexibility, I thought I'd do a quick comparison to see how it did. The settings I used were hexagon shape, a radius of 79 (a total guess) blade curvature of 14 (previously used setting) and the rest of the values were the defaults (including the Uniform distribution instead of Gaussian - which didn't have a obvious difference). Here's the result of the Photoshop version overlaid on the Bokeh version:

Mouse over to see Bokeh, mouse out to see Photoshop CS4 LensBlur

The net result is that it is similar, but you might not be able to crank CS4 up high enough to get the same results as Bokeh. In fact, the results look closer to what I got in FocalPoint.

Canon 50mm f/1.2L at f/1.2

Unfortunately I didn't have time to do a comparison of a single image using the real lens against the fake versions (by shooting a shot with the lens at a more narrow aperture like f/11), but just for kicks I thought I'd include a picture so you could see the bokeh of this lens. My apologies for the ugly model, but I returned this lens and purchased the more affordable Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM so this was the first pic I could find that I took with the 1.2 @ 1.2:

As you can see the bokeh is pretty sweet, but perhaps not as smooth and exaggerated as the one created by Bokeh.

Conclusion

When I analyze the two products together (move your mouse in and out on the image below), you quickly notice that Bokeh is using the stronger blur that really does a decent simulation of the great bokeh you'd get from a high end lens:

Mouse over to see Bokeh, mouse out to see FocalPoint 

With that in mind, is it worth paying for the effect? Well, if you consider the cost of a typical f/1.2 lens costing over $1000 and the fact that Bokeh offers a decent simulation of several of them, it could be argued it as a good value. Then again, it is really easy to get results that aren't believable as its is more than just a good selection, but also knowing how to apply the appropriate gradient to feather the blur in the transition areas. These details can only be done by understanding what these lenses do in real life, so that leaves the user with a gap in knowledge to do an accurate job if they've never actually owned the lens.

Overall, I'd say that there's not much advantage to FocalPoint over Photoshop's Lens Blur filter, but Bokeh does offer a noticeable advantage in a much less user-friendly user-interface. Short of having the real thing, Alien Software's Bokeh seems to be the product of choice for simulating what some of the great lenses do, but if your goal is to simply use blur as an mechanism for guiding the users eye to your focal point, then Photoshop's Lens Blur filter should be sufficient for your needs at no additional cost.

Disclosure

I was provided free copies of these products and will receive a commission if you use the links in the blog. Thank you for supporting this blog by using these links and the discount codes.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

REVIEW: Alien Skin Image Doctor 2

 link-image-doc-over

I was very disappointed with Image Doctor 2 because much of its functionality is better handled in native Photoshop CS3 or greater. I just couldn't see any value in this program, and definitely think that onOne's ColorTune or SkinTune are going to be more helpful for things like restoring old photos and fixing skin than what this product offers. Here's a quick rundown of its filters and what they do:

Blemish Concealer

If you don't have the healing brush, this might be cool, but for CS3 and beyond this is a VERY cumbersome way to touch up skin because you must make a selection and then open this dialog:

ImgDoc_Blemish

I can't see any benefit to this filter in current versions of Photoshop.

Dust & Scratch Remover

Once again, you are expected to select the dust or scratch prior to running this filter and when you do you don't get a chance to fine tune your adjustments (ala U-Points in Nik Software products).

JPEG Repair

By now I was started to get annoyed with this product because try as I might, I couldn't find a single image where this feature made a difference. I'd love to show you a sample of how great it is, but if you want to fix your JPEG's use their brilliant Blow Up application - not this!

Skin Softener

Either set Clarity to a negative value (up to -100) in Adobe Camera Raw 5.x or Lightroom 2.x or use the Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop to accomplish the same thing. All this seems to do is ruin your image by putting a Guassian Blur on it without an overlay mode or a mask. What's the point?

Conclusion

The good folks at Alien Skin Software make some good stuff, but this isn't it. Unless you are using Photoshop CS2, I can't see why you'd want this software. If you are itching to spend money though, consider Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete or onOne Software Plug-in Suite instead.

Disclosure

I was provided an evaluation copy for this review. I also get a commission if you use this link to purchase Image Doctor. Please use this link and support the blog – thanks!

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pocket Wizard's answer to Radio Poppers

You've gotta check out Pocket Wizard's web site to see how Pocket Wizard is FINALLY answering the call to a quality product for doing TTL without a cord or infrared. This is the product we've been waiting for.

This is the product RadioPoppers should have been, but instead they seem more like garage project hacks that went from being a bargain to nearly as expensive as PocketWizards. I'm glad they existed to help Pocket Wizard get off its laurels and start doing something that should have been done years ago, but I'm optimistic that this will be a better solution long-term.

Mini TT1

MiniTT1

This is the transmitter that mounts to your camera hot shoe and still supports you putting a flash on top of that (although there appears to be an issue with the 5D Mark II under that scenario).

You can pre-order yours now for Canon and Nikon at B&H, and read here for more info.

Flex TT5

FlexTT5

This is a replacement for your Plus II or MultiMax to have full TTL support - woohoo!!!!

You can pre-order yours now for Canon and Nikon at B&H, and read here for more info.

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REVIEW: Photoshop Masking & Compositing

This book was published back in 2005, which is a LONG time in the software industry, but surprisingly there are few books that cover this important topic in such depth.

For the uninformed, Masking is one of the most important things you should learn in Photoshop, but it can also be very complex to master. Basically the way it works is that images in Photoshop stack one on top of another like sheets of paper. If you were to cut out a hole on a top sheet of paper, you'd see the content of the paper underneath it. This is effectively what a mask is - it is feature that tells Photoshop what to show from the current layer (using White) and what to show from the layer beneath (using Black). Of course if it were that simple, there wouldn't be a need for an entire book on the subject.

Katrin Eismann's book, while a bit outdated due to advancements in Photoshop CS2 - CS4, but it is one of the more comprehensive books on the subject of masking. It covers some very challenging things to mask using a lot of images and complex scenarios that you'll find in the real world. The real questions are - Should you read this book? and Is this really the best resource to learn about masking? Read on to get my 2 cents...

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here's my thoughts on each chapter of this book:

Chapter 1: The Creative Process and Configuring Photoshop

This chapter begins by whetting your appetite by showing you what is possible from master retouchers like Mark Beckelman, and the origin of what we do in Photoshop with examples by the great Jerry Uelssmann who did amazing composites in the darkroom WITHOUT Photoshop!

From there the chapter goes into detail as to what Eismann sets her preferences to in Photoshop. Some of these choices are likely to be controversial, but for the newbie it is helpful to know what the impact is of changing some of these settings. Of course, CS3 & CS4 has introduced new preferences, but many still apply.

Chapter 2: Selection Strategies and Essentials

I got excited about this chapter because I expected to learn some cool new concepts. Unfortunately I didn't but there were some in-depth discussions of topics like feathering that I hadn't seen elsewhere that proved to be valuable.

Chapter 3: The Essential Select Menu

This is one of the more useful chapters of the book because she goes into details of features like the Quick Mask that I had never seen in other books, and she shows how combining it with a Gaussian Blur can give you a visual of what feathering will do. This is something others have credited her book for demonstrating, and is very useful to know about.

This chapter is also great about showing you alternative ways to accomplish specific tasks using filters like the Median, Maximum, and Minimum filters which (if you are like me) are ones I have never even bothered to use. After reading this book, I can see the value of her approach.

Chapter 4: Pen Tool Power

I was excited about this chapter because I've repeatedly heard that the Pen tool is one of those tools that once you master it, you can do some pretty cool selections (or more specifically - smooth). I've pretty much said to myself that once I have this one mastered that I'll have my Photoshop "merit badge" and pretty much be limited only by my creativity. Sadly, Eismann has already mastered this tool and fails instruct as good as I would like to have seen. Sure, this tool requires rote practice, but I was expecting more and even better some cool techniques on how to create paths besides using the pen. There's still plenty of instruction and value in this chapter, but if you are looking for a magic bullet you aren't going to find it here.

Chapter 5: Masks Are Your Friends

Indeed Masks are your friends, and in opinion they are the most important thing a Photographer can master in Photoshop. Ironically though, this is one of her weakest chapters on masks. If you read the entire book you'll learn more about masks, but I was disappointed with this chapter. She gets there in chapters 7 & 8 though, so all isn't lost.

Chapter 6: Layers Are Your Friends

This is a perfect example where Eismann has the opportunity to make a subject that is somewhat confusing to newcomers very simple (as Matt Kloskowski does in Layers). She does try to write a better "owners manual" for Photoshop when she talks about blending modes, but she uses a terrible example which serves to confuse more than it instructs. Furthermore, she goes off on a tangent jumping into details of the Curves dialog under the disguise of talking about adjustment layers which continues with her discussion of the Lighting filter and Shadows and Highlights adjustment. Once again, there's good content here but the presentation is a bit sporadic.

Chapter 7: The Power of Layer Masking

Here's where Eismann starts covering masking the way it should have been covered in Chapter 5, and she is more focused on real world applications of masks. This is probably the most practical chapter in the book, yet Kelby does a better job of demonstrating all of this in his 7 Point System book. Of course Kelby credits Eismann for teaching these things, so this is more of a knock of the age of the book rather than the author.

Chapter 8: Selecting Hair and Fine Detail

The reason why you buy a book like this is because complex masking for things like hair and fine detail are quite frankly a pain in the ass, and you want to learn how to make it easy. Sadly a lot has changed since this book was written, so this chapter uses a lot of brute force and user skill to get results that are much easier to achieve using channels and the quick selection tool available in CS3 and up. There's still tips here worth reading, but using these techniques which drive you mad as they require more skill than most mere mortals posses. The rest of us would benefit from The Photoshop Channels Book or onOne Software's Mask Pro and spend our precious time improving the photo instead of spending all day on a mask.

Chapter 9: Advanced Selection Techniques

There's some good stuff in this chapter and techniques (like using Apply Image to a channel) that I haven't seen discussed in any book I've read to date. Some of these techniques could be really helpful in difficult situations where features of CS3/4 don't quite get the job done. Definitely read this chapter and add it to your arsenal of great tips and tricks.

Chapter 10: Selecting Translucency and Green Screen Techniques

This chapter was probably the most disappointing in the book because when I first skimmed the book and saw that this chapter would teach me how to "work with flames, fireworks, and smoke" I thought there was going to be some very cool voodoo I was going to learn that I've never seen elsewhere. However, when I read the "Creative Smoke" section (page 359) I was like "what the f**k"!!!! Any buffoon could do what she suggests - there's nothing about "selecting smoke" as I would have expected.

Moaning and groaning aside, there was some great stuff in this chapter that was worthwhile. For example, the veil section was brilliant and seeing how she added the tint to the surface of the table for the goldfish tank was inspirational. The rest had some interesting nuggets, but fell short on showing the difficult details about making some of the composites believable.

Chapter 11: Image Execution and Photography

This and the remaining chapters felt very out of place in this book. Sure, the city of books example is very cool and Mark Beckelman's composites are really great, but this and the remaining chapters feel like a ADD moment where Eismann goes off on a tangent about "see the cool stuff my friends are doing"? The worst part is that there are no sample images to follow along so you can actually learn by doing, so it ends up being as useful as watching someone in a video teaching Photoshop with the TV on mute. You see what's possible, but you learn nothing!

Chapter 12: Photorealistc Compositing

This chapter feels like déjà vu as the city of books and G5 examples return with a little more info that would have been useful had it been combined with the content from chapter 11. Again, if you have ADD then jumping around like this might be okay, but if you are super analytical then you are going to be dazed and confused. I will say that the section on "Harmoninzing Light and Shadow" of Lee Varis' photo was very cool and described much better than we'd ever get out of Lee Varis. I also felt that the additional details for the city of books and G5 were much more useful in this chapter, but just out of place.

This chapter ends up being pretty good with a lot of good stuff up to page 467, but then something goes wrong. The section on adding cloud reflections to a champagne glass was very confusing because the before and after photos look identical to me. I just don't see the benefit in what she is trying explain. She then goes into owners manual mode for the Liquify filter with no practical application of it, when there are tons of benefits that she actually alludes too. It was as if she discovered after the fact "oh, I forgot to talk about the Liquify filter" OR she has no idea how to use it and asked others (like Lee Varis who surprisingly describes its use fairly well in Skin) for an overview of what it does, and then masks her lack of knowledge by telling you what all of the controls are for - very disappointing!

Next up it becomes even more maddening when they show you a candy cane photo and composite where the art director doesn't like the stripes, so she briefly describes how they create new candy cane stripes. However, one wonders why not just re-shoot the shot of the candy canes and composite those in? Of course, the answer must lie in the fact that they were probably being paid a large sum of money per hour, so it wouldn't have been too profitable to use logic like that! However, they add insult to injury by not giving the details of how the hell you get that strip pattern around the freakin canes!

My recommendation is to stop at page 467 and call this book done. I read the rest and feel like it's wasted time I'll never get back.

Chapter 13: Creative Compositing

Who writes a book with 13 chapters? In this case, I say 13 is unlucky and there's not much value in this chapter so keep your good luck in hand and skip this chapter all together.

Conclusion

When I read the first couple chapters of this book I was optimistic that it was going to be a really great book that would make my must read list. Others had told me it should be on that list, so I went in thinking that they might be right. However, as I pressed on in this book I found that despite its size, many of the topics left me wanting more information or more in-depth coverage. I also felt that her mastery of the Pen tool caused her to rely too heavily on the selection skills of the reader, which is a fallacy since most of us get books like this to learn how to NOT suck at selections!

Many of her solutions gloss over selection in one step by saying "select X with the pen tool", yet she'll take two steps telling you to do a Edit->Copy and Edit->Paste. A perfect example of this is the goldfish example in Chapter 10, but there are many others. Other topics feel like they were forced by the editor (i.e., Liquify Filter page 470) and end up being little more than a reference manual with no examples. In addition, the last few chapters are more about "here's some cool things my friends have done", but they weren't super meaningful. However, if you look carefully you'll find useful nuggets (i.e., page 494) hidden in the content.

In the end I felt like she belabors some topics by acting as a owners manual and fails to get to the point. In other sections she glosses over critical steps (especially in chapter 10 & beyond).

Scott Kelby credits Katrin Eismann in his books as a resource (and in fact, he's hired her for his training website). Other great photographers have done so as well, so I won't diminish the importance of this book. However, in 2009 there are others like Scott Kelby who have taken the good from this book and applied its concepts into easy to understand steps. I suggest you look elsewhere to spend your precious reading hours.

Skill Level: Advanced
Value: Reasonable
Recommendation: Skip it or just read chapters 3, 6, 9 & 10. Instead, read The Photoshop Channels Book first as it covers this topic WAY better in a more practical manner, then read Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 to see what you can do with the power of masking. If you are still hungry for more repetition or details, then this book will still offer many satisfying tips not found elsewhere. Chapters 3, 6, 9 & 10 offer the most bang for the buck, so if you just read those then you'll get 90% of the value out of this book.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to use a Tilt-Shift lens

Tilt-shift lenses are gaining popularity again. Below is a unprocessed example of a tilt-shift I did last year when borrowing a friends lens. It isn't a great picture, but you get the idea. The lighting difference isn't the lens but rather the timing between the two shots (a cloud moved):



Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after



While there might be some better articles out there (feel free to tell me in the form of a URL in the comments), but I thought this was a decent (and visual) article about how to use a tilt-shift lens.

For those who don't have one of these lenses but want to create the "toy model" effect using a tilt shift, then you can check out http://tiltshiftmaker.com/ for a fun on-line way to get this effect.

There's also a decent blog article by Martin Pot on the subject, and some kick ass videos on viemo that are mentioned in this gizmodo article. Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D90 users should be able to have some fun creating videos like that with their tilt-shift lenses.
TiltShift

Picture above is courtesy of DPReview.com

There's also some new tilt shifts coming from Canon, but until they hit the market here are the offerings that exist today:

Canon

Nikon

I hope to pick up one of these lenses at some point in the future as my short time with one proved to be a ton of fun. They are great for architecture work as well!

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

DPReview finally posts a 5D Mark II Review

5DM2 copy

The 5D Mark II picture in this article is copyright 2008 - Digital Photography Review

It sure took them long enough, but the best camera review site on the web - DPReview.com - FINALLY posted an in-depth review of the 5D Mark II.
The Verdict? Well, it seems they are quite pleased with this camera giving it a 9.5 for image quality and basically stating it is the best you can get out there for full-frame or less format camera.

Comparisions

The review compares it against the original 5D, 1Ds-Mark III, Nikon D700 and Sony Alpha A900.
Versus the Original 5D
Against the original 5D where the analysis is that the original 5D was sharper per pixel, but that the extra pixels and post-process sharpening can yeild results as good as the original 5D. This is good news for 5D owners who don't have the funds to upgrade at this time.
Versus the 1Ds-Mark III
Despite the fact that 5D Mark II and 1Ds Mark III cameras both have the same sensor, it is clear that Digic IV must make a difference as the 5D Mark II clearly beats out its more expensive sibling. The net result is that unless you need the features or weather sealing offered in the 1Ds-Mark III, you have nothing to lose (besides cash) with purchasing a 5D Mark II.
Versus the Nikon D700
The D700 is realistically the closest competitor to the 5D Mark II, but with much less pixels it highlights what Canon has accomplished with their new body. The D700 fairs well and produces similar results, but given its cost and lack of features then D700 shouldn't be too attractive to photographers who have already made an investment in Canon lenses. It's superior focus and burst mode would be appealing if a full-frame sports camera was needed, so there's still a place for this camera - especially given the cost of its amazing sibling - the D3.
Versus the Alpha A900
Boys and girls, let this be a lesson to you that it isn't always about who has the most megapixels. The net result here is that the A900 offers the worst picture quality of the bunch here and its lack of lenses and heritage make it a choice only for those who have a grudge against Nikon and Canon. If that is you, then here's another Sony product you should buy (WARNING: Contains explicit language).

Conclusion

This still appears to be "the" camera to have if you are in the Canon camp, but Nikon's D700 & D3 should keep their followers loyal. This camera should help slow the bleed from Canon a little bit, but they'll need new pro versions soon which should piss off their loyal customers enough that people may still feel compelled to switch camps. I've been very pleased with my 5D Mark II and I no longer yearn to switch camps thanks to this great body, but my 1D Mark III experience still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Hopefully Canon will do something to help with the upgrade experience, but given the strength of the Yen against the Dollar, I'm not expecting much. For those on the sidelines with insufficient funds, it seems that the original 5D is a great buy given how well it has held up with the latest high-end cameras, so you can take advantage of the flood of 5D's on the used market and at retailers dumping inventory to get a great deal on an excellent camera. Click here for my 5D Mark II review, and go here to see some great images being created with this camera by real people like you.

The lines are shorter, time to go get one now...

If you've been on the fence about upgrading, fear not your wait is over. The backorder situation has improved so that waits are typically under a aweek or two. This is THE camera to own if you have an investment in Canon lenses, and Adorama (where I purchased mine) was the only online place I've seen that is consistently taking (and filling) orders:

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Friday, February 13, 2009

How do I backup my pictures? (UPDATED 3/15/09)

Like all Photographers, I am amassing a HUGE collection of images which makes me worry about what would happen if my computer were to fail or my house were to burn down. I'd lose everything that wasn't up on the web already, and even then I wouldn't have my precious original RAW files to work with as my Photoshop skills mature.

Currently I have about 450GB of images that I really care about, but roughly a terrabyte of data total. I had started going the route of keeping my data on removable drives like this for each year:

and backing them up to additional larger drives, but it didn't help me with the fact that my drives were all at my home. Sure, I kept the passport drives with me when I traveled with my gear, but this was a solution that was destine to spell disaster.

Windows Home Server / On-Site Backup

This topic of backup kept coming up in my photography group and many people would suggest Microsoft's Windows Home Server as shown here:

and this is certainly one solution, but it is an "on-site" backup solution in  your own home and I was looking for an "off-site" solution that would provide me with some protection against a fire or natural disaster.

Mozy / Off-site backup

This lead to me going to a leader in online backup, Mozy. They offered 2GB Totally Free so I picked subset of my photos and tried it out.

How does it work?

You are required to install a client application that you use to define what files you'd like to backup (chosen from drives your computer thinks are fixed). Unfortunately my files were on removable drives, so I had to start by moving my photos to my internal drive. This was unfortunate as I would have much preferred support for external drives, despite the consequences of doing so. Hopefully the folks at Mozy will sort this issue out in the future.

Once you are all set up you can configure backups to start when your system is idle or at specific times. Personally, I've chosen to have it run all of the time and I never turn my computer off anymore.

The dialog below shows the progress (which isn't showing the full 450GB anymore because Windows Update rebooted my system automatically):

Mozy

Despite having my system set to "Quicker Backups", I haven't had any performance problems on my computer and I've been able to use other computers on my wireless network without any issues. I also use Xbox LIVE and Netflix streaming movies from my Xbox 360 without any issues.

How Long Does it Take? (UPDATED)

I started my 446.2GB backup on January 9th, and it completed on March 15th. I did have some trouble for a few days due to a router that went bad, but beyond that it was going nearly non-stop. Of course, the occasional down time from Comcast or power hiccup may have slowed things, but you’re likely to experience the same thing with such a long backup.

On a good day I averaged about 4.5GB per day (via Comcast cable modem on a wireless network), but upgrading my cable modem service didn’t help because Mozy throttles the upload speed to 1mbs to their servers when using unlimited accounts. This limitation doesn’t exist if you use the more expensive pro accounts, so there is a workaround if you’d like to backup faster. (WARNING: If you use Comcast (and perhaps others) they will limit your monthly upload to 250GB, so if you exceed that then you may not be able to upload at all – which means no Internet service).

Of course, now that the initial backup is done, just the differences will need to be backed up so things are going much better. In fact, I’ve decided to go ahead and back up another 121 GB of data not originally included in my backup set.

To learn more about Mozy, read the top articles and guides here.

Conclusion

Overall, I like the service quite a bit and think I’ll stick with it. While it isn’t perfect, it meets my needs fairly well. However, I do have a few gripes:

  1. Backup isn’t as automatic as I’d like – if Windows Update reboots the machine, you have to log in before the backup will resume – this has cost me a couple days of backup time.
  2. Restarts are slow and it doesn’t seem to be working hard enough to get the data online as quickly as I think it could.
  3. It is slow to give you a view of what you have uploaded, but once it loads it works fine.
  4. It doesn’t support removable drives.

Performance

I’m seeing upload speeds of about 1 mbps with no negative impact on my system or Internet access. I frequently watch movies on the Xbox 360 using Netflix streaming video (sometimes in HD) and Mozy doesn’t seem to be impacting that performance (of course that is downstream and Mozy is upstream, but still – I was pleased about that).

Restore is very easy and fast, so overall I’m pretty happy with what I am seeing from Mozy. They offer 2GB Totally Free so there's nothing to lose for trying it out.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Got focus problems? Try this...

My good friend, Michael Schene, sent me this cool article that does a good job describing how to do camera auto focus micro adjustments to deal with back and front focusing issues. I'd like to write about this in more depth, but can't so hopefully some will find this article to be helpful - thanks Michael!

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Snow Photography

I had it on my todo list to write a little article about snow photography, but Canon beat me to the punch with this great article. Rather than re-hashing what they say, I'll defer you to that article. It applies to Nikon's as well, although your camera settings may use different names (but equivalents exist).

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REVIEW: Focus Magic (UPDATED 2-6-11)

 

NOTE: My original review forgot to test an important feature of this product, so I ask that you re-read the NEW portion of this article and the conclusion again.

Somewhere recently I ran across an ad for Focus Magic which claims it can fix out of focus and blurry pictures better than the Unsharp Mask automatically. The information from the web site led me to believe this might be a cool product, so I decided to check it out.

I had a pretty bad picture that a bartender in a pub in Dublin, Ireland took of me so I thought I'd use it to see if I could fix this photo. After all, this was my first pub that I had visited and it had been recommended by my Irish co-worker, so I really wanted to save it.

The user-interface seemed simple enough yet right away I became skeptical when I saw the after photo in the preview window:

 

Focus Magic "Fix Out of Focus Blur" filter

The directions say to adjust the blur width as necessary, but I never really found that I was satisfied with the results. In the end, I just accepted the default and decided to try the 2-Pass LAB Sharpening trick in Scott Kelby's Photoshop Channels Book to see if it could do any better. The results appear below (don't forget to click the images to see larger 30% versions of the originals):

Before
After Focus Magic Out of Focus Fix
After Kelby Channels Book 2-Pass Sharpening
Fix Motion Blur Filter (NEW)

One of my blog readers, Bob Heath, point out his favorite feature of Focus Magic is its Fix Motion Blur filter. I discovered that I had forgotten to test that feature of the product, so this update includes my findings.

This filter is a little harder to use because you have to figure out which direction the motion blur occurred and that may not be immediately obvious. Perhaps over time your eyes will get trained to make this easier, but I found it rather difficult to discern. There's no auto magic here, so you just have to experiment until you figure it out. Fortunately, their web site does a good job of demonstrating this feature so I took my best guess as shown here:

Focus Magic "Fix Motion Blur" filter

The results were actually quite impressive, so if you actually can figure out the source of the motion blur then this might be a great tool to help you salvage an otherwise blurry photo. Here's the results using my previous photo for which I'm not sure if the problem was out of focus or motion blur, but odds are it was motion blur since the bartender was holding a Canon 1D Mark III with a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens for the first time (which combined weigh about 8 or so pounds!):

After Focus Magic Motion Blur Fix

By George, I think it actually did a pretty impressive job of restoring this photo to something more usable. I haven't tried sharpening it, but I can see how this photo is significantly better and ready to accept sharpening with less garish results as the original.

Conclusion

When it comes to the focus fix, I much prefer the Kelby sharpening version although it could use some Noise Ninja help. Others may prefer the Focus Magic version, so I'll leave it up to you as to which you think is better. For the Motion Blur, I think Focus Magic did an incredible job, but your results will vary depending on how you turn the knobs. The results are indeed promising though!

The cost of this product is only $45 which is pretty inexpensive by add-in standards these days, so if you like the results you can order a copy at the Focus Magic web site. I don't get a commission or anything, but I would appreciate if you could put the URL of this article in the Notes edit box and let them know this is where you heard about the product.

Personally, I'm going to stick with the Kelby or other sharpening methods instead of using the out of focus filter, but I'll definitely try Focus Magic on images which are the result of shaky hands when I'd like to save a shot.

UPDATE – February 6th, 2011

In my previous update to this article I had recommended Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro’s Creative Sharpening features. I felt it was a big improvement over Focus Magic, but since then Topaz Software’s InFocus has entered the scene and trumped both products. I encourage you to check out my review of InFocus here and see if you agree as I’ve done comparisons using Focus Magic, Sharpener Pro, and InFocus. To my eyes, I think InFocus is the hands down winner.

Now I just had an Anonymous post to this blog that suggested that because I don’t get a commission on Focus Magic that my change of heart is biased, so I’d like to publically address that claim.

Software changes and evolves over time, so while in February 2009 I was impressed with Focus Magic, I hadn’t tried other products at that time that offered alternative solutions to the same problem. I’ve left my original review here unmodified and only update after the article so people can see my original thoughts. However, newer products have improved upon the ground breaking solution that Focus Magic offered and done a better job in my opinion. I emphasize “my opinion” as that is what any article or review will be – an opinion of the writer. Just as in the comment below where someone offered that in their opinion they disagree, I posted that and feel that everyone has the ability to download all of the products in question (which all have free demos) and see for themselves which is best.

I will say that fixing out of focus problems is difficult no matter which product you use, so it takes more education than just loading the product and clicking fix. Readers should be mindful of this before doing their own comparisons, but with the proper knowledge of the products that tackle this problem I felt I was able to do the best job with my own hands using InFocus. I suspect you will too so I encourage you to try and compare before making your purchase decision.

While I do in fact get commissions on Nik and Topaz products (something I fully disclose in those reviews), the fact that I find them better is not because of that detail. However, it is easy for someone to try to create a diversion from the truth by making such a claim so I wanted to be crystal clear that my position is based on actual images which you can see with your own eyes in the other reviews. You can also form your own opinion based on your own images and I suspect you will come to the same conclusion.

For a full list of my stack ranking of plug-ins to Photoshop and Lightroom please read my What plug-ins should I buy? article.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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