Photo Tips

2013: New Laptop and Storage Arrays

I apologize I haven't posted in some time....the second half of 2012 was pretty bad.  I will post on that at some point.  Anyway, 2013 is a new year...with new toys! I had been using a 2008 15" Macbook Pro for all of my photo work.  Unfortunately, the apt I was living in caught on fire and that computer got soaked from firefighter water.  I will post more on that later but I have to say that firefighters are prob my fav people in the world now.  Anyway, thankfully I had good insurance and got to get new laptop.  For a replacement, I picked up a 15" Macbook Pro Retina (2.7/16gb/7XX GB SSD).  I was going to get the 2.6 because I read that the performance improvement wasn't that great, but I needed a computer one weekend to finish two photo jobs I was working on.  Apple had the config I ended up purchasing in stock but not the 2.6.  So this one won out.

Initial impressions: this think rocks.  Screen is crisp like nothing you've ever seen.  Needless to say, my photo collection looks awesome, but even little things like the text on gmail you notice.  It's very thin, a little heavier than you'd expect, and fast as hell.  I picked up Lightroom 4 for a song during Amazon's black friday sale and it loads really quickly.  Scrolling is a breeze.  External editing with Photoshop and Nik plugin's is SO much faster than my old setup it's not funny.  I've had too much school work to do lately to use this laptop that much (I've got a 2009 13" MBP I use for that), but I'm looking forward to this guy becoming my daily driver.

Blackmagic test on internal SSD

Above you can see the Blackmagic test on the internal SSD.  Purty speedy.  It's not a scientific test but just gives you an idea re: read/write speed.  I do science for a living so no scientific tests here.

After the fire I also thought it was a good idea to revamp my backup situation.  I have a valuable (to me) photo catalog that also has client photos in there, countless hours of PhD thesis work, and all sorts of other stuff I'd rather not lose.  I originally thought about Drobo but have read some bad things (not about the company, but rather their products).  I decided to go with RAID arrays over piles of other hard drives.  After some research, I went with a Promise Pegasus R4 Thunderbolt array and a Sans Digital eSATA/USB3.0 box with WD Red Drives.  I've got everything plugged into an APC BR1500G UPS for power management.

I was a little hesitant about the Promise because of the negative reviews on the Apple store website but went for it anyway.  I just went with the 4TB R4 (4-bay) unit that comes with 4-1TB drives preconfigured in a RAID 5 configuration.  First thing I noticed...instructions say it takes 8-10 hours to synchronize when you first plug it in.  After I disabled all the energy saver settings and told the computer not to turn the hard drives to sleep, I estimated it took ~36 hours for it to synchronize.  A little longer than they said but hey it finished.  First file I transferred was a 33 GB movie file...took about 1 minute to go from internal SSD to Pegasus!!!  Performance tends to fluctuate a little but I see speeds as advertised (below).   More long term testing to come.  I'm planning to no longer store my photo library/catalog locally and run it from this puppy.  Should make edits a breeze.  Also, if you purchase this through the Apple Education store it's cheaper (~$100 off).

Promise Pegasus Results...I see the advertised 500MB/s

So that's the Pegasus.  The RAID 5 setup should allow 1-drive failure and I can rebuild and not lose data.  Knock on wood....

I also wanted ANOTHER backup system.  I put this one together myself.  Ended up with Sans Digital box above (hardware RAID eSATA/USB3.0).  Ideally, enterprise-level drives should be used for an array like this (WD RE, Seagate Constellation, etc).  These drives are super expensive.  I went with the middle of the road.  WD Red drives are still considered consumer drives, but have some firmware modifications that make them better for NAS 24/7 applications.  I'm not planning to run this as a NAS, rather a local storage unit.  Also, this unit will only be for backup and won't be running all the time.  These drives should be ok.  They are 2TB drives (4x2TB) setup in a RAID 10 configuration.  Again, I can lose a drive, replace it and rebuild without losing data (in theory..knock on wood).  I'm using this setup via eSATA with a Sonnet Echo Expresscard Pro and a Sonnet Tempo SATA 6Gb Pro ExpressCard/34.  A couple notes...Sans Digital documentation is not great.  For RAID 10, you set the mode dial in the back to the RAID 1 position, and throw in 4 drives.  Then hold the reset button for 5 secs while powering on.  Voila, RAID 10 is now setup, but not terribly intuitive.  I had to email customer support to get this info.  They got back to me in about a business day which is pretty good.  Plugged in everything and it showed up as a single RAID 10 array.  It froze on me once, but I think that was because I had two things plugged into the adaptor which then became unseated.  The eSATA expresscard doesn't lock in which is problematic.  I've read about this unit overheating because there is so much SATA cabling in the back that it blocks the fan, but it's not bad so far.  Another note, sometimes with eSATA and RAID arrays, you wanna make sure your hub/adaptor/whatever supports port multiplication.  I've also read with this kinda thing eSATA is more stable with OSX than USB 3.0.  Food for thought!  Anyway, I'm seeing about 200MB/s ish read/write speeds.  Wish it were higher (esp after using the Pegasus and internal SSD) but still much faster than USB 2.0.  So anyway, this system will mirror the Pegasus system above.  I figure with two different RAID boxes, different RAID configurations, diff interfaces, and drives from diff manufacturers (Pegasus doesn't use WD RED...I believe they are also consumer drives) I should be alright.  I'll periodically throw stuff on individual drives and throw those under lock and key in different physical locations too.  Starting to transfer a bunch of data around and put setups into heavier use, will report back if there are any probs.  Aside from a few hiccups, everything works as advertised so far! (knock on wood)

Blackmagic and Sans Digital (eSATA)

FYI: I purchased the laptop and Promise Pegasus from Apple; Sans Digital/WD Red, Sonnet gear from Newegg, Tiger Direct, and Sonnet; and APC from Amazon.  Had a bit of a snafu with Tiger Direct ordering but the customer service ppl on twitter got my prob resolved quickly and efficiently...quite impressed.  It's also worth noting I am in no way affiliated with any of the above and received no compensation (monetary or otherwise) for this post.  Also, special thanks to the folks at for posting some great info on storage.  Cheers....

Singh-Ray Filters

I've been meaning to get more into landscape photography lately.  The Really Right Stuff tripod package I purchased recently along with lenses such as the Nikkor 10-24mm DX and 24mm f1.4G make nice landscape setups.  Something lacking from my kit: filters!  I just ordered a couple graduated neutral density filters (the Cokin P size) from Singh Ray.  What's a graduated neutral density filter??  Well, a normal neutral density filter simply acts like sunglasses for your camera lens and lowers the amount of light that passes through the sensor without altering colors (hence NEUTRAL density).  A graduated neutral density fades from the desired stop amount (often 1, 2, 3, or 4 stops) to clear.  This allows you to hold back the sky and the sun while leaving the foreground (ocean, field, whatever) unaffected.  You get a more balanced exposure with sky and foreground using them.  I also got a reverse graduated neutral density.  This guy is darkest in the middle, fades to gray on end, and is clear on the other.  This one is perfect for shots where the sun is right on the horizon and about to set.  Anyway, I just received the filters I ordered today and I have to say I'm pretty impressed with what I got.  Each filter has it's own little pouch (something I was not anticipating) and Singh-Ray included a 35 minute DVD on how to use and get the most out of filters in their lineup.  Another added bonus!  So far impressed with what I got so gotta give props to Singh-Ray. Hopefully I'll have examples to post here shortly....stay tuned. PS Singh-Ray has a pretty cool blog where a lot of photographers share their stuff and tips with filters here

Nikon D800

I bought my Nikon D300 almost exactly 3 years ago.  It's been a great camera and I'm still shooting great images with it.  From a commercial standpoint, people are still paying me to shoot with it.  So here's a big "thumbs up" to you D300.  That being said, it is 3 years old (ancient by tech standards) and I have been looking to upgrade for some time now.  Upgrade??  Wait, hold just said it's a great camera shooting great images getting great use?  Why would you want to upgrade? Nikon has several sensor sizes in dSLR bodies: DX (APS-C, a "cropped" sensor) and FX (full frame).  The main difference between the two is size.  According to Wikipedia, Nikon DX sensors come in around 23.6 x 15.8 MM (give or take) whereas full-frame FX sensors come in around 36 x 24 MM (about the size of a 35mm film negative, sensor size comparison here).  The main advantage of the larger FX sensor is better low light performance and dynamic range under certain conditions.  The "crop" factor of the DX sensor can come in handy sometimes too, especially for telephoto.  Having around a 1.5x crop factor means that 24mm lenses act like 36mm on DX, 200mm acts like 300mm, etc.

So when I first bought into dSLRs, I got the D300, a DX camera.  I shot a lot of pictures.  I also started getting paid for jobs.  After awhile, I wanted to upgrade to FX as well as get a back-up camera (I think its stupid to go into jobs without a backup cam).  Last year I had money to do this.  My plan was to buy an FX camera and use the DX D300 for backup.  Big problem.  The FX cameras in Nikons lineup.  The D3x and D3s were too expensive for my needs at the time.  The only other FX option, the D700, was over two years old at that point.  I didn't want to drop $2500+ on a two year old piece of tech gear.  So what did I do?  Bought another DX camera that was cheaper that the D300 (the D7000) that actually has better specs on paper than the D300.  The D7000 has been great (esp the 16MP resolution vs 12MP of the D300) but it just wasn't exactly what I was looking for.  The D700 replacement was really what I wanted.

There have been a lot of rumors about a D700 replacement lately.  Supposedly it will be called the D800.  Nikon Rumors posted purported pics here.  The specs of the camera have generated a lot of buzz on the web, and here are my two cents:

1) If those pictures are to believed, the body size and control layout represents a departure from current prosumer and pro bodies.  It more resembles the D7000.  I'm not too crazy about this.  While this will make the D800 smaller and lighter, I like having all the buttons at my finger tips and am not a huge fan of the D7000 layout.  Smaller and lighter is great, I guess, but the lenses I've got weigh a ton in my bag.  Shaving a couple ounces off the size/weight of the camera won't make a huge difference to my back or Really Right Stuff tripod/ball head I will be ordering in the coming weeks.

2) 36MP would be awesome!  A lot of people argue you don't need that many MPs.  I disagree.  The lenses that I have bought for my DX cameras (24-70 2.8G, 70-200 2.8G, 24 f1.4G, 105mm 2.8G) easily out-resolve the DX sensors.  I'm more than happy to see FX sensors with more MPs that are going to be able to take advantage of the resolving power of the lenses I've already spent thousands of dollars on.  Also, with more MPs comes a greater ability to crop.  It's not always possible to get the composition you want and sometimes you have to crop.  Cropping a larger file will give higher resolution crops.  That is good.  Bigger files also mean I better start buying higher capacity memory cards and hard drives.

3) Price...a little high but certainly doable esp with those specs.  For the haters: granted the sensor is larger, the Leica S2 is currently the only weather-sealed camera in a dSLR form factor that can deliver that high MP images (37.5MP).  The problem?  It is $23k.  The lenses are all in the $5k-9k range each.  So 300,000 yen ($3900) for a D800 when I've already got some kick-ass Nikon F-mount lenses seems like a bargain.  If you think it's too expensive, you don't need one: buy a $1200 D7000.  I have one, it rocks for DX.  16MP, useable images at ISO6400, and 1080P 24FPS video for a fraction of the cost.  Or buy a used D700 for FX.  People will be selling lots of them when the D800 comes out.

4) A lot of people are complaining about AF and FPS.  I don't think Nikon is going for the sports or bird-watching market with this camera.  This is not the camera for you if you care about shooting fast moving things at high FPS.

5) Video: good video specs, hopefully an 1/8" mini-jack for mic in (for connecting external mics/audio devices).  If true, it will do 1080P at 24/25/30FPS and 720P at 24/25/30/60FPS.  Just remember, if you're new to dSLR video you are going to need stabilization gear and continuous lighting.  Don't expect to re-create Reverie just because you bought a dSLR that does video.

6) Memory cards: if it's got a CF and SD slot that'd be great.  I shoot JPEG+RAW.  JPEGs for quick client deliverables (or for delivery with no editing if they're good enough) and RAW for post.  CF+SD would allow me to do RAW to CF, JPEG to SD at the same time.  I'd be happy.

7) ISO: gonna have to wait to see samples to see how ISO stacks up to current FX and DX shooters.

Anyway, that's all I've got.  If those specs and pics are too believed then sports and wildlife shooters may be disappointed but I'm pretty pumped.  You can't make a camera for everyone but this looks like the next camera for me.  Time to start raising money and all I've got to say to Nikon is: bring it on!