photography

Drobo-fied…part 2

Quick thoughts on my new drobo:

  • While I want to support TWIP and buy with their coupon from drobo directly, it was way cheaper to buy from newegg with yet another rebate.
  • It really is neat how I can just put a drive in there and suddenly I have more storage.  Or I can take one out and everything is okay and I put in a bigger drive.
  • However…with Vista 64 (yeah!  blazing fast!), I can only do Firewire 400 speeds.  And since Windows handles USB 2.0 at about the same speed as Firewire 400 and I have lots of USB cables around (but not any Firewire 800>Firewire 400 ones), here I am puddling along at USB 2.0 speeds.

This last bit is extremely frustrating.  To find this information, you have to really dig around on the drobo site.  I would link to the knowledge base article except that their site is not designed that way – for direct linking.  I had to dig around as it was to find a Firewire 800 card that even worked in Vista 64, but now I find out that it won’t achieve those speeds.

USB 2.0 is so far doing okay as my primary drive connection.  But I feel that I have been misled by Drobo, to be honest.  The quasi-RAID 5/JBOD config is very nice.  

More of a review forthcoming…

I’ve been drobo-fied

A little while ago, I wrote a short article on the drobo, from Digital Robotics (as compared to all those analog ones floating around), and how I was debating switching my “redundant mass storage” options.

The short story is that so far, I’ve had a server on a local gigabit network where I have a RAID 5 array (which uses 4 drives and gives me the storage equivalent of 3 of them, and any 1 of them can die and I’m okay.  All drives have to be the same).  Anytime I want to upgrade I have to replace all 4 of them, which is a pain.  At the least, I have a lot of drives I don’t need right away (I mean, I can use an extra drive now and then but 4 all at once?).

A Drobo unit has a few advantages.  First, it gives the best of JBOD (just a bunch of discs, which appears as one big disc) with RAID 5 (some form of redundancy where one drive can fail and it’s okay).  Second, it connects directly to our computer (though there is a network interface unit that is available separately) so I don’t have to push over a network.

The problem was cost – it was $500 new, then I could get a $50 rebate.  But for $450, with the parts I have from previous computers I’ve built, I could basically spent about $450 and have 4 hard drives, whereas I would be buying the Drobo, 4 hard drives, and a Firewire 800 card for my computer.  All told about $800-900.

Eventually, though, I decided the benefits were worth it.  First, I can just slap drives in there as I want.  Yes, I decided to buy new 1TB drives, but I “only” bought three and over time as they become full, when the new…1.5, 2, or even 3TB drives become available I can stick one of those in there and I have a whole lot more storage.  I don’t have to buy all 3TB drives and then have all these extra drives lying around.  Second, even though most reports indicate that firewire 800 cards on Vista 64 bit only run at about Firewire 400 speeds, that’s still pretty fast, and fast enough for me.  Afterall, people do full video editing with Firewire 400 external hard drives.

Also, it’s one less computer under my desk, and I can take my server and actually put it in someone else’s apartment and it becomes my remote backup.  I could do this with a new local machine, too, but each time I run out of storage on the array I’d have to buy _2_ sets of new drives.  Overtime it makes sense.

FWIW, I’m already at 1.7TB of storage for just my photos.  I am well into “big storage” range.

photophlow – great start, slowly fading…

PhotoPhlow is this great chatroom/flickr integration that makes use of the latter’s API to allow users to not just chat, but search through various parts of flickr – my photostream, all of flickr, a particular theme, etc – and share them with the group.

PhotoPhlow appeared with a big bang, with a group of users surging forward, then slowing a bit, then surging again as it gained popularity.

However, while usage is still high, it seems (there are always a decent number of people in at least the main room, and one of my groups is pretty busy), the developers have kind of let things just…sit there for some time now.  For instance, lots of people stay logged in all day long, even though they are not there.  Now, many don’t bother to put their status as “away” which is just rude unto itself, but even if one does that, the listing of people in a PhotoPhlow room doesn’t indicate that.  So you might think there are 5 people in a group room (5 is a pretty decent number), only 1 person might be there.  Not much chance for conversation.

Anyway.  Great idea, great implementation, but it’s just…”there” now.  Sitting there.  Doing nothing.  Kind of sad.  Stagnation sucks.

If you want an invite to use it, by the way, let me know and I’ll send one to you.  I think I have a few left.

Drobo: my next step up in storage?

Having recently upgraded both my main photo editing machine and my storage server, I have begun thinking about taking my entire backup system a step further.  Bear in mind that I do run a photo business, so this is something in which I need to invest, and I should take my options seriously.  

Right now, I have a separate server, still in my home, that has a RAID 5 array of currently 3 1TB drives.  With RAID 5, I get 2TB of usable space, and 1 drive can fail without the entire array going down.  I can add another 1TB and have 3TB of usable space, but I have to copy the entire contents elsewhere, then add the drive, rebuild the array from scratch, and then copy everything back.  Not difficult, and certainly within my technical capabilities, but it has its downsides.  

Now, I am considering a new option:  the Drobo unit from Data Robotics.  Reviews of some of the earlier, USB versions of the box are available from endgadget and from a particular user.  Both are pretty good, and Drobo has since added a firewire 800 interface and an additional device that turns it essentially into a networked storage device, all on its own.  Otherwise, you have to attach it to a computer.

The reasons why I’m considering the Drobo are:

  • I can attach it as one big honkin’ drive to my main editing machine, and keep my entire catalog on there
  • It’s fast enough with FW 800
  • And yes, the fact that it can take drives of different capacities and dynamically rebuild to maximize capacity yet also be fault-tolerant is kind of the best of RAID 5 and JBOD (which just aggregates a bunch of discs into a giant since drive).

The reason I’m hesitant?  Cost.  $550 with a coupon is a lot when I still have to spend money on drives.

Now, I could just pull the drives out of my existing server but the fact is that one thing I don’t have is a good off-site storage option.  Lots of people just carry external drives with them to, say, work, but now that I’m at about 1.3TB I’m getting beyond the capacity of a single external drive.  Or at least really close to the biggest options available, or I gotta carry multiple drives.

Ideally, I’d like to put my current server off-site, and just connect to it remotely.  Then use the Drobo at home.  But who would let me put a file server on their network…?

hm.

Possibly exciting new web creation tool

While listening to the podcast for This Week in Photography, the hosts mentioned a new flash-based product called ShowItSites.  This is a flash app, that builds flash web sites.  I have only done a very fast fly-by but it looks really exciting and I certainly am thinking about rebuilding my photography site with it.  But it’s pretty cool anyway…

Wedding photography is serious business

Let me qualify this post by saying that I am not bashing those that are trying to get started in wedding photography, I realize that many are “sucked in” by friends and family and get in over their heads, and that I know that wedding photography is hard.  

But, I was one of those “getting started” photographers not too long ago, and I think I went about it in a very serious manner.  I did not do anything until I had my lighting and techniques down, and took every opportunity to learn more and more so that the next wedding would be that much better.  But I didn’t let up on any of the first ones, either.  

Recently, I helped a coworker who got married back in June. She knows that I do wedding photography and asked if I could help with some of the photos.  I usually would not go editing someone else’s shots but she said that she and her husband were so upset by them that they have not given any to their parents and really wanted to give a frame or two of images.  

When I did even some rudimentary work on them in Adobe Lightroom, she started crying.  Just color correction and some exposure, but she was crying.  I’m just trying to give you an idea of the situation.

Now, you have to be, in my opinion, a good photographer with a good sense of timing and quick composition to be a good wedding photographer.  But you also need to know equipment and lighting.  The usual maxim in photography is that equipment does not matter.  Well, with wedding photography, it kind of does.  You must have backup cameras, a full spread of lenses, and you need to know how to use flash and artificial lights.  Perhaps not a full blown set of off-camera flashes, but you need to know how to use your stuff, period.

Well, some of these photos were taken at ISO 1600, which is not an ideal setting since you get a lot more noise.  It also wasn’t really appropriate since they were situations where artificial lighting seemed like it would have been okay (ie – not during the actual ceremony, etc).  Also, even at ISO 1600 the shutter speed wasn’t fast enough – there are blurred formal photos.  Of all photos, set-up formal ones should not be blurry.

And, as far as I can tell, almost no flash was used.  Flash is so critical unless you’re shooting with the very latest set of full-frame digitals which can get away with ridiculous ISO settings.  

I really mean no disrespect to this photographer – I don’t even know his or her name.  But the bride cried, in front of me, in my office here at my day job.  A wedding is an important day, an emotional day, and one which, as a photographer, you need to be ready for and must have nerves of steel.

(Camera) Format Wars

One of the most popular and perhaps famous camera formats out there is 6×17. This is medium format film, which is 6cm tall that is shot in a really wide camera and a big lens, producing a 17cm wide image. Nor surprisingly, it’s very panoramic in appearance. Many famous photographers have used cameras that shoot specifically in this format. Thomas Mangelsen, whose photos adorn our walls at our apartment, is the first that comes to mind.

Most of these cameras come in at a minimum of $1500. And that’s for a chinese company (Fotoman) – the “name brands” are thousands more.

I wonder if there is something about shooting a camera that is a particular format that makes one compose differently.  Would I compose a specific way, looking through a viewfinder on a 6×17 camera than if I were looking through one with a much bigger frame and trying to imagine cropping?

Recently, I found a homemade 6×17 camera that looks very intriguing.

credit the guy who made this - image basically taken off ebay

In case you read this after the ebay link goes away, essentially it’s a 6×6 camera (common format) that has been cut in half and expanded, an enlarger bellows (the expanding part which allows the lens to move back and forth for focusing) and a large format lens.  It’s a real frankenstein’s monster of a camera, to say the least. And as of right now it’s a “steal” at $400 compared to those other ones, and the examples the seller gives indicates this camera can do some nice stuff.

Now comes the dilemma.

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Review: Death Valley Nocturnes Workshop, November 2008

In November 2008, a little over a month ago, I attended a workshop held by The Nocturnes, a group of photographers that specialize essentially in night-time photography.  They generally go without any or very little truck by moonlightartificial light such as street lights, cars, etc, though a Nocturne will use flashlights and other tools to add to an image in some cases.  There are lots of examples of ultra-long exposure shots (4 hours is the longest I’ve seen, 1 hour is the longest I’ve done).  They have a flickr group as well, and a pretty useful discussion forum.  Nocturnes tend to be pretty intense – many shoot only this type of photography, and they have developed calculators for correcting for these long exposures, etc.  Many shoot enough to just know how long to expose for, just based on experience.

The workshop I attended was from November 8-10, when the moon was getting to full (76% when we arrived, 92% when we finished).  We were at the Furnace Creek Ranch, one of only two real places to stay in Death Valley, the whole time, they though we worked several locations, including the Furnace Creek Inn, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, andthe abandoned town of Rhyolite just over the border in Nevada in addition to the ranch itself. The workshop was led by Tim Baskerville, a Nocturne veteran (one of the first) and a great guy.

Overall, I give this workshop an experience a very positive score.  It was a small group – 6 of us – and we shared some good tips and comraderie.  Not as much as I would hope among all 6, but, in addition to the one good friend and one acquaintance I already knew, I can think of at least one other person with whom I spoke and interacted quite a bit.  So that’s not bad.  And I did get a lot out of it.  Working with the light, understanding how working in just moonlight vs. a mixed lighting situation vs. daylight was very different, and I became more comfortable with the uncertainty of this type of photography.  But also the wonders of the results.

The full flickr set of my photos is online.  I will admit that I messed up a lot of the color exposures, though the black and white turned out better.

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