Finally! Canon 5D news!

I love my Canon 5D, but it’s getting really long in the tooth. It’s basically a Canon 20D with a vastly improved sensor, and the 20D’s replacement’s replacement has now been replaced by the 50D. While the 5D was once the top of the market, Nikon’s D700 now outclasses it in almost every way. There have been rumors about a 5D replacement for years, and none of them have ever went anywhere.

It looks like that has finally changed. Canon’s running a teaser ad showing a very 5D-like silhouette with the words “Destined Evolution”.

Personally, I’d be happy if they’d take the 50D, give it a full-frame sensor with about 2 extra stops of dynamic range over the 5D, and improve the AF a bit. I still miss my EOS 3’s autofocus, which is insane–it’s 10 years old, and it’s still better then any of Canon’s midline DSLRs. Rationally speaking, I understand that they’ve been keeping the 1-series’s 45-point AF unit for their top-of-the-line models, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense now that the D700’s on the market. Canon got lazy, and Nikon’s passed them up. They can’t afford to leave features out of their semi-pro models just to protect their (slightly lackluster, compared to the D3) top-of-the-line.

Personally, I’d be happy if they’d keep the resolution the same as the 5D at 12 MP, but that’ll never happen. There’s just too much marketing pressure to crank it up, even though it ends up hurting the image quality. I suspect that most of their users would prefer 12 MP with a D700-like ISO 6400 over 21 MP with too much noise to make 6400 usable.

Posted by Scott Laird Fri, 05 Sep 2008 12:41:00 GMT

Birds in Ice

One of my favorite places to take pictures is on Fir Island, in Skagit County, Washington. It’s a farming community in the Skagit River delta, and it’s home to around 1 million migratory birds every winter, including Snow Geese and Swans. Ever see a cloud of geese turn the sky white?

It’d been weeks since I’ve been able to spend time hiking around with my camera, so I drove up Monday morning before dawn to see what I could find.

Dawn on Fir Island

Dawn on Fir Island

There were geese and swans flying by all morning, but I never got a really great shot of any of them from up close. There were thousands of them visible in the distance, though.

Morning flight

Morning flight

It’s been really cold lately, and there was ice everywhere, including the sea shore. There was a weird layer of office over everything; I assume that it was left behind by the falling tide. The plants looked like they’d been wrapped in cellophane.

Plants in Ice

Plants in Ice

Finally, on the way out, I spotted this Heron hiding in a drainage ditch a few feet from the road. He was my third or fourth heron of the day.

Cold Heron

Cold Heron

I can’t help thinking that a bit of fill-flash would have helped there, but he was close enough that it probably would have startled him.

Posted by Scott Laird Wed, 23 Jan 2008 04:32:38 GMT

ICC Color Profile Database Available Now

As any experienced digital photographer can tell you, the trick to getting repeatable color out of a lab is to get a good ICC color profile for the lab’s printer and using it for every print that you make. I’ve been a big fan of Dry Creek Photo’s printer profiling service for years; they work with labs to build quality profiles and then publish them for free on their website, along with some documentation on how to use them.

Unfortunately, actually using the profiles is a pain for most users. The process looks roughly like this:

  1. Using a color-profiled monitor, get things looking the way that you want on the screen. Save.
  2. Resize the image to the correct resolution for the print size and resolution that are required for your lab. Different labs want 300, 320, or 400 DPI.
  3. Convert the image to the color profile for that lab that you’re using. Possibly re-adjust colors slightly.
  4. Pad the image out to a specific number of pixels to keep the lab’s printer from trying to re-scale your image. The exact settings depend on the printer and paper size. There’s a big chart on Dry Creek Photo’s website.

That’s not a big deal if you’re printing one or two pictures for framing, but it’s a huge pain when you have dozens or hundreds of pictures to process. Photoshop actions can help, but it seems like something is always going wrong.

When Adobe released their Lightroom SDK, I had high hopes that it’d make it easier to automate most of this. Unfortunately, Adobe didn’t expose their profile conversion engine to the SDK in the first SDK release, so it’s not really possible to build pre-profiled images directly out of Lightroom without using some external tool to do the profile conversion. A few weeks ago, Timothy Armes released LR/Mogrify, which uses ImageMagick’s mogrify command-line tool for profile conversion. It’s a cool tool, but it replaces a 5-6 step process in Photoshop with a dozen text boxes that you need to fill in to get good results. It shows promise, but it’s not quite the tool that I’m looking for.

What I really want is a Lightroom export plugin that asks you three simple questions:

  1. Where are you going to print this?
  2. Which paper are you going to use?
  3. What size do you want?

Then it does all of the hard work on its own. It’d fetch the correct profiles from Dry Creek, install them, figure out which resolution to use, handle image rotation, do some amount of pre-print sharpening, and then spit out a JPEG for you. Yeah, you could do a bit better with Photoshop and spending some time dealing with soft-proofing and sharpening, but I’m not willing to do that for 50 4x6 prints.

I’ve spent a bit of time this week building the first part of the tool–a machine-readable profile database. I’ve extracted a list of 765 current ICC profiles from Dry Creek Photo’s website, discarded the profiles that haven’t been updated in years, and produced an XML file that looks sort of like this:

  <name>Costco #747</name>
  <address>24008 Snohomish-Woodinville Rd. SE, Woodinville, WA 98072</address>
  <printer>Noritsu 3411</printer>
  <paper>Fuji Crystal Archive</paper>
  <notes>Note: This lab has multiple printers. Request your profiled prints be run on Noritsu 34?Pro-B.</notes>
    <name>Glossy paper profile</name>
    <date>January 17, 2008</date>
    <name>Lustre paper profile</name>
    <date>January 17, 2008</date>

The <resolution> and <size> blocks are semi-manual additions; the import script sets resolution automatically when it sees a printer type that only has one resolution setting, but Noritsu 3XXX printers can run at either 320 or 300. I’ve filled in the one or two labs that I use most frequently, and I’ll to add others as time permits. The <size> bit is fully manual, and I’m not really sure that it’s worth the effort to populate.

Right now, the XML file lists 380 labs. Entertainingly, that’s 379 Costcos plus Adorama. It looks like Dry Creek has dropped almost everyone else. If there’s a second source of non-Costco profiles, I’d love to know about it.

So, anyway, I have this XML available at It’s mostly automatically generated, and I can rebuild it in under 5 minutes. I’ll keep it up to date if people are interested in the data, if not it’ll die off eventually. If you have a tool that wants to use it, then send me mail and let me know that it’s useful. If you have any changes that you’d like to see, or anything that I should add, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Posted by Scott Laird Sat, 19 Jan 2008 19:16:00 GMT

Olympus 790SW in Hawaii

I bought my wife an Olympus 790SW point-and-shoot camera before we left for Hawaii on vacation, and I’m growing increasingly fond of the little thing. It doesn’t really compare to my Canon 5D’s image quality, but it’s so small and handy that it’s easier to carry. Even better, it seems to be indestructible–it’s submersible and can be dropped up to 4.5 feet without breaking anything.

In other words, it’s the perfect beach camera for families with small kids. Plus, you can take it snorkeling, just in case one of these pops up:

or some of these:

There are more pictures on Flickr if you’re interested.

It also takes semi-decent video. I wouldn’t confuse it with a HD camcorder, but I wouldn’t take the camcorder in the water, either. Here’s my son’s first time snorkeling:

It’s around $260 on Amazon, if you’re interested.

Posted by Scott Laird Sun, 02 Dec 2007 05:50:54 GMT

Canon 40D, 1Ds mk III, and a new 14/2.8?

It looks like Canon’s finally about to announce the long-rumored 40d and 1Ds mk III. They’ve been rumored forever, but they now have product pages at Amazon, so they’re probably legitimate this time:

The 40d looks fantastic–they increased the resolution slightly to 10 MP, which isn’t all that exciting, but they also raised the frame rate to 6.5 fps, bumped the buffer to 75 JPEG/17 RAW images, added their anti-dust shaker, sRAW, 14-bit DACs, weather shielding, and live view. They also completely re-did the AF unit–it still uses the same 9-point format as the 30d, but all nine sensors are now cross-type sensors up to f/5.6; this should make a huge difference in AF accuracy. They don’t appear to have improved the camera’s ISO range; it’s still 100-1600 + 3200, but other then that they seem to have picked up almost every other improvement that the 1D mk III added. I’m impressed; in the past Canon left features out of their mid-range series to avoid competing with higher-end models, but that doesn’t seem to have happened this time.

There’s also a new wireless module, the WFT-E3A, but Amazon doesn’t have any details yet. Presumably it’s a very slight change from the 1D mk III’s new wireless transmitter, hopefully at a lower price point. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay $999 for a wireless transmitter for a $1,299 camera. I could actually see myself picking up a 40d in addition to my 5d–it looks like a great camera for taking sports pictures, and the 1.6x multiplier would make my 100-400 lens a lot more useful for bird pics.

The 1Ds mk III is a bit out of my price range at $7,999. It’s up to 21.1 MP now, at 5 fps. It looks like they added everything from the 1D mk III, plus a new UDMA CF module, doubling write speeds with Sandisk Extreme IV and the equivalent Lexar cards. Amazon doesn’t mention ISO sensitivity at all, so it’s not clear if they now support ISO 6400 or not.

Finally, they updated their 14mm lens for better compatibility with the 1Ds mk III. Yawn.

All in all, this looks pretty good. Way to go Canon.

Posted by Scott Laird Sun, 19 Aug 2007 05:53:00 GMT

Backyard Flowers

I spent most of today trying to catch up on the three weeks’ worth of yardwork that I’d missed while I was in California. I didn’t make all that much progress, but along the way I spotted a few photogenic wildflowers growing in the middle of my back lawn. I still don’t own a real macro lens, but I bought a Canon 500D close-up lens last month before my trip but never had a chance to use it. So took a break from the yard work, slapped it on the 100-400, grabbed a couple flashes, and headed out into the yard. Here’s my favorite:


All in all, I’m pretty happy with the pictures. The 100-400L plus 500D gives roughly 1:1 magnification at the long end, with way more working distance then I’d expected. It may actually be too long for this sort of photography–I kept having to back up to give myself more room between the lens and the flower, especially at the long end of the lens. Fortunately, my 7-year-old assistant was able to keep the light on the flowers, even as I kept backing further and further away. Good help is hard to find :-).

Posted by Scott Laird Sun, 22 Apr 2007 06:27:37 GMT

Focal Lengths

One of the things that I’ve wished for in Lightroom is a focal-length histogram. I’d love to be able to select a bunch of pictures and ask “which focal lengths did I use most often?” I mean, I know which lenses I use most often, but which focal lengths do I actually use?

Fortunately, it’s not too hard to do this outside of Lightroom. Just turn on XMP auto-exporting and then use the usual set of Unix tools to summarize a few thousand XML files. I used something like this:

  $ find . -name '*.xmp' | xargs grep -h 'exif:FocalLength' | 
      cut -d '>' -f2 | cut -d '/' -f1 | sort -n | uniq -c

That finds all of the .xmp files in the current directory (and subdirectories), extracts their exif:FocalLength lines, then extracts the actual focal length number, sorts them numerically, and then counts how many occurrences of each focal length it sees.

I ran this over all of the pictures that I took while on vacation, and found a couple interesting patterns. First, I usually shoot with lenses at either their short or long end; the middle of the range gets a lot less use. My most common focal lengths were

Focal Length (lens)Number of shots
70mm (24-70 or 70-200)846
400mm (100-400)409
100mm (100-400)312
200mm (70-200)304
24mm (24-70)291
85mm (85/1.8)284

A graph is (as usual) a bit more informative:

I shoot a lot of pictures in the 24-100mm range. 70mm is the most common, but the 35, 45, 55, and 65mm lines are all pretty big. It looks like I use my 24-70mm lens in the middle of its range quite a bit, while my longer lenses mostly get used at their extremes.

Posted by Scott Laird Tue, 17 Apr 2007 15:11:30 GMT

Home at Last

After 15 days on the road, I’m finally back home. We drove down to San Diego for my sister-in-law’s wedding, and then drove back slowly, spending a couple days in Sequoia National Park along the way. I really enjoyed the park; after spending a week split between LA and San Diego, it was nice to get away from the crowds. Not that the park was completely empty–we saw 3 of these guys:

Bear 2

From a photographic standpoint, the trip was a success. I’m not going to claim that I produced any great art, but I enjoyed myself and gave my new 5D and 100-400 a workout. I feel like a photographer again, after months of almost no photography at all. I probably went a bit overboard this time–according to Lightroom, I shot almost 4,100 frames. Most of those were kids-at-Disneyland snapshots or wedding pictures, but there were a few that stood out for me:

San Diego Zoo

In the landscaping at the San Diego Marriott

Sequoia National Park

San Diego Zoo

Strangely, most of my favorite shots were birds; I’m not quite sure how that happened. I’ve never been big on birds before. I’ll post more details once I’ve finished unpacking, and once my last few pictures have finished uploading to Flickr.

Posted by Scott Laird Sat, 14 Apr 2007 22:48:20 GMT

Click, click

I was looking at my Flickr account last week and realized that I hadn’t taken any interesting pictures since October of last year. The only new addition to my account in five months was a roll of high school reunion pictures from 2000 that I’d found while cleaning my office. I’ve always had a hard time finding worthwhile subjects in the dead of winter around here–it’s cold, dark, and wet, and not in an interesting way, but five months without a single good shot is just depressing. I think I’m generally happier when I’m out taking pictures, so I’ve been taking a few steps to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

The first thing that I fixed was my bad case of photographic constipation–I had gigs of older, unprocessed pictures piled up on a couple laptops and a flash card or two with no easy way to get them processed and posted. I didn’t really have a good place to keep all of my pictures, and the disorder was making it hard to create anything new. So, as part of my ongoing office cleaning project, I took my old 17” PowerBook, plugged it into a 300 GB FireWire drive and a 24” LCD, and dedicated it to photo processing. I haven’t finished uploading everything to Flickr yet, but I’ve organized a huge number of pictures.

Once that was fixed, I headed out and took a few pictures. Last week I spent a few hours taking helping my sister-in-law and one of her friends with their beauty school portfolios, and today I took both kids on a 2-mile hike through the Snohomish Estuary.

Today’s hike was kind of a special occasion for me–I’m planning on retiring my old Canon D60 tomorrow, after 5 years of faithful service. UPS says that my new 5D is due tomorrow afternoon. The D60 was an amazing camera when it first hit the market–it was the first consumer-priced DSLR with enough pixels to be truly useful. It takes great pictures, as long as your subject isn’t moving and you have lots of light. ISO 100 is clean and crisp, but noise is clearly visible even at ISO 200. By ISO 400 there’s very little shadow detail, and most of the shadows have weird color casts. I only use ISO 800 when I have no other choice. I’m looking forward to the 5D’s usable ISO 1600 and 3200, along with a modern autofocus system and all of the other little improvements that Canon’s made over the years.

I’ll have a couple days to break the 5D in, and then we’re taking off for San Diego for a family wedding. We’re planning on driving the slow road back, stopping in Death Valley and Yosemite, so I should have lots of opportunities to take pictures of non-cold, non-dark, non-wet subjects.

Posted by Scott Laird Mon, 26 Mar 2007 04:49:24 GMT

Mount Baker High School Class of 1990 10-year Reunion Pictures

While cleaning my office, I found a 6-year-old CD with scanned 35mm pictures from my 10-year high school class reunion. Amazingly enough, the CD was still perfectly readable, so I uploaded the pictures to Flickr. Hopefully someone will find these and enjoy them eventually.

Posted by Scott Laird Fri, 05 Jan 2007 07:10:19 GMT