August 25th, 2010

A whole bunch of reading

It’s amazing how much passes you by when you go away for a few weeks. Just now managing to catch up on some links I saved for reading later, which may be of interest:

The LA Times launched a new photo blog called Framework

5DtoRGB – A free professional transcoding application for Mac that claims to do better quality transcoding than Canon’s E1 plugin, albeit slower I think

Came across an old post on the ProLost blog about the advantages of using a flat, low-contrast, low-sharpness picture style for video-shooting on the Canon 5D MkII

Stuart Freedman wrote an interesting piece on the EPUK site about the state of photojournalism and professional ethics

Reporters without Borders updated its Handbook for Journalists – “for those going to dangerous parts of the world, listing international norms protecting them and containing practical advice on how to stay alive and safe”

VTZilla – a useful Firefox plugin that can be used to scan files on the internet against viruses and malware – before you download them

The Planet5D site launched an HDSLR news aggregator page showing lots of links to DSLR news from other sites on a single page

10,000 words published a list of 11 top news photoblogs

Photojournalist Zed Nelson gave a fascinating interview about his life and work to the UK’s Professional Photographer magazine

The Plymouth Herald in the UK came up with a clever strategic response to a ban on all media photographers at their local football club. Also see here

The Camera+ iPhone app introduced a great feature to use the volume button as a shutter button to take pictures on your iPhone, and was swiftly followed by Apple pulling the app for potentially “resulting in user confusion”. Jeez… Does anyone know a currently-working way to have this function, without jailbreaking?

Norwegian cameraman/journalist Paul Refsdal wrote an interesting article on the NYTimes Lede blog about embedding with the Taliban – a one-stop shop for converting audio, videos, images, documents, & ebooks between different formats without the need to install software

For those interested in Egypt, the Economist wrote a whole bunch of special features examining the current state of the country:
Thank you and goodbye – For good or ill, change is coming to Egypt and Saudi Arabia soon
America’s lieutenant – But Egypt’s role as a regional peacekeeper is getting harder to sustain
A slow learning curve – A rotten education system lets the country down
No paradise – Most Egyptians put up with a lot
Saving faith – Islam seems to be fading as a revolutionary force
After Mubarak -Change is bound to come, but when?

The last NCTJ photojournalism course in the UK closed down. I did this course in Sheffield before starting my career, and it’s a sad day. I wish the course’s head Paul Delmar – the source and subject of some legendary stories surely known to all who passed through there, all the best for his retirement.

July 15th, 2010

Conflict in Pink

Posted by Ben in Africa, Photojournalism

What if conflict wasn’t always in khaki, but pink? Check out this series of photos by Richard Mosse from Eastern Congo shot using Kodak Aerochrome infrared-sensitive, false-color reversal film… Very strange and beautiful…

See also the New Yorker and DVAFoto articles on this.

[Via Scarlett Lion]

June 23rd, 2010

Two new backup workflows

Posted by Ben in Gear, Imaging, Macintosh, Windows

RAID drives

I wrote previously about my fairly modest workflow for image-archiving and backup in the following two articles, and while I continue to use this method, some of the aspects may be a little outdated, or inadequate for those with large storage requirements:

Archiving Photos workflow
RAID for photographers

For an updated look at some quite high-end backup strategies for stills and video as used by Chase Jarvis and Vincent Laforet, check out these excellent two new articles:

Chase Jarvis: Complete Workflow and Backup for Photo + Video (includes a video explanation)

Vincent Laforet: Video & Post Workflow and Backup Strategy

I still wish Apple hadn’t dropped its plans to incorporate the ZFS filesystem into Mac OS X. If it had done, all this would be one heck of a lot easier. Very few backup systems – ZFS being one that does – are actually capable of dealing with the not-inconsiderable problem of bit-rot.

Update: Some constructive criticism on the Chase Jarvis workflow here at Canon5Dtips, including a suggestion to use GIT for real-time versioning backups.

May 16th, 2010

MacBook Pro graphics-card switching

Posted by Ben in Macintosh, Software

Most Macbook Pros in the last two years have had dual graphics cards – one integrated such as the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, and one discrete such as the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT. This was a good idea – you can use the more powerful discrete card when doing highly video intensive tasks such as video-editing or playing games, or switch to the integrated one for less intensive tasks and gain substantially on battery life.

The problem is that you have to logout of the user account every time you want to switch, which rendered it impractical to switch frequently. The new Core i5/i7 MacBook Pros that came out early this year featuring the new NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M card took a different approach and featured a new ability for the OS itself to switch the graphics processors – on the fly, automatically – according to need. Nice, but no help to those of us with older machines.

Enter the gfxCardStatus utility…


This open-source utility written by Cody Krieger was originally designed to show the status and manually switch which card was being used in the new i5/i7 machines. But somewhere along the way it was discovered it could also be used to manually switch cards in the older generation MBPs – without having to log out.

Support for these older models is currently experimental but from what I’ve seen it works absolutely perfectly. So if you have a recent Macbook Pro and are running Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), give it a try….

gfxCardStatus Homepage
gfxCardStatus page at Versiontracker

May 6th, 2010

Apple iPad for Photographers

Photographer Dan Carr has written a very interesting post summarizing the uses, or not, that the Apple iPad might have for professional photographers.

For more on this subject see Rob Galbraith’s review of Shuttersnitch iPhone/iPad software, discussion of the iPad in the Photo Mechanic forums, and some posts here, here, here and here in the Cinema5D forums.

May 3rd, 2010

DSLR video a fad?

Posted by Ben in Gear, Videojournalism

With so much material on the net raving about DSLR video, and this site has been somewhat guilty, it’s refreshing to take a step back and hear some arguments against using DSLRs to shoot video, in favour of traditional video cameras….

I’m calling it as I see it, DSLR video is a fad” – Cliff Etzel

David Dunkley Gyimah’s thoughts on video cameras

[via duckrabbit blog]

May 3rd, 2010

Canon E1 plugin workflow III

(This is the third in a series of articles, the others may also be of interest: Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

Here’s a third possible workflow for ingesting stills and video files, to be imported into Final Cut Pro later on using Canon’s E1 plugin… which leverages two very powerful features of Photo Mechanic (PM) – Code Replacement and Variables. I’ll assume you know what these are already, if not then scroll half-way down this page here.

The key to this one is that version 4.6 of PM added the variable: {mediatype}, which identifies the file type and gives results of: still, video, audio, meta, other. This workflow is going to separate out the stills from the video at the point of ingest in PM, and put them into a file structure that is both good for editing stills and remains compatible with the E1 plugin. I also like to keep my camera cards in separate folders, so it’ll do that too…

This workflow is possible thanks to some help from Kirk Baker, Senior Software Engineer over at Camera Bits. It is however dependent on a small change that Kirk was able to make in the application which is only implemented in the recently released PM 4.6.4 public beta 4, or later versions.

How to Set up the Photo Mechanic Code Replacement:

First, create a code replacement text document containing the mediatype variables in the left column, and the desired folder structure on the right. It’s going to look like this (the gap between columns must be a single TAB, not spaces:

Or you can download this ready-to-use one by clicking on the icon below, and tweak it as you like with any text editor:

Then, in PM, set up Code Replacements to use that document. In this example I’m using the Code Replacement delimiter symbol “=”, if you use a different one you’ll have to substitute that.

How to Set up the Photo Mechanic Ingest Settings:

What this will result in:

This will put your stills (only) into a folder structure like this:


…and your video (.MOV and their associated .THM, .XIP files) into folders like this:


If everything has been done correctly, you should end up with a folder structure looking like this:

Isn’t this all a bit overly-complicated? What’s the point?

After the initial setup, the nice thing about this workflow is that once ingested you can browse stills and video, and import video into FCP with the E1 plugin via Log and Transfer, whenever you want. For example:

1. STILLS: As soon as you’ve copied your cards you can start browsing/editing your stills, sorted by each camera card, without having to waste time looking through the video files.

2. VIDEO-BY-CARD: Whenever you want you can browse the video from each card in PM via the “Video-Disk-01”, “Video-Disk-02” folders.

3. VIDEO-FROM-ALL-CARDS: You can browse all the video from all cards that day by right-clicking on the “DCIM” folder in PM Favorites or Navigator and choosing “Open Folders and subfolders in a new contact sheet” from the contextual menu.

4. VIDEO-INTO-FCP: When you want to import video into Final Cut Pro, load up Log & Transfer and point it to the “DCIM” folder, and you’ll be able to see and import video from all the disks.

For a photographer primarily shooting stills with occasional video, this is probably the most elegant solution…

April 18th, 2010

IsatPhone Pro

Posted by Ben in Communications, Gear, Satphones

Inmarsat have announced a new handheld satphone seemingly designed to compete with Thuraya’s handheld offerings, such as the Thuraya XT and other such robust weather and dust resistant devices.

The IsatPhone Pro offers features such as satellite telephony, voicemail, text/email messaging, GPS location data, a claimed up to 8 hours talk time and up to 100 hours standby time, Bluetooth, and worldwide coverage.

Bear in mind that both Inmarsat and Thuraya’s handheld models are geared for voice, not data, capability. Inmarsat says the IsatPhone Pro will not initially offer a real data connection, although it does say it can receive SMS and short emails on the phone itself, and that “a circuit-switched data service at 2.4kbps is expected to be available … by Q1 2011”. The Thuraya XT on the other hand does offer data capability but only at the still-relatively-slow 15/60 kbps upload/download.

So if you’re looking for a robust and weatherproof satphone (both are IP54 rated) to use for voice calls in remote areas, then these models look good. If however, you’re looking for a satphone to use for photo transmission and/or general internet use, then you will probably want to be looking at a BGAN instead, which are capable of up to 492kbps (send and receive).

A full brochure of the IsatPhone Pro is available to download here as is a Q&A document

March 28th, 2010

Canon E1 plugin workflow II

(This is the second in a series of articles, the others may also be of interest: Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

I’ve updated that rather lengthy earlier article with new information about the (slightly more flexible) required directory structure, particularly the realization that you can have multiple subfolders of any name. It was good to understand how the plugin works, but having re-read it I’ve decided I’m not actually going to change my existing stills workflow to the one described in the article – as I like mine the way it is. Instead, I suggest this as a much simpler solution:

1. Use whatever file structure you want for ingesting to the hard disk, just make sure you copy all the stills and video files and associated sidecar files, making sure the .MOV extensions remain in uppercase.
2. Keep permanently a folder called “DCIM” on the hard drive, with a sub-folder “To Import”
3. When you want to import video files, just copy (duplicate, not move) them from wherever they are and dump them all into the “To Import” folder.
4. Point FCP Log & Transfer to the “DCIM” folder as described in the previous article and import the files you want.
5. When you’re finished, just delete all the files in the “To Import” folder.

This way I don’t have to change my existing workflow at all, but can still use the Canon E1 plugin to Log & Transfer whatever I want, from wherever I want.

March 28th, 2010

Canon E1 plugin workflow

(This is the first in a series of articles, the others may also be of interest: Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

So I was quite excited when I heard the Canon EOS Movie E1 plugin for Final Cut Pro had finally been made available. This plugin exclusively for Final Cut Pro is designed to let you Log & Transfer (“ingest”, in stills terminology) your Canon 5D Mark II video files into FCP, automatically adding a timecode and allowing automatic transcoding to one of the ProRes codecs.

Transcoding to ProRes is something that a lot of people are doing in order to achieve smooth editing, as opposed to the somewhat jerky editing that can occur when trying to work directly off the original H.264 .MOV files generated from the camera.

The problem I encountered is that the Log & Transfer (L&T) function wants to see an actual memory card connected to the computer – it doesn’t like to work off folders of movie files you’ve already copied to your hard disk. This is a problem for those of us who want to ingest the card first for stills purposes using another application, for example Photo Mechanic, and maybe edit the video later. When I tried to L&T directly from a folder on the hard disk I got the following error:

It seemed that the function was rather picky about the directory structure it encounters… After some investigating, and thanks to this video tutorial by Chris Fenwick, I determined what the requirements of the plugin are, and a workaround. My investigations showed the plugin follows these rules:

1. It needs a directory structure in this format: /DCIM/somefoldername/file.MOV
2. It does NOT require the “MISC” folder that appears on the card to be present
3. Adding IPTC info during Photo Mechanic ingest (automatic captioning) does not break it
4. The file extension of the video files MUST be in uppercase such as .MOV, not in lowercase such as .mov – my previous ingest procedure changed the uppercase to lowercase causing the files to not be recognized by the plugin.
5. You can have multiple sub-folders e.g. /DCIM/somefoldername1/fileA.MOV and /DCIM/somefoldername2/fileB.MOV
6. You cannot have nested sub-folders e.g. /DCIM/somefoldername/anotherfolder/file.MOV
7. You can’t just have DCIM/file.MOV

So with this in mind, here is a stills and video workflow that allows one to ingest cards using Photo Mechanic for stills purposes, but retains the ability to Log & Transfer the video files into FCP later on….

Photo Mechanic workflow changes needed:

1. Photo Mechanic Preferences > Files > “Use uppercase extensions”:

2. In the Photo Mechanic Ingest dialog, set Source Directory Structure to “preserve all source directories”:

This should now ensure your ingested cards will always have a sub-directory structure of /YourIngestFolderName/DCIM/100EOS5D/file.MOV and ensure the files have uppercase files extensions.

Final Cut Pro Log & Transfer workflow:

1. Once you have created a new project, open the Log & Transfer window from the File menu:

2. From the little “gears” dropdown menu choose “Preferences”:

This will bring up the menu enabling you to choose which ProRes codec you want the files automatically transcoded into. In this menu use the dropdown menu on the “EOS MOVIE” line to choose your preferred codec.

3. Go back to that “gears” dropdown menu and this time choose the “Add Custom Path” option. In the Open dialog that follows, choose the folder “DCIM” within the directory structure you created before i.e. /YourIngestFolderName/DCIM/100EOS5D/file.MOV

If all has gone correctly you should now see preview icons come up in the window, can set your desired in/out points, and add items to be transcoded to the queue.

I would prefer if the plugin could read directly from any folder, and wonder whether it could be hacked to do so in this way. If anyone feels up to this task, the E1 plugin is actually located here:

Do you have a better workflow? Can you suggest any improvements to this? Please leave a comment….


I thought at first the sub-folder under DCIM had to be named 100EOS5D, but actually it seems it can be anything. So you could for example have:


…but there has to be some folder underneath DCIM, and DCIM must to be called DCIM, so what you can’t have is just:


This actually makes things a LOT more flexible, particularly if you don’t want to follow the above somewhat rigid workflow. Instead, when you want to L&T, all you’d do is create a folder DCIM on your desktop, copy a folder of any name containing video files into DCIM, and you’re ready to run L&T on the DCIM folder. In fact you can have multiple sub-folders, for example if you have:


When you point L&T to the DCIM folder, it will pick up all the files in all the folders. Nice…

Of course you still have to make sure you ingest with .MOV in uppercase and that all the associated sidecar files such as .THM files are present (I think). I’ve edited the workflow above slightly from the original I wrote based on the new info, but I now think there is probably a simpler Photo Mechanic Ingest directory structure you could do…..

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