Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

More Night Photos

I really should just go to sleep, but I've been having too much fun taking night photos.

Here's the Big Dipper again. The "low sharpening" mode didn't help much. (Again, you'll probably have to zoom in to see anything.)

And here's a 15-second exposure looking northward along Interstate 15.

The Mount Timpanogos Temple is prominent. Note the dashed orange line--that's a turn signal. And the orange and red lights above the others are marker lights on a semi trailer.

Star Search

I went out last night and tried my hand at astrophotography once again. This time, I took all my photos with the tripod on cement, and it seemed to work better than last time--only a few images were smeared. And I got some real stars this time! I compared several of my shots against Starry Night and saw very high correlation, right down to the colors of the brighter stars.

This is a shot of the Big Dipper just as it came out of the camera--no ex post facto contrast stretching this time. (Click on it--a lot was lost in Blogger's resizing.) It was taken at ISO 200. At ISO 400, the background was too bright to make out the fainter stars (and the image was even noisier too). I suspect I'd have to go to a rural area, far from Orem's light pollution devices streetlights, in order to shoot at ISO 400.

I think I'd also get better results if I used my camera's "Low sharpening" mode--maybe it wouldn't magnify the noise in the sky so badly that way.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bad Astronomy

This morning before sunrise, I mounted my new camera on a tripod and attempted to take some pictures of planets and stars. It didn't work so well. The main thing I learned is that, even with a tripod, 15 seconds (the longest exposure time my digicam supports) is a long time for the camera to stay still. Even though I shot on a 2-second timer so that I wouldn't be touching the camera during the exposure, most of my shots were smeared. I suppose next time I'll (1) make sure the tripod is resting securely on the ground, (2) tighten all the little tripod nuts, and (3) use a 10-second countdown timer to give vibrations time to die down.

Anyhow, here are some photos that turned out okay.

Most of my shots of the Moon turned out overexposed. The photo above was exposed for 1/100 of a second.

This two-second exposure captures the Moon and Mars in the same frame. Of course the Moon had to be very overexposed in order for Mars to be visible. Mars is on the left side, about a third of the way up from the bottom.

And here's a 15-second exposure showing some stars. Well, maybe there are some stars there. Although the other photos are shown pretty much as they came out of the camera (save cropping, of course), this one has been extremely contrast-stretched to make the stars visible. So I can't be sure what are stars and what is just noise.

In retrospect, I probably should have bumped up the ISO level from the default 50 in order to photograph stars. Yeah, that'll increase noise too, but hopefully it will do that before the JPEG artifacts come in and thereby provide a better signal-to-noise ratio.

Anyhow, I wish I could tell you which stars those are, but I can't seem to match them up with anything. I think the camera was pointed west, for what that's worth.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Bridal Veil Falls Showdown

This morning I took a bike trip to Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon. I took some pictures with my old Samsung Digimax 130 and my new Canon Powershot A95. I'll post a little comparison.

Here's the scene captured by the Samsung:

And here is the same scene captured by the Canon:

Here's a crop from the Canon photo (click to see full resolution):

Friday, July 22, 2005

More fun with Macro mode

I took some macro shots with my shiny new Powershot A95 camera today. I wanted to see if this camera performs as well as the A80 in this mode.

I think it does.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Powershot A95 arrived!

My new Canon Powershot A95 digital camera arrived today! I've already filled and erased the bundled 32MB CF card three times. I'm pretty satisfied with the results. I wasn't at first, until I realized I was taking pictures in a poorly lit room. (Turning on the lights helped quite a bit.) Still, the pictures are a bit noisier than I'd like, but I suppose that's par for the course for a 5 megapixel consumer camera. At least there aren't any obvious artifacts caused by overzealous noise reduction algorithms.

Anyhow, I took some pictures of my son Joshua with both my old Samsung Digimax 130 and my new Canon. It's certainly not a fair comparison, but I have to justify my purchase somehow.

Samsung Digimax 130 - flash on

Samsung Digimax 130 - flash off

Canon Powershot A95 - flash on

Canon Powershot A95 - flash off

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Camera Update: Goodbye to Best Buy

So I decided to splurge a little (okay, significantly) over my $200 budget and get the 5MP Canon Powershot A95. I found new units online for around $260 shipped, but Best Buy advertised $269 on their web site. So I thought I'd save the shipping hassle and pick one up locally. Alas, I found that the $269 price was a web-only deal--they wanted $300 in the store. I might pay an extra $10 for instant gratification, but not $40. So I ordered the camera from instead.

I also e-mailed the following nice letter to Best Buy:
I just came back from my local Best Buy store. I intended to buy the Canon Powershot A95 digital camera, but I found that the price in the store was $30 more than the price advertised on Since I had previously called about the Sony Cybershot DSC-S60 and heard that the sale price shown on would be honored in the store, I was frustrated to find that the same was not true for the Canon. Looking back now, I see that there's no indication on the web site that the Canon's sale price was a web only deal.

The sales associate at Best Buy told me I could order online and then pick up in the store without paying shipping--but that it would take a week before I could pick it up! What a joke!

I decided to buy my camera elsewhere, and I wanted to explain why you lost my sale. What's more, since your web site is apparently not useful in determining your prices in brick-and-mortar stores, I am disinclined to visit your store in the future only to find myself disappointed again.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Why are Microsoft and the MPAA so stupid?

I just found this story on about a new "feature" in Microsoft's upcoming OS: Protected Video Path-Output Protection Management. It will allow content providers to force the OS to refuse to play (or drastically downsample) high definition content unless the signal going to the monitor is encrypted with HDCP (which practically no existing PCs and monitors support, not even big fancy LCDs).

Way to go, MPAA and Microsoft. In a futile attempt to prevent DRM'd content from being intercepted, you've almost entirely eliminated the market for it in the first place. What's next, a monitor with a built-in webcam that shuts the monitor off if it detects you're pointing a camcorder at it?

Which digital camera to get?

Lately I've been shopping around for a digital camera. I guess the events leading up to it are twofold.

First, I discovered how entirely useless my 1.3MP Samsung Digimax 130 is when trying to photograph in low light. Take the planet pictures--the ones on my blog are frames captured from footage shot by my camcorder. The Samsung won't hold the shutter open long enough to get anything in the same lighting conditions. I found myself digging through the manual trying to find out how to override the automatic settings--but of course there are no manual controls. Now that I know they're missing, I want a camera that can let me pick aperture stops and shutter speeds.

Second (and this is the real deal-breaker), the Samsung can only take decent pictures at 640x480. At full 1280x960 resolution, they look very heavily processed and interpolated. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that the CCD itself only takes 640x480 and the camera scales the pictures up--they look that bad. Anyhow, since our CompactFlash card died after maybe a month, though, we just used the camera's 8MB internal memory, which could hold 24 or so VGA-quality pictures, and that worked okay for emailing photos and putting them on the web. But when my wife tried to order a print through Wal-Mart's online service, it balked and said we need better resolution.

So lately I've been looking into getting a new digital camera. My budget is about $200. In that range, it looks like I could either get a good 3.2MP camera (the Canon Powershot A510 looks promising, and the Minolta DiMAGE Z10 looks like fun too, but a little bulky), or I could get a lousy 5MP camera (like the Olympus D-595, whose pictures looks absolutely horrible at full resolution, at least in the reviews I've seen). Or, if I stretched my budget just a little, perhaps I could get a promising 4MP camera (the Sony DSC-S60). Maybe the Canon Powershot A520 (the 4MP version of the A510) would be a good choice too, except that its pictures are substantially noisier than the A510 and I'm not convinced a bigger but noisier image is better.

So right now I've pretty much narrowed it down to two choices--the Canon Powershot A510 and the Sony Cybershot DSC-S60. Here are what I see as the pros and cons of each.

Canon Powershot A510 (3.2MP, about $180)

4x optical zoom
Uses SD media
Uses standard mini-B USB cable
Supports aperture priority, shutter priority modes
Has image orientation sensor

Lower resolution than the Sony
Shutter lag ~ 1 second
Flash recharge ~ 7 seconds
USB 1.1 / PTP only
Low fps, time limited movie mode

Sony Cybershot DSC-S60 (4.1MP, about $210)

Good image quality
Shutter lag ~ 0.3 second
Flash recharge ~ 3 seconds
USB 2.0 / MSC + PTP
Slightly larger LCD (2" as opposed to the Canon's 1.8")

3x zoom as compared to the Canon's 4x
No orientation sensor
No aperture priority/shutter priority mode (although it does have a full manual mode, albeit with only two aperture settings to choose from)
Uses overpriced Sony Memory Stick media
Uses all-in-one proprietary video+audio+USB monstrosity instead of a standard mini-B USB cable
"Cybershot" is a dumb name

Right now I'm leaning toward the Sony, mostly due to the low shutter lag and fast flash recycle time. But manually rotating portrait mode images can be tedious, and the Canon's 4x zoom might come in handy to. Same goes for the shutter priority mode. So I haven't quite made up my mind.

This morning I helped fix my grandmother's computer, and I mentioned how I was shopping around for a digital camera. She let me borrow Grandpa's Powershot A80 and I've been playing with it for awhile. I haven't gotten too much figured out yet, but other than the relatively slow auto focus (it's almost a second), I like what I see. I went outside to take a few snapshots, and on my way back in the house, I saw a quarter on the sidewalk. So I put Grandpa's Canon in macro mode and took a close-up.

That's a pretty slick macro shot if I do say so myself. ;)