Baking batteries and why you should spend money on a decent charger

March 31, 2013

Photographers get through AA batteries like they are pennies in an arcade. Unfortunately they are not pennies they are pounds so we get the re-chargeable ones and save a bit of money by using them more than once. That is the theory anyhow. In practice what I see is photographers with a  bag of batteries with no idea of the charge state, age, condition etc. of any of the batteries. Hmmm, so much for saving money.

So, here is how I treat my batteries. I buy them in packs of 4 and usually with an included 4 pack holder. I buy good quality batteries (Sanyo Eneloop are a great example of a good high quality rechargeable battery) and I keep them in their original sets of four.

7DayShop (www.7dayshop.com) is a good source for the batteries and the cases. They regularly sell packs of four batteries with a case included.

Sanyo Eneloop

http://www.7dayshop.com/sanyo-eneloop-ready-to-use-rechargeable-aa-hr6-mn1500-nimh-batteries-min-1900mah-pack-of-4

Cases

http://www.7dayshop.com/chargers-power-batteries/battery-cases-storage/7dayshop-aa-aaa-battery-storage-case-5-pack

The 7DayShop own brand batteries are pretty good too. They have one minor niggle which is not a show stopper but does make them unsuitable for some devices. They are slightly chubbier than a standard AA. It is probably a fraction of a millimetre but can be just enough to make them a tight fit in some devices.

I use the 2500mAh ones and have found them to be very good. Charge them as soon as you get them.

http://www.7dayshop.com/7dayshop-rechargeable-aa-hr6-mn1500-nimh-batteries-2500mah-pack-of-4-in-free-case

So, you have some good batteries and you pop out and use them in your flash and then what? First thing is to keep them in their original sets of 4. Four batteries go in one case and get used and go back in a case as a batch and get charged as a batch. This ensures that they age together and you do not mix up capacities when fitting to your device. As soon as you get back in start charging the used ones. The sooner you charge a discharged battery the longer it will  last. Putting off recharging the batteries until you next need them shortens their life. When not in use they will slowly lose their charge. If you don't use them for a while (4 to 6 weeks) pop them in the charger to keep them topped up.

Now the biggy. Spend some proper money on a charger. The cheap chargers and a lot of fast chargers work by shoving a current into the battery for a fixed period of time. This means that some batteries (higher capacity ones) can be undercharged and lower capacity ones can be overcharged. Overcharging is bad for batteries just like it is bad for you if you do it to clients. They don't come back, they are no longer a client. Overcharge your battery and it probably will never be the same again. You will considerably shorten the life of the battery and this is when you hear people saying 'Those batteries are rubbish, only lasted 3 charges and then let me down'. No, the batteries were good, the charger was rubbish.

I am using Eneloops I bought years ago and they are like the day I bought them. I have 24 of them (6 sets of 4) and have never had one fail or not hold its charge. I also have 40 (10 sets of 4) of the 7dayshop batteries and have only been using these for around 4 months but so far not had a single failure.

The charger I use is a Technoline charger that I bought about 8 years ago. The model I bought is no longer available but there is a newer equivalent which looks and works pretty much identically. The Technoline BL-700.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Technoline-Intelligent-battery-charger-Version/

Yes, it is a fair bit of money for a battery charger but mine has paid for itself many times over by not killing batteries when charging them. If I am in any doubt about a battery set I run the refresh program which invariably brings the pack back like new. Rarely had to use it and cannot remember the last time I did (and never had to run it on the Enelopoops) but every time I have it has been successful and brought the dead batteries back to life (which is probably why I am writing this at Easter).

Decent batteries need a decent charger or you might as well buy cheap batteries and throw them away once you have used them a couple of times.
 


EVS5 - Event Viewing System 5 is nearly ready

March 21, 2013

EVS5 is nearly here :-)
Ok, ok, I heard you first time ..... what the hell is EVS5???

Some of you are aware of and some of you are using a viewing system I put together ie. EVS4. A simple gallery using Html/PHP on a web server based system which was viewed using a web browser. A couple of key features was that it auto builds the gallery as you add images to a folder. Create a new folder and it is automatically added to the gallery menu. But, it had some limitations which left some room for improvement. The core of the system ran from a single PHP file so anyone with a LAMP (Linux), WAMP (Windows) or MAMP (Mac) server  installed could use it. A major limitation was that all viewing stations should be using the same screen resolution and on lower resolution screens you could quickly end up with a large number of thumbnail pages for any one event that the user would need to wade through to get to the images they were interested in.

I watched people using EVS4 and took on-board a fair bit of feedback from users and photographers. From this came a wish list of the things we would like in a better viewing system.

1. It should be screen resolution independent. The system should work out the optimum number of thumbnails to display depending upon the device being used and you should be able to have different devices with different screen resolutions using the system at the same time. EVS5 does all this.

2. It should be able to be viewed in a browser on PC's, Macs, Linux boxes, Ipads, Android pads etc. EVS5 runs happily in a browser on all of these.

3. It should support much more thumbnails on a single page so that the user can find their images quicker. EVS5 does this.

4. It would allow the selection of a page of images and run a slideshow of that page. EVS5 does this.

5. It should have the minimum of user buttons, click ons etc. I doubt I could get any less :-)

6. It should be easy to install and maintain. It is. If you can get a basic web server running on your network you can install and configure EVS5.

7. It should support optional watermarking of images being displayed to reduce instances of attendees photographing screens. EVS5 supports png format watermarks that are automatically centred whether the image being viewed is in landscape of portrait format. The watermark can easily be turned off (on a gallery by gallery basis) if you don't require it for a particular event.

8. You can lock the viewing system to just the current event. The gallery menu is disabled and the user cannot view other events.

9. Menu item names within a gallery should be meaningful eg. if you are shooting equestrian you would like a menu which showed the Class, the ring, the type of  class and the fence heights. You could create a folder with this as a name or you can now use a simple folder name eg. c1 for Class One and associate a description linked to the folder via an XML file. It sounds a bit more complex than it is. Basically the system checks to see if you have a file that describes the folder content. If you have it uses this instead of folder names. What this means is you can use very simple folder names and have a descriptive menu item for that folder.

10. The system should clearly display image names/numbers so that the user can quickly order the correct image.

11. There should be no database to configure or to get its knickers in a twist. EVS5 does not use a database at all. However, we are planning a module which you will be able to add to EVS5 which will use a database. This module will collect user information and allow some pretty clever user interaction. Like being able to select a rider number and being shown a collection of images from that event which feature that rider.

12. It should not require a keyboard to operate and there should not be a way of the user getting into the underlying system. EVS5 does not require a user keyboard to operate and we have disabled as many features as we can to ensure the user cannot get to the raw data.

13. It should work with the mouse wheel and touch screens. Try buying a mouse without a wheel and you will understand why this was a requirement :-) EVS5 works with mouse wheels and touch screens.

We tie all this together in a wireless based system which uses the minimum of hardware to deliver the  maximum of configurations and usability.

Example One. We can run two print stations and a mix of viewing stations at an event. For an equestrian event, as an example, we can shoot wirelessly back to a FTP server. This passes the full size images to LightRoom and passes web sized images to the web server. The photographers can send images to a sub-folder in the FTP server eg. c1 and the system will pick up images from c1 and recognise these as Class One and put them in the appropriate web folder. Within seconds of a photographer taking a picture they are available in the correct folder with an appropriate menu and page title on the viewing terminal.

Example Two. A small black tie event. We run a single print station and a couple of Android 10" pads as viewing terminals. The photographer shoots using an eye-fi card. Images are picked up by the system in the default eye-fi folder and copied to the current  LightRoom folder. Images are then resized and put onto the web server to be viewed via the browser on the pads. Table shots are suddenly worth doing as you can show the results at the table as you shoot.

What is left to do? There are a couple of tweaks and code tidy ups needed. The help system needs re-writing. The system needs a bigger test on a bigger event (ten viewing stations and 5000 plus images across 20 folders all shot and displayed in a 6 hour period). This has been arranged and will be happening very shortly (within weeks).

Probably the key factor defining how and when it is released is a simple decision I must make. Will I make it generally available as a simple download and users can pay (work does actually cost money) based upon their honesty? I don't want to complicate things with unlock codes etc.  Do I release it as a service whereby I install and configure it for you and demonstrate its usage so that you know you have a working system, you wont have messed up your existing system and you will have been trained on how to use it? There are obvious differences in cost to the user depending on whichever of these routes I choose. The second option has significant benefits to the purchaser as they will also get some professional advise on system sizing, hardware and network requirements and components and they will have the peace of mind of knowing that everything is working as it should be. I am fortunate in that I have an IT background and so the mix of photography and IT that a modern photographer faces is not a major hurdle for me. I would like to provide a service were you can concentrate on being a photographer and not worry too much about how the system goes together. You don't worry about how the camera is made you just have to learn to use it. That is probably what I am aiming at. I build the system and you learn to use it.

Either way a decision will be made in the next couple of days about how it will be released.

 


Even More Wireless Photography with the Engenius 2611

March 27, 2012

In the previous two posts I have shown some typical configurations that you could use. So this post is really about the practical aspects of using these units.

There are a few things you need to be aware of.

1. The internal directional antenna has a horizontal spread of 70 degrees and a vertical spread of 35 degrees. There is signal available outside these limits and a quite usable signal even behind the unit. If using the internal aerial you can position the unit to point in the direction you are working to maximise the available signal strength.

2. An Omni-directional antenna is available for this unit. This will spread the signal evenly around the antenna but the signal range is shorter in all directions. As a rough guide you should consider the range of the omni antenna to be half that of the internal directional antenna.

3. The unit requires a 24 volt power supply. This can be supplied from batteries for the remote units. It is recommended that a DC converter is used if using batteries as this will ensure a constant and regulated 24 volt supply. Not all converters are equal. Some are very inefficient and will rapidly drain the battery. A clue to efficiency is how warm the converter gets. Solwise supply a unit to convert 12 volts to 24 volts. I have used a different unit but if you have no experience of selecting this type of unit then go for the safe option and use the recommended unit.

4. Height above ground of the unit is a big factor in getting the maximum range and signal strength out of the unit. For outdoor events I mount the unit at the server end on a 2.5 metre stand which goes on top of the van and is secured to the van with guy ropes. This gives me a total height of 4 to 4.5 metres for the unit.

5. This may sound obvious but the system should be set up and tested before you use it in anger. Document all your settings and clearly label each unit.

6. Consider the data throughput and the size of image being shot. If all you need is a medium sized jpeg then that is what you should shoot. Larger files just take longer to deliver over the system and if you are shooting rapidly you can fill the camera buffer as it backs up images waiting to be transmitted.

7. If you have multiple photographers you should consider setting up more than one network if the volume of data is likely to saturate one network.

8. Check that all files have transmitted regularly. You can do this on the camera with the Canon units. Resend those files which have not transmitted when you are back in range of an Access Point.

9. Your body is a great wifi shield. Try to maximise the available signal by not standing between the camera and the Access Point. Ideally position yourself so that the WFT unit on the camera has a clear line of sight to the the Access Point.

I'm sure I will think of some more and will add these as and when.


More Wireless Photography with the Engenius 2611

March 27, 2012

If you followed the guide in the previous post you should have two Engenius units configured and be able to use them in two ways. The first configuration uses one Engenius unit as a simple wireless Access Point. The second configuration used two Engenius units and allowed you to set up a remote wireless Access Point for the camera to shoot to with a Client Bridge at the server end.

Configuration Three
Wired Client Bridge at the remote end and Access Point at the Server
This is a relatively simple variation of configuration two. The units can be used exactly as configured for Configuration Two. The big difference is that this time the Client Bridge will be at the remote end and the Access Point at the server PC.

Connect the Access Point to the server via Ethernet cable. Connect the camera to the Client Bridge via Ethernet cable. Set the camera up to use a wired connection (see your user guide).

This is a useful configuration for relatively static camera positions at the remote end. The transfer speed from camera to Client Bridge is fast and reliable (it is wired so it should be) and the Client Bridge and Access Point are only talking to each other so wireless speeds are usually as good as the connection allows.

Using this configuration you can also shoot wireless directly to the server if you are in range of the Access Point (as per Configuration One).

Configuration Four
Wired Client Bridge at the remote end connected to remote Access Point and Access Point at the Server

This is an extension of configuration three. Instead of connecting the camera to the Client Bridge at the remote end we connect a further Engenius unit set up as an Access Point. This remote Access point will require a unique SSID and should be on a different channel to the Client Bridge and Server Access Point. The camera will connect using wifi to Access Point Two at the remote end which will pass data (via Ethernet cable) to the Client Bridge which will talk to the Access Point at the Server. This configuration will allow you to cover the full area between the server and the remote location with wireless and select the Access Point (Access Point Two at the remote end or Access Point One at the server end) that you are closest to. The server AP and the Client Bridge unit should be facing each other. The 2nd Access Point can be facing away from the Client Bridge. This gives you coverage from the server unit to the Client Bridge and from the Client Bridge to the range of the second Access Point.

Configuration Five
Access points at Server and Remote end using WDS
This uses two units configured as Access Points (see Configuration One) both using the same channel but with unique IP addresses and a unique SSID for each unit. The units can be used exactly as configured for Configuration Two ie. one unit wired to the server and one unit as the remote unit. This configuration will allow you to cover the full area between the server and the remote location with wireless and select the Access Point that you are closest to. The advantage of this configuration is that it does not require a third unit configured as a Client Bridge (configuration four). However, it is slower as the remote unit is handling the wireless data for both the camera and the passing on of this data to the server Access Point. Also, unlike the 3 unit solution the 2 AP's should be facing each other and your working area is between them and immediately behind them.

Configure two Access points with the same channel but unique SSID and unique IP addresses. Then select the WDS option and enter the MAC addresses for both units in the fields provided (do this for both units). The MAC address to use is the second address of the two listed on the back of the Engenius units. On each unit set the Mac address of the other unit as enabled and its own address as disabled. I only enter both so that they are in the same place on the Mac address list and it gives me a convenient location to look them up.

Access Point One can now we connected to the server and Access Point Two used as the remote end. Select the SSID you are closest to on the camera. Shooting to Access Point One is exactly the same as shooting to a single Access Point configuration. Shooting to Access Point Two will start communication with Access Point One via the WDS service to pass data to the server. You can add further Access Points to create a web of coverage but each leg will have half the bandwidth of the previous leg.

This is a relatively simple and flexible way of using the Engenius units for maximum range and maximum coverage and only requires one channel. However, as stated, it can be slower due to the reduced available bandwidth and the use of WDS and MAC addresses is seen as little complex by some users.

I hope this has given you some ideas about the flexibility of the Engenius units and perhaps given you further options for their use. I have added some tips to using these units in a follow up post Usage Tips.


Wireless Photography with the Engenius 2611

March 27, 2012

The Access Point of choice for a large number of photographers is the Engenius 2611 Wireless AP/Client Bridge. This unit is originally designed for building to building wireless links but has a range of features which make it very suitable for use by photographers. These units are available in the UK from Solwise http://www.solwise.co.uk. A small downside of these units is that they do not support the later 802.11n standard of wireless communications. They do support the 802.11b/g standard which is usually good enough for what we want.

When using any wireless solution the range (distance between units), obstructions, interference, transmission power and other wifi users (same or close channel) will affect wireless transmission speeds. A good general idea is to have a walk around any area you want to cover with wireless and plan how you will cover it before you start. I usually also channel scan using inSSIDer on the PC or an Android app on my phone before I set up. Remember for a clear channel you need two channels clear either side of the channel you intend to use. Sometimes you just have to go with the channel which has the weakest signal from other users.

Righto, on to the Engenius units. As the units ship the default IP address is 192.168.1.1. If you are using the same address range (192.168.1.x) on your network then all is good and all you need to do is assign a fixed IP address to your PC which does not conflict with the Engenius unit and you are good to go. For our purposes we will assume you have set the PC address to 192.168.1.10. If it is set to dynamically acquire an IP address using DHCP then you need to set it to a fixed IP address (plenty of guides on the internet for this one). Note: all IP masking for this configuration is 255.255.255.0.

Communication with the Engenius unit is via a web browser so once you have it all plugged in and powered up just open a browser window and enter the address http://192.168.1.1. You will be prompted for a user name and password. The defaults are admin and admin. It is recommended that you change the password once you are happy that all is working (an option in the Engenius menu).

Once you have got this far we can run through a couple of set ups. The first part is applicable whichever configuration you later choose to use.

PC Set Up
You will need to set up a FTP file server on the PC. Filezilla Server (not client) is a good option. Create a user and set up some default FTP space (folder where incoming files will be saved). The defaults for everything else are fine for the FTP server. Now, make a note of your PC's IP address (if you have followed the above it will be 192.168.1.10). You can find this in 'Networking' in the Control Panel (Windows) if you don't know it. As you will not be connecting to the internet you can disable any firewalls on the PC. Disabling the firewall avoids a lot of problems when testing your FTP access. At this point your PC is ready to accept incoming FTP requests and to save transferred files to the folder you designated.

Configuration One
Single Engenius as an Access Point
This is the simplest configuration you will use.
From the Engenius menu select 'System Properties'
Set the 'Device Name' to something that makes sense to you. 'AccessPoint1' for example.
Set the country code to UK.
Select Access Point from the 'Operation Mode' options and click 'Apply'.

From the Engenius menu select 'Wireless Network'
Select the b/g option.
Select a channel (6 for starters).
Create a unique SSID and enable it. Go for something simple when naming the SSID as you are going to have to enter this to the camera and complex SSIDs are a pain.
At this stage do not set any encryption. Once all is tested and you are happy the basics are working you can set encryption on the camera and the Engenius unit.
Click 'Apply'.

Set up your camera WFT unit to use the SSID you have just created. Refer to your camera manufacturers manual to do this. It is reasonably straight forward for most cameras but the menu and key combinations for each camera and WFT unit are generally unique to that combination so (call me lazy if you want) you will have to dig these out for yourself. You will need to set a unique IP address for the camera and you will need to enter the IP address of the FTP server (IP address of the machine running Filezilla, 192.168.1.10). You will also need to enter the user name you created in Filezilla.

Check the FTP server is running on your PC and fire a shot on the camera. All being well you should see the image appear in the folder you specified in Filezilla.


Configuration Two
One Engenius as an Access Point and another as a Client Bridge
This configuration is designed to allow you to have an Engenius at the PC and an Engenius out in a field next to you. The PC Engenius will communicate with the field Engenius and the camera will also communicate with the field Engenius. The purpose of this configuration is to extend the range at which you can work from the PC. In a traditional networking set up the Client Bridge would be the remote end of the link and the server machine would be connected to the Access Point. However, we need wireless at the remote end so for our purposes we will reverse this and set up the Access Point (as per Configuration One) as the remote end and the Client Bridge at the server.

The Access Point should already be set up as per Configuration One. If you need to then go back and follow the instructions for Option One to set up the Access Point. Once set up the Access Point should be powered but no cable should now be attached to the LAN connector on the POE unit.

Plug an Ethernet cable into the server PC and into the POE unit for the Engenius which will be the Client Bridge.

Open the menu for the Client Bridge in a browser window - http://192.168.1.1.

Set up a unique IP address for the Client Bridge Engenius (the default is 192.168.1.1 but this will conflict with our Access Point). Set the IP address for the Client Bridge to 192.168.1.2 by changing it in 'IP Settings' and clicking 'Apply'.

Set up the Engenius as a Client Bridge by selecting 'Client Bridge' from the 'System Properties' menu. Set a Device Name and select the correct country code and click 'Apply'.

Select the 'Wireless Network' menu and set the SSID to the SSID you set in the Access Point. Click Apply.

Select 'Connection Status' on the Client Bridge Engenius menu and the status should show it is connected and using the SSID you specified.

At this point you should be able to shoot an image and it will be transferred from the camera to the Access Point and via the Access Point to the Client Bridge and then from the Client Bridge wired to the server machine and appear in your images folder.

You may notice it is a little slower (about half the speed) to transfer than using Configuation One (a direct connection to the Access point). A simple explanation is that the Access Point is doing two jobs. It is talking and listening to the camera and talking and listening to the Client Bridge. It cannot talk/listen to both at the same time so splits it time talking/listening to one or the other.

A limitation of this configuration is that you cannot shoot directly to the Client Bridge and must be in range of the Access Point to transfer images. This can be a limitation if you want to cover both the area around the server PC and the remote area with wireless cameras.


I have also posted some further configurations which will allow you to shoot at either end of the wireless system and/or are more suited to static remote cameras.

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