Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Possible new Tether power source

So while at Radio Shack I saw this on clearance for $9.95

I picked one up and hopefully I'll run some tests on it, I'm thinking it might be useful so long as I keep the power jack available to use regular batteries in case this thing dies. (proprietary batteries are a pet peeve of mine unless I have a spare or 2 or 3) Based on the 5.2v spec and up to 500mah draw it might work, but real testing will tell the tale. Also I have a bunch of interesting projects in Draft mode, but I haven't had the time to post them, Soon though as its getting cold here in Chicago and I won't be able to shoot outside as much!

Friday, July 31, 2009

I got Schmapped!

So early in the year I went to Garfield Park Conservatory to try and work the light and get some pictures that had the feel I wanted them to have, not the way they were actually lit. It was rainy and cold on the day I was there, a very flat cold light. So I gel'd up and tried warming things up in different ways, some worked some didn't. This shot was just a quick snap I took of powder puff tree in full bloom. I flicked a little light with my strobe on a stick and snapped off this DoF shot. I liked it as I thought it looked like a fireworks explosion. Well fast forward to a few weeks ago, and Schmap contacted me about it asking if they could use it. Flowers are not something I usually shoot or usually have an interest in shooting, so I was suprised anyone even noticed it. Well I guess they picked it and put it into their guide. I'm okay with them using it since I consider it a snapshot and not my more serious work.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Deal of the Day - The pencil box snoot!

Office Depot has these nice little Pencil Boxes for back-to-school, only $0.79. I was looking at them and thinking they might work as a snoot. I do like my cereal box/gaffers tape ones, but this his a very nice high grade plastic so I figured it might be worth the gamble. So I picked up 2. They fit my SB-800s very snug, but the black part does fit over them. I figure I can cut it to fit and I've got a store bought looking modifier for under a buck.

The even better part is the inside, its a nice translucent plastic that lights up just like an expensive diffuser material for a flash. So its 2 for 1, you get some nice material to play with to make your own design for a diffuser and a snoot.

Let me know if you pick one up and find a good use for it!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Canon 5D Mark ii - Exposed

Well if you haven't noticed I like to tinker. I always have and probably always will. So when I get bored I fix things, all sorts of things. A while back I started repairing digital cameras for fun. Recently after I bought my D300 another damaged D300 came up for sale that had taken a humpty-dumpty fall from a tripod with a 70-200 2.8 attached. I bought it for parts just in case anything happened to my new D300, but after ordering a new button I had it all fixed up. Its now my backup camera to my other D300.

So last month I was reading about a Canon fellow that had the misfortune of having his newly acquired Canon 5D mark ii fall into a lake while setting up for a shot. I bought the camera from him for salvage to see if I could get it working. I figured best case I could and then I'd play around with it to see what Canon has to offer. Worst case I'd end up parting it out eventually to recoup my money. Since I fixed the Nikon so fast that I never got a chance to document any of it,I figured I'd document the tear down of this camera body as it might be of interest to someone out there.

I even made a pointless video that I sped up showing the partial tear down. The video isn't the best as it was my first time trying to do something like this, but you can see as I strip away the rear, top and side panels of the 5D2 to expose and inspect the inside for water damage. I found very little water exposure on the first time tearing it down, but on later tear downs to find the odd behavior it was giving I found the board that was lightly corroded.

Here is the main culprit, it was the board on the bottom of the body. There was corrosion on 3 of the ribbon connector areas and 2 of the surface mount ICs. I carefully cleaned them off and sprayed the entire board down with a 0 residue PCB contact cleaner. The camera has been flawless ever since, but only time will tell, and with water damage you never know for sure, corrosion can kill very slowly and create odd issues with systems, in this case the buttons acted irrational and certain shooting modes would do different things.

I have since cleaned all the corrosion off and its working fine, although I do plan on ordered a new board from Canon at some point. I bought one lens for use with it, and one flash and I will be documenting some of the obstacles I found using off camera flash with Canon. I will also show some hacks to get things to work, like rear curtain sync and high speed sync.

One other side note, the body construction of the 5D2 I was not particularly impressed with for a camera in its price class. I would have expected a stamped steel frame in the lower end bodies, but not in one thats a notch from the flagship. This is my own personal opinion however having seen both the D300 and 5D2 on the inside. The D300 skeleton looks like its battle ready, a large cast body wrapped in plastic, the 5D2 had a simple and not rugged design. Also I really wish there was some solid weather sealing, I didn't see any o-rings at all on the 5D2.

More to come later...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quick Deal of the Day - USB Swivel

I was at Radio Shack when I came upon this, a USB Swivel, Radio Shack part #26-785 on clearance. I think the original price was $6 something but it was Clearanced at just $1.37. Perfect to getting more rotational flexibility for the Wireless Tether. This should be a nationwide clearance item, so if you happen to be there it might be worth picking up!

PS - I have a big post coming soon, I just have to finish editing the video.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Yet another iteration of the wireless tether....


This one I'm about 90% happy with and will probably be the last modification I do for a while. I had a little spare time this weekend and decided to modify the original version I had made. I was going to put it into the MB-D10 AA sleeve, to make for a slick integration.

The more I looked at how to engineer putting the PCB into the sleeve the more I noticed some compromises. I didn't want the dongle inside the MB-D10 as it does generate heat as well as being the antenna. Since range will always be an issue the antenna needs to be put into the best possible location. I was planning on having a USB connector right near the side of the latch on the AA sleeve. I was planning on making the cuts when I noticed that this would create an odd grip. The dongle would be jutting out of the side and it would have make the grip somewhat awkward. I felt the grip without it and I could see it getting in the way when switching from landscape to portrait, also gripping it I felt it could get in the way of the left hand.

So for this reason I abandon the idea of putting it into the grip. Back to the Pocket Wizard integration! I have gotten 3 of my PWs working and the others seem to be having microcontroller issues, I'm hoping its just a blown clock circuit, but I haven't had time to play with them anymore.

After dissecting a few of them I did notice where I could put the components to have the dongle plug in. It would require a custom PCB since the original board is far too big to be inside there. Maybe with all the connectors removed it could be done, but I didn't feel like going down that road. Plus I didn't want to get too crazy hacking up my transmitter since I have to share it during shoots with other photogs that don't have a PW.

So back to the drawing board, I decided to just integrate the wireless USB into a pocket wizard case. Its a bit big, but it has the 2 AA compartment and I could easily place everything inside without issue. So I started doing that and got about 75% done when it dawned on me this was a good solution for me. A lot of times when I'm using this tether its to look at lighting situations and in most all those cases its with off camera flash. If I have my wireless USB adapter in a PW on top of my camera, then were will I put my real PW transmitter? Hmm. This is an interesting part of the creative process, ideas that are good in the mind sometimes just don't' pan out. For someone that doesn't ever use a PW or an on camera flash this would work. But for me I'll always have either an SB-800 or a PW on top of my camera. So for now I've scrubbed putting a device into the PW case, at least the case is ready for it though. Back to the drawing board.

Looking at the SB-800s 5th battery option gave me some inspiration to make a piggy back add on that would go onto the back of the PW. I don't really care about the real estate back there anyway, and its high up where an antenna should be. Win-win. I also decided that I'd share the battery power from the PW with the wireless USB. PW's are not battery hogs, and going through a set or 2 of double AAs in a few hours is okay with me.

This design has everything I wanted, I could use it off camera by just putting it into a small case on the strap, that would free up my hot shoe for a flash. If I needed no on camera flash/controller then I could place the PW + WUSB on top and have everything all in one.

Building this was fairly simple, I didn't even change the right angle USB connector to a flat. I used a 2 AA battery holder from Radio Shack, cut out openings for USB and power. I also put a power switch into it from one of the previous 4AAA holders. I had to epoxy that into the case, but it went well. For power there are 2 spades that for now are getting wedged into the battery compartment of the PW. the 3 volts from there go inside the piggy back. Power is sent to the very small PCB that was inside one of the Energi to go power supplies. I use that as my 3v to 5v upvoltage circuit. The 5 Volts then gets sent to the wireless USB PCB.

I have the USB connector that goes to the camera in place. But I wanted a cleaner look so I cut up a mini-usb cable and soldered it in directly. This gave me the perfect run length with no slack. The USB connector still works however should I want to put the tether on the strap or my body and use a long cable. Also I can remove it completely if need be and the only modification to the pocket wizard was a small notch to let the power wires slip out of the battery cover.

Here a a few pictures going around if, feel free to ask questions guys.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Eye-fi Card released, now with RAW, Video, and Ah-hoc support

Just saw that this new eye-fi card, the eye-fi Pro, was released.

The good:
It supports RAW files
Allows you to use the Protect feature of your camera to selectivly transfer files (protect marks files read only, the eye-fi card see this and then transmits)
4GB finally, which also means its SDHC so it should be faster
Transfers Video files
Ad-hoc support, meaning you won't need to do the workaround I discussed earlier to use this in the field where you don't have an access point.

The bad:
Costs $149 (I feel its bad since the $79 version is essentially the same hardware with only different firmware)
Seeing as its still leveraging 802.11g I have doubts that it will transfer files faster then previous versions which was bearable for point and shoot jpegs, but with a15mb-20mb raw files?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Petebay Deal alert!

Hey there, 
  For the experimenters and Tether fans, here's a great chance to some neglected (NOT WORKING) pocket wizards for cheap!  I bought some on ebay and they should be here soon.  We'll see how many of the 5 pair I got I can resurrect. (New note:  I got mine and have 3 working so far, the rest will require more work)  At $40 shipped for a Receiver and Transmitter it might be worth the gamble.  Heck, if you can fix one you'll be ahead and you can use the other case to house your PeteTether!  I'll be trying to integrate the tether inside a working transmitter myself.  I could probably build a few and market them!  Pocket Wizard, good....   WUSB tether..   Good... All in one case that fits on the hot shoe...  Great!   

I did test my own pocket wizards with the Tether against the back of the Pocket wizard transmitter to see if it caused any interference with the WUSB.  I noticed no interference at all.  Which is a good thing since a lot of people might be using both simultaneously.

Anyway, they have a bunch of them, so have it guys!  (I have no affiliation with the seller, just saw the deal and thought I'd pass it on)

Talk to ya ltrz...

Monday, May 18, 2009

PeteTether 1.1 - A Wireless Portable USB tether

Quick update: Readers have reported this working with Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. An Olympus reader is having issues, I'll keep you guys updated

Since My last blog things have really exploded with people wanting to know more about what I had done. I decided to name this and give it a new version name even though the first one was really an alpha, not even a beta type job. I never intended for the last post to be a how-to or a step-by-step, more of an overview of what I did, and what I came up against in building it. As there have been so many questions for more details, I figured I'd help out and do a full dissection and build, this time in a more proper working configuration (I never intended to keep it hanging out there like that long term, it was more the proof of concept) Also for anyone building this, all risks are yours and your mileage may vary.

So after everyone flooded me with questions I ordered another new set to disassemble from Amazon.

Here's the link where I got it.

A few days later this arrived.

here are the contents, all laid out.

The two problems for making this device portable are the docking station and the power brick that it requires. So to remedy this I built a 4AAA power pack that fed it all the power it needed. To do this can be trivial if you want to keep that docking base as-is. You would simple create your own 5v power source, cut the plug off your brick, and wire it up with the correct polarity. I'd recommend a switch as well, unless you want to literally pull the plug every time you're done.

A better simple DIY way would be this, the Energizer Energi-to-go.

Here a link to what I'm talking about if you want to go this route.

I got mine for dirt cheap on clearance at an office supply store. I actually bought 6 of them as they come with 2 Lithium Energizer AA batteries and an enclosure that holds the two AAs and has a tiny circuit built in that takes 3 volts and ups it to 5-6volts. If I tried to built a 3v - 5v circuit with a battery holder it would cost me more then price I paid for the whole device with the two lithium AAs. They alone usually sell for about $5.
The version I linked to is the nicest one, it comes with 3 different adapters, if you click on the link and look at the second image, you'll see bottom cable looks very similar to the plug on the USB dock.
It is really close to the right size, I simple used an awl and bored the plastic hole out a tiny bit. It now fit the docking station and the polarity is even correct! So if you're not very technically proficient, The Wireless USB adapter set and the Energizer power pack, with the power cord plug widened is all you'll need! No Soldering, and no opening up anything scary!
Its not under $50, but close and you get batteries. The Energizer pack auto senses to turn on and off, so to use it you'll have to unplug it physically when not in use. It does have cool blinking LEDs to let you know when it is in use, that is a plus in my book. It will be a somewhat bulky mess though, so I leave that up to you how well it may or may not work for you.

For those that are more adventurous and want to see whats inside that dock, continue on!

Here is the base being opened up.

The circuit board in itself is very small, and has a simple circuit on it. See the red wire too? Thats the 5th Beatle, I mean 5th wire going to the USB device dongle. It uses this extra wire to inject the additional power needed to transmit the WUSB at 480mbits/sec. Transmitting and receiving data constantly requires more power then the 5volts sitting on the cable, that's why the need for the brick used in the original implementation.

So lets put the dongle on and see how this packages now.

Not so hot looking eh?

All those right angles make for poor packaging if we want this to look thin and cool. Now some people might say, just hard wire the dongle and you're done right? Not exactly. These USB dongles pair by having the host computer pair with the computer when its plugged into the computer. The only way to do that is to unplug it and plug it into the host pc. So if we hard wire we lose that ability hence the need to keep it unpluggable if needed. If only it had 2 right angle USB connectors like the right side one that goes to the device you want to use. So out comes the soldering station and off comes the straight connector.

And here we go, one connector de-soldered and cleaned up. I hate de-soldering connectors BTW.

So I looked around to see if I had any right angle USB connectors, sadly I didn't. I have 400 mini-usb right angle connectors, but I decided against using that as I'd need a mini-usb to mini-usb cable. So back to the drawing board. I decided to keep the project under my $50 total and time constraints and reuse the existing connector. I turned it into a right angle by bending the pins, and adding leads for the grounds back to the large holes. Its also getting glued down to the board for support since I'm not using as it was designed.
After a little tweaking and re-soldering it was good as old, and nearly ready to go.

Here it is after the right angle mod.

And here is a picture of what it looks like next to its new home, a Radio Shack AAA holder Catalog #270-411. Price only $1.99. I'm actually using 2 of these for a total of $4. One will hold 4AAAs and be the power source, the other will be the home for the PeteTether.

I next removed the power switch on the enclosure, the metal tabs for the batteries, and snipped out all the extra plastic to hold the batteries.

Here's what it looks like before I put the holes on the sides for usb cables and the power connector.

I next used a nibbler, it snips little bites of metal or plastic out and is great if you're into building prototypes. So I nibbled out the sides, and also glued down the red wire with gold pin. Thats another gotcha to overcome. The original design is such that when you drop it into the docking station the gold pin touches a gold plate on the USB dongle. That solution won't work here as it could be unreliable, and we can't have that.

So I took a pin used for another connector and installed it onto the dongle. This will allow it to plug in and off the gold pin. Here is what I'm talking about...

I soldered a wire to the existing wire that was on the gold plate. Its fairly short so it will take a little skill to do this. I place some black heat shrink over the pin after it was crimped on there, bad things would happen if it shorted to the ground plate.

Once completed and soldered together with the other Radio Shack AAA pack, it now looks like this!
With both the Batteries and the PeteTether it measures 2.5"x2"x1.25" not including the dongle sticking out (1/2 the 1.25" if you use another power source). I still have a 1/4 nut on the bottom from the first version, but that could come off. I can run off 4 AAAs or if I keep the power switch turned off I can plug in the Energi to go pack to the power plug that is still functional.

I found an old mp3 player case with a nice big clip on it and packaged it into that to test it on my camera strap. Its not intrusive, it just hangs about 6" above where it connects to the camera. Now if you went with PeteTether sans AAA pack and Energi to go power pack you could have two lumps on your straps. I really prefer the AA solution but I don't like the way it packages with the module. The circuit board is bigger then I can put inside that Energizer module, so I'd need two modules. A better way to go is find that perfect project box that has a 2 AA compartment and room for the tethering module hardware. The problem is that it will most likely cost more then $4 and you'll still need the 3-5v upvoltage converter. If you haven't done prototyping before, you'll find that good prototype boxes are rarely inexpensive.

So I met my budget, under $50, but really close, $40 for the adapter, $4 for battery and module holders, and $5 for the right angle adapter for the mini-usb. I highly recommend that as it can breakaway if its stressed and doesn't hang out there sticking out and just begging to be bent or worse, ruin your cameras connector.

Next up in the future, I need to find an MB-D10 so that I can convert the AA holder to house everything inside. Anyone want to send me one? :) I'll send you back working module all enclosed in AA holder. One of these days I'll probably splurge and buy a real one, The genuine MB-D10 is so much nicer then the knockoff ones.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The $50 wireless tethering solution

So after using the eye-fi solution for quite a while, I felt it was nice, something useable for simple see the pictures after the shot, but not with any speed. Most professionals want a quick near instant response like that of USB tethered commercial solutions. So with my D300 I thought it would be great to have live view over a wireless connection, and the ability to review photographs taken with a near instant preview. To do this I looked at Nikons WT-4a, a very nice solution with a not so nice price somewhere north of $700. I can't justify that as a non-full time photographer.

I mainly wanted to be able to shoot in a studio environement and see the image and light quality quick and easy. I also thought it would be a great tool for teaching where I can shoot and have everyone see the image. So I had seen that a new USB spec had come out for wireless, and that there were a few devices built extend traditional USB wirelessly. The device I chose to implement my "homebrew" wireless tether was the Cables Unlimited Wireless USB Adapter Kit. I bought mine back in January when I did this project, it was closer to $80 back then, now they can be had for under $40.

So for under $50 you can have wireless USB tethering that will work on most any camera! There a quite a few buts however.

  • The product supports Windows, BUT not Mac. Sorry guys, although someone else may have a mac compatible product out by now.
  • Its fast, even faster at transmitting data then the very expensive WT-4a. Being that it is Certified Wireless USB, it can communicate at 480mbits/sec up to 3 meters, and 110mbits/sec up to 10 meters. so speed is really great, BUT it can't do isosynchronous transfer modes. What that means is you can't stream video ie a web cam with this. Luckly Nikon does not use this mode so I get live view just fine!
  • The images they show make you think it just plugs and plays. BUT a big issue is that it requires a 5 volt power brick on the remote device. So its really wireless usb + AC powerline. This is a problem as it defeats the purpose of wireless tethering. We'll fix this though.

So heres my homebrew project. I built in back in late january and it works pretty good. Initial startup is a bit slow to start Nikon Capture, but once it shows connected to the camera its the same as if it were connected via USB cable. I removed the power module that the USB remote drops into, and put it in a temporary box to test the concept. Underneath it is a 4 AAA powerpack that it soldered onto the module. I wanted to be able to reverse things if it was totally awful. The Dongle on the right will plug into my laptop.

Another thing I did was buy this right angle adapter designed for Motorola cells phones. It allows the USB cable to run up the side of my D300 rather then sticking straight out which is a recipe for distaster in my book.

Here a link to where to get the Right angle adapter. I'd recommend it even for wired tethering as its more likely to reduce damage if stressed.

So heres what it looks like mounted on my camera. I used a cheap flash bracket I had lying around, put a connector onto the battery pack with a 1/4" thread so that the plate could screw onto it. its a little bulky and eventually I'll put it into a better box, I'm still trying to find one I like. I did consider putting it into a hot shoe type mount, but I wanted to keep the top free as I use the pop up flash as a commander. Another Option I've been toying with is integrating the whole affair into a camera strap.

So hows it work? Well it connects a little slowly to Nikon Camera Control 2, but once connected it runs well. Transfers are very fast, about 4 seconds for a Fine Jpeg from my D300, and 8 Seconds for a RAW+ fine. (I think this might be even faster then the WT-4a, as wifi is a slower protocol) Live view works great as well, a little slower then a direct connection, but fully useable for doing live view. This will open up some interesting possibilities for me to set the camera up somewhere that I might not be able to see what I'm pointing at. One thing that is a little annoying is the camera is in PC mode and I can't actually preview on the camera LCD while I'm tethering.
Battery life is also pretty good, I've gone over 2 hours without depleting a set of batteries, but I left the power on so I'm not sure the exact duration of time that they will last. I will tell you that using rechargables will be an issue as you'll need either an upvoltage convertor or an extra cell to meet the 5 volt minimum is requires.

All in all It was a fun build, I always get questions when I use it. I have found it quite useful in a teaching environment when trying to show people lighting effects in a large group. Being able to have a shot show up nearly instantly on a 12" tablet or projection screen is quite useful.

PS - Since everyone has been asking where to get them for $40, here a a link

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tethering Options..

Tethering a camera has some good uses, such as reviewing the image quality, focus, etc.  Wireless tethering has always been of interest to me, so I decided to play around with some off the shelf devices.

First up was the eye-fi card, a simple 1 way method of sending images.  In my D70s and now my D300 I use it with a SD-to-CF card.  They are inexpensive and will convert a standard SD card into Compact Flash card.  This was the easy part.  The harder part was working out how to use the eye-fi software WITHOUT having my laptop connected to the internet.  If i'm on location I don't want to get online just to make sure I can download images.  So I remembered that some WiFi has software to allow the device to act like an access point.  So I picked up an Airlink 101 USB for about 5 bucks and set it up.  It acted like an AP and the eye-fi card was able to talk to it.  First part done.  Next problem is that a real AP usually has a DHCP server, DHCP is what gives your computer a temporary IP address to use, and the Eye-fi card requires it to connect.  A few searches and I found a nice super small DHCP software that was free and came with the source code.  I use that on my laptop when I plug in the Airlink card.  

Now I can be in the field, simple plug in my USB wireless, launch my DHCP server, and as shoot away.  Right after shooting the jpgs come streaming straight over to my laptop.  (caveat is that eye-fi cards will not move anything but JPGs therefore the raws stay on the card)

Next time I'll discuss my full blown wireless setup, which gives me wireless liveview for under $100....   more ltrz...