Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Joys of Unpacking... NOT

As anyone who has ever moved knows, the only thing worse than unpacking is not unpacking. (Apologies to Oscar Wilde for that one.) The apartment is mostly full of boxes that need something to happen before they can be unpacked. (Boxes of books require bookcases to be set up & placed, for example.)

After my first full week, the bedroom is set up. Clothes are put away in drawers. Window blinds are installed, where they weren't when I moved in. Clothes is hung. Laundry is being done. The other important room, the bathroom/laundry room is set up with new shower curtain & liner. A nice, but inexpensive, metal wire shelf, over-the-toilet shelf is set up, which holds towels, etc.

The kitchen is functional, but not a lot put away as I need to install cabinet and shelf liners. In fact, I'm making new shelves for all the wall cabinets. They previously were simply raw pressed wood shelves which was gross and warped and impossible to clean (the Trifecta of "trash-it"). I also got some white 1/8" masonite which I am cutting out for the bottoms of all the wall cabinets and base cabinets. It is glossy white and easy to clean.

Since I cannot yet put things away in these cabinets the kitchen appears to be a disaster with all my appliances, dishes and utensils filling the countertops and my kitchen table. Also, the refrigerator has become an erstwhile cabinet for lots of food items that really don't go there.

This does not mean that some cooking and baking has not been done. Friday I made a nice little 1 lb. meatloaf and made a loaf of white bread in my vintage Panasonic Bread Oven. I plan on baking bread in my cast iron dutch oven soon and also playing with sourdough and other starters. (If you are interested in breadmaking, I highly recommend "Flour Water Salt Yeast" by Ken Forkish.) But for now, you can't beat the convenience of tossing the ingredients in the Panasonic bread pan, pushing a button and going out to do other things while it magically transforms it into a fresh, hot, steaming loaf of sandwich bread for the upcoming week's lunches. I'm sort of curious to know what I can do with a meatloaf sandwich in the (new) Breville Panini Press that I found at the Goodwill for $40. (Love that thing and there are lots of ideas for what you can do with a panini press on Pinterest.)

The other absolute essential is morning coffee. I only need a single cup in the morning, before heading off to work (2 or three cups on weekends) and so nothing beats an Aeropress for the combination of fast and delicious. ("Frugal" makes it another Trifecta). It also takes up next-to-no-space in a drawer or cabinet. If you don't believe me on how great the Aeropress is, perhaps you will believe the many reviewers on CoffeeGeek.

So, on tap for today is changing the leaky trap under the kitchen sink, finishing the kitchen cabinet shelf project and putting things IN the cabinets, as well as putting books in the bookshelves. That should free up some floor space and allow me to get rid of a lot of boxes. The big mystery right now is what happened to the box containing the nice vintage set of Revere Ware set that I purchased off of eBay. I swear it was one of the first things that I packed and brought into the apartment, but it is nowhere to be found. Hopefully it will turn up, but I think it is GONE. If so, that is a bummer.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Life Imitates Art?

Rebooting this blog as I embark on a new chapter in my life...
I'm not a big movie buff, but I know what I like. I'm not your typical guy-slash-action movie buff. In fact, they bore me to tears. The best movie I've seen in 2014 was "Ida", a film from Poland that knocked my socks off with its acting, its story (slow reveal) and (most of all) its incredible cinematography. You could pause the frame at almost any point and have an incredible, classic, B&W image for your local art gallery. SUPERB. If you haven't seen it, "get thee to a nunnery". (I kill me.)

In any event, life imitates art: The film "Stranger Than Fiction" (for example) explains that a story (or a life) is either a comedy or a tragedy. The great Mel Brooks once allegedly said: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die". It all depends upon your perspective. Well my life might currently be defined as a tragedy by some: My youngest daughter was killed in a car accident 2-1/2 years ago. Her husband and 15 month old daughter were seriously injured. In the wake of that, my entire family imploded. Some would see this as a tragedy (and it is: my heart has been broken open WIDE). But life goes on (in this system of things, at least.) My daughter, Raven, is going to be blown away by what happened in the wake of her death when she "rises in the Last Day" (as understood/explained by the sister of Lazarus in the Bible at John 11:24).

Fast forward to where I am today: "Celebrating" my 35th anniversary to the only woman I have ever loved, by moving out of my home and to a crappy apartment in a town of 647 (now 648) people... 35 miles away. I'm doing it because the woman I love wants it and I'm the farm boy in The Princess Bride who can only say to his True Love, "As you wish".

This blog is being rebooted to serve as an online journal of this new chapter in my life. After living with a gourmet cook for the past 35 years, I'm set to learn a few things in the kitchen on my own. In addition to cooking, I'm interested in (among other things), photography, stormchasing, and astronomy (hopefully astrophotography soon). In addition, I have professional (job-related) interests including web design, graphic design, typography, screen printing, videography and video production. This blog may touch on many of those subjects. I'm also intensely interested in helping other people learn Bible truths.

I also plan on using this blog to stay in touch with my only granddaughter, Hazel, who is as precious to me as my own three daughters (as well as their loving husbands). I want them all to know how much I love them, despite my personal flaws and failings. I hope to be reunited with my loving family one day soon.

One of my favorite movies is Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums" (screenplay here. My oldest daughter recently said on Pinterest: "This is my family." And in many ways, I'm afraid that it is. My kids were, in many ways, geniuses. (and in many ways, they still are.) My oldest daughter, Jasmin, took cake decoration classes with a bunch of middle aged ladies when she was 13. She has organized multiple beautiful weddings (and wedding receptions). She currently manages the most incredible coffee shop between Omaha and Denver. My middle daughter, Rivkah, is an awesome artist (named a "Super Kid" by the local television station while she was still in Middle School), and now an awesome elementary teacher of Art to elementary students where she has First Graders understanding the color wheel and the difference between "objective" and "non-objective" art. My daugher Raven was, before her untimely death, two semesters away from being an awesome Special Education teacher. Even as a very young child she would express concern, when seeing a disabled person, by saying earnestly "Oh, I LOVE him." My wife, Rebecca, a J.R.R. Tolkien scholar and university professor, is well-portrayed as the mother character, played by Anjelica Huston. And I'm the Gene Hackman character (the Pater Familias) who actually takes it as as complement when his rival tells him that he views him, not as an "asshole", but as "more of a son-of-a-bitch".

But most of all, my family has endured a great tragedy, like the one in The Royal Tenanbaums, that has claimed the life of the wife of Chas Tenenbaum, the oldest Tenenbaum son. This tragedy has left its scars. Just like the divorce of Royal and Etheline left its scars on the children. But while parents may separate from each other (at least for a time) they should never separate from their children. Yet the children will understandably identify with the feelings of one parent over the other, and with daughters it is the understandable if it is the mother's feelings that they most strongly identify with.

But if anything rings true in The Royal Tenenbaums it is that the father's love for all of them endures. He wants them back. They are his True North. And he is secure in his knowledge that part of what made them great ("geniuses" in fact) was his contribution to their upbringing - regardless of how deprecated that may be in their minds at this moment in time.

As Royal Tenenbaum says in (what I believe is) a crucial scene from the movie:

ROYAL: "But you can’t raise [kids] to be scared of life. You got to brew some recklessness into them."
ETHELINE: "I think that’s terrible advice."
ROYAL:(pause) "No, you don’t."

And he's right, and she knows it (as shown by her tacit silence). Like it or not, kids, you would not be the exact same awesome people you are right now if you had been raised by "the love of your mother's life", instead of me. Whether you recognize that to be true, or not, I will always KNOW that it is true. I know I have failed you in many important respects. I know I have damaged you in others. But please know that I love you and your mother (and your husbands) more than anyone alive on this planet. And if I had to pay this price to do it all over again (mistakes, missteps, and all) that I would. But, with the knowledge that I possess today, I would do quite a number of things differently. Sadly, time does not give me the opportunity of a "do over". But I will do what I can from this day forward to try to earn your forgiveness (and God's). God's forgiveness is assured. My family's is not, but I pray that I can earn it, in time, and that they will strive to imitate Jesus' words when teaching the "Lord's Prayer": "...and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Please, dear children and dear wife... forgive me my debts. I miss you all, more than words can say.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pentax HippoCam/FotoDiox RhinoCam™ Advantages over "Normal" Stitched Panoramas

I was asked this question today on the Pentax Discuss Mailing List: "I'm curious what qualities you expect from this that you wouldn't get from a careful normal multi-exposure, perhaps with a panoramic head … perspective correction?" 

I thought it was a good question, and so here is my (fairly long) response. Feel free to correct any errors in my thinking 

In a nutshell it is the technological differences between starting with a spherical image vs a flat image, when the end result must be flat.
There are two sides to producing a panorama image: Taking & Making, so lets consider the differences on both sides.

On the Taking side, what you call "normal" panorama is rotating the camera around the center point of the tripod stalk (rotational panorama). To do it properly, you need to position the nodal point of the lens over that rotational point. If you simply rotate around the tripod hole on your camera body, you are going to have problems with objects that are closer to your camera. As you mentioned, it also helps to have a pano head. The HippoCam does not rotate, so there is no concern over finding the nodal point of a lens and no equipment needed to position that nodal point over the rotation point of your tripod. Instead the camera is traveling in a plane over the 6x7 image circle, with some overlap to allow the stitching.

Now think for a moment about the image quality that the sensor receives from a lens designed for the size of your sensor, vs a lens designed to cover a 6x7 negative size. In your "normal" method you are working with a lens that normally sacrifices some quality at the corners. So a "normal" panorama image has overlapping weak corners at each "seam" of the process. By using a larger format lens the weak corners aren't even being sampled. The APS-C sensor is sliding right across the middle of the 6x7 image circle. (One could also effectively minimize this doing "normal" rotational panoramas on an APS-C sensor by using 35mm "full frame" lenses in which your smaller sensor size is also eliminating the corners.)

That brings us to the making part. In the "normal" panorama process you have to do two things: stitch and then distortion correct. First let's talk about the stitch. Here's an example of a simple stitched image:

Two things:
As you know if you have ever produced a normal pano like this, you know that it wasn't rectangular like this. The original image was a bowtie shape. You had to crop off pixels to get to the USABLE rectilinear area. In short there is pixel "waste" or cost. You have in effect used a much smaller part of your sensor (especially vertically) than you started with.

Secondly, depending upon the focal length of the lens you used to take the individual pano frames, you know that there are often problems that creep in on parts of the image at the blends. These are called "stitching artifacts". These things can "give away" the fact that an impressive looking image was made up of segments. This is generally not critical for making web-resolution images, but if you want to make bigger wall sized prints from your images those things have to be dealt with in some way.

The HippoCam/Rhinocam™ stitching process is much easier technically because we are not stitching spherically, but only "flat stitching". It is a completely different process in Photoshop. In theory the pixels should PERFECTLY OVERLAP from one frame to the next (as opposed to an algorithm that must BLEND spherically distorted pixels in a pleasing way). No stitching artifacts are introduced into the process. And you throw away no pixels. Assuming the HippoCam is level, you should lose very few pixels vertically and get to use almost the full 23.7mm of sensor width in the vertical dimension.

Now, let's talk about the distortion correction phase: How do we magically go from this:
to this:

Think about it. Either the pixels on the extreme right and left had to stretch apart (did the software interpolate pixels to fill that space in a way that made sense?) OR ELSE the center had to shrink to match the outside edges - which means again "throwing away" pixel information (which equals a loss of resolution).

Anybody who has ever tried to up-size a jpeg knows that there is a cost of sharpness and resolution to do so. No algorithm can reproduce information it doesn't have. The best it can do is guess and the end result is something that is very clearly inferior to our eyes.

If you eliminate the need for distortion correction in the first place (as the HippoCam/RhinoCam method does) you eliminate the corresponding loss of resolution.

We haven't even talked about DOF issues when comparing a spherical image to a panorama made from taking images across a single flat image plane.

All of this is just theory talking however. We'll hopefully see if it works in practice and I can do some comparison shots both ways.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pentax HippoCam: Parts is Parts

Here is a sneak peak at the parts I'm using to build my (version 1) Pentax HippoCam, which is based on the Fotodiox RhinoCam™.

The main components are:
• Front plate (bears the Pentax 6x7 lens)
• Rear plate (bears the ground glass for composition and the PK mount for camera attachment
• A mechanism that allows for the sliding of the rear plate for positioning either the ground glass or the camera behind the image circle
• A material that prevents light leaks into the optical path
• The lens receptor mount taken from the Pentax 6x7 body
• The ground glass from the Pentax 6x7 body
• The prism from the Pentax 6x7 body
• A PK mount that will stand off the rear plate to hold the camera sensor at the proper flange to sensor distance.
• (not shown) A way to hold the ground glass and prism that will also stand off the rear plate to facilitate image composition
• (not shown) A way to mount the whole enchilada on a tripod

Wandering around my local Menards (home improvement store) with an eye to finding components, I spied these cool little bamboo breadboards. They are approximately 1/4" thick and strong because they are made up of bamboo strips that are tongue and grooved on the ends. In addition to strength to weight ratio, the bamboo is smooth and slick, and low friction is one of the things I'm looking for, since the back plate must slide back as the overlapping images are taken (and also to position the ground glass over the lens opening).

I decided that I would have the fewest alignment issues if I made the front plate and the back plate be in contact with each other (or nearly in contact).

The back plate will slide in the aluminum trim channel that was made for 1/4" plywood (which is dimensionally  a bit under 1/4"). This will be cut into two equal sections that will be mounted on the backside of the front plate. The rear plate will then slide into these channels from the side and be able to move horizontally.

I considered making a rabbet or dado in the backside of the front plate to accept the aluminum trim channel, but decided instead to simply bolt it on with no rabbet or dado. This means that there will be a gap between the front plate and the back plate that is equal to the with of the sidewall of the aluminum trim channel (approximately 2mm).

To fill that gap, I will be using a piece of black foam sheet that will be sandwiched between the front and rear plates. It will probably be affixed to the backside of the front plate (the non-moving part) with spray adhesive. These 12' x 18" foam sheets (called "Silly Winks Foam Sheets") were found at my local Hobby Lobby store and cost under $1 each. I bought two sheets, one 2mm thick and the other 3mm thick. The 3mm will need to be compressed a bit, but will be used if I can still get the backside plate to slide easily, since it will provide better sealing.

In the photo above, I've simply set the 6x7 ground glass and a m42/PK adapter in the approximate positions of where the real components will go. The PK mount will probably be made from a old PK 2x teleconverter. It will need to stand off of the back plate approximately 12mm to allow me to twist on the Pentax K-5 II (with its protruding prism and grip). The total flange to sensor distance must equal that of the original camera, which was 80mm.

The ground glass holder is a bit up in the air. I originally planned to use the original ground glass holder from the original camera, but this will require some serious sawing and machining of the piece. I may still do that (I work for a machine shop, although I'm not a machinist) or I may decide to design a simpler box that accomplishes the same purpose. The original Pentax 6x7 prism will be held in the holder by mechanical means, perhaps as low tech as a bit of elastic affixed to the back plane. The eyepiece will point upwards and composition can then be done without a dark cloth (as is necessary with the prism-less Fotodiox design.

Shown in the photo is my Super-Multi-Coated Takumar/6x7 200mm f4, however I plan to use this mostly with a Pentax 6x7 55mm f4, which should be arriving tomorrow.

Various "Flavors" of Panoramic Photography

Most of us are introduced to the concept of panoramic photography by taking a tripod-mounted camera and rotating the camera taking a series of images that overlap. Software, like Microsoft ICE or other "stitching" software, is then used to calculate a pleasing blend of the images, making use of the overlapped portions of each image. Depending upon a number of factors (including whether the nodal point of the lens was used as the rotational center or not, the focal length of the lens, the distance to the subject, and the proficiency of the stitching algorithm) errors may be found. This type of panoramic photography is called segmented photography (for the image stitching) and also rotational photography (for the fact that the lens must be pointed in a different direction for each segment's exposure. If you think about the film plane you will see that it is curved around the rotational point, but that each segment is made up of a flat image plane (the sensor or the film is not curved).

There is also a "flavor" of panoramic camera that make use of "short rotation". This is used in cameras such as the Widelux, the Noblex, and the Horizon. These cameras have a lens that rotates during the exposure around the camera's rear nodal point and use a curved film plane. Rotating lens cameras produce distortion of straight lines and also must have a limited selection of shutter speeds to work with.

Ignoring "full rotational" panoramic cameras that can do 360 degrees (or more) let's go straight to the "fixed lens panoramic". Examples of this are the Fuji G-617 and GX-617 (for 120/220 film), the Fuji TX-1 and TX-2, and the Hasselblad Xpan cameras (for 35mm). They create a wide aspect ratio image with a single fixed lens and a flat image plane.

The Fotodiox RhinoCam™ (and my Pentax HippoCam) fall into a whole new hybrid category. They are fixed lens designs that also use the segmented (stitched image) approach, but instead of rotating the camera to point the lens in a different direction for each segment, (introducing rotational distortions) these hybrid cameras make use of lens designed for a much larger format and slide the digital sensor across the flat image plane, taking a series of overlapping images that can then be stitched into a larger, rotational-distortion-FREE images. 

The secondary benefit of this approach (or maybe the primary benefit, depending upon your point of view) is that you are producing what could only be produced with a much larger (and expensive) digital sensor. Using my Pentax K-5 II as capture camera (a 16 megapixel sensor) and taking a series of 6 images across a 6x7 lens' image plane, the result should be an image in the neighborhood of 80-85 megapixels (image overlap means it is going to be less than 16x6 or 96 MP).

Light Fall-off & the Center Gradient Neutral Density Filter in the 90mm Fuji GX-617

Panoramic Photography, which produces panorama images, can be achieved in different ways. In general, panoramic photography is normally thought of as being wide angle photography (that is, with a field of view that is wider than what we perceive to be "normal" with our eyes). In addition, this effect is heightened by an image that is wider than the traditional 3:2 or 4:5 ratio of the image height to the image width. (This is speaking of a horizontally formatted panorama, which is the most common orientation - vertical panoramas are also possible.)

Taking a Fuji GX-617 for example. The widest lens available for this camera is a 90mm f5.6 SWD EBC

This lens was designed to cover a 5x7" negative and to do so in a camera that is capable of both swings and tilts. The diagonal of a 5x7 rectangle is 8.6". To allow those movements, it has to have an even larger-than-8.6" image circle. If we look up the specifications of this lens, we find that it has a 236mm image circle, which is a bit over 9.25".

Optical design is matter of choices and trade-offs. Large format lenses are concerned most with correcting for curvilinear distortion and lateral color. They achieve this at the cost of persistent light fall off. This means that more light is hitting the center of the image circle than the corners. With the 90mm GX-617, this affect is so pronounced that a special filter was required for film: a 2x neutral density center gradient. In effect, when you photographed with the lens set at f/11, the outside of the image circle was getting the full amount of light, while the very center portion was getting the light it would have received if the lens was set at f/16.

SLR wide angle lens design has to take into account a mirror that flips up and would strike the lens if it came too close to the film/image plane. For this reason, SLR lenses use a retrofocus design, which allows the exit pupil of (for example, a 6x7 lens with a focal length of 55mm) to be much farther away from the film plane than 55mm (where the reflex mirror would hit the back of the lens). A side benefit of the retrofocus design is that light fall-off is minimized (but not completely eliminated). You have never seen a center gradient neutral density filter needed for this reason on a 6x7 or 35mm SLR camera.

This is one factor that (I believe) makes designing a panorama camera around a 6x7 SLR lens is preferable to designing it around a large format camera lens. It is the main reason I chose to build the Pentax HippoCam around the Pentax SMC 6x7 55mm f4. (Pentax also made a 6x7 Takumar f3.5, which by all accounts seems to also be a very good lens, but it suffers from much greater weight and an almost impractically large filter size. (100mm filter size, meaning even a UV filter is going to cost you approximately $80. The f/4 design requires the much more common and affordable 77mm filter size.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Design Objectives for my Pentax HippoCam

A while back, I became enamoured with Fuji's wonderful panorama cameras made for 120/220 film, the G617 and the later GX617. I found a seller on Craigslist and almost decided to purchase it. Besides the film and processing costs, if I wanted to do any digital post-processing it would require buying a scanner capable of scanning the negatives. (A scanner like the wonderful Epson Perfection V600 Photo, which even comes with a 6x17cm negative holder).

I also considered a panorama film camera which produces a similar aspect ratio on 35mm film, the Hasselblad Xpan™ (and later Xpan II™) which in turn led me to the Fuji 35mm offerings the TX-1 and TX-2. Besides again requiring the expense of film and processing and scanning, they are also pricey.

I guess that's why I was intrigued when I saw the Fotodiox RhinoCam™. It seemed like a way to get the same results as those cameras, but straight to digital (although requiring image stitching).

Therefore, my design for the Pentax HippoCam (at least Version 1) is to allow me to take a 6x17 aspect ratio (or something close) directly onto digital. The Pentax K-5 family sensor has dimensions of 23.7mm x 15.7mm. That means that if I orient the camera vertically and take 6 exposures, with an overlap of 4mm on each image, then I should end up with a stitched image of approximately 23mm x 74mm (23mm x 65mm would be exactly the ratio of a 6x17 negative).

You'll notice that my 74mm is actually longer than the original length of the 6x7 negative (70mm long). Whether that will actually be achievable or not, remains to be seen: Even if the image circle extends far enough the image quality at the edges may suffer to an unusable degree.  

Next we will look at some of the pieces of this little puzzle (subject to change without notice).