Sunday, February 19, 2017

Warm Weather & Recalibration - 19 Feb 2017

Temps have risen to 60F these past two days, and everyone's out, including me. The Tufted Titmice, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches and Northern Cardinals are singing the herald of a spring that is still a few weeks away. Its giving me a chance to put the scope on the deck and do a camera / lens realignment.  I also placed a rubber band around the Sigma 28mm f/2.8 lens* so that I can focus the tiny amount of lens that is protruding from the Digidapter™. It seems to be giving me a few sharper images.

* The Sony a6300 allows for high-magnification focusing, so when I rotate the lens on the Sigma 28mm f/2.8 the view is magnified 10X. This allows for precise focusing prior to pressing the shutter. I've found w/ previous Sony cameras that the Autofocus is good, but not great at capturing precise focus. Even w/ the focus highlighting option the autofocus is not quite precise. See my previous post.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mountain Bluebird! - 12 Dec 2016

A Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) was found at the tip of the Harvey Ensign DNR Boat Launch in Harrison Twp., Macomb County, MI two days ago. With yesterday's snow storm bringing almost a foot of snow I was worried that the bird would not be refound. But, several sightings were made during the storm, and another several this morning, so I grabbed the gear and drove the 50 minutes trip to look for the bird.

I arrived at 2 pm and found conditions less than optimal for photography; dark skies, winds blowing, and temperatures below freezing. I hiked the trail to the tip of the peninsula and did not see anyone around, so I worried that perhaps the bird had flown and everyone had left. But, near the Lighthouse the Mountain Bluebird was perched in a low branch next to the trail!

I digiscoped it for several minutes and managed to get some nice images of its wingspread.

It then flew toward the several of us and landed in a grape vine tangle just a few feet in front of us. After swallowing a few grapes it hopped up on the vines and provided some nice portrait shots.

It then flew to a tree next to us before continuing on toward the shoreline where it foraged along the rocks. I managed a few more pics before it flew back toward the tip.

What a great state rarity to start the end of year vacation!

First Snowfall of Winter 2016-17 - 11 Dec 2016

And what a snow it is! Forecasts call for 6-10" of snow here in SE Michigan, and the birds are reacting accordingly! I've filled the feeders 2X today, shoveled under the feeders twice, and threw out sunflowers and chopped peanuts 3X. But its worth it. At 9 am I surveyed the following:

20 Brown-headed Cowbirds
30 Dark-eyed Juncos (I had 70 juncos at 4:30 pm)
10 Northern Cardinals
5 Blue Jays (up to 10 at one time)
10 American Robins (as many as 15 seen in a single flock moving through the area)
30 House Sparrows
10 House Finches
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 American Tree Sparrows
3 Mourning Doves
3 European Starlings (several flocks of 500+ birds flew over the house at 10 am)
6 American Goldfinch
* - all photos taken through the back window...

Hopefully, the weather will clear overnight. A Mountain Bluebird was reported yesterday (and today) at the DNR office just north of Lake St. Clair Metropark in Macomb County! I'm hoping to chase it tomorrow.

Mac Upgrade! - 30 Nov 2016

Processing images and video on a slow computer can be maddeningly frustrating. There is nothing worse than having keystroke fingers that are faster than moving electrons, or watching that damn spinning wheel of death while the computer decides what its trying to do: importing photos, processing images, or just accessing menus. I had had enough, so when an advertising popped up for "speeding up your Mac Pro" I went to the OWC MacSales website and started perusing their memory and processor upgrades.

I currently own a Mac Pro 5.1 (mid 2010) that has a dual Quad-core processor (2 x 2.40 GHz Quad-Core) and 6 GB RAM (1066MHz DDR3). Its a wonderful computer, but now running MacOS Sierra (Ver 10.12.1) it is frustratingly slow when I'm trying to run Lightroom and Photoshop CS.  Some current stats:

From complete Shut-Down to Log-in Screen: 1' 04"
From Log-in Screen to Screen: 8"
Lightroom Start-up: 1'20"
PS CS Start-up: 48"

I then tried a Lightroom import test. I took 50 images from my Sony a6300 (25.7 MB per image) and used my ScanDisk SD Card Reader to read the files from a ScanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB (95 MB/s) card into Lightroom. I have Lightroom to automatically Build Smart Previews, so the following times were measured:

50 image Import (Copy only) in Lightroom: 1'07" + SmartPreviewBuild: 1'48" = 2'55" Total

if I include Copy to DNG (from the AWR RAW file format of the Sony a6300) then the times are:

50 image Import (Copy to DNG): 1'03"
Convert to DNG + SmartPreviewBuild: 4'39"
Total: 5'43"

The Sony a6300 has the ability to capture 4K video. My Mac Pro does not have the ability to play the videos in Lightroom smoothly. PS CS cannot play the videos, either. So, I currently forward the videos 1 frame at a time in order to find screen shots that might give me clean, sharp image of my subject (see previous blog).

So, the website had an advert from OWC (Otherworld Computing) for their Mercury Accelsior E2 PCI Express SSD. Add to cart. I also decided to upgrade my memory from 6 GB to 64 GB. Add to cart. Proceed to Checkout. With both purchases made, it was now time to wait and see what Santa will bring for this little lap dance...

In the meantime, I downloaded a freeware program called Carbon Copy Clone that would allow me to clone my hard drive to an external 3TB Passport Drive. Installation was straightforward, and all you have to do is select "Trial Version", select Source (Hard Drive) and Destination (Passport Drive) and click "Run". It took about 2.5 hrs to transfer 277 GB and create an exact copy of my hard drive, which I'll now save as a Recovery Drive.

3 Days later, a package arrived and I proceeded to make upgrades. I first shut down the Mac and removed the side cover. I removed the memory card bay and quickly inserted the eight 8 GB memory chips. I then powered up the computer and quickly saw that I now had 64 GB memory! Easy-peasy.

I shut down the computer and then inserted the Mercury Accelsior E2 SSD in one of the PCI slots. When I powered up the computer, however, I got an ominous message indicating that the computer did not recognize the drive and asked if I wanted to "Initialize" it. I said "Yes" and immediately went to Disk Utilities. The computer could not Erase the drive, or initialize it, because it only saw 33Kb memory installed (its supposed to have 960 GB). A call to the OWC Support site resulted in bad news; the card is no good. Bummer. I was given an RMA number and a promise that a new card was on its way.

3 Days later, the replacement SSD arrived, and within minutes it was installed and Initialized. I rebooted the computer and held down the [Option] key so that I could select it as the Boot drive.
I then used Carbon Copy to clone the old Hard Drive over to the new SSD. I then went into System Preferences and selected Startup Disk and selected the SSD as the Primary Boot Disk. Restarted the computer. The difference was IMMEDIATE!

Boot up: 10 seconds (versus 1'04")
From Log-in Screen to loaded screen: 2 seconds
Lightroom Start-up: 9" (versus 1'20")
PS CS Start-up: 6" (versus 48")


I then tried the Lightroom Import test. Curiously, there was NO improvement. Import and conversion times were identical to earlier tests - I could only guess that the read/write speed was due to the USB card reader and not the computer.

So, when I tried the import from the hard-drive, Import speed was 6" (from 1'03")! But, conversion times were identical to earlier tests! ???? Not sure, why. But, Lightroom runs smooth and fast; I can review files instantly, instead of waiting 5-10" for an image to load.

And, I can now play 4K videos cleanly and seamlessly! Photoshop CS has yet to crash on me because of loss of RAM. Today, I opened 30 image files and Photo-merged them to form a super-panorama; it only took 4 minutes (versus 25' in the past)!

Thank you Santa! And thank you, OWC! The Mercury Accelsior E2 PCI Express SSD is an absolute must for anyone wanting to modernize their older Mac Pro computers. That, and a memory upgrade will give you a 2010 Power Mac that is as powerful as a 2016 Power Mac.


Super Moon! - 13 Nov 2016

The moon was so close to the Earth tonight that the tide went out in the bathtub!

Fox Sparrow! - 11 Nov 2016

A Fox Sparrow made an appearance in the back yard this afternoon. Digiscoped from inside the house.

White-breasted Nuthatch - 02 Nov 2016

Pleasant surprise in the yard this afternoon! White-breasted Nuthatch.