Friday, September 19, 2008

Auto Switching Monitor Color Profiles

Recently I've tackled (and I believe conquered!) a problem that has been bothering me for quite some time. Here are some of the puzzle pieces:

My computer is a laptop - a Lenovo X60T - which I love with the exception of the screen. When I bought it I didn't realise there were different screen options otherwise I would have gone for the best one. As it is the screen is really fairly unusable for editing photos - it is too dim and if I increase the brightness everything goes overexposed. So, I use an external monitor for anything serious. 

I have one at work (viewsonic VA2026w) and one at home (Hannsg 19" standard). They are both fairly decent.

I have a friend who has a Huey Pantone monitor calibration device ( Actually he recently upgraded it to the Pro version, which made dealing with my problem a bit simpler than it was before, as you will see in time. To those of you who are not familiar with these kind of devices, they have been around for a long time but have never before been this affordable. Basically the device will output an icc profile of your monitor actually based on what it reads from the monitor. During the calibration process it sits on your screen and and reads various tones and shades of color in order to build a profile that will make your monitor really display, for instance, red when the photo file says "this area is red" - rather than some kind of "off red". It is really quite indispensable if you are going to be doing much editing. In the past I have always used Adobe Gamma for this.

But... I go from home to work and am on the road with no external monitor in between. Do I calibrate the screen each time I arrive? Do I manually switch icc profile each time (Display Properties>Settings>Advanced>Color Management)? Well yes, I have tried both of those.

Here's the solution: a combination of the Presentation Director utility (hereafter known as PD) (that comes pre-loaded on Lenovo laptops ( - I imagine other brands will have other equivalents) with the excellent "postcardware" utility xcalib (

The PD allows monitor profile switching. I press Fn-F7 and get a screen allowing me to choose which profile I want. For instance my home profile says, in basic: Extended desktop; external monitor is primary and to the right; 1280 x 1024 x 60Hz x 32bit; such and so background image; and lastly gives the option to run a program on profile switch. In my case I have chosen to run "hannsg.bat" - a simple batch file I wrote incase PD does not support command line options. The contents of the batch file is as follows:

xcalib hannsg.icc

Which is pretty simple. What I've done is make a folder called "auto color profiles" and put xcalib.exe there plus the icc profiles that Huey generates. With the Pro version you get to choose what you name each icc profile because it is designed to be used with multiple montors. A simple way to do this is open Display Properties>Settings>Advanced>Color Management, where you will see all the profiles Huey has made, and choose "Add". An explorer window will open showing all the icc profiles and from here it is easy to copy the ones you want (you'll have to wade through hundreds of generic ones to find the ones Huey made - so note the name of the one you want 1st) and then paste them into the "auto color profiles" folder you just created. Having the stuff in the same folder just means you don't have to worry about specifying the path for anything. To make things even easier you can rename the icc profile you want to something simple - like as above, "hannsg.icc". Less chars to type when making the batch file!

A batch file is really simple to make with notepad, or some other basic text editor. You can use wordpad but have to remember to "save as" "text document" which will remove all extraneous formatting. You can look up other things that batch files can do online but all this one does is run xcalib.exe and point it at the right icc file. Save as some simple name with a .bat at the end rather than .txt

At the end of the Huey calibration process you can choose whether or not you want the device to monitor room light and adjust the gamma accordingly. I don't know if this actually changes the .ICC files saved but I suspect it does and have therefore been choosing "no" which should give me a good default setting. The room light thing would be more consequential depending on how mcuh the light varies in your location. But without the device itself it is obviously of no use :)

With the non-pro version of Huey (cheaper) the work-around is to notice the name (huey makes one up automatically) of the default icc profile windows is using under "Color Management" and then hit the "Add" button, find that file name and copy it to your folder.

By the way, .ICM files are supposedly completely interchangeable with .ICC files.

At this point I've run the Huey tool on each monitor, including my laptop, and have copied the resultant icc file from each, and made a matching .bat file, and called that .bat file from the PD profile switcher. I switch profiles: resolution, background AND monitor calibration change to match.

It works like a charm. Or, for those unsuperstitious in our midst, a good deal better.

Of course over time you are supposed to re-calibrate your monitor. But I can borrow the tool again. And even when I own one I can't see myself taking it with me everywhere I go.

..To follow up, it is such a relief to plop the laptop down in the dock and have it switch profile automatically!

Here is the postcard I sent the author of xcalib:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I quit!

That is to say, I'm pretty much done with this blog for the time being. I thought I would wrap it up with a quick synopsis of why...

The main reason is that it takes too much time.

Right now photography is a hobby for me. I'm really into it but don't have much time to do much except take photos and look at them, evaluate, delete, send to people to whom they will mean something to etc.

As I became more into photography I started subscribing to people's blogs and reading a lot online. At this point I am noticing three factors are coming into play. 1) All this online reading takes a lot of time - more, if you want to add photos or text to what is going on. 2) I am pretty saturated with knowledge at this point and need to go out and do some of it. 3) I finally have my new lens, a Tamron 18-250mm DI II (which is a great lens if you are only going to own one for right now...) and am really enjoying using it (see point 2. ).

I'm changing my M.O. a bit also. Previously I was very self-conscious about my photos and wanted them to be the best they could be. Better, in fact. It is partly to do with this that I was shooting in RAW - though partly to learn about it. Ever photo had to be processed then. Well, if some of my kids grow up or I start this as a business then this will definitely be the way to go. Till then : jpg and sRGB here I come! Now my mistakes are pretty much irreversible - but I will learn more that way I suppose.

So... I have steadily been unsubscribing from all my blogs and trying to keep to minimal editing and tagging in Picasa which I have time for - just! So far I am liking the new program. If I do another wedding I will probably go back to RAW just for the occasion... Here's another thing though - RAW requires something like Lighroom with the (inestimable clarity slider) and that is another $300. Then there is photoshop... Well, using 8 bit images I can use something lesser than photoshop (photofiltre or GIMP) and for organisation of course Picasa rules.

Till next time - Jon Bailey.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summer is here

The funny thing is, a week ago it was not.

The first two photos are from 2-3 weeks ago. The last one, from this morning. A week ago the birch trees were finally in leaf - but the weather had still not made up its mind. These photos are all taken a bluff near my house.

First "Alaskan Crocus":

The Delta River in Spring: (I'll post a summer update for comparison; see archives for some shots during winter.)

And finally, summer is here! (When I first came to Alaska in Feb 2007, and watched the endless white turn to mud and grey brown grass, I was convinced that I would never see real green again...)

The lens saga continues. Sigma offered to charge me $160 to repair - I said no, thanks. They shipped it back and I will have to sell as-is on ebay. Meanwhile, here are a couple more pinhole photos - this time I used the black rosco cinefoil instead of silver so the quality is that much better.

It is amazing that with so little effort it works so well.

I have been super-busy recently, what with family visiting and a new job starting. Hence the lack of posts. This situation may not improve... But here are some photos from the new job site:

It is a WW2 era hangar, all wood construction. I find the roof to be fascinating! It is an awesome building.

And finally for today, one of my favorite photos from the family trip I just took. Crossing over the tracks this image caught my eye, and since I was alone in the car (blessed moment!) I pulled over and ran back for it. I am trying to get better at stopping for photos when I see them.

All photos today (less the pinhole ones, shot with a 20D) are courtesy of my trusty fujifilm F30.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who needs a lens anyway?

Yes, I did buy a Canon 20D recently. It had a few issues... Firstly, I noticed the viewfinder did not register focus no matter how I dialed the diopter adjustment. During a conversation with the seller (who was great to deal with despite the issues!) he mentioned swapping out a custom split-prism focusing screen for the standard Canon one in order to sell the camera - he had scratched the custom screen back when he installed it originally. Hmmm, I thought. What if it had not been re-installed correctly? Well, I dug up an install guide and in the process found out all about split prism focusing screens. Then I checked - sure enough the screen was clearly not seated properly. I took it out, and found that the little copper shim that spaces it out for good focus was pretty mangled. I did a bit of back and forth with the seller, who did offer to pay for a replacement part. In the end though what we agreed to is that he would send me the split prism screen ($75 to buy) which did not need the shim. I flattened the shim enough for use in the meantime with the help of some wondeful Knipex parallel jaw pliers. Then, to finish this part of the story, the split prism screen came in the mail and I installed it. Yes, it has a scratch - but I still prefer it to the standard screen. It is invaluable for manual focusing - which itself is invaluable sometimes.

The second "issue" was all the bad, out of focus photos I was taking. Thought it was something wrong with the actual camera at first but by looking over all my photos I found a pattern: images were extremely soft at anything below F6.3, and only pretty sharp by F8. This was especially marked at 35mm, the maximum zoom. The lens in question is a Sigma EX HSM DG 17-38mm - a pretty decent lens according to reviews. I never wanted it in the first place - it is a bit limited in zoom plus I wanted a lens designed for APS-C cameras to take advantage of the smaller size and lighter weight. The Tamron 18-50 F2.8 is really what I want, and later the Sigma 50-150mm F2.8 - but also some other things - I may be leaning towards a Sigma 18-200mm OS since one lens is all I will be able to afford for quite some time...
But this is really all an aside.

Back to the Sigma. I borrowed a friend's Rebel with kit lens and performed a series of tests swapping lenses to be totally sure that the problem was my Sigma 17-35. - Yes it was, most definitively.

I tried to open the lens and find an adjustment - but did not want to get into it very far because a) I didn't want to damage something I needed to sell in order to buy something else :) and b) the further you get into a lens for adjustments the more you have to replace each time you take a test shot. This gets very tiring....!
There was nowhere online where anyone had adjusted this lens - that I could find, anyway. I found what looked like a good screw to turn but it did not appear to do anything.

Finally, on looking it up, I saw the Sigma repair service center did offer free estimates so I have mailed it off to them to at least assess the damage!

And this is why you have the following images. Taken with a Canon pinhole camera! I was interested to read in one of CaptureOne's ads about someone who used one of their digital backs to make a (very expensive) pinhole camera. They went to quite some trouble to do it also - buying a special camera body etc. Well, I went to no trouble at all for these. I took a scrap of aluminum foil and blacked one side with magic marker. This did not work very well - and you can see the reflections quite clearly! I will next try some Roscoe cinefoil that I have - it is just the right stuff for this app. I taped the scrap of foil over the lens hole, taking care to keep the edges down to stop any light from entering - and pricked a hole in the center with a common pin.

As for the results - here they are! Most of these are taken using flash and at high iso because I was capturing a moving subject:) Maybe later I will try some more serious composing when I setup using the cinefoil.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hacking a Canon off-shoe flash cord part 5 (final)

This is an initial shot taken by my 20D at F8.0 (the lowest my lens will focus at right now :) ) - in manual mode with the shutter speed at 1/100s. The flash is held at point-blank range so any E-TTL mishaps should be disastrous. Seems like it worked, though! - This is of course my trusty fujifilm F30 camera that most of the photos are from on this blog...

Here is one taken at 1/1000 sec - I am using the high sync speed feature of this flash to achieve this. Aperture still at F8.0. This would certainly not work without E-TTL functioning!

But if there were any questions left, here's one taken at 1/8000 - my max shutter speed. Its interesting to see how the ambient light has totally dropped out in these last two photos :) and the subtle difference between the two as well.

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Hacking a Canon off-shoe flash cord part 4

Ok - here are the last photos of construction. I am having to blog these four at a time because I am using Picasa's "blog this" feature - for some reason the web interface is down on blogger and I can't sign in that way.

I was lucky to have the network jack fit so nicely. I had to cut the metal "frame" that used to clamp the cord (see previous post photos) in order to fit the jack, but after that and careful cutting out of the pen marked area the jack fit nicely and its inbuilt clips hold it in place when the cover is closed - no glue involved, though I had it ready :)

Other installation notes: I used a small jeweller's saw to make the cuts, but a coping saw or fretsaw or even a saw blade attachment on a dremel would work. Also notice in a previous post how I re-wound the wires (flash shoe end) around the little metal "choke" before punching them down on the network jack - this is important because it stops any spikes of HV electricity from travelling the wires.

You can see the wiring inside the camera module. I used a piece of network cord for the wires since the jack is made for that kind of wire anyway. I did use a "real" punchdown tool but you can buy a package of these jacks that has a little plastic punchdown tool in with them. I have also used a small screwdriver in the past but it is hard to do properly.

I tested the setup with a multimeter the first time - I plugged in a network cord and tested for continuity between the pins of the camera module to the flash shoe and also to see if there were shorts between any pins... had a bit of a heart palpitation as the blue wire (trigger) had no continuity... I checked my connections and found nothing wrong, then disassembled the flash shoe end to find a small component inline (see pic). I thought perhaps a diode to stop backfeed? At any rate then I felt secure enough to test on camera. Results follow in the next post...

The inside of the camera module finished

The inline component

The finished setup

Hacking a Canon off-shoe flash cord part 4

Here are a couple of assembled pics:

Flash shoe end, taped. I used linerless rubber splicing tape to wrap the cord/flash end because I like it better than plain electrician's tape.

Camera module
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Hacking a Canon off-shoe flash cord part 3

Wires re-wrapped around "choke" (flash shoe end)

Wires punched down (flash shoe end)

I sent the ground shield down two wires. 1stly the w/blue to be a pair with the blue (see previous post) and secondly just another free wire since there were two spare and the shield was too fat to fit in one punchdown space...
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Hacking a Canon off-shoe flash cord part 2

The thing to notice in this post, apart from the photos, is the way the copper shield is wrapped not only around the main bundle of wires but specifically around the red wire. This means a "delicate" signal is coming down that - either that or a really strong one that would interfere with signals on other wires. The twisting of the wires in an ethernet cord also works as shielding: it is important to route the red and ground shield together as a twisted pair though. I chose the blue-wh/blue pair.

The plastic shield (bottom right) kept the wires out of the locking assembly (silver bit). It is no longer needed and also in the way.

Marking where to cut

The shield - note the red wire
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Hacking a Canon off-shoe flash cord part 1

In this post and a follow-up I will show how I modified a Canon off-shoe flash cord to use a standard ethernet / network patch cord. Why? Well, the length of cord that the item had to begin with was really unusable except for handheld flash. See the first photo for this. I want to use my new 420EX flash more remotely than that. A quick look at the cord told me I had 6 wires to deal with and what could be more perfect than a network cord, given the general availability - and I can easily make custom lengths using crimp-on ends. Or I could even use a building's built in network... :) The connectors are nice also in that they have a latch and so won't pull out.

I found a couple of jacks and quickly saw that the project would work, given some careful hacking. See photos for more details.

The cord before (much) hacking took place

A record of which wires went where...

A network jack taken apart. (Note from afterwards - I didn';t have to take it aprt in order for it to fit. So I glued it back together...)

Showing everything taken apart more.
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Tuesday, April 15, 2008



It is supposed to be springtime here but continues cold with occasional snow. I've just finished processing the last of my wedding photos and so hopefully will have a bit more spare time! This does not necessarily follow though since I have started a new exercise regime that effectively knows about an hour off each day. Nice. Thought I should post a photo after so long though... In other news I have sold enough stuff to buy a camera - though my lens remains unobtained so far. It is not here yet but is in the mail. A 20D - part of me wished for a 40D but I would only have been able to afford the body - and you can't do much with that now, can you? :)

I am trying out Picasa's "blog this" button for this post. I like it except it is really slow and blanks out Picasa while the blogging is happening. Not good. But maybe better than the web page approach anyway.

I will hopefully post some wedding pics - want to get permission from the "models" first - showing the final results from my softbox quest.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Catching up

This is a cool looking staircase I found...

...and looking up...

The Tanana Bluff & Pipeline Bridge
1/850sec - F8.0 - iso100
...I love the sky on this one.

This is the newly finished back of my softbox, wires covered, painted black. As you can see, I have velcro all around the circumference so the reflector can detach easily.

And following, some more experimenting with the softbox:

hmmm. Almost looks like that backdrop needs an iron.

Any comments on these photos would be appreciated - I really need to know what direction to go with them!

1/180sec - F5.0 - iso200

Well, it has been a long time since I posted anything. So there were some of the more interesting images I've taken since then.

I am selling a few things on ebay, saving up for a DSLR, but this next wedding I am renting one from - a very nice site that I have used before and recommend.

I have been following the Strobist blog which is highly educational, and you will see some influence from there in the following!

I already blew my initial savings on a "starving student light kit" from bhphotovideo - notably light stand, umbrella mount, umbrella, sunpak 383 flash. This I am working on being able to use with my Fuji F30, which does not have a flash sync output.

The main issue with using an optical slave is the preflash which you cannot disable. I toyed seriously with the idea of adding a sync connector to the camera myself, and opened the case to attempt a circuit trace. I thought at first I had something but I had looked too hastily... The circuit board is actually a three layer one and everything is not only tiny but hard to trace because the center layer cannot be seen. I gave up - a combination of laziness and good sense taking over - and decided to use a circuit my dad (who does electronics for a living) forwarded to me, which basically counts flashes (phototransistor) and ignores the first. I had been going to use it in modified form to accept the sync signal from the camera since after all I wasn't going to be able to get rid of the preflash trigger.

I will post how this all works out. So far I have parts on the way to me in the mail...

As far as the wedding and renting goes... I went with a Rebel Xti so I could afford two decent lenses. These would be the Canon 17-55mm F2.8 and the Sigma 50-150mm F2.8. This is close to what I would like to purchase initially for lenses - I would substitute the Tamron 17-50 F2.8 for the Canon because it costs less than half as much and has great reviews. As the Sigma is cheaper than its Canon equiv. - borrowlenses just didn't have the Tamron or I would have gotten it to try it out. The 50-150 becomes close to a 70-200 on a 1.6 crop factor SLR and is a good bit less hefty being designed for the EF-S cameras (as is the other lens).

The sunpak 383 will work on the rebel - but not E-TTL. The flash itself has some sort of auto mode but I really got it to use in manual anyway. I will have a few days to experiment before the wedding as the rental is for a week.