Ingenious 1970′s Technology: The Flip Flash

FlipFlash 5

Once upon a time, cameras did not come with LED illumination or even xenon strobes, but rather with a socket that could fire a one-time-use flashbulb.

An advance from this was the “flip flash” cartridge which held 8 or 10 flash bulbs, ganged up so that you could take one photo after another, without pausing to swap bulbs. Each time that you took a picture (exposing actual film!), the next flashbulb in the cartridge would fire.

But you might ask a tricky question here: How does it know which bulb to fire next?

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Visualizing image stabilization

EclipseLast month I went outside at 3 AM to photograph the eclipse. But I ended up having a hard time getting a good picture of the moon. The pictures were turning out unreasonably blurry– much more than I’d expect from just the moon’s apparent motion during the exposure time. The problem turned out to be the “IS” in my Canon S3 IS– the image stabilization– which apparently needs to be turned off for this sort of thing.

But why? Isn’t image stabilization supposed to take out blur?

Pointing elsewhere in the sky, you can sometimes (depending where you live) see small point-like sources of lights that can provide a useful tool for figuring out what the bleep your camera is actually doing. In the land of moderate light pollution one thing that we can see through our electronic viewfinder is the Pleiades star cluster, so let’s point our lens at that. The parameters for the two photographs below are identical, except that they were taken with image stabilization off and on, respectively: 15 second exposure, aperture wide open, zoomed in like crazy.
No IS.jpg
IS.jpg
In the top photo the stars each look like clean, easily distinguished stripes.

(In order to reduce vibration due to the button press, these two pictures were taken with a timer delay of a few seconds. However, there is still a small, squiggly tail at the base of each star track, presumably due to residual vibration of the tripod.)

In the lower photo, with image stabilization turned on, you can really see a significant difference. The initial squiggly tail at the lower left of each star track is still present, but is now smaller– thanks to the IS no doubt. Otherwise, the shape of the tracks is quite different. Let’s zoom in:

At the lower left is the initial squiggle from the tripod. In the middle is a large almost triangular structure where the star light was initially steered to. Then, there is an additional, wandering shape starting towards the upper right that bends down the right side.The net effect is that the trail of the star is not reduced to a point– just bent around into a loop.

Conclusion? It looks as though the image stabilization works well for short times– maybe up to a second– but lacks accuracy for longer exposures. And *that* is why you might want the IS off to take a clean picture of the moon.

Update: From what I can see online, there’s no image processing component to the image stabilization process– it’s based solely on sensing acceleration of the camera. Possible answer: Could the slow wandering of the image result from noise in the accelerometer signal?

 

Lampshade Light Tent

vertical light tent setup
Jellybean inspects the lampshadeHere’s a cheap and easy way to deal with getting rid of pesky reflections, shadows and backgrounds in your small object photography: use a lampshade for a light tent.

This $6 lampshade from IKEA is white, nearly cylindrical, and has an adjustable (removable) mounting bracket, all of which make it easily adaptable to this purpose.

Scale disclaimer: objects in this photo are larger than they appear – the cat is unreasonably large.
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Organizing a collection using flickr

The collection, all together

Flickr is a great tool for organizing a collection. You can upload your photos and apply titles, tags and descriptions, which is a sneaky way of cramming a lot of indexed data into an invisible database. (You probably do that already, so why not reap the benefits?) The great thing about it is that you can use the indexing metadata to easily search and sort your collection by a variety of criteria. Naturally, because it’s flickr, you can also share information about your collection as well as visually share the collection itself.

An example is my super ball collection, twenty years in the making, containing 325 items (not including jacks) which I photographed and organized using flickr.

Below is an 18 x 18 mosaic of 324 pictures of the items in my collection of super balls (and closely related objects), ranging from the size of a kumquat to the size of a pomelo. Read on to learn about some of the tricks and tools (such as making mosaics) that you can use for your collections.

All my superballs in one mosaic
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