If you have a personal checking account, you can have your own photographs printed as custom backgrounds on your checks.
While some of my bills are payed automatically, either through my bank or credit card, I do still write checks for some things. Upon discovering that I only had one blank check remaining, I was about to order more through regular channels, but the price seemed a bit high. Searcing on-line, I found that other providers will print blank checks for far less money and you can order checks direct through their web sites.
Some companies allow you to upload your own photographs to be printed as the background image on your checks. Caution – some of those providers do not include security features, such as microprinting of the signature line. I found two providers that offer custom photo checks with security features, then researched them on-line to find positive/negative reviews. I selected one of these providers and then searched on-line for freely available discount codes. I found a discount code that saved me $3 per box of checks.
The photo I selected from my own catalog is shown here, an image of the Boston skyline.
Unfortunately, no guidelines were given how to size my photo appropriately. The web site did list specific file types that were acceptable and a maximum file size of 5MB.
Measure the height and width of your old checks. Then re-size your digital image accordingly. Personal checks (in the USA) are typically 6″ x 2.75″. I re-sized my photograph to slightly larger than 6″, thinking that the images are typically over-printed and then the paper is cut to a slightly reduced size. Set the print resolution to 300 dpi. Save the file as JPEG. Upload this file when the check-ordering web site prompts you to do so.
Choose a brighter image rather than a darker image. Text that is printed on the check will be difficult to see if the background image is too dark. The web site should show you a preview of the check with your photo and text. Upon seeing my check preview, I deleted the photo (the original shown here in this post), edited the photo to make it lighter, then uploaded the modified version.
To lighten a photo, raise the black point, which causes black to be rendered as grey instead of black. For example, in Photoshop, use either curves or levels. In Lightroom, in the Develop Module, use the Tone Curve. Simply drag the left-most point of the curve upward until it looks right to you.
Yoshino Cherry trees encircle the tidal basin at Washington D.C.
This week, I was thinking that the trees may bloom very early this year, particularly as a friend in N.Carolina reported that dafodils bloomed early, in mid-February.
Today, looking on-line at cherryblossomwatch.com
I see that the D.C. air temp through January and February this year has been warmer than the past six years.
As spring arrived particularly early in 2012, the Yoshino Cherry trees around the tidal basin bloomed early and disappeared BEFORE the opening of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Thankfully, I achieved a bit of photography the day before a spring storm blew away all the Yoshino flowers.
Historic first cherry bloom in D.C.
•2016: March 25
•2015: April 10
•2014: April 10
•2013: April 9
•2012: March 20
•2011: March 29
•2010: March 31
•2009: April 1
If you are a photographer or videographer and you are interested in the Mavic Pro drone primarily as a flying camera, then this article is for you. This is a run-down of camera controls and options, without discussing flight controls.
Documentation included with the Mavic Pro is minimal and help for the DJI Go app is non-existent.
First of all, let’s point out the obvious. The Mavic Pro has unmatched portability; it folds to a size that can fit in a large coat pocket. The gimbal that stabilizes the camera is probably the smallest in the world.
This drone can be flown using using the hand-held controller alone, or in conjunction wtih a smart-phone and the DJI Go app. You do need the Go app for access to numerous configurable options, but after configuring what you need, it is possible to fly with just the controller and no app. During flight, the Go app gives you a live video feed and camera exposure information, but you may not need to interact with the app except maybe to set the focus.
Not all available features shown here. These are just some features I wish to point out.
The Remote Controller
The hand-held controller includes quite a few camera controls, independent of any smartphone app.
Photo trigger (shutter button)
Start/stop video recording
Custom button left (e.g. center focus)
Custom button right (e.g. AE lock)
5D button – up, down, left, right each has a different meaning that is configurable.
(For example, zoom in/out. It is a 2x digital zoom; there is no optical zoom.)
DJI GO app
The app shows real-time video and provides in-flight camera exposure information.
Real-time image view
Current exposure compensation setting (1/3 ev increments)
Over-exposure zebra stripes during video recording
Camera: ISO, shutter speed, white balance, remaining SD card number of photos
Video: resolution, FPS, remaining SD card recording time
The app provides extensive camera configuration options.
The app alerts you if a firmware update is available. The update can be applied with a simple touch; the download comes via your wi-fi, through the phone, down to the drone. The time to complete the upgrade was more than ten minutes and consumed about 18% of the drone battery charge.
Compare JPEG to RAW
For photos, you can shoot RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG. Of course, I recommend either RAW or RAW+JPEG.
I shot the photo above (Bearskin Neck, Rockport MA) recently with the Mavic Pro set to record both JPEG and RAW. The second photo is a 200% crop from the center, comparing the original JPEG to the RAW file processed as I normally would in Adobe Lightroom. Overall, the JPEG is good. I think it is a bit green, looking at the short stone wall. Signs on the buildings are not legible in either case, but the JPEG is slightly worse than RAW.
With only a half dozen flights thus far, I have observed a couple specific image quality problems. For still photos, the very small image sensor is no match for a larger DSLR or MFT camera. I have read that the image sensor is Sony Exmore (wikipedia.org/wiki/Exmor), but I cannot confirm that. The maximum resolution is a respectable 12 megapixels, in 4×3 aspect ratio (4000×3000). You can choose to capture 16×9 ratio, but that is a crop down to 9 megapixels (I personally tested that just now; that’s real, not a guess.).
Photos can exhibit some amount of digital image noise at just about any ISO. Images shot during the low-light of dusk, around ISO 1600, exhibit a high amount of chroma noise. Samples are shown here below. For stills, Adobe Lightroom has the best noise reduction I know. While the JPEG processing in the Mavic does a reasonably good job of smoothing large areas, there is loss of detail inside the bridge. The Topaz Denoise plugin for Adobe is similar. Processing via Lighroom’s built-in noise reduction allows better control and retains better detail inside the bridge.
In good light, the video quality is probably on par with a GoPro Hero 3 or 4. Moire problems may occur when scenery includes detailed patterns, but I have not tested this with different capture resolutions. As with still photos, low light and high ISO exhibits a high amount of chroma noise. A product called Neat Video can do a good job of mitigating noise.
The video clip of the snowy mill (at the beginning of this article) was captured at 1080 without a problem. However, on a separate shoot, I did see a problem. Several people contributing to on-line forums have reported that 1080 does have problems, including a “pastel effect” which seems an apt description of the problem I saw. People experiencing problems at 1080 also report that the problem does not occur at higher 2.7K or 4K resolution. I have switched to shooting 2.7K and subsequently downsample to 1080 in post processing. However, the higher resolution does not support a frame rate faster than 30 fps; and downsampling does require additional compute time.
For video, I’ve been shooting the “None” color profile, modified with sharpness set to -1. Some pros are recommending two of the color profiles, DLOG (very flat) and ART (not as flat). Alternatively, some people have suggested color profile D-Cinelike and then customized to -2, -1, -1 (sharpness, contrast, saturation). All those suggestions create an intentionally flat result that necessitates some post-processing.
A clear plastic dome can optionally be used to protect the camera. Very first time I captured video with the Mavic Pro, I could see glare due to the plastic dome. Since then, I never fly with the dome attached. Potentially, I might use it if there some risk of water or dust in the air, for example, flying near a waterfall.
Each time you fly, here’s the basic pre-flight steps:
1) Unfold the propeller arms and propellers
(Obviously, attach any propellers that you detached for transport/storage.)
2) Remove the camera gimbal clip
3) Optionally, connect your smart-phone to the hand-held controller
4) Turn on the controller and start the DJI Go app
5) Turn the antennae upwards, which is typically a 45-degree angle
6) Turn on the drone
7) To connect your phone with the drone, touch the “Camera” button on the DJI Go app
8) Check the aircraft status information, including available battery charge
9) If this is a different location than previous flight, calibrate the compass
10) Obviously, check your environment for obstacles or hazzards.
Make sure you are not in restricted airspace.
DJI includes a plastic clip to secure the camera gimbal when not in use. Always remove this clip BEFORE turning on the drone. If you fail to do so, the app warns of gimbal overload.
Initially, the Go app will display the “Aircraft Status”. Tap the “X” to close this display.
The DVD-R standard (pronounced: DVD dash R) pre-dates DVD+R (pronounced: DVD plus R). Today, most DVD players can read both. A DVD burner may be specific to one or the other. Use discs that are compatible with your burner.
DVD+R has a few technical advantages; notably, DVD+R supports both single layer discs and dual layer discs.
DVD-R discs are typically the least expensive.
What about DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM ?
Rewritable discs (RW) can be erased and re-written. These discs contain a phase-change metal alloy. R formats utilize an organic dye (non metalic); once it has been written, it cannot be erased.
RW discs typically take more time to write/burn. DVD-RW or DVD+RW discs are commonly rated either 2x or 4x speed, while DVD-R discs are commonly 16x.
DVD-RAM discs are relatively uncommon or obsolete. DVD-RAM is typically not compatible with the DVD player attached to your television.
What is 2x, 4x, 8x, etc. ?
This indicates the speed at which the disc can be written.
Time to write an entire single-layer disc
2x = 30 min
4× = 15 min
8× = 8 min
16× = 5.75 min
What is dual layer ?
Dual layer discs have an embedded second layer, so have twice the storage capacity of single-layer. Some DVD burners can write both single-layer discs and dual-layer discs. A standard DVD player attached to your television likely does support dual-layer, unless it is a particularly old machine. Many Hollywood movie DVDs are actually on dual-layer discs.
Which should I use for compatibility with most DVD players ?
Most DVD players can read any R or RW disc. The following list begins with the highest compatibility.
(1) DVD-R should be compatible with 95% of all DVD players.
(2) DVD+R should be compatible with 85% of all DVD players.
Once again, DVD-R is typically the least expensive.
What about Blu-Ray ?
While Blu-Ray discs are the same physical size (as DVDs), Blu-Ray is higher density (more storage capacity), and capable of much higher data rates. For HD 720p or HD 1080 video, you need Blu-Ray.
DVD players cannot play Blu-Ray discs. Many Blu-Ray disc players can play both Blu-Ray and DVDs, but this is not universally true.
Which disc should I use to save computer files ?
For use on a single computer, you can use any disc that it can write. For sharing with other computers, single-sided single layer discs are the most compatible.
4.7GB – single sided, single layer DVD
9.4GB – double sided, single layer DVD
8.5GB – single sided, dual layer DVD
17.1GB – double sided, dual layer DVD
25GB – single layer Blu-Ray disc (BD)
50GB – dual layer Blu-Ray disc (BD)
I want a custom image on the top of the disc; How do I do that ?
There are three methods.
Inkjet printable disc label
Adhesive disc labels are generally frowned upon. Adding a label can cause problems for some DVD players. If you do apply a label, always use a donut-style round label and be very careful to insure the label is centered on the disc. An off-center label can cause a disc to wobble at high speed.
Inkjet printable disc
Most printable discs are plain white on the top surface. Some inkjet printers include the ability to print on discs. Alternatively, specialized disc printers are capable of printing many copies very quickly.
If the blank printable area extends almost to the center of the disc, this is referred to as “hub printable”. On a regular printable disk (not hub printable), the printable area stops about 3/4-inch from the center hole.
A LightScribe disc includes a reactive dye (in the top surface) that allows imprinting using a LiteScribe-capable DVD burner. In my experience, the print always fades, even to the point of disappearing.
Lightscribe has apparently been discontinued; both discs and burners are increasingly difficult to find.
When saving video for a disc, what video bitrate should I use ?
The ability of a DVD player to sustain playback at a given bitrate is highly variable from across different models.
You can choose variable bitrate (VBR) or constant bitrate (CBR). If you use VBR, then the average bitrate should be comparable to CBR. Here are very vague guidelines.
Many digital photography cameras have included the ability to record high-definition video, beginning with the Nikon D90 in 2008. The Canon 5D mk II (2009) was the first DSLR to be widely employed in film and television. Because video recording is usually accompanied by audio recording, these cameras necessarily include a microphone. But depending upon your own need for high-quality audio, the in-camera microphone can be a poor choice for professional quality.
(For a larger view, click on the photo here.)
Film and television production typically record audio on dedicated audio recording equipment, rather than relying upon the video camera to record audio. The separate video and audio recordings are brought together in post-processing. However, in-camera audio recording is practical for one-person or two-person teams recording video at events or for ENG (electronic news gathering).
Broadly speaking, you have two choices: a “video mic” or a general-purpose microphone with a pre-amp. “Video microphones” include some small amount of amplification such that they connect directly to your camera, for example a DSLR, with no additional equipment required. This is a simple compact solution. Video mics are available from Rode, Sennheiser, and Sure.
Alternatively, if you employ an audio pre-amp, then you can use any microphones you want and can use different microphones in different situations. However, this adds another piece of equipment, making the total solution more bulky.
The photo here shows a general-purpose shotgun microphone, connected to a mixer/pre-amp, connected to a DSLR camera (Rode NTG2, Azden FMX-DSLR, Canon 7D mk II). The shotgun is mounted in a shock-absorbing mount that isolates the microphone from any camera noises, including operation of controls, auto-focus motor, or accidental knocking around.
Comparing this setup to the built-in camera microphone, there are four big differences. The external is directional, rejecting off-axis sounds, whereas the camera built-in mic is unidirectional, picking up sounds even from behind the camera operator. The external mic is cleaner, producing less unwanted background noise. And the external mic generally does not record camera noises, because it is mechanically isolated away from the camera. Lastly, as you can see in the photo, this is far more bulk than just the camera alone.
Power for the NTG-2 can be provided either by the FMX preamp or by an optional AA battery within the NTG-2. I have tested both setups and find no difference in audio quality. Either way is far better than the camera’s built-in microphone, particularly in situations where the audio source is quiet and requires significant gain.
You may be able to connect an external microphone directly into your camera without use of a pre-amp. Not all microphones require a pre-amp, but it is typically required for condenser microphones. Although I had partial success with this technique on a different camera, the combination of NTG-2 with Canon 7D mk II requires a pre-amp. In this specific case, I configure the camera internal gain setting to 25% and then use the adjustment knobs on the FMX. Alternatively, you can enable camera automatic gain; in this case, be sure to inform the pre-amp using the switch for this purpose.
Here is a short list of some popular audio pre-amps: Azden FMX-DSLR, Beachtek DXA, JuicedLink RM222, JuicedLink RA333, Sound Devices MixPre D.
Have you ever formatted a memory card and then realized that there were images on that card you needed? That’s exactly what I did recently on a video shoot. Acting as a one-man video and audio crew, I was rather hurried and hastily formatted the card that was already in the camera. Big mistake, but I realized my error immediately.
Vaguely, I thought there was a possibility of recovering data from the card IF I did not over-write the files with new images. So I immediately removed the card and replaced it, hoping that the data on the formatted card might still be in tact.
The trick here is knowing that most formatting is a “quick format” that doesn’t erase the entire card, but simply erases the index that locates files on the card. Special computer software can scan the memory card for files, even though the index has been trashed.
As I had never needed recovery software before, I research on-line to see what was available. To avoid a virus or spyware into my computer, I considered only applications that were recommended by reputable sources (such as PC Magazine or Tom’s Hardware Guide). The software I used is called Recuva and it did successfully dig up the lost files from the formatted card. While a few of the images were corrupted, the important images I needed were all just fine.
At 4:30am, I hiked out to the coastal headlands and arrived at White Head shortly before sunrise. Although the weather was hazy, the pre-dawn light in the sky was interesting and beautiful. As the sun rose to the horizon, the colors begain to fade and I believed the show was over, so abandoned my perch atop the cliff, 160 feet above the sea, and hiked north along the coast.
Fifteen minutes later, I spied this oddly shaped tree atop an exposed cliff and made the image shown here, a silhouette against a grey sky.
Balsam Fir silhouette
The hike to the north had brought me down to sea level and the cliffs now loomed above me. Unexpectedly, just to the left of the tree, the sun was beginning to rise behind the cliff. The show wasn’t over yet. The time was almost 6 a.m.
Scrambling along the coastal rocks, I positioned myself such that the tree was in front of the rising sun. The second shot here is 15 minutes after the grey-sky shot. Then, the final image is an additional 5 minutes later, about 6:20 a.m.
Let’s clear the air. Is the DSLR dead? And what exactly is a DSLR anyway?
Ten years ago, most people assumed that DSLR meant “really good camera”. (Some folks still believe this.) Over the past three years, numerous commentators have pronounced that mirrorless cameras have killed the DSLR. Both these sentiments are a mix of truth and falsehood.
First of all, DSLR means Digital + SLR. It is the digital successor to SLR film cameras. If we all agree that we’re talking about digital cameras, then the “D” is superfluous.
SLR (DSLR) = single lens + reflex mirror.
These cameras have two distinguishing characteristics. “SL” means single lens. “R” means reflex mirror. An SLR allows the photographer to optically see through the exact same lens that the camera uses to capture images; it does this using a mirror to redirect the light. In general, the mirror must be moved out of the light path when capturing an image; that’s why it is called reflex. (There are some exceptions; E.g. Canon EOS RT, circa.1990.)
System camera = camera with interchangeable components.
The most common system feature is choice of interchangeable lenses. Second most common system feature is a “hot shoe” for external strobes and other accessories. While interchangeable lenses implies “system”, the reverse is not entirely true; some camera systems do not include interchangeable lenses. Some camera systems offer lens accessories to make the built-in lens more telephoto or more wide-angle; for example: Olympus C5060 (2003), Fuji X100 (2015).
Compact system camera.
A system camera that is smaller than a typical DSLR. As mirrorless cameras are commonly half the size of a typical DSLR, mirrorless + system camera is often referred to as a Compact System Camera.
Mirrorless cameras eliminate the mirror found in SLR designs. There are two practical implications: the camera is smaller than comparable SLR and it lacks an optical viewfinder.
The term mirrorless camera generally implies a digital camera; however, I must point out that many older film-based cameras do not have a reflex mirror. View camera, twin lens, and rangefinder are all examples of mirrorless camera designs.
To see through the camera, you place the camera near your eye. There are three types of eye-level viewfinder. (1) Optical viewfinder, typical of a DSLR / SLR; (2) rangefinder (or possibly a twin-lens camera) which employs a second lens, separate from the lens used by the camera to capture the image; (3) electronic viewfinder which displays the image using a tiny digital display within the viewfinder. The first two are “optical” and require no electrical power, while an electronic viewfinder relies upon electronics.
Alternatively, a large display panel can substitute for an eye-level viewfinder. For example, a camera phone does not include an eye-level finder. But if you’ve ever struggled to use such a camera in bright sunlight, you may appreciate that an eye-level viewfinder can have advantages. Additionally, optical viewfinders do not eat your battery as digital display panels do.
Electronic viewfinder implies mirrorless. Typically, the combination of EV+IL implies a mirrorless camera system, which in turn implies compact system camera. However, as mentioned previously, a system camera may not have interchangable lenses. The term EVIL is more specific.
TTL = Through The Lens
This refers to an electronic exposure meter built in to the camera. A TTL meter measures the light coming through the lens used to capture the image. TTL is common for many different types of cameras, including SLR and mirrorless.
Let me give you one specific example where TTL is important. If you place a dark polarizing filter on the lens, the light entering the lens is diminished. TTL metering is immediately and precisely aware of this. If the meter is not measuring the light through the lens, then you have to manually adjust the camera controls to compensate.
Is the SLR “dead” ?
No, not yet.
As we said earlier, some people have equated SLR with “really good camera”. In that respect, the venerable SLR no longer stands alone.
Recognizing the technical meaning of the SLR acronym, mirrorless designs eliminate mechanical moving parts inside the camera. That is a compelling feature. And mirrorless designs tend to be much smaller, which is also compelling in many circumstances. However, the concept of an optical viewfinder + single lens … is still amazing, stunning, cool, and practical.
Honestly, I choose and use both SLR camera systems and mirrorless camera systems. They each have strengths and weaknesses. Did you know that “compact” isn’t always a good thing? But that is a subject for another day.
You can create your own custom books and wall calendars by uploading your photos to an on-line Print On Demand (POD) service, which prints the product and ships it to you. Order as few or as many copies as you like. This is in contrast to traditional offset printing which is used for print runs over 200 copies.
More than a year ago, I printed my calendar in two separate print runs, each with a different provider, VistaPrint and Photobook America. As the calendar was essentially identical, I can offer you an apples-to-apples comparison.
First off, I have to say that both calendars provided very good image quality. One was a touch better than the other – the color on the cover image is not perfect. But nobody would know without placing the two side by side.
The Photobook calendar includes 15 images, including front cover, rear cover, and a page (following December) which shows 12 months of the subsequent year. The VistaPrint calendar includes 13 images, including the front cover. Score one point for Photobook.
Both calendars are spiral-bound. When opened, a photo appears on the upper page and a one-month calendar on the lower page. The Photobook calendar pages are 8×11” and each one-month grid is 5” high by 9.75” wide. The VistaPrint pages are 8.5×11” and each one-month grid is 6” high by 9.25” wide. As this grid offers more space for writing, score one point for VistaPrint.
VistaPrint includes an easy to use interface for assigning holidays and other special days. Photobook does not. Score one point for VistaPrint.
In the October-November time frame, both companies offer promotional discounts that brought the price per calendar to less than $9 each. Don’t pay full price; discounts of 40% or more are quite common.