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Archive for the ‘Video and Photography’ Category

November in the Rain

November 12th, 2008 No comments

Vancouver has settled into the “rainy with cloudy periods” weather pattern that will sustain until the spring. On November 13th my motorcycle insurance expires and the Big Bike goes into the carport for a long nap. Meanwhile, I have engine bars and a carry rack coming from Renntec Motorcycle Accessories and I am still trying to figure out the luggage system. My goal is to have a working system in place by spring so I can start to test it all out with local trips before leaving town.

I am trying to wait until the last possible minute to buy a video camera to mount on the bike. Technology is advancing so that anything I buy now will be outdated by spring. I will have to take the plunge at some point, just so I can practice with the machine before actually mounting it on the Yamaha FJ1200. I am sure there will also be mounting and vibration problems, but I hope to get everything worked out before next summer.

Cell phone companies are now interested in assisting me with streaming video off the bike, for a fee of course. The streaming would be limited to areas with cell phone coverage, so the mountains and more remote areas would be off the grid. I would still like to stream to a satellite, but the concept will take more development.

With the dark days and fewer distractions, I am sure the book will advance exponentially and I will keep you all posted on the progress of the project.

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SLR Camera – Image Capture

September 14th, 2008 No comments

Now I have had the opportunity to look through two examples of excellent camera technology, I find myself increasingly attracted to continuing the experience. The first time I held such a camera was at the Madu Sari gamelan performance, “New Javanese Shadows“when a friend of mine asked me to hold his camera. My first impression can only be described by referring to a Hindu myth often told about the young Krishna. For those not familiar with Hindu mythology, the incarnations of the god Vishnu are many, but this story is about his time as the human Krishna.

On one occasion, when Krishna was still a child, he revealed his true god-self to his mother by asking her to look in his mouth. When she complied, she was astonished to see the entire universe inside the mouth of her child. When I looked into that camera, I saw a glimpse of the infinite — I was astonished. The photographer who owned the magic box enthusiastically started informing me of the technical details in a language full of numbers that I did not understand. This machine may be described by numbers, as the universe can be modeled mathematically, but the impact of the revelation I had experienced created a bookmark in my mind that I return to in wonder.

My next reaction was more practical, as the Virgo reasserted her presence. If everyone had a camera like that, my opportunities for employment as a graphic artist would be seriously reduced. There was no noise in the image, it was balanced and in sharp focus. If the capture mechanism was as pristine as the view, the images would reflect a hyper-realism that would need few adjustments. My daughter later comforted me by pointing out that many of these cameras are owned by individuals who can cause them to malfunction and that composition skills are still required. Even the best images can benefit from layout, design and story, so my production skills will still be needed.

The term “multi-media artist” has often been applied to my skill sets in production. I know that if I am not being paid, I do music, music technology and saving the world. Some practical part of me knows that my time will not allow any more addictions. I am already being drawn away from my “Live More Lightly Project” too much by other musical entanglements. I have to complete a book prototype this month. Move on. Read more…

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Electronics Product Stewardship Canada

September 1st, 2008 No comments

The lure of High Definition is keeping me interested in purchasing a camcorder that I can mount on the motorcycle or remove for shooting the places I visit and the people I meet. Lifecycle sustainability is an important factor in my choice and it seems that the major companies are becoming aware of this. I searched for an environmental report comparing major electronics companies that manufacture camcorders I am interested in purchasing, especially Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic. I found some interesting information but no side-by-side comparison.

In Canada we are lucky to have non-profit societies that are working hard on the problem of electronics disposal. Electronics Product Stewardship Canada is developing an “industry led solution” to see electronic waste properly managed. Of the four companies I am interested in, only JVC is not a member of this coalition. The organization is nationwide and has influenced policy in British Columbia so that electronics can be recycled here. Unfortunately, there is a large list of items that are not accepted, so I have to keep storing my broken VCRs until the program expands.

As part of the “Live More Lightly Project” I hope to raise awareness of these programs so that more people will utilize them and keep dangerous materials out of landfill sites. There is a fee to re-cycle electronics but there are depots throughout the province and a handy map to locate a depot near you. Other provinces have similar programs and I encourage you to use them.

Re-use of working electronics is always preferred to disposal and organizations such as Free Geek will accept equipment that is not state-of-the-art, refurbish it and donate it to a needy charity or sell it in their computer thrift store.

Some companies are putting more effort into product stewardship and environmental programs and this will influence my purchasing decision. See a short description of each company’s efforts below. Read more…

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Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Canon A80

August 2nd, 2008 No comments

It has been raining in Vancouver now for a couple of days and I have been riding, because I put my van in the shop just as the clouds were gathering. As the rain pours down in a foreshadowing of the winter that will arrive all too soon, I think back to the clear skies and endless sun we enjoyed July 19 + 20th for the 31st annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

Despite my frustration with how slow everything is progressing with my project, I still dropped everything to go to the Folk Music Festival with my daughter and her friends. It is really hard for me to concentrate on spreadsheets when I know there is some fine music out on Jericho Beach.

This is also a story about cameras because I was left with my venerable aged Canon A80 to take to the Folk Fest and to the Javanese Shadow play. This is because I invested in the Canon S series as a suitable camera for my daughter and it is really too fragile. I ended up with her old S2 after the power supply blew out and I bought her an S3. I had my Canon A80 and had just bought some lenses for it when I got the S2 repaired and have been using it instead of the older A80. Alas, the S3 blew out it’s power supply and I returned the S2 to my daughter while it was in the shop. So, I was left with the A80, but I had lenses to try out.

My daughter was armed with the newly repaired Canon S3 and her friends are also photographers with very impressive looking cameras, the usual digital SLRs and even a medium format antique. There were a lot of really expensive cameras at the Festival and good photographers as can be viewed on flikr.

Medium format camera Digital SLR

My daughter looked at me quizzically as I started screwing plastic bits on to my camera. It’s not like my old Pentax K1000, bayonet mount, this is a procedure where parts have to be manipulated. “What’s that?”, she asked. Quick witted as ever, I looked at the part in my hand and carefully read the neat white letters printed on the side, “It’s a wide-angle lens, dear, I’m trying it out.” She replied definitively that I should take crowd shots.

Daughter photo

There was great music at the festival and it was an opportunity to spend time with my daughter and her friends. I had never spent so much time with non-musicians at a festival. Some of them went shopping, so I joined them, as I had never considered shopping at a festival. The wares were very unique, like the small fairy wings some of the girls were wearing. A lot of time was spent talking and enjoying the sun and fine food. Relaxing, socializing and hearing the music like a lounge band at a fine restaurant, this was a very enjoyable and perfectly valid festival experience … but, I was panicking inside because I was missing everything! I had to go and listen to some music without having to talk to anyone. We coordinated cell phones, so we could meet up again, and I went off by myself.

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Camera Research – Two Streams

July 27th, 2008 No comments

Camera research has taken a lot of my time lately as I am finalizing my options. At this point it seems like a good idea to have two recording systems on the bike. This will be an expensive option, but possibly worth it. A lower resolution, “always on” system that will record every time I ride the motorcycle and a removable high resolution camera that I will control while riding. My previous research can be found here, and much of this page will refer back to systems I have already considered, when adding new information.

Low Resolution Camera

The low-resolution camera and recording system can be integrated into the motorcycle electrical grid, so it can operate as any electrical accessory, in the background. The image is highly compressed, so not as much memory is required to store hours of video. The downside of this is that the video will not be high enough quality to fill a large screen, but the benefit is that I won’t miss some great moment because I didn’t have the camera turned on. I do intend to artistically re-purpose this footage, not just present a travel diary; so split screens and vignettes can integrate lower resolution material, particularly if I catch something interesting.

Equipment Sources

The On-Bike TV site is now OnBoard TV and they carry the Bullet DVR recorder and the ubiquitous 560 line Sony camera. The camera has been improved since December and now has interchangeable lenses. HelmetCamera.com has a similar package and a Canadian company, Micro Video Products has equipped other motorcyclists.

The proven advantages of these systems are many, as they can be wired directly into the bike’s electrical system, the equipment is very small and easy to install and the flash memory is inexpensive and commonly available. It can be mounted on the motorcycle, more or less permanently, so that it is a very easy task to record constantly. The disadvantages are in the video quality and the difficulties I have had in editing compressed file formats. I find .avi to be the most widely accepted by editors and MEPG4 to be difficult to edit without converting the file. As soon as the file is converted, there is usually a degradation in quality. I will have to now look at available editing tools to see if editing technology has caught up with MPEG4 as this is an essential factor in choosing a system.

High Resolution Camera

The high-resolution camera is requiring a lot of research. There are a lot of options on the horizon right now and the introduction of High Definition (HD) video as a viable, affordable option has changed the “pro-sumer” marketplace. There are many independent video producers who are driving the demand for broadcast quality recording and with recent advances in technology, some are achieving big screen release with low budget gear.

My research last year pointed me towards cameras that had 3 charge-coupled devices (CCD) in Standard Definition (SD) cameras as having the best quality recording, and three CCD cameras still do capture the best quality colour because they use a different sensor chip for each colour — red, green and blue (RGB). Reds in particular are hard to capture and true black is always elusive, although PAL format is supposed to be better than NTSC. PAL format is mainly used in Europe and NTSC in North America and the formats are not interchangeable, although they can be converted.
Now High Definition (HD) cameras have become more available, the 3 CCD models are very expensive, packed with professional features and quite large in size. It has been argued that HD with a single, larger CCD chip recording more lines of resolution can offer comparable results to an SD with three smaller size chips, even though the colour might be a little more washed out. There are a lot of “D”‘s for definition in this alphabet soup because it is the operative word in video quality. Read more…

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On-bike Video Camera Mount

July 13th, 2008 2 comments

My research of internet sites that feature motorcycle mounted video footage must include Virtual Riding Television. Jeff and his wife have made a trip across Canada together on a 2003 Harley-Davidson with a video camera mounted on their bike in 2006. The bike is a really beautiful touring machine that carries them both and Jeff has a lot of good information on his site. In an e-mail to me replying to my request for advice, he reminds me of the realties of the trip by saying that the most valuable piece of gear he took was his VISA card. Check out his site for some interesting virtual motorcycling.

The Harley is a dream machine, but even heavier than my Yamaha FJ1200. I plan to stick with the old iron for now and use a different camera mounting plan. I did a lot of research and I have to agree with both Jeff on the big Harley and the $5 camera mount demonstration rider that having the camera on the front of the bike gives the most realistic virtual motorcycling result. So, I talked over my options with Simon and we came up with the following idea. Here is an FJ fairing frame held in Simon’s strong, masculine hand. I have marked the areas where the mirrors are usually mounted when the rest of the frame is covered in the plastic fairing. This is a steel frame that is attached to the steel bike frame, so it is very stable and strong.

FJ fairing frame with mirror mounts shown

During the Jazz Festival my bike did spend a bit of time at Simon’s garage. When I dropped it the first time I broke a mirror off and did some other damage. This gave us a perfect opportunity to carry out the plan, and here is the prototype of the result.

Side by side FJ

Close-up of mirror mount attachment

Simon has since painted the mount black, so it blends in with the bike, but the prototype is more visible in the photo. The wide angle mirrors are still chrome and they stand way out from the stock profile. I can really see in them, as they are amazingly adjustable over a wide field of view. There is more vibration than in the damped stock mirrors that have a weight in them, but they are very functional.

This mount will be strong and can carry quite a heavy camera with full benefit of the bike suspension to smooth the ride. Now I have to find a waterproof camera housing for the video camera and shock-mount it on this steel rail. This is to protect from wind, that can cause vibration and blurring, as well as from rain. I will be consulting with many sources and will post about the progress.

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Photographic Experience Theme

July 7th, 2008 3 comments

Part of my work as a visual artist is manipulating photos but I have never considered myself a photographer. Last year at the Jazz Festival, I took lots of photos of shows and I found it really difficult to get good pictures in the dark with no flash. The problem can be exemplified by this picture of Paul Plimley at the Roundhouse this year when he was playing on Saturday, June28, 2008. Even with a reasonably good camera, the length of exposure required makes it impossible to get a decent picture with a moving target.

Paul in Motion

This is an artistic photo, and I like it because it shows Paul’s musical spirit, but I always like to have control over results. [Yes, control is a deep part of my psyche — we’ll go there later …] I keep trying to get decent live pictures, and I am doing better in low light conditions than last year.

That is because earlier this year I started watching photographers to get some idea of how it was done. My first subject was Willie Cackett, photographer of the Blues and Roots scene in Vancouver, who gets some decent photos with inexpensive equipment. He has even had some shows of his work. Those are his photos on the wall behind him in my image below.

Cottage Bistro Willie C

I noticed something right away. Photographers are very still so it is really easy to take pictures of them and I can use a flash. When I told Willie I had taken photos of him, he was pleased. He told me he didn’t have many images of himself because he was always taking the pictures. So, I have found my photographic niche — to take pictures of photographers in action.

Much better photographers, with better cameras can take pictures of the show. I will take pictures of them. It is interesting too, as it fits into my idea of “watching the watcher” by standing in front of highway cams and having them video me videoing them across the country.

This is Brian Nation with the flash diffuser obscuring his face– not the best, but look how still he is in the natural light. The next one caught him preparing, so his face is visible. I used a flash, so it is blue shifted and if I was using this for pro work I would colour correct it.

Brain Nation in action Brian Nation + subject

Next, I got a picture of Laurence Svirchev, but he was standing around before the show and saw me taking it. I really like to sneak up on them while they are being very still to take a photo. Laurence is a bit out-of-focus but it’s not too bad. I noticed he had a flash diffuser too. When he saw me taking the picture, he was kind enough to show me menus to set the ASA that I didn’t know existed on my camera. He flipped through the options expertly and I was surprised that there was such a hold-over from film technology in the digital controls. Read more…

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Vancouver Jazz Festival Part III

July 1st, 2008 No comments

The free concerts at the Roundhouse Community Centre started at noon and I arrived by Skytrain after dropping my bike at Simon’s for examination. At the present time it is a long walk from the Stadium skytrain station to the site, but the new Olympic line is being constructed with a station right across the street. This site will be much more accessible for the Jazz Festival in 2010, although a lot of people do make the effort to walk, bike or skateboard rather than find scarce parking in the area.

The High School Jazz Intensive, with Chicago-based flautist Nicole Mitchell conducting, was in full swing when I arrived. The young musicians played at a very high calibre under Mitchell’s expert direction. Paul Plimley and I were discussing this concert later that day, and we both agreed that the quantity and quality of instruction and instructional materials has increased since we were young. Instructional multi-media, books,magazines, DVD’s and the internet have all contributed to a positive trend. This access to information and the improved acceptance of jazz, as a music that should be taught in school, has raised the standards of musicianship among Vancouver High School Bands. This nine-day intensive workshop series culminating in this performance is an educational outreach program that requires that the student to audition to qualify for entry. We were listening to the result of a focussed program applied to some of the most dedicated young musicians in the area courtesy of the sponsors and Coastal Jazz.

Brian Nation, the impetus behind Vancouver Jazz.com, was listening too. We both decided to go in to the tribute to Al Neil concert set-up to take photos. Brian wanted to interview Al Neil for his website jazz magazine as he remembers hearing him play and has known him for decades. The pictures I took of Paul yesterday did not turn out very well because of the low light conditions, so I welcomed a chance to to go in pre-concert and try again.

Brian and I compared cameras and he showed me his cool new flash diffuser, he took a photo of me with and without and the difference was amazing. Lan Tung, the erhu player in the next group to play in the venue, had asked me to take photos of her new ensemble. I quickly asked Brian if he had time to take a few shots of them during their set-up as his camera was so much better than mine.I think it worked out because I ended up using Lan’s video camera to record the show instead of taking stills.

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Motorcycle Camera Mount Research

December 2nd, 2007 No comments

There are many people recording video from moving motorcycles, so I decided to post a few links to show some of the mounting technologies that I might use to attach a video camera to the Yamaha FJ motorcycle.

This is a Suzuki motorcycle, but my Yamaha has the same type of gas tank fill cap. I don’t have a grab bar on the back similar to where the second camera is mounted.

Videos made by pashnit.com to promote their group tours in the U.S. are edited well and show the group riding safely. Jones Helmet camera system has made videos of racing motorcycles, sailboats and even hot air balloons. Youtube and other video sites feature countless video clips taken with helmet cams and other video capture devices, but the quality is extremely uneven. I have not yet found anyone who is streaming directly from a motorcycle except for GP and other races that feed to a nearby truck, not directly on to the internet.

European motorcycle riders also have posted video of rides in the Alps, but they are not for the safety oriented. They are definitely in the sport bike category, with tips on penalties for speeding around the world. Don’t speed in Norway or you will loose your license! Fortunately, Canada is listed as one of the most reasonable on this topic, however, my license is completely clean and I intend to keep it that way. I may tour though Montana on my way home to make some “need for speed” video footage as there are no speed limits outside of certain zones there. That is definitely outside the scope of this tour.

These video examples give you an idea of the good quality of video production that can be obtained using consumer grade video equipment. One of the major writers of the pashnit site is a former Yamaha FJ 1200 owner who claims to have ridden over 30,000 miles on the bike before he sold it.

Here is the most economical mount yet …. the $5. camera mount. The sound on his video is mostly wind noise as he has no windshield. Great idea though. Unfortunately, my FJ has a very different system for the handlebars. Another problem is my windshield is so opaque that I don’t think I should take any video through it. That brings me to the idea of mounting a camera on my helmet.  Read more…

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