Its been so long!

Hey Everyone!

I know there are probable like 3 people who read any of this… (Hi mom, Hi Dad, Hi 3rd person) But I have to say I’m pretty excited. I have spent the last year filming for a major project and my portion is finally about done. I have at most 2 days left.  That is why I have been quiet on here because I’m not supposed to discuss the details of the project, and that has dominated my studio for about a year now.  But I am still extremely active in this crazy hobby.
I am almost done though. I have maybe 2 days if things go right.  I spent time while doing this writing the text for some posts. What I have been doing, how i went about it, the challenges and difficulties i ran into. the successes, the goods and the bads. I think there is a good chance ill be able to release those. It would be a pretty hardcore BTS ;) But you will all have to wait for a while longer.

It has been a busy year. I have done a lot of licensing of footage. About to sign onto another project ) which shouldn’t take nearly as long) that I am extremely excited for! Big year for me professionally. Made a bit of a career jump that has been a lot of fun but very demanding on time and a very high stress position.

I plan to do a pretty large Biolapse Studio overhaul here soon. I used to build timelapse equipment and have quite a lot of stuff at this point. I have a Chronos Lite, Chronos HD, and a custom Micro Chronos Lite along with a custom 8 foot belt feet system we helped put together for Pete Fecteau. If you have not heard of him look him up.  He is the guy that makes murals out of rubics cubes :)
With all this gear my goal is to use those and put together a gantry system with dragonframe as a control platform. I am aiming for Y/X/Z/Pan/Tilt/Rotate with lens control running a D810. It will be a fairly sophisticated setup to pull off some real incredible shots. I will be writing about that process as well.

So my apologies for being so quiet. If anybody reads this there will be lots of new content coming up now that I’m free. :)

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Long time no see! How about something different?

Hey everyone :)

Sorry it has been so long, i have been trying to enjoy the summer as much as possible, and i have been working on a paying gig that has taken quite a bit of my time.  Things have been going very well on that front, however it frustrates be a bit because I cant discuss anything about the project, which makes blogging a bit difficult.  The good news is there WILL be some BTS of that work, the bad news it will probably be late 2017.

I am able to spare a camera for my own uses though, and right now i am collecting some good blog material, but people will have to be patient.

I thought I would go on a side subject here for a bit, and show a new toy I purchased.  I have seen plenty of waterdrop photography, and I have even played around with some in the past, but i never got very serious about it.

I have another project i am working on (yes i usually have 3-4 projects any any given point, run multiple websites and have 2 jobs, because I apparently hate myself). Im not ready to get into the nitty gritty of that project, but i needed a way to control drops of water, so once i got this valve in i couldn’t wait to try waterdrops again :)

Behold. The $60 water drop Valve Sensor from Dreaming Robots

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I gotta be honest, this is a very well put together kit.  It does have a certain “I made this in my garage” feel to it, but considering The Chronos Project, I have a soft spot in my heart for well constructed contraptions, built by hand. It feels solid, sturdy, and it works like a charm. What else can you ask for?

And for $60 bucks? Forgeddaboutit. That is the best price I have seen for something like this. If i were charging to build these i would probably go for twice the price because even at $120 this would be a bargain.

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I emailed Maurice about how it works, and he confirmed all you need is a 5v signal going to it and it will open the valve. (note, he did tell me +5v to the TOP and GND to the base, but this did not work, i found +5v to the RING and gnd to the base did trigger it) Being handy at electronics and skilled with arduino, rather than buy the “Also very reasonably priced DIY $85 controller” i opted to be super cheap and just build my own with some spare parts I had laying around.

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My controller is pretty much just a Arduino R3, and a Sainsmart 16×2 LCD with keypad. They run just a few bucks of Amazon, and if this looks familiar there are quite a few timelapse controllers that use this same basic setup.

In order to get the inputs and outputs i just grabbed a spare Protoshield i had laying around and extended it with a spare blank pcb. From there i mounted three 3.5mm TRS jacks (think traditional headphones), a pair of optoisolators, a couple resitors and some jumper wire.

I have 1 input, which i just plug in a cabled trigger i built a long time ago to trigger the routine. There is one output for the valve, and one for the camera.

So the idea is you pull the trigger, it will wait for the trigger delay to complete, then it will drop a single drop, then wait for the 2nd drop delay, then out comes the second drop., It will delay again and then trigger the camera.

The goal was to get a drop into a cup of water, and have the splash back intercept the second drop and cause a collision in the air.

After hammering out the code and doing a little cleanup work, I have an excellent little timer. TO be honest i did just sort of throw this together, and I am willing to bet Maurice’s very reasonable $85 controller has a lot more time and energy put into it and may yield good results. I do not plan to publish my code for the masses as i am too lazy to draw out the schematics, but if you know enough about this stuff and want the code just ping me, but I recommend buying a working product from Maurice ad Dreaming Robots.

Once i had the prototype working,  ran some dry fire tests just to make sure everything looks to be working as expected

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However this was not going to work for any real use, i needed to setup properly.

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Setup was a bit of a pain. You need to hold the water valve, and you need GOBS of light which i do NOT have. I found anything less than 1/4000th of a second just gets blurry drops. At the same time, you cant shoot wide open, and i found myself stopping down to F8 and shooting 2,000 iso just to get enough depth of field for most of the drop to be in focus.

So i put two LED panels up real close and a milwauklee cordless shop light.

Now i just had to spend some time triggering it and trying to get the timing down. I imagine everything from the hardness of the water, amount of water in valve, and distance from valve to pool all come into play, so it would be somewhat useless to tell you my settings. But after dicking around with it about 10 minutes i managed to get some collisions.

:)

Here is the first one.  The sombrero above it is the result of an upward moving drop colliding with the 2nd drop.

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After that, i got another. :)

 

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Increase the DOF, increase shutter speed, and it looks a bit nicer.

 

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I liked the way the one above and below turned out.DSC08412

 

 

I have seen some people play with this and get some really interesting colors. I am not 100% how they do it, i suspect mainly by altering the backdrop with something more colorful and maybe having some colors off frame to the outside that it can reflect from.

Well thats it for now, thank you for reading and checking in.  This just goes to show you do not have to spend a fortune to get a very good water drop collision system going.

Stay turned, I have some more Biolapse coming in the next few weeks.

 

Overcoming obstacles, happy with results.

Hello to my 3 readers! Short post today…

I wish I had something pretty to show you today, but the studio has been in and out of commission. Overall I am pleased with how things have been going.

Sony Debacles

The Sony A7’s gave me some grief.  First, they would not work with my normal method of hacked batteries. Normally I will just pop open a cheap chinese knockoff battery and dump the guts and shove a small DC-DC voltage regulator and tune it to the input voltage of the camera. Then I can stick a 12v power source to it and the camera stays on all the time, months on end.

Unfortunately Sony batteries are smarter than the average bear, and it would refuse to work with these batteries. I found some inexpensive AC adapters for the Sony A7, $40 a pair. They did seem to work, the Sony’s would stay on and work fine. A curious issue though, the camera still showed a battery and it would slowly tick down over the course of a few hours. This in itself is not a problem, however when the camera showed “no battery” it would continue to shoot, but the wireless antenna in the eye-fi card would seem to shut off, it would refuse to transmit any images.

I tried various things, replacing it with a better power source, etc, no avail. Eventually I caved in and picked up a pair of the Sony OEM ac adapters. No more “fake battery drain”.

With the power issue resolved it was time to figure out how come I couldn’t reliably get the wifi cards to dump their data. The issue seems to be the Sony A7’s metal body really cuts down on the range. a $35 Net Gear wireless repeater did the trick.  I now have all the cameras dumping their data to my raid server.

 New Shooting Tables

Air Hockey table is gone! Im was sick of that big old piece of crap. So I picked up some 2×4’s and plywood from Home Depot and threw together a pair of shooting tables. Together they are still smaller than the old table, but i like the smaller size and will probably normally only use 1. The old table was just a big pain in the ass.

When setting them up last night I realized it would actually work quite well to shoot two subjects at once. I can separate the grow lights a pretty decent amount, and put one LED studio light on each.  This will be nice because for the next 8 months I am not able to show the subjects I will be shooting. 3 cameras on the paid gig, and maybe use the 4th to shoot some stuff for biolapse. :)

 

New toys for new projects!

It has been a pretty fun few weeks. I have a gig I am working on which I felt required a bit of an overhaul of the studio and my equipment.  I figured i would spend a little bit of time going over the new additions and give you my thoughts on the equipment so far.

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New Cameras!

Sony A7.

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I picked up a pair of these from Amazon, they have them for under 1000 now. I know the A7S, A7ii, A7Sii, and other models have come out since the original A7, but honestly none of them really offer anything of value over the A7 for my needs.

These are pretty good cameras. being open box specials you never know what you will get. The first one I received had a bad LCD screen, but amazon took care of that. The second A7 had a memory card in it complete with vacation photos. I put a post on facebook and it is being shared around. With any luck maybe it will reach the prior owner and i can ship them their memory card back.

The cameras both came in excellent condition, and i used the THIS tool to determine the shutter count. Camera 1 came in with 3700 actuations, and Camera 2 showed 7. So for all intents and purposes, both cameras were virtually brand new.

I am not a huge fan of the ergonomics. Considering the cost, I am somewhat surprised that Sony did not spend a little bit more time on this. For example, the image review buttons are far from intuitive on their placement. I also prefer dedicated dials, and better access to the drive modes. The fit and finish is fantastic, image quality is fantastic which is what you should expect. I am really excited to have these in my inventory.

I tried hacking a battery by cutting it open and sticking a voltage regulator in it so I could avoid swapping batteries, however it did not seem to like it and said I had to use a compatible battery. I ended up ordering some cheap AC Adapters from Amazon, and I am not too thrilled with them. For some reason at first the batteries show 100%, after a while the cameras claim the batteries are dead and they go into some sort of a power saving mode and refuse to transmit images from the Eye-Fi cards that I am using.  I think there may be a slow voltage drop from the AC adapters, and i am considering modifying them so instead of running off AC they can run off my new 12v DC power center which I will discuss more later. I think if i can keep the voltage a little bit higher that they will continue to show 100% battery.

 

Panasonic GH4

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Wow, this one really impresses me. I actually like it more than the Sony A7’s.  It is extremely well built, very comfortable to hold, and very fast and intuitive to use.  I also have the 12-35 f/2.8 lens, and this is not the first time i have owned that lens. I used to have it with my Olympus OMD Em-5 and loved it, but when i sold the Olympus i did not expect to get back into M43.

There are two primary reasons why I picked this camera up.  First off, i wanted 4k video capability. Second, it would make a great camera for macro timelapse because of its puny little m43 sensor (which in reality is only slightly smaller than a standard crop sensor) gives an extended DOF (depth of field), this is the depth of area in focus, larger sensor cameras have a narrower depth of field. When shooting macro the DOF gets extremely thin,  so any added amount helps, this should have about twice the DOF as the Sony A7’s.

Image quality is spectacular. Hacking a  battery proved to be no problem, and even though Panasonic wants to be the special snowflake and use a shutter release system that reads resistance rather than doing the standard open/close that other manufacturers use, I was still able to put together a working shutter cable.

 Studio Equipment

Ceiling Rack system

 

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WOW. All I can say is this Sky Rail Pantograph system is killer.  It was only $300, very easy to install. The larger longer rail you see that the Pantographs hang from is actually just 2 of the shorted ones linked together. The carriages allow you to rotate the longer bottom support, which really gives you the ability to put both lights almost anywhere you could possibly need them. They are more than adequate for the task of holding the LED lights. The set comes with enough cable clips to keep things neat and organized above and out of the way.

I am extremely pleased with this system. I can sit my two lights wherever I want. No cables or Light stands to get in the way. That is one thing that always drove me nuts, way too many light stands and cables. This setup was worth every stinking penny.

New LED light (x2)

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I was pleasantly surprised with this light. I picked it up from Amazon, the build is nice, it is not too heavy, and it features the 4 banks of LEDS along with a dimmer. This gives quite a bit of control over the output. Generally I shoot with my studio lighting as low as possible to get longer exposures. Shutting all but a single bank of lights off then dimming them to the lowest power really allows for some dim output. I like this one so much, I just ordered another one.

UPS power backup system.

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I have wanted one of these for a while now. My neighborhood seems to be on a pretty good power grid, and we do not see a lot of power outages, but I really do not want to have to worry about power outages screwing up a month long shot. With 2 grow lights, 2 studio lights, and 3 cameras I can keep shooting through a 16 minute power outage without any worries. Without the grow lights it can last through about 45 minutes.  With the new BCM I am planning to give it two power inputs. One for the critical components such as the the cameras, motion gear, and studio lighting which will be backed by the UPS while the grow lights, humidifier, heater, etc will not. Even if i lose the grow lights, heater, and humidifier for an hour or two it will not cause any issues with the shoot. It is really the cameras/studio/moco that needs to be protected. 16 min of backup for all of it is not bad, but i would like to get that to at least 30 minutes so ill have to work on that a little bit.

Power Center

I found this power center on amazon. I am pretty jazzed up about this. I added some 2.1mm barrel connectors with pigtails to it and now i have a pretty solid power center for the cameras and moco gear.  It gives me ten 2.1mm outlets with 2 amps of draw on each one. More than enough for my needs. In the past i was using these crappy little AC/DC adapters which needed their own ac outlet. Those pieces of junk would bomb out on me from time to time so a proper power center is clutch.

Other various stuff

I have added several new lenses, another 60mm macro, an 85 1.8, and a 50 1.8 along with a Fuji macro lens and the Panny 12-35.

3 compact tripods, a video tripod, another grow light with a smaller ceiling rail system that i hang them from.  I added another 16gb of ram to the computer, added eye-fi cards, an Iwata airbrush set for painting sets (yes i do know how to airbrush), adapters, cables, plugs, an extra chromakey screen, and a few other things to help make the studio a bit easier to work in.

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Here is the arduino powered splitter I am using. I am sort of glad at this point i used a micro controller in this, the panasonic camera always wants to go into stupid sleep mode. No matter what i do. The good thing is I can always alter the code for a couple of the outputs to give them a little bit of a bump to wake the camera then trigger again.  I also gave it a test button so i can trigger all the cameras at once for test shots.

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Another larger shot, you can see the new shelf i added for extra storage space (i hate clutter). You can also see the pair of grow lights hanging between the pantographs.

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I am currently doing some testing with the A7’s, added a fuji for good measure. :)

And that is about it for now. Sorry no time lapse today. I hope to have some cool stuff to show soon.

For a comparison, here is a “Before” shot.

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May 2015, Look what I did!

April Update

First off, lets see the cool stuff.  Here is the results. I finished the meat of the blog post over a week ago, so this video is the result of the work with the turn table and a quick hack-edit on some chromakey work.

I am preparing for a big project coming up, and one of the things I wanted to do is build a turntable for this project.  I already have linear, pan, tilt, and focus/zoom, so a rotary table seemed like a welcome addition.

Rotary tables are fantastic for this sort of work, it can add everything from a spinning to arcing or swooping feel to some movement.  By adding linear and rotation you can get some excellent effects.  The problem? I dont have a lot of time to R&D a new project these days, so it is pretty difficult to get the time put aside to develop something new.

I started looking at turn key options, the very first that comes to mine was the Tt from eMotimo

I am a fan of Brian and eMotimo. They make some excellent products. Sometimes I wish there was a little bit more flexibility to customize the things way work, but I have to admit, they do work extremely well within the boundaries you are given.  I do have a eMotimo TB3 and it is a fantastic product. It is also one of the reasons we have not really put a lot of effort into a pan tilt over at The Chronos Project.  We never set out to be a motion control company, TCP was pretty much birthed due to the inadequacy of current offerings, but things have changed quite a bit in the past few years. I am in no hurry to re-invent things that already exist.

As for the Tt. I would have controlled it with one of my own controllers, but to be 100% honest for me it is a bit pricey and I have some stability concerns. I do not like having the weight sitting on the motor like that. My impression is this is really designed for lighter work, it will undoubtedly have a little bit of backlash (i have used dozens of motors just like the one there and they all have a tiny bit of backlash). I think the Tt would be excellent for product shots and such, but not for moving around a large 50lb set.  It also only holds a 27:1 gearing ratio, and is only repeatable to 1/100th of a degree. I am not sure how they come up with that number to be honest. It has a 27:1 ratio with a  200 step motor is 5,400 steps per full 360.  16x microstepping gives it a resolution of 86,400 steps per full 360, or 240 steps per degree.  That SHOULD be 1/240th of a degree, I don’t quite get how the mathematics allow for 1/100th?Unless anything has changed, they use the same a4988 stepper drivers we use.  The website says it is good for 75lbs. It may be, but that would be one hell of a balancing act for the type of work I plan to be doing, and off-setting the weight is gonna play hell on those gears. I am sure it can handle 75lbs, it just seems like it would be difficult trying to get the set pieces I plan to build to balance on it. 75 lbs directly online the center of axis is one thing. Having a 75lb payload spread out over 5ft? Small changes in weight can have large impacts on balance, im sure it would not enjoy having 15lbs off centered 3 feet to the left.

It may sound like I am ripping on the Tt, that is far from the case, the fact is this project I am working on is going to be very demanding, I cannot have backlash, I need at least 3-4 times the movement resolution, and I need something that will handle moving larger set pieces. I am sure for most other work the Tt is more than adequate.

I looked for some other options for Photography Turntables, and there are quite a few selections, but anything made for video work generally will not have the resolution demands for timelapse work.   Video work requires fluid motion, not precise starting/stopping ability. The specs for many of these tables are usually not readily available, they probably use DC motors, and the prices are flat out ridiculous. 3 grand for a turntable? are you high?

I wrote down some requirements
1) at least a 400 step per degree resolution
2) heavy payload capacity, minimum 100lbs.
3) Stepper driven
4) Inexpensive

So using Designspark Mechanical I started coming up with a few ideas, and this is the one that I settled on. The idea is to use some legs attached to a base, on top of that base is some lazy susan hardware to hold the weight of the payload, then a Large/small/large wheel configuration to create a large pulley. The stepper motor would be held to the side and use a belt around the turntable. This keeps the weight off the motor, offers a larger surface area to make it easier to put larger heavy set pieces on it, and by using a geared stepper with a small pulley I can easily get the levels of resolution I want.

Turntable stepper mount
I needed some help designing the bracket to hold the motor which would be 3d printed, so I sent the design to Kyle to see if he could help me out. Of course, Kyle is better at design than I am. He quickly returned the file seen above with the green motor mount, but quickly followed it with a new version he punched out which not only used less pieces, but was geared with a god damn harmonic drive.

Harmonic Drives are brilliant. Whoever invented these gears was absolutely genius. It uses a flexable gear withing a rigid gear and an oval in order to move one tooth with each rotation. This is what you would see if looking down into the gear.

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Click on the image to see the animation.

Harmonic drives are super awesome because there is ZERO backlash, and they are dead quiet.  They are also very expensive, however Kyle had one laying around that he had been experimenting around with, and decided to donate it to this cause.

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Of course the harmonic drive is just the gearing portion, so he also printed out a bracket to attach a small nema 11 stepper motor (its soooo tiny) into the back end of it, and then proceeded to print out a hub for the shaft.

The files came back, and the turntable was taking shape.

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and

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You can see the new design has the motor and 100:1 harmonic drive right up the middle. There is a 9 inch Laay Susan bearing between the two plats, and all the weight is supposed by the legs and bottom plate. The motor/harmonic drive sits beneath it and spins the top plate without taking any of the weight load.

Now the design is complete (thank you Kyle!) it was time to fire up the CNC router. I decided to just make it out of MDF. As long as it stays dry it should be fine. MDF is a fine material for this sort of thing. It machines extremely easy and fast, and it is very inexpencive. I paid $9 for a 2ft x 4ft section which was more than enough to do this.

I am a bit rusty on my CNC skills, so after about an hour of failure  I finally managed to get everything up and running.
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If anyone is interested, this CNC is a Probotix V90 Fireball. Fully loaded with all upgrades, it came in around 2 grand.  That includes the CNC platform, motors, drivers, spindle, and linux box, and software. All I had to do was assemble it and add a mouse, keyboard, and an old monitor.  This is one hell of a toy, it is extremely precise and pretty user friendly (well…. as user friendly as it gets for using a CNC machine, there is always a learning curve)

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Seen avove, the top plate with the Lazy Susan bearing on top of it. I needed everything 100% perfectly centered, which can be quite a challange. While you could probably do it with a carpenter square and a pen, I find it is far easier to draw the design up in DesignSpark Mechanical (or your favorite CAD program) and just have the CNC align the holes perfectly.

DSCF0153 Once the parts were cut out, the harmonic drive installed, lazy susance hardware installed, and everything set together I glued on the legs and let it sit overnight.

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Here is another shot of the stepper motor and harmonic drive along with the printed bracket.  See the pretty green cable? :)

DSCF0156Kyle had this quite controller cut out quite some time ago and it had been sitting on a shelf. I dont like using parts we have set aside for customers for my own projects so I will normally grab a couple bad controllers, or a shield that did not pass testing and start de-soldering and re-soldering them into a single working controller. Our controllers are perfect for this sort of work, I put a LOT of time into making these as friendly for DIY projects as possible.  Once I had the controller setup it only took about half an hour of tweaking values in order to get things dialed in.

And here is the finished result.

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It has 890 discreet positions per degree for a final maximum resolution of .00112 degrees per movement.

Once i got the values dialed in, I tested a variety of programs and it resulted in perfect results each time. Then I tossed a 15lb dumbell on it both centered, and off center, and the results were still identical. The motor is more than strong enough to move the top plate, all the weight is held by the frame.  The entire thing was build with spare parts laying around, if building from scratch it could be done for under $100 if you use a geared stepper motor rather than a harmonic drive. If you wish to use an HD it would easily be 300-400.

Testing is complete. It went very well, I couldn’t be happier. I shot these dandelions for over a week, one camera was focused on the turntable and the other one was just collecting data for a project I am working on. Rather than to re-hash everything I mentioned in the video at the beginning, I think I will go ahead and call this blog post finished. I have another one I need to start working on for a splitter I designed.

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TImelapse Life

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