All posts by Biolapse

BOTANICAL TIME LAPSE TIPS. Part 2. Shooting Concerns.

 

Hey Everybody!

So in the last article I went over how to achieve good flicker free footage. But what of the studio?  How should things be setup? What sort of environment is best for the plants?  This can be a bit tricky to go over, so I will break this out into several classifications.

My first recommendation is to get to know a florist. They see flowers 24/7 and can usually give solid recommendations on flowers based on how long it takes from the flower to bloom. They also may have ideas for flowers you might not normally know about, and usually can assist sourcing them.

Ultra Short Term (Less than one day)

This is the easiest way to start into botanical time lapse, and you can get some awesome results with minimal equipment.  Some plants such as Daffodils and many types of Daisies will go from full bud to full bloom in a matter of hours.

Studio Requirements:
Literally anywhere at home or at the studio. If it is a nice sunny day with no clouds you can even use natural lighting near a window.  Cloudy days are a bit more risky if there is a window, I would recommend using a well lit windowless room.

Equipment Requirements.  

  • First you need a camera. In order to prevent flicker, I recommend any DSLR or Mirrorless with a non-native lens, or a Canon DSLR with the twist lock trick for the aperture.
  • You will need an intervalometer if the camera does not have one built in.
  • You will need a plant. I recommend talking to a florist to find something that is expected to bloom within a few hours. Daffodils, Daisies and Lillies are good bets. You can almost watch a daffodil bloom before your very eyes.
  • You will need a fresh and full battery for the camera. Despite the poor CIPA ratings for mirrorless cameras, generally a single battery is still enough as you are not using focus, flash, or any of that other nonsense.
  • You need a decent tripod.

I recommend with ultra fast blooming flowers that you get setup first, THEN go source the flowers. (especially if shooting daffodils they REALLY go fast) That way you can get home and just prop them in front of the camera and let it run. I would recommend intervals of about 2 to 3 minutes on the long end.  Flowers in vases run fairly well for this type of work as many of them when cut will flower pretty quickly.  When you are preparing for this, it may even be worthwhile to pick up the flower in question and take pictures of it with notes throughout the afternoon so you can better predict when it will bloom.

Short Term (1 – 5 days)

You may find yourself getting bored with the Ultra Short and decide to try something a bit longer. Now things will start getting a bit more complicated, and there are more things to concern yourself with.  This will cover a vast majority of flowers, and you may be able to get multiple blooms.

New concerns from Ultra-Short

  1. Power.
    You no longer have the luxury of popping in a battery and letting it run. You will now need to get some long term power setup. This is actually not too difficult, and can be cheap, or expensive depending on the camera.  Some cameras are super easy to power, such as Fuji.  I have a page -HERE- that details how I successfully gutted a cheap aftermarket Fuji battery and inserted a DC/DC power regulator.  This worked like a charm, and I just plugged a 12vdc power supply to the battery and I can keep my Fuji’s running indefinitely, Months at a time have been no concern.  Other cameras may work with this technique as well, others may not.  This should ONLY be performed by somebody that is experience with electronics, and should only be done AT YOUR OWN RISK.
    I have found that Sony and Panasonic have chips in the batteries and do not work very reliably with this method.
    You can buy aftermarket AC Power adapters as well. The cheap Chinese versions are usually about 20% the cost of the name brand versions, and SOMETIMES work just as well. I have used these with Olympus and Nikon and there was never an issue. However the Sony A7 series cameras would only power for a day or so then the camera would assume the battery was low and shut it off. I tried the cheap knockoffs from 2 brands and got the same result. I took the plunge for the $130 ac adapter and it worked like a charm, the A7 cameras can now stay on months without issue.  I ran into a similar issue with the Canon 6D. The good thing about the Sony and Canon brands are that you wont void any warranties. So once again, use the cheap shit at your own risk. I still use my self made Fuji Adapters, but I use OEM units for my Sony and Canon.
  2. Keeping the plant alive.  
    First off, now you need to water the plant. I will use a chemical sprayer and fill it with distilled water, which allows me to squirt water into the pot of the plant without accidentally bumping anything.  Other times i would use a setup where for one reason or another that would not work, so I would run a small tube to the top side of the pot and glue it in place with a funnel at the other end of the tube, and deliver the water in that method.  If the plant is good with wet feet, you can also just sit the pot in a tray of water. However some plants will not react well to this, so always do your research.
    Lighting the plant. If you are only shooting for a week, you can get away with some pretty easy lighting techniques without the need for day/night cycles. I would just use a 75w bulb and keep it on the entire time, or grab some T5 florescent lights. As you get later in the week the plant might start to stress from constant light, but if planned out correctly you should be able to get the footage before it causes any problems.
  3. Light Control.
    Now that your are spanning several days, you need to get an firm grip on any and all light in the studio. No longer can you simply stick it by the window. There are several ways to handle this.
    1) Room with no windows, or Blacked out windows. This is the best way to do it, but not everyone has access to this.
    2) Shoot in a closet or a grow tent.  With the legalization of certain plants throughout the US there has been a boom in grow tents, they are fairly inexpensive, usually well built, they have easy access to run in cables and wires, and have virtually 100% light control. Also a closet would probably work equally as well if you have the room. If using a tent or a closet, you should look into a LED light instead of a bulb or florescent due to the heat those fixtures put off. Not a “grow light” just a regular fill light. Grow lights often use a spectrum ideal to plant growth and terrible for photography.

This will get you most of the flower shots you want.  I will generally run intervals between 6 minutes and 12 minutes for these shoots depending on how many days I plan to capture. Make sure your memory cards are large enough. Check, doublecheck, triplecheck your focus.  If possible, use an HDMI output to a small monitor so you can keep an eye on the results. But do NOT touch the camera. best bet is once it is running, leave it the heck alone. Shoot tethered, use a monitor, or just be careful in setup, but dont touch the damn camera once it starts. Be very careful with watering as well. I recommend an external intervalometer so you can easily see when the next image is taken so you don’t try to water 10 seconds before it shoots.  If you DO bump the camera, dont freak out and shut it all down. Often this can be corrected in post if required.

Intermediate Term (5 Days – 2 weeks)

This is where shit starts to get real. With the carnivorous plants I generally shoot between 10 to  20 days . This is where you start needing to pay a lot of attention to the plants environment, lighting, and the rest. Unfortunately there are no good turn-key solutions to coordinating the lighting, so some effort into devising some relays may be needed if you want to get involved in this. Intermediate Term gives you a lot more flexibility as to what you plan to shoot. Flowers normally bloom fast enough that this sort of thing is not needed, but if you are filming actual plant growth Short Term is often not going to cut it.

Intermediate Requirements

  1. Grow Lights
    First off, you now need grow lights. Using the single incandescent Bulb just wont cut it anymore, it will not generate enough light for the plant, and for this type of work you need a very good environment for the plant to grow. You want LED. Period. Don’t waste any time and money on ML, or HPS, or Florescent. They are useless for this.  I made this bad decision and wasted some good money. None of those lights are made to be turned on/off throughout the day. Within a few days you will kill the ballasts on the ML and HPS, and drastically shorten the life of the Florescent lights. Go for LED grow lights period. They work awesome, can be turned on and off thousands of times a day without issue, don’t need to warm up, output very consistent light, they are inexpensive, efficient, and dont generate much heat. They are perfect for this type of work.
  2. Fill Lights.
    Whats that? Fill lights?…. yep. grow lights put out all the wrong color for photography. You also need Fill lights. As i had gone over in the last blog post all you need are some inexpensive LED panels normally used for video work. Make sure they can be dimmed, and there is no reason to pay over $100 per light. I use a total of 3. One for the foreground, one for the background, and one for the backdrop if needed.
  3. Light Coordination
    Now you are moving into specialized equipment. You have to be able to time 2 lighting routines at the same time. First off, you have to shut off the grow lights and turn on the fill lights before the camera takes an image.  How you accomplish this is up to you. I am unaware of any turn-key system that allows for this, save for one which I will discuss in a moment.  My solution was to build my BCM (Biolapse Control Module) you can read the blog post about it HERE , but in a nutshell this is my lighting and environmental coordinator. The BCM has 4 relay controlled outlets and it controls all the timing in my system. about 10 seconds before it takes an image it turns on the fill lights. 5 seconds before it triggers the camera it shuts off the grow lights.  It then takes an image, waits 5 seconds and turns the grow lights back on and the fill lights off. All of these timers are configurable in the BCM, but those are the settings I use.
    NEXT, you have to have day/night cycles for the plants. You cant just keep the light on them for 10 days an expect them to be ok with it. Generally much longer than 5 days and most plants will start getting stressed and either stop blooming, stop growing, or start to die. The need their beauty sleep.  My BCM controls this as well, of course this is no use to anyone else as they dont have a BCM.  I am thinking of building a new version of the BCM and may produce a small run if anyone is interested. They will NOT be cheap though, as this sort of thing takes a lot of time and energy to develop and build.
    DRAGONFRAME SOLUTION
    There MIGHT be another option though. Dragonframe has something called the DDMX-512. If you are unaware of Dragonframe, it is program used for stop motion films. I use this myself and recommend it to anyone who wants to do this sort of work.  Dragonframe has the ability to integrate with DMX lighting systems. This is the same system that DJ’s use for lighting effects, concerts, all that sort of stuff. This box will connect to the computer running Dragonframe and enable you to have brilliant full lighting control over your scene, including a “Bash light” which is a work light used while you manipulate the puppets between the images(it IS stop-motion afterall) You would need to get a DMX dimmer pack, which sets you back another 100 bucks or so. You plug the grow light in the dimmer pack, assign that channel as a Bash light. Then plug in the Fill lights to the other channels in the Dimmer pack and assign those as the fill lights. Dragonframe has an extremely well done intervalometer built in, when it gets ready to take the picture it will shut off the Bash light and turn on the fill lights, take the image, then revserse them and shut off the fill lights and turn the Bash light back on.
    Now this gets you most of the way there. You still need day/night cycles which can easily be accomplished with a simple lighting timer plugged between the Grow light and the DMX dimmer pack.
    This is not exactly a cheap setup. Dragonframe is about $300, the DDMX-512 is another $250, and the DMX dimmer pack is another $100 or so. So figure $650 – 700 not including the grow lights and fill lights (typically about $100 each for either).
    So ballpark a budget about $1000 to get the lighting coordination needed for this work.
    Arduino Solution
    Another much cheaper option is using micro controllers. These things are a blast and had been the brains for Dynamic Perception, eMotimo, The Chronos Project, and many other motion control systems. If you are already familiar with Arduino you may well already have it pretty much figured out, if not, this is an awesome thing to learn and its a great way to learn about robotics, automation, sensors, and such. Anybody who commits the time can learn this stuff, its amazing how big of an impact learning this can actually have on your life, and it is a LOT of fun.
  4. Environment.
    I live in Colorado. it is a desert at nearly 6,000ft elevation. Very low levels of humidity, this is NOT a place conducive for many plants. The longer you are shooting a plant, the more this can be a problem. My BCM also has temp/humidity controls. I have a fogging system which is essentially a large plastic storage tub with a pond FOGGER and a PC fan which will blow fog into the room. I can hit a humidity range of approx 20% to 90% in my studio. The BCM also disables the fogger several minutes before the shoot to ensure all the vapor has dissipated before it takes an image. I also have a space heater I can turn on to ratchet up the temp, being in my basement it normally sits around 69 degrees Fahrenheit year round. with all the grow lights on and Otto’s motors hot that room will get around 85 degrees without any ventilation.  I also had to run some ducting and fans for a fresh-air exchange system, if needed I can suck the heated air out of the room in order to cool it. Also having the FAI means that between shoots I can pull fresh air direct from outdoors into the studio to freshen things up a bit. These are all considerations you should keep in mind when doing longer term timelapse. If the plant is not in an ideal environment, it will not grow/flower properly.

Long Term (2 weeks +)

Long Term botanical time lapse is really not much different than Intermediate, however the stakes get much higher. If you ruin a shoot, you lose weeks and months of time. So you really need to make sure you have everything setup correctly. I have some recommendations to help with the success.

  1. Watering.
    Automated Watering Systems are super handy. Nothing is worse than shooting for 2 weeks, finally getting the development you were looking for in a plant, and end up kicking the set or camera stand when watering the plants. I have experimented with many types of watering systems and they all have different times when they would be best employed. The main thing is to give yourself a way to water the plants without touching them. Whether it is a pump in a bucket with some drop lines, or a large tray underneath for bottom watering, or using a chemical sprayer and squirting water to the plant, explore your options to to see what works best with the plants.
    Fouling Water can be a real problem. This most often occurs when a plant is sitting in a tub with any amount of standing water. Doing water changes might not be possible without disrupting the set. I have tried with filtration systems but in general they are just expensive and problematic. If you want to water from the bottom using a large tray and dont want the water to foul an easy way to resolve this issue is to use Sphagnum Moss in the watering tray.  It has natural antibacterial properties that keep the water fresh. It is cheap to buy live, it handles the mail very well, and grows very fast. There are plenty of youtube tutorials on how to cultivate sphagnum moss, and it is very easy to keep alive.  My live sets live in large tupperware containers with hundreds of holes drilled in for drainage, those sit in larger trays that have distilled water with clumps of sphagnum moss for months on end and the water never fouls, Just top it off from time to time.
  2. Dealing with bugs
    You would be amazed what shows up in soil. Beetles. Worms. Bugs. you name it. But how to get rid of them? Well, not all plants work well with pesticides. Most carnivorous plants will die when exposed to that stuff. You can usually use something like Neem oil as a safe alternative but it might not be enough.  So here are a few trade secrets.

    1. Pressure cook your soil.
      Just seriously pressure cook the shit out of it. That should kill pretty much ANYTHING inside.
    2. CO2 baths.
      If you have a living set and an aphid infestation or something along those lines happens, drown the buggers in CO2. Take the plants/set and put them in a large bin. Add a couple large cans of water and dump in dry ice. The dry ice will generate massive amounts of CO2 which weighs more than oxygen.  Light a match, if you lower it past the top of the container and it goes out, then the container is full of CO2. Then put a lid on the container and leave it somewhere for a couple days. The plants will be fine, but all those little critters will drown from a lack of oxygen.  I highly recommend this before doing a long term shoot where they might be disruptive.
    3. Biological Warfare.
      I have quite a few carnivorous plants, when it comes to efficiency on getting all the little tiny bugs the most effective are the Drosera, also known as Sundews.  Drosera Capensis are relatively hardy.  Mine are grown in 3-4 inch pots with a mix of Sphagnum Pete, silica, and chopped up New Zealand sphagnum moss. They sit in about an inch of water with plenty of light and they produce tons of narrow leaves with little sticky fingers that are excellent at catching prey.  My largest Drosera Capensis are about the size of softballs. They can take down almost any sized prey, from flies to tiny tiny aphids that Venus fly traps are unable to capture.  Normally when shooting a live set i will have 3-4 of these surrounding the set and they do a great job of keeping the pest population down.  Just be sure to read up on how to care for them, they require distilled water, no tap water ever. Drosera Capensis can usually be purchased live for about 7-8 bucks per plant, they reproduce and over the course of time you might find the 3 you started out with have spawned another half dozen smaller ones which can quickly grow to mature size. Carniverous plants require a bit of knowledge, but a few youtube tutorials should be plenty. Stick with the Drosera Capensis. If you spend $70 on some other fancy Drosera you may find the one you purchased for $30 never gets bigger than a dime.
  3. Power disruptions.
    Buy a UPS power backup, plug the Fill lights, camera, and any controllers into this. if using a computer to run dragonframe use a laptop as it has a built in batter backup. If using any moco, make sure they are plugged in.  Do NOT plug the grow lights into the UPS, the plants will be fine with a short outage of grow lights and you dont want them draining the battery backup.  My battery backup is enough to power all 5 cameras, otto, and the fill lights for about 30 minutes. I have pretty stable power, but already that has saved my butt 2-3 times.

I hope these tips are useful.

Generally anything a week and under is very simple and requires very little specialized equipment and you can get excellent results. That’s about all I have for now.  Next time around I might go with control systems and motion control.  Please leave a note in the comments if there are things you would like me to cover

Botanical Time-lapse tips. Part 1) Dealing with Flicker

Hello folks!

I hope you have all been well! It has been a little while since I put up a blog post. Lack of time would be the reason. Summer is coming, nurseries are selling more plants which are getting ready to bloom, and there is just a lot of shooting to do, and I am not the only one doing this stuff either. It seems to have been a… blossoming (hahaha) of other time lapse photographers that are giving a hand at botanical timelapse photography! I am very excited about this too! I love seeing how other people go about things and I love watching their results.

I have a lot of information buried within this blog, and figured maybe it would be nice to put out a Tips & Tricks blog for the aspiring botanical time lapse photographers. I have been focusing on plants now for 4 years, I have learned a lot, made many many many mistakes, some of them pretty costly, and if I can help others out to save them time, money, and energy, well, that’s what I love to do.

 

Avoiding Flicker

The most common issue I see with botanical time lapse is flicker. Many of the photographers experimenting with this seem to have flicker to some degree, and there is just no need for it. None of mine have any flicker whatsoever since 2014, I never use de-flickering software, and I am happy to share my secret.

It took me a while to figure it out, but the flicker can be a combination of several things. Bulbs not warming up, exposure inconsistencies, lack of control of light in a room. This is the most common thing I have seen on many of the new botanical time lapses I have seen.  So lets just go ahead and crush this one now and you will NEVER have annoying flicker in your time-lapses again.

Lighting

I only use LED lighting. I have tried many forms of light.  Traditional bulbs. Florescent. Strobes. Speed-lights. None of these in my view are very good.

  • Bulbs work “OK” However as they warm up I sometimes run into color shifting which can cause some white balance flicker. if the bulb is on NON-STOP it works pretty well, but if you have it on steady through the day then have it turning on and off during the night cycle, you will probably notice a slight hue shift during the evening. The on-off switching can take its toll as well, and there may be some overall dimming. With bulbs its best just to turn it on and keep it on the entire time, this is good with shorter timelapse sequences, but shooting much past a few days the plants will become distressed.
  • Florescent. Sort of the same as bulbs, but worse if you run them constant for a day cycle then turn them on and off for night. There will be some very heavy issues with exposure as it takes several minutes for them to get to max brightness.  Works OK if you are just doing a few days of shooting.
  • Studio Strobes. When I first started I was using some Elinchrom studio strobes. At first I actually had pretty good results, but after a while the bulbs in the strobes started to be less and less consistent as they aged.  I am not sure how may shots you should be able to get with a tube, but a week of shooting will rack up hundreds of discharges. If I remember correctly, after a few thousand discharges I started getting quite a bit of flicker.
  • Speed-lights, same issues as with the Studio Strobes but you also have to keep replacing the batteries. No good for this work.
  • LED. Yes. This is it. This is what you want. LED Lights. Nothing beats them for this type of work. There is no warm up time, they produce very constant and even lighting. you CAN still get flicker if you are shooting with a fast shutter speed and using PWM. But this is easy to overcome. You can turn LED on and off as many times as you want, the output is always the same.  I only use LED period. If you look at my work over the last few years, there is ZERO flicker, and much of this has to do with the LED lighting.  And the best part is the LED lighting does NOT need to be expensive, and high power LED is useless for the time lapse portion (but it is beneficial for macro video work). So there is really no need to go run out and spend thousands of dollars on LED panels. I use 2 cheap ones off amazon and cost me under $100 each, and even then I spend more than I probably needed.. Look for something dim-able (pwm is fine unless you are doing video).

Shutter Speeds. 

Woah there buddy. Slow down. The plants are barely moving. Fast shutter speeds are your ENEMY.  Let me explain why. Shutter speed is usually pretty constant, however there can be very minor inconsistencies on the speed of the shutter.  I am going to throw some numbers out just to demonstrate why, but these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as they are probably inaccurate in reality, but accurate for the example.

1/1000th of a second is a single Millisecond.  Lets say your camera shutter has a variance of 1 millisecond.  When shooting with speeds of 1/10th of a second, that means your shutter speed would be anywhere between 99 to 101 miliseconds. So you have a variation of approximately 2%.

If you take an image, and make a 2% exposure adjustment in photoshop, you can see the difference between the two images. This is what causes shutter speed Flicker.

Now lets move that shutter speed to 1 second.  That means with the 1 millisecond variance your shutter speed is 999 to 1001 miliseconds, meaning you have a variation of approximately 0.2% instead of 2%.  That 0.2% exposure adjustment is far more difficult to see than the 2%.

Of course, camera shutter speed variances are far less than 1 millisecond, as most cameras can shoot 1/4000th of a second and faster with pretty consistent looking results.

PWM Flicker

Lets say you are using LED lighting. It may be a voltage regulator adjusting the brightness, but many use PWM to adjust brightness, which essentially is just making the light work like a strobe so fast that it seems solid. This shows up on video quite often as rolling lines of lighter and darker areas due to the way the image sensor pulls its data.

Lets say you have your LED’s nice and dim, 10% and 20% power.  What you see below, the x shows when the LED is off, the 1 shows when it is on.  10% has half the number of ON as the 20% making it 1/2 the power.  100% means it is steady on.

10% = xxxxxxxxx1xxxxxxxx1xxxxxxxx1xxxxxxx1
20% = xxxx1xxxx1xxxx1xxxx1xxxx1xxxx1xxxx1xxxx1
100% = 11111111111111111111111111111111111

If the LED cycles 100 times, at 10% during a 1/100th shutter speed, you will get variance as sometimes you will get the LED on 99, or 100 times during that exposure, it depends where in cycle when the exposure starts. This gives a 1% variance that can potentially show up as flicker depending on how many times the LED burst while the shutter was open.

if you have a 1 second exposure, the LED would pulse on about 9,999 to 10,000 times during that 1 second, meaning the variance is substantially lower, meaning a far smoother output with virtually no visible flicker.

(once again, numbers for illustrative purposes only)

Aperture. 

I shoot non native lenses. So the aperture is locked in place the whole time,  but just light shutter speed on native lenses there WILL be some aperture slop that will cause flicker. This is well known within the landscape timelapse community, and many people use Nikon Lenses adapted to whatever body you are using.

Light pollution Flicker

This one you have to get a handle on, even if just shooting for an afternoon. My recommendation is a windowless room, or blackout curtains. Any light from the outside can mess things up due to clouds, reflections, sunny morning and cloudy day, etc.

if you are unable to get some space with complete light control you might want to look into shooting within a grow tent, they provide excellent light control to prevent light contamination from the outside world.

If that is not an option, you might just have to look for a day where the forecast shows full sun and keep the shoot to mid-day. there are quite a few flowers you can find that will bloom in less than an hour such as daffodils.

Easy breezy

In the end, the recipe to 100% completely eliminate flicker is simple. LED lighting. Slow shutter speed. Locked Aperture.

When shooting plants often you are using close focus or macro lenses, so it is far more beneficial to shoot at f/16 or f/22 for the larger depth of field (area in focus), which also makes it easier to use longer shutter speeds.

When I am shooting my LED panels are normally at about 10-20% brightness. My shutter speeds are always longer than 1 second. My aperture is almost NEVER wider than f/11.

Oh and one more benefit of a slow shutter speed, if there are any tiny bugs flying around they wont show up in the image.

 

Hopefully if you are into botanical time lapse and have been running into issues with flicker this may help you out.
I will be doing a few more of these blog posts in the next few weeks. If anybody has any topics they would like me to cover let me know. 🙂

I already did that.

So sometimes I start a project and lose track of  SQUIRREL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HAH.  I mean sometimes I get distracted and lose track of shit. For every 10 ideas i have of something I want to do, only 1-2 of them come to be realized.  A lot of this just has to do with a finite amount of time. Being a single parent, having a full time career, working on Biolapse, and attempting to have some sort of a social life, I just have too many things I want to do.

Sometimes though I get pretty far on something and completely forget that I had even done it. Case in point, the BCM2. I would like to build a better version of the BCM.  There are two main concerns I have to work with. The hardware, and software.

In order to keep things tidy,  I usually try to design the PBC in Designspark then fire it off to DFRobot since they have a super affordable prototyping service where small runs of circuit boards can be manufactured for very low cost.

I was spending some time today trying to arrange and organize a PCB that would house eight a4988 stepper drivers for a Arduino Mega shield.  This is part of a project where I plan to gut the eMotimo and put my own electronics in it, converting it to a Dragonframe controlled stepper driver hub.

Before anyone gets too excited, this will be an AC powered studio rig, not really something portable to the field without some generator of some sort.

I had created a template for the stepper drivers, and I was trying to locate it when I ran across a BCM PCB design file.

I popped it open, and holy crap. I literally have no memory of doing this.

8 relay outputs? CHECK!
Multiple Optically isolated outputs? CHECK!
Joystick, Encoder, and Buttons for inputs? CHECK
Real Time Clock Module? CHECK
DHT 22 Temp/Humidity interface? CHECK
I2C connection for display? CHECK!

NICE! I had completely forgotten about this. The file is from 2015.  All i need to do is review it and make sure it is setup correctly, fire it off to DFROBOT and then start ordering the parts for the BCM2.

Now if i just had a DFMOCO arduino shield already designed……

 

 

Shooting Wildflowers

Hey folks.

I am currently out in Sedona Az on vacation. I always love this time of the year as the wildflowers are starting to bloom.  This week I have been using the Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 macro lens on a Sony A7 and I absolutely love it. I figured this may make a fun blog post to do sort of a review on this lens/camera combination for this purpose.  I have always been into macro photography but 60 and 100mm are always so tight. You can get the subject but the background is usually pretty non existent, at least, it does not really become as big of a part of the photograph as the main subject.

Up to this point my favorite wildflowe lens was the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye, while it is not a “macro” lens it had such a huge DOF that you could pretty much focus on something that was touching the lens. However the fisheye aspect made it a bit tricky to use.  I had that lens for about a year and ended up selling off all my Nikon gear in a move to mirrorless. Personally I really prefer mirrorless over DSLR,  the battery life is not awesome, but the cameras are small and light, they take very little room in a backpack, and are not as conspicuous as a large DSLR.

They almost always include an articulating screen which I find remarkably handy with timelapse work, and there is no mirror assembly to get jammed up. Not that there is a huge problem with that, but the less moving parts the less potential mechanical failures.

I loved my setup from Fuji, I had an Xe1, Xm1 and an XT-1, all which produce fantastic results, however I never had a very good close focus wide angle lens that would get the results I wanted with wildflowers.

Until now.

The moment I saw the Venus Optics Laowa 15mm F/4 macro lens I knew I wanted one. It is a very niche lense to be sure. 15mm is extremely wide on a full frame camera, and it has fairly low distortion which would make it a pretty solid landscape lens. However the macro aspect is what really fascinated me.

I finally picked one up in late july 2016, well after the wildflower season. I played around with it a bit but missed the prime time to use it for what it would excel with.

The lens itself is very well built. it appears to be all metal and glass. It has a very solid feel to it that many lenses are missing these days. Physically it has a few quirks. First off, the aperture ring and the focus ring are reversed. This takes some time to get used to. even after using this lens non stop for a week, I still want to reach to the end of the lens to adjust the focus.

The focusing is very precise but a bit odd. Being a wide angle lens it naturally has a deep DOF, and the first 75% or so of the rotation shifts the focus only a few cm. From 1 m to infinity is almost instant. They are marked in meters which yankees like me sometimes struggle with. I know what 4 inches, 1 foot, 1.5 feet look like, but i get a bit hazy with 17cm. So it takes a few shots before I usually get it right.

Shooting Bees

Both the focus ring and aperture ring feel fantastic. There is a very smooth yet solid feel to them. No slop, no play.

The image quality is outstanding. I have never looked for MTF charts, but I would expect the sharpness scores very high. Off to the corners it does soften a little bit, but not enough that I have noticed it to be a problem. There is an ever so slight vignetting that occurs, but I personally find some slight vignetting to be aesthetically pleasing and it brings attention to the center of the frame(as long as it is not drastic)

The bokeh is pretty good too. While this lens is f/4 and wide angle it is not really great at blowing out the background. I normally find myself shooting between f/11 to f/32 in full daylight. It still manages to render the background content out of focus enough to isolate the subject.

This lens is also sort of a tilt shift lens too. The lever for it totally sucks, and it is one of those scenarios where you push the level and start trying to shift the lens, and it finally gives free and moves to the extreme. Same when returning it back, so you have to put effort in and pace your motion in order to move it partially. When using the tilt shift the vignetting gets very severe at the opposing side. It does do a good job of correcting distortion though. I spend some time playing with that today at Courthouse Rock.

Lens flare can be a bit of an issue. I have shot with some lenses that can give very pleasing lens flare, this is not really one of them. It manifests as a very sharp tight chain of shapes, and I tend to try to avoid lens flare with this one.

My main gripe with it is the barrel flange is stupid huge. it extends well out further than it really needs to. It has a 77mm filter thread and could easily have been just a 70. The flange flare at the end is just obnoxious and creates shadows where you dont want it. The close focus on this lens is literally just a few mm away from the glass, so with the size of the flange you take up nearly half the light hitting the subject. Good luck getting 1:1 with bugs unless they are walking on the lens……. which gives me a neat idea….

I have found to get real close you have to really pick and chose your shots. I picked up a cheap flash from Newwer. I generally dont like using flash, and have had some pretty hit and miss experiences with it. I much prefer natural light, but you have to work with what you got.  I picked this one up because it provides TTL metering and only cost about $60. I used to have several Nikon flashes, two SB-600’s and an SB-900, and after experimenting around with them for several months I ended up hardly ever using them. So cheap was a factor. I liked the design of this flash as it moves the strobe head forward closer to the front of the lens. Then I picked up this cheap flash modifier from amazon. The idea was to curl the front of it down to roll the light over the flange and illuminate the subject.

After spending a few days I found that the flash works fairly well when aimed about 45 degrees to the side and hand holding the bounce to reflect the light back in, but my best results are without the flash, and just holding the bounce and using it as a reflector.

All the nitpicks aside, this has become my favorite lens hands down. The more I use it the better the results. Shooting Bee’s has been a LOT of fun. I set it to f/16 , iso 800, and 1/-500-1/800 shutter speed and set the focus about 1.5cm away from the front element, then just start shoving the camera into the faces of the bees and snapping away. I get quite a bit of bad ones, but some really good ones too.

Check out this bee’s butt.

As for the A7, well, its a decent body. I really wish Sony would pick up on fujis control scheme. I love the control of the XT-1, and pretty much always shoot manual because of that camera. The sony allows for manual control but I dont like the front and rear dials.  If i could stuff the Sony’s guts into an XT-1 it would be a perfect camera for me. I really do dig the sensor of the A7 though. Beautiful colors.

I am eyeing the Sony A7r II very closely right now. Getting such high ISO performance AND IBIS would be huge with this lens.

BCM2

So my Biolapse Control Module has a relay that is starting to flake out. This is the 2nd time this has happened, but to be fair that relay has probably turned off 10-12k times in the past 2 years.

It is going to be a PITA to swap out. For the most part the BCM has run flawless, but there are some nitpicks I have about it. Heck I basically hacked a chronoshield and cut some traces and added new ones to get a lot of the circuit work done. Most of it works, but this Biolapse project is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and I would like to build something a bit more flexible.

Last night i started sketching out the concept behind the BCM2. How could I build upon the original, how can I improve. I had thought about doing this a little while back but I got distracted with Otto.

My requirements,

Better control interface, larger screen for more data
Dual power rails, one protect, one non.
8 assignable outlets, 3 protect, 5 non
Day/night cycles
Grow light control
Fill light control
Temp control (high/low mark)
Humidity control (high/low mark)
Pump control for watering cycles
Adjustable pre/post shot buffers for grow lights and fill lights
Easy to replace relays, plug n play as much as possible.
Input trigger for external timer
2 -3 triggers for camera or external moco
Better chassis, better build.

I will build myself 2 for sure. I like having a backup. If there is interest I might actually make a small limited run of these, 7-8 total and put some of them up for sale. Considering how much work is involved in building/coding these things, they would not be cheap, but at least obtainable. Depending on the difficulty, maybe a grand. May sound like a lot for a glorified set of relays, but it will be a very small run of hand made systems. Very time consuming for a single father with a full time career and a could side businesses.

Something like this is hardly needed for flower blooms as those are usually done in a few days and you can just keep a light on the whole time, but any sort of seed-adult type work, or anything that may take a few weeks the plants start to suffer as fill lights dont hit the spectrums they need very well, and the lack of day/night cycles can stunt growth or even kill the plants. So this really is a specialty system. But i might as well make a couple extra.

Ill be sure to blog about the status and how things are going.