Tag Archives: Apple

Creating art with an iPad

For my birthday earlier this year I purchased an iPad mini. The pricing and specifications had hit about the right place and the platform, to my mind, had matured nicely. After the initial scepticism about tablet computers being suitable only for consumption, it’s become a ripe market for all kinds of creativity, from music making, writing (I am composing this in the WordPress app, as I slump on my sofa) and photography. It’s now possible to draw on this iPad thing, and I was keen to try it out.

At first, I tried using my fingers. This is fine, but limited in finesse, even with my relatively slimline digits. I’m much more used to a pencil or brush, so the obvious next step was some kind of stylus. Happily, this market, too, has matured. There is quite a selection of styluses available for most of the tablet platforms.

After research, chiefly asking what everyone else might be using, I made my choice. Early styluses either had large rounded tips, to replicate the finger tip, or used clear discs. I really wanted a small tip, as close to a proper pen or “traditional” graphics stylus as possible. The choice came down to two designs, from the same company.

Wacom are no strangers to the graphics tablet and stylus market. I have owned a variety of tablets from them, the current one being an A4 sized behemoth attached to my desktop Mac. The Intuos Creative Stylus 2 by Wacom was duly ordered.

Wacom Package

The Creative Stylus 2 is not cheap, retailing between £60 and £80 depending on where you look. You do, however, get a fair amount for the money.

Neat Package

The stylus comes in a hard plastic carrying case, which has a hinged lid and non-slip underside.

Spare Nib and Tool

Inside you find the stylus neatly held in a shaped slot, with a spare tip and built-in changing tool, and the USB charging cable. This uses a standard micro-USB socket.

Business End

The stylus is well weighted, and feels very comfortable in the hand. Shaped very much like the traditional graphics tablet styluses from Wacom, the main barrel is aluminium with a soft touch grip area at the sharp end. A double rocker switch, which is customisable in software if it’s supported, falls neatly under the finger or thumb.

Recharge Socket

At the top end, a rubberised captive cap hides the charging socket. Battery and connection status is shown by a small LED.

After an initial charging cycle of about two hours, the stylus is read to use. Battery life is claimed to be 26 hours, but with typical intermittent use a charge may well last a week or more. The stylus connects to the iPad via Bluetooth. Connection is simple: open the creative app of choice and press the centre of the rocker switch. The stylus’ LED flashes a few times, and away you go. Interestingly, you can use the stylus as a pointer or finger substitute elsewhere within the iOS environment, but it really comes into its own in a supported drawing app.

I have Pixelmator for iPad, and have also downloaded some apps to test things out to find which I find most comfortable. The roster now includes Sketchbook Express, Inspire Pro and Bamboo Paper. All three fit neatly in my card-carrying skinflint category by being free, with “in app” purchases, and are listed by Wacom as supporting the Creative Stylus. Bamboo Paper is from Wacom, and designed to support many of their range of styluses.

While this post is supposed to be a review of the Creative Stylus, inevitably I find I have to review the software I tried as well. Let’s begin with the manufacturer’s own software.

Bamboo Paper from Wacom

Bamboo UI

Bamboo Paper is a fairly simple app. It uses the metaphor of notebooks, with up to four different kinds called “Thinker”, “Maker”, “Artist” and “Writer”. “Maker” and “Writer” are so-called in-app purchases, but the other two are provided free. I can’t actually tell what the differences are between them, aside from the default cover pattern! You can customise the cover colour, and what kind of “paper” the notebook uses, as well as give it a title.

The interface is clean and simple. Depending on the orientation of your iPad, a selection of tools appears along one edge. You can also hide all interface elements if you find them distracting.

From my screen grab, you can see the stylus configuration panel. It allows you to connect the stylus to the iPad and the software quickly. Once connected, you get stylus battery life data, you can tell the software whether you’re right or left handed, and you can choose functions for the two buttons.

The tools, from the top down, are bookmark, eraser, ink/paint colour, drawing tool, stylus link, hide all tools toggle, redo, undo, share, import or take a photo, home (to the top level of the app).

Perhaps my technique needs refining, but even with the fine tip of the stylus I find it hard to hit the active areas of each tool. I usually resort to a finger tip!

The drawing tools are fairly limited. Fine pen, smudge brush, pencil, manga brush, charcoal and crayon, each with three sizes. The colour palette doesn’t—as far as I can work out—let you add any new colours beyond those provided. The eraser tool does offer an option to clear the page if you’ve really made a hash of things!

Bamboo Paper

The app seems to like swift pen strokes. This abstract thing was drawn up using the pencil tool. It’s the kind of thing I doodle in quiet moments. I could have drawn out a wireframe in a lighter colour to get the lines better, firming things up later using the zoom and pan abilities of the software. There are no layers available in Bamboo Paper. It’s designed for quick notes and sketches, rather than complex works of art. When you’re done, you can export to Photos, the cloud or to a wifi printer.

So far, this is the only app I’ve tried that truly supports palm rejection.

Inspire Pro by KiwiPixel

Inspire Pro

This is an altogether different animal. I am still having trouble finding my way round the odd interface presented by Inspire Pro. It takes a while to find, but you can dig into tools quite deeply. I haven’t really warmed to it yet. One thing this app does the others reviewed here do not is to let you scale and rotate the digital paper on your iPad screen. Anyone who might have used Corel Painter will understand why this is an excellent feature. It overcomes one of the problems I find with drawing on the iPad, which I’ll explain at the end.

That is why this review is quite short! Inspire Pro lets you share your work with other users,  if you like, as well as the usual export and print options. The painting tools try to replicate natural media, but as I said, I am finding it a little hard to get to grips with right now.

Autodesk Sketchbook Express

Sketchbook X UI

Sketchbook Express is the polar opposite to Inspire Pro. Where the latter has a toylike interface and a “pro” name, Sketchbook has a “cheap” name but professional level tools. To get any better, you need to upgrade (or unlock) to the Sketchbook Pro version, which I think can actually be done through the installed app. It’s all explained on their web site, whichever way it works.

Three layers are supported—one of the limitations of this free app—so you can import an image, and trace over it on a new layer. You can merge layers, as well as hide them and change their opacity. You quickly learn layer management if you want to create more complex art.

From the screen grab you can see the fairly comprehensive tool and colour picker palette. A small selection of drawing, painting and erasing tools is provided, each of which can be adjusted for radius and opacity. You can also set the tools to draw a freehand line (as above), or restrict it to straight lines or shapes. From the left, the icons are home, add new artwork/import, info, undo, redo, drawing/painting tool, line style, reflect/mirror tool, [text and transform tools which would show on a larger screen device] and the layer tool.

A small circular button can be seen at the bottom centre of the screen grab. This allows you to control brush properties and various other things. The interface has been pretty much optimised for finger painting, with many built-in gestures, some of which work with the stylus, some of which don’t. You can also set an area to be designated as a “palm rest”, which lets you rest your hand anywhere the area is placed on the artwork while you draw with the stylus or your finger. I could grow to like that. While Wacom say this software supports the Creative Stylus, there is no feedback on battery life or ability to customise the buttons.

If you are into DeviantArt, you can share your creations with the site and other users. Otherwise, the software manages your artwork on the iPad, with export to Photos and so on. If you have the desktop version of the software, artwork can be shared back and forth, too (Pro version only).

Sketchbook X

Sketchbook Express has a lot of depth and power. This image was created from a photo, by sketching over it on a new layer. Once I’d finished the drawing, I deleted the photo layer, and added another for the shading effects.

Sketchbook X 2

This sketch was created in the same fashion, using layers for the fill effects under a line drawing. Carefully managing your three layers in Sketchbook Express, you can create to your heart’s content.

Pixelmator for iPad

Pixelmator 1

Pixelmator for iPad is the relative newcomer to this field. The Mac OS version of Pixelmator has been available for a few years now, and has come on in leaps and bounds. I have adopted it as my default image editing application for retouching, allowing me to drop the dreaded Photoshop at last. I don’t need CMYK support, so I can get away with this drastic choice! Alone among this review of apps, Pixelmator costs money to buy—a bank-breaking £3 or so. It’s one of the few iOS apps I’ve felt compelled to actually shell out real money for!

When Apple decided to kill the iOS version of iPhoto, and replace it with the pared down Photos instead, I really missed the painting and editing tools, basic though they were. Pixelmator has filled that hole, with plenty to spare. Pixelmator for iPad is not simply a cut-down version of the desktop program. It has many of the same features as its bigger sibling, and allows some serious pixel shifting to be done.

I was hoping I could use Pixelmator for pure art generation, as well as simple editing of photos snapped on my iPad. The tools available include a fine variety of pens, pencils, brushes, airbrushes and so on. It also supports the Creative Stylus properly.

I came upon some issues, though. Pixelmator insists on popping open the colour picker when I want to draw something. The upshot of this is I have to keep resetting the colour I was using, because the picker works under the stylus tip and changes as soon as you touch the screen! I reported this back to Pixelmator, and they admit the colour picker is a bit sensitive, and they plan to look at how they can improve this issue.

Etchasketch

Not quite as annoying as the snappy colour picker is the issue of wobbly diagonals. In this screen grab, you can see definite waves in the diagonal lines. The first one, top left, was a quick sketchy line, but the subsequent ones were drawn more slowly, as might be the case if you were tracing something. The set of three at the bottom were created using a proper real world ruler to guide the stylus, because I wanted to prove it wasn’t just my hand movement influencing the line. I think this is an issue with the way the pixels are mapped. Horizontal and vertical lines are clean and crisp at any speed, but the diagonals are a problem at slow speed. I need to report this to Pixelmator’s developers.

Another mapping issue, most noticeable with Pixelmator, is if you rotate the iPad the point at which you are drawing becomes markedly offset from where the tip of the stylus is touching the screen. I tried various things, including locking the rotation of the iPad, which helped a little, but it never really goes away. I find I end up holding the iPad at odd angles to let me draw a line where I want it to go.

The issue of palm rejection is something which I also mentioned to the software developers. There is nothing in the app about it, and the usual fixes, like switching off multitasking gestures in the iPad Settings, had no effect. According to the reply I got from my feedback: “We chose not to support it, because it doesn’t work very well.” Well, that’s fair enough, I suppose.

Some of these issues are software related, some are operator problems. Like drawing on a graphics tablet while you look at the screen ahead of you, there are certain things you can’t do easily. As a right-handed person, I find I want to turn the work so I can draw things where my hand would otherwise be. This is not something that comes naturally to an iPad!

Where Pixelmator really scores, though, is things like layers, styles, text, editing tools and just the general feeling of power and control over the image you’re working on. It really is a sensational tool!

Pixelmator UI

Here’s the usual interface, with the layers panel showing. In this bit of playfulness, I’ve imported an image I took quickly yesterday, and painted a glow on a layer above it. I duplicated the original layer, arranged it on top, then carefully cut out the car from the background. The red line is a style effect applied to the topmost layer.

I really like Pixelmator for iPad. Apart from palm rejection and the wobbly diagonal lines, the software supports the Creative Stylus with battery life feedback and customisable buttons. I currently have it set so one button switches to the eraser, and the other toggles back to the current brush tool. For a first version, this app is amazing, and can only really get better with each new version!

Intuous Creative Stylus 2

This review was supposed to be about the Intuos Creative Stylus 2. From a big name in the world of graphics hardware, the Creative Stylus is not lacking in quality. It’s well designed, feels good in the hand, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. The tip is a lot smaller than some of the other styluses available, which makes it feel more natural in use.

Pressure 01

Where I have issues, they centre mainly around the whole drawing on a glass screen thing. It’s not a paper sketchpad, and I always want to rotate it to draw at a comfortable angle for my hand. Unless I lock the orientation, the iPad spins the interface to suit the direction it thinks I am now working in! Equally, if I managed to turn the iPad to a reasonable angle, the stylus doesn’t draw where the tip touches, but shifted off up and to the right, by quite some distance in some instances. This is quite disconcerting if you are attempting to follow a line by tracing something else. If I try the old graphics tablet trick of curling my hand round—rather like we used to when trying to hide our work at school!—so I can see where the tip is supposed to go, the iPad and stylus have quite a falling out because the palm rejection throws a tantrum as well as the tip orientation being skewed.

Pressure 03

There’s also a tiny amount of lag between making the mark and it appearing on the screen. In these photos, I’ve not lifted the stylus from the iPad. What you’re seeing is the split second before the line catches up to where the tip is. Another tiny issue is because the stylus is linked to the iPad wirelessly, you can sometimes make a mark without the tip actually touching the surface. That can make handwriting interesting, as you try to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Wacom recommends some things to overcome issues that might be encountered. For example, turn off multitasking gestures on the iPad. Another is if the tip location is not matching the drawn line, hold the stylus more vertically. This certainly helps, but it’s not perfect. In the end, I think it’s down to practice, practice, practice. The more I use the stylus and iPad together, the more I will become used to the foibles and learn to get the best from them.

The Creative Stylus package is a well-made unit with a nice tough case that won’t mind being thrown around in the bottom of a bag. The battery life has proved to be excellent, with over 80% left from the first charge, with my intermittent usage over the past few days since the box arrived. The spare tip, with the removal tool built into the case, is an excellent extra, too.

Would I recommend the Creative Stylus if you’re looking for a graphics tablet style input for your iPad? Yes, if you want to be able to draw and sketch on your iPad, and if you’re happy to work within the limitations I’ve explained, I can recommend it.

Progress

It seems to be inevitable that eventually you begin to hit the end stops of what your computer is capable of. I’ve owned my current Mac, a 2.33GHz Intel Core2Duo MacBook Pro, since the middle of 2008. It has served me well, and still manages to just keep its head above water most of the time. Sadly, software moves on, and I find myself getting frustrated and struggling at times to make headway.

As an example of what I mean, let’s take a look at how my machine handles processing images in Aperture. I import Canon RAW files to Aperture, and do the small amount of post processing I generally require. I rate and make selections, shuffle things about into projects and folders, and export directly to Flickr or 500px via plugins, or export JPEGs for other uses.

Exporting
Exporting JPEGs. According the Activity Monitor, that relatively simple process needs nearly all of both processor cores.

With the Mac maxxed out with 3GB RAM, there’s precious little overhead left for anything else. It’s reaching a point where I have to plan my productivity, deciding which applications to run and when. When running Pixelmator, I even have to periodically reboot the computer to clear caches and memory. It’s like the 1990s all over again!

Activity
The galling thing is a new Mac is affordable, just not right at the moment. After nearly a decade of mobile computing, I’ve decided to put down roots at my desk again. My next Mac will be a Mac mini, and I’ll max out the RAM from the start!

A nasty dose of nostalgia

By nature, I am a hoarder. I don’t like to throw stuff away—it might come in handy one day. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Just occasionally, though, I force myself to go through the somewhat painful process of clearing the hoarded stuff of years.

We’re doing it now, as it happens. I’m blogging while taking a break from rearranging our shared studio space (a back bedroom in our house). We’ve cleared out about a decade’s worth of accrued junk, most of which is finding its way to our local recycling centre. I had stashed a bunch of software boxes under a desk, and because we wanted to shift some cupboards about to make some space, they had to go. 

Well, some of it had to go. Versions of the Mac OS and various bits of software that won’t install, let alone run, on my collection of Apple hardware. It’s useless to all intents and purpose, but I just can’t quite find it in my geeky heart to get rid of all of it.

Take Softpress UniQorn, for example.

Img_4126

To run UniQorn, I need a Mac running System 7 and QuickDraw GX. The oldest Mac I own in working order is currently capable of running OS 8, but that’s too modern—and I don’t even have a copy of that OS any more! So, I keep the UniQorn box, complete with the umpteen 3.5in installation floppies because when I bought the software I didn’t even have a CD-ROM drive on my machine, just for the sheer geeky archaeology of it.

Img_4120

It’s the same with QuarkXPress 4. I can actually run that on one of my Macs, but there’s no point. I think I keep it around simply because of how much it cost me to purchase back in the day. I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but it definitely had four figures before the decimal place…

Img_4123

There’s a part of me that would love to get hold of an old Quadra or PowerPC Mac with System 7 on it so I could install UniQorn again. But then, the realist in me jumps to the fore and reminds me that once I’d played with it, and rebooted a few times due to the inevitable crashes, I’d soon get bored with it. Best to leave it in the box, with all the memories.

The WebSE Mac System 7 emulation

While we’re in geek nostalgia mode, try this one for size.

I began my love affair with Apple and the Macintosh computer on little beige boxes with tiny black and white screens built in. This web site offers a Flash-based emulation of such a machine running Macintosh System 7. I used to design and lay out entire magazines in QuarkXPress one-dot-something-or-other on a screen that size.

http://myoldmac.net/webse-e.htm

 

Here’s to the future now…

I recall hoping 2011 would improve on the utter disaster that was 2010. I have to admit to being disappointed. 2011 hasn’t really been much better. I wonder what 2012 might have in store for me.

Yes, it’s that time of the year when I sit down and review where I have been over the past 12 months, and where I want to go over the next.

Not having a regular income to speak of has rather curbed my wanderlust, so any photographic expeditions in 2011 have been closer to home. Apart from a couple of sallies beyond the confines of Kent—model railway exhibitions earlier in the year took me as far as Wigan and York, and a brief day trip to Shropshire a few weeks ago took in the RAF Museum at Cosford—I have had to be content with places that don’t cost a fortune to visit.

I made a couple of exploratory visits to places during the year. Dungeness and the Isle of Grain have been earmarked for further exploration. Faversham piqued my interest, and warrants a longer visit. Trips to flesh out my “Margins” photo project were relatively few, mainly incorporating the north shore of the River Medway, which has turned into one of my regular haunts. I suppose I have managed to get some good images during the year.

Gear-wise, selling off some other hobby items enabled me to upgrade my DSLR from the Canon EOS 400D to the 7D. I also added an ƒ/2.8 70–300mm lens, and a few accessories like a remote shutter release and memory cards. There’s not a lot more I want to add to my gear, although I have one more lens I would like to acquire in the ƒ/2.8 17–70mm-ish range, and more memory cards and so on. My MacBook Pro will celebrate its fifth birthday in summer 2012, and it is just beginning to show its age. Aperture 3 gives it cause to struggle, and sadly I cannot add any more RAM to the machine to help. I’m looking at options such as a new, faster, bigger internal hard drive in order to eke out a little more life from it.

Looking to 2012, what do I wish for? I am ignoring the real world here, just looking at my own life. There is only really one thing I want: a proper full-time job. I need a nice regular income again. Life out here in the freelance artworker world is totally dead. The lack of a job has meant I have had to let another fantastic opportunity sail by without my boarding it. Later in the summer 2012, I had hoped I would be going on a photographic safari to Svalbard. Circumstances in 2011 meant I simply couldn’t commit to buying the flight tickets. So much for adventure.

I would also like to push to try and get some freelance model railway photography gigs. I’ve already blogged about that, but in the new year I intend to keep pushing at that stuck door. I am fed up with letting life pass me by. 2012 ought to be the year when I make every effort to get life moving again. 

If I don’t blog before, I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas, and my best wishes for the new year.

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

Screen_shot_2011-10-13_at_09

Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out. 

Tethered Shooting

Generally, the fastest way to get images from the Canon EOS 7D is a case of popping the CF card out of the camera and into a reader attached to my Mac, then getting Aperture to copy the files into its library. If most of my photography has been out in the field it’s the only sensible method of downloading, especially if there are several cards involved.

Sometimes I find myself working in a studio environment, where seeing the results without recourse to pixel-peeping on the camera’s LCD would be beneficial. If I’m doing some model or macro work, where focus can be quite critical, or if I’ve got a bunch of products I need to shoot where the lighting and framing is all but identical, tethered or remote shooting — where the camera is connected to and controlled by software on a computer — is the way to go.

Canon ships a bunch of software* with their DSLRs, including a utility that lets you set up and control the camera from the computer screen. Combine this with the camera’s Live View feature, where the viewfinder mirror is locked up so you see exactly what the sensor is seeing, and you can perform critical focus and framing while seeing everything as large as your computer’s screen will allow.

Canon’s software hasn’t really been designed with a third party application in mind. I’ve used Digital Photo Professional (Canon’s RAW image management and editing suite) in the past, but let’s just say I was only too happy to move to something better when I could.

01_setup

The ‘Studio’ setup. Black card forms the backdrop, with battery LED lamps to fill in, helped by a reflector on the right which is bouncing the desk lamp light into the scene.

I’ve been an Aperture user for some years now. Apple’s flagship image management and editing software has always supported camera tethering of some sort, but my previous DSLR was not supported. My current camera, the EOS 7D, is supported by Aperture 3. Keen to cut out the comprehensive but rather clumsy Canon control software, I tried it out.

01_aperture_tethered_start_session

With the camera on and connected, choose Tether > Start Session… to begin using Aperture’s tethering controls.

02_aperture_tether_settings_dialog

You are asked to choose some basic settings before you begin…

03_aperture_dialog_control

…and here’s your control panel. A button to capture the image, and a button to stop the session. Any camera settings must be performed on the camera itself. Aperture tethering is simply a way of downloading the images directly from the camera.

It was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. True, the 7D can be linked to Aperture. But that’s about it. You have some control over the EXIF or IPTC data embedded with the image, there’s a button that lets you fire the camera’s shutter and it does download the resulting image directly into your Aperture project, but for everything else you have to work on the camera itself. There’s not even a way to preview the shot, or activate the autofocus, or change the other parameters on the camera, as far as I can tell. Compare this with the complete remote control of the camera—save zooming in and out or moving the tripod—which is available if you use the EOS Utility.

The task, then, is to work with the Canon software to set up and control the camera, but make sure the images are downloaded into Aperture, neatly sidestepping the rather clunky Digital Photo Professional. Ideally, this should happen automatically, so I can concentrate on the work at hand, but still be able to review images if I need to.

Step forward a handy little free script, built using Apple’s Automator scripting package. Called Aperture Hot Folder, it’s a tiny application that monitors the folder where the EOS Utility is downloading images from your camera, and tells Aperture to import them. Easy.

Aperture Hot Folder is free, which is even better. (It’s for Mac OS X only. I’m sure there are similar things available for Windows and Linux, and Adobe Lightroom, too.)

So, here’s my workflow. Firstly, I set up the camera and connect it to the Mac with the USB cable. Once Aperture is running, and I’ve set up a project for the shots I’m taking, I launch Aperture Hot Folder and step through the instruction screens.

15_ahf_launch

The first screen explains what the script does, and what to do next.

16_ahf_destination_folder_choice

Select a folder on the hard drive to watch and click Choose.

17_ahf_aperture_project_choice

Aperture Hot Folder then asks you to choose an Aperture project to which it should import the images that arrive in the watched folder selected in the previous step. If your Aperture library is large, with lots of projects, this list will be very long!

18_ahf_image_file_choice

Next, you’re asked whether the imported images should be referenced (Aperture-speak for leaving them where they are in the hard drive) or imported into Aperture’s managed library. I choose the latter because I like to work with a managed library and not worry about where originals are.

19_ahf_setup_complete

Finally, a confirmation screen and instructions on how to stop the script running when you’re done.

With the camera connected, switched on and mode dial set to manual, the next application in the sequence is EOS Utility so we can control the camera.

EOS Utility itself initially shows a main screen where you can choose various functions. It’s a launch pad that gets you into a variety of software for downloading images from the camera, setting the downloads folder and all that kind of thing. 

05_eos_utlitity_main_screen
The part I’m interested in, though, is Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. Clicking this launches the control panel proper.

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I’m not going into detail with this control panel. As you can see, it’s pretty comprehensive, with plenty of data showing how the camera is set up, battery condition and other information. The round button near the top right is the shutter release button. Before I start, I click the tiny folder icon below the shutter to select the destination folder being watched by Aperture Hot Folder.

From the control panel I can literally control every parameter of the camera, short of physically moving it on the tripod to frame my subjects. With the camera set to manual (M), I can set shutter speed, aperture, ISO, colour balance, file format, etc, by clicking on the relevant element and using the left and right cursor keys to change them incrementally. Remote control also works for aperture and shutter priority, but for full control manual is preferred.

From the menu buttons below the data panel I can pop up the camera’s built-in flash (where I can also control flash exposure levels) and, with the Live View shoot… button, crucially kicking the 7D into Live View shooting mode. 

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Once in Live View mode, rather than peering at the image on the camera’s LCD, I see it in a larger window on my computer screen. I see exactly what the sensor is seeing. In this new window, I can turn on grid overlays, move the focus block about and set the colour balance to my liking. I can even turn on selective focus and exposure points. Almost every part of the camera’s operation can be controlled from my computer. If the lens is set to autofocus, pressing the shutter release button focuses the lens before the shot is taken—though this is a little hit and miss. If the focus misfires, the resulting shot will still be taken, which is why I prefer to work with manual focus for tethered shooting.

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For critical focus, I click the zoom magnifier below the main image or double-click the white rectangle in the image. This area can be dragged around the screen, and once clicked opens an enlargement window zoomed into the defined area. 

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I can drag the image about for a better view, and zoom to 200% to allow really fine manual focus if desired. Closing this window returns me to the main window, although most of the settings are available in both windows. If I have chosen a small aperture, I can also turn on depth of field preview to see how it will appear in the final shot. There is also a mode where the Remote Live View Window will simulate the exposure settings to give me a better feel for the final image. 

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Depth of Field preview off. The lens aperture is wide open, allowing critical focus.

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Depth of Field preview on. This shows me how the image will appear with the aperture set to ƒ/16. The software brightens the image artificially, unlike when you squint through the viewfinder when pressing the DoF preview button on the camera itself!

When I’m happy, I can click the faux shutter button on the control panel, or the real thing on the camera or remote release, and my image is captured and downloaded to the watched folder. I can, of course, check it for focus and colour balance without leaving the Canon software suite if I wish. I’m going to do my reviewing in Aperture, so I will have to wait for a few seconds.

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EOS Utility downloads the captured image from the camera to the watched folder.

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The original downloaded images remain in the watched folder, so they’ve been copied into Aperture’s library rather than moved.

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The captured image appears in Aperture where I can review and work on it.

Once the image has been downloaded to the watched folder, Aperture Hot Folder notices the new arrival and pokes Aperture in the ribs. The new image is imported as a copy to Aperture—leaving the original capture in the hot folder for later disposal, just as when downloading from a CF card—and after a short pause I can study the image in greater detail in my preferred image management software.

While Aperture Hot Folder and Aperture are sorting themselves out, I can carry on and capture further images. Each will be dutifully imported into Aperture while I work. If not seamless, at least it lets me avoid the step of importing the images to Aperture later. Theoretically, I could be capturing the shots on my laptop, controlling the camera settings, while the images are downloaded and then perhaps copied across a network to an assistant working in Aperture who can then process the shots. The potential for a busy studio workflow is there.

I should also add that the EOS Utility and Remote Live View Window let you record video as well as stills. Ideal for the director who simply must see everything as it’s being filmed. I plan to use this feature soon for a short video I have in mind.

It’s definitely not a perfect solution, but it allows me to use the full control Canon provides while still working in my preferred RAW management software. Aperture’s tethered shooting mode comes up a long way short.

 

 

 

*The full list of software Canon provides is Digital Photo Professional (management and RAW editing), EOS Utility (download and camera control), Picture Style Editor (allows the user to edit and create new picture styles which can be uploaded to the camera), PhotoStitch (for creating panoramic images for multiple shots) and PhotoStitch Viewer (to view the resulting panoramas), and CameraWindow (I have no idea what this is for: when you launch it, it launches EOS Utility for you…).

 

 

 

There’s a mouse loose…

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For some reason, this Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II has found its way onto my desk. I guess I was absent-mindedly rummaging in our Techno Drawer for something, and pulled the mouse out with a view to using it on the ancient and creaking Macintosh SE/30 stashed in the other room.

It’s fun to play with old tech occasionally, but it soon becomes apparent just how limited such things are in a modern context.

Reliving the past

I’ve just taken a trip down Memory Lane. It’s not at all like I remember it.

They say the past is another country. If you remember my saga about the ancient AppleTalk printer a while ago, you will recall the machine used to be partnered with an elderly Apple laptop, running an obsolete operating system. The sole reason for this was the proprietary Apple networking protocol, and my odd refusal not to purchase an ethernet-enabled printer in the first place all those years ago.

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The laptop in question is a PowerBook G3 Series, one of the first of the original curvy and rather sexy laptops that Apple created just after Steve Jobs returned as CEO. Further investigation into the machine’s provenance leads me to believe it may be one of the first Wallstreet models available, which dates it to around May 1998. It also appears to be the baby of the range, cheekily dubbed “Mainstreet” by the pundits! Geekily, this means it doesn’t have the L2 cache which its more expensive brethren had, which meant it was a bit of a slowcoach all told. 

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The official specs, therefore, look like this: 233MHz PowerPC G3 CPU, no L2 cache, 13.3in TFT screen, 6GB internal hard drive, 128MB RAM in two 64MB modules, running Mac OS 9.2.2 – the last of the “classic” operating systems before OS X muscled in. The ’Book can have two batteries installed in the module bays either side, but only one of the batteries I acquired with the machine holds any charge, and that for about a minute! There is a CD-ROM (20x no less!) in the right bay, and I have a floppy disk drive module. There is a double PCI card slot, so in theory at least, it could be enhanced with USB and FireWire connectivity if I desired. It has a modem, as well as the then regulation AppleTalk socket, and a high-density SCSI socket. Finally, a VGA monitor output rounds off the equipment.

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For something approaching its 13th birthday, it stands up pretty well. Okay, the screen is pretty dim by modern standards, the keyboard horribly clattery, and the hard drive is noisy and sounds very fragile indeed. Since the machine was only ever intended to act as a bridge between my wired network and the printer, I only bothered with the barest essentials of software beyond the standard OS installation. There’s a copy of AppleWorks on there, a freebie copy of Corel WordPerfect 3.5 Pro, and a copy of Microsoft Word 5 — probably the best version of that long-lived word processor that ever existed. (Interestingly, the full copy of Word 5 weighs in at a staggering 895Kb on disk. Yes, under a megabyte. The decade-old copy of Word X I also own comes out at over 13MB, and I really don’t think it was an improvement.)

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So, how does the old warhorse perform? If you want my honest opinion, I’m rather like Marvin the Paranoid Android from the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. When asked what he thought about humanoid brains, the robot with a brain the size of a planet opined he couldn’t imagine how anything could live in anything that small. It would definitely be hard to survive with 6GB of hard drive in this digital photo, high-def video and MP3 collection world. If all I wanted was a clackety typewriter, and wasn’t overly fussed if I knocked it off a table, then it would be fine. Of course, there’s the added complication of how to get any text files off the PowerBook and into the 21st century, but let’s not get sidetracked by small details!

The other thing of note is just how heavy the critter is. Did Apple road warriors really lug this machine about with them in the real world? It weighs about as much as my car, and it is supposedly lighter and slimmer than the PowerBook model it replaced. I can’t see where the weight comes from, unless the motherboard or frame is made of some base metal. With the G4 PowerBook and the MacBook Pro, you can easily pick the machine up with one hand. I daren’t risk it with the black behemoth, without having a hand spare to take the weight before it slips to the ground! I’d not want to spend any time with the thing on my lap, if I’m honest.

The old tech hard drive is abominably noisy. It whines and squeaks, and sounds like a dying animal when it spins down or back up again. It does feel very fragile, especially when compared to the battleship construction of its host machine. From experience, though, I know it’s dead easy to replace it should the need arise.

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The keyboard is clunky, yet all the keys are where my fingers expected them to be. This, in my opinion, is one of the things Apple has always got right, and it’s nice to know they haven’t really changed the pitch of the numerous keyboards that have come and gone since 1998. 

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The TFT screen is very dim. At first I thought it was purely down to being cold, but it didn’t get better after an hour of running. It also displayed a distinct yellow tinge, rather like a nicotine stained window in an old pub. With the machine sitting in front of my current machine, the newer screen is much, much brighter.

I’m led to understand the Wallstreet was capable of running OS X. While the idea of installing OS X 10.3 — the latest version it should be capable of supporting — would be interesting, I don’t actually think I’ll bother. The hard drive isn’t big enough, realistically, and I’d like a good deal more RAM installed to make it even a viable proposition. I also own the replacement G3 PowerBook model, the bronze keyboard 400MHz machine, and that only just copes with Panther installed, so I don’t know how well the Wallstreet would cope.

In conclusion, while it’s lovely a teenaged laptop Mac is still reasonably usable, it isn’t usable in any real world sense any more. The modern world has moved on apace since the late 1990s, and while it’s true you can still connect to the internet, the experience is not one that could be said to be enjoyable in any meaningful way. When compared to modern kit, it’s painfully slow, but when it was new it was one of the fastest and best-equipped laptops money could buy. We just expect more from our kit these days, I suppose. The past really is a different country.

As an interesting saunter down Memory Lane it’s been fun, but as a usable machine in today’s online world, I’m afraid the PowerBook G3 “Wallstreet” is a very much a museum piece.

 

Related posts: Hello, Old Friend; Farewell, Old Friend.