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Building a Hackintosh, Part 3: The Aftermath

hackintosh part3 1 Building a Hackintosh, Part 3: The Aftermath

Welcome to the long overdue third part of the Building a Hackintosh series. In the first part we went over the parts and other essentials to build a hackintosh. In the second part we discussed the actual build. In this final part I’ll tell you how life has been the past 5 months using the hackintosh as my primary workstation. I’ll break it down for you as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to keep things as simple and as clean as possible.

The Good

The main reason this third part has taken me so long to write is because the system works so well it’s almost hard to find something wrong with it. There are so many good things about it that it’s hard to narrow it down to a key few, however here’s what I have as the good (or probably the “best”):

It’s fast. With the SSD and 16GB of RAM this thing flies. It boots up in a mere 45 seconds and applications launch in less than 5 seconds. Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5 run perfectly and have handled everything I’ve thrown at them with ease (panoramas, HDR, so on and so forth) and barely put a dent in the CPU and memory utilization.

It’s cheap. Before considering a hackintosh I was looking at the 27″ iMac. With a comparable processor, memory and storage configuration it would have easily cost me double what I paid for all the parts to get this running myself as a hackintosh. So what did this thing cost me? Less than $1,000 USD. $881 USD to be exact (before taxes and shipping). Once I learned it would cost over $2,000 USD for the same thing from Apple the choice was easy.

The Bad

There’s really not much to complain about, however when running a hackintosh there are a couple of thing that I would consider “bad”:

It isn’t a real Mac. That should go without saying, but I have to keep reminding myself of that when it comes time to install new hardware. Case in point- I have a Logitech Performance MX mouse that comes bundled with special software to customize some buttons on the mouse. Once I installed the software my hackintosh became extremely unstable (kernel panics, random reboots, freezes, the whole 9). Once it was removed, voilà, everything was back to normal.

Upgrades can be tricky. Adding components to the system can be a bit tedious. It is very important to make absolutely sure the component you want to install is 100% supported natively (or with a kext) in Mac OS X. For example, on my previous PC (which was running Windows 7) I had my Drobo hooked up via USB. This configuration was very flaky, so when I decided to move to Mac I knew I wanted to move the Drobo to Firewire. I did copious amounts of research to make sure the Firewire PCI card I chose was supported (and natively at that). It was a bit of a gamble, as the card I chose apparently has two different versions with the same model #, but I lucked out and it worked perfectly out of the box.

The Ugly

There is one piece of the hackintosh puzzle that is downright ugly. I think a lot of people would agree that this is the biggest problem with running a hackintosh these days. Granted, it’s gotten a lot better, and easier, but the ugliest part of running a hackintosh is:

Updates. Plain and simple updates suck. Every time a OS X Update is released I go through a mini ritual that consists of cloning my boot hard disk to a partition on my scratch volume, downloading the combo updater directly from apple (which means not updating using the App Store), installing the update, running Multibeast, praying and then rebooting. I fudged something up only once (so far), but boy was it nerve wracking trying to get things back in order. Luckily I was able to without having to do a fresh install, but it was a very big lesson in how volatile this whole thing really is.

The Plug

One thing I learned while sourcing parts for my hackintosh was that it is extremely hard to find a comprehensive list of compatible hardware. That led me to create HackintoshStore.com, which is an online storefront that lists only hackintosh compatible parts and accessories. I personally scour the various hackintosh community websites to find the compatible components and get them listed all in one place. Hopefully it is something the community appreciates.

The End

So, where does that leave us? Am I happy that I went down this path? Absolutely! Is it for everyone? Sadly, no. It is much easier now than it was a few years ago. I have many, many years of building PCs under my belt and I knew what I was getting myself into and I was comfortable with everything that needed to be done. If you choose to take the plunge be warned, it’s frustrating and awesome all at the same time. What do you think? Have you built a hackintosh? Will you?

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iOS 7 for Photographers

home camera header iOS 7 for PhotographersOn Monday June 10 Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with one of their legendary keynote speeches. During the keynote iOS 7 was introduced with its radical new user interface. Fortunately for us photographers iOS 7 contains many new goodies and enhancements in the camera and photo apps. Here’s an overview of what to expect. (Note: this overview was written while iOS 7 was still in beta. I will do my best to keep it up to date through the beta and final releases.)

Camera

Upon launching the camera app you immediately notice the entire interface is different. Gone are the raised buttons and toggles, and in their places are “hotspots” to enable and disable the flash, front facing camera and shutter. You will also notice a sleek carousel-like selector to pick between video, photo, square and pano shots.

There are bugs, however, as expected. One of which is clearly visible above. The grid doesn’t modify itself when the “square” photo option is selected. I’m sure it’ll get worked out before the final release this fall.

In addition to the new square format, iOS 7 includes built in filters. The filters can be applied at the time of capture (with an iPhone 5 or later) or after capture through the edit button in the Camera Roll or the Photos app. There are 8 built in filters, and they all appear to be named after the post process technique they mimic. The filters are named: Mono, Tonal, Noir, Fade, Chrome, Process, Transfer & Instant. Examples of each are below.

Of course the features from iOS 6 and earlier are still retained (HDR, panoramas, auto enhance, red eye reduction, cropping, etc).

Photos

home photos iOS 7 for PhotographersThe Photos app also received a pretty big overhaul. The main “Photos” area has been reworked to display your photos in “Years”, “Collections” and “Moments”, each one more granular than the last.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the Photos app, however, is the ability to share your photos and videos selectively via iCloud. You can create multiple streams for various events or subjects and share them with the people you select. Those people can then also share photos or videos to that stream and everyone can comment on each others contributions. It’s like your own private photo sharing site.

That about wraps it up for the new iOS 7 Camera and Photo features and enhancements. So far I’m enjoying the new goodies, and am looking forward to what future versions have to offer. As the release continues to mature I’m sure many of the glitches and bugs I’ve seen will get worked out. Have you had a chance to try out iOS 7? If so, what are your thoughts?

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Building a Hackintosh, part 2: The Build

iHack 1 Building a Hackintosh, part 2: The Build

Welcome to the second part of a three part series about building a Hackintosh. In the first part we discussed what goes into a Hackintosh, and why I decided to build one, as opposed to buying a Mac directly from Apple. In this part we’ll go over the actual build process and the installation of Mac OS X on the system.

Assembling the Components

The assembly of the components is no different for a Hackintosh than any other standard PC build, if you’ve ever done one before. It had been a while since I’ve done a PC build, so I was a little rusty. That said, it still only took me an hour to an hour an a half to actually do the assembly.

First, take the motherboard out of the box and out of it’s static wrap. Place the wrap on your work surface, and then place the motherboard on top of it. If you have an anti-static strap now would be a good time to put it on and attach it to something metal. If you don’t have one, be extra cautious when touching the static sensitive components of your build (ie- all of the components). Touching a bare piece of metal frequently during your build to discharge yourself is a good idea, and a step that shouldn’t be overlooked.

iHack 3 300x300 Building a Hackintosh, part 2: The BuildWith the motherboard on the table (on the static wrap) carefully unbox your processor. It’s way easier to install it on the board outside of the case, so that’s what we’ll be doing now. Attach the processor as per your motherboard and processors instructions. It’s usually as simple as dropping it on the pins (carefully) in the appropriate direction and then pulling down the arms to hold it in place. Afterward attach your CPU cooler of choice following the directions that came with your cooler. For me, I used the stock Intel cooler, so it was a matter of lining up the pins with the receptacles on my motherboard, and then pressing down firmly.

Next up is the memory (RAM). Again, it’s easier to do this outside of the case. Open up your memory and put it in the slots. If your motherboard has color coded slots (two of one color, two of another) put your RAM in the same colored slots. If it’s they’re not color coded check with your motherboard’s manual to see if your board supports dual channel memory, and if so install your memory according to the instructions to achieve the best performance.

It’s now time to start working on the case. The first thing we need to do is install the power supply. Open up the case and remove the power supply. Install the power supply in the appropriate location and use the included screws to attach it to the case. Follow the instruction manuals for your case and power supply for more details.

Now we’re ready to drop the motherboard, with the attached CPU and RAM into the case. Assemble the motherboard stands (if necessary) in the appropriate formation to hold your motherboard. Next, attach the IO plate that came with your board to the opening at the back of the case. Once snapped in, carefully place your motherboard on the stands and attach your board with the included screws. Make sure the IO plate is lined up correctly before screwing everything down.

iHack 2 212x300 Building a Hackintosh, part 2: The BuildOnce the motherboard is installed we need to hook up the power. There should be two connectors on your motherboard for power. One big one and one small one. There should also be corresponding cables from your power supply. Take each cable and carefully plug it into the appropriate spot on your board.

Now comes the most tedious part of the install, snaking all the case wires to the pins on the motherboard. Locate the bundle of wires coming out of your case somewhere. There should be about 6 or 8 little wires that are labeled like “SW RESET”, “PWR+”, “PWR-”, “HDD”, etc. You should see a similarly labeled group of pins on your motherboard. Plug each of those wires into the appropriate place. Look at your motherboard’s instruction manual for greater detail.

If you have a separate graphics card or any expansion cards, now’s the time to install those. For the graphics card, you typically want to use the fastest PCI slot on your board. For me, that was the top slot, so I removed the corresponding plate(s) from the back of the case, and gently pushed in my GPU. Once properly seated I screwed it into the case using the included thumb screw. I installed my firewire card in the same manner.

Last, but not least, comes the installation of your storage media. I have 3 hard drives (two regular one, one solid state) and a DVD writer/reader. I mounted the DVD drive in the top most 5.25″ bay, and then each of my HDDs in the appropriate spots in my case. I plugged in my SSD into a 6 GB/s SATAIII port on my motherboard, and the other 3 drives into the 3 3 GB/s SATAII ports.

The Moment of Truth

It’s time to close up your case, and hook it up to some power. Plug in the cable from the wall in to your power supply and hook up your monitor, keyboard and mouse. If you have a graphics card, some suggest to use the on board video for the installation of Mac OS X. I didn’t, and I didn’t have a problem.

Once you have everything connected, press the power button, and with any luck you should see (and hear) your new toy turn on. Sit back and marvel at your handiwork and your geek prowess for a second.

The BIOS

When you’re finished marveling, reboot the machine and head right into the BIOS. In your BIOS you’ll need to configure a few parameters before you can start installing Mac OS X. If you chose a Gigabyte motherboard as I did, here’s a handy guide to configuring the BIOS for Mac OS X.

AHCI

Locate the HDD or storage area of your BIOS and look for HDD or SATA mode. You will be prompted with several options, like RAID, IDE and one of those options will be AHCI. Select AHCI.

Boot Order

You’ll need to select the drive that you intend to install Mac OS X on. For me, it was the SSD, so that is the drive I selected to boot first.

Installing Mac OS X

There are many different methods to install Mac OS X on a PC. I chose to use tonymacx86′s UniBeast method as I believe it is the easiest, and most widely used method. The only problem with this method is you must already have a working Mac to build the UniBeast USB drive. I have a MacBook, so this wasn’t a problem for me.

To install, register at tonymacx86.com and download UniBeast and MultiBeast. Run the UniBeast installer on your preexisting Mac, and select the Mac OS X Mountain Lion installer (that you legally obtained from the Mac App Store). The USB creation will take about 30 or 40 minutes to complete.

Once the USB drive is ready plug it in to your new Hackintosh and power it up. Press the correct function key on your keyboard to enter the boot order (F12 for Gigabyte boards), and select “USB-HDD” to boot from the USB drive.

You should eventually see a multi-language welcome screen, which is the installer for Mac OS X.

From there, follow tonymacx86′s guide for getting Mac OS X installed. When the installation is finished, come back here for the next steps.

Configuring MultiBeast

Like UniBeast, MultiBeast is a tonymacx86 special. It makes selecting the appropriate drivers for your hardware a breeze. If you have a second USB drive, copy the MultiBeast installer to it from your other working Mac, then copy it to your freshly installed Hackintosh. Once copied to your Hackintosh, run it and select the appropriate options for your hardware.

If you have the same hardware as I do, here’s what you’d select:

NOTE: If you don’t have a dedicated nVidia graphics card, be sure uncheck the box that says “GraphicsEnabler=No”.

As far as System Definitions go, you can choose whatever you’d like here, but I went for “iMac13,1″, which is the equivalent of a Late 2012 iMac with an i7 processor. The reason I chose this definition is because it was the closest match to the hardware I have (notably the i7 processor), and because it offers the best compromise of performance and features (such as AirPlay Mirroring).

Once your MultiBeast settings are configured, remove any USB drives and reboot. In a few seconds (or minutes if you don’t have a SSD) you should see your Mac OS X desktop! Congratulations! You successfully built a working Hackintosh!

Troubleshooting

It’s not uncommon to run into a few issues when attempting to do a Hackintosh build or installation. Fortunately, I only ran into one, and it was an easy fix. I was getting a “boot0″ error when attempting to boot from my hard disk, and luckily it was a very common problem. Check out this guide for help resolving it, if you run into it.

For other problems, I wholeheartedly recommend you join the tonymacx86 forums. There are a bunch of other like-minded folks doing the same thing you are and can help you solve any problems or provide guidance. If I hadn’t done my research on these forums prior to doing my build and installation I don’t think I would have had as much success as I did.

Final Thoughts

That wraps up this second part in my three part series on building a Hackintosh. So far, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to go down this path, and my system is performing wonderfully. I’ll report back in a month or so with the third and final installment in this series. For now, here’s a time lapse of the build:

[Part 3: The Aftermath]

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Building a Hackintosh, Part 1: The Components

8266265044 165f35b093 b Building a Hackintosh, Part 1: The Components

Welcome to the first part of a three part series about building a Hackintosh. In this part we’ll go over what a Hackintosh is, and the parts I am using to build this system. The second part will be about the actual build of the system and the installation of Mac OS X, and the third part will be about a month or so after the build as an update to how things are running, etc. This series will be mainly geared toward photographers, as the main reason I am building this system is for my photography.

So, what is a Hackintosh?

A Hackintosh is a computer built out of readily available PC components that runs Mac OS X. The components chosen are the same, or very similar, components found in real Macintosh computers. The end result is a much cheaper “Mac”, that often out performs the real Mac you are trying to replicate.

Is it legal?

Probably not, but the cost for Apple to bring you to court would far outweigh the benefits of them doing so. I happened to obtain my copy of Mac OS X legally (from the Mac App Store), so I have a legitimate license to use the software, I just happen to not be running it on Apple branded hardware. LockerGnome and OS News both have very good articles about the legality of building a Hackintosh.

Why?

Because I love Mac OS X. I’ve been a Macintosh user since the Mac Plus back in the mid-1980s. Over the years I gradually obtained more Macs. In college I started building my own PCs, and as a result running Mac OS was out of the question. I ended up running FreeBSD for many years, and then Linux and then ultimately turned to the darkside and started using Windows when XP came around. While my desktop systems ran Windows XP (and eventually Windows Vista and then Windows 7) I kept up on Mac OS by owning an iBook and now a MacBook. Now, my 7-year-old PC (the first PC I didn’t build myself) is getting old and slow, so it’s time for something new and better. I figured now is the time to get back to my PC building roots, and this time I have the ability to run Mac OS X instead of Windows.

What else?

I’m building this as my primary photography workhorse and local backup destination. As my photography workhorse I need it to run Adobe Photoshop CS6, Lightroom 4, LR Timelapse, Photomatix Pro and other associated plugins and software. For my local backup destination, it needs to be able to run CrashPlan and store local backups from mine and my wife’s laptops on a Drobo. In the future, I may start using this system to edit DSLR video, now that I’ve upgraded my camera to a Canon 5D Mark II.

The Components

My goal is the build a system that somewhat mimics what is found in a recent model iMac. Claiming my Hackintosh as an iMac will give me the best balance of features vs. performance when it comes to Mac OS X (more on that in part 2). Next to each component will be links to both Amazon and Newegg, which I find are the two retailers with the most reasonable prices (plus, if you purchase from those links I get a little kickback, which I would certainly appreciate!).

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Memory: Corsair 16GB XMS3 DDR3 SDRAM / CMX16GX3M2A1600C11 (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Graphics Card: Gigabyte GeForce GT 640 / GV-N640OC-2GI (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • SSD Boot Drive: SanDisk Extreme 120GB SSD / SDSSDX-120G-G25 (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Backup/Scratch Drive: Western Digital Black 500GB / WD5003AZEX (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Media Drive: Seagate Barracuda 1TB / ST1000DM003 (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Optical Drive: Sony SATA Internal DVD+/-RW Drive / AD-7280S-0B (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Firewire: Syba Low Profile 1394b/1394a Card / SD-PEX30009 (Amazon)
  • Power Supply: Corsair CX600 600W ATX (Amazon) (Newegg)
  • Case: Corsair Vengeance C70 Arctic White (Amazon) (Newegg)

Shameless Plug: You can also find many of these parts, and a bunch of others, at my new webstore: HackintoshStore.com. HackintoshStore.com only contains parts and components that are known to be hackintosh friendly and compatible.

There you have it! I will be acquiring these parts over the next few weeks if/when they go on sale. Once I have all of the parts I will put everything together, install Mac OS X Mountain Lion and document my progress in part two. Heck, maybe I’ll even make a time lapse of the build, too!

Questions? Comments? Do you think I made some bad component choices? Let me know in the comments!

[Part 2: The Build]

[Part 3: The Aftermath]

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Review: Nero Multi Trigger

nero trigger 1 Review: Nero Multi Trigger
The Nero Multi Trigger is a hardware triggering device for your DSLR camera or flash. It is similar to the Trigger Happy and Triggertrap Mobile iPhone apps I have reviewed, except it’s a stand alone device. The Nero Multi Trigger has 10 built in functions, and of the ones I was able to test, it does them all well. That said, there are a few downsides to the Nero Trigger.

What’s in the box?

The Nero Multi Trigger comes nicely packaged in a cardboard box containing the trigger, a cable to connect the trigger to your camera and an instruction manual. Don’t lose that manual, though, you’ll need it!

The trigger itself contains an on/off switch, a flash output port, a camera output port, a button to change the mode (M), a button to change the active function (C), a wheel to select the sensitivity and a display to show the function and sensitivity level.

What can it do?

Well, it can do a lot. It has 10 built in functions:

  • Lightning Trigger: Uses a built-in optical sensor that will trigger the camera or flash when it is tripped.
  • Sound Trigger: Uses a built-in microphone to trigger the camera or flash when a sound of a certain volume is heard. The sensitivity is configurable via the dial on the side of the unit.
  • Sound Trigger with Lock: The same as above, except it will only fire your camera or flash once, and then pause until you tell it to listen for sound once again.
  • Time Lapse (1-10 secs): Uses a built in timer to trigger your camera at a specified interval between 1 and 10 seconds.
  • Time Lapse (1-10 mins): The same as above, but the interval can be set between 1 and 10 minutes.
  • Laser Trigger with Delay: Uses the built-in optical sensor to detect a laser and then trigger once the laser beam is broken. The delay is the amount of time before the camera or flash is triggered. It can be between 0 and 500 milliseconds.
  • Laser Trigger with MultiShot: The same as above, but instead of setting a delay you set the number of times the trigger fires the camera or flash. You can set Nero to trigger between 1 and 10 shots.
  • Long Exposure: This mode will trigger your camera (set in bulb mode) for exposures between 30 seconds and 4 hours.
  • Super Bulb: This operates similarly to a standard bulb trigger. You press the (C) button once to start the exposure, then once again to stop.
  • Manual Trigger: This is like a standard remote trigger, except on steroids. You chose how many shots to take (between 1 and 10) and when you press the (C) button the Nero triggers your camera the number of times you set.

How well does it work?

Due to time constraints and “Superstorm Sandy” hitting New Jersey I wasn’t able to test as many of the functions as I wanted to. Of the two “specialty” functions I was able to test, it performed well, and I was impressed with the overall speed of the trigger. I’m really looking forward to trying out the Lighting Trigger mode when summer and it’s thunderstorms roll in.

Sound Trigger

I used the sound trigger to photograph balloons popping. I hung a water balloon from a broom clamped to two chairs and set the Nero to sound trigger mode and level 5 sensitivity. I connected the Nero trigger via the flash output to my Canon 580 EX II set to 1/64 power. I then used a sewing needle to pop the hanging balloon which created a loud enough sound to trigger my flash.

The results were pretty cool, but unfortunately I overwrote the memory card containing the images, so I have nothing to show for it. Within the next few weeks I should have some time to recreate the set up and re-take the lost shots. When I do I’ll edit this post to include the images.

Laser Trigger with Delay

To test the laser trigger I purchased a 5 mW red laser from eBay for $2. I set up the laser on a stool and pointed it toward the optical sensor on the Nero trigger. I then connected the Nero trigger’s flash output to my Cactus v4 wireless flash trigger which was set to trigger my two flashes: a Sunpak 383 on 1/8 power with a red gel pointed towards the back wall, and a Canon 580 EX II at 1/64 power positioned on a light stand at camera right.

After everything was set up I stuck a bowl of milk on a box and then started pouring more milk through the laser beam and into the bowl. The results are a little underwhelming… this is not as easy as it other people make it look! A few things to improve upon for next time: better pre-focusing, a better angle and maybe some different colored liquid or a non-white bowl.

What are the downsides?

As mentioned earlier, the Nero Trigger does have a couple of downsides. None of them are too great, but they are something to consider if you are in the market for a triggering device.

First, you need to keep the manual handy, at least in the beginning. The Nero Trigger only has a simple display with only 10 lights. Unless you memorize the function and optional sensitivity setting each light represents you’ll have hard time knowing exactly what you’re doing. A simple one- or two-line LCD panel would work wonders here.

Second, you need a screwdriver to change the batteries. I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep a small screwdriver with me in my camera bag. If I were out in the field using the Nero Trigger and the batteries died I wouldn’t have a way to change them. I would, quite literally, be screwed.

What’s the bottom line?

The Nero Multi Trigger is a very capable and full featured remote triggering device for your DSLR and/or flash. It does have its place among the other hardware triggering devices, like the Triggertrap v1. It isn’t quite as convenient as Triggertrap Mobile, or other triggering apps for smart phones or tablets, for example, but it does have several key features which separate it from the pack.

Where can I get more information?

You can learn more about the Nero Multi Trigger on their website, follow them on twitter, like them on Facebook or find them on Flickr. You can buy the Nero Multi Trigger directly from Nero, on Amazon or from a variety of other worldwide retailers.

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Review: Triggertrap Mobile

tt main Review: Triggertrap Mobile

Shortly after posting my review of the Trigger Happy Camera Remote I was contacted by the one and only Haje Jan Kamps (a.k.a. the photocritic) to write a review of his new product, Triggertrap Mobile. In return for an honest review I would be given a free copy of the Triggertrap Mobile app and and a free Triggertrap Mobile dongle. I happily agreed, and a few days later the dongle was delivered to my front door.

Triggertrap Mobile is a descendant of the Triggertrap v1, which is an Arduino based hardware camera triggering device. The TTv1, for short, was a successfully funded Kickstarter project that I had watched grow from an idea to a real, shipping product. With the success of TTv1, it was a natural progression to try and harness the power of the various environmental sensors built into today’s smartphones and tablets. Leveraging these sensors would mean the ability to have a less featured, but still quite powerful, camera triggering system. Triggertrap Mobile does this exceptionally well, and at a price point that is sure to please just about everyone.

The Triggertrap system, both v1 and Mobile, work by sending audio pulses over standard stereo cables. Due to the nature of stereo audio having two channels (left and right), Triggertrap is able to leverage that ability into providing two different triggering channels. By default one channel is used for triggering the autofocus, and one channel is used for triggering the shutter, however you are able to customize and change the parameters of those channels to trigger other devices (flashes, for example).

Triggertrap Mobile, much like Trigger Happy, is a two part system, consisting of an app (either paid, or free) for your smartphone or tablet (currently only iOS is supported, however Android support is planned), and a hardware dongle that goes between your device and camera. One of the benefits of Triggertrap over Trigger Happy is that the dongle is camera independent, which means, if and when I decide to upgrade my camera, all I have to do is get a new, relatively inexpensive, cable to go between the dongle and my camera.

The Triggertrap Mobile app is quite robust and fully featured, especially for being such a young product (v1.2.0 was the version I tested). I only experienced two crashes, and uncovered two minor bugs, which I submitted to the folks at Triggertrap, which they acknowledged very quickly. The feature set of TT Mobile is quite extensive. All in all there are a total of 13 triggering modes available:

  • Cable Release
  • Bang*
  • Timelapse
  • Eased Timelapse*
  • Distance-lapse*
  • Seismic
  • Peekaboo*
  • Star Trail*
  • LE HDR*
  • LE HDR Timelapse*
  • Tesla*
  • Motion*
  • Bramping*

* = modes that are only available in the paid version of the app.

Of the 13 triggering modes, while I did experiment with all of them, I was only able to fully test and produce results for a handful of them in the two week time limit I gave myself.

Cable Release

Exactly what you would expect: press button, take picture. This mode works with both external and internal cameras, and has several modes for both program and manual shooting. When using the Cable Release mode you are presented with a dial containing four options:

Program: Put your camera in any mode, press the button and it takes the photo. This is the only mode that works with the internal camera.

Bulb: Put your camera in bulb mode, press (and hold) the button and then release the button to stop the exposure.

Timed Bulb: Put your camera in bulb mode, press the button once to start the exposure, and press it again to stop.

Manual: Put your camera in bulb mode, set the exposure length on the app, and press the button. You can only create a exposure with a 1/10s or slower shutter speed.

Bang

The bang mode triggers your camera (either the internal camera, or the external camera) when a configurable decibel volume is picked up on the devices internal microphone. You can configure the dB level to trigger as soft as -40 dB, or as loud as -0.1 dB.

Using this mode I was able to configure one of the channels to trigger my flashes to do some high speed photography. In the following result, I had set myself up in a dark room with a bucket, a spoon, a strawberry and a cup of milk. I set one of my flashes to 1/8 power, covered it with a blue gel and pointed it at the back wall. My other flash was set to 1/64 power and pointed directly at the spoon containing milk. My camera was set to take a 2 second exposure at ISO 100 and an aperture of f/6.3. Triggertrap Mobile was set to trigger my flashes (not my camera) when it heard a sound over -20 dB. The sound of the strawberry hitting the spoon was enough to reach this volume, thus triggering the flashes. Just prior to dropping the strawberry I would open the shutter of the camera. The 2 second shutter speed had a negligible effect on the overall exposure since I was doing this all in a dark room.

7934465074 a6316bd7ea b Review: Triggertrap Mobile

Timelapse

The timelapse mode turns your device into an intervalometer and can trigger either the internal camera or one connected via the dongle. It features 2 sliders, one to set the number of photos and the other to specify how long you want to take photos for. There is also a handy sunrise and sunset tool built right in.

To test this feature I stuck my iPhone 4S on a Camalapse panning device, which was attached to my gorillapod, which was then attached to a tent I had set up at the beach. I set Triggertrap Mobile to take 1,000 photos over the course of 1 hour using the internal camera. That amounted to a photo every 3 seconds or so, which resulted in this 30 second time lapse when played back at 30fps:

Eased Timelapse

Eased timelapse mode lets you vary the interval between shots, thus giving the appearance of speeding up or slowing down time. This mode has several functions for easing the time in or out. The first, and most gentle ease is called “Quadratic” and the final, and most aggressive ease is called “Sine”. Check out the video on Triggertrap’s website for examples of each easing function. Eased timelapse mode can trigger the internal camera, or an external camera connected via the dongle.

Distance-lapse

Distance-lapse mode lets you trigger either the internal camera or an external camera based on a configured distance. This trigger uses the devices internal GPS antenna to calculate distance travelled. You can configure the app to use either metric or imperial units.

In this example I set up my iPhone 4S on a windshield mounting bracket and set Triggertrap to take a photo every 150 yards. The resulting 15 second video gives the impression that you’re travelling a constant rate of speed, despite travelling on roads varying in speed from 25 MPH to 65 MPH.

Seismic

Seismic mode uses your devices internal vibration and shock sensor to trigger the internal camera or an external camera hooked up via the dongle. This mode seems to be the most sensitive, and as a result the most useless. Event set to the maximum value my phone is constantly being triggered. Perhaps my phone is defective, or I just live in a highly seismic area.

Peekaboo

Peekaboo mode uses your device’s internal camera to trigger either itself or an external camera when it detects between 1 and 5 faces. This handy feature will effectively add facial recognition to any camera, as long as you have it point in the same direction as the camera you are triggering. In reality, it’s probably easier said than done, however if setup correctly it could produce some interesting results.

Star Trail

Star Trail mode does exactly what it says, it helps you take photos of star trails. Instead of using one hour long exposure, it will take a series of shorter exposures that you can then blend or stack to make your final image. As a result of using this method your final image will have less noise. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this mode as I live in a densely populated area with too much light pollution.

LE HDR

LE HDR mode can be used to create Long Exposure HDR (High Dynamic Range) images. This mode can only be used to trigger an external camera. It is important to recognize that this mode will only work in Long Exposure HDR scenarios. The reason being is that Triggertrap Mobile can only reliably trigger an external camera at shutter speeds as fast as 1/10s. If you’re shooting during the day, and you can’t get your shutter speeds that low, there are a few ways to try and get around this limitation: set your ISO is as low as your camera will go, increase the aperture of your lens, or use a neutral density filter. In a bind you can try using a circular polarizer, however it won’t cut out as much light as a ND filter would. In those mode you can take between 3 and 19 shots to be combined into an HDR. The app is smart enough to know what the maximum and minimum number of exposures you can have based on the middle shutter duration and the number of stops you have selected between exposures.

LE HDR Timelapse

LE HDR Timelapse mode is exactly like LE HDR mode, except there is an added “Between sets” slider to tell TT Mobile how often to trigger a new set of exposures. The major difference between the LE HDR Timelapse mode and the normal Timelapse mode is LE HDR Timelapse mode is missing an option to set the total number of shots you want to take. Instead, you have to press a “stop” button while the app is taking the shots. I can understand why, but it might make a good feature enhancement to be able to say “I want to take X number of HDR images”. Then, the app can go and compute that for X number of exposures, multiply by the number of HDR images desired, and then take that total number of exposures.

Tesla

Tesla mode uses your device’s internal magnetometer to detect changes in the magnetic field around your device. Like the Seismic mode, this mode is little too sensitive to be used for many things. The information screen suggests you could make this into a door alarm by placing a magnet near the door and then it would trigger as the door was opened. Any magnet I tried was too powerful and pinned the needle at the right side of the screen. As a result I wasn’t able to do any real experiments with this mode.

Motion

Motion mode uses your device’s internal camera to establish a baseline scene, and then it can trigger either itself, or an external camera when it detects a configurable amount of change in that scene. I had initially tried using this particular mode to trigger my strawberry photo above, but due to the lack of light in the room my iPhone was unable to detect any appreciable change, or motion, in the scene.

Bramping

Bramping, or Bulb Ramping, mode can ramp your exposure up or down during a time lapse sequence. This is useful when creating time lapses of a scene that has changing light situations, like sunrises or sunsets. I did find a bug in this mode, however, which is the help screen says this mode can only be used to trigger an external camera, however there is an internal toggle on the main screen.

Final Thoughts

Triggertrap Mobile is the mother of all camera triggering systems for mobile devices. It is fully featured, cheap and it works wonderfully. I would certainly recommend this system over any other triggering system for mobile devices.

You can get more information about Triggertrap Mobile on the Triggertrap website, buy the dongle from their store or Amazon, and download the app from iTunes (free, paid). You can also follow Triggertrap on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, as well as join their Flickr group to submit your Triggertrap creations.

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Review: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

trigger happy 1 Review: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

Earlier this year I saw a neat little Kickstarter project for the Trigger Happy Camera Remote. It instantly piqued my interest as I am a fan of time lapse photography and it is something I enjoy doing. I didn’t hesitate making my $50 donation to the project to get early bird access to the special cable that would be required to go along with the freely available software for iOS or Android. Last week I finally received this missing piece of the Trigger Happy system, the “Trigger Happy Unit”. This would finally mean that I could dump my hacked TI-83 calculator as an invervalometer.

While the TI-83 was cool, it also drained batteries very quickly and it’s timing mechanism wasn’t exactly accurate. For example, 5,000 TI-83 cycles equaled approximately 3 seconds, which would slowly increase over time as the batteries drained. The Trigger Happy system appealed to me for several reasons: the software ran on my iPhone, which is a device I have with me nearly all the time; if I was near a power source I could plug in my iPhone, thus my only power bottleneck would exist at the camera; I could control the interval as well as the shutter speed from my iPhone, where previously I could only control the interval from the TI-83; I could start doing HDR time lapses and bramp time lapses.

So, what exactly is the Trigger Happy Camera Remote? Trigger Happy consists of two components:

trigger happy 2 150x150 Review: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

Trigger Happy Unit

  • The Trigger Happy Unit, which is a short, meter length cable with an embedded signal processor. This is what goes in between your camera and your device.
  • The Trigger Happy App, which is available for iOS and Android devices.

Since the Trigger Happy Unit is a cable, there isn’t much I can do to review it, other than to say it’s a cable, and both ends fit properly into my camera (a Canon EOS Rebel XT) and my device (an iPhone 4S). The folks at Trigger Happy do have cables that fit a wide array of cameras and manufactures, including Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, Samsung, Kodak and Fujifilm.

As for the app, well, that’s a different story. As of this review, I don’t believe the app is feature complete, or well tested. I will break the app review into three categories: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Before we dive in, let’s go over some of the features the app is said to include:

  • Simple Remote Trigger: Press the button, take the shot.
  • Bulb Trigger: Press and hold the button, take the shot for the duration of the hold; or press once to start the exposure, press again to stop.
  • Intervalometer (for Time Lapse): Set the interval (the time between the shots), set the duration of the time lapse (in hours or minutes, or unlimited) and set the shutter speed (as fast as 1/30s or a slow as 24 hours).
  • HDR Mode: Supposed to be able to do up to 9 shots and 16 stops of dynamic range.
  • Bramping: Also called “Bulb Ramping”, which is useful for making time lapses that go from day to night, or vice-versa.

The Good

Unfortunately, the good of the app is relatively short. The app launches reliably, and the bulb trigger feature works. The Standard time lapse and Bramp time lapse features also work as described.

The Bad

The HDR portion of the app crashes for me on my iPhone. I can set the Interval and Duration, but as soon as I try to set the HDR parameters (Exposure Interval, Number of Shots and Base Shutter) the app crashes. Every. Single. Time.

The Ugly

There are many interface and usability issues that I believe are preventing this system from being ready for prime time.


Interface Issues

  • Erroneous information diaglogs: When setting the Interval to “off” or the Duration to “unlimited” informational messages still appear.  For example, setting the Interval to “off”, going back to the Time Lapse screen, and then going into the Interval screen once again yields a message stating “A photo will be taken ever 6 seconds”, despite the Interval being set to “off”. Similarly, when going from Subsecond back to Normal the informational dialog still shows the subsecond shutter duration, despite the “1 second” duration being selected on the screen.
  • Shutter length messages: When subsecond shutter speeds are selected the information message says the duration in seconds and milliseconds. As a photographer I don’t think in milliseconds, I think in fractions of 1 second, ie- 1/30, 1/4, 1/2, etc. I believe the app should use language that makes sense to photographers.

Usability Issues

  • No memory: The app doesn’t remember the last settings you used for the time lapse interval, duration and shutter length. Every time the app launches the default values are displayed (interval: 6 seconds, duration: 1 hour, shutter length: 1 second).
  • Lack of a Simple Trigger: The Trigger Happy website touts a “Simple Trigger”, however I can’t seem to find this feature in the app. The only two trigger systems I see are bulb related: press and hold, and touch to start and stop. To me, a simple trigger means I can can use any of the auto or semi-auto modes (Program, Aperture Priority & Shutter Priority), connect the cable to the device and have a standard remote cable release. That is, I press the button, the camera calculates the exposure and the shutter is released. As it operates right now the camera must be in Manual mode, and the shutter must be set to bulb. In fact, I couldn’t get the shutter release portion of the app to work at all unless the shutter was in bulb mode.

The Result

What sort of review would go over The Good, The Bad and The Ugly without including a sample of what could be done? Here’s a time lapse of my two year old twins during playtime. This was captured over the course of one hour using an interval of 3 seconds and a 1 second shutter speed.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I believe the Trigger Happy Remote has some serious potential, however there are just a few problems with the app getting in the way. The current price on the Trigger Happy Unit is $49.99, and it is expected to go up to $69.99 once production is ramped up. At this stage of the game, I do not believe the Trigger Happy Remote can demand that price. That said, I am happy with my purchase and I understand that a majority of these problems are probably due to being an early adopter and using immature and untested code. I have total faith that the developers of Trigger Happy will get the kinks ironed out and this will become the de facto invervalometer and remote triggering system for iOS and Android devices.

You can find out more about Trigger Happy here, purchase a Trigger Happy Unit here and get support for Trigger Happy here.

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3 Things Apple Fixed in iOS 5

A few months ago I made some feature requests for iOS 5.  Yesterday Apple kicked off it’s annual WWDC and it looks like a few of my wishes have been granted:

  1. Notifications. The new notification system looks really, really slick.  It looks very similar to the way Andriod handles notifications.
  2. Over the air updates & syncing. Plugging in for updates is now a thing of the past for iPhone users.  iOS 5 will also wirelessly sync your iTunes library, and with the addition of iCloud you can now sync you music, photos, apps, calendars, contacts and a bunch of other stuff across multiple devices.  Cool!
  3. Improved camera app. Apple has decided to add some new features to the default camera app.  These new features will be very welcome on my iPhone.  They started by making improvements to the autofocus, added a little grid love and exposure lock, and made the volume up button a shutter button.  They’ve even added a shortcut to the lock screen so you don’t have to unlock your phone to launch the camera app.

Gizmodo and BGR have nice, in-depth hands on reviews that are worth reading.

You can watch the entire WWDC keynote address on Apple’s site.

All said and done I can’t wait to get my hands on iOS 5 (and whatever iPhone gets announced later this summer/fall).

Update: Looks like apple also updated Mail to allow searches in the body of the message!  Hooray!

Update 2: Looks like the dictionary is editable in iOS 5 as well!  That means 5 out of my 7 wishes have been answered!

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Firefox 4: First Impressions

20110329 120303 Firefox 4: First Impressions

Firefox 4 has been released for a week now, and for that week I’ve been using it exclusively on my Windows PC and MacBook. Here’s a quick look at the things I’ve noticed.

Speed. The first thing I noticed is how much quicker Firefox 4 is compared to Firefox 3. The difference is quite remarkable. Loading websites feels faster, and I suspect this is largely due to the javascript engine enhancements. It’s still not quite as fast as Google’s Chrome browser, but for some reason I still prefer Firefox over Chrome.

Interface. Firefox 4 received a much needed facelift. It took me some time to get used to it, but it’s definitely an improvement. The two biggest changes are the former “status bar” (now called the “add on bar”) is gone, and the tabs have been moved way up to the top. You can configure it to look exactly like Firefox 3 if you wish, but why waste the extra pixels if you don’t need to? They’ve also added “Pinned Tabs”, which work much like Chrome’s feature of the same name. This feature alone has enabled me to get rid of one of my extensions.

Panorama. Panorama is a new feature of Firefox 4 that allows you to group your tabs into workspaces. This is a welcome new feature, and I’m already using it extensively. The workspaces can be accessed from the panorama tab at the very right of the tab bar. From there you can drag and drop your tabs into your tab groups. Once the groups have been created you can search through them, etc. My favorite way to switch workspaces is with the ctrl/cmd-` keyboard shortcut, which is like alt/opt-tab for windows/mac. Use ctrl/cmd-shift-E to open the panorama screen. To search your tabs just start typing within the panorama screen and the matching tabs will be highlighted.

What are some of the features or improvements you’ve noticed?

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5 Things I Hope Apple Fixes in iOS 5

I have been an iPhone user for 2 years now. I still have and use my iPhone 3G and will be upgrading to the iPhone 5 once it is released this summer. Over the past 2 years I have watched iOS evolve into what it is today. It’s a good OS, especially for a mobile device, however there are some features that need fixing. Here are my top 5 things I hope Apple fixes in iOS 5:

  1. Notifications. The iPhone notification system is pretty bad. Every notification gets popped up in the middle of the screen and the most recent notification wipes out any previous ones. It’d be nice if there was some sort of notification bar, or box where all recent notifications are stored.
  2. Over the air updates & syncing. Apple, it’s 2011 already. We live in a world of cloud computing and abundant wifi. Please get with the program and let me update to the latest iOS patch over the air. While you’re at it let me sync my iTunes library and apps over my wifi connection too.
  3. Mail search. Why can I only search the To:, From:, and Subject: fields of an email? That’s stupid. Most of what I’m searching for is in the body. Please let me search the email body in Mail.app.
  4. Editable dictionary. I understand iOS hase some sort of “smart dictionary” where it learns words and names you use frequently and that are in your contact list, but it isn’t good enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t learn and I’d like to be able to add my own words directly to the dictionary. I’m tired of iOS always correcting my corporate userid to “mortice”.
  5. Calendar colors. I sync my Google Calendar with my iPhone, which is really handy and I don’t think I could live my day-to-day life without it. The problem is I have 5 calendars synced and each one has a special color (blue for my personal calendar, pink for my wife’s, gray for my kids’, green for my lawn and garden activities & yellow for my home brewing), but the calendar app on my iPhone assigns a random color to each synced calendar. I’d like it to either a) sync the colors with the colors found on Google Calendar, or b) let me specify the colors myself.

… and a couple of bonus wishes:

  1. Improved camera app. As a photographer I rarely, if ever use the built in camera app. I almost always use an alternative app- Camera+, Hipstamatic or Instagram. All of them have built in filters for instant gratification and other nice features. Camera+ had a feature that made one of the volume buttons the shutter. Apple found out and rejected the app of course, but it was and is a good idea! Let the app developers use the hardware in unique and innovative ways, it’ll make the user experience better!
  2. Improved folders. The folders feature of iOS 4 was a very nice addition. I was able to condense my 8 pages of apps down to 3. The problem is that it seems that the feature was kind of hacked together. The folders themselves only allow 12 apps in them. As a result I need to have 3 folders for games. Why can’t they be scrolling? Also, the home screen folder icon shows 3 rows of 3, and then when I open it it shows 3 rows of 4. That means only the first 9 app icons get displayed on the home screen icon. Why even have the icons displayed at all? Wouldn’t a generic folder icon be just fine?

What do you hope is fixed in iOS 5?

[Update: Looks like Apple fixed a few of 'em!]

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