Hackintosh and a 4K Monitor

dell2414q I had been limping along with a 5 year old NEC 3090 as it started to fail over the past few months, but didn't want to replace it with another low DPI screen when I knew the 4k stuff was coming right around the corner. Then a few weeks ago Dell announced a 24" UltraHD (3840 x 2160 pixels) display in their UltraSharp PremierColor series, the so-called 2414Q. I watched and waited for it to be available on Every morning waiting for the button to go from "Contact Dell" to "Buy Now" and it finally did a couple of weeks ago.  After some delays in shipment my screen finally arrived this morning and I thought I'd write a little post on my experiences. This will be updated as I fiddle some more, so be patient.

First Encounter I plugged the screen into my very fast i7 Ivy Bridge Hackintosh with a GTX 760 GPU and I got full resolution on the first try. The problem is that it's stuck at 30Hz refresh rate. Now the GPU has Displayport 1.2 and in Windows 8.1 people have been running similar screens at 60Hz. Apparently the Nvidia driver built into Mavericks (there is no Nvidia web driver for Mavericks yet, or ever) does not support what's called MST or Multi-Stream Transport. Basically the way screens these hi-res screens work is that you send two screens worth of data (that's the Multi-Stream part) over the same cable and the screen just displays them next to each other on the same panel. No MST in the driver means I'm stuck at 30Hz.  I've heard that the latest Nvidia Web Drivers for Mountain Lion has MST support, so I'm currently cloning my last 10.8 installation over onto an extra drive to see if I can get it working over there. Sometimes when you're on the bleeding edge, you get cut.

The other issue I'm having is that the built-in resolution scaling is not working. So my screen is actually running at the full 3840x2160, which on a 24" monitor is pretty tiny. Not completely unusable for messing about testing, but not the kind of thing you'd want to stare at all day long. So once I get the refresh rate problem nicked, I'll figure out how to get it to show screen real estate something closer to 2560x1440 only with a whole lot more pixels to smooth things out.

That said, my initial playing around with images in Lightroom has made me feel similar to how I felt when I first upgraded to a color calibrated screen.  All the little flaws in sharpness that you really didn't notice before because you were going between a low-res overview and 100% are now glaringly obvious, much like they are when you look at a print. It's pretty amazing. 180ppi on a desktop screen. Yum.

Round Two My next move was to install 10.8.5  on an extra drive to see if the passing comment I read on an online forum was true. The idea was that the web drivers that Nvidia themselves released for Mountain Lion allowed for the illusive MST mode. No dice. Unfortunately I had the same results as in Mavericks. Looks like I may have to want for a driver update or some coding genius to come along and help me out.

HiDPI Mode (Kinda!) Ok, so I've made some progress. I've got the screen running like a pixel doubled 1080p screen. So it's showing the screen real estate of 1920x1080 while being really really smooth and sharp. To do this I had to enable HiDPI mode in Mavericks using this terminal command:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ DisplayResolutionEnabled -bool true

Once I did that, 1920x1080 (HiDPI) showed up under the 'Scaled' section in the display preferences. The problem was that every time I tried enable it, the system would automatically select a refresh rate of 30.3Hz which made the Dell monitor just barf and show me a black screen. To get past this hurdle I switched back to 'Best for Display' and then selected 'Scaled' again while holding down the Option key. That allowed me to choose 30Hz AND 1920x1080 (HiDPI), and Voila! Retina style beauty.  The next step is for it to give me a little bit more room to breathe. What I'd love is the real estate of 2560x1440 while using the pixels to smooth things out.

I still have the problem of 30Hz vs 60Hz refresh rate, but that may have to wait for a driver update that may or may not come. That said, we're back in the "Ok, I'm going to keep this thing" camp. I don't think it's going back.  Also apparently there is a bug in Chrome that makes it completely slow on HiDPI external monitors. So I'm temporarily using Safari for the time being.

More to come as I continue my troubleshooting...


It's Not The Umbrella's Fault - Einstein / Speedlight Modifier Shoot-off

I mentioned last week on the show how I felt like a speedlight and an Alien Bee looked very different through the same umbrella at the same subject. So I thought I would put it to the test. Conrad sat in for me while I shot her from approximately two feet with:

A Paul Buff Einstein w/ - 7" reflector - 32" shoot-through umbrella - 32" silver umbrella - 22" beauty dish - 22" beauty dish with 30 degree grid - 22" beauty dish with sock - 24x36" softbox - 24x36" softbox with grid

A Lumopro 120 Speedlight w/ - bare - 32" shoot-through umbrella - 32" silver umbrella - 16" softbox

The images were color corrected in Lightroom using the color chart on the wall.

And you know what? At least for the soft sources, they all don't look THAT different from one another. So maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?

UPDATE: So I've taken a look at them after a short night's sleep and I wanted to point out a few things. While the light from the umbrellas and softboxes and such look pretty similar from a couple of feet away, you will notice that there is a huge difference in their spill into the rest of the scene. So if you need control over your lighting, some options are definitely better than others.

Also even though I was using strobes that 'should' more or less be about daylight balanced, there was a wide variation of white balance settings in post to get them in line with each other. The light from the Einstein for instance had color temp of 6000º, 5950º, 5250º, 5100º, 5500º, and 5000º depending on the modifier being used. The speedlight was even worse, 6600º, 6900º, 7500º. Remember that next time you use a strobe and think you can just set your WB to Daylight or Flash and call it a day. Nope. When in doubt, shoot a grey card at the beginning of your session so that you have a reference in post.

For me, it comes down to convenience to a large extent. If I have to carry my gear to a shoot I want to get the most bang I can get for the size/weight buck. For me lately that has been a couple of 36" Softlighters from Photek. They fit criss-cross in my Pelican rolling case and can be used as white umbrellas, shoot-through umbrellas, and as designed with the front diffuser. Three tools in one. (Plus they're cheap!) That said, yesterday I was shooting some corporate headshots and brought along an Alien Bee with a 46" Softlighter and the light from that much larger source (remember, the area of a circle is π times the radius squared so it's about 50% more area than the 36") was lovely. Wrapped around so nice that I didn't even need a reflector.

In the end though, soft light is soft light. How you make it and how 'soft' it is largely academic. If what you've got is an umbrella, it'll be fine. If you've got a softbox, use the softbox. Stop worrying about the 5% difference in the quality of light and start worrying about making better photographs. Let me put is this way to wrap up: If you're pictures aren't good enough, it's not the umbrella's fault.

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Pipes Result - Monster

On Saturday I wrote a post about my ideas for using a couple of giant pipe segments in a conceptual photo. I ended up having a couple of lovely friends Francisco Graciano and Eran Bugge come over and play the roles of savior and damsel. Here is the result (Click to enlarge): Monster

As you can see it ended up a bit differently than I had originally planned (as things like this usually do). First, I gave up on the caving idea, no exciting enough, plus I couldn't get my hands on the equipment I'd need to make it believable anyhow. That's when I came up with the idea of them running from the imagined jaws of a cthulhu-like monster from beneath the ground.

PipesPeople-228The first thing I had to do was move the pipes and gravel pile to a more desolate location, so I co-opted a landscape I took on the salt flats at the bottom of Death Valley at dawn. Much better. Cisco and Eran showed up and we shot about 30 pictures of them if various forms of the pose with Cisco standing on the edge of a table (with my friend Guillaume serving as a counterweight. As you can see I had a soft light from below blasting them to match the light from the pipe, plus one behind to rim light Cisco a little bit. There was also another strobe next to the camera bouncing off the wall to give some overall illumination to the shadows that the other two lights caused.

Compositing the two together was the hard part, along with the random science photos of tentacles. That stuff took a couple of hours. Cleaning up the masks on each element, playing with curves to try to get the contrast and brightness to match between layers.

I posted a version on facebook and G+ last night at around this point. I knew normally I'd spend another hour or two playing with it to really polish things up, but I was tired so I went to sleep. This morning however I added the final touches. Smoke coming up from the pipes, a minor lens flare or two, a lightning bolt, plus a whole lot more 1 or 2 pixel clean-ups.

Is the end result believable? Well it is a giant underground octopus attacking my friends in the middle of Death Valley so let's be reasonable about the answer to that question. That said, I think it's successful and silly, and a lot of fun. It ended up very different than I originally intended, but also much better. Not bad for a weekend project.


Scanning Film with a Camera - My Test

bike1440 So I was doing a little research about film scanners today and came to realize that most of what's left in the market are either way too cheap and low-res (basically to preserve family photos) or too expensive and from companies I can't trust will be around in 6 months. I've been unsatisfied with scanning on my Epson 4990. It's fine for large format and even 6x6, but for 35mm I'm never happy with the results. I've tried using the film holders and end up with soft images; I've tried laying the film on the glass and then have to fight Newton's Rings.

I remember a few months ago I read a post somewhere about using your dSLR and a macro lens to shoot slides and thought about trying it with negatives as well. In the end I found this post on petapixel which was very helpful. I didn't have a light table handy, but I had a little battery powered LED light which I diffused through a stack of tissue paper, set the camera up on a tripod with a 100mm macro lens and pointed it straight down toward the film The results are very impressive. Now these are not the sharpest film shots ever, but they give you some idea of the quality you can get out. MUCH better than I've ever gotten from my flatbed and using gear I've already got.

I tried some color film as well with less than ideal results. The color temp and spectrum of the LED just wasn't up to the task. Color negative film is REALLY hard to get the color right when scanning, in my opinion. The only time I've ever gotten great results was when I rented time on an Imacon with custom profiles for each film type.

TIP: Use live view and 10x magnification to get the focus right. Also stop down on the lens a bit to get to the sweet spot and handle any slight depth of field softness.

Here's a 100% blow-up of the above: