Posts filed under 'Linux'

Getting started with dSLR photography

Disclaimer. I’m not a photographer. If you want real advice, drop a note to Dominic Sansoni or Sebastian Posingis. I did, and both of them replied with a list of useful suggestions. So thanks guys!

Anyway, this article should summarize most of what I’ve gathered over the past year. Prices are approximate.

Background

Some time last year, I decided to take up a hobby. I wrote a list and narrowed it down to photography or smoking. Detailed analysis led to the following conclusions.

Photography:
For: Fun, and you have a visual archive of some things you saw.
Against: very expensive and likely to kill you.

Smoking:
For: makes you look cool.
Against: expensive, kills you slowly. This too leaves a visual archive but it will consist of photos of your blacked lungs taken by med students.

Since I have allergies, I decided to go with photography

What Camera?

If you just need something small and pocketable, get a simple point and shoot digital camera. A basic P&S camera from Canon or Panasonic can be got for about $150. I recommend the Canon A series.

Why DSLR?

In my case, I switched to dSLR’s from point and shoot because of the following:

  1. Flexibility to use different lenses, swap lenses between cameras. Why is this important? Because the photo mostly depends on the lens (and technique/skill obviously!) - the camera sensor only has to function OK. And so far nobody has managed to make a lens that covers normal, wide angle and telephoto without compromises - so being able to use different lenses makes better quality photos possible, than could be got with a single all-purpose lens.
  2. Good glass retains value: an L series lens purchased for $800 in 1999 probably costs the same today. A dSLR purchased for $5000 in 1999 is probably worth $170 today.
  3. Bigger sensor - a P&S sensor is much smaller than an APS-C or full frame. See those tiny cubes at the bottom of this image? now compare with the APS-C or full frame. And unlike megapixels, sensor size DOES make a huge difference in image quality, low light performance, etc.

Step 1: choosing the brand of dSLR.

You have a choice of Nikon or Canon. (Yes, there’s Olympus, Sony, etc.. but lenses are rare so I’d stick with Nikon/Canon).

Which to choose? I can’t say either is better but I personally chose Canon due to lens availability where I live. Also Canon tends to have on-lens autofocus so most canon lenses autofocus regardless of the body, whereas many Nikon lenses wont autofocus on low end Nikon dSLR’s.

Once you have decided the brand, it’s time to pick the body and lenses:

Step 2: Choose body

Where body refers to the camera body without lens. Get the cheapest body for that sensor size - dSLR’s are generally available as 1.6 crop, 1.3crop (rare) or full size.

Why do I say this? because, ultimately, what matters most is the sensor size. Forget about megapixels for now, just get the biggest sensor size for the lowest cost. At the moment, for 1.6 size, that would be the 1000d, and for full frame, that would be the 5d (for Canon). You can upgrade from the 1000d to the 50 D for $500 - $1000 more approx, but is it worth it for a few minor features like faster burst modes? Personally I’d spend more only to upgrade to the 5d with 2x the sensor area.

Note - if you buy a 1.6x sensor, you can use EF-S lenses - these are budget lenses designed to fit that smaller sensor size. These lenses won’t work properly on full frame cameras

Recommended cameras:
EOS1000d or d40/40x/60 for Nikon
If you can afford it, go for the 5D :). If you extremely rich and slightly crazy, the 5D mkII

Lenses

Once you pick a body it’s time to choose lenses. This is where the fun begins. Which lenses are right for you? it depends on your requirements.

Lenses are usually categorized according to the focal length:

Wideangle
10mm, 12mm, 17mm, 22mm etc.. these lenses give you nice wide photos. For example, here is a wideangle photo taken at 18mm (35mm equivalent 27mm perhaps?) What do I mean by 27mm equiv? well if I has a full frame sensor I could have taken that photo with a 27mm lens

You can get a variable wide angle lens (something like the 18mm - 55mm kit lens that’s included with most cameras for $150 or so), or you can purchase individual lenses

Normal

Normal lenses are 50mm, 85mm etc. A 50mm 1.8 prime costs as little as $100, which is incredible value for money.

Telephoto / super telephoto:
85mm upwards.. these include prime (fixed) lenses such as the 100mm f2, and variable lenses (e.g. 70-300mm)

Recommended Lenses:

Budget:

Wideangle - 18-55IS($160), usually included as kit with your camera
Normal - you can get a 50mm 1.8 ($100)
Telephoto 55-250IS ($220)

the IS lenses are image stabilized so they try to stabilize the image despite wobbles caused by your hands

Not so budget:

Wideangle - 17-40L this is a professional wide/zoom lens. (Costs around $600-$800)
Normal - 50mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4
Telephoto - 70-200 f4 l ($800) or upgrade to the IS version ($1200), als consider primes like the 85mm 1.8 ($450) etc.

Aside from this, you may need:

Filters (to filter UV, protect your lenses, and hoods, to prevent lens flare and make you look cool. Also a sealed case with silica gel for storage (Humidity creates fungus in cameras and lenses). Lastly, an insurance policy could be useful.

In retrospect, you may want to consider taking up smoking instead. After all, it is cheaper.

PS: please note any errors in this post, as comments, and I will update it. Thanks!

Add comment January 10th, 2009

Still using XP? Here’s 7 reasons why you should consider Ubuntu

Open office on Ubuntu
Open office running on Ubuntu

This post is generally aimed at people who still use only Microsoft Operating systems (e.g. XP, Vista, Win98) etc.

In this article I am talking about Ubuntu, which is a linux distro (distribution - think of it as a ‘version’ or ‘flavor’ of linux), however most of the points below could be applied to any modern stable Linux distro.

So, why should you consider Ubuntu (or another Linux distro)

  1. It’s safer: Right now, thousands of people are busy writing viruses, trojans, spyware, and malware aimed specifically at people who use Microsoft Operating systems. i.e. You. As if that’s not bad enough, millions of compromised machines (bots) are busy trying to hack and replicate into Microsoft PCs (like your PC). By switching to Ubuntu (or any Linux) you are removing this target off your head, and removing 99% of the threats your PC faces.
  2. It’s cheaper: If you have access to Internet, you can download it for just the cost of the Internet connection. Or, you could request a free CD be mailed to you, not only that, it costs less to run over the long run (see next few points for more information)
  3. It’s more efficient:Ubuntu is a more efficient OS - due to this it has less hardware requirements than Windows XP for example - i.e. it will run easily with less ram, a slower CPU, etc., compared to XP. So, running a PC with Ubuntu to achieve comparable performance as an XP equipped PC would reqiure less electricity, use less resources, contribute less to global warming, carbon etc. etc.
  4. It’s easier to install : Ubuntu usually includes most necessary drivers and can function with most hardware - in my experiments, it identified all hardware in all the machines I used it on, and it’s hardware support was better than XP (for example, it installed the relevant audio drivers for a PC, where XP was unable to install audio).
  5. It’s more stable: Ubuntu is very very stable. It rarely ever has problems/crashes. This is because it (and Linux which underlies it) is developped by a community of thousands of people who test and fix problems - therefore the software is much more heavily tested compared to Windows.
  6. It’s open source: Ubuntu is an open source operating system: what that means is the code which powers it is open source - i.e. it is available for anyone to download and examine. That means that thousands of people examine virtually all code and ensure there are no bugs, spyware, rootkits, backdoors etc. Now let’s take Microsoft Windows. Do you know what it’s source code contains? No? well neither do most people. Except for Microsoft Staff, nobody has a clue of what’s really inside XP.

    Think of open source like a restaurant where you can see the staff preparing your meal - you can see what ingredients they use, how they prepare it, etc - so you KNOW that your meal is safe, nobody spat in it (or worse) and it doesnt contain anything poisonous.

  7. It’s easy to use: Ubuntu works via a GUI (Graphical user interface). I.e. if you have used Windows you should be able to easily install Ubuntu, as well as use it for most simple day to day tasks.

Pre Ubuntu FAQ:

  1. Q: I don’t have the time to install it just yet - is there a way I can test Ubuntu without modifying my PC?
    A: Ubuntu’s installation disk functions as a live CD - what this means is: if you boot off it, your PC can run off the disk, and load and run Ubuntu! It will be a bit slower than if it were on your hard disk, but it includes most of the features of a proper installation.

    A live CD (IMO) is a masterpiece of engineering. How they managed to make an entire OS function off a CD on diverse hardware is simply amazing, but I digress…

  2. Q: Cool, but I’m not yet willing to switch my main PC to an Ubuntu?

    A: Here’s an idea - take a PC you no longer use, and set it up with Ubuntu and a net connection - then you can use it to try out Ubuntu (e.g. for surfing), and as time goes you can slowly switch over tasks you do on your Windows PC, to your Ubuntu PC. If you don’t have an extra PC you can easily pick a cheap used P3 for about $50.

    OR You could install Ubuntu on your PC in a multi boot configuration - i.e. both XP and Ubuntu can coexist on the same PC!!

FAQ on ME:

  1. Q: So, you are an Ubuntu Fanboy?:
    A: I’m not an anything Fanboy. I just find Ubuntu vastly superior to any Microsoft offering. My only regret is I did not try it earlier - I now want to convince people to give Ubuntu a try. If after you try Ubuntu you decide it (and/or linux) is not for you, that’s fine but you owe it to yourself to give Ubuntu a try and see the difference
  2. Q: Why Ubuntu? Why not another Linux distro?

    A:I personally prefer Ubuntu as it is quite stable, reliable, and has a big community. There are many other popular Linux distributions which are just as good - visit distrowatch.com and select your favorite.
  3. OK, How do I get started?
    I’ve written a guide on how to install Ubuntu, also some Ubuntu tips and tricks

13 comments January 21st, 2007

Ubuntu: Tips and tricks 1

So, let’s say you’ve installed Ubuntu. Here are a few simple tips to get you going.
 

1. Customise the panel (taskbar)

Classic windows desktop in Ubuntu!
It’s the classic Windows XP desktop - In Ubuntu!!

Ubuntu includes the Gnome panel - this allows you to add or remove menu items in various ways to panels - they can be located on the top/bottom/left/right of screen, like XP’s taskbar - Unlike XP, you can have more than one taskbar in Ubuntu.

I like Windows XP’s menu system, so I’ve configured my system to be similar (single panel at bottom like XP taskbar). Here’s how I did that:

  1. Delete bottom panel: (right click over it, and click delete)
  2. Move top panel to bottom: right click, select panel properties, change orientation to bottom.
  3. Delete the various menu items you don’t need from the panel (I deleted all except the date) by rightclicking and selecting remove from panel).
  4. Add the main menu: Right click panel, select add to panel, scroll down to ‘utilities’, find main menu, click it and drag it to bottom left of panel.
  5. Add the show desktop button (under desktop and windows).
  6. Add tabs: to add a list of tabs for open windows, select window list under desktop and windows, and drag it to the bottom.
  7. Add the network monitor (or modem monitor if you use one).
  8. You can add any other icons you like.

2. Add the computer to your desktop

Not that you need to, but if you miss it, you can add it by dragging it off the places menu

3. Adding shortcuts

Ubuntu allows you to set up keyboard shortcuts - in this case I will show how to set up a shortcut for Terminal (some Ubuntu tasks need you to access the terminal). You can make a hotkey to it easily by going to System - Preferences - Keyboard Shortcuts, then select Run a terminal, and press the shortcut combination you want - e.g. alt+t, and click close.

4. Enable media playback

By default, Ubuntu does not enable playback of non open source media formats via its movie player. To re-enable this feature so you can play DivX, etc, by following the instructions here: (do whats described in the “how to make things work in a hurry” section.

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats

5. Install Wine (Enables you to run Windows software under Ubuntu Linux!!)

MS Word under Ubuntu Linux, via Wine 
Microsoft Word under Wine - not really necessary as open office is already installed - but I did this to test the installation process on Wine - it works!

  1. Open synaptic package manager (System - Administration - Synaptic package manager.
  2. Enable all repositories (Settings - repositories - and tick the unticked ones)
  3. Reload (click reload).
  4. Click search, type Wine - scroll through the list till you find “wine” and doubleclick Mark the packages, then click apply
  5. Downloading package files wait for all files to be downloaded, follow the prompts to install Wine.

After you instal wine, you can run a program by clicking Alt F2 (run) and then type wine /path/to/application e.g. wine /media/cdrom0/setup.exe

You can now install many Windows applications on your Ubuntu PC, and even create shortcuts to them.

6. Reconfigure Screen (if it doesnt work properly)

Sometimes Ubuntu’s default installation won’t detect your monitor properly (e.g. you can’t select all the resolutions you had under XP), also if you change your monitor (e.g. from a CRT to LCD) or change graphic cards, you might find that ubuntu no longer loads properly.

You can fix this by reconfiguring the graphics setup by logging to terminal on startup (press esc when Grub loads and follow the prompts) then type:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

7. Pronounce the name right

For some strange reason, some people pronounce Ubuntu as U-BAN-tu. This is wrong. Ubuntu is pronounced as oo-BOON-tu, and if you don’t believe me, just watch the video about Ubuntu which features Nelson Mandela (included on the installation disk).

So, what are your favorite Ubuntu tricks? Please add them as comments

Need more tips and tricks? Check out the Ubuntu forum here:
http://ubuntuforums.org/forumdisplay.php?f=100

21 comments January 4th, 2007

Have you tried Ubuntu yet?

Note: please see the excellent comments at the end of this article, which contain many corrections, clarifications and useful suggestions.

DivX playback on Ubuntu
DivX playback, Totem player, Windowed. 

One of my new years resolutions for 2007 was to use an open source operating system. I don’t mean try it out and forget about it - rather, I want to learn how to use it for day to day work (which I would normally do on an XP powered PC).

And each day I use this new OS, I’m amazed by how easy it is to use. The purpose of this little article is to give Windows XP users a rough idea on how easy it is to use Ubuntu, and see how Ubuntu compares with Windows XP

Pre installation FAQ

  1. What is Ubuntu? Ubuntu is an open source operating system. What that generally means is, Ubuntu can be downloaded for free, and you can use it on your system without paying for a licence.
  2. Yes, but isn’t that OS for Linux experts? Don’t you need to know Linux? Not necessarily. Ubuntu works mostly via a graphical user interface (similar to Windows XP, you use a mouse, click buttons, etc). Most operations are completed with a mouse. Very rarely you may have to perform some advanced operations using a terminal/console (like MS Dos window).
  3. How easy is it to install? Basically, you boot off the CD and follow the prompts. Installation is via a GUI.
  4. How do I get the CD? You can download an ISO image of the CD from http://www.ubuntu.com/ - burn this image onto a CD and boot off that CD.
  5. Will it recognise my hardware? Ubuntu recognised all hardware on my test PC without any problems. Contrast this with XP which required me to download additional drivers for VGA and Sound! Does this guarantee all your hardware will be recognised? No, but most of the time, it just works.
  6. Does it require a lot of space? Actually I was told (during the installation process) that you will need around 2.5GB of space, which is not bad considering that Ubuntu comes with many applications (e.g. Open Office), unlike Windows XP.
  7. But I only know how to use XP? How can I retrain myself to use Ubuntu?? The most surprising thing is, you don’t have to retrain yourself - most of the functionality of the desktop/etc is very similar to Windows XP. I don’t mean to say Ubuntu mimics Windows (they don’t), rather, if you are familiar with XP you should be able to find your way around Ubuntu easily. Actually, it’s more accurate to say both XP and Ubuntu are intuitive and follow common concepts and logical processes in their graphical user interfaces (translation: if you can use XP, you will probably be fine with Ubuntu).

The Ubuntu Experience

To give you an idea of what it’s like to use Ubuntu, I’ve got some screenshots here - click a thumbnail to open it on Flickr.

I was amazed at how many applications are included with Ubuntu - right out of the box, this OS seems to include everything I could think of - office software, DVD/CD Writing software, Email and Internet browser, graphics, etc, all included, fully functional, and ready to use.

The Desktop

Ubuntu Desktop
I’ve tweaked the menu to start from below (like XP) because I’m used to that :) Old habits.. You can see a screen shot of Ubuntu’s ’start’ menu here

As you can see, it’s a lot like XP - you have your “Computer”, and a taskbar which shows Tabs for windows, a clock, and a menu to launch programs, accessories, etc. Yup, just like XP - so nothing to relearn here as such!

Included Software:

Unlike Windows, Ubuntu includes a range of popular Linux applications for various tasks such as Graphics, Wordprocessing, etc. Most of these software packages are equivalent to (or better than) similar commercial Windows applications

Graphics Software:

Graphics

GIMP is a professional graphics software, similar to Photoshop.

Office software:

Ubuntu: Office applications: spreadsheet, wordprocessing, presentation, database..

Ubuntu includes Open Office which is similar to Microsoft Office - it includes applications for Spreadsheet, Word processing, database, and presentation.

Games:

Ubuntu Games

Ubuntu includes a large collection of preinstalled games

Security:

One big plus point of Ubuntu is, as with most Linux distros, it is very secure. Virus and spyware generally are not much of a threat (compared to Windows environment) as most attacks are directed against Windows.

Also, users aren’t automatically set up as administrators - and most admin operations require a password, so it’s harder for a malicious application to attack the system. 

Also, as Ubuntu is open source, the code is regularly checked by thousands of people worldwide, and bugs are quickly fixed.

Summary

Ubuntu is professional operating system, it’s simple to use, includes freeware versions of most Windows software, and, did I forget to mention, happnens to be FREE?

Over the next few days I will write more articles on my Ubuntu experience.

PS: Hi to everyone at http://www.groklaw.net/

22 comments January 2nd, 2007

Linux XP: Review

LXP  

Introduction 
Linux XP is a linux version (distro) that is designed to behave like Windows XP. The theory is that a Windows user should be able to easily use Linux XP, if they are comfortable with Windows XP.

But does it work? And what is the user likely to experience? Here are my observations:

  1. Installation: quite easy actually. Aside from setting up the partitions which might be hard for non linux users, the installation process was easy (also, the partition setup had an automatic mode).
  2. Startup: startup is in typical unix style, with lots of system info whizzing past. Eventually the desktop will load.
  3. Desktop: the initial desktop presented when LXP loads is similar to Windows XP. A lot of effort has been put into mimic the XP desktop, and it pays off: At the bottom you have the taskbar with start button (and various other icons).
  4. Menu system: Like windows, there is a start button - clicking this enables you to open various applications, also adjust various system options via a ‘control panel’
  5. Control Panel: LXP has a control panel, similar to XP. Through this you can adjust various options related to the interface, hardware, network, users, and also add/remove applications.
  6. Applications: LXP includes applications under categories similar to XP. These categories are accessories, graphics, Internet, Multimedia, and Office.
  7. Included applications include various utilities (under accessories), a PDF viewer,  GIMP (for graphics) Firefox (for surfing) and much more. Strangely, Open office was not included in the installation, which is a pity.

Possible Bugs

I found the following problems during the install/usage - whether they were due to my hardware or errors on my part I can’t say for sure:

  1. Installation: The initial boot screen displayed by the CD had garbled text (tried changing graphics card/monitor no luck)
  2. Screen resolution: After installation, the screen resolution could not be adjusted beyond 800X600 @85hz. Tried changing monitors, and graphics card but no luck.

Final thoughts:

Linux XP does an admirable job of mimicing Windows XP’s behavior, so a typical XP user may find switching to LXP very easy. At the same time, the more fundamental question I’d ask is, if you are switching to Linux, why bother retaining windows XP layout, when Linux has better options?

The second problem with LXP (in my opinion) is that it is a paid OS - i.e. you have to pay to obtain a licence. Some will say this is a good thing but it makes me wary as it goes against the principle of open source (IMO).

Lastly, LXP is still relatively unknown, isn’t as popular as some of the more well established Linux distros.

Conclusion 

Having used Ubuntu, I think it is vastly superior to Linux XP, besides being true FOSS (Free and open source) it can also be tweaked to look and feel like XP (if you want to). See my review of Ubuntu here

13 comments January 1st, 2007

OS Roundup: Linux XP: Installation

LXP desktop 
Linux XP

As we move into 2007, I’ve decided to review three operating systems: Linux XP, Ubuntu, and Vista. To kick off my reviews, I will be starting with Linux XP.

Introduction 
The main problem most ordinary people find with switching to Linux is that Linux is not Windows. Most Linux users don’t find a problem with this as they consider Linux superior - HOWEVER, typical Windows users find the idea of switching to a new OS or way of doing things simply too daunting.

Linux XP seems to be aimed at solving this problem. Basically, this OS tries to mirror XP’s look and feel. In this review I will install LXP, and see how well it functions in terms of performance, ease of use and compatibility.

Note: Unlike typical Linux distros, Linux XP is not free - you can install it and use it around 99 times after which it will require Activation - I guess they copied this feature from Windows XP also ;) . Thankfully Linux XP costs only around $19, which is relatively affordable.

Quick Installation Guide

  1. Download the ISO image of the installation disk from http://www.linux-xp.com/ - and burn that image onto a CD. Thankfully Linux XP requires just one disk
  2. Boot your PC off that CD.
  3. Welcome: At this point, you will get a welcome screen showing “Linux XP desktop 2006″ - for some reason the text was garbled on my monitor (a Viewsonic LCD). I tried another monitor, AND another graphics card, but no luck. Anyway, pressing enter here will take you to the installation screen.
  4. Partitioning: (image) next, you will be asked about how you want to set up your partitions - you have the choice to select automatic partitioning or manual partitioning. I selected manual - if you select manual, remember you have to set up (at least) a root partition (think of it as your “C:” drive) and a “swap” partition (unlike windows which uses a swap file, Linux can use a whole partition as a swap drive - this approach makes more sense really. I set up a 2GB root partition and a 1GB swap partition. (Tip: click New and select / for root partition, and enter size, click OK;, for the swap partition, select swap under file system type).
  5. Boot loader - LXP uses GRUB which is fine. Click next.
  6. Network config (If you have a network card). I just clicked next here, you can edit the options if necessary for your network.
  7. Time zone - select your time zone.
  8. Root password - this is the root account for administration - enter a password and click next.
  9. About to install: LXP is now ready to install - at this point you will get a warning that this is the last opportunity you will have to chicken out (so far nothing has been changed on your computer). Click next to continue.
  10. Installing Packages: LXP now starts the installation process - first, the partitions will be set up and formatted, after which LXP starts to transfer an image to the hard drive. Like XP, the installation process is graphical with a status bar showing completion of each project.
  11. System Installation Progress: (image) At this point, a taskbar will show installation progress.
    Note: My installation froze and popped up an error message complaining of a problem in the CDROM. I fixed this by burning another CD and continuing the installation (did not need to restart).
  12. Reboot - after installation completes, the CD will eject and you must reboot.

Coming up next: a review of Linux XP.

4 comments January 1st, 2007


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