UDMA 7 CF Card Performance on Canon 5D Mark III and 1D Mark IV – Soooo worth it!

Now that UDMA 7 card prices are coming down out of the stratosphere I figured it was a good time to pick up some newer/faster cards to replace my aging UDMA 6 media. It also didn't hurt that my Canon 5D Mark III supported the UDMA 7 standard – so I was eager to see if there would be any noticeable upside to the swap.  As I was heading over to a local Austin Thursday night bicycle race at The Driveway, I thought I'd recalled that the Canon 1D Mark IV also might support UDMA 7.

So after parking and prepping my gear, a quick search on my phone showed that the latest firmware upgrade "Improves writing/reading speeds when using UDMA 7-compatible CF cards."  Being fairly diligent about applying new firmware, I figured I'd be good to go – that I'd be able to test both the 5D3 and the 1D4 with UDMA 6 vs UDMA 7…  No dice… my 1D4 was at 1.0.8… D'oh!

Oh well – I figured I still had the 5D3 to play with, so I headed out to shoot; and boy did it help. I was noticing roughly double the shots when I just kept the shutter down and let it shoot – but perhaps more importantly, the time to clear the buffer dropped even more significantly – from 15 seconds to about 4 or 5.  Of course, all of this was with that super scientific timing method of "one one thousand… two one thousand…" LOL  I went ahead and tested the 1D4 as well – curious to see if the firmware would make any difference. The quick tests seemed to indicate that when using firmware 1.0.8 on the 1D4 that there was no gain in performance.

Back at the house, I went and did a bit more "scientific" testing. Yup – broke out the stopwatch feature on my cell phone.  I didn't quite feel like getting out the recorder, then looking at and counting the spikes in the wave image. I figured this was an "area play" of sorts – split seconds wouldn't matter, it was the larger changes that would be very noticeable that would be important to me (and hopefully, you).

I also went ahead and upgraded the firmware in my 1D4 to 1.1.1 to see if that made any difference. Since the testing on the 1.0.8 showed zero improvement (both out at the event, and in my "scientific" testing) I didn't include it in the results below; but yes – 1.1.1 DOES make a difference.

Both my 5D3 and 1D4 are set to just shoot raw files; I only save to one card (the CF) and when it is full, they roll to the SD till I can swap the CF card during a break in the shoot. To avoid AF or exposure settings delaying shutter speed, I went to manual focus, and set the camera to manual mode – 1/500 @ f/4. To test – I held the shutter down until I heard a hesitation in the shutter speed; when that happened, I started the time as I released the shutter, then watched to see when the red "writing" light went out. The same cards were used in both cameras: UDMA 6 – RiData 533x; UDMA 7 – Lexar Professional 1000x 16 GB.  I did three runs of each camera/setup and have averaged the runs. (okay – I know I'm not proving a Doctorial Thesis, but I know folks like to understand the details <chuckle>) Oh – one last nugget of data – when you look through the viewfinder and see the "available shots in buffer" indicated – neither camera's number changed when switching between card speed/technology. The 5D3 showed 13 shots for both cards and the 1D4 showed 23 shots for both cards.

A drumroll please… 

Camera Card  Shots till full   Buffer empty in 
 5D Mark III   UDMA 6  15  15.2 sec 
   UDMA 7 26  3.5 sec 
 1D Mark IV  UDMA 6 27  24.5 sec 
   UDMA 7 31  6.1 sec 

Ta da!

So – on the 5D3:

  • roughly 70% more shots on the before the buffer is full
  • buffer fully cleared in roughly 1/4 the time

and on the 1D4:

  • Only a slight gain in shots – 15% more, but again the
  • buffer fully cleared in roughly 1/4 the time

So that is the "numerical" side of things – the practical side of things is that it is very noticeable how much faster I can shoot again – primarily on the 1D4 (mainly because I do more of the rapid high speed shooting on it, but I'm doing more with the 5D3 as well).  It takes 6.1 seconds to completely empty the buffer, but even a 1/2 – 1 second stopping in the shooting can get me a quick burst of another 3-5 shots… a lot more manageable than the older 1.0.8 or UDMA 6 performance of only 1-2 shots after that 1/2 – 1 second hesitation.

So – run, don't walk – to your local retailer or web storefront and load up on some UDMA 7 greatness early and often!

If you have any questions, either comment below or use the "contact" link in the header.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

- Will


Canon GP-E2 Review – including tagging CR2 and JPG images from .log files

I'll fess up – I'm a gadget geek. I"ve been a touch surprised at how Nikon had been ahead of the game with a small GPS that could tag images via connection to their cameras via USB.  There were a few attempts at integrating the GPS via USB but you had to have a WFT device – which was super pricey, and you still needed a supported GPS device too – so ~$1,000 to tag images, no thanks.

I had seen other Geo-Tagging devices that would essentially log a trace and would then tag your .jpg files with their locations, but these devices didn't support RAW files, and I shoot exclusively in RAW.

I was a bit happier when the 1D X was announced and along with it was a much smaller GPS tagging device, the Canon GP-E1, that tied into the camera directly, via a utility port on the side of the camera.  Still a touch on the pricey side, but at least this unit wasn't the size of half a battery grip.

Then the 1D X was delayed, the 5D3 announced with availability just around the corner. With it – the GP-E2 was announced. I liked that the device supported both the 1DX as well as the 5D3 from the hot shoe (a curious way to get the connectivity, but it will connect to multiple disparate devices that way), and to the 7D via a usb connection.

So the die was cast. I ordered a GP-E2 with my 5D3, and hoped that it (okay – and the BG-E11 grip) would show up before I headed to California to shoot the Amgen Tour of California last week… no luck.


It was here when I got back, however; I soon had it out of its box and was ready to test – but I got broadsided by a nasty cold and have been essentially worthless (some might argue that is *not* atypical – LOL) for the last two days.

First impressions:

The device is a touch larger than I expected.  Most, if not all, of the images I had seen of the Canon GP-E2 were without a camera body in the image. So the fact that it is easily larger than the pentaprism of the camera took me a bit aback.


I was still also mulling over my reaction to the "hot-shoe" connectivity. While it would give me the most accurate data (including compass direction and angle of the camera, I think) I wondered about how vulnerable it was going to be if I was out on a moto with it in the hot shoe. I've not really had any problems with a flash mounted on a camera from the moto, so this shouldn't be too big a problem, but I'd not be able to use my flash on my 5D3 (which is how I ran things in Cali this year – pending post on that).

The thought of using a USB cable to connect the GPS to the camera seemed even less ideal from the back of a moto.  I think it would a) open the side of the camera (okay – and the GPS) to rain and dust contamination, and b) be easy to knock out of the socket when reaching for the camera, etc. So I started looking into the under mentioned pure "logging" capabilities.

Initial Setup:

So there isn't much to the device. An opening for a single AA battery, a rubber cover over the data connection, and a three position switch. Canon also include a carrying case (so you can attach the device to your belt or camera strap easily, two different lengthed cables to connect your camera to the GP-E2, and a small drawstring bag to carry the lot in. After putting in the battery (not included), sliding it into the hot-shoe of my Canon 5D mark III, and flipping on the power switch. I was able to go into the camera's menus to setup the device. 

It lets you set the date/time on your camera from the satellite signal (very nice, easier than the laptop time-set process – two shakes and my 5D3 was "accurate"). This can be set automatically, manually, or can be switched off. The other "setting" is the ability to define the "position update timing". IMHO, it is a no-brainer to set this at the minimum refresh time of every second; this still allows for over four days of logging on the device before you start overwriting older days' logs. You can view the current GPS info (lat, lon, elevation, date/time and signal strength). The last thing you can do is to calibrate the compass on the device – it shows you three sequences of movement of the camera with the GPS mounted on top to let the device align itself correctly. But compass direction of the photograph is no where on my radar – My main concern, from posting images into various image services, is to get the city, state, zip and country added to the files. This saves me tons of time; as I won't have to remember where a shot was taken while mid stage (where towns are small and go by pretty quickly).

My Strategery/Test:

I didn't think it was too necessary to try connecting the receiver to the camera – it would "just" work as advertised. After a day or two to mull it over, and enticed by statements such as "There is no need to connect the receiver to the camera" – I wanted to test with an "un-supported" camera (For direct tagging – the 1DX and 5D3 work via USB/Hot-Shoe; 7D works via USB). 

So I fired up the GP-E2 into "log" mode, hopped in the car, and did a quick run for some dinner. I had set the time on my 5D3, so I brought up that display and matched the time setting manually on my Canon 1D Mark IV.  On the drive, I shot about 50 images along the way; not really aiming, just actuating the shutter.

Tagging the Files:

The one step in the process that didn't immediately click – was how to get the log file off of the GP-E2 and onto my laptop.  The cables included with the device call the connector on the GPS end a "digital" connector, and the other end is a mini-usb to connect to the camera. I knew this wouldn't connect to my "standard" usb ports on my laptop.  Looking at the port on the GPS itself, it looked different enough that I figured I needed to find an adapter to connect the cable that came with the GPS to the laptop.

I read through the GPS manual, there was zero description on how to accomplish this. Finally, I downloaded the Canon Map Utility manual off of the software disc – it just said to "use the cable included with the camera"… Hmm… could it be that easy? A closer look showed that the outer shape of the socket on the GP-E2 was indeed USB Mini shaped. I gingerly tried it, and voila! It worked.

From there it was pretty easy. I copied the files onto my hard drive into a directory in the "normal" file structure I employ for Lightroom. I then launched the map utility.

A quick "File" > "Add Images…" to select all the files in my latest directory, voila – they now appear in the left column of the app. Then I turned on the GP-E2, connected it to the USB port, clicked the "GPS log files" tab in the utility, and chose "File" > "Import GPS log files from GPS device…" The data is now on your laptop. Now just go back over to the "Images" tab and click "Edit" > "Automatically add location information".

The system now does warn you that "If (Time difference] in the GPS log file is not set correctly…" (it goes on for a while). Essentially, if you time on your camera is off by an hour from the GPS, and you shot for two, your locations may be shifted for one of the hours and the other may not show any gps info.  Just be sure to sync your camera with your GPS before you start your shoot. I'm not sure what you could do at this point – I guess you could hop into some utility to adjust the "shot" time, then come back and refresh the data…. It would be nice if Canon let you set an offset (in both hours and minutes) so you could fix this now… perhaps that will show in a subsequent version of the software.

After you clear the warning, you have the option of reviewing your location info before you commit it to the files. You just need to click the "Save" button below the map (they put it in a very noticible blue area below the map).

The 59 files took about a minute or two to save (I should have, but didn't time it). I'm not sure what he delay was, but it may be looking up specific country, state, city, and "sub-location" aka "neighborhood" info for each image and saving it.  I'll try this again on a larger set to see if this is really a long delay… If so, I may tag the GPS info only into the images I'm pushing to my image-server… those 40-50 may go a LOT faster than 1600-1800 images from a day of shooting a race.

The Results:

The Map Utility actually has a pretty nice display – it shows the trace of the drive I took, and it puts pins in the map where each photo was taken. It is enough to know if your time-sync was on or off and you have plenty of choices on how you want it to display. It leverages Google Map data, so you have the standard "Map", "Satellite" or "Hybrid".



For Lightroom – the trace itself isn't displayed as it only has the individual image info… I guess it could play "connect the dots" but it wouldn't follow the actual path taken (unless you managed to only stay on straight roads and took a pic at each corner – LOL).  It does bring up "sub-location" – which is sort of interesting – it labeled the shopping center I drove through as a neighborhood I had never heard of. Suffice to say – it worked like a champ, and I'm looking forward to my next multi-day stage race to shoot.


The Plan:

After this quick test, I will most likely use the GP-E2 attached to one of the cameras I use on a shoot (so that 1/3 or more of the shots will be pre-tagged) and I can then tag the other images via the process above; or I can just tag the shots after exporting selected files from Lightroom if tagging 1600 images takes a long time.  I'm thinking I may just tag all the images this way as I won't have to worry about if I want to mount a flash to the 5D3, etc.

Short version – you should be able to use one GP-E3, attached to your belt, to tag all cameras on any shoot. Just be sure to sync the time on the cameras with the GPS before each shoot.

I'll post again after I've used it a bit more.

Thanks for reading; and as always, let me know if you have any questions.

- Will


New Gear: 1D X or 5D III – Decisions Decisions…

I always chuckle a bit when new gear gets announced. The forums get flooded with lots of questions about nit-picky details that can't possibly get answered until the camera is out and someone has some hands on time with them. People seem to love to debate and or disparage the manufacturer (no matter if it is Canon or Nikon) as to why they didn't do "x" or why the felt they had to do "y" or why they couldn't just add in the feature from the top of the line camera to that mid-range product… I think what most people fail to understand is that (no offense) they are not making the camera for you, they are making the camera for the masses.

So it is funny to see posts about how many stops better will the RAW support be (sort of subjective, isn't it?), or which is better for me the 1D4 or 5D3 (um, more than happy to point out differences, but you need to be comfy with your own decision, I'm nobody's scapegoat), or complaints about the price of the 5D3 being more than the D800 (um, very different beasts – IMHO, the prices shouldn't be the same).

To me it comes down to more pragmatic decisions. What will it cost and how will it benefit me?

I wish I had a limitless budget and could have closet full of gear. A pair of 1D4 bodies, a pair of 1DX bodies, a 5D3 and a 7D would be great… along with every lens Canon makes. Yeah – that should just about fit the bill… I could load up with whatever I needed and get the best for whichever client I was shooting for… but that is not the case.

For me, I've loved the IQ, fps, ISO performance, and 1.3 crop (for that little extra reach) of the 1D4, and I've been okay with the 5D2's performance while loving the full frame 21mp images. I do wish it had a better AF system (well, and since it was my main "event" camera, better low light performance is always appreciated) but the other functions have been great for what I (and more importantly, my clients) have needed it for.


Enter the 1DX – Back in October when the 1D X was announced, I'll admit I was enamored, I wanted one – and put in a quick pre-order and should receive one in that dealer's first order. I wasn't happy about the price though… Not that I didn't see the value in it – I do think that $6,800 is a great price for all that Canon have packed into that body – but with the 1D4 doing such a great job – I didn't want to feel like I had to give up my 1D4 to have a 1DX. I wasn't longing for a new pro sports body – I was only looking for the improved AF for a FF body. At the time, sure – there were rumors about a 5D2 replacement, but I didn't think they would be announcing it and releasing it so soon. I loved the thought of lots of rich FF images, but my main FPS need is sports and to be candid – the subtle differences between FF and 1.3 crop bokeh in a rip-roaring sprint finish wouldn't have me selling any more images than I do currently. For a sprint – I just need to capture the critical moment with the rider(s) I want in focus… the 1D4 has been doing that for me just fine. Don't get me wrong – I still wanted one – higher ISO, larger files so you could crop a bit more – additional controls for ease of shooting either orientation – increased shutter longevity – improved smaller GPS unit… I could go on… 

So I figured the best bet for me would be to sell my 5D2, buy a 1DX and shoot it with the 1D4 – using the 1DX for scenics for the breadth of the FF, and then picking from two great choices for the sprints – using the 1D4 if I needed a bit more reach based on where I was allowed to be for a given finish…


Enter the 5D Mark III – Then the rumors started flying around in Jan/Feb that the 5D3 was on the way… well – it might have been called the 5DX – but suffice to say, a replacement for the venerable 5D2 was on the way.  I began to re-think my stra-tee-ger-ree. Another pre-order placed and my "need" for the 1DX started to wane just a bit.

In looking over the specs for both cameras, so much of the 1DX (that I really wanted/needed at least) was in the 5D3. Sure the metering system is zoned, not color sensor based; yes – the AF speed won't be as impressively fast since the battery isn't as big; sure it'll only do 6 fps… but I now have the AF and improved IQ that I needed/wanted (respectively). I think the 5D3 replacing the 5D2 in my bag – I'll not be feeling as much need for the 1DX as I had initially.

So I'm looking forward to my 5D3's arrival – and just to hedge my bets, I'll be keeping my pre-order in on the 1DX – with it not being released till later next month – this will give me some time to evaluate the 5D3. I can see how well it works as a slightly slower 6fps sports shooter.

So watch this space – I may either be extolling the virtues of the 5D3, or putting it up for sale to help fund the 1DX… and who knows – I may even end up buying them both.  But for now – I feel better that I don't feel like I'm goaded into buying the 1DX just to get the improved FF AF I've been wanting – I now have a choice with the 5D3.  After all, a combo of a 5D3, 1D4 and 1DX could be a hard bag full o bodies to beat!

Thoughts on this? What do you have on order – 5D3, 1DX, or both – and why?

Thanks for reading!

- Will


Quadrantids Shoot Questions

Thanks all for the sharing of the post, tis much appreciated. I've received a few questions about the images and figured I'd take a moment or two to answer them to the masses even though I've responded directly already. The first question I'll address here was actually the most recently received, but for a bit of background on my process, I decided to answer it first.

What is image stacking, and how does the PhotoShop action work?

Essentially – image stacking is layering a series of images together so that you can then process them as a set. Because I shot from a tripod, and the illumination on most of the foreground objects stayed the same throughout the shoot, the sides of the houses, the chimneys, the trees, all have a consistent illumination. The sky is mostly black, except for where the stars are in any given shot. In each shot, they move just a little bit, not doing much more than adding a bit of blur to the star rather than a discernible trail in any given image. By stacking 683 of them, that lets the stars move through their arcs, the process pulling the brightest pixel from the column of images.  Now, PhotoShop doesn't have to actually stack all 683 at once, you start with a new PS document and fill it with black. As you run the automated batch process against your folder of images, PhotoShop grabs each one, and copies it into the "new" file, and then applies a lighten action to get the brightest pixel at each location. So, after processing the one image, the "processed" image looks just like the first one… from here, the changes are more subtle. The action closes that first image and works through each successive image, merging the new layer into the previously processed image and brightening fairly small areas.  Over time, this yields the streaks. 


Why 683 images? Why not a 3 hour exposure?

Okay – so that is a shortened version of the question, but the essence is the same. Why do folks stack rather than using longer exposures or a very long exposure?

I've not searched for an answer but a few quick reasons come to mind. First off, early digital cameras had more noise the longer the sensor had to gather data to process, so to avoid this extra noise, you had to keep your exposure times short. Even now, there are settings in DSLRs that enable or disable long exposure noise reduction on images; so there is still some noise generated by a longer exposure.

Another practical reason is that most cameras' longest exposure time (excluding bulb) is 30 seconds; but again this changed with the advent of intervalometers (such as my canon TC-80N3) – devices that allow you to set exposure time, time between exposures, and number of exposures, greatly simplifying time lapse photography. There are even firmware builds (such as Magic Lantern unified, available on several Canon bodies) where countless additional features can be added to your DSLR. Without one of these devices (or a firmware modification), it is easy (as I did, see yesterday's post) to set the camera on continuous shooting and just slide the latch to lock the shutter into the "shoot" position… the camera dutifully shoots till it runs out of battery or storage.

Test shots are much easier to evaluate in shorter exposures. You can always do the math and calculate how a longer shot needs to either have the aperture cranked closed, or iso lowered, or both; but why not just go ahead and do 25 or 30 second exposures?

Flexibility in post processing pops to mind as well. I is fairly easy for me to process 180 or so images:

instead of the full 683:

(Click either to enlarge)

It nets a very different result. I could also skip sections of images to add some gaps… hmmm… spelling out a secret message in morse code anyone?


So, did you actually capture any meteors?

Yes, I think… well, one… maybe. How's that for decisive? LOL  Well, based on info discussed in yesterday's post, I think I ended up with one meteor, and one satellite.  Both came from the lower portion of the image towards the upper portion… both were caught in multiple frames. The first item I saw was what I think was a meteor:


(click to enlarge)

and what I think is a satellite – tho it may be a faint meteor. It is a longer trail, but the trail is pointy at the end, so it may have been a more glancing blow to the atmosphere – but while it is faint – the trail goes all the way into the tree… so perhaps tis a satellite after all:


(click to enlarge)

There are gaps in both due to them being captured in two frames each. There is a slight pause between closing the shutter and re-opening it. I got "lucky" both times – LOL

If anyone can give me a bit more info on meteor vs. space junk, I'd appreciate it.

All for now – keep those questions coming!

Thanks for reading!

Quadrantids Meteor Shoot

Ahh… celestial photography. A fun topic that I've rarely had time to explore. I've done occasional shots of the moon, usually to test a new long lens or stacked teleconverters, but have never tried to shoot a meteor shower or star trails.  I've done some other time lapse stuff lately, and other long exposure photography, so I've had it at the front of my mind. As I was surfing around the other day, I saw a post about the Quadrantids meteor shower, and how it was that night. I did a bit of surfing about where and when it would be visible but didn't think too much of it. As luck would have it, I got stuck at the office late after a fairly long day and noticed it was crisp and clear in Austin as I headed to the car.  On the drive home, tinkering with some long exposure photography seemed a great way to relax and unwind.

When I got home I went into the back yard and realized that a) I'm to the south of downtown Austin, so the views north to northeast from the back yard were polluted by light; and 2) [sic] that with the houses of my neighbors also cluttering up the sight lines, I'd be pretty much guaranteed to get squat for meteor shots.

Undaunted, I figured I could use this as a great way to tinker with exposures, apertures, ISOs, and lens selection. I soon had my 5D2 in the back yard with my 17-40L f/4 mounted atop my tripod and ballhead. I wanted to go for a longer exposure (figuring I'd go "simple" with my camera's shutter options) but didn't know what ISO, f-stop, etc. I ran a series of tests with the lens wide open at f/4, and thought I'd be happy with an 800 iso 25 second exposure @f/4, but ran a few other tests while I was at it.  I played with different shutter speeds at 400 and 1600 ISO, as well as halving the exposure time and bumping a full stop to 5.6.  I was a bit surprised at how much I'd liked the 800 ISO f/5.6. It was definitely sharper, and with some lingering humidity in the air (along with the light pollution to the north), the reduction in overall exposure made it all look so much crisper. I had thought I'd want to be a touch overexposed to ensure I caught every possible trail, but with the reality of the houses and lights, I figured this might be a better star trails exercise, so I leaned towards a slightly darker image.

As for which "exact" direction to point the camera, I leaned on (as I say it) the AKASG – all knowing all seeing Google – In this case – the Google Sky Map app on my Android based device (tho I'm pretty sure tis free for iOS and Blackberry devices). I figured I could use it to help ensure I knew which way was NNE, but I was surprised to see that meteor shower focal points (essentially the point at which it looks like the meteors are coming from, they radiate out from the focal point) is a selectable option to include in the view. So it was very easy to see where the shower currently was (at this point, it was bout 11:00 PM and the shower's focus was still below the horizon) but knowing where Polaris (the north star) was, I could figure out where the shower's radius would "rise" and how it would track across the sky.

I'll admit I got lazy and didn't over research the ability of the 5D2 to lock the mirror up and stay up between images. I thought I could "fool" it by going into Live View (which locks the mirror up so the sensor can read real time) but wasn't sure if I'd be wasting valuable battery juice powering the back LCD panel. As I thought through the mirror lockup, I decided that since the up and down of the mirror would be such a small portion time wise of the 25 second exposure, it wasn't worth fooling with. Overall battery life was indeed a concern as I'd no idea as to the duration of a gripped 5D2 with two batteries in the cold 35 degree Austin night, so I was trying to err on the side of caution. I wasn't sure if the cold and draw of the long images would run the battery out before my 16gb CF card filled up.

As for how to trigger the sequence. I did have a few options. I have a nice long USB cable with a repeater built in (for longer than standard) runs, and I could have run the cable from where the tripod was in the yard, through the dog door, and to my laptop on the counter, but – the dog door – that's the rub.  I didn't want the dogs rushing out in the middle of the night chasing some random noise and tearing into a cable… destroying either my camera, my laptop, or both. So I went (again – sense the theme for the evening yet?) easy… I just used my TC-80N3 timer control, but dumbed down. Rather than setting an interval, I simply set the camera on repetitive "rapid fire" (a bit humorous when doing 25 second exposures) and I just slid locked the trigger in the "on" position.  This would have the camera repeat 25 second exposures one after the other, knowing it would take shorter than 25 seconds to write the previous image to the card, so no fear of the buffer filling. It would just be a race – what would run out first? The battery (knowing it was hampered by the cold) or the card capacity?

My final setup was as follows: Gripped Canon 5D2, EF 17-40 f/4 – 17mm for 25 seconds @f/5.6 ISO 800

Hurry up and wait, I had topped off my spare pair of batteries as I was doing my tests, and then I kept them in my pockets to warm them in hopes of squeezing out every shot possible. I finally started the process about 1:30 AM Central time (the focus was just coming over the horizon and was still blocked by houses and trees), went off to bed, and figured I'd have at least 2 hours worth of exposures.

This morning, I found that the camera still had about 30% battery left, I'd filled up the memory card first. Yes, I had considered reducing the resolution, but not knowing how faint or bold the meteor streaks would be, I went for resolution. 683 images was the final tally.

(click to enlarge)

I took a quick peek after importing them into Lightroom, I did a quick scan and found some cool airplane traces but didn't have time to examine all the images. One that caught my eye (above) had an airline trace that curved; I can't recall seeing a curved trace in a sky shot of mine before. The images looked great, but I bumped the blacks to 15, and pulled the color temp back to 3750 (from an as shot of 4500 or so) which brought the tone from orange-y, and more like a nice cool toned night shot. The adjustments applied, I kicked off an export for some testing – 1600 pixel wide 70% quality jpg images.  I had some coffee, hopped in the car with the laptop on the passenger seat and motored up to the office. It took about an hour to render the images from the 21mp raw files.

On the drive, I figured I'd try two different ways to locate any meteor traces. I'd try a "star trails" stacking of the images, hoping that any non rotational trails would stand out better that way; or, alternatively, I could convert the sequence of images into a time lapse movie and look for the streaks by "scrubbing" the positional control back and forth as I looked at different areas of the screen.

Another visit to the AKASG brought me to a star trails action for PhotoShop CS4. A quick install later, I followed the instructions on the linked page and found what I thought to be the only meteor in my shot:

(it is diagonally up-left from the center of the swirl – click to enlarge)

Using Apple Quicktime to import my sequentially numbered sequence, I was soon happily scrubbing through a 6 fps frame rate version; watching the big dipper rise and set, as I looked for the meteor trail I'd seen in my stacked image. It wasn't hard to see that the image was near the end of my sequence. I referenced other more visible cues and soon knew it was after my neighbor switched on a light in a bathroom (which threw a vertical broad flare at about 1:44 in) and then right after a distinct long trail from chimney to tree to the right of the house. Within a minute or so, I'd found my image. Another "scrubbing" session showed another trail, a longer faint one just to the left of the tree (about 1:48).


After a bit of well timed research (thanks, via Google+, Jennifer Yu) seems to point towards my capture of one meteor (the first one I spotted), and one satellite (the longer, thinner trace). Jennifer's top tip – meteors are usually in just one frame, while satellites and other space junk will be in more than one. Also – meteors will usually be pointy at one or both ends while the satellite or other space junk will be a more even intensity across the length of the trace… Sorry to keep you in suspenders, but I've only the time and the energy to fight off the sandman long enough to post the images I've already referenced. I'll post a set of shots of the meteor and space junk later.

Thanks for reading, and please ask questions early and often either through comments on this post, or via the contact link in the header above!


First Thoughts: Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye Zoom

Well, with the holidays fast approaching, un-coincidentally a few new bits of gear have landed in my possession lately. I've finally replaced my beaten up old P&S with a Canon PowerShot S100, I've picked up some new (well – this hasn't been that recently) ThinkTank gear for hauling gear during a shoot, and most recently – a copy of the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye zoom.

So, why not start with the most recent… The FE Zoom… aka – the FEZ.

I've had a lot of fun with my tried and true EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye from Canon, but how could I resist an upgrade to L optics, and while the lens did slow down a bit, I gained the ability to zoom back out to 8mm – giving me a full 180 degree field of view. I'd never shot with a circular fisheye before, so I wasn't too sure I'd actually plunk down the greens to get this lens, but a deal came up on a used copy and I couldn't resist – figuring that I could always flip it and get my money back if it didn't work out.

Short version – I'm not selling it…

The FEZ is a bit bigger than my 2.8, but I've also read that it is the smallest L grade lens… There has been much said about how easily the lens cap falls off with a bump in the right (or wrong) place, and many have raved about it but I'm not sure I've seen much on why folks like it… so here goes nothing. I'll start by saying this post will have more thoughts than empirical comparisons – I've taken some shots with both Canon fisheyes in a controlled space, but I'll save those for another day.

Capping it off

It seems that most folks are quick to knock the "easy to knock off" lens cap; I'll get this one out of the way so we can move on to the images. There is a lens hood that twist locks onto the front of the lens, you'll need to press a button to release it (much like the 70-200 2.8L IS II's lens hood). I've heard many reviewers kvetch about this hood – that it gets in the way when you zoom out… Um – hello – does 180 degree field of view mean anything to you? (chuckle)… The lens cap itself clips onto this hood when you press the release buttons along the edge of the cap. While it is true that this hood can fall if you bump just one of the two release buttons on the hood, I think I'm not sure there is much if any benefit to the lens hood itself (other than front element protection when around your neck, etc) so I think I'm going to tape them together. I found it much easier to just remove the pair together; pressing the button to rotate the hood off the front of the lens… this gets the lens hood out of the way for impromptu 8mm shots, and when taped together (got to love gaffer tape) the "cap" won't fall off the "hood" – they'll stay together either in my bag or on my lens.

I will throw out a caveat: I've not done much post processing to these. The office photo is right out of the camera (well – via Lightroom 3.6 default settings exported to a jpg and cropping square), and the other two have had a quick rotate to straighen them and maybe a quick whitebalance tweak and the aforementioned cropping to square, but not much else.

First Images:

I'll fall right into lockstep with the other reviews I've read and say that this lens if just plain fun… I found myself happily looking through the viewfinder of my 5D2, walking around the office, looking to see how the world looked different through it. Initially, however, I was struck by how I wasn't exactly sure what I would use it for. Soon I was shooting the daughter of someone at the office – it was fun to get the lens right in the baby's face and get the image filled by baby, carrier, blankets, toys and padding. The next image I shot was to hold the camera over my head to shoot down on all the folks gathered around the baby. Quite a fun perspective. "Vantage number one!" said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake… - Kipling – the Just So Stories


Immersion Therapy:

That night I went out to an area of Austin called 37th street to shoot some of the holiday lights there. I'd been there years before but hadn't been back since, while the display wasn't close to what it had been, I was glad learn that some of the residents started this year to try to restore some of the glory of the display. As I shot at one house, the sweet spot of this lens hit me… immersion. I was able to get pretty close to a group of residents and their friends as they read letters to Santa that had been left at their house (they put a table out with pencils and paper next to a large box that viewers of the lights were encouraged to make use of during the evening). As they unwound from the evening (I was there pretty late) over an adult beverage and read the letters out loud, they were great about ignoring me as I shot. What resulted was a great shot that really immerses you in that scene. There is so much detail in the image, the web version does it little justice, and I'll prob post this in my Gallery for sale shortly, so sorry – I'm not giving the high res of this one away… From the leaf detail in the tree overhead, to the curve of the candy canes along the sidewalk, to the expressions on peoples faces and the motion from the blur, to the inflatable barrel of monkeys in the tree – just lots to soak in. I'll try to make the time to do a detailed post about this image soon, with some call-outs to the detail. "Vantage number two!"


Moving just down the sidewalk, I also like the image of the scooter in the other half of their yard. I paid better attention this time to aligning the image to ensure the candy canes at the edge of the yard would line the lower half of the image. I think this one works very well too – tho the one above is my favorite.


I've a few more posts in mind for this lens, but for now – I like it a lot!

As always, let me know of any questions via the comments below, or use the "contact" link in the header above.

Thanks for reading!

EF 300mm f2.8L IS with (and without) Stacked Teleconverters

Okay – I'll admit it – up until recently, I've borrowed the 300mm f2.8L IS lenses I've shot with. It is (tho not as much as I thought it was) a specialty lens that was just what I needed for some projects (like any professional cycling race) that I hadn't committed to buying… till now.


When the lens arrived (I'll spare you typical set of pictures of every square inch of the lens – you all know what one looks like) my first question (as for most folks) was "how good is my copy?".  I managed to take a few shots around the office when I took delivery, but I had a busy day on tap, so I couldn't really play till I got home that evening. The moon was a day or two shy of being full, so I figured it would make a good test subject. In the shots I'd done at the office, I saw that I had no noticeable CA in my images at all… I decided to test with a 1.4x then 2x teleconverter handheld. I had great results (given that it was humid and fairly warm – lots of atmospheric "issues" making a great shot problematic).  Again – zero CA so far, very fortunate for me…

Handheld 5D2 w/ 300mm f2.8L IS – 2x TC = 600mm f7.1 1/400 iso 400

The next day had a criterium on tap at a nice course in an area of Dallas that has some older homes that have been converted to office space. The course is the bane of most of the area cyclists because there are no long straights – nothing but two squares connected at a corner, lots of turns.  This can be a challenge for a lens, but the 300 took it in stride… beautifully fast focus, with amazing bokeh.

1D3 – no TC – 300mm f2.8L IS – 1/1000 at f5.6 ISO 400

Stacked Success

So far – nothing was too out of the ordinary, but I was in for a surprise a few nights later. Some friends got together for a ride then dinner. As we left the restaurant I saw that the moon was just over the horizon and it was blood orange in color… Back at the house I grabbed my 1D3 and both my teleconverters.  I walked out into the cul-de-sac in front of my house, I raised the lens, half pressed the shutter, and was surprised to hear the AF kick in. It did dance a bit, but it wasn't blind hunting. It worked steadily in and locked on… 

5D2 – 300mm f2.8L IS – 2x TC II – 1.4x TC II = 840mm – 1/20th at f/8 (2.8 + 3 stops for the stacked TCs) iso 800

I snapped a few shots and wondered if it would work on my 5D2 as well. Lo and behold – it worked again. I shot a few more photos with the setup on my tripod. I knew they wouldn't be tack sharp (too much smoke, humidity, etc), but was curious just the same. I gave it an hour or so and shot some more; with the now brighter subject, the lens didn't hunt around – it just focused. In reviewing the images, I was impressed that it a) had focused, and b) had come out with just minimal CA in the images with the stacked TCs.  The CA wasn't evident in the orange photos (no color correction was done – this is how the moon looked – I think it was thanks to the wildfires in West Texas), but did show an hour or so later when the moon had climbed out of the smokey haze to shine brightly. Just a hint of cyan bleeding into the whites/grays.

5D2 – 300mm f2.8L IS – 2x TC II – 1.4x TC II = 840mm 1/200th at f/8 (2.8 + 3 stops for the stacked TCs) iso 400

The thing I should have checked (and will once I'm back in town and have my TCs at hand) was if my 70-200 2.8 will AF with the stacked set of TCs…  With the 1D3 and the 5D2 – I was using the center AF point selected, had spot metering (to help it get correct exposure on the moon) with no other special (that I know of) fn configuration.

The EXIF data on the images only show the effects of the 2x TC… they show a 600mm exposure at f5.6 – essentially two stops off the f2.8 of the lens; but it should read 840mm at f8 (with the extra 1.4x and the additional stop lost from the second TC).

Next up for the 300 – doing the AF microadjustment with my camera bodies…

As always – use the comments sections below for any questions, or use the "contact" link above.

Thanks for reading!


PRETEC P240 USB 3.0 Multi Card Reader Review

With time sensitive projects like professional bike races, every minute counts. You need to get a first image or two to your team clients so that they can update their websites as quickly as possible. So as soon as the presentations are done – the race begins (for me at least).

The biggest time lag is dumping data down from the cameras to my laptop. In the past I've tried a few USB 2.0 card readers, but had found that using a USB connection directly to the cameras worked something on the guesstimate of 3-4x faster than USB 2.0. I'll admit I've not tried any of the UDMA compatible card readers – with the functionality of my cable from camera method, I didn't think I get that great a gain in transfer speed with a UDMA compliant adapter.


That was all well and good till I purchased my new laptop last year – it had a USB 3.0 port. It wasn't long before USB 3.0 compatible external drives arrived on the scene, and the faster push of images from my laptop to my archival drive was great to have, but that wasn't my critical need. I needed data off the cards ASAP.

I'd kept my eyes peeled on the interwebs for card reader products but none were to be found till the PRETEC P240 USB 3.0 Multi Card Reader appeared in my search results. I hopped onto www.MyDigitalDiscount.com and saw it said "arriving 27 April", I figured I may as well jump in the queue so I ordered one – pretty cheap at $22.99.  When I got my confirmation email, it had my order date as the ship date… I hopped back on-line the next AM and it now showed they have them in stock. I ordered on a Monday, it arrived via priority mail on Wednesday. It was time to test.

The PRETEC P240:


The PRETEC is pretty basic. Just a small black box with 4 card slots on one side (SDHC/MMC/SDXC, MSXC/MSHG, microSD/microSDHC and M2), the CF I/II slot on the other; it also has a USB 3.0 port on one end. It comes with a short "connector" which conveniently tucks into an indention on the bottom of the device for more compact storage. You can also use (if plugging in with the connector may block usage of other USB ports or be too low on your device) any USB 3.0 to USB cable. I utilized the connector that came with the device. The build quality feels basic – not flimsy, but not super solid either; but with no moving parts inside, and at a $23 price point, what do you really need/expect?

Testing Methodology and Equipment:

My current laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad W510, it has an Intel Core i7 CPU – quad 1.6 GHz processor, 10 GB of ram, and a Segate SATA 7200 rpm 320-GB hard drive. I'm running Windows 7 64-bit as the operating system. Not the most earth shattering spec, but it does the trick for me. For the data to move around I used 350 raw images from one of last years races, which totaled 7.43 GB.  I copied them onto the CF card tested into a typical directory structure for a camera: DCIM\EOS1D\IMG_####.CR2 (not sure this matters, but figured I'd keep it "real").

I tested two different cards. The one I ran the full gamut of tests on was an ADATA 533x 16 GB CF card. Tho not labeled with "UDMA" specifically on the card or packaging, I did some research before buying this and found that it is indeed UDMA compliant, and I think these tests bear that out. The second card tested was a LEXAR Professional UDMA 300x 8 GB CF card. I tested this second card mainly to see how the rated speeds of these two cards compared; once I saw how it did on the PRETEC, I didn't want to repeat the other transfer methods.

I tested four different copying methods: USB Cable from my Canon 5D Mark II to the laptop; the PRETEC P240; a Kodak 6 in 1 reader (USB 2.0 and *not* UDMA compliant), and an old Digital Concepts CF reader (USB 1.0?).  I'm pretty sure the "Kodak" and "Digital Concepts" are just branded generic readers that I've seen with different logos on them. May not be the best comparison against these 2.0 and 1.0 readers, but I figure I'm in the ballpark. I hadn't been using either one for years since the camera to pc process was working so well for me.

The copy procedure was pretty straight forward, open the cf card in one window, open a destination directory in the other, select all then drag over to the new folder and release. I started a stopwatch at the release of the mouse button and then stopped the time when the copying dialog box closed. I only did one pass for each setup as I'm not looking for statistical accuracy here – I figured ballpark numbers would translate pretty well between the methods – and with the differences I saw after running the sequence once, I didn't think any races were close enough to merit a second set of testing.

The Results:

  Time: Data Rate* Time: Data Rate*
PRETEC P240 2 min 6 sec: 62-85 mb/sec 3 min 50 sec: 32-45 mb/sec
Canon 5D2 7 min 47 sec: not displayed** not tested
Kodak 6 in 1 est 1 hour***: 2.25 mb/sec not tested
Digital Concepts est 2+ hours***: 0.92 mb/sec not tested

* Data Rate observed in "more details" panel during file transfer. The range of numbers I saw from time to time.
** The 5D2 shows as an attached device, not as a "drive"; so Windows 7 does not show data rate numbers
*** Stopped as observed "Data Rate" was so low. Estimate is the time remaining that was displayed by the transfer progress window

My Thoughts:

I had only been able to find one other review of the PRETEC P240 before I bought mine and that user had found no gain in speed over their USB 2.0 device. They also didn't comment on what speed card they had, what their computer hardware was, etc. Besides, with the cheap price, I figured it was pretty low risk – and I could always return it.


I was very happy to see that with a fast card and my hardware that I would see noticiable gains in transfer speed of images so I could get my post processing into gear in almost 1/4 the time it has taken in the past.  I was pretty used to 40 – 60 minutes of data transfer, that could be cut to 10 – 15… Can't complain about that sort of process improvement for a measly $22.99 plus shipping.

I may go ahead and test the transfer time of the 300x card via the 5D2 to see where the "card speed" threshold is using the camera as a transfer device. I may also test transfer via camera and PRETEC at the same time.  I only have 1 USB 3.0 port on my laptop, so having two devices copying at the same time could speed the process – a USB 3.0 hub and a second PRETEC may be the best bet. If/when I do more testing, I'll update this post.

As always – let me know if you have any questions – either comment below or use the "contact" link in the header.

Thanks for reading!

two press room photos copyright and courtesy of KQCooper

NewsWear ChestVest Review

NewsWearLogo So, back when I wanted to find a key piece of gear to handle/manage my camera equipment while out shooting from the back of a moto – I was steered towards NewsWear's Chest Vest by a longtime friend and fellow shooter Liz Kreutz.  I reviewed the different options available and chose the "medium" over the "digital" (has a pocket that will hold a large digital body); or the "foul weather" version, which essentially is the digital version made with waterproof material.

I had avoided the waist belt systems for a few reasons. First off I wanted to get the weight off my belt, secondly, with a lot of time sitting on a moto, I wanted to ensure things were a bit higher so I could pivot easily and not worry about getting to pockets along my hips or more around towards my back.

The one thing I couldn't find at the time (and I'll admit I didn't look before I started writing this post) was any sort of review that talked about the sizes of the pouches.  The NewsWear site only mentions different things than might fit, but not actual measurements nor an example "load out" of the gear.  This review will answer both those questions.

Measuring Up the Men's Medium Chest Vest:


There are four pockets, the middle two are the same size, as are the outside two pockets. The larger middle pockets measure (roughly) 9.5 inches high by 5 inches wide by 2.5 inches.  The other pockets are 6 inches high by 5.5 inches wide. The flaps that cover the tops of the pockets also contain pocket areas with a velcro closure across the top edge. I wanted to measure the effective usage of the pocket, so I measured from the lower edge of the velcro closure to the bottom of the pocket. The larger pocket flaps are 6 inches high by 5 inches wide, while the outer flap pockets are 5.25 inches by 5.25 inches.

Overall width of the four pockets from side to side is 20 inches, the backing extends another 2.5 inches on either side (for sewing of the waist belt and the shoulder straps) for a total width of 25 inches. I didn't want to un-do the belt setup that has worked for me to measure a maximum length of belt available, but by looking at available extra belt length I'd say you could get a total "belt" length of 47 or 48 inches. I wear mine over a moto jacket which (with the protective padding, etc) is fairly bulky, I think the "belt" (full pouch assembly width + webbing) would be 40" for my config. I do wear it a bit loose when on the moto.


There are two other pockets – along the "inside" of the belt, behind the middle to pouches – that I'd forgotten were even there. They are fairly flat, have a velcro closure at the top edge, and measure 5.75 inches by 4.25 inches wide. You might stash a passport or other key papers here, things you don't want to fall out of a pocket, but don't need super easy access to.

The construction is of heavy duty canvas/nylon. The pouches are all made of fabric panels that allow for the large lenses (etc) to easily slide into place.  I think most of the other grizzly details can be found at the newswear.com site HERE.

What I Use on the Moto:


In the previous pictures, I had the gear above in the pockets. My "load out" for shooting a bicycle race from a motorcycle is as follows, although the image above doesn't have all the "smalls" I usually stuff into the flap pockets. and the thing below the Canon 5D2 body is a 15mm f2.8 fisheye, the strap kept rolling it away when it was on its side.  Also – to ensure there wasn't any confusion about what was in the chestvest vs. hanging from me when on the moto – I didn't picture the two 1D bodies I use nor the flash. Okay – enough of the caveats, on with the info…

Left most (as I'm wearing it, right most in the picture) pocket carries my quantum flash external battery. I keep my wider lens camera on the left side with the flash on it, so this keeps the cord stretch to a minimum. In the flap I keep my memory card vault, and some other basics for being on course. An allen key (you never know when a l-plate or mounting plate may loosen up on you at the wrong time), some ear plugs (for loud PA systems during podium presentations), and a lens cloth with a lenspen or two for touch-ups.

Left center pocket houses my 5D2 without the grip. The majority of my moving shots are all handled by my two sports shooter bodies – one with a 70-200 2.8L IS (right side) and the other with a 24-105 w/ flash (on the left side) – you just don't need the full frame width when moving. So I keep it in a pocket for easy assembly for a scenic or fish eye shot. In fact, my 15mm 2.8 fisheye lives at the bottom of this pocket, the padded strap above to protect the lens, then the body on top. This lets me get the body out if I want to use my 17-40 that is kept in the rightmost pocket for a scenic without having to get the fisheye out of the way first.  This flap pocket is usually stuffed with (not pictured) route notes for the day. A page from the race bible with all key mile markers, along with any notes I may have on scenic spots to try for, etc. I'll usually end up with a laminated card (thanks to my moto driver) which has all the summary info and an elevation chart with feed zone, KOMs, sprints, etc indicated.

Right center pocket (in this "full" example) has my 100-400. I don't use this much, and will usually leave it with my sherpa slash second shooter for them to use, but I'll throw it in on occasion. This is roughly the same size as the 70-200 2.8 and other lenses. So you've an idea of what will fit. The outer pocket for this usually is left to be a bottle holder of sorts. We usually end up with 1/3 liter water bottles from the race organization and one, along with some sort of sports bar to much on during the stage, will fit into the flap pocket.

Right most pocket will have my wide angle lens – usually a 17-40 f4L. It has a bit more reach than the 16-35 2.8, and I rarely if ever shoot at 2.8 during a race stage – especially since this is my "scenic" lens and even in the team areas, and after a stage if I'm shooting in a crowd, I'll have the flash running and will have more depth of field need than 2.8 will give me. The outer flap will house some spare ziplock bags, and a quick fit camera/lens cover. I've found that the disposable ones are super packable and work great. Op/Tech USA makes the one I use out of a clear plastic (www.optechusa.com). It has a drawstring to keep the bag tight against the open end of the lens; an elbow bend to the sleeve; a hole that allows you to pull the eye-cup pad off and re-mount it "outside" the bag so you are not looking through plastic; and it has enough length on the "put your hands in here" end that it will go almost to your elbow. Yes – my "full on" cover is used when I know I'm heading out into the rain, but this is a great easy to pack alternative that works well – but I digress…

My Additions to the System:

The two additions I've added to the system are not necessary in my view, but definitely helped me with my load out.  I picked up a pair of "velcro on" shoulder pads from a local dive shop. They give a bit of padding to the 1.5" wide webbing that is used for the shoulder straps, but more importantly to me was they now offer a way to secure my camera straps to my shoulders so I don't lose a camera at a critical moment. Since the velcro just wraps around the pad, I undo one of the strap sets, tuck the camera strap across the top of the shoulder strap, then close the velcro over the camera strap. I leave this one a bit loose to allow the strap to slide through the velcro without binding. Voila – I don't have a camera strap across my neck; nor do I worry about it sliding off my shoulder. It is also super easy to undo to release the strap if I need freedom of movement when off the bike or at the end of the race at the finish line or at the awards podium presentation.

The other addition is a pouch for my cell phone. I've enough different Oakley AP style bags that I have plenty of the military style modular pouches that velcro onto mil-spec vest/webbing systems. I just used one of those and velcroed it around the left shoulder strap just above the pouches. Now my phone is easy to grab with my right hand as needed. Also – with it closer to my head than if it was inside a pocket, I have a better chance of (tho not much with wind and a helmet on – nor would I answer – I'd just know to check when I got to my next "scenic" setup and was off the bike).

Overall Impressions:

What can I say – I love this product. I've now used this vest for almost two years. It has held up incredibly well, no fraying of any cloth, none of the stitching has come undone, and the velcro has been holding up well. It has served me well no matter if I'm on the back of a moto, working in a crowd at a criterium, or if I'm documenting an event.

The supple nature of the materials used make it easy to "cinch down" an empty or only partially full pocket, and it seems to move well as I do. Not getting in the way as I pivot, kneel, get around obstacles, and so on. It just works well with various amounts, sizes, and pure volume of gear you want to stow.

CV4-Me I know some of my colleagues will wear this lower than I do, at almost belt level, but I like it around my lower torso instead. It gives me freedom to get on one knee without the pouches hitting my thigh. Also – while on the moto, it puts the bottom of the pouches right in my "lap" so the gear is lightly supported but allows me to pivot freely.

The load is balanced across my shoulders, back and waist (well – and when seated, my lap), so I've yet to have any "gear" fatigue. I may be tired from a long day, but my shoulders and waist are not hurting from hauling my gear around.

I will probably get a foul weather version soon, it will be nice to have the extra space if needed, and to have the weather protection; but I'll be sure to hang on to this one.

If you have any questions – feel free to comment below, or use the "contact" link in the header.

Thanks for reading!

Copyrighted image courtesy of KQCooper

Well – you blink and…

you realize that it has been almost a year since you've posted to your blog…

To add insult to injury – the last post was an introduction into what should have been an article about shooting the pro peloton from the back of a moto… but I left you all in suspenders.

To say that the past year has been busy would be an understatement. I've shot quite a few more pro races, got sent to NW Oklahoma to shoot sand cars and P-51 mustangs on assignment for a magazine, and covered my first race internationally.

Since I seem to have a few minutes, and I feel a sense of obligation to end some of the suspense from the last article, I'll go into a few more thoughts from Missouri. Down side is – not sure I'll have the time to add any photos to the post tonight – I may update it in a day or so when/if I get a chance.


St. Louis – Circuit Race

Well – just because you're shooting for (arguably) the worlds leading cycling photographer, you don't get a free pass to a moto for the week.  Might have been the "new guy" on the block syndrome, but it was also compounded by the conversion of one of the photo motos into a tv moto – but – shocker of all shockers – there were more shooters than there were motos for the opening stage.

Now don't get me wrong – I'm far from bashing the organization - it is their need to get as many folks onto bikes as possible, getting the local media involved to stir up support for race for the upcoming week.  Also – to be candid – I didn't think I'd be losing too much by skipping a lap or two of the 10 scheduled for the day. Ten laps of the same circuit can make for some limited variety in shooting situations for scenics.

The plan was as follows – head out for a first lap – recon the course, get dropped off at a good "set shot" locale, and then let the driver head back to the start/finish area to collect a local for a lap.  I'd discussed this with the moto coordinator, and it made sense that this happen early so the chances of missing a key move on the day would be minimized.

I'd met my driver for the day, went and shot some of the riders signing in, etc, and then found Dean and we buzzed the course to get an idea of where I should be dropped.  To speed the process along, I figured I'd have him drop me on the first lap since recon was done, and I'd chosen a spot with the Budweiser brewery in the background… nothing says St. Louis like the arch or beer, no?  The day went off without a hitch – I got a descent shot of the peloton coming past brewery… got some good images of the breaks, etc, and even got a good shot of the peloton on the second to last lap as things were stringing out.  It wasn't till the second day that I really got a chance to get settled in w/ my driver.


Seems it was Dean's first race driving a photog, he'd done others as a marshal, or driving the time board; but this was new for him.  I too had some experience, but it was shooting smaller races w/out caravans, escorts, commissars  on course in cars, and so on… so I guess it made sense to put us together.

It wasn't long before I knew I could a) trust Dean as a driver, and b) realize that my job was to shoot and leave the driving to him.

Missouri stages ended up looking a lot alike – rolling hills, attacks over the first 20-30k till a group of 3 or 4 folks who were non-factors in the race got up the road, settle in till 30k to go, reel in the break, and then line it up for a bunch sprint.

You have to understand the undertaking that is a pro bicycle stage race.  It is an amazingly well coordinated rolling road block/closure that has a distinct structure. A pair of lead police motos, followed by a police cruiser. A publicity van (vehicle wrapped in imagery w/ a speaker on the roof ala Blues Brothers, with two guys announcing how far back the race was, who was in the break, thanking folks for being there, oh – and handing out swag too), then a few marshals (including the "Dog Whisperer" – one of the marshals who's job it is to catch dogs off leash so they don't run into the road ahead of the racers – yeah – he has snacks in his moto's saddle bags, and dog silhouettes on his helmet like a fighter ace). Then neutral support cars/motos, more officials, vip cars, press cars, oh yeah – the riders, then more commissaires, medical, and the team cars, some more police, an ambulance, a few more cars and the broom wagon.

As we (my moto driver and myself) move through this rolling circus, we (essentially) are lowest on the priority totem… The riders get to ride where they want to (they are the top of the totem), the comms, medical, etc, and all the team cars, drive along in the right lane.  The left is for passing (most races are on non-divided two lane roads), and that is where the photo motos usually go – so long as there isn't "other" traffic… As an example, if a rider needs support (raises their hand and drifts back to the back of the peloton) a commissaire gets on the team channel and calls for that rider's team car to the front for feeding/clothes/flat-fix, etc.  That team car pulls to the left, and with seeming disregard for other cars, etc (actually the drivers are incredibly skilled) they move up and help their rider.  We have to get out of their way.

Usually this isn't a big deal as we try not to linger at the back, and are usually aware of when the roads are narrowing, or when we have to be ahead of the race (such as the last 25k or so to the finish) and getting up to the front of the riders is where we want to be – that is where the action is, and most magazines, etc, want to buy photos of the faces of the riders, not the backs of their heads…

Okay – sorry for the digression, but some of that was needed so you'd understand that each time we would get up to the commissaire behind the peloton – we have to ask that official (the UCI official in the car) for the go ahead to pass.  

If it is early in the race – lots of attacks are going on, so usually no dice until there is a break up the road and the riders have settled in.

If it is near the point at which teams can start servicing their riders, again – no dice as there are too many riders moving forward and back to have a moto getting in the mix.

If the riders are bunched side to side on a climb, if the road is twisting too much, and so on… you would think there would be few times to actually be allowed to pass, but it all works out.  Besides, it is in the race officials, and the race organization's best interests to get us up the road to clear the back of the peloton so cars can service their riders, and so we can get images to promote the sport… 

Once you get the green light to move up, the key is that you are to progress up past the peloton. This gives me a chance to single out some specific riders, stars, the riders for the teams I've been hired to shoot, the jersey leaders, etc. and get some candids of them in the pack.  It also lets me get a feel for where teams are in the pack, who might be setting up for a move, and so on. (This was REALLY handy in California this year – but I'll save that story for an upcoming post).

Riders usually ride along on one side of the road, making the pass pretty easy for us – but when the rollers start, the "random" factor kicks in… throw in curves in the road, and the random factor goes up again… usually on a road curving to the left up a hill, the riders will all be in the left lane, maybe 2 or 3 abreast, and we can go up the outside – usually… but for no apparent reason, they'll drift to the right, taking the longer line and working up that extra little bit of gradient, and we'll get pushed to the right and slowly fall back as the line follows their leaders. Settle back at the back, the line stings out again, and you try to get past on the left…

Next thing we know, the whole peloton has decided to fill both lanes in an instant.  We're now literally surrounded on three sides, going up the hill at the same pace as the pack. I switch to my camera w/ the wide angle and shoot some of the riders around us. Just as I'm looking ahead to the right, I see two riders touch wheels (it is early in the race and in the stage – not quite all settled in yet) and I know riders will hit the deck…  I expect to see riders veer around the crash and – since we need to yield to them – that we'll veer to the left as well… right off the road.

The thought "well – guess Dean and I are about to end up in the gutter on our side" runs through my head, in the same split second as I also think "well – I may as well just shoot the crash" and as I capture that moment, the peloton does what it seemingly always does – it melts around the crash like school of fish around a coral outcropping, and only two or three riders go down.  Others have to stop, but Dean keeps us on the n'th edge of the road and upright.  He slowly eases backwards to yield to the riders and we share a laugh about pucker factors, who needs to clean out their drawers, etc… 

It was then it anchored – he drives – I shoot… It also anchored that if I stress over what may happen, it still won't keep us upright… that's his job… lesson learned.  Don't get me wrong, I know that the moto folks won't just take anyone, and you have to prove yourself (to a point) before you're driving photographers – let alone the tv camera shooters. And I also have been on the back of enough motos to know a good driver from a bad one within the first five minutes – and I knew Dean was a solid driver.

The rest of the week was a series of us educating eachother. I was learning when and where I could go from him, and he was better understanding where I needed to be (and when) to get the shots I needed.

There was one other close call when another photo moto got forced off the road just ahead of us by the peloton switching sides of the road quickly… but at that point, I was letting fate handle the worrying, and I just kept on shooting.  Fellow photog Jonathan Devich was on the moto that went off the road and had a video camera going and he caught the action and included it in this video. He gets run off the road about 2:50 or so into the clip. I'm on the moto that passes him just as his moto gets back on the road.

So you'll get to see me as I Dean and I wait for some more riders to pass, then for the peloton to stretch back out so we can scoot up the right shoulder (followed by Jono and his driver Chris Monroe).

I think this'll make for a good stopping point… More as I can get to it!

If there are specific questions I can answer – feel free to ask via the comments below, or use the "contact" link above.

Thanks for reading! 

- Will


Video by Jonathan Devich – epicimages.us