Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Panasonic Lumix G1 Review – Part 4 : Battery life

Since spare batteries are so expensive for the G1 I have spent some time monitoring battery usage in my typical real life use of the camera for the last 10 days or so. Panasonic’s quoted battery life is approx. 330-350 shots – Here is my experience.

The G1 takes Panasonic’s DMW-BLB13E Li-ion rechargeable batteries, rated at 7.2V, 1,250mAh, 9.0Wh. Manufacturer’s quoted battery lives can be pretty meaningless as the life can vary hugely with variables like temperature, flash usage, the amount of reviewing and chimping done, image stabilisation, etc etc – in fact it will be different for every photographer and every time you use it, so my experience can only be a guide to how much anyone will get out of the battery.

I charged the battery a few times in the first few days to make sure that it was operating properly and then simply charged it and put it in the camera to use as and when I felt like it. For the last ten days I have carried the G1 around with me and used it when opportunities arose.

Over about ten days, without recharging the battery at all, I took 309 photos before the battery died. The conditions that I used it under were broadly as follows:
  • Mostly outdoors in temperatures of -2°C to +10°C
  • Hardly any flash usage – 5-10 shots with flash as fill in
  • Image stabilisation – on; for all but a few shots
  • Shooting and saving RAW files only
  • Reviewing and chimping – a reasonable amount, but I do not look after every shot so am probably a light user on this front
The G1's battery life indicator is a typical three bar representation of a battery which shows up on the LCD screen or viewfinder, as shown in the diagram below from the Operating Instructions.

I noticed that the battery indicator dropped from full to two bars at about 220 shots and it then dropped to the next bar down within about 30 shots. This was outdoors in nearly freezing temperatures – when I took it back indoors it went up a bar. The next day I spent time in sub-zero temperatures and took a further 65 images before the camera stopped working. For the last 20 or so the battery indicator was flashing red to tell me of its imminent demise.

A few minutes after I took it back into the warmth the battery came back to life enough to allow me to review all the photos I had just taken.


Using the G1 in typical (UK) winter shooting conditions the battery life for me would seem to be about 300 shots, so long as I am not using the flash much. In warmer conditions I am sure it would more; but in any case I am happy with this life for the type of photography that I will be using the G1 for, and Panasonic’s figure is a pretty reasonable estimate.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Panasonic Lumix G1 Review – Part 3 : RAW writing times

In my first post I reported on the RAW file writing speeds using a 2gb Sandisk Extreme III SD card. I have done some more testing with the following results.

Since I tried the Extreme III I have used a couple of other 2gb SD cards in the G1. They are a Transcend 150x and a X4store card – the latter has no rating and since it came free with a camera I suspect that it is a pretty cheap low speed card.

The table below shows the results.

7 or 5 shot time
Buffer full time between shots
Clearing full buffer time
Sandisk Extreme III 2gb SD
2.5 secs / 7 shots
1.25 secs
7 secs
Transcend 150x 2gb SD
3 secs / 7 shots
1.5 secs
10 secs
X4store 2gb SD
2.5 secs / 5 shots
3 secs
16 secs

The key point is that the X4store card only allowed 5 shots to be taken before the buffer filled up, rather than the 7 shots that the G1 is supposed to take. The other two were fine, so the G1 specs seem to assume a certain write speed for the SD cards in use.

The Sandisk Extreme III allows faster continuous shooting than the Transcend 150x. The X4store card is really noticeably slower in all aspects of use, slower continuous shooting, much slower shooting when the buffer is full and it takes an age to clear the buffer.

Card speed matters, but so long as you are above a certain write speed not hugely. Cheap no-name or own brand cards are likely to be slow and disappoint on the RAW writing speed front.


Friday, 19 December 2008

Panasonic Lumix G1 Review – Part 2 : Updating software

Since I bought the G1 two updates have become available - Adobe Lightroom 2.2 and a firmware update for the G1 body.

Firstly and most importantly for me Adobe have released Lightroom v2.2, which supports several new cameras' RAW file conversion, including the G1.

Lightroom 2.2 update
Since I currently run Lightroom v1.4 I wanted to try out v2.2 before buying it - so I downloaded Adobe's free 30 day trial from here

It installed without any problems and when I first ran it it told me that it had detected my Lightroom v1 Catalog and asked me whether I would like to import it. Mindful that I did not want to commit to v2 just yet I said "No" and started a new Catalog for Lightroom 2 trials.

Up until now (as the final hangover from my workflow before I started using Lightroom a year ago) I have used Downloader Pro from Breeze Systems to download files and put basic copyright data into each file. This, however, does not recognise the G1's files at all - it does not even think they exist, so I tried Lighroom's import feature (previously I have told Lightroom simply to monitor the folder I download new images to and import any that arrive there, which has worked well).

So I imported some trial images into Lightroom 2.2 from my card reader and sure enough the G1's .RW2 RAW files popped up and I was able to make the usual changes and convert them into JPEGs just as I would expect.

So it appears that the RAW workflow is sorted - now all I have to do is to take some images worth looking at and work out how to get the best out of them in Lightroom 2.

G1 firmware update
Updates for the G1's firmware can be found here

The camera as supplied was running "Body Firmware" ver 1.0 and "Lens Firmware" ver 1.0. The update available is for the "Body Firmware" ver 1.1.

I followed the instructions and tried to download the firmware update file via the USB cable directly from the PC to the G1. When I did that an error message came up saying that the drive (the G1) was locked. So I formatted the SD card again and popped it into my card reader and copied it across - which worked fine.

The instructions do not actually tell you what to do next!

On another page of instructions I found that pressing the playback button was the way to proceed. This brought up a screen like the one below - pressing "Yes" updated the "Body Firmware". The instructions recommend re-formatting the SD card (otherwise problems may occur; to quote the instructions - "otherwise it may cause the camera body to malfunction").

So I now have a trial version of my preferred RAW workflow software to play with over the next couple of weeks and updated camera firmware.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Panasonic Lumix G1 Review – Part 1 : First impressions

I was recently tempted into buying a Panasonic G1 with the standard 14-45mm lens. Here are my first impressions – I shall be writing more as time goes on.

I have been tempted to like the Four Thirds format since the Olympus E-1 appeared; I especially liked the ultrasonic sensor cleaning system as I hate having to clean sensors all the time. So while most serious DSLRs now have an equivalent dust reduction system I will always have a soft spot for Olympus’ innovativeness in leading the way. I did in fact I have an E-1 for about a year, but I could not justify having two DSLR systems so I sold it in favour of expanding my Canon EOS system – the E-3 was just too late in arriving.

But I always liked the feel of the E-1 and recently read Michael Reichmann’s review of the G1 (go – here – to read it). Michael has not previously been a fan of the Four Thirds format, describing it as an “evolutionary dead-end”, so when he produced a pretty positive review of the Micro Four Thirds format G1 it set me thinking – especially his finding that images from the G1 are very usable in 13x19” prints upto about ISO 1250.

The idea of the Micro Four Thirds system is that it can retain the same sensor size as a conventional Four Thirds camera, but by eliminating the mirror and prism, and using a liveview only system with an electronic view finder it can shrink the mount, reduce the distance between the back of the mount to the sensor (from 40mm to 20mm) and shrink the lenses to make a really significantly smaller package than a conventional DSLR. I guess the resulting format is more like a rangefinder in lens/sensor configuration than a DSLR – since Panasonic have a commercial tie up with Leica and use Leica badged lenses on many of its digital cameras it is reasonable to assume that Leica’s expertise in designing excellent and compact rangefinder lenses will percolate into Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds lenses. By keeping the same sensor size as the Four Thirds format it retains the 2x magnification factor relative to 35mm systems. Unlike a bridge camera with its fixed optics the Micro Four Thirds system is all about interchangeable lenses.

If you want more technical information than Micheal Reichmann’s offers then DPR Preview has it - here.

Amateur Photographer have recently (13th December 2008) printed their review of the G1. They give it a fairly warm welcome. One of the criticisms of most standard Four Thirds cameras is that their dynamic range is not as good at their competitors. I noticed in the AP review that they are saying that Panasonic (or perhaps Kodak) seem to have solved this problem. In the review AP measured an 11EV (11 stops) dynamic range, which they say is on a par with Sony’s Alpha 900 and better than Nikon’s D300 or Canon’s 50D. In previous reviews AP measured the Olympus E-520 at 8-9EV, the Olympus E-3 at around 9EV, the Sigma DP-1 at 7EV, while saying that it was 1EV better than most compacts, including the Canon G9 at 6EV. If true this should make it much easier to produce images with good highlight and shadow detail.

I have a couple of Canon EOS DSLRs (a 40D and a 30D) which I use for most of my planned photography and a couple of compacts (a Canon G9 and a Ricoh GX100) to carry around on the off chance. So while I am pretty happy with the two compacts when I can keep the ISO rating at their lowest ISO settings they are not much good for any situation needing ISO 200+. Also both are a compromise in other ways such focal lengths available, RAW writing speed, focus speed and accuracy etc. Since I am mostly concerned with image quality I always use these cameras in RAW image capture mode.

On the subject of image quality – digital image quality is usually related to individual sensor pixel size, assuming similar quality lenses. Both the Canon G9 and the G1 have 12.1 megapixel sensors; the Canon 40D’s is 10.1. The table below shows the relative sensor areas and consequent individual pixel sizes.

Canon G9
Panasonic G1
Canon 40D
Mega pixels
Sensor size - mm
7.6 x 5.7
18.0 x 13.5
22.2 x 14.8
Sensor area - cm2
Pixel size - μm
mp per cm2

As you can see in the table the G9’s sensor and hence pixels are much smaller than the G1’s, which should result in better signal to noise ratios and better high ISO performance. In fact the G1’s pixel size at 4.5μm compares favourably with Canon’s 50D at 4.7μm.

What I really want is a camera of compact dimensions, low weight and interchangeable lenses which is capable of producing excellent image quality that I can carry around when I know I will want to take photos, but don’t really want to have to lug the whole DSLR kit around – I would guess that nearly all DSLR users would like this.

The G1 at least seemed to offer this possibility. It was announced in September 2008 and started shipping around November 2008. I had a look around at prices and found one on eBay for around £400 so I bought it – about £100 less than the cheapest on-line retailer that I could find. Now quite why someone would be selling after having it for only a few weeks I can not say.

First Impressions

For the record the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 is a 12.1mp camera and it came with Panasonic’s Lumix Vario G 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH/Mega OID (optical image stabiliser) lens – which I will simply call the “lens” from now on.


My first impression of the kit was that he lens was tiny – really much smaller than normal DSLR lenses.

I have reasonably small hands and when I first picked it up it felt solid and like a serious camera, despite it being essentially a plastic camera. The surface is quite a tactile and the grip is quite substantial - It simply feels comfortable in the hand.

It is small as can be seen in the photos below of my Canon G9, the G1 and my Canon 40D with a standard 17-55mm f2.8 lens attached (along with a Really Right Stuff L bracket).

Photos showing the relative sizes of the Canon G9, Panasonic G1 + 14-45 f3.5-5.6 lens and Canon 40D + 17-55mm f2.8 lens combinations

The table below lists the weights of these three cameras in their ready to use configuration as in the photos above; eg including lens, battery, storage card, lens hoods & caps as well as the camera straps and in the case of the 40D the L bracket.

Canon G9
Panasonic G1
Canon 40D
Weight – g

While the G1 is pretty light compared with the 40D, being more than a kilo lighter, it is much heavier than the G9. The G9 easily fits into a jacket pocket (the Ricoh GX100 fits into an even smaller pocket), but the G1 does not – mostly because the G9’s lens withdraws into its casing when it is turned off and the G1’s does not. It really is a camera to tuck into the corner of a small bag or to carry around in one hand or slung around your neck. That said, it is however, much easier to carry than the 40D and much more unobtrusive. Although I have not yet tried or even handled the 45-200mm lens for the G1 the specs for it indicate that it is both much smaller and lighter than any equivalent lens for a DSLR, so as a system ranging from the 35mm equivalent of 28mm to 400mm it looks pretty compact and light. Panasonic plan to market a 20mm f1.7 lens in 2009 and this might be thin enough to make the whole set up (jacket) pocketable, especially if it is a “pancake” type lens.

Ease of use

I am not a great one for reading manuals and I found that simply picking up the camera and using the accumulated knowledge of working with a dozen or more digital cameras over the last few years I simply “got on with it”. I found it pretty intuitive to use, although I did have to resort to the manual to work out how to set exposure compensation as I noticed when reviewing some images on the LCD screen that I had accidentally dialled in compensation when I had not meant to – I discovered that it is quite easy to do that as the front dial on the hand grip just below the shutter release button toggles between setting the aperture (in aperture priority mode, which is the one I nearly always use) and exposure compensation by pressing it in; rotating the wheel changes the setting.

I like the array of buttons that can be used to make changes as searching through screen menus often means missing the shot. There is a dedicated ISO setting button, but I prefer the G9’s dial for changing ISO setting, although it is quite easy to accidentally knock it. Many of the most commonly used settings can be reasonably quickly accessed via the Quick menu (Q.MENU) button just behind the shutter release. This also remembers the last Quick menu item you used to change settings so repeated changes of a particular setting during a shoot is reasonably quick if that is what you only use the Quick menu button for. The Fn button might be useful if you could set which functions it accessed, but the camera works this out for you from what you recently used so it is not reliably useful.

So my first impressions of ease of use are that it is much like most digital cameras these days and easy and quick to pick up how to use most of its main functions. No doubt I will have to delve into the manual in due course to extract more from it, but for now I am happy to just use it.

The Lens
The lens has a slower f-stop range than I would ideally like in f3.5-f5.6 – I would prefer a constant f stop, such as Canon’s f4 lens range, and for it to be faster, but this would almost certainly make it bulkier and more expensive; so I will just see how it performs over time.

The lens is made from an engineering plastic, but the lens mount is made from metal, indicating to me that it is a quality lens - there is little slop when the zoom is extended, and the front element does not rotate when focussing (making the use of filters easier – it has a 52mm filter thread). On the left hand side is there is a single switch the turn the image stabilisation on and off. The supplied lens hood is the usual bayonet mounted petal type and it fits snugly and feels to be good quality. The lens cap is a centre squeeze type so is easy to take on and off.

The zoom ring is quite stiff and a bit stiffer towards the wide angle end of the range - I prefer this to it being too sloppy. The manual focus ring has no effect if you are in an autofocus mode, but in manual focus mode it immediately switched the EVF or screen into 5x mode to make focussing more accurate; the focus area can be moved around the screen with the arrow buttons – I like that. The focus ring itself is light, but not too light, and moves easily.

The focussing motor is essentially silent – I do not think that it makes any more noise than my Canon USM lenses. When it focuses in autofocus mode nothing seems to move.

All-in-all the lens looks, feels and works fine.

The Electronic View Finder (EVF) and Display

I have never really got on with an EVF before, but the reviews said that it was much better than most and that is exactly what I have found. It is certainly grainy to look at and flickers. When I zoom in and out or move the camera about the EVF image wobbles and flickers, but it is only momentary. The actual image is very contrasty and tends to flip flop between dark and bright when you scan around for the right composition; again this tends to be fairly short lived. So far I have not found it a limiting feature, but it is not for capturing fast moving action.

The main 3” display is pretty good – not as good at the latest DSLRs’ screens, but good enough for most use. It does, however, have one huge advantage in that it is a fully articulated screen. It can be turned around to protect the screen in transport, or swivelled into any angle so that it can be used above your head, at waist level, looking left or right, or even behind you) – in fact pretty much any direction that you might like to use. As you move the screen about flipping it over to look left or right the camera senses the change and flips the image to compensate to that it is always the right way up.

Sensors on the EVF detect the presence of something close – normally your eye – and automatically switches the main screen off and the EVF on. I have found this fine so far, but it might be irritating if it tends to turn off when not up to you eye. So far it has not annoyed me, but in any case the feature can be turned off. There is a switch to manually swop between the EVF and the screen. The EVF also has dioptre adjustment.

When you press the shutter release the EVF blacks out just as a DSLR would when the mirror flips up, but it seems to blank out for longer than a DSLR would – even with quite fast shutter speeds the black out time is quite noticeable.

While this might not normally seem much of an issue the G1 (and I guess all Micro Four Thirds cameras in the future) uses contrast detection autofocus rather than the phase detection system that is used in DSLRs. This is the same system most liveview implementations in DSLRs use and it is usually slow and painful.

Panasonic, however, seem to have worked out how to do it as I have found that the camera focuses quickly and accurately. It may not be up to the standard of top notch DSLRs, but it is much better than the compacts I have used and I have no complaints - again I do not anticipate using it for fast moving action shots.

There are plenty of choices for setting auto or manual focus, with options like face detection, tracking focus, multiple area (23 areas) focus or single area focus. The latter can be resized and moved about. I tend to leave it in the middle and use the normal half-press method to lock the focus, then recompose for the final shot.

With the 14-45 lens the focusing is pretty swift – perhaps not a snappy as a Canon with a USM drive lens, but pretty quick. I have certainly used much slower focusing lenses on DSLRs. The image tends to glide quickly into focus rather than snap in, but I was pleasantly surprised by its speed and accuracy. When focus is found the focus area marking lines in the EVF turn green, a green spot appears in the top right hand side of the screen and the camera beeps.


Batteries are pretty critical to digital cameras – without juice the camera is dead regardless of how good it is. The G1 takes a DMW-BLB13E 1250mAh li-ion battery. It is quite a chunky battery – about the same length and width as the Canon G9’s NB-2l, but about 50% thicker – the dimensions are 43.5 x 36.5 x 21.5mm, with the actual contacts protruding about another 1.5mm from one end.

Since battery power is so important I like to buy a spare battery as soon as I buy a camera, but this battery ranges in price from £59 to £83 in the UK with no generic replacement available yet as far as I can find. This is way more than I am willing to pay, so I will wait until I decide whether to keep the camera or not before buying a spare, and in any case I will wait until the price comes down or a generic from a reputable maker such as Hähnel appears.

I have no idea how long a charge will last for yet – I’ll do some real world tests and report the results later. I did fill up a whole 2gb card (138 shots) while testing burst rates etc without any noticeable drop in battery charge level, but that is not much of a real world test as I did not look at the reviews very often during the test.

RAW file burst rate

One of the drawbacks of the Canon G9 and Ricoh GX100 is their tardy RAW writing times. The G1 is supposed to have a 7 image RAW file buffer with a burst rate of 3 frames per second in its high speed burst mode setting.

Using a Sandisk Extreme III SD card the G1 took 7 shots in about 2.5 secs before the buffer became full, which is about 3 frames per sec, and from there on took about one shot every 1.25 secs – after a dozen shots I got bored so I presume that it continues firing at that rate until the card is full. After the burst the buffer takes about 7 secs to clear. If you start shooting again before the buffer is clear it takes as many shots at 3 fps as there is space in the buffer for before switching to the 1 shot every 1.25 secs rate.

I am pretty happy with this and I don’t think that it will limit my picture taking at all as I do not really anticipate using the G1 for action photography.

With RAW files only (not with JPEGs as recorded simultaneously as I never seem to use them and they just take up more card space) the 2gb card holds about 135-140 images; being about 14mb each.

Image Quality.
The colour space is switchable between sRGB and Adobe RGB – I set all my other cameras to Adobe RGB, so the G1 is set to that too.

Since the whole point of this camera is superior image quality in a compact and portable package this is the key for me. I set the camera to record RAW files and looked forward to looking at them and printing them from Lightroom. Oh, but…

I have Lightroom 1.4.1 and guess what? Adobe has stopped adding in new RAW file compatibility to this version, only Lightroom 2.

If I want to use Lightroom as a RAW converter for the G1, along with recently launched cameras such as the Canon 5D MkII and the Canon G10, then I will have to spend £100 to upgrade to Lightroom 2 whether I like it or not. In fact Adobe’s web site is currently saying that Lightroom 2 will not support these until sometime in December when Lightroom 2.2 is due. If I wanted to use Adobe Camera Raw instead (which does support them, but only the version compatible with CS4; not CS3) I will have to upgrade to Photoshop CS4, although I am quite happy in every other way with CS3 for the time being.

In fact the Adobe site says that its DNG converter does not work properly yet with G1 files – it triples their size! Apparently they are working on this and it is due to Adobe only being able to do linear demosaicing, which triples the file size.

So I have not actually looked at image quality yet…

I will download the 30 day trial version of Lightroom 2 from Adobe when version 2.2 is released and hope that this is in time to be able try it out over Christmas. Hopefully I will not then mess up my existing Lightroom set-up (I seem to remember in a review I saw somewhere that the catalogs are not interchangeable so once converted to Lightroom 2 I suspect that there is now way back to Lightroom 1.4). This will tell me whether I am going to keep the G1 or not.
I could use the supplied Silkypix software, which is reputed to produce OK RAW conversions, but to have a clunky user interface. Since I moved from using a multiplicity of packages (Capture One, Breezebrowser, Qimage to name but a few) to using Lightroom as the core of my digital workflow I do not want to learn a new piece of software just to be able to use a particular camera – there lies madness. I simply want to spend more time taking pictures and less in front of a computer working on them. If this is not sorted out properly then this would be a deal breaker for me – perhaps why the camera appeared on eBay so quickly…?

Perhaps I ought not to sulk and just try Silkypix (or perhaps I should call that Sulkypix?).

So, a nice little camera to use, but a shame I can not view and convert the RAW files in Lightroom without upgrading to Lightroom 2.2, whenever it appears. Perhaps Panasonic would like to start using DNG files… just a thought.

I shall be adding to the blog over the next few weeks as I use the camera and get to know it better – and I start to print images from RAW files taken with it.


Saturday, 13 December 2008

My photographic Santa wish list for 2008/09

What would I like Santa to bring me this year – photographically speaking?

Three things really:

1 ) A printer equivalent to my Epson 4800 Pro that simply works when I ask it too – even if I leave it unused for weeks at a time. Is that too much to ask for?

I don’t want extra image quality, more colours etc – I am quite happy with what my 4800 produces – I just would like it to work on demand; not when its temperament allows it to.

I don’t care who it comes from; Epson, Canon or HP… perhaps even Sony, Kodak or Fuji. Whoever…

2 ) I have been waiting for an update to the Canon 5D for a year or more – what I had in mind turns out to really be a Nikon D700. So the 5D MkII has 21mp and video, whereas what I really wanted as an up to date 5D with 12mp (or perhaps a few more, but 12 seems fine for what I want to do) with improved noise or dynamic range capture, plus weather sealing, better autofocus, anti-dust systems, etc etc and a competitive price.

I also don’t really want to have to upgrade my computer to take the huge files that will result from the MkII when I mostly print at A4 & A3, going up to A2, and stitch together into large panoramics… If it weren’t for my substantial investment in lenses and systems accessories, like flashguns, I would switch to a Nikon D700 and a D300 today.

3 )
Which brings me onto my third wish – software that is supported for more than a year or so. Last Christmas I tested out Lightroom; liked it and bought it. I moved pretty much all my workflow into Lightroom. Now Adobe have released Lightroom 2 and guess what?

If I want to use it as a RAW converter for any of the recent camera launches (such as the Canon 5D MkII, the Canon G10 or Panasonic G1) then I will have to spend £100 to upgrade to Lightroom 2 whether I like it or not. In fact Adobe’s web site is currently saying that Lightroom 2 will not support these until sometime in December. If I wanted to use Adobe Camera Raw instead (which does support them, but only the version compatible with CS4; not CS3) I will have to upgrade to Photoshop CS4, although I am quite happy in every other way with CS3 for the time being.

So, Santa, if you are listening – are these wishes really too unreasonable or difficult to deliver?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Turning off my Epson 4800 printer for a month or more…

If you have read many of my posts in this blog you will realise that I have had lots of problems with nozzle clogging on my Epson 4800. Recently I realised that I was not going to be able to pursue my normal strategy to reduce nozzle clogging for a month or more, so I decided to try a different one based on my recent observations and experience. This post is about what I did and what happened.

To keep my 4800 happy and readily available for printing I normally follow a strategy of using Harvey Head Cleaner to print a nozzle check daily, along with printing a full spectrum print every three days through MIS Autoprint and keeping the printer humid by using a sponge full of water in the paper tray and a printer cover to keep the humidity in.

Recently, however, I have found that while this works very well the automated “something or other” (this posting gives more about my thoughts on this) that the printer does about once a week is quite likely to knock out various colour channels and that there is nothing I can do to stop it. Turning off all the auto nozzle checks and cleaning options has no effect. Some people have called this a “priming” function – but whatever it is it seems to do more harm than good and uses up a lot of ink.

About 6 weeks ago I realised that I was not going to be able to use the printer much at all nor be able to service the normal anti-clogging routine. So what to do?

I have become convinced that the key to a happy printer is humidity and avoiding the priming (or “something or other”) routines if possible. So I decided to turn off the printer and molly coddle it in a different way.

This I what I did:
  • I filled the sponge in the paper tray with water
  • I did a puddle soak to make the print head as humid as possible
  • I put in an additional water pot inside the printer cover as near the print head as possible
  • I wrapped the printer cover as tightly as possible to keep the humidity in
  • I reset all the Oregon weather station's humidity max & min readings - I use this to monitor the humidity inside the printer
Before bedding the printer down it was running perfectly with a perfect nozzle check.

I left the printer like this for a bit over a month (my records say it was 37 days). During that time I did nothing more than to refill the water sponges and about mid way through I set up another puddle soak.

Last Saturday I needed to do a biggish batch of printing so I woke it up.

How was it?
When I turned it on it did its “auto something or other” (which used 9.5ml of ink) before running the nozzle check I requested. Of the eight ink channels 5 were still perfect and the Light Black, Light Magenta and Light Cyan were completely missing – I can’t say I was surprised.

I ran a single nozzle clean and all three came back perfectly. The nozzle clean used 4.6ml on ink. I was pretty happy and relieved with this result!

So after 37 days of no use one single low intensity nozzle cleaning cycle restored the printer to a perfect nozzle check.

During that time the humidity inside the printer was mostly in the range 50-55% and according to the Oregon weather station the minimum in that time was 46% and the maximum was 67%. The reading from the paper tray was 53% min & 72% max, and from the room itself the range was 39% min & 63% max.

So I am more convinced than ever that humidity is the key to a happy nozzle clog free printer.

These printers seem to run OK for 12 to 18 months and then start experiencing these problems. This makes some people say that humidity can not be an issue as why would it suddenly change?

I do not know, but I can make some informed speculations.

I suspect that it is all to do with contact or wetting angles (go here for some background to wetting and contact angles); essentially the ease with which a liquid wets the surface it is sitting on or in contact with. Because the main problem I (and many others) experience is sudden whole ink channel loss it implies that it is not really about clogging – more likely the ink simply separates from the print head, which could easily be caused if the wetting angle is humidity sensitive. This sudden ink channel loss could also be due to an air bubble in the line, but personally I have never seen one of them.

If, however, the ink no longer wetted the surface of the nozzles/print head any slight loss of pressure might cause it to detach from the nozzle/print head, which would cause all the nozzles for that specific ink channel to stop working all at the same time.

Why might this start happening after 12-18 months?

I can think of a couple of reasons:
    a) The capping station seal around the print head may deteriorate a bit causing the atmosphere inside the capping station to dry out. This might cause ink separation if it is humidity critical.

    b) There may be a coating on the print head that reduces the wetting angle. If that wears due to ink flow going through the head, or due to any other form of use, then the coating might simply stop working causing the wetting angle to increase; making the whole system sensitive to low humidity.

One final thought: All of this is obviously quite challenging if you live/work in a desert…

Friday, 5 September 2008

The Mystery of my Epson 4800's auto cleaning…

For some time, since I have been keeping the humidity high in the region of the print head and running Harvey Head Cleaner daily (I have reduced it from twice daily to once with no ill effect) with an MIS Autoprint every three days, I have only really had one problem with my 4800 – every now and then (about once a week) the printer does “something or other” which looks and sounds like a cleaning cycle. Sometimes a whole ink channel or two are missing after this, but the nozzle check says that no more ink than usual has been used up since the last one. So what is happening?

Since I have turned off both auto nozzle checking & cleaning on the printer’s control panel it ought not to be running cleaning cycles without my asking it to.

For some time, however, I have suspected that, since this “auto something or other” looks and sounds like a cleaning cycle, it probably is. I have noticed anomalously high ink usage every now and again on nozzle check printouts and wondered if there was a connection.

This morning it did its “auto something or other” before printing out the nozzle check requested by Harvey Head Cleaner. Yesterday the nozzle check was perfect, but after this “auto something or other” cycle this morning both Light Magenta & Cyan inks were completely missing, but the nozzle check said that only 0.2ml had been used – the normal amount for a nozzle check. I immediately ran another nozzle check, without doing anything else, and guess what – the printer thought that it had used another 10.4ml of ink since the last one, which is about right for a cleaning cycle, but much too much for sitting around doing nothing for a minute!

I have noticed this before and I am now convinced that it is running auto cleaning cycles about once a week despite my having told it not to and that it only reports the ink usage in the nozzle check printout after the one immediately after it does the cleaning cycle.

For some reason these cleaning cycles often mess up a printer that was working perfectly – although I do find that a single cleaning cycle usually restores the ink.

Can anyone cast any light on this?

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Upgrading Epson 4800 printer driver from v5.55 to v6.50 – think before you do it!

Recently I was trying to work out why my Epson 4800 printer was not printing on A3 and roll paper properly. As a part of the process I installed Epson’s latest printer driver v6.50. I quickly discovered that I would really rather not have done so.

For a couple of months I have been living with the fact that whenever I printed on A3 paper the printer would leave a 14mm or 20mm margin at the top or left of the page, whatever it had actually been asked to print. Since this was happening using both Lightroom and Qimage to print I determined that it was the printer or driver, not the printing applications themselves. Printing using roll paper was also not working properly – it was not starting to print in the right place and not cutting at all. Printing using A4, however, seemed to be OK…

I decided to fix the problems and did the usual things to fix these types of problems – reinstall the driver, and if that does not cure it, then the firmware.

First I downloaded the latest printer driver from Epson v6.50 (dated the 7th March, 2008), replacing v5.55 which was the one I had been using. I did not see any harm in this, but I was wrong (more on this below). This did not cure the eccentric printing, however, so I downloaded the firmware (the same version as the one I had been using) and installed that via Epson’s LFP Remote Panel. Initially LFP would not recognize the printer’s existence (although it was printing OK), but after a few cycles of re-booting the computer and the printer it accepted that it was really there. After updating the printer started printing accurately on the page where requested.

Printer driver v6.50, however, was a pain. Basically for two reasons.

Firstly all my paper and set-up specific settings carefully saved in both Qimage and Lightroom were lost. Both remembered the ICC profile settings (happily), but both lost all the other settings; such as media, paper handling and quality settings. So I had to go back through all the combinations and reinstall them, and since I had not exactly copied all of them down as they were stored in the applications and backed up I had not thought it necessary, this was a time consuming and frustrating process.

Secondly it has changed the layout and operation of the various panels so I had to relearn all of them and I can not find any documentation from Epson about what the changes are.
Below are screenshots from the Main, Page Layout and Utility panels - double click on them is you want to see them full size.

There is an extra panel, to the right hand side in the screenshots above, showing the Current Settings which can be turned on or off as desired.

They seem to cover the majority of the previous functions in much the same way, but annoyingly different, so setting up quality for a particular paper is a bit hit & miss.

There are a few interesting enhancements – the main one I have noticed is that the custom paper settings are replicated on the Media Type dropdown (see screenshot) below, rather than hidden in the custom settings panel.

The printing status screen (see screenshot below) has been re-worked to include cartridge codes (but they use Epson's old ones, not the new ones - e.g. the LLK cartridge options are listed as T5649 & T5659 , not T6059 & T6069 for the 110ml & 220ml versions respectively that Epson currently uses)

If you use pre-sets or saved printing settings in applications such as Lightroom and Qimage think very carefully before upgrading, unless you really want some of the enhancements in v6.5 (whatever they are). If you do, then carefully record what they are before the installation or you may lose them as I did.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Sources of advice on restoring old photographs

Every now and again I get asked to copy an old family photograph, which usually involves restoring it as well. Although there is a lot of useful information and tutorials on-line to help I find that since I do not do these restorations very often I find it easy to forget what worked last time and where I found the methods in the first place. In this posting I recommend a couple of books that have helped me immeasurably when I need it.

Typically what happens is that I am given an old print or seven and asked to “just make a couple of copies” of them. They are usually faded and spotted with damp, mould or tarnish, as well as being a bit care worn with folds, rips and holes. There is often an unfaded line where the frame held them and colour photos are usually not only faded but also colour shifted. On top of all that the paper they are printed on originally is often textured, which a decent scanner will pick up beautifully, making the whole image look very unhealthy (see a 100% crop from a typical sample below).

I usually scan them into Photoshop using an Epson Perfection 3200 Photo scanner, which produces a pretty good starting point.

But what to do with them?

As I said earlier there is a lot of really good advice and tutorials on-line and in magazine articles, but I want to be able to remember what I did and find solutions to new problems efficiently (no two projects have the same problems and solutions). So I have resorted to the old fashioned method of buying books on the subject – this means that I can easily find what I want quickly and know where to find the methods that worked for me the last time.

The one technique I use on nearly all scans is to use the “Dust & Scratches” filter with the history brush to remove all the little specks and flecks that were both in the original and on the scan.

I have settled on having two books as my source for most restorations. They cover similar areas of the topic, but have quite different approaches.

Firstly I use Katrin Eismann’s book “Adobe Photoshop Restoration and Retouching (Voices That Matter)” – full details can be found on Amazon but clicking the icon below.

The second is Ctein’s book “Digital Restoration From Start to Finish: How to repair old and damaged photographs” – full details can be found on Amazon but clicking the icon below.

While Eismann and Ctein cover the same sort of restoration ground they have different preferences. Eismann prefers to use masks (not too surprising as she wrote what many regard as the definitive book on masking – “Photoshop Masking & Compositing (Voices That Matter)”), whereas Ctein mostly avoids using masks in favour of using radical moves with curves.

Personally I find Eismann’s way easier to replicate, but at times I can only get a decent result using Ctein’s methods.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Review of the Phottix TR-80 - a generic version of Canon's TC-80N3 remote release

One of the reasons for buying into a complete camera system, such as Canon’s EOS series or Nikon, is the range of accessories available, which is also one of the pains when you realise how much the manufacturers charge for even the simplest accessory. This is a review of a cheaper generic version of Canon’s TC-80N3 remote release with its digital timer functions.

Canon’s TC-80N3 remote release fits any Canon EOS camera fitted with Canon’s proprietary three pin N3 remote release. In the UK they typically cost around £99 each. This is one of those nice to have, but not exactly sure what I will do with it, sort of accessories that I have thought about getting for years, but due to the price I could never justify it to myself.

The TC-80N3 incorporates the following programmable functions:
  • Self-timer
  • Interval timer
  • Long-exposure timer
  • Exposure count setting feature
  • + operates as a conventional electronic remote release
The three timer functions are programmable in the range 1 sec. to 99 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 sec. (in 1 sec. intervals) and the exposure count function operates in the range 1-99.

The sort of thing that I would be interested to use the interval timer function for is to do time-lapse photography to monitor the unfurling for a butterfly from its pupae or the blooming of a flower. These days there is software around that can convert a series of these images into a video.

If you look on eBay you will see a reasonable variety of generic versions available, nearly all from China. These range in price and quality, but even the better looking clones cost about a quarter of what Canon charge, so I was tempted to try one since I have been happy with my Chinese generic version of the simple RS-80N3 that I have reported [ here ] in my blog.

You will also see that it is possible to buy purportedly genuine Canon versions from Hong Kong for around £80, which is not much of a saving over the UK price and you are then at the mercy of customs, who, in the UK, are pretty hot on charging duty, tax and fees that might hike the cost above the genuine version…

I chose a version that looked as much like the Canon as possible and bought it for £27.50, all in, including delivery from China which accounted for much of the price.

Was this a good idea?
Since I have not got a genuine Canon TC-80N3 remote release, in fact I can not remember ever having handled one, I can not make a comparison, other than with the Canon’s spec.

The photo below shows the Phottix TR-80 in its Canon N3 form.

The TR-80 comes with a printed manual in Chinese and English – the English version is 17 pages; it is well printed and pretty well written, and covers all the functions of the timer in detail. It is a pretty good manual. Below is a scan of the nomenclature page of the manual

The first thing to notice is that it does not have the metal locking cap on the N3 plug that the Canon has, but I was not expecting it to have one as the eBay photo clearly showed that it had a bare plastic plug. I do not plan to use this in anything other than studio or very tame outdoor environments so this does not worry me.

In the hand the Phottix feels solid and well made; the cable length is 8cm longer than the specified cable length at 88cm. It has a holder on the reverse side for cameras that have removable N3 socket covers so that you don’t lose them – since none of my cameras have such a thing (they all have rubber flaps to protect the various plug holes on the camera bodies) I can’t vouch for them. All in all it looks and feels like a nicely made piece of kit.

The push-in connector works fine, although you do not have the security of the lock to make sure it stays there during use.

The TR-80 is powered by a CR2032 3v Li button cell battery, which was included with the remote. The manual says that it is expected to last for 3 years, but the CR2032 is cheap and easy to buy if need be.

First I tested to check that it worked as a standard remote release, which it does happily on a series of DSLRs – 10D, 30D & 40D – without a problem. The half-pressed release mode to set the auto-focus and exposure functions going on the camera works OK and it has a sliding lock for the fully pressed switch position to allow long exposure times or continuous shooting. The half-pressed position is more akin to the Nova remote release I tested earlier (go [ here ] for the earlier review) than the standard Canon remote release.

Moving on to the digital functions…

I got it to do pretty much what I wanted it to do without reading the manual, but felt it was better to read it to get a handle on all that it can do and how it does it. Below is the page that sets out fifteen of the combinations possible with the TR-80. Setting multiple functions stack up the actions performed by the timer.

Double click on the image to expand it so that you can read it

For instance if you set the self-timer to 30 secs, the interval timer to 15 mins, the long exposure setting to 1min 30 secs (you have to set the exposure time on the camera to “bulb” for this to work) and set the exposure count to 75 and press the start button the timer will tell the camera to wait for 30 seconds; then take one 90 sec exposure; it will then wait for another 13mins and 30 secs, take another 90 sec exposure and keep on doing this until it has taken 75 images in all. At any time you can over-ride the timer by pressing the manual remote release – meanwhile, the timer will continue until you press stop.

When you ask it to perform this sort of multi-function programme all the icons representing the set functions light up on the LCD and the one currently being undertaken flashes. In the scenario above the self-timer icon disappears once it has done its job, then the interval timer icon flashes. It is, however, not possible to see how many shots are left in the exposure count function once the programme is under way.

Essentially it seems that the TR-80 has the same functionality as the Canon TC-80N3.

The photo below shows the control unit in more detail.

I have tested all the functions, some in more depth than others, and they all work as promised. The LCD back-light works, but is pretty faint and the first time I tried it in daylight I did not think that it was working – in the semi-dark it is fine and stays on for about 6 seconds.

The mode button scrolls between the four functions and the jog wheel to the right hand side of the unit rotates to select the numerical value you are looking for – rotating the jog wheel up decreases the number; down increases it. To change between selecting seconds, minutes or hours you press in the jog wheel to move from one to the next – the time being set flashes. If you just want to select seconds then set them and press mode to move on to the next setting, or simply press start – you do not have to go through all the possible settings in any given mode before moving on to the next one. It all works nicely and intuitively.

When you press the start button the programmed functions kick off – if it is a count down the display counts down, and resets to the start at the end of each cycle. During operation the mode that is showing flashes to tell you that it is in action. 5 secs before taking an exposure the timer wakes up the camera to set the auto-focus and exposure so that everything is ready at the allotted time to take a photo. It will not fire the shutter if the camera would not let it – for instance if auto-focus is not found on the Canon 40D I tested it on.

The exposure counting function takes a photo every second unless you set a longer interval with the interval timer. For most purposes you should probably set the frame rate to single as it may cause some unexpected results if set to a high frame rate.

Cleary if you set an impossible combination (such as asking it to produce 90 sec exposures every 60 secs) it will not do what you want. It is quite easy to come up with impossible combinations, but things like exposure bracketing are possible with a bit of juggling.

It is possible to run with mirror lock-up in action, so long as you set an interval to less than the self-cancelling time for the camera – in the 40D’s case it drops the mirror after being locked-up for 30 secs. In continuous exposure count mode (with the interval set to 0) it will effectively take an exposure every 2 secs rather than every 1. If you want to run in a more realistic scenario with mirror lock up set to take a photo every 15 mins then it will not work (or at least I have not found a camera/timer combination that will allow this yet). Since the conditions that will allow mirror lock-up to be used are not really very useful this is a limitation if you want to use mirror lock-up.

The settings remain in place after it has completed the programmed actions. This is useful if you want to repeat the programme, but you have to remember to cancel the various times etc after use if you do not want to repeat the programme, otherwise you may unintentionally do things other than your chosen function the next time you come to use it. Fortunately it is possible to cancel all the settings in one easy operation by pressing the Mode, Backlight and Jog wheel all at the same time. It is also possible to lock all the buttons and jog wheel so that you do not accidentally make any changes by pressing the Backlight button for 3 secs.

If the battery runs out you can simply use it as a standard manual remote release as that function carries on working fine without a battery.

In use I find that it is best to secure the unit to a tripod leg with a Velcro strap – I tried using Blu-Tack, but it kept falling off.


So was it a good buy? Yes – at a 1/4 to a 1/3rd of the price of the Canon original it is good value. In fact, apart from the plug, if someone put a Canon label on the front instead of Phottix I would be happy to believe it was from Canon.

It has an impressive range of features and options, and the user interface is well thought out and presented. Only time will tell whether it is reliable and durable over the next few years, but there is no reason to suppose it will not be.

If you want to try out a TC-80N3, but can not justify the expenditure then I recommend the Phottix TR-80.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Review of the Nova version of the Canon RS-80N3 remote release

One of the reasons for buying into a complete camera system, such as Canon’s EOS series or Nikon, is the range of accessories available, which is also one of the pains when you realise how much the manufacturers charge for even the simplest accessory, such as an electronic remote release. This is a review of a cheaper generic version of Canon’s RS-80N3 remote release.

Canon’s RS-80N3 remote release fits any Canon EOS camera fitted with Canon’s proprietary three pin N3 remote release. If you use a tripod at all you are going to want one or more of these things and in the UK they typically cost around £45 each.

If you look on eBay, however, you will see a huge variety of generic versions available, nearly all from China. These range in price and quality, but even the better looking clones cost about a third of what Canon charge, so you may well be tempted to try one. You will also see that it is possible to buy purportedly genuine Canon versions from Hong Kong for around £30, but you are then a bit at the mercy of customs, who, in the UK, are pretty hot on charging duty, tax and fees that might hike the cost above the genuine version…

I originally bought a genuine Canon RS-80N3 remote release so as not to risk any damage to my camera, but I found I needed more than one and in any case they are not very robust and could easily get damaged or lost in the field, so I wanted a spare or two around just in case. I thus decided to try a Chinese clone.

I picked one of the higher priced versions available on eBay that looked well made and had the same metal sheath/locking cap as Canon’s version – many have a plain plastic plug with no metal locking cap. Two years ago (June 2006) I paid an all-in price, including delivery, of £15.40 to a Chinese based eBay seller – Nova. It arrived in the UK in about a week.

Was this a good idea?

The photo below shows the genuine Canon and Nova versions side-by-side.

In the hand the Nova version feels solid and well made, although not quite a good as the Canon. The N3 plug also looks much the same as the Canon. The Nova version’s switch (the bit that you hold in your hand) is significantly bigger, but despite having small hands I find it more comfortable to use than the Canon, which I find a bit small. The Nova does not stint on cable length either, being 6cm longer than the Canon’s 90cm. Both have a holder on their reverse sides for cameras that have removable N3 socket covers so that you don’t lose them – since none of my cameras have such a thing (they all have rubber flaps to protect the various plug holes on the camera bodies) I can’t vouch for them.

The whole push-in connector on the Nova is slightly longer than Canon’s (24.6mm vs 23.2mm) and the metal locking cap is a bit sloppier on the Nova. The actual N3 plug is the same on both. Both fit the cameras OK and lock into place - although the Canon version makes a more reassuring “click” when it locks into place, both of them lock and unlock the plug fine.

The first test of a remote release is the most important – does it work without damaging the camera?
Yes – I have used it on a series of DSLRs – 10D, 30D & 40D – without a problem.

Secondly – does it work reliably?
Again – Yes. Over the two years I have had it I have used it interchangeably with the Canon version, probably using the Nova three times the amount of the Canon, and noticed no difference – it has always worked when I asked it to. There is no damage to either and only normal signs of wear and tear (I am pretty careful of my equipment), although the cable on the Nova has become a bit twisted, whereas the Canon has not.

Both the remote releases provide the half-pressed release mode to set the auto-focus and exposure functions going on the camera and both have a sliding lock for the fully pressed switch position to allow long exposure times or continuous shooting. The half-pressed position is slightly more depressed on the Canon making it a bit easier to use, but I have had no problem using either – in fact I had to check this out specifically before writing about as I was not sure if there was a difference, so it has been a non-issue for me in use.

Essentially the Nova switch is functionally the same as the Canon.

I bought my remote release from and this is printed on the cable, but Nova seems to have disappeared. Looking though eBay, however, I see sellers selling what looks to be exactly the same product, although the price seems to have crept up…

So was it a good buy?

Yes – at 1/3rd the price of the Canon original, with good but not quite as good build quality as the Canon, the Nova was good value. It has worked reliably for 2 years and continues to do so – what more could you ask?

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Inside an Epson 4800 220ml inkjet cartridge

Have you ever wondered what the inside of an Epson 4800 220ml inkjet cartridge looks like? Here I have a look at a used cartridge and muse on why Epson does not like re-use…

It was easy to open up one of these cartridges. I just slit the paper label around the shut line with a scalpel and prised the top off with a couple of wide screwdrivers. The whole lot is simply clipped together with twelve securing tabs, which you can see in the photo.

The result is shown in the photo below (and it was only while I was adjusting it in Lightroom that I noticed the letter heading “The Shame of Litter” in the newsprint…)

Inside is an aluminised plastic bladder with a valve (see close up photo of it below) for the ink to be drawn out into the printer. It slips out quite easily, being held in place by the neck of the valve. There is no connection between the ink container and the cartridge so there is no physical connection with the cartridge’s chip.

This lack of connection means that it would be pretty easy for Epson to re-use the cartridges by simply putting in a new ink bladder and resetting the chip. It would also be pretty easy for Epson to supply re-fills for users to put in themselves, but that would mean that Epson would have to sanction or sell a chip re-setter, which Epson seem dead set against. Epson’s recent aggressive defence of their intellectual property trying to put a stop to third party ink and cartridge suppliers indicates that this is far from their thoughts.

I am very happy to re-use the maintenance tank (see this link for my instructions on how I do that), but refilling a used bladder seems to be too much of a risk to me.

Epson seem pretty set against doing anything “green” that would challenge their current business model of selling a reasonably priced printer and making their money on the ink – of course that might upset us, the users, if we had to pay for Epson’s profit in the printer purchase price – we might not like the numbers that came out – but not re-using something that seems eminently designed to be re-used seems perverse in the current sustainability climate.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Think Tank Digital Holster 20 review

Recently I went looking for a case to hold my Canon 40D with a range of lenses attached and ended up buying a Think Tank Digital Holster 20 after trying out several in the shop (Morris Photographic in Chipping Norton) from Lowepro, Kata, Crumpler and Tamrac. This review covers my experience of it so far.

Ever since I stopped using “ever ready” cases with my old film SLRs I have tended not to use a case to protect my camera with lens attached; rather I have relied on transporting them in a camera bag such as my Lowepro Magnum or just wrapped them in a fleece and stuffed them into a rucksack.

Recently I was going on holiday flying by Ryanair and wanted to put my camera and lenses in carry-on baggage. When travelling I try not to look like a photographer so I use a non-descript rucksack with photo gear inside it. Ryanair’s cabin baggage sizes are, however, quite tight, being 55 x 40 x 20cm – the 20cm (4”) restriction being pretty small, so I needed to be more careful than usual about carrying and protecting my photo gear.

I wanted a case to protect my camera with a lens attached (normally an EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS zoom, but I wanted some flexibility to put a longer lens on if possible) that would take up as little space as possible in a small rucksack, be able to meet the 20cm thickness restriction and weigh as little as possible. Many of the options available did not meet the 20cm criteria, but the Think Tank Digital Holster 20 did. It also had a number of nice additional options on offer (more about them later), so I bought it. The photo below shows it with the 40D in it.

Think Tank Photo is a relatively new kid on the block, in Europe at least, and I had not seen any of their products before. Their mission statement says:

“We are a group of designers and professional photographers focused on studying how photographers work, and developing inventive new carrying solutions to meet their needs. By focusing on “speed” and “accessibility,” we prepare photographers to Be Ready “Before The Moment,” allowing them to capture those historic moments that reflect their personal visions and artistic talents. For some companies, it is only about the product. For us, it is more: It is about supporting photographers doing their job. If we can design products that help photographers travel easier, take pictures faster, and organize their gear more efficiently, then we will have accomplished something beyond the bags themselves.”

At first glance their equipment looked a bit old fashioned, which probably means that it is designed to do a job other than look good in the shop, but when I came to try out all the options the Digital Holster 20 met my needs best.

Think Tank offer a range of five Digital Holsters (10 to 50) which can be seen here. All of them offer their “pop down” feature – which allows the holster to offer two different lens lengths options. Essentially the bottom portion of the holster has a zip around it which holds it in the closed position for the shorter option or you simply unzip it to allow the full length of the holster to be used. The photos below show the holster in the short and long configurations.

The holster is made out of a thick’ish black ballistic nylon type outer material; a relatively thin foam padding down to the “pop down” section, where it becomes a soft pliable padding, and a combination of grey smooth and brushed nylon inner. The whole holster feels solid but not bulky and it can stand up on its end (lens down). It therefore fits inside my rucksack without taking up unnecessary space or weighing too much, while offering reasonable protection against every day wear and tear.

My Digital Holster 20 in the closed configuration holds my Canon 40D snugly (with a Really Right Stuff L-plate fitted) with the Canon EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS lens attached, with lens hood reversed (it will just take it with lens hood attached, but it feels too tight for comfort). With the holster at full extension it takes the 40D with a Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS lens attached, with lens hood reversed and the tripod ring and Arca plate attached – although it is much easier to fit in with the tripod ring rotated to the portrait position with the raincover taken out to create a bit more space. There is space to take a lens about 25mm (1”) longer than the 70-200 f2.8 IS if need be.

With the internal divider supplied it is possible to place another small lens, extender, extension tubes etc into the bottom of the holster; depending on what lens is fitted to the camera.

I discovered by accident that there is an added unexpected benefit to having this variable holster length option. Essentially when closed the extension material is squashed up into the bottom of the holster and this acts as an excellent impact buffer for the contents. I found this out by accidentally dropping the holster with the 40D + 17-55 lens attached (lens hood reversed) onto a stone floor (I extremely rarely drop my cameras etc as I am normally pretty paranoid about protecting them, but accidents happen…). The whole lot landed lens cap down and I immediately feared the worse. It, however, landed right on the end of the holster where the squashed up extension material was thickest and to my immense relief everything was absolutely fine. It almost certainly paid for itself many times over in that one incident, especially as I had only taken a compact as backup with me on holiday.

The Digital Holster 20 has the following features:
  • Variable lens length option
  • Detachable seam sealed raincover
  • Adjustable LCD protection pad inside the holster
  • External pocked for memory cards/batteries etc
  • Adjustable internal lens separator
  • Carrying handle mounted on the lid of the holster
  • Zipped clear compartment inside the lid
  • Clear business card holder underneath the external handle
  • Rotate or lock mechanism for use with Think Tank speed belt
  • Comes with a removable shoulder strap
  • Comes with a “No rhetoric warranty” see here for details

Key measurements (note these are somewhat different from those quoted in Think Tank’s literature and are measured from my own Digital Holster 20):
  • Width: 21cm (inc buckles & pocket)
  • Length: 24cm (closed) to 33cm (extended)
  • Thickness: 14cm (With 40D + RRS L-plate inside)
  • Weight: 535g complete
    400g exc. the shoulder strap
    340g exc. the shoulder strap and raincover

Comments on features:
The raincover sits neatly inside the holster in its own Velcro closed pouch, attached to the holster with a ribbon fixed with a Velcro tab, so it is easy to remove and fit or simply to leave behind to save weight (it weighs 60g) and space inside the holster (it does take up quite a bit of room inside, so if space is tight taking it out may help). It is made from a thin black rip-stop nylon type material and has two elasticated draw strings secured with toggles to seal the cover in place. It is, however, not the simplest cover to install that I have experienced – I guess it has to accommodate the holster in its two length configurations, so it is a bit more complicated than it might be. The toggles make sure that there is a snug fit over the lid protecting the zip, and covers the whole of the front, sides and bottom of the holster, but leaves an uncovered patch at the back (presumably to allow attachment to the speed belt?), much like the cover on my Lowepro Magnum. So it will protect from rain but not dropping into water; not surprising since it calls itself a “raincover” and does not claim to be waterproof. Below are front and back photos of the raincover in place with the holster in its closed configuration.

I would recommend trying the raincover out before using it in anger as it took me some time to figure it how best to fit it the first time I tried it. The All Weather cover on my Lowepro Magnum is much more intuitive and easier to fit with its elasticated edges and Velcro fastening.

The LCD protector flap also allows you to stow something else above the camera, such as a camera strap, inside the holster without it rubbing directly on the back of the camera/LCD display.

The external memory card/battery pocket is useful. It is outside the foam padding of the main holster but if you overfill the pocket it will intrude into the body of the holster. I found that it would comfortably take two spare 40D (Canon BP-511/512 type) batteries in it, either side-by-side or end-to-end. I keep spare memory cards in the pocket inside the holster’s lid.

I tend to leave the shoulder strap off this type of bag (in fact I left it in the shop when I bought it to take on holiday and only got it back when I returned – Morris Photographic kindly rang me to tell me that I had left it on their counter) and use the carrying handle or if I really want a shoulder strap I use the one fitted to the camera – in my case an Op/Tech neoprene strap. In due course I might fit a couple of Op/Tech’s quick release tails to the D-rings on the holster so that I could transfer the strap from the camera to the case if need be.

Since I did not buy the Think Tank speed belt at the same time I can not comment on the ease of use or usefulness of the Rotate or lock mechanism.

The Digital Holster 20 is thoughtfully designed and well made, without being bulky. The versatile variable length “pop down” feature allows me to use it for a wide variety of camera/lens combinations.

It does everything I asked of it and most probably saved a lens and/or camera body when I dropped them on a stone floor – I am very happy with my choice.

I have no connection to any of the suppliers or retailers mentioned in this posting other than being a happy customer.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Epson Stylus pro 4800 inkjet printer error codes

Recently I had a "Service Req." message come up on my 4800. There have also been a few questions on Forums about what various error messages mean, so I thought I would post a listing that I have for the Epson 4800. This is not an official Epson listing, but it appears to be accurate in the few cases that I have had to use it

Firstly please excuse the lack of formating of the listings below, but it would take me too long to put it into pristine formatted text and it would never arrive - I think anyone looking for the info should be able to find it here.

There are two types of error codes. Those indicating a maintenance issue that can usually be sorted out by resetting a counter or checking something is still OK after its nominal end of life. The second set are service errors that may need a technician to fix them, although many of them seem to respond to a certain amount of informed and sensible "fiddling" about; in some the descriptions indicate the action that should be taken to resolve the problem.

Error Codes (Maintenance)

0002 Carriage Motor / Ink Tube end of life (Clear Carriage Motor Counter)

0004 Nozzle check error

0008 RTC error (Real Time Clock) (Check the Battery and reset the Date and Time)

0010 Multi Sensor Error

0020 Print Head life counter (Reset the Head counter)

0040 Cleaner Unit end of life (Clear the Cleaner counter)

0080 Date is not set (Set the date and time (RTC))

0100 RTC Battery low (Replace the battery, and reset the RTC)

0200 Paper feed roller life (over 75,000 sheets) (Reset the ASF counter)

Error Codes (Service)

00000088 RTC (Real Time Clock) data is corrupted

00000101 Carriage Motor life (Reset Carriage Motor Counter, check for leaky ink tubes)

00000103 RTC (Real Time Clock) battery is defective

00000105 Print Head end of life (Inspect print head and reset head counter)

00010000 Paper Feed Motor encoder check error (Check Sensor and Timing Disk)

00010001 Paper Feed Motor out of step

00010002 Paper Feed Motor overcurrent (Check for mechanical binding of the feed rollers / motor)

00010003 Paper Feed Motor in-position time-out

00010004 Carriage Motor encoder check error (Check sensor and Timing Disk)

00010005 Carriage Motor out of step

00010006 Carriage Motor overcurrent (Check for mechanical binding, If not replace motor)

00010007 Carriage Motor in-position time-out

00010008 Servo interrupt watchdog time-out

00010009 System interrupt watchdog time-out

0001000A Carriage home position error (Check Sensor and mechanical components)

0001000C Platen Gap home position error (Check Sensor and mechanical components)

0001000F Carriage Motor PWM output faulty

00010010 Paper Feed Motor PWM output faulty

0001001B Head driver (TG) temperature error

0001001D Carriage servo parameter error

0001001E Paper feed servo parameter error

00010020 CSIC read / write error

00010022 Ink type error

00010023 RTC (Real Time Clock) (Reset RTC)

00010025 CSIC ROM communication error

00010026 RTC (Real Time Clock) communication error

00010028 Head error

00010029 Unidentified NMI

0001002A Carriage ASIC ECU error

0001002B Paper feed ASIC ECU error

0001002D Cleaning Unit end of life

0001002F 360 DPI writing time out error

00010030 Multi Sensor failure (1. Check sensor, 2. calibrate sensor, 3. replace sensor)

00010031 ASF (Auto Sheet Feeder) home position error (Check Sensor and mechanical components)

00010032 ASF (Auto Sheet Feeder) Drive Switch error (Check Sensor and mechanical components)

00010033 Exit Roller home position error (Check Sensor and mechanical components)

00010034 Eject Roller lifted (Customer Safety Sensor on the eject roller)

00010035 Pump Home Position Error (Check Sensor and mechanical components)

00010036 Type B 1394 (Firewire) board installation (Remove Firewire Card / not allowed)

00010037 Print Head thermistor error

00010038 Head Driver thermistor error

00010039 PG adjustment value NVRAM error

0001003A PG adjustment value NVRAM error

0001003B Carriage Lock / Cutter Error

0001003C Carriage Lock / Cutter Error

0001003D Carriage Lock / Cutter Error

00020000 NVRAM error

00020002 SDRAM error

00020003 BOOT program SUM error

00020009 Flash memory SUM error

0002000A Program load error

0002000B Internal memory shortage error

0002000C Review error

100000E0 CPU address error (load misalignment)

10000100 CPU address error (storage misalignment)

10000180 CPU reserve command code exception error

100001A0 CPU slot illegal command exception error

100001C0 AC disruption (AC Power) (Unplug and wait 30 sec., then plug back in)

100005C0 CPU DMA address error

0003xxxxx –

0Dxxxxxxx CPU error