The View Up Here

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Always Check Your Gear

Posted by Tom Benedict on 15/02/2012

I had two reminders recently that you should always check your gear:


The first ties back to when I was trying to get my monitor calibrated. I had my colorimeter, but couldn’t find the license key to my software. I finally got that resolved (yay!) but the first color calibration looked… odd… So I did what any self-respecting meddler would do: I started pulling things apart.

I’m still using the Spyder 2 Express I got when I did the Worldwide KAP Week 2009 book. It doesn’t have a number of features I’d really like, such as gamma correction. But it does a good job with color. It’s old enough that the base design works with CRTs. To make it work with an LCD you snap a little filter unit on the bottom of the colorimeter head before placing it on the monitor. The filter unit has a honeycomb mesh to constrain the input angle of the light, and it also has a light blue filter to bring the output of the LCD into the sensitivity range of the colorimeter. I only ever use this on LCD monitors, so I’ve never had cause to remove the filter unit. Out of curiosity, I removed it.

I was appalled to see mold growing in there! It was on the filter as well as the colorimeter. Living in the tropics makes this a pretty common theme, but it’s never fun to see stuff growing on camera or computer gear. A quick wipe with a damp towel cleaned the colorimeter. I managed to pop the blue filter out of the filter unit and cleaned it as well. Once everything was put back together, my monitor calibrated nicely. Whew!


The other reminder ties back to that full-spectrum converted camera I got to use for the KAP flight over CFHT headquarters. The camera is a Canon Rebel XT: an older model. When I compared the JPG files I got off of it against the ones from my T2i, all I could think was, “Thank goodness modern detectors are larger! These files are tiny!”

Yesterday I did some test shots at our summit facility to try out the field of view of several lenses. The idea is to mount one of these cameras at the telescope next door, pointed back at our dome. We can then use that camera to do dome assessments after a storm passes through, to make sure our dome isn’t covered by snow and ice. (A couple hundred pound sheet of ice falling on a telescope is a veryvery bad idea.) So we wanted to make sure that we got the resolution we needed to be able to do a fair assessment. I made the pictures using a 35mm, 50mm, and 100mm lens, and emailed the pictures to our head of IT, who is heading up the project.

He wrote back and asked why I had the camera set to half resolution. ??!  !!!!!! Since borrowing the camera, I had never even checked! Sure enough it was set to make the smallest possible JPG files. I changed it over to making large JPG+RAW files and repeated the earlier photographs. The resolution still wasn’t close to my T2i, but it was far far better than it had been before. Better still, the RAW files gave me some much better options for post-processing than the JPG files did.

So now I have this burning need to get this camera airborne again. But this time making full-resolution RAW files. I just wish I’d checked before that flight over CFHT. I really liked the angle I got on one of them, and have no guarantees of repeating it on a subsequent flight.


Every photograph represents a unique moment in time — a unique opportunity to see the world around you and share what you see with others. In the case of the full-spectrum camera, I may not be able to re-create the particular view I had, but chances are I will. In other cases those opportunities only happen once. I can never re-photograph the Kauhola Point lighthouse because it was torn down several years ago. I can never re-photograph my children as infants because now they are grown. I can never re-photograph Wall Arch in Arches National Park, because it collapsed some years back. Photographers have to make the most of every opportunity they have. Do-overs are rare.

Always always check your gear.

– Tom

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