Monday, December 27, 2010

Dell Precision M6400 and photography

The proper title should be "Dell Precision M6400 and a Leica M9, Phase One P45+ and Canon 1DsIII" but that's just a bit too long.

I'm probably not your "normal" photographer in that I choose not to use an Mac for my work. Don't get me wrong, I did use one several years ago however I've used PC's much longer and when the time came to upgrade computers I chose to return to a PC - warts and all. The studio computer which I've had for several years is a Dell Precision 690 with 32GB RAM, 2-video cards supporting 4 monitors, as well as 4-internal hard drives and 2-Drobos totally close to 12 terabits of storage. I wanted a laptop that would hold its own while on the road and when I replaced my reviously underpowered laptop I decided to go all in and ordered the Precision Workstation M6400. I've been using the 690 now since August 2006 and the 6400 for close to a year (ordered February 2009); both computers have far exceeded my expectations.

I use 2-cameras producing large files with every image and Sandy's 1DsIII that produces a slight smaller file. I also shoot multiple images that are either stacked one on top of another to achieve focus or stitched together for a panorama, either of these techniques often produce files larger than 1.5GB. My normal workflow is to download all the images from the day each night saving them on 2-separate external hard drives. I then open the images on one of the drives to ensure I achieved what I was after and do anywhere from slight to through processing; there's nothing worse than having 4-images all taken with a slightly different focal point thinking that it's going to be okay only to find you goofed when you're 1,000 miles away. Thus you need just as good equipment after the image is captured as what you used to capture it in the first place; I needed a laptop that was as close as possible to my studio computer.

I had originally ordered the M6400 with 1-drive and 8GB RAM knowing I'd grow into it. I quickly added a second drive and left it in that configuration until just recently. I've also been using a set of Western Digital USB Passports 250GB external drives for temporary storage. The main problem with standard external drives are that they are usually slow drives spinning around 5400 and connected using USB. The external drives can and have caused bottlenecks while attempting to process images on the road. That's changed.

I've just finished tweaking the M6400 to it's fullest potential as well as the external drives. Going to I upgraded the RAM to max out at 16GB at the same time swapping the OS drive for a Crucial 250GB SSD. The original thought was to also change the 2nd drive out as well however that proved to be impossible as the connections wouldn't line up properly so I've kept that drive the same. What I've done is taken the 2nd SSD I bought for this upgrade and placed it into a Macally PHR-S250CC Firewire-400/USB 2.0 external drive. I chose the Macally because it has 2-firewire ports that allow for multiple drives to be daisy chained (the M6400 as a single 6-pin port). I've daisy chained the four external drives together and have more than enough storage and speed while on the road.

Bottom line is that I have a kickass (yes that's a technical term) road system that allows me to work on images on the fly thus letting me know that I got what I wanted or more importantly if I need to reshoot. While the entire retrofit was expensive it's not as expensive as if I lost an image.

This is what's been added or changed or replaced:
• 16GB RAM
• 1-250GB SSD internal (it now takes less than 30 seconds to boot and CS5 and C1 Pro are much faster)
• 1-250GB SSD external firewire drive
• 2-300GB external firewire drives
• 1-128GB SSD external drive that I had laying around that will be used for video storage.

This entire system rocks! I've gone to Dell recently and see the replacement to the M6400 is the new M6500 with up to 32GB RAM! I thought the 6400 was fast. It looks like laptops will have more and more RAM in the future; no wonder Dells calls these mobile workstations.

Just a minor point of irritation... After cloning the OS drive onto the new SSD drive I of course opened my primary imaging software, Capture One 5 Pro and CS5. While both programs opened much faster than they had before, I had a slight problem with one of my plug-ins namely Nik Viveza 2. Viveza 2 thought it was running on a trail basis and when I entered the product code it kept bouncing an error message. Not a great thing to happen right before Christmas. I contacted support at Nik and 5 days later got an answer that included a link for a patch that fixed a "known issue on some computers". I'm pleased to say that I just reinstalled Viveza 2 along with the patch and all seems to be working as it should. Two notes here; I run everything in a 64 bit environment and my other Nik plug-in Silver Efex Pro caused no problems whatsoever. I plan on obtaining a trial of HDR Efex Pro early next year and hope to be able to report on that.

Thanks as always for letting me share.

Happy Holidays to all


Friday, December 17, 2010

Saying goodbye to Shiprock

We left Farmington/Shiprock NM area early Tuesday after spending 3-days shooting in great weather. Sandy & I were at breakfast Tuesday morning and received a weather advisory saying to expect winds in excess of 50MPH with gusts even higher. We took a look outside the window and saw clear blue skies both agreed that the past couple of days were as good as it would be and decided to cut our stay by 2-days.

Normally I say the worse the weather the better the images however with winds at 50 MPH and higher gusts, we'd have conditions that just wouldn't be safe for either us or our equipment. Besides we need to be able to see to capture images and with all that dust and dirt blowing the visibility would be cut drastically. We did however have 3-days of great shooting conditions so we can't complain.

We're back in Tucson now and will continue to work on the images from both Shiprock as well as the Jackson Hole area. Christmas is right around the corner and orders for our DVD set are picking up so there's plenty to do here.

We have a simple shooting schedule for next year; we return to Yosemite late February and plan on stopping at Death Valley on our return leg. We also plan to return to the Jackson Hole area later in the year and in-between all this we have work scheduled here in Tucson. The plan is to have Volume III of our DVD released in the spring so stay turned for that.

Sandy & I wish to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe holiday season and an even safer new years.

The image you see on this page was taken on our way out of Farmington. We had been passing this area everyday as we drove out to Shiprock and it wasn't until the last day that we noticed the "snowman" we call Scratchy. Scratchy is sitting in front of a firehouse in Farmington and made of tumbleweeds.

Sandy & Don

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shiprock (Tsé Bitʼaʼí) "rock with wings" or "winged rock

 Canon 1DsIII 24/70 (70mm) f/8 1/125 ISO 50

We arrived in the Shiprock area around 2-P.M. on Friday and were greeted with perfect conditions, blue skies and beautiful cloud coverage.  The conditions were so good we decided to drive out to the area before we even checked into the hotel as we wanted to take advantage of the conditions while they lasted.  We ended staying in the area for several hours before finally heading out to find our hotel.

 Canon 1DsIII 24/70(68mm) f/8 1/125 ISO 50

Canon 1DsIII 24/70(48mm) f/8 1/100 ISO 50

Saturday wasn't near as good as Friday afternoon; we woke to clear skies and very little clouds and a lot of wind.  It was also 28 degrees in the morning warming up to the low 50's by afternoon.  We made the trek to the Shiprock area once again and concentrated on the western view whereas we had been on at the eastern view the previous afternoon.  Once you drive off BIA 13 the roads turn into dirt and gravel with some ruts.  It's been dry so far this trip however we can see where rain could seriously affect the conditions of the dirt roads.  Then there are for lack of a better term, trails.  These trails are heavily rutted in places and you'll need a high clearance vehicle throughout.  In other words if you're driving a rental car don't do it.

Canon 1DsIII 24/70(35mm) f/8 1/80 ISO 50

Canon 1DsIII 135mm f/8 1/100 ISO 50

Yesterday, Sunday greeted us with red skies as the sun rose in the east and we had some of the clouds we had Friday afternoon.  We decided to return to the original area we visited Friday afternoon stopping several times to capture images.  This time we followed the trail which in some places was very faint and others just a couple of ruts.  However we managed to drive completely around the rock ending up at a stop we liked from the day before.

 Cambo WRS/P45+ Schneider 72mm f/8 1/250 ISO 50

Cambo WRS/P45+ Schneider 120mm f/8 1/250 ISO 50

Cambo WRS/P45+ Schneider 120mm f/8 1/250 ISO 50

Today we have clear skies with zero clouds.  We've decided to take it easy today and maybe see some of the other sights near the Shiprock/Farmington NM area as well as catch up on the images from the past couple days.  Tomorrow and Wednesday are rumored to be better days with a chance of snow and cloudy skies so we'll hit the area once again before leaving the area.

Leica M9 24mm f/8 1/350 ISO 200

Leica M9 24mm f/8 1/350 ISO 160

Enjoy the images and Happy Holidays!

Sandy & Don

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shiprock - Tsé Bitʼaʼí - Rock with wings"

Leica M9 Elmarit 24mm f/9.5 1/500 ISO 160

Leica M9 Summicron 50mm f/6.7 1/500 ISO 160

Shiprock is a rock formation 1,583' (482.5 meters) above the high-desert plain on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.  Shiprock is also the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico.  Shiprock got its name from white visitors from the 1870's as it resembles a 19th-centry clipper ship. 

Leica M9 Elmarit 24mm f/5.7 1/350 ISO 160

Leica M9 Elmarit 24mm f/5.7 1/350 ISO 160

Shiprock is actually composed of fractured volcanic breccia and black dikes of igneous rock called minette.  That's the official description,  the other description according to the Navajo is that this peak had a role as the agent that brought the Navajo to the southwest.  Shiprock holds a significant religious and cultural significance to the Navajo and thus visitors should act accordingly.

Leica M9 Summarit 90mm f/9.5 1/350 ISO 200

P45+ Schneider 35mm f/8 1/250 ISO 200

We first saw Shiprock 5-years ago during our first visit to the area and again on our way to Jackson Hole earlier this year. This is such a unique site that we decided to return in hopes of capturing Shiprock during a winter storm.

Canon 1DsIII 24-70(34mm) f/7.1 1/125 ISO 50

We left Tucson driving straight through to Farmington NM passing Shiprock on the way Friday afternoon.  The skies were all in our favor as we experienced blue skies and loads of clouds all adding to a very dramatic viewing.  While the weather forecast called for mostly cloudy skies today we've learned from experience to capture what we want when we can which turn out to be very prudent.  We woke this morning to very little clouds and what clouds there were, were way off in the distance.

Canon 1DsIII 135mm f/7.1 1/125 ISO 50

The samples of Shiprock were taken either late yesterday or this morning and with a variety of equipment including a Canon 1DsIII, Leica M9 and Cambo WRS1000/Phase One P45+.  The images were processed using a combination of Phase One Capture One Pro, Photoshop CS5 as well as Nik Software Silver Efex Pro and Viveza 2 (both 64bit).

Leica M9 Elmarit 24mm f/9.5 1/500 ISO 160

We'll be here several more days which are calling for a combination of sunny to mostly clouds days. We're keeping our fingers crossed so please stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting,

Sandy & Don

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Holidays from Iron Creek Photography

We've been home from Jackson Hole for slightly over a month and in that time we've been busy. We celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends having the usual too much fun and food. We've also been busy sorting all the images from those we liked and those we didn't, those we wanted to work on to offer as prints and those we'll include in our net DVD. We've printed several images one in particular is stunning - "Aspens". The Aspen image has been printed on canvas and stretched to 20x40 and is currently being displayed at Claire's Cafe and Gallery in Catalina AZ.

We also been busy adding images to our on-line gallery and so far have added Aspens, Old Warrior and Old School. We've also decided to slowly revamp the on-line galleries to include a price for the image; you see the recent results if you visit the "New Works" portion.

We aren't anywhere near done with the Jackson Hole images and look forward to several months before we are. In the meantime we leave for Farmington NM shortly where we'll be spending time at Shiprock and the Bisti Wilderness. We'll be back in the Tucson area before Christmas where we'll remain till late February when we make a return trip to Yosemite.

The Leica 135mm lens has been at the doctors now since shortly after returning from Jackson and no real timeframe of its return. We had hoped to have it for this upcoming trip however we're confident we'll have it for Yosemite. We could have kept the lens as is with the ever so slight oil on one of the shutter blades however we felt we had more than sufficient time to get it looked at. We sent the lens to Sherry Krauter for the inspection and repair who had to send it on to Leica due to a unforeseen problem in disassembly. Sherry has been great keeping us in the loop and we hope to offer a write-up after the lens is returned.

Our next post will be from the Shiprock area.

Sandy & Don

On a slightly different note: Our main "on the road" computer has been a Dell M6400, Extreme Q9300, 2.53GHz Quad Core with dual disk drives, 16GB RAM and Windows 7 Ultimate (upgraded from Vista 64). This thing is a beast! It's is the first laptop computer that is as close to performance as our studio computer thus allowing us to process images while still on the road. The only and major drawback to this computer is the power brick it takes to keep it running and charge the batteries. The term "brick" is not misleading as it's the same size as a brick and weighs slightly more. I expected the computer to weigh what it does, I didn't expect the AC power adapter to weigh as much as it does not be the size it is; makes packing this thing a serious pain. I've done research off and on for the past 2-years trying to find a suitable replacement and finally came across the new Slim-Line Laptop AC DC Adapter Charger (click here for more information). I ordered it off and it arrived this afternoon. Simply put - it works! It has the same footprint as the OEM however it's half the width and weighs much less. I plugged the computer in and it powered it up right away and it shows it charging the battery just the same as the OEM. Anyone out there who has the M6400 and is not satisfied with the size of the power brick should look into this. I believe Dell is shipping somthing similar to this with their new M6500.

Just wanted to pass on the good news.