Sunday, July 31, 2011

Parallax!

Parallax error isn't a helpful thing in photography. It's mostly a nuisance and an annoyance.


Older cameras used to have this problem: The old film cameras normal people, non-photographers, used to take casual photos on vacation and things like that, family photos of trips and that stuff, those cameras always had slight parallax error. The viewfinder wasn't looking through the lens, it was above the lens so what one saw and what one shot was slightly different.
SLR cameras have no parallax error at all because you're looking through the lens. That's where the name comes from. The 'reflex' is based on the mirror used to see through the lens flipping up to allow the film or sensor be exposed to light from the lens.
It's why they're a bit noisier and you can't look through the viewfinder when you click the shutter.


Point and shoot cameras, digital ones, use electronics to display the scene through the lens on an LCD screen instead of a viewfinder, so there's no parallax error there either. The point is to, well, point and shoot.


My constant problem with the error, though, has nothing to do with the camera itself and all to do with the panoramas I've been trying to make over the past several years.


I've written about panoramas and generating them on here before. Originally I'd explained that using Hugin was much easier than PTGui. I've had more experience with PTGui to know now that it's perfectly possible to generate your own control points from scratch. Just go to 'Advanced.' Either way, I've also found that PTGui isn't actually as useless as I originally found it to be. As long as it was an easy panorama with nothing close-up.


The real problem, however, that has probably always been at the root of things, is parallax error.


I've seen amazing panoramas, equirectangular, all over the place and created using PTGui. They're spectacular and amazing, and have no errors. I'd be in wonder at how they do it. On Flickr there are entire photostreams that are only dedicated to those kinds of panoramas/planets. They're all, well, perfect. And they're panoramas that were taken in all sorts of places, both easy and difficult positions. There's one Flickr user that uses a 10mm lens, does them hand-held, only takes ten images, and uses Hugin, and his results are incredibly perfect.


Recently I got myself a 6.5mm fish eye lens, for my birthday. It's full-frame (not circular) and it's nice, although third-party (I have to manually focus myself, as well as the aperture). With this acquisition, I thought I'd have a lot more ease of stitching. Less images to have to take as well as the fact they're already distorted should make it almost no burden at all.


I was quite wrong.


The thing is, with fish-eye lenses, because there is distortion to begin with, the potential for parallax error is a lot higher. It's much easier to have things change between images because it's already distorted visually enough. Everything just got harder for me instead.

In my case, I've got almost everything to make panoramas as flawless as that Flickr user. I just need, as any panoramic photographer needs, a special kind of tripod that eliminates this parallax error problem.

The way it works, the end of the lens doesn't move anywhere. It just changes viewing position - without doing anymore than rotating. When I use my normal tripod head, my camera revolves around the central point when the end of the lens should  be positioned there and rotating at the centre of it.


The two images (which should be next to each other but won't let me put them as such) explain parallax error in action: in one image the corner of my gazebo is shown with my shed at the left in the background. Then, when I moved the camera for the next image, the shed was more central in the background. The pillar itself is at a slightly different angle. The software, when it stitches, has trouble arranging where the pillar should go in accordance to the different backgrounds of each photo, and ends up either multiplied, cut up in sections, or partially erased.


Until I get the proper tripod head, I will have these problems. Panoramas like this can be, and are, tricky things to work with. Panoramic tripod heads are expensive; when I looked online the nodal ninja head everyone uses was about $200.


I won't be investing into that until after I begin college.


For now, I'll keep trying my best in panoramic photography. It's not like I am destined to fail at good images just because I don't have this particular piece of equipment yet. But if you're going into creating those cool, perfect 360/180 degree equirectangulars, a fish-eye and panoramic tripod head are going to be your best friends.
...And the software and minor knowledge of it as well.
Parallax error is your worst enemy.


Justin C.



Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Mistakes"

It's probably one of the more pessimistic songs I've ever heard from Madness. I knew, before I'd heard it, that it was their first b-side.


It was the B-side to their second single 'One Step Beyond...' (their first single was 'The Prince' but its B-side was a cover of the real Prince Buster's song 'Madness,' where the band gets its name).


I heard it once a bit of a while ago and found I didn't really like it largely for its ending - there's this tough drum-led, bad luck-sounding pessimistic sound to it.


Much time later I would hear it (but not recognize it) in the band's film Take it or Leave it. There's a scene in which Mark Bedford, the bassist, joins the band for rehearsal for the first time (being well-dressed for the occasion) and after Mike Barson tells him the notes, they begin playing that song (well, rehearsing it, and with then-lead singer John Hasler on vocals and former drummer Gary Dovey on drums).


In the film I kind of liked it, or liked the sound of it. I wondered what it was (not realizing I'd heard it before, which is very unusual for me) until earlier this week when the big Madness keyboardist on YouTube (not Mike Barson, a guy who does perfect covers of Mike Barson) uploaded a fifty-five minute video of him playing an entire live performance set of their songs on organ. 'Mistakes' was in the set and he played it. And I instantly made the connection.


The rehearsed version of the song is different in beat and bass a little, but essentially it sounds the same. I looked for a proper recorded version of the b-side and listened.


My reaction was what I begin this post with. Probably the most pessimistic or worrying song I've heard by them.


I have a large reason to think it was written by Mike Barson, who was always regarded as the pessimist in the band. In the film he's the guy who doesn't think they'll go anywhere often, though this pessimism is also what helps the disciplinarian in the keyboardist, as he was essentially the musical director in the band; most of their best songs were written by him. He's the one who's probably painted as the leader the most. He kept everyone in order.
Checking online my expectation holds - it was written by him. The lyrics all talk about the horrible things that make life hard, or how easy it is to lose or fail at things and the bad outcomes of that. It begins with "It's not so easy to find out later, about the necessary skills for survival."


The music is much the same; the bass sounds worrying and like its constantly harping on something.


As the song is negative, it also sounds very much like it was recorded when the band were not yet perfectly skilled at playing things smoothly. The drums might sound slightly off or out of temp now and then, and Suggs (the lead vocalist by that point) sometimes struggles with fitting words into verses. He has to scramble to say 'opportunity' at the beginning of one verse due to how he sings the rest of the song.


The piano/organ is its usual high standard, and the bass is right on. The guitar plays a very simple bit of notes that also shows the limited range of its player as well (in the beginning, it has been noted by the band, the only real good instrumentalists were Mark, Mike and Woody on bass, keyboards and drums, respectively). The sax isn't bad though. I like the keyboard.


Again, I don't really like the ending because it gets too hard-off-sounding. Slow, dramatic drums, a guitar repeating over and over, everything sounding like something bad is about to happen...


I'd give the music a B- and the lyrics a C+.



The conversation at the beginning is probably some sort of radio interview with what sounds like the band's manager Dave Robinson. Another song called 'Nutty Theme' (which I have never heard before) starts after the song, but listening to that is your decision. I have nothing to say about that.


Justin C.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Message to my Girl

This isn't a real message to my girl; I have no girl to send any message to and the old one has long ago politely notified me of her appreciation for my not sending her any. If I'd ever wanted to say anything to her now, it would probably be "They play squash in the music video for 'Our House'" and "Despite our separation your safety, well-being and happiness are my biggest priority - where you're concerned." And if the explosively frequent views I get from Alberta these days are caused by the old one...that message will get read pretty quickly.


Actually it's a review on the song and the pretty creative music video.


From New Zealand, Split Enz (Enz spelled that way to illustrate the NZ abbreviation of their native country) was a band that began in 1971 and dissolved at the end of 1984. They had a cult following.


I didn't really know much or think much of the band. The earliest I'd seen them was when I was unaware of what band it was, nor was I interested in the least, when I fast-forwarded through this boring, old music video on one of my mother's tapes as a child. 
My mother's two videotapes of nothing but music videos, MuchMusic interviews and its old music/interview show, Spotlight, are legendary for their length and wide coverage of just about all the pop of the past thirty years. I spent an entire afternoon earlier this year, going through and fast-forwarding through over hundreds of music videos from around 1982 onwards to 1997. That tape is something like eight hours long and contains artists ranging from Genesis, Split Enz, Arrested Development, Hanson, Robyn, Crowded House and TLC to Barenaked Ladies, Mariah Carey, Backstreet Boys, Eurythmics, Blue Rodeo, Oasis...enough about that video tape.
What I was fast-forwarding at one point was a singer walking along, with a fence interposed between him and the camera. Then another band member walked past him in the opposite direction, and the camera followed him. Then the third came along going in the original...I see why I originally fast-forwarded it. But what I was speeding through, out of disinterest and ignorance at the time, was the music video to 'Message to My Girl.'


Earlier this year, when I eventually came to the video again, I decided to watch it properly to actually see what it was because I remembered annoyingly fast-forwarding through it before (I think I was speeding the tape to the music video for Hanson's 'Where's the Love' originally, which was way, way at the other end of the tape).
What I got was a sweet, simple, romantic song about the singer arranging his thoughts and feelings towards his girl.
Here's the video...you might see what I'm going about when the fence part comes along.

When I heard it, I also recognized the music from the TV upstairs a few times. Nowadays, instead of the videotape, my mother often watches the old retro music channels that are available on the Roger's Box we have, and I'd heard that song play on it a few times. I was surprised this music video was to that song.


The music sounds very warm and meaningful to me, and there's also this piano that sounds like it's in wonder. The bass has a nice sound to it as well.
However, and I don't normally say this, the lyrics have a big part of it. They sound fawning and truthful, while also a little unsure. They're quite beautiful; any girl would probably have a huge "fluttery heart" feeling listening to it, as well as any man who has a large feminine side. For me, I'd love to play the song to the girl that would make me feel the same as the vocalist. There isn't one though, and the old one would probably think I'm nuts if I still felt that way.


As for the music video, the medium I'd originally found the song in, the original thing that annoyed me and instilled in me a feeling that it looked old and boring, it's quite colorful and creative.
It looks like one of those music videos that was made on a low budget, so they simply used their imaginations. That's what I like about it. Neil Finn simply walks around a studio full of props, some of which light up. It looks like he walked a long way, but he simply went in a half-circle. Other band members occasionally feature, like during the walking along the fence bit, as well as in the beginning, and when the pianist appears to do his part, by himself as Neil walks by. Then he enters a doorway and joins the rest of the band, playing together, at the end. Two percussionists work together, one hitting a snare and hi-hat, and the other striking a bass drum tilted upwards. The camera focuses in turn on the bassist and pianist, then just floats away, revealing the entire studio and journey Neil took to get to the band. It's kind of fun but also eerie, long but short, and simple.
It's not that hard to play on bass, though it gets a little more difficult near the end. The song is largely on C#.


I give it an A-.


Play the song to your true lover. It's a perfect one for that crowd. I play it because it simply just sounds beautiful...and if I'm optimistic I'll know what to put on when I have someone to display those feelings to.


Justin C.