Drop Controller DIY

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One of the things that was evident after my week of playing with drops is that I think I had reached a limit with my current drop controller…

A while back I had bought two extra valves and spent not a small amount of time trying to set them up without a lot of success…

Problem being that without having almost macro rail micro adjustability on the valves to get the drops to land at the same time you need to be able to control each valve individually… unfortunately the HiViz controller doesn’t have that functionality so I just put the valves away and up until ‘drip week’ I hadn’t touched the drip rig at all…

Did some research and came across a guy called Martyn that had built his own controller on a breadboard using an Arduino Nano to control it… the spec was appealing… there was a PC app and an Android app to control it using USB or Bluetooth… individual control of valves, proper fine control over time and drop size values and totally DIY… was right up my street and was also very cheap to build parts wise…

I ordered up a load of parts…
Drop Controller DIY

The site has a guide for building a breadboard version and a perf board version… circuit diagrams were essentially the same but the breadboard version had a couple of nice extras so decided to use vero board instead and pick and choose between both circuit diagrams to build what I wanted…

Meant that I had to design the layout on the fly but to be honest thats half the fun πŸ™‚
Drop Controller DIY

The vero boards I bought weren’t quite large enough for all the components but that was no bad thing… completed the PSU, valve, camera and flash control circuits on the one board… decided it was a good time to power up and test that it would hold its blue smoke in…

Drop Controller DIY

I used a second board for the Arduino Nano and Bluetooth board (which took a little time to arrive) and then using the Arduino IDE I loaded the ‘Sketch’ that Martyn had already written..
Drop Controller DIY

As I was waiting for the Bluetooth module I used the PC software over USB to test the controller

Happy with that…

A couple of days later the BT module turned up so did a quick test of the app and all was good…
Drop Controller DIY

Only thing I didn’t have at the moment was a project case as I wasn’t sure how much room the vero boards would take up once complete… it was while having a well deserved takeaway…
Drop Controller DIY

…that I had an idea πŸ™‚
Drop Controller DIY

Sorted! πŸ˜€

On the subject of ‘ideas’… I had been looking at a better way to manage gels on the flashes… the lighting gel I was using was cheap enough so needed a suitably cheap solution… the various slide in filter housings were mostly around a tenner each… I had four flash guns so 40 quid seemed a bit excessive… I then found some perspex place name holders that were pretty much the perfect shape… less than a quid each too…

They needed a little bit of work to be where I wanted them…
Drop Controller DIY

So using a heat gun I carefully warmed the plastic up to bend it to the position I wanted..
Drop Controller DIY

..and cut the lighting gel to the right size… result πŸ™‚
Drop Controller DIY

Time for a proper test… hooked up the controller..
Drop Controller DIY

Just used two flashes, one valve and plain water to test the controller… wanted to keep it simple so as not to introduce too many variables to the test..

The video shows the flashes in front bouncing off the plexi background but lighting wasn’t quite right so changed them to fire through a frosted piece instead…
Drop Controller DIY

Dialling in was much much easier… was nice having so much precision over the control… the increment/decrement feature is brilliant… takes far less shots to get results and tapping away at the app over Bluetooth just seems more efficient…

Most of the shots I took were just faffing about to get a feel for the hardware and software… I did process out a couple though just because…
Drop Controller DIY

Drop Controller DIY

Very happy with the results so far… looking forward to experimenting more and the next step is to add the other two valves in and see how that goes…

Some useful links…

Martyn’s drop controller website if you fancy having a go yourself…
http://www.dropcontroller.com/

Arduino website…
https://www.arduino.cc/

Martyn’s own site containing some nice info on Arduino stuff
http://www.martyncurrey.com/

<tuffty/>

Drip week

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Drip week

After what seems like an age I managed to grab a much needed week off work… originally I was planning to take a week off during the new moon period and hope for a clear night to have a crack at some deep sky object astrophotography… primarily the Andromeda Galaxy as it should be a relatively DSO to capture for a n00b..

But.. as is the way of things it didn’t work out… just as well as the weather wasn’t much use anyway… so decided to spend a bit of time with the drip rig and try and get to grips with it..

My drip rig has been evolving since I first put it together… one issue I have is space… well the lack of it… I had to make the rig fit in a tight area in my office and be able to be disassembled easily and packed away as required…

Another issue is lighting… due to the lack of space it makes it tricky to position the flashes… lighting the drips needs a degree of flexibility and much like studio lighting there are a few ways you can do it which will give various different looks to the end result.

I had already done a few series of images using just water but also wanted to play with thickening the water… the information on these mix ratios seems to be top secret… plenty of inference on what to use but not so much on mix ratios and effectiveness…

First job was to mix up some thicker water… the stuff generally used is xanthan gum or guar gum… I bought xanthan… not knowing how much I would need I bought a huge bag… turns out it was enough to last me and several others a life time lol…

After a bit of research I settled on 600ml warm/hot water (to help the gum dissolve) and 1/2 tsp of gum… I did try to stick it in a blender but that made it very thick indeed so I sprinkled it over the top whilst whisking it in… looked a little like this…
Drip week

Its not going to fully dissolve so it needs straining… for that I used an old t-shirt…
Drip week

It won’t pass through under its own steam (thick and disturbingly jizz like at this stage!) so you need to squeeze it through… you may need to do it a couple of times by which time you should be left with…
Drip week

I left the water mix to settle over night then tried a few test shots to get a feel for what I would need to do to improve things…
Drip week

Drip week

All seemed good but was obvious the rig was in need of some fettling…

First job was to upgrade the rig a bit to help make it less cumbersome to setup… I made a frame to hold the frosted acrylic sheet (to soften the flash) and stands for the flash guns…

Drip week

Drip week

Called it a day after that…

Following day I started off using the tray… this is large enough that you can get reflection shots… you can either use a background and bounce the flash off it or as I did in these fire through the acrylic sheet… I used coloured gels on the flashes to create the colour..
Drip week

Drip week

Lighting was tricky to dial in… still getting a feel for it and hindsight being what it is I think I might have approached this a little more systematically… problem is I had lots of bits to do to the setup to get it to the next level so was probably doing to much at once but hey ho..

Next thing to try was milk… I used full fat milk which has a thick viscosity… set this up a little differently for this series of shots…
Drip week

Drip week

Drip week

Drip week

Pleased with those results and demonstrates how viscosity affects the look… gives me something to aim for with the water mix…

The following day I went back to water… this time a thicker mix in the drop reservoir and a smaller drip ‘bowl’
Drip week

Adding a little colour to the drip reservoir fluid and composing with the camera dead on this time…
Drip week

Drip week

Drip week

Tried a couple of ‘crowns’ too
Drip week

Drip week

I learnt a lot from this weeks endeavours… Its been a little frustrating at times as I have been trying a little too hard to do too many things at once but my rig is a lot easier to manage now so its ready to evolve again…

The HiViz controller supports three valves but… you have no individual control over each one so you can’t dial each in to account for any subtle differences in the setup… I found that initially non of the valves would drop a single ‘drop’ at the same time even when meticulously aligned and levelled up… you would need to physically adjust the height to ‘tune’ which makes the rig a lot more complex so for now I have stuck to one valve..

The controller will release up to three drops but doing this (in my experience) is simply not reliable… I spent a lot of time trying to dial it all in one drop at a time… got a perfect two drop collision but then introducing a third drop seemed to throw all that out the window (I was only trying to make the 3rd drop visible in the frame rather than try anything too fancy at this time…)

I gave up with that for now and spent more time on the mixture… there is not a lot of info about it on the web… plenty of posts eluding to the ‘secret’ recipe but nothing conclusive… plus actual effectiveness is also dictated by the drip hardware (gotta love physics)…

I tried a few different mixes with varying degrees of success but each mix meant I had to recalibrate as the viscosity effected the timing of the drops… I found I had to increase the size of the drops to get them to even release from the valve.. this of course altered the dynamics which meant dialling back in again…

The other issue I had was dialling the flash controller in… the HiViz multi trigger 3 has a coarse and fine adjustment dial… you need to dial in initially with the coarse dial then tweak with fine… in reality the coarse is very coarse… I literally only moved it a hair and it made a huge difference an the fine tuning didn’t have enough in it to pull it back so it was quite a juggle..

I now plan to have a go at building this… http://www.dropcontroller.com/ Parts wise its quite cheap… you can control all the valves separately and accurately too

Will post about that when I get around to doing it of course πŸ™‚

<tuffty/>

First attempt at focus stacking…

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Had a bit of spare time so tried my hand at a bit of macro focus stacking on the flowers I bought my long suffering wife for our wedding anniversary..

Using a 100mm macro lens I got in close to one of the flower heads (don’t ask what it was… I just buy flowers based on what kinda looks nice lol)… even at f16 the depth of field is really shallow this close to the subject so the technique involves taking a number of shots focusing front to back in steps… I took 10 images in total…

You then do basic editing in Lightroom, select the images and then you can add them as layers to Photoshop by right clicking on the selected images…

Once in Photoshop you then go to Edit > Auto Align Layers (select Auto)… then Edit > Auto Blend Layers (select Stack)

This will process all the images (layers) by applying layer masks as required and blend all the focused areas of the layers together… once saved the final TIFF ends up in Lightroom for final editing..

Here is the result..

First attempt at focus stacking...

Happy with that… will try it on some other stuff soon πŸ™‚

<tuffty/>

Where has all the time gone!!

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So it would appear that I haven’t posted for some time… to be honest there has not been a load to post about as I have not taken many pictures and been busy fixing cars and work related fun and games…

As mentioned in “Last post of 2016” the S3 was broken… turns out it wasn’t the rear diff/haldex after all but the centre CV of the prop… the cage had shattered and it was pretty much carnage in there..

Where has all the time gone!

Joys of owing a car with power… didn’t help as the trusty daily A2 developed a fuel leak from the tandem pump and made all the coolant hoses swell and leak… so ended up with two broken cars at the same time!!

Both are now fixed and working as they should… for now at least lol..

Inspired by borrowing my dads old Nikon film camera I grabbed a cheap Canon AE-1 from eBay… came with a couple of lenses and needed a proper clean so the detailer in me got to work… pleased with the results of what is essentially a 37 year old camera

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Have loaded some Ilford HP5 B&W film in and will post the results when I have finished the roll… the main downside of actual film photography is the whole end to end process of taking pictures to getting the final images can be so protracted for casual use…

I recently managed to acquire a cheap tracking mount… I have been looking at these for some time now but they are generally too expensive to justify the amount of use I time to give it at the moment.

The Sky Watcher Star Adventurer comes as a kit of everything you are likely to need to get started… I won’t go into detail in this post but you can have a read of Phil Harts review here…. I will do a write up at a later date when I have had a chance to produce some results… It will warrant a post of its own as tracked astro photography can get quite involved.

I did a quick test at the weekend to get my head around polar alignment and the basics of setting it all up… The moon is up at the moment so wide field stuff was off the table for now plus the Milkyway’s core is visible at around 3am this time of year… not much chance of that happening on a school night.

The velux in my loft office is north facing so meant I could do a test setup in relative comfort.. using a combination of Stellarium and a Polar Finder app on the phone I got the mount polar aligned (hopefully)

I tried a variety of settings and exposure times… not quite hit the sweet spot yet I feel but its close and will of course be largely dependant on conditions on the night of shooting…

I used my 6D body and the 70-200f2.8 for the test… typical exposure time for this using the 500 rule would be around 2.5 seconds before star trailing would potentially start to creep in… the shot below was taken over 2 minutes on the tracker!!

Where has all the time gone!

Some more editing would have gotten rid of the glow but tbh it was more to push exposure times and validate polar alignment… 2 minute exposures would be the extreme to be honest as DSLR sensors heat up on long exposures causing noise…

The mount also had a lunar setting so had to try that too… with lunar tracking engaged it appeared to keep the moon in frame pretty much all the time… this is ideal as it gives you more chance of getting focus spot on…

Took 5 shots using the intervolmeter as the trigger… all were in the same spot in frame and all sharp.

Where has all the time gone!

I have some time off work soon so plan to explore getting a Moon rise, Milkyway and a DSO (deep sky object) shot of the Andromeda galaxy…

Thats about it for now… I should be updating a little more regularly now the weather is getting better… I will feel more like getting out shooting… plus I need to use up the B&W films and get them developed…

Here are a few pics I have taken over the past couple of months though… nothing spectacular but I like them πŸ™‚

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

Where has all the time gone!

<tuffty/>