Cuba in November?

My next photography workshops in Cuba (legal from the U.S.) are November 5-14, 2015 and January 7-16, 2016. The cost is $4,495 per person, double occupancy (plus $350 for singles) and includes nearly everything except your costs to/from/in Miami. There are still open slots for the November 2015 workshop. The January 2016 workshop is currently sold out, but we’re accepting people to the waiting list.

For more information, see my Cuba Workshop page.

Dos Mojitos!
Dos Mojitos!

Cuba Workshop, January 2015

At 12:05am on January 16, sixteen photographers and their partners were the very first Americans to land in Havana under the new rules announced in December by President Obama. There was no fanfare, just the usual midnight airport skeleton crew that took two hours to x-ray our bags. One of us did get “special treatment” for arriving with enough gear for a feature-film crew and what could have been mistaken for a suicide vest. For most of the group, it was everyone’s first visit to Cuba.

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A New Backup Strategy

I’m about to run out of disk storage for my Lightroom image catalog, so in preparation for a new iMac — one that supports a Thunderbolt disk system — I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade my backup systems. This is a long blog post, but it thoroughly covers what I’m now using for backup and what I learned in the process of getting to the final result.

My Former Backup Scheme

My backup strategy for the past three or four years was “pretty good”. My first-level backup was from my iMac to an Apple Time Capsule via Time Machine. For the second level, I made two copies at the end of every month of each of my internal SSD and 2TB rotating drive to two pairs of portable USB drives. Why two sets of removable backups? One set I kept off site in a storage locker. The other set I kept here at home for two reasons: (1) I’m actually paranoid enough that I wanted one set always off site (i.e., not in-transit) so I took a new set to the storage locker each month and only then retrieved the previous month’s set. Otherwise I’d have both the old and new sets at home simultaneously; (2) Although I’ve never had to recover from a major disaster like fire or theft, I have occasionally needed to recover a corrupted or accidentally deleted file. Having a full backup here in the house makes that very easy. Sure, I’ve got Time Machine, but I’ve had that completely fail on me and lost everything on the Time Capsule. Time Machine by itself is not an adequate backup solution.

New Backup Requirements

My new requirements are as follows:

  • 8TB of usable, local backup storage, updated multiple times/day from my iMac’s internal and external drives.
  • An identical server located at a remote location, replicated via the Internet daily and automatically from the local backup.
  • 12TB non-redundant Time Machine storage, separate from the above, for versioned files.

My Solution

After lots of research and testing, here’s what I’ve ended up with:

  • (1) Synology 214 DiskStation NAS (network-attached storage) server [US$300] with (2) Western Digital 4TB Red drives [US$175 each] configured as a single RAID0 (striped, non-redundant) disk group in a single 8TB volume for the local backup, connected to my iMac via Gigabit Ethernet.
  • An identical system to the one above, but located at a remote location and linked to the first one via the Internet. This is like having my own remote cloud server.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner [US$40] app for backing up the iMac drives to the local NAS server.
  • A 16GB USB 2.0 flash drive [US$9] as an OS X Recovery Drive.
  • Total cost: US$1,349, which doesn’t include my Time Machine storage.

I sync each of the two drives in my iMac to a separate shared folders on the local NAS backup server every six hours using Carbon Copy Cloner. Once a day, at midnight, I then replicate the shared folders on the local and remote backup servers using Synology’s built-in shared-folder syncing. I’m storing the files on the NAS servers in sparsebundles, the same format used by Time Machine. The synchronization uses the standard rsync utility, which transfers only disk blocks that have been modified since the last pass.

I don’t recommend this solution for beginners. I’ve got quite a bit of experience configuring and managing Linux servers, so these DiskStations are almost like old friends to me. Synology has done an excellent job in making their servers easy to setup and manage, but I still think it would be a bit scary and frustrating for someone who wasn’t already familiar with Linux and disk/file servers.

Intermission: If all you care about is the solution, you can stop here. But if you want to understand why I’ve settled on this solution for backup, and the tests and considerations that went into making these selections, read on!

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Sony RX100 MKIII

Sony updates its very popular RX100 MKII with a new third version. The camera is already being heralded as the best-ever compact or point-and-shoot. But at $800, it’s also the most expensive. The new model touts a cool pop-up electronic viewfinder (EVF) in lieu of a hot shoe, and an excellent new lens that mimics a fast (f/1.8-2.8) mid-rage 24-70mm (full-frame equivalent) zoom. The image quality is great, but at that price, Frederick Van Johnson and I ask, “Who’s this for?”

Sony a7/a6000 Intervalometer Hack

Update: It appears this entire project is no longer necessary. When I did this a few months ago, no one was offering an intervalometer for the Sony Multi-Terminal port. Now it appears there are some out there: http://goo.gl/Iy4zMJ

One weakness of the Sony a7/a7r/a7s and a6000 ecosystems is the lack of an intervalometer. There are a few options like TriggerTrap, but that and some others depend on a mobile phone, which seems unnecessarily complex and unreliable. There are a number of videos and articles demonstrating how to combine a Sony remote and an inexpensive intervalometer, but they don’t provide enough detail for those who don’t want to experiment. Here are the step-by-step instructions.

1. Get the parts.

I used a Sony RM-VPR1 wired remote and this intervalometer. You’ll also need some two-conductor narrow gauge wire (~22 gauge works), a soldering iron, and optionally a connector if you want to be able to use the remote without the intervalometer attached.

DSC01925

 

(Not shown: the cable that connects the Sony remote to the camera.)

2. Disassemble the remote.

Four external screws and one that secures the circuit board to the case.

3. Cut a notch for the wire.

Use a small knife or drill to cut a notch into the rear of the remote’s case for the wire to pass through.

DSC019354. Solder the wire to the remote’s switch.

DSC01929

Solder the two-conductor wire to the remote’s main switch as shown above. (Click to enlarge.)

5. Cut the connector off of the intervalometer.

I left about 8″ of wire coming out of the intervalometer.

6. Use a connector to mate the intervalometer to the remote.

As shown above, the wire connected to point A should mate with the white wire coming out of the intervalometer. Point B should mate with the intervalometer’s yellow wire. (Polarity matters!) The intervalometer’s red wire is unused.DSC01932

I used a 3-conductor molex connector as shown above. Because I keep the two components connected all the time, I’ve secured the connector using cable ties as shown earlier.

7. Test!

Connect the remote to the camera. Both the remote and the intervalometer should be able to trigger the shutter. Don’t forget to enable the remote in the camera’s menus.

8. Reassemble the remote.

Route the wire through the remote as shown below. This will act as strain relief and won’t interfere with the operation of the remote’s buttons.

DSC01928That’s all there is. You should now have all of the intervalometer’s functions as well as the original functions of the Sony remote.