Monthly Archives: February 2017

Create a video lamp

I’m doing quite a lot of video conferences from home and I’ve decided to improve my setup, to have better quality, and ideally, at some point, be able to use it for some Youtube tutorials. I still somehow naively think I’ll eventually find some time to do that…

Anyway, as I’ve discovered recently and explained in my last post, it happens my light setup is sub-optimal. I’ve looked at theory and at option for buying lamps, but I couldn’t found anything satisfying. My main reproaches were:

  • boo bulky, too professional: I don’t have much space and I definitely don’t want to have stands (or drill too many holes in my walls)
  • awfully expensive: I’m not ready to invest several hundreds of francs/dollars in this topic, and this seems to be the starting price
  • disputable quality: I found some cheap solutions for filming with DSLR in China, but they require batteries to run. This is not eco-friendly (I got 230V at home) and the few which had technical specs were indicating currents in volts… Too shady for me.

I happened to have a 30W LED R7s lamp that I bought to replace an halogen and we ended up not using, because it was not enough brights nor dimmable.

Time to hit the workshop and make stuff happen. I scavenged the cable from a broken lamp that was lying around and as usual, got some wood tiles from my trusted IKEA RUNNEN stash. Here is a quick run of the project. As usual, pictures can be seen in original size by clicking them.

As a quick note, I used very little hardware:

  • oscillating tool (FEIN-like) for cutting
  • power drill for drilling / screwing
  • soldering station
  • hot glue gun

First step is to build the lamp holder: cut a tile in 2, drill a 10mm hole, affix to the other with screws. A nail is used on each side to hold the bulb in place and ensure connectivity

Bulb is held in place by 2 10mm holes in the horizontal tabs and a nail on each side
Back plate holds the 2 tabs with glue and 2 screws
Detail on the back and other side

Next step is to connect the wires to the nails. Some simple soldering: put soldering on the wire, bend in place, then solder to the nail. Surprisingly, the nail had no issue properly holding the solder. Then, isolate with tape and cut to have it look cleaner.

Solder the wire to the nail
Hide the metal under isolating tape
and cut the tape to have a cleaner finish

Next step is to affix diffusers, to have a nice and smooth light. The power supply wire is held in place with a nail and hot glue. I cut pieces of disks from mdf (the back of an old billy shelf) then nailed them on top and bottom. One of them had to have a small hole for the cable and I broke one of my small file 🙁 Next time, I’ll pull the dremel. I used cooking paper (sulfur paper) as diffuser: I’m a bit scared about the fire hazard and I want to make sure it doesn’t produce too much heat. The diffusing paper is held in place by the engineer best friend, tape. This will have to be reworked.

the 2 diffusers holders in place
Diffuser in place

The lamp is held in place with 2 powerful magnets (1cmx1cmx1cm neodymium), on the chassis of my desk

Detail on magnets holding the lamp. it connects to the screws heads.
Lamp in place and working

Lessons learnt:

  • I need a second lamp for testing, this is so powerful, this completely breaks the balance of my setup
  • Baking paper is very brittle and super hard to work with
  • Hot glue is evil, each time I’m using it, it’s worse. But it pulls me. So evil.
  • Lamp is too powerful, I should use a stronger diffuser, further away (bigger disks). Maybe a simple piece of white paper will do
  • Some solder drop on my pant, I now have a hole :-/
  • Simple projects like that are better done by trying in the workshop rather than trying to do plan, I actually tried and failed a 3D model on wednesday evening to do with the laser cutter. The result would have been nicer and more reproductible, but I had way more fun prototyping 🙂
  • The heat is under control, less scary than expected


Overall, this is worsening my current setup but I’m pretty happy. This was a quick hack (2.5 hours end-to-end) and this worked as expected, with very little to update. I’ll definitely order a new bulb and build a second lamp.

From better video to better still pictures

Earlier today, I was in a meeting and I was thinking how to improve the quality of my video conference that I often do from home. I was at the time especially focussed on how to improve the sound quality. After some Nerd Sniping from my boss, I ended up reading about some internal document that basically describe the following steps:

  • get a decent webcam: done
  • get some proper lighting: I thought it was ok for my home setup, but some tests proved I need some improvement. More later.
  • get a good microphone: well, this is 3rd step and I got sidetracked

About the lighting, the theory explains that you need 3 lights. I’m not an expert so I’ll just link the video I just watched on the topic and that sums up the totality of my knowledge:

My current lighting strategy involves 2 IKEA LED lights (they seem to be named JANSJÖ) that I use as indirect light, hitting a white paper and on my right and a wall. I don’t have a hair light but I have a GU10 spotlight that I can redirect so I’ll focus on this later. As I discovered this lightning is far from being powerful enough, I scrambled and found some other LED lights we used when the kids were babies. They seem to be named DIODER but we have only 3 heads remaining. Each head has 6 LED and some more basic tests showed they were providing correct power at roughly 1/3 of the distance I could use them. As amortization is quadratic, it happens I need something like 54 LEDs to have proper lighting. As 48 LEDs seems to be a good standard, I’ll probably buy 2 sets in the near future, when I find them at an agreeable price (read cheap knock off from aliexpress).

Anyway, I was back to square 1: my video conference did not improve but I now had spare lights (and some stuff in my office). Then, it hit me: I had issue taking picture in the evening when I did my last laser-cutter build (free teaser: it’s a gopro box and you can find all the glory details in the relevant post). So, I got my hot glue gun, some cardboard (it happens that a empty litter package was available) and started to build.

The build is pretty straightforward: Cutting, hot-glueing, double-side tape. It’s called an ugly prototype :-). Some pictures of the process (just click to enlarge).

Glue the sides
Adapt the roof
Add the lights
Professional shooting set!
go pro box
laser-cut cube

After 2 hours, it’s time for a small conclusion:

  • To have enough Depth of Field when shooting macro, you need to close like crazy (technical term). These pictures are typically f/25 and 10s exposure
  • When using 10s exposure in a flat, you don’t move. And you don’t breathe. Actually, you even hold the cat to prevent vibrations.
  • Your best friend when shooting long-ish exposure on the fly (i.e. holding your camera and shooting 1/8th) is your worst enemy here: disable Image stabilization and the pictures are going to be sharper.
  • Don’t press the button: use a remote or the timer from the camera and walk back as far as you can
  • This is studio time, pick your lens carefully. You don’t care about aperture, you care about piqué  (or whatever it’s called in English, optical sharpness?)
  • Shooting macro will actually give you 24MPixels to look at your stuff. Most of the pictures didn’t make it just because I was ashamed of them (my wedding ring is actually disgusting when I look at it from close)

Anyway, my video conference setup did not improve (yet) but I’m researching about microphones, so expect more on the topic soon.

New zoom lens

RC car drifting in snow, with my boy driving

There are currently 2 topics I wanted to talk about, the first one is the situation in the US, the second one is photography. I feel there is enough depression and sadness around there to skip the first topic and focus on the second for now. And I’ll soon be travelling to the states and I’d rather avoid having an advanced screening when landing, let’s be honest, there are more interesting prospects, like a fresh beer.

I recently upgraded my telephoto lens to a canon EF 70-300mm F/4-5.6L. My current camera body is an EOS 80D, which means the crop sensor is giving me an actual 100-480mm range which is a really powerful zoom. I ended up putting a Hoya UV filter on it to protect the entry lens.

I’ve been fumbling with it for a few weeks and had a mitigated Point of view on the resulting pictures: some of them were awesome, some of them were barely medium, quite fuzzy. This week end, I decided to give it a better shot and spent a few hours playing with it, first in the city then with my boy playing with his RC car. The initial idea was to get a set of raw picture to do some post-processing using lightroom and actually start to be able to use it, but the jpeg from the camera were mostly good enough that I decided to post them.

It’s time for some conclusions about this new lens:

Detail of Zurich main train station (crop)
  • the lens is long and heavy, there is no point denying it. You can’t hold the camera with a single hand, the total body + lens is more than 1.5kg. Be ready for your back, neck and hands. I currently have a camera dedicated backpack and I end up picking the right subset of gear depending on where I’m going and what I plan to shoot.
  • 480mm (300mm * 1.6 due to crop sensor) is a very long equivalent focal. Even with f/5.6 and an impressive IS (stabilisator), it’s easy to have fuzzy pictures due to shaking.
  • IS has 2 modes: 1 is for all direction stabilization, 2 is for vertical only. Choosing the right one is key if you want to have a decent picture (the stabilisator will actually kill a smooth horizontal movement and make a moving subject fuzzy). Typical example would be the RC car, travelling pretty darn fast.
  • it has a really nice bokeh
  • it’s weather sealed, so no issue going outside in a drizzle (not that you want to shoot picture in these conditions usually unless you’re in the gloomy grey style…)
  • It’s NOT compatible with focal multiplier from Canon, so don’t expect a cheap super long zoom on full frame
  • it has no ring to attach to a tripod, this is an optional accessory that canon is selling independently. That’s quite cheap from Canon IMHO and this ring is nigh impossible to find in Switzerland. It however comes with lens hood and a nice pouch for storage, albeit not really protective (no foam or dampening material)
  • It’s not constant aperture, which is a pain when shooting manual (need to tune speed when changing zoom) but what you lose in feature, you gain in weight, size and money.
  • this lens is full-frame compatible and is my first step toward that direction.

I managed to shoot a few decent pictures (actually, more than I expected), but mostly:

pigeon head (crop)
  • even in broad daylight, don’t hesitate to crank up ISO. I often ended up at 250/320 which allows to reduce the exposure. With zoom fully extended, shooting at slower speed than 1/250 always almost lead to not perfectly focused pictures (hopefully, not because I have Parkinson disease)
  • 300mm and f/5.6 gives a very shallow field of depth. That can be good for portraits (especially due to the nice bokeh) but you definitely want to close a bit if you’re unsure about focus (and there you go, boosting ISO again then)
  • shooting inside is mostly a no go (aperture is not bright enough) but using an indirect flash, it actually produce marvels.

Pictures here are some examples (cropped or reduced in size), a much bigger set can be found in the dedicated google photo album. I would not call this article a review as the issues I’ve had are mostly from the operator, not the hardware, but I’m definitely super happy about the purchase and the result I have with it, highly recommended. Despite the price ticket, this has convinced me to focus on the “L” lenses for future purchases.