Category Archives: Reviews

Fine Art prints done local

Recently, I was contacted by a client, asking if they could purchase two of my images, but as Posters prints (24×36 inches).

It is not usual for me to get Print orders from 5×7 to 11×17, but never something as big as 24×36!

I said Yes, and then began to panic, especially when I realized the two requested images were taken back in 2013, with my Canon EOS Xti/400D, which is only 10.1 megapixels!

Images taken at Marsh Creek State Park during a sunset.
Images taken at Marsh Creek State Park during a sunset.

Going Big

Starting on Google, I searched for suggestions on how to enlarge files without losing quality.

I knew from passing interests, that there were some specialized software for doing larger than ‘normal’ sizes, and some of them were interesting, but I could not justify the cost for just two images.

Eventually, I found a trick with just using Photoshop.

Basically, instead of enlarging it in one step, in my case 3888×2592 to 11096×7396 (or 285.39%), you do a series of incremental enlargements at 110%, up to the size needed.

I did it both ways, and you can see the difference!

But, one problem.

Too Big

The final working file size.

Hay Bales at Stroud Preserve 2013
Some stylized hay bales taken in Chester County PA.

The color image, “Marsh Creek sunset” is a 16-bit HDR (11096×7396 @ 300dpi) file weighing in at 1.38 GBs; the B&W images was not as bad, coming in at 403 MBs.

Dealing with files over 1 GB is not usual for me on my local computer, but I knew my Print house in New York City (NYC) had a 200MB limit (TIFF 8-bit sRGB, no compression).

With the color file, the first thing that I did was reduce it from 16-bit to 8-bit, which got me down to 466MBs.

Finally, after some design changes of the poster layout, I got both files down to about 378MBs, still far too large for NYC.

Finding a Printer

So I started to look at local places to print, and Brilliant Studios in Exton popped up.

After looking at their home page, I needed to visit!

My Tech Geek was kicking in!

During my days at Kodak and TV Guide, I had to visited many commercial print facilities around the United States and Canada, and on the surface, Brilliant Studio looked too good to be true.

So I emailed the main contact on the website, Bob Tursack, who also happens to be the CEO, with the information on my  poster project.

Changing Printers is not an easy thing, especially when it comes to color printing.

I’ve been using the same Printer in NYC for 10+ years, so switching to someone new, on such a unique project, from my point of view, was very risky.

During several email exchanges with Bob, I mentioned my file size issue, and to my surprised, I never got the idea there was a limit, which seemed odd considering the 200MBs limit in NYC.

I was also introduced to the term giclée printing, “fine art digital prints made on inkjet printers.

Sounds like a marketing term, but when you dig deeper, there is a broader color range and papers.

Bob suggested the Hahenmule Baryta Gloss, “this paper has its own quality that is akin to traditional darkroom silver fiber papers”.

Now he had me hooked.

In my youth, I spent hundreds of hours in the darkroom, printing black & white photos, for hobby, school and work, so this was music to my ears!

After a day or so, late in the holiday season, Bob invites me in for Proofing.

I was excited.

Oh Wow!

I arrived at a building, that I had passed countless times in my 17+ years of living in Downingtown, questioning what I was going to see.

I walked into the reception area, and introduced myself to the receptionist.

While waiting, I looked around at various books on the tables and prints covering the walls.

My commercial printing background was kicking in.

Was this stuff being printed here?

I flipped through several art books, and the quality was amazing.

After several minutes, Bob arrived and escorted me back to the Proofing area.

Past the beautiful offices and sub-studios, and finally into the main printing area.

My jaw was on the floor!

Traditionally, high volume color printing is not a clean activity.

This place seemed spotless.

Even their 60+ year old Heidelberg offset printer looks brand new!
(If I remember correctly it was imported from Germany and rebuilt!)

Anyhow…

I snickered to myself as I entered the nearby Proofing booth, similar to the one I entered at Kodak, on my first day, to test for color blindness and how many places had I visited that had no concept of controlled lighting.

Part of me was in Geek heaven.

Needless to say, the Proofs looked great, and things that I worried about in my head, did not come up.

A couple of days later, I returned to pick up the final 24×36 prints, and they were gorgeous!

The size, print quality and paper all worked together to enhance the final pieces and I was extremely happy to present them to my client!

A Gem of a Neighbor

Again, I am blown away with this GEM of a Print house, right in my back yard, roughly 2 miles away!

I’m also amazed that I had never heard of them before, and they have been there since 2003!

As for pricing, it is definitely more expense then going with my NYC house, even with shipping, but now I have two options to present to future clients!

Update – A couple of days later, another new client wanted  two 11x14s, and I immediately sent the files to Brilliant Studios, and also got excellent prints! – I have printed these in the past, and the yellows tended to be a little ‘hot’, but when done via the giclée printing, they were still rich without being too vibrant.

 

So with that being said, who wants a Fine Art Print?

- Andrew
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Review Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
My Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for Insurance purposes.

On March 20, I purchased the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens.

I did a great deal of research be the purchase, and sweated how I was going to pay for much a lens.

Then there was the justification, and knowledge that it will probably not be replaced in the Canon lineup for at least 10 years (in theory, based on the 14 year lifespan of the previous model), and it’s safe to assume that the actual camera/sensor will only get better, and my current camera bodies are on the low-end…

Anyhow, I got it!

Four monthly later, I thought I would add my thoughts into the mix.

Amazon Review

Shortly after receiving the Len, I wrote a Review on Amazon – “Hate It! – Going to Cost me More Money!“, which was not well received, because I was a little too sarcastic…

Guess I was still a little upset after my last attempt to buy something from Canon direct… another story…

But at the same time there are points that are valid, and I will add to them in this post.

As one of the commentators suggested, I was mocking the cost of the lens, which was out of the price range of most buyers.

I agree, this lens, on a pure cost alone, is well beyond most camera owner’s budgets, but as I pointed out, I have owned Canon for nearly 40 years (film and digital); it was part of a ‘mid-life crisis’ purchase and my first L-series lens. I had ‘earned’ it, damn it!

Continuing, I said that I also opening a new insurance rider with this particular lens in mind, which adds to the cost.

As mentioned, I have been using and collecting cameras for over 40 years, starting with my first camera, a Canonet from the early 1960s.

At this point, I have six camera bodies and over a dozen different lens, filters, tripods, etc., so I was more than a little surprised when putting an insurance list together, to see how much I have invested over the years, with the 100-400mm being the single biggest line item.

I did NOT take the lens out of the box until I notified my insurance company!

One point to my Amazon Review Subject line contention. (1-0)

The next was filters.

I have several 58mm and 72mm glass filters, but the 100-400mm being 77mm. I needed to buy at least a Circular Polarizer Filter, and again in reading reviews, as some stated, ‘if you are going to spend this much money, are you really going to put cheap glass in front’, plus the lens hood is special designed with this type of filter in mind!

I will also have to upgrade my square 85mm filters to 100mm, but I should have invested in a 100mm system to begin with. My bad.

Another point to my Amazon Review Subject line contention. (2-0)

As I started to review my first images in Adobe Lightroom, using the 100-400mm on my T5i (700D), I did notice ‘things’ did appear to be crisper, and the first image I pulled up, I did say ‘Holy Sh1t!”, but since then, not in all cases.

I’ve shot in direct over-head sun, 1/1000+ at f8+ where it should be sharp, but found some softness, and other times, and I’ve gotten down to 1/30 full open aperture, and razor crisp – all hand-held!

With some of the close-up testing that I’ve done, I am seeing some fraying on some edges, that does not appear to be chromatic aberrations that I am accustomed to seeing.

I am getting the distinct feeling that the sensor (APS-C) is having problems with the resolution detail.

I bought this lens, with the knowledge that it will probably not be replaced in the Canon lineup for at least 10 years (in theory, based on the 14 year lifespan of the previous model), and it’s safe to assume that the actual camera/sensor will only get better, and my current camera bodies are on the low-end…

I will not really see the beauty of this lens without a serious upgrade to a full frame sensor camera body, or put another way, future purchase, future cost.

Point 3 for my Amazon Review Subject hypothesis.

After 4 months of Ownership

Now that I have used the 100-400mm on my T5i (700D) for the past 4 plus months, I wanted to do a follow-up Review, and change the Amazon Review from a 1 Star rating.

Auto-Focus & Ring Placement

In my original commentary on Amazon, I talked about the Auto-Focus (AF) being very fast, but I have also noticed that in fast close-up situations, it can fail very quickly while trying to track/pan with the subject, small insects in my case, carpenter bees.

During the early spring, they fight/protect their nests at high-speed dive bombing attacks, so trying to focus quickly can be difficult at best.

Okay, just switch to manual focus, and focus across on the plane.

No problem, for a shot or two.

For me, the problem is the placement of the Focusing ring, it is the inner most ring, right next to the body.

I have big hands and fingers, so while I am trying to focus, I can not easily steady the lens, the balance is off.

Not that it is going to make any difference, but I would have preferred the Focusing ring closer to the front of the lens to help with stability, with the Zoom ring in the middle and the Zoom touch adjustment ring in the rear.

By the way, I’m not a big fan of the Zoom touch adjustment ring.

Seems like too much real estate on the barrel for too little function, for me.

Lens Envy

I shot event photography, and the range on the 100-400mm is great!

But at the same time, it attracts attention.

I don’t mind, occasionally chatting with folks at an event, but how many times do you really want to hear “That is a big lens!” or “I have Lens Envy”.

This being my first off-white, L-series lens, I guess it might come with the territory…

Conclusions, so far…

The easiest answer is Yes, if you can afford it.

As I have hopefully illustrated, there can be more expenditures beyond the base price, and depending on how you have purchased your older equipment, the amount will be a variable.

My two biggest mistakes up front –

1) I should have had insurance earlier. Thankfully, in 35+ years, I have only ‘killed’ one camera (Canon A-1 (film)) and one Lens (70-300mm f4-5.6). I’ve been VERY lucky!

2) Filters – When I was looking into square filter systems, I thought long and hard about 85mm vs 100mm filter systems, and finally bought a 85mm system, and now I’m kicking myself…

Looking into the future, I can’t wait to pay off this puppy and get a new camera body!

Would I buy this lens again?

I hope not…

I LOVE the one I got!

- Andrew
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Marco Polo by Laurence Bergreen

I just finished the audio version of Marco Polo” by Laurence Bergreen, inspired by the recent release of the NetFlix series, which I LIKED, and I wanted to do some follow-up learning.

Think for a second… What do you know of Marco Polo?

I’m not going to answer that, because I have read the book, but I guarantee you that you will know more after you have finished!

The Listen itself is rather dry; the Narrator, Paul Boehmer, has a good voice for the job, but I wish another ‘voice’ would separate the Author’s comments/thoughts from the References.

I will be going back and re-listening to this;  there is a ton of Info and Detail.

One has to remember that we are dealing with late 13th century accounts of travels that were well beyond ‘normal,’ ‘civilized’ thought at that time.

Do a simple time travel in your mind…

Fire is your only real source of Life…
No real books to speak of…
How many people knew how to write?
How many people could afford to write?

Marco’s best work was done in prison?

Sorry… “Spoilers”

If you like to Read/Listen to this type of Historic literature, and this time frame (1200s – 1300s), may I also suggest Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford, which gives a much broader look at the Khan’s family reign over the Mongol empire. (I’ve listened to this one twice already!)

The Kahn’s tolerance of all religions, something that is very much missed in this day and age, continues to amaze me. We could do better with a revisit of the ‘old days’…

That being said, Marco Polo” by Laurence Bergreen, is well worth the Listen/Read.

As Bergreen points out, no original surviving manuscripts exist of Marco’s journeys, and the various stories have been told and retold so many times that we will never know the true extent of what was witnessed.

Anyhow, I’m off to LibriVox to download “The Book of Sir Marco Polo, the Venetian, concerning the kingdoms and marvels of the East, volume 1,” translated by Henry Yule… Just under 10 hours…

- Andrew
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Cymatics by Nigel Stanford

This morning I was doing my daily social media check-in, and on one of my walls appeared a link to Fascinating: How Matter Reacts to Sound.

I got 41 seconds into the Link, and I had to jump to the YouTube link…

CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music – Nigel Stanford

I have been there pretty much ever since…

Cymatics is from Nigel Stanford’s new album, Solar Echoes, which is a Double Album download on iTunes and as mp3, wav files for only $9.95!

I have lost count of how many times I have listened to and watched this track!

It is mesmerizing!

The cinematographer,Timur Civan, captures nature “performing” to a mixture of well-crafted tones and beats similar to those found in Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre, Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield, and Sky.

To my ear, it is very addicting and can induce some serious desk dancing.

What is also very cool is that Nigel Stanford, Shahir Daud (Director), Timur Civan, and gang have also posted six mini videos of how they created and filmed each of the classic science experiments performed in the video!

I can only imagine how much fun it would have been to take part in creating this video!

To say that they had way too much fun doing this video would be an understatement.

While listening to Cymatics, I started to explore the rest of his site, and found out why Nigel’s music and style seemed familiar to me!

TimeScapes by Tom Lowe

TimeScapes was released at the end of 2011 and was an instant hit because of it’s stunning cinematography, slow motion capture, and music!

If you have not seen it, check out the Official Website and watch the clip!

If you have any interest in nature or science, and like great music, both CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music and TimeScapes are well worth your time!

If you happen to be a science teacher, the “Behind the Scenes” video for CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music are very well done, and are simple overviews of some classic science experiments, and should easily invite good conversations in the classroom.

Needless to say I can’t wait to show my kids when they get home!

- Andrew
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Scrapple Review

I was first introduced to scrapple at my boarding school in Middletown, Delaware. I was told, that it had been brought to the school, by a faculty member who grew up in western Pennsylvania.

When scrapple was served, it was on large baking sheets, thrown into the oven to broil until the surface was brown… any number of shades of brown, venturing into black upon occasion.

When presented, there were generally few takers of these darkened trapezoids, but for a few, this mystery meat was very welcomed!

Over the years, and mostly through social media, I have been engaged in many conversations about this ridiculed ‘food’, and have decided to stand up for this wonderful treat brought to us by the Pennsylvania Dutch, also known as panhaas or “pan rabbit”.

The following is my Review of the various Scrapples that I have been able to find, and I look forward to try more!

Cooking

There are several different ways to cook scrapple, and as mentioned earlier, I was first introduced to oven baked, which if not done right, one is trying to eat brick slabs.

For these reviews, I took a scrapple loaf, and cut into 4 equal slabs, roughly 1/2 inch thick, and pan-fried them.

Over the years, I have switched from a dry pan, to either margarine, oil (corn & olive) or butter, depending on what else I am eating or how decadent I am feeling.

In these reviews, I have used margarine and half of a loaf, including side piece.

Why a side piece? – Try it with a lot of butter in a small pan some time! The uneven shape can cook very differently! (I did mention decadent…)

Habbersett Scrapple

“Habbersett brand has been around since 1863. The original facility was located in Media, PA” – Habbersett website

I have eaten, by far, more Habbersett then any other.

I have cooked, grilled, broiled pan and deep-fried this stuff!

It is my “bread ‘n butter” scrapple.

In terms of the loaf, Habbersett reminds me more of a bread loaf than others I have seen, and when cut-up there are more trapezoid shapes. This is the inter geek in me speaking.

Side Piece – Most folks aim for uniform slabs, and miss one of the more tricky parts to cook, but if done right, you can more textures with the finished piece!

Spices – For most, Habbersett seems to be the most peppery of the three that I have tried so far, and because of this, goes very well with scrambled eggs or cheddar cheese!

[Notes/Update]

One reader commented –

I found Habberset to be very greasy and “popped” a great deal when I cooked it. Maybe the grease is what gives it the extra flavor that you like, but I found it to be a mess.” – Peter S

I agree there does appear to be more fat/greasy, which would add to the flavor, but no one can say eating scrapple is healthy! With my 50th right around the corner, I can’t be eating this stuff everyday!

Rapa Scrapple

“In 1926 two brothers from Bridgeville, Delaware founded the RAPA Scrapple manufacturing plant.” – Rapa website

Several of my Delaware based friends have mentioned Rapa, and when I tried this, the first thing that struck me, was how square the loaf was, and a course texture on the outside.

The squareness of the loaf, made cutting the 4 slabs equally, very easy, but for some reason they did seem smaller.

Noting to mention about the pan frying, and I was easily able to get a golden brown crust.

Taste test – The general flavor was rather bland to me, and I did eventually add more salt and ground black pepper to it, but I did like the courser grade of cornmeal.

Hatfield Lean Scrapple

Over 110 years ago John C. Clemens began Hatfield Quality Meats’ tradition of satisfying customers with quality, delicious pork products in the Philadelphia farmer’s markets. ” – Hatfield Quality Meats

I have seen the Hatfield name most of my life when shopping, and they do have some good meats, but I can not say the same for the scrapple.

One of the first things you notice about the package, is “Lean”.

When I first mentioned I was trying Hatfield, a Facebook friend commented “What’s the point in scrapple?!”

I have to agree.

When I unwrapped the loaf, it was also fairly uniform, but with rounded edges. Cutting into quarters was easy, with the cut edges a little but rougher then normal.

Cooking time seemed longer to get the medium brown crust I like, but it could have been that I was hungry.

Finally when I tried my first bites, the spices mixture was very nice, with my pepper than Rapa, but not as much as Habbersett, a nice middle ground for some.

The cornmeal mixture was smaller than Rapa, but for some reason the interior texture did not seem to firm up during cooking, there for a little bit more mushy than the other three.

What did get me was the interior texture, that had not firmed up during cooking.

Stoltzfus Meats

I was on my way back from my parent in Lancaster, and first stopped at Intercourse Canning Company to pick-up some items, and right across the street is Stoltzfus Meats & Deli.

The Stoltzfus Scrapple is as Homemade that you can get, and to say it is fresh, is such an odd statement!

What was also odd to see, were the huge slabs of scrapple (20+ lbs?) just sitting there in the refrigerator case.

I bought a simple pound, namely because I’m only about 30 minutes away, and I don’t think they are going to run out any time soon!

Anyhow, how was it?

I liked it!

I was easily able to get a nice even crush on both sides, mostly from a higher fat content.

As for taste, it is a top contender to Habbersett, with a little less black pepper.

Conclusions (so far)

The single biggest difference between the various scrapples I have tried in the Black Pepper amount.

I also have to tell you, I like Black Pepper a lot, and I’ve been known to unscrew pepper shaker tops because it does not come out fast enough…

So your personal Black Pepper level is going to be your guide.

Another factor, is the dryness of the loaf, and this seems to be due to the coarseness of the grinding of the ingredients, the denser loaves, with a finer mush seems to hold up better during pan fry cooking.

Scrapple Hunting

With this elementary Review of Scrapples done, I have more to seek out.

So far, the single biggest difference that I have tasted is the black pepper level. I for one like, so…

I’m also learning to refine my pan frying techniques to be more consistent, but I have learned the corn to fats & water ratios play an important part when preparing!

In my refrigerator, I have an unopened Kunzler scrapple loaf…

And friends suggesting some of the following:

  • Hershey farm market
  • Shady Maple in East Earl
  • Hughes Delaware Maid Scrapple
  • Greensboro
  • Kirby & Holloway

More Scrapple Info

Videos

Events

If you know more, please let me know, and if you are a maker of scrapple and would like to be added to my review, please contact me!!

BTW – It should be noted, that some of these scrapple producers, do NOT make it easy to find their scrapple products on their websites!

- Andrew
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