8 Ways to Use Your Old Smartphone

So you got yourself a new octa-core smartphone. And you’re feeling kind of weird putting your old trusted Android phone in the cupboard, because you won’t be using it. Because, you know, you’re sentimental about the phone you used to have so much fun with.

Well, you can still use it. Not as a phone maybe, but as the powerful computer that it always has been.

Here are a few ways you can use it in:
1. Make a wireless music receiver connected to your sound system
If you have a dumb sound system (dumb as in no smart microprocessors, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi etc., in it. A simple analog sound system with aux input) at home, you can hook up your smartphone to it (make sure to connect a charger to it so it doesn’t just run out of juice), and use it as a wireless music receiver & player. You can stream your music to it through iTunes on your computer, your Wi-Fi enabled iPod/music player, or your iPhone.
AirPlayer works wonderfully well for me.

2. Run a PHP/mySQL/nginx server
And run a website off it. Maybe even install WordPress!
NAMP nginx android web server

2. Make a SMB/FTP/web/proxy/server
To share files in your home network, and/or operate a firewall.
Servers Ultimate

3. Download torrents
Take the load off your laptop, and put it on the handset that lies at home all day. The only thing you need to do is get a huge memory card, or find out a way to connect an external storage to it (through USB-OTG).
µTorrent® Beta

4. Sync your iTunes playlists with it, and use it like an MP3 player
You can take off the media player functionality off your main phone, and use your old phone instead, thus ensuring you never lose connectivity because you ran out of battery because you listened to too much music.
iSyncr Lite for iTunes – Mac
iSyncr Lite for iTunes – PC

5. Access your website via FTP and edit the files there
Why not? Well, you can do this with your primary Android phone as well.
AndFTP (your FTP client)

6. Use it as a computer by adding a keyboard, mouse, monitor and storage to it
I’ve always wondered if we can do this. The Motorola Atrix was one handset which let us do it. The Ubuntu phone OS has a flavour which lets you use the phone as the computer when you dock it with desktop peripherals. If you have a Nexus One lying around (like I do), this is worth a shot.
Nexus One USB Host Mode Driver

7. Fix it in your car’s dashboard, and use it as a GPS navigator
Google Maps is one of the best navigation systems out there. And now it does turn-by-turn voice navigation as well. Some people have tried fixing their Android tablets into their car dashboards. I say if you have an old phone lying around, you can use that as well. The screens are decently big, and all you’d need is a SIM card with a data connection on it.
Google Maps

8. Use it as an ebook, articles & feed reader
Like with #4, using your old handset as a reader frees up your primary handset’s battery. And no more screens vanishing when a call comes, and no more getting out of the reader when you hear a message beep.
Amazon Kindle Reader
Google Play Books
Feedly Reader

What the [bleep] is ISO?

If you’ve been using a digital camera, or have been around people who do, chances are you have heard of this thing called ISO. Everyone seems to be using it. It’s like the hottest buzzword amongst anyone with a camera. But what the [bleep] is it?

You must have thought that if you figured out what the letters stand for, your understanding would be better, right? So you found out that ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. Big help isn’t it?

I thought so.

The world famous ISO organisation also lends its name to a format of optical disc archive files, also called (hold your breath) ISO!

The Names

Shall we discuss the history of names for a while? You can skip it, but if you are interested in stuff like this, read on.

There was a time when there were two popular denominations of film speed. What’s film speed? In a while, Watson.

These two systems were called ASA (American Standards Association) and DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung). Yes, both of them are again ‘associations for standardization’. They were as related to each other as fairies and scientific calculators are. When ASA said a film is 100, DIN insisted it’s just 21. ASA said 3200, DIN would still be lingering around 36.

So the big daddy of Standardization Associations, ISO, steps in and says let’s make it rational guys! How do they do that? By selecting one and sticking to it. And we all got together and renamed ASA to ISO (American becomes international: typical huh?). Simple!

Now with that out of the way, let’s get to what these bodies were trying to standardize.

What is ISO?

Would you like some more history? Try it, it’s not that bad!

With digital cameras you do all these fancy ISO things. But back in the days of film, there was something we called film speed. It was a measure of how sensitive the film is. In the olden days of film, you used to get film which was ASA 25 & 50, as compared to the recent standard ISO (or ASA) 100 & 200 & 400 films. What this meant is that the film back then used to be half or a quarter as sensitive as the ones we saw last when film was still being made.

Sensitivity of the film simply is a measure of the light the film would need to get to a certain amount of exposure. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive the film, the more the amount of light the film needs. The higher this number, the more sensitive it is, and the less amount of light you need.

This ties in directly with those other two devils you always worry about: shutter speed, and aperture. Higher the ISO, higher the shutter speed you can shoot on, given that the light, aperture and required exposure remain the same. Or, with higher ISO, you can shoot with a smaller aperture, given same shutter speed, light and required exposure. Or, keeping everything else the same, a higher ISO would give you more exposure in the picture.

Technicalities

How is it done? In film, there was something called grain. Slower film (lower ASA/DIN) film had finer grain.  Which meant more grain density. Which meant more light needed to ‘activate’ each of these grains to get them to your desired exposure value. In faster film (higher ASA/DIN), the grain would be coarser, which meant lower density, and less required light for desired exposure levels.

So why would you use slower film at all, you’d ask? Well, these grains, they can be seen! Which is why in photographs shot on really fast film (say ASA 800), you’d see spots all over, even where there should be solid patches of colour. If the same picture was taken using a slower film like ASA 50, these patches would be extremely smooth and homogeneous. In addition, slower film would capture more detail than faster film, because the grain was finer. Thus, if you were shooting things like studio portraits and landscapes, where you had the luxury of using a tripod, and didn’t have to capture a ‘moment’, or were blessed with expensive fast primes, you would prefer to shoot slower film. For journalists who were capturing events like natural calamities, or sports photographers, where speed and the moment mattered, faster film was a necessity. Even street photographers used faster film, to use faster shutters to capture the moment, and/or because they didn’t have access to faster lenses.

Enter Digital

In the days of film, once you bought a roll, you were stuck with it for 12 (or 36) frames. Buying the next roll would be the moment when you’d get a chance to rethink your choice. So you had to be wise while buying film, preempting the type of photography you needed to do. For professionals it’s not very difficult, since a. they are aware of the kind of pictures they are going to shoot, and b. they shoot faster through a roll than amateurs and the general public.

Enter digital, and with it, digital sensors. These sensors can simulate the sensitivity of various speeds of film. Most commercial level DSLR sensors today can be sensitive from the levels of ISO 100 to ISO 3200 and beyond.

The principles of light sensitivity here stay the same. But how do the grains become coarse and fine on demand? The answer is, that it’s not “grain” here per se. Digital sensors are made up of pixels, which do not change size. Instead, each of these pixel sensors can be made more sensitive or less sensitive as and when you need with help from the camera’s electronics. Neat eh?

The Difference

So do we get the “grain” in the picture? And do we lose details at higher speeds? Yes. But the mechanism is different here.

You see, these pixels and the electronics work as “light amplifiers”. They pick up light signals and amplify them by a factor you specify (the gain, in electronics engineering parlance) so that the picture becomes “visible”. This factor that you specify is nothing but the ISO. At base levels, the gain is low, while at faster ISO levels, this gain is high. This gain is the reason you get the noise when you shoot at high ISOs. It’s the same thing as the background noise that you get when you play a home-recorded tape at high volumes. And this is the thing that sets good mics apart from bad ones, and good camera sensors apart from bad ones. For the good mics, and good sensors, the signal-to-noise ratio is high, which means that they record signals at higher level than background noise, or random data used to fill up the space where there’s no signal. At low ISOs this ratio isn’t that critical, since the noise isn’t amplified enough to cause any concern. At high ISOs however, the noise gets amplified with the signal, and for older or smaller sensors (and cheaper mics), it becomes visible (or audible) enough to bother you. You see this noise as hot pixels (bright pixels at random places where the surrounding pixels are comparatively darker) or variation in pixel colours where there should be solid colours. Digital noise can be broken down into two components: luminance and chromatic. Luminance noise is variation of brightness values, while in the case of chromatic noise you see pixels showing colour variation.

Digital bad?

So digital gives you the benefit of varying the ISO levels, while in film, you’re stuck with the ISO rating of the film you’re shooting. But still digital’s not all good. Remember the pictures you saw in sports magazines back when you were a kid? The ones which had this moody feel, and lots of dithering? That dithering was film grain. It added an aesthetic quality to the picture. A certain mood. It gave me a feel of rainy overcast days, of desolate corner cafes in a big city with people reading books while sipping coffee, of a journalistic picture of a high-adrenaline event.

Digital noise, on the other hand, is ugly. The cheaper the sensor, the uglier it is. However, luminance noise is not as aesthetically jarring as the chromatic type, but still is undesirable in most situations. Photoshop and other specialized noise reduction software can help you control this noise as well, albeit the more you reduce noise, the more details you lose. An overdose of noise reduction can render your image looking like it’s been over smoothed, just like pictures from a small phone camera.

What does recaptured do

I keep the ISO as low as possible to get the smoothest & cleanest pictures. But when I have to capture motion, or events emotion and the shutter speed is too low for the surroundings, I bump up the ISO a bit. When I am shooting using a tripod or when I’m using my f/1.4 lenses or when I’m shooting a long exposure, I don’t often go above the base ISO (which is 200 for my camera).

What's that round black thing on top of my camera?

(or Which mode, eh?)

It is a regular question that I keep coming across.

People buy cameras, and then ask me which mode to shoot on for getting beautiful pictures.

Generally you ask this when you buy a shiny new camera, and while playing with it, notice that there is a dial on top with some letters and fancy graphical icons, something like this.

Looks familiar? Read on.

So what do you do when you encounter this dial? Turn to the green icon called AUTO and start shooting.

But then you get a nagging feeling after a few days that there is more to the camera than the green icon called AUTO. And you wonder why all your pictures look as bright as each other, and how there are other people using same or similar cameras who sometimes take nice low-key drama-type pictures, and then with the same camera also click bright sunny candids of their kids & dogs. There must be something to the mysterious icons and the even more mysterious letters on that dial, right?

There is.

The Samurai Sword

That dial is your key to complete control over the machine you hold. Complete power. And this complete power is like the power a katana sword yields you, rather than what say Harry Potter’s magic wand will give you. Yes that’s right. It’s not supposed to (and it can’t) magically find the “correct settings” for “drama” when you are in a cave, and then set the camera back to “cheerful” when it sees a puppy running by. Even the so-called “creative modes” are nothing but ‘average seeking’ modes just like the AUTO mode but with a few minor tweaks here and there. How do you harness this complete power then? By understanding it fully. How? Read further.

There are around 10-11 settings on an average on any of these dials. The main ones (as you can see in the picture above: D90) are P, S, A, M, Auto, No flash, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sport and Night Portrait. Some cameras also have modes like playback and video record. In Canon cameras the S and A modes are labelled Tv and Av.

At the heart of it, there are only three input camera variables (and one output variable) that define the picture you see (apart from the ever-so-popular focal length, which is purely a function of the lens and sensor size). These are 1. aperture, 2. shutter speed and 3. ISO speed. These dial modes give you control over, or combination of these three to help you get the picture you want.

The Fancy Modes

Auto is pretty obvious, innit? Set to auto, and press the shutter. Your uber-expensive SLR or bridge camera functions just like the tiny pocket point & shoots – it decides for you what settings to use, depending upon what it sees, and every scene is cut down to or bumped up to the same brightness levels.

No Flash is nothing but Auto with a flash override. Which means that even if Mr. Camera thinks the scene ahead is too bleak for handheld photography, he would not pop up the annoying flash to fill it up.

Creative? Really?

hide & seekPortrait tries to keep the lens aperture as wide open as it can, so that you get nice shallow depth and blurred background, accentuating the subject.

Landscape does just the opposite so that more of the scene is in focus. In addition it might activate a nice 3×3 grid on the viewfinder/screen which lets you compose landscapes using the rule of thirds.

Macro is not really macro. It is a nice little fancy thing to give the impression of macro capability to those who do not know that macro capability is exclusively a function of the lens and its distance from the sensor.

Sport mode tries to keep the shutter speed fast so you can freeze motion.

Night Portrait pumps up ISO so that you can take decent pictures at night without aid of artificial light (read flash).

The Real Modes

Enough about the so called “creative modes”. On to the real modes.

P is for programme. The camera has 4-5 programmed settings of aperture-shutter speed pairs, which you can cycle through using the dial on your camera. the expresswaySupposedly helps you when you need to switch between different types of settings for different types of pictures. In my opinion, it is a glorified Auto mode, giving you the impression that selection is the same thing as control.

S (or Tv) is for shutter priority. It lets you select the shutter speed, while the camera adjusts the aperture so that the combination gives you the exposure value that you have selected. Useful when your first concern is how long your exposure should be, eg. while trying to click sports or raindrops (fast shutter), or while clicking star trails or blurred motion (slow shutter).

A (or Av) is aperture priority. It lets you control the aperture, or the amount of light reaching your sensor/film per second, and adjusts the shutter speed to get the desired amount of exposure. You would use it to control your depth of field and amount of blurriness or bokeh in the background (or sometimes in the foreground).

Dial M for Magnificent

Finally the holy grail of photography. The mode that purists and puritans swear by. The one & only M mode! The simplest way to show amateurs tomtomming their super-long lenses around you on a trip that you are a god is to keep your dial at M at all times. In photography one-up world, you dial M for Magnificent.

So what does it do? It doesn’t do so much as it lets you do. You have full control over the shutter speed and aperture both, so you can get a picture of your puppy with shallow depth of field and nice creamy background, and also a low-down picture of the road where almost everything is in focus but the mood is dark and gloomy. You just need to know what you are doing. Or click 5 shots per picture you want. Or look at the exposure meter before clicking.

But

Well, it’s not entirely correct that M is the mode that lets you control everything. The S and A modes also let you control it, albeit in a different way. Remember I was talking about a desired exposure value? It’s not something the camera imposes on you. You get to set it! So when you are in A mode, and you want a very bright overblown picture, you set the exposure value higher than 0, so that the camera does not increase the shutter speed too much when you open up the aperture. You just press the exposure compensation button, which carries this symbol([Exposure compensation button]), and turn the main dial on your camera to adjust how bright you want your frame to be. So by letting you control the desired output variable, the A and S modes let you be in control.

All that is fine, but which one do you use?

Mr. Cat AgainIt depends. Majorly on which lens I am using. If I am using my current favourite, the AI-S 105mm f2.5, or I have any of my lenses mounted on the extension tube, I am restricted to M. Which is not so bad after so much practice. But if I am using any of the other lenses, I switch to A and dial down the exposure compensation by one-third for daytime or by four-third for nighttime. Heck, even for specific long shutter applications like traffic trails, I just dial up the exposure compensation to around one-third above, make the aperture really small, like around f/9, and click with the help of a tripod.

Bottom line is, if you know what you want, you can do wonders with any of the three modes (M, A, S, maybe even P).

Next up: what the [bleep] is ISO?

Simple kit lens macrography (without reversal)

Did you like shooting macros with your kit lens reversed? I’m sure you did.

But there are some shortcomings with that particular method of shooting macros. Number one is that you cannot use filters while shooting that way. And if you are fortunate enough to possess a ring-flash, using that with that setup is pretty much ruled out as well. Add to that the fact that you have the lens mounted on the focussing barrel and not the lens body, which is in some cases not advisable. So how do you shoot macros without reversing the lens (or shelling out money on a macro lens either)?

Don’t worry I’m back 🙂

Remember I had shown you an extension tube the last time around? The tube at one end of which lied your reversal ring? So if you had bought an extension tube instead of just a reversal ring, you’re in luck this time. If you had not, then go out an buy an extension tube for your camera mount. It comes in 5 pieces, one each for the male and female mount, and three rings of different sizes to give you the freedom to vary the size of your tube.

Mount the lens on one end of the tube and mount the whole setup on the body. But wait… isn’t the picture through the viewfinder dark like night? Don’t worry. Just follow the instructions…

Get a tube of superglue and a short stick-like metallic object – I used a simple paper pin. Now unscrew just the female mount from the tube (it is the mount resembling the one on your body, on which the lens would mount), and mount one of your lenses on it. Now when you see the open (mounted) end of the lens and the mount-ring, you’ll see a lever (see diagram) protruding from the lens’s base – this is the same lever that adjusts your aperture as mentioned in the previous tutorial. Use a permanent marker or a chalk to mark the position of this lever on the ring when this lever is fully depressed, i.e. the aperture is wide-open. Now measure that pin I asked you to get so that the distance you measure is shorter than the distance between the lens’s inner bevel and the mount’s screw threads, but slightly longer than the distance between the screw threads and the lever. Bend off the remaining part, so that the pin is now in L-shape, with one of the ends being the length that I just told you about. Unmount the lens, squeeze out some superglue on the base thread of the mount just around the mark you made and place this pin, so that the prescribed length sticks out perpendicular from the circumference of the threads. The idea is that when this dries out and is fixed, when you mount the lens on this ring, this pin would move the lever to the position that the aperture is fully open.

When dried, the ring would look like the picture shown here.
Now mount the lens on this ring and make sure the lever moves back as intended (refer to the first picture). Adjust the lens to 50mm focal length, screw the wider ring on this mount and screw the male mount on that ring, so that you’re left with a tube that is around half the size of the ring you bought 🙂
Mount this setup on your body, set the focus mode to manual, set the camera mode to manual (M), and start shooting as you did while following the last tutorial.

You can now use filters and a ring flash if you have one.

Happy clicking!

fireHere’s a shot that I clicked using this setup. And don’t forget to drop in URLs to the photographs you’ve clicked this way.

Enjoy!

Simple Reverse Lens Macrography Howto

So you got the fancy new digital SLR but you realise that you can’t take the ‘macro’ shots that you loved taking in your point & shoot cameras without a new macro/micro enabled lens? Are you only able to go as close as this picture of flowers without losing focus?

Here’s the simple and cheap solution.

shot at 55mm NON macroYou must have read that reversing the lens enables you to get high magnification – to the extent of 1:1 (which is where true macrography begins). So how do you go about doing it? Here’s how.

The reversing ringFirst up you will need a reversing ring. It is a ring with a male mount on one side, just like your lens’s mount, which would click into your body’s mount and male threads on the other end, which would screw into your lens’s filter threads. Check the picture to see what it looks like.

Many sites and magazine articles tell you how to make one by using an old body cap and an old filter. If you are okay with that kind of stuff, go ahead with it. I don’t think it is possible to get the precision required in making such a device for photography by hand. Plus the required ring should be available in the market easily. Go to a photography store and ask for a lens reversal ring for your brand. If they don’t have it Extension tube set, ask for an extension tube for your brand. If you don’t get it at an authorised camera store, go to the local photography market, where people go to buy and sell second-hand equipment – the unorganised market. It is a pretty low-cost item. I got my extension tube set for Rs. 600 only. Here is what an extension tube set looks like. The ring we need is an integral part of the extension tube, so if you bought an extension tube, just unscrew the ring that is supposed to be attached to the body’s mount, and you have your reversal ring.

Now attach the ring to your kit lens via the filter threads. Now you can attach the lens with the body both ways, though if you attach it normally, you’ll get a vignette.
The ring with the lens
Attach the lens to the body in reverse – with the focusing ring towards the body and the CPU contacts away from you. Switch to manual mode. Now you have given up the luxuries of autofocus, exposure metering, auto aperture setting etc. You’re gonna love it here! 🙂 Change over the A/M switch on your lens to M, Lens with ring screwed onbecause we need to focus by hand. Now go to your menu and change the settings of your body flash to manual from TTL (through-the-lens) mode – set the power of the flash at around 1/4 or 1/8. Finally, set the focal length of your kit lens around between 40 and 50. Any higher than that and you’ll be getting ‘normal’ magnification. You can go lower than that once you get the hang of this method and are comfortable going really close.

Find any object you’d like to see really enlarged. Frame the object through the viewfinder, activate the flash, Lensfocus by rotating the main barrel (marked B in the picture). Since the effective focusable zone is smaller and much closer to the lens when the lens is reversed, you might see that whichever way you turn the lens, nothing comes in focus. In that case, move closer. You will have to move back and forth quite a lot to get objects in focus. Experiment with the shutter speed. I generally use between 1/5 to 1/200 (a limitation of my camera while using flash).

A problem with this setup is lack of light. If your lens has an aperture adjustment ring, open it up to the lowest f-number it allows. If it doesn’t, which is the case with most lenses today, use The aperture leverthe aperture lever on the mounting side of the lens (see the figure) to open it up, and you’ll see light! This way you get enough light to be able to see the shot clearly, focus properly and ofcourse with so much light coming in, the pictures are also great! One problem we still face is that the more we open the aperture, the narrower the depth-of-field, and this is evident at this scale. Plus, when the aperture is this wide and you are using the flash, pictures might be overexposed. Either reduce the power of the flash, or lower the aperture size a bit just before releasing the shutter.

insect macro from flickrTake care to not block the flash with your fingers/hand while focusing and operating the aperture lever. Unwanted shadows are the last thing you’d want in your photograph.

Hope that helps you click great macrographs. Happy Clicking! (The picture on the right has been taken using this setup.)

And don’t forget to see my macrography set on flickr, and leave your comments and links to your photographs.

Edit: You can also shoot macros without reversing the lens, with the help of the extension tube in place of the ring.