How to you keep electrical glitches from destroying your digital photography?
Surprise, you are now in the digital era. How can you keep your lamps from flickering during a 5 minute exposure? The FLAAR Digital Imaging Technology Center is working towards a solution. Fortunately a company named Sola makes a special constant voltage power conditioner that will save the day.
While doing beta testing with the Better Light adaptation of the Dicomed Field Pro digital camera, several severe problems popped up. Any time that a copier machine (xerocopy or comparable) was actually making copies, the change in electrical current in the building was enough to zap the digital photograph. This is a polite way of saying that the rise and fall of electrical current left dark lines up and down the rollout photographs. A rollout photograph can take up to 30 minutes at high resolution, so is susceptibly to this class of problem.
This is not a defect in the camera system, it is an aspect of the laws of physics, namely electricity.
This copier was not in the same room, and not on the same circuits. It was upstairs in another room altogether. Worse, any time that a more powerful motor was turned on within 100 yards, same problem. Water pumps, electrical tire pumps, were all destroying the digital photographs by putting lines across them. People in the building gave all kinds of suggestions on how to solve the problem, but overall I lost two weeks worth of photographs. If I had been a commercial photographer, being paid for my work, that would have been a serious financial loss.
We recently got an e-mail from another digital photographer who reported he was getting lines across his photo too. He asked the cause. We suggested it was the electrical system in his building. He investigated and found out that his building was poorly wired. A Sola constant voltage regulator would solve problems of this nature.
Normal UPS units work for computers but do not keep this class of defect from zapping the digital photographs. We have American Power Conversion units on both the Dicomed and also on the computer. That did not isolate the digital camera from being zapped by the lights.
Once we noticed the digital defects, we spent many days working out what other types of electrical situation caused similar problems. Keep in mind that some of the banding is so faint that you would never notice it unless someone told you it was there. Other banding, however, was painfully visible as black, or gray lines across the entire picture (namely an entire pixel row).
Electrical fans were a major source. It was 90 degrees F in the room before turning on tungsten lamps, and even hotter with the lights on. We used fans to keep things cool. But after noting that the fans caused digital disturbance, we had to turn them off during the actual photography. I hate to think what an air conditioner would do to a digital photograph.
The motor on the Seitz SuperRound shot also caused disturbances and we believe that the Dedolights (transformer or lamps) were also a source of electrical interference. Mr. Dedo Weigert has notified us that other models of his lights should avoid this. It would take an electrical engineer to report whether it was the transformer, the lamps (bulbs), or something else entirely. The fact is, that when the Dedolights were removed from the circuit, we did not get any more lines (presuming all fans, the Seitz, and all copiers and other motors were also turned off).
Look at the two vertical bands of gray; these are the pixel rows that were affected during an electrical fluctuation elsewhere in the building. On some days it was so bad we simply could not do any more photography at all. Yet once we installed a Sola Hevi-Duty power conditioner, we could photograph even if someone lit off a nuclear bomb in the physics lab (not really, but you get the idea, Sola is industrial strength equipment).
The Lowel tungsten studio lights caused no problems. Likewise, the Videssence fluorescent l lights did not appear to create banding at all. Realize though that this was all measured by the naked eye, not with instruments. Instruments would detect all kinds of electrical glitches, but unless they showed up visibly on the photograph they were no immediate concern at this stage.
Michael Collette is knowledgeable about electrical situations such as this. He recommended that the absolute best solution would be a Sola constant voltage transformer. Since we use up to eight lights (to get light under the nooks and crannies of complex 3-dimensional ancient sculptures), it will probably take several Sola units to condition the power in our studio.
Be forewarned that high-end digital camera systems may react differently to electrical disturbances. Your normal UPS unit is not intended to eliminate this class of situation. Many other kinds of line conditioners and transformers are made for other purposes. Sola, however, makes precisely what is needed. This will probably be a booming business for them, once hundreds of new digital photographers look more carefully at their digital images and begin to notice the banding. Better get a Sola unit before you waste all your time doing photography with naked power sources. You want their Constant Voltage Power Conditioner, Cat # 63-13-230-6, MCR Portable, 60 Hz. If you are going to Japan or Europe, be sure to obtain the unit that is best for those electrical situations. Sola is a unit of General Signal and appears to have offices worldwide. Sola equipment comes highly recommended by electrical technicians.
Contact for Sola: Clyde Knoppe, Sola/Hevi-Duty, 7770 N. Frontage Road, Skokie, IL 60077, tel (847) 763-6603, fax (847) 773-6033, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page updated March. 24, 1999, by Nicholas Hellmuth; last updated Aug. 5, 2001