Wednesday 8 May 2019

Questions about 5G implementation start to be seen in the UK media

Brought to you courtesy of Google, who thought I'd be interested in this...

How nice of the Somersetlive newspaper to blame this on a mum - because what would a housewife know? Seriously this is 2019, and we're blaming mothers for having a baseless fear?

So EE basically said that the complainant shouldn't be worried because the frequencies they are about to use for their initial installations are in the 3.4Ghz range. Okay, but why is the rest of the world seeking licences and testing 5G that extends into microwave frequencies of upto 100Ghz? Why are we hearing about how trees and buildings block 5G, which means we need more installs or take out unnecessary trees?

Lets break down their responses:

"We will roll 5G out using existing sites - there will be no significant increase in sites. 
“All wireless technologies are rolled out under strict guidelines, which are based on medical studies and reviewed on an ongoing basis.
"That includes all wireless technologies used globally and in the UK – 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G.
"There are strict rules on the amount of power that can be broadcast from a mobile site – governed by an organisation called, which acts as the health watchdog for the mobile industry
So no SIGNIFICANT increase in sites, and the implementation is based on strict guidelines and "medical studies". Remember the SAR rating that is based on a test for temperature rises in water contained in a plastic head when the phone is stuck to said plastic head - because humans are just vessels for water... sometimes I start to think, maybe some people are.

Sad to see the numerous comments in that article that brush off this mothers concerns, as if they have any idea about the health risks. Trying to hide the truth behind ridicule?

Yet we have articles like this that were written based entirely on a Senate hearing in the US (forgive me for the popup spam):

Ultimately, read this:

TL:DR (and this applies only to 2G and 3G radiation):

In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioned the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH), to conduct a study to settle this debate once and for all. The NTP designed an elaborate, $30 million dollar study on “cell phone radiation”, which was the largest and most extensive study ever conducted by the NTP.
In November, 2018, the NTP released their Final Report which concluded there was “clear evidence of cancer” from cell phone radiation and that this radiation causes heart and DNA damage as well. The recent Ramazzini study, out of Italy, corroborated the findings of cancer but at radiation levels lower than those of the NTP Study. 

Perhaps we don't need to worry about global warming, because all this radiation exposure will likely impact the upcoming generation from being able to survive and God-forbid reproduce? How about the impact of non-human life?

Monday 6 May 2019

Apple News and Stocks apps are running in the background. Just try to delete them...

I live in Scotland, and was surprised to know that apparently the British royal family had a baby. You can imagine my joy... I couldn't care less about the royal baby to be fair. But I do care that Apple seems to think I do and thought it appropriate to interrupt me to let me know, using an application I'd never really used before.

I've recently had Mojave installed on my Mac (when I really needed to upgrade) and until now saw no issues with it. But I don't want unnecessary applications running in the background while I'm trying to deal with 50 megapixel images in Capture One or 4K video rendering in DaVinci Resolve. Sometimes I need my Mac to do only what I want it to do.

Trying to delete News doesn't work like any other Mac OS application that I've come across before, because trying to delete it does this (there's no workaround with the Option key pressed either):

Bit harsh for an app that's only supposed to report news, don't you think? This is in my opinion a bit Orwellian, and the message is likely a lie (another major annoyance) so I got to work.

Remember, this is for OSX Mojave. I'd suggest making a compressed copy of the News app (and Stocks app) before you do anything (right click the app and select compress "News"), and a system backup (Time Machine) would be good if you really aren't familiar with Terminal.

Thanks to Reddit for providing part of the solution:

1. Hold down Command+R as you restart the Mac (start pressing both and hold after hearing the bong noise) and let go when you see the slow loading bar. If you don't get to your normal login screen (try again) you're now in recovery mode.

2. Ignore the utilities window that shows up and click Utilities on the menu bar, selecting Terminal.

3. In Terminal, type "csrutil disable" ignoring the quotes around that command and press enter/return.

4. In the Apple menu, select restart and login as usual.

5. Find the Terminal application that's located in your Applications/Utilities folder and start it.

6. Become Super user - type "sudo -i" and enter your administrator password. If this doesn't work, try looking at this:
Still confused, ask the youngest member of the family or the local IT expert.

7. Now to find the offending app(s) in question and delete - the following commands should work in the right order (ignore the Stocks app section - the second set of 4 lines - if you want to keep it):

cd /
cd Applications
rm -fr Contents
cd ..

rm -fr Contents
cd ..


8. Reboot the machine into recovery mode again as shown in steps 1, 2 and then similar to step 3
in Terminal type "csrutil enable" ignoring the quotes again.

9. reboot as normal. Your apps should be history. Big Brother has been disconnected.

Side note: yes I could make the commands above much shorter. But typed this way makes it impossible for someone who doesn't know Terminal to delete the wrong application by accident! :)

The most interesting thing about looking into removing the News application was discovering that there are only language files for English_UK and English_Australia (Stocks is translated in lots of languages/locales). Seems a tad suspicious as to who Apple might have partnered with?

Makes me wonder too if this isn't going to result in a class action suit akin to the old "Microsoft Internet Explorer vs EU" days. Scary.


Usual disclaimer - if you don't know how to use Terminal, ask someone who does to do this for you. This information is furnished as-is. I'm not responsible for your losses, but reinstalling OSX isn't difficult. Upgrades will likely restore this application...


Since writing and publishing this, I discovered that Apple News is currently only installed in the USA, Canada, UK and Australia. So why has Apple lied and said this application is required by macOS?

Yes I understand that Apple has implemented a "System Integrity Protection" framework to protect a novice from accidentally ruining the installation and making it unstable. But Apple have implemented this in Mojave for Chess, iTunes, Facetime, Mail, Notes, Photo Booth, Photos, Quicktime, Stocks, News, Home and Safari too. This is ridiculous, and stinks of the same market dominance constraints that Microsoft were guilty of with Internet Explorer.

There is every reason for Apple to protect a user from deleting a required application, but Chess! Seriously Chess! Chess is a required application in macOS? Idiotic. None of these applications are required. But if you remember to the days when Internet Explorer was an "integral" part of Windows 95, you'll recall the same excuse.

If you have no smart devices in your home and you don't use Siri (one of the three major "Telescreen" implementations available at the expense of your personal privacy) then you have no reason to use Home. If you don't want to be interrupted by the news selection chosen by Apple (does Siri listen in to know what to pick?), then you have no reason to be required to use News either. What if you looked for a product in Safari - does it presume you must want to know how that same company who made it is doing on the stock market?

To put bluntly, Apple have extended the need for System Integrity Protection into controlling your environment by forcing their choice of applications on you. Think about who ultimately benefits from this, especially after discovering the overreaching use of demographical data on us. Is this all to make Apple have the same power with our information that Facebook has?

I do like iTunes for storing the thousands of CD's and LP's I've bought and ripped, purely for convenience. Much like iTunes, the rest of these apps such as Safari, Mail and Photo fall into the category of "most folk would probably use them unless they intentionally installed an alternative". To be honest, I've never really used Safari or Photos and it has only been quite recently that I started to use Mail (for reference, I ditched Windows for OSX in 2003!).

To conclude, all of these protected applications SHOULD be optional, not enforced. They also should not be able to send notifications or run in the background by default either.

Capture One Styles - the new preset con?

It's been a while, but a few years ago I wrote another article on here called "Lightroom Presets - Are they worthwhile?" Here is pretty much the same thing, but now implemented in Capture One (version 10 and later), and unsurprisingly being sold now as an upgrade to PhaseOne's primary product CaptureOne 12.

Again, let's break down the basics. Styles are a quick and dirty way to instantly change the look of an image by automatically changing the parameters that you'd typically use to get the general look you want. It is nothing more.

In the background, all this means is that the program has a reference setting to use to update the image. When you buy these, you are in effect getting a setting that another photographer used to fix an image, and they saved it to use again later. Problem is that the likelihood of these settings working well for an altogether different image without additional work is usually nil.

Like the Lightroom article before, you can look at an unmodified example of the file format that defines a style. To find default Styles shipped with the application (Mac instructions as I don't own a Windows machine): Open the "application contents" (right click on the Application in File manager to find that option) -then traverse to Resources->Styles folder.

For other user added or example Styles, you'll find them in the users Library folder, then Application Support -> Capture One -> Styles folder.

These ".costyle" files are all text files that you can view in any text editor like TextEdit. I don't advocate changing them.

They don't look much different to the file preset format used in Lightroom, although Capture One appears to have efficiently ignored storing any settings that haven't changed from a default value.

As mentioned before, this isn't rocket science. The sale of these styles as an add-on for huge profit should be seen as a questionable practice in my opinion, especially since it is highly unlikely that any of them will ever become part of your workflow, at least not without further modifications (that you would have done on your own anyway). If you need inspiration, you would probably do yourself a better service to spend time playing with the interface instead.

The annoying thing about adding Styles in Capture One is when you discover that you don't particularly like them, and now you want to remove them. The only way to do this in the application is selecting the one to be removed, clicking that you're sure, and then selecting another. Tedious. I've discovered that you can delete/move multiple styles in the user Library folder and you have to restart C1 to reflect the change. Don't do anything to the ones in the application contents folder!

Half-baked and over sold?

Canon's DSLR video capabilities will never be more than an afterthought

The Canon 5D mk2 was a ground breaking camera when it was introduced in 2008. Video capabilities seem to have been added as an afterthought, or at the last minute anyway. But that opened up a floodgate of DSLR’s afterwards that continued to have some video capabilities.
In all the years since, not once has any DSLR had video capabilities even close to Canon’s video products that were sold primarily for shooting video. This makes total sense, and yet every single photography magazine and online blog reviewing DSLR’s has said something along the lines of “why doesn’t this camera have this video capability”…
The fact that every camera I own has some form of HD video capability is nice. Pity that they’re not that great an implementation and not particularly suited use for any professional use anyway. I thought it was great that my 5Dmk2 was a perfect fit for recording my kids orchestra concerts during high school, but the camera had a 12 minute limit per clip which made it awkward to use.
I’ve come to the point where I need a video camera, and I’ve spent a bunch of time looking at reviews for various gear and come across an interesting point. For years we’ve become accustomed to the idea that to do “good” video with a DSLR, then we need to build a “franken-cage”. I shouldn’t need to explain what this means! The simple fact is that the form factor of every DSLR (and this includes Canon’s M10 and M15) is suited for taking still images and was never suited for movement. The way around was always to build a cage to put the camera in, add bars, a top handle, side handles, bolt on cold-shoe’s, and then you have something that looks… let’s admit it…. like absolute crap.
The camcorder with a handle on top is a format that isn’t going to change, because it’s designed to do the job of taking video. I find it ironic that most of these will also take photos, which is honestly nothing more than a stupid gimmick.
What’s also interesting is that the megapixel race in photo cameras has always run counter to the actual needs of video. A 4K image needs approximately a 8 megapixel sensor (and 1080p needs half that). Anything larger than this would require interpolation to happen in real time (merging pixels together), which then often makes the image softer or adds more video quality issues.
The simple fact is, we’ve been sold a feature that’s never been more than a marketing solution to sell a feature that’s meant to do little more than sell the idea that consumers of one kind of camera should also buy the other. Yes, a relatively recent photo-camera would usually make a decent b-camera for video, but makes for crappy outcomes as anything more.
I’m writing this, waiting for my first 4K video camera – realising that so many of us have been hoping for Canon to add 4K capabilities to a DSLR. What has been added is, and always will be, half baked. Waiting for good 4K DSLR without the issues of logs, bit depth and the rest is pointless.
We need to ignore the marketing noise and realise that one format is good for video and another is good for photo and never both. A jack-of-all-trades camera will never be built.

Friday 3 May 2019

Will Canon ever be successful at Mirrorless? Does mirrorless even matter?

I’m so tired of hearing about the whole mirrorless “feature”. Yes there’s some benefit to not having a shutter, but I’ve yet to see any real reason why we should throw out DSLR's for Canon's mirrorless cameras … I’ll take a step back and explain.

What can the Canon R (and RP) do that’s so special? Well there’s "Dual Pixel" focusing. That’s awesome - no doubt about it, and honestly I'm surprised it's taken so long to do this. My second Canon SLR was the 7E series - it would focus wherever your eye pointed in the viewfinder (I believe the Canon EOS 3 had the same functionality). It was flawless and Canon somehow scrapped it! But surely dual pixel focusing is not why most people would want one?

Getting into the Canon R ecosystem comes with a HUGE caveat - a new lens mount. The lenses released to date and planned are typically bigger and heavier than their EF counterparts. And that’s the deal breaker. Had Canon said, hey here a mirrorless camera and you can use EF glass on it, Canon would be in the money (for camera body sales). But they didn’t. And what nobody else in the photography media have admitted to yet is that Canon has already done this - with the Canon M camera range. Did they abandon the M format lenses already? It sure seems so.

I’m writing this, after reading how Canon had a press release earlier this week that said initial sales with Canon R and RP were brisk - but within a month, this interest has (in Japan of all places) already tailed off. Sales of Canon R have flatlined already.

“You can still use a converter to use EF lenses” - it’s like deja-vu all over again. Canon did the exact same thing with Canon M cameras, and wanted a huge amount of money (proportionally to the cost of the camera) for a converter to continue to use EF lenses. The barrier to entry - that’s great when they only make less than a dozen lenses.

The other issue I see with Canon's camera division is the inability to price gear to match the market. The Canon 5Dmk2 price point was so good that they sold millions of them - it was the biggest selling prosumer camera Canon ever made. Then they got greedy and did a minuscule upgrade that added a huge markup. The 5Dmk4 is a bigger step up, but still isn't nearly as ground breaking as the mk2 was and is already out of date compared to the market. Their research and development teams are obviously not talking to the marketing department. But I digress.

Let's take stock of the mirrorless problem here.

Canon has traditionally tried to maximise profits by limiting camera features to prevent diluting their broad product range (which is why there’s still no DSLR or Mirrorless camera with a decent 4K implementation - because they want you to buy a video camera - another topic I’m going to talk about shortly) and fractionally better glass makes much greater profit margins (ironically, there’s more air in a lens than glass!). It makes much more sense to Canon to make you buy another expensive lens, that will likely replace one with the same specifications as one you’ve already bought.

Canon’s M range focused on being mobile - the lenses were light, because the point was to replace a point and shoot without the weight. The quality was intentionally dialled down to prevent eating into their EF line. But ironically they also came out with their “worlds smallest SLR” range which was a similar size and weight, and was a much better fit for many users (which can be seen by its popularity and now in its third revision). Canon’s R range has completely missed the boat here, as the camera got smaller (which you’d expect after removing the glass pentaprism and the shutter), but now they’re extremely front heavy because the lenses are no lighter than their EF brothers.

A few years ago, Panasonic, Olympus and others introduced the Four Thirds system, which had a huge adoption. I don’t believe this was because it was mirrorless, but because of it’s convenient and easy to use hardware that was not locked into one brand. And primarily because in addition to taking really high quality images, it was lightweight. But the obsession with mirrorless was born and has been nothing more than a huge sales pitch ever since.

So what is the Canon R series good for? It’s not lighter, it’s not more convenient, it’s not without its flaws (try looking at YouTube for bloggers reporting quirks with the EOS R camera not working as expected and ultimately not trusting it as a professional camera!). Canon has created yet another ecosystem for mirrorless and I don’t expect it to last any longer than the Canon M series.

I recently watched a video trying to justify using a Canon EOS R as a B-camera for video production, and the comments speak for themselves. We’ve now got to the point where I presume that Canon is trying to find reasons to justify this rushed out and thoroughly botched concept.

Canon now has EF series lenses (and their EF-S line tailored for smaller sensors), Cinema series lenses, M series lenses and now R series lenses (yes they also had FD series pre 1987 but that’s pretty much dead now). The first two have obvious benefits, where Cinema series lenses use video industry T-Stops instead of the photo industry f-stops for determining how much light will pass through the lens. The different gearing for cinema lenses also makes total sense and makes up for the bodge of trying to gear the focus and zoom on an EF lens. Canon M and R series can’t claim any real benefit - yes the R lenses have an extra ring that’s configurable, but that is there purely to add a difference to justify its existence. It is otherwise a feature that nobody asked for.

Someone, anyone, please - tell me what I’m missing! Is it any surprise that Canon's camera division isn't doing so well right now?

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Should we be concerned about radio transmissions in our homes?

We're surrounded by it. WiFi, Bluetooth, mobile wireless, cordless phones and now smart meters, transmitting at frequencies of around 2.4Ghz or higher. Realistically we can't live without all of this technology, but what we can do is reduce our need to keep this on all the time.

We can turn off our mobiles at night, and the same goes for use of bluetooth. Which leaves WiFi. I had a bedside clock that used the internet via WiFi for radio. That's now been moved away. The intent being that I want to remove all radio interference from my house when I'm trying to sleep - you can look at this video on YouTube to discover why.


So how do you turn off your WiFi router at night? Some have buttons to turn off WiFi, but I have an Apple Extreme router that doesn't. I've turned off 5Ghz WiFi as I found it useless for my needs anyway. I've wired most of the house with ethernet, and in some cases that works through my power outlets (you can get WiFi "extenders", which ironically you can use without using the WiFi capability, and using the ethernet outlets instead! I've got BT's Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500's for this).

But how do you turn off the WiFi on Apple's Airport Express without logging into Airport Utility? If you have a Mac, you can create a script using Apple's Script Editor with the following code (which worked in OSX 10.11 - no idea about other versions):


--* WiFi Startup (& Shutdown) Script for Apple Extreme using Airport Utility automation.
--* ©2019 DRW.Photo

activate application "AirPort Utility"

-- * start twice just in case first time fails
activate application "AirPort Utility"

tell application "System Events"
-- * select Airport (i.e. first object below Internet world)
perform action "AXPress" of image 2 of group 1 of scroll area 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
-- * wait for the data of Airport Extreme to be loaded in the small popup menu
delay 3
-- * click on the edit button 
perform action "AXPress" of button "Edit" of group 1 of pop over 1 of image 2 of group 1 of scroll area 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
-- * click the Wireless tab
perform action "AXPress" of radio button "Wireless" of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 2
--* code for turn OFF Wireless - STARTS
--* ----------------------------
--* Select Network Mode "Off"
--* perform action "AXPress" of pop up button 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
--* perform action "AXPress" of menu item 4 of menu 1 of pop up button 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 2
--* ----------------------------
--* code for turn OFF Wireless - ENDS 
--* to create a separate OFF script uncomment (remove --*) in prefixing the two "perform action" 
--* commands above and delete the turn ON Wireless code section (from STARTS to ENDS)
--* code for turn ON Wireless - STARTS
--* ----------------------------
--* Turning on wireless with default settings requires redefining the WiFi 
--* name/password settings again. Note yours here before running scripts.

set wirelessName to "WIFINAME"
set wirelessPass to "WIFIPASSWORD"
--* select Network Mode "Create a wireless network" using the network values above:
perform action "AXPress" of pop up button 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
perform action "AXPress" of menu item 1 of menu 1 of pop up button 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 1.5
--* Enter your wireless name after clearing field
--* perform action "AXPress" of text field 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
tell text field 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
set value of attribute "AXFocused" to true
keystroke wirelessName
end tell
perform action "AXConfirm" of text field 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 1.5
--* select WPA2 Personal (menu row 4)
perform action "AXPress" of pop up button 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
perform action "AXPress" of menu item 4 of menu 1 of pop up button 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 1.5
--* enter password twice (set in variable above)
perform action "AXPress" of text field 1 of group 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
tell text field 1 of group 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
set value of attribute "AXFocused" to true
keystroke wirelessPass
end tell
perform action "AXConfirm" of text field 1 of group 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 1.5
--* reenter your network password again
perform action "AXPress" of text field 2 of group 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
tell text field 2 of group 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
set value of attribute "AXFocused" to true
keystroke wirelessPass
end tell
perform action "AXConfirm" of text field 2 of group 1 of group 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 2
--* Airport Utility bug - when you create a wireless network, Internet tab "Connect Using" resets to DHCP from PPPoe!
--* This section resets "Connect Using" back to PPPoE and assumes previous settings are remembered. 
--* If you use DHCP, comment out next 5 lines (upto Update the Airport)
perform action "AXPress" of radio button "Internet" of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 2
perform action "AXPress" of pop up button 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
perform action "AXPress" of menu item 3 of menu 1 of pop up button 1 of tab group 1 of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 2
--* ----------------------------
--* code for turn ON Wireless - ENDS
-- * Update the Airport 
click button "Update" of sheet 1 of window 1 of application process "AirPort Utility"
delay 4
-- * Quit Airport utility with enought time to check it worked
delay 60
tell application "AirPort Utility" to quit
end tell

The instructions on how to use it are in the code, this defaults to a startup script. To use it as a shutdown script, delete the startup code "code for turn ON Wireless" and remove the two --* comments from the "code for turn OFF Wireless" code. Paste the entire thing into Script Editor, editing your WiFi name and password and save it as your Startup script. Do the same for a new script, editing it to be a shutdown script, and save as Shutdown.

In order to run this, you should be prompted to make a one time change to the Security and Privacy settings - Privacy tab - Accessibility -> Script Editor. This permits Script Editor use the accessibility functionality, which is how the script works - it is emulating someone running the Airport Utility.

Test the Shutdown script using the play button at the top (which should trigger the permission request the first time). Then do the same with the Startup script.

Now you have two scripts, you must use Apple's Calendar app to create two events (or three if you want to delay the shutdown on the weekends).

To add a script to Calendar, create a new event, call it Restart WiFi, and select your times. Repeat every day. To trigger the script, select Alert - Custom (bottom of menu), Open file (select your script file), change to At time of event. Save it, and repeat for the Shutdown WiFi. Optionally add a different shutdown WiFi for the weekend if you want to delay it.


I'm fortunate to live in the middle of three cell towers, so the furthest location from all of them. So we now shut off our mobile phones before going to bed. I don't have a smart meter, so that's less of a concern for me. But remember that the smart meter's job is to transmit your meter readings to the nearest street so that a meter reader can pickup the data. For me, the nearest road is a few hundred yards away! My WiFi doesn't reach that far, and most meters here are in a closet in the middle of the house. Think about how strong that signal must be!

This leaves the one last elephant in the room. Cordless phones. Yes I had one by my bed, which I now discover from the video above is yet another big problem. These have been recycled. So we've reverted back to using good old fashioned telephones instead. This gave us the excuse to invest in this little beauty that's 35 years old and works like new:

Why am I bring this up? I work from home and have experienced a dulling of my memory and artistic talents. If this is the cause, then I'm ahead of the trend. I've already noticed my sleep patterns are better after making changes in the last week.

Returning to a photography perspective, wireless transmitters for strobe lighting use various frequencies. In the UK the Pocketwizard transceivers use the lower 434Mhz (US uses 340-354Mhz), whereas Elinchrom uses the same 2.4Ghz frequency range as WiFi. So use them and then switch them off when finished. Radio isn't optional in our modern world, but reducing your exposure to nearby unnecessary transmissions is.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Successfully cleaning a Lastolite Hi-Lite Background

A few months ago, I came across a deal that was too good to pass up. A large 6ft x 7ft Lastolite Hi-Lite Background on Ebay. I'd seen one when having my headshots done for a movie company, and thought it would make a great addition to my studio setup. I won the auction and drove to the sellers house for a demo and pick it up. Setup, it looked huge, but awesome!

When you buy second hand, you don't expect perfection, especially for the price I paid. So I was expecting a few blemishes or so. Apparently a common problem with the Lastolite Hi-Lite backgrounds occurs when something hot (presumably a hot light that has to be stuck inside of the background) touches the white panels, which results in a yellow dot forming and almost seems to go through to the front. If you buy second hand, note that you cannot actually see these burn marks until you put bright lights on the inside to check.

So I figured I'd try to get the stains out before putting the background to use. And I started with what I thought was something mild. First soap liquid, then oxy stain remover for fabrics ("Vanish"). Neither of which seemed to do anything to the stain. If you're trying to fix a stain such as coffee that somehow got inside, then these steps would be a good place to start, but don't expect miracles. Do remember to clean with clear water afterwards when you're done.

Next stage, I thought (incorrectly) that I'd try diluted bleach. This turned out to be a very bad idea. Now the little yellow stain was surrounded by a large ring of beige! In hindsight, at least the experiment did narrow down what kind of fabric this was.

I tried contacting Lastolite support for ideas, and they were of no help - they refused to tell me what the material was (other than it's custom made for them) how to clean it, repair it (can't), or how to get a piece I can use to replace it (not going to happen). So I gave up asking and looked for other solutions, based on what I presumed is a PVC front with a polyester binder in the back, not unlike a plastic tablecloth. Even though I got it for a steal, I'm not someone who would replace it just because of a small stain.

What the Internet searches came up with is to use Hydrogen Peroxide. I found some 6% solution and used a cotton bud (q-tip) to apply it neat. Setup the Hi-Lite somewhere out of the way (if possible), and have a lamp on the outside shining in so you can see what you're working on. Leave to dry and repeat - and this may take quite a few attempts, so be patient. I've now got the stain from the bleach to almost disappear after a dozen applications, and the treated yellow dots also faded.

When hydrogen peroxide dries, it often leaves a ring around the place you used it. While it looks terrible, note that this is not permanent damage. When you are done cleaning the surface with the hydrogen peroxide, you can use a sponge with hot (tap) water on the inside surface to get rid of the after effects. You can rub the inside surface without any issues - the material doesn't delaminate. Depending on the size of the treatment, it may require you to wash the entire inside surface to prevent the ring from returning (when I finished treatments, I used soapy water first before a second water only clean).

So for anyone out there with a similar problem looking to clean their Hi-Lite, you can find hydrogen peroxide at your local chemist. It usually comes in 3%, 6% and 12% strengths. If you get some on your fingers, it leaves a mild white burn mark. So I'd advise wearing gloves, especially if you're using it at 6% or higher.

The one annoying problem with this process is that the black plastic above/below the side zippers isn't particularly strong, and surprisingly sown with a single thread. So if you repeatedly climb inside, it will likely cause the plastic to rip and/or pull out the stitches. Again, this should be easy enough to repair after the fact (put some black material behind the vinyl layer, and re-sew the white trim/zipper through to the black material). Also be careful leaving dirty feet marks on the screen floor!

As always - a disclaimer - I have no way of knowing if this will work for you as I don't know if Lastolite has changed the material over the years or the source of your stain. My use of hydrogen peroxide is based on the fact that the screen yellows with application of bleach (which is the same behaviour as a white PVC tablecloth), and multiple applications does work without causing additional issues. If you're hesitant to try, I suggest you treat a stain on the side panel first to test, before working on the main panel.

One thing that Lastolite does recommend is making sure the edges don't get wet - the metal rod inside might rust, potentially causing new stains. So make sure you do this in a reasonably warm room so that it drys quickly. I don't recommend using a hair dryer, especially where hydrogen peroxide is used!

Good luck, and let me know how your HiLite cleaning turns out below.