July 15, 2017

Working with Count to Five and BPM.

Note: This article assumes you have a basic understanding of how to use the controls of the Count to Five Delay/Looper pedal from Montreal Assembly.

While Count To Five's output can seem wonderfully insane, most of what it does is predictable. Even though there's no MIDI or readout, much of the seeming mayhem is also controllable. I do a lot of recording from CT5 directly into a TC Electronic Wiretap and then assemble these tracks for mixing, so I rely heavily on a BPM structure to get results that follow a timeframe. With a little math (mostly doubling or halving) and a metronome, you'll be able to control many of your CT5 results. Here's how to work within the three modes.


M1 is the only mode with a fixed-length buffer and is the easiest to work with. The LEN B knob (DIR2) controls buffer length. The chart below starts with the knob at 7a.

LEN B Pos Length BPM
1 15.625ms 3840
2 31.25ms 1920
3 62.5ms 960
4 125ms 480
5 250ms 240
6 500ms 120
7 1s 60
8 2s 30
9 4s 15
10 8s 7.5

All buffer lengths won't be practical and 30-240 are the most musically useful. But here's where the math comes in: when you start turning the DIR1 knob, the speed of buffer playback changes, so you'll need to factor this into the numbers in the chart above. With the LEN B knob set at 120 BPM and quantization set with the Q switch down to position 2 (Chromatic), the 12n position of DIR1 will pitch your effect down an octave and slows it to half speed (60 BPM). Likewise, if you set DIR1 to 7a or 5p, you'll get an effect an octave higher at twice speed (240 BPM).

Octaves are easiest to work with. (But if you want to get the BPM for individual notes, multiply each chromatic note up by 1.143 or multiply each note down by .857. Is that math right? Only my statistics prof knows for sure.)


M2 is the trickiest mode. Here the buffer length isn't fixed, but controlled by how long you hold the left footswitch when recording. Also, the LEN S knob doesn't use fixed positions for the slices. So while you can't set precise slice timing, you can control the length of the buffer by using a metronome to define lengths. For example: recording for 4 beats at 120 BPM gives you a 2 second recording.


M3 is also tricky since you set the length of the buffer manually. (That, and the fact that you can have 3 play heads moving at three different speeds.) Again, by using a metronome when recording to the buffer you can be precise with the buffer length. Here's how I made the sample below:

Control Setting
Q Switch Position 2 (Chromatic)
DIR1 12n (-Octave)
DIR2 2p (Orig Pitch)
DIR3 5p (+Octave)

I then held down the left footswitch to record for about a second. The result is DIR1 playing once, DIR2 playing twice and DIR3 playing 4 times for the length of the buffer and repeating, creating a nice rhythm. The easiest way to set head alignment is to do a scrub recording first to set your controls for pitch and then do the final recording so the heads are already synced before you start. (Obviously this is not an easy live technique.)

You don't have to work with octaves. Fifths can provide some nice rhythms when Q is set to position 6. Or setting the heads two notes part with Q in position 2 can give you more complex rhythms.

Note that it's best to be precise when you start recording the buffer. Any hesitation (even tiny) after starting to record will be doubled or halved, throwing off the pacing. I recommend striking your chord before you start recording and things will line up correctly as they did in the sample below.

This was created by playing one F minor chord through the Count to Five. It was recorded into a TC Electronic Wiretap with a Godin Multiuke, Fairfield Accountant compressor, CT5 and Caroline Meteore reverb.

You can adjust the heads on the fly (if needed) to sync up or stagger. In the scenario above, you'd turn DIR2 up a note for a split second and then back. Each time you do this it will advance the play head a bit. Keep doing it until the play head controlled by DIR2 is aligned and then do the same to DIR3. This can be useful when working with reversed sound to get the alignment sounding more natural.

July 7, 2017

Review: Moment Wide v2 Lens

By far my favorite lens attachment for the iPhone has been the Moment Wide. This add-on lens converts the iPhone's wide lens into an 18mm super-wide, a really useful length for shooting landscapes and architecture. What made the original Wide exceptional is not just the excellent quality and design of the optics, but also the superior coatings, which add a natural-looking crispness that's missing from most mobile camera pix.

So why mess with perfection?

The original Moment Wide was built for iPhone 5. Since then the iPhone built-in lens has gone through an evolution with a bigger lens and an added 6th lens element for sharper images. The old Moment Wide couldn't take full advantage of the optic improvements. By creating a larger Wide v2 lens, the Moment designers were freed up to create a lens that had more glass for better sharpness and worked better with iPhone and other mobile cameras. It's also likely that the new wider mount and more forgiving glass will somewhat future-proof the Wide v2. Moment has new Tele, Macro and Superfish lenses with the v2 mount as well, but these keep the original optics and all work fine with the iPhone Plus.

Moment Wide v2 Lens performance.

The Moment Wide v2 sets a new standard for mobile photography. As you can see in the un-retouched photo at the top of the article, everything is more crisp and clear than you'd expect from a phone cam. There's no loss of light so the exposure is identical with or without the lens on the iPhone Plus. As with the original Wide, the Wide v2 is superbly corrected for the barrel distortion (lines bowed outward) you usually see on super-wide lenses. For closer inspection, download the original full-size image.

The only real negative I've discovered with the Wide v2 is occasional lens flare in the bottom corner of images when the light source is on the side at roughly 90º to the lens. This is likely the result of strong (but not necessarily direct) light hitting the bigger, more protruding convex lens element where it sticks out beyond the petals of the lens housing. Not an issues in most images, but worthy of mention.


Moment got off to a rocky start, mounting the original wide lens on previous iPhones with a stick-on, pressed-metal bracket and later a pricey v1 case (that was overkill for most of us.) The cheaper of the two new cases is excellent. It's thin (yet padded) enough that you'd consider it daily protection for your iPhone, but is easy to take off for those of us who normally keep our iPhone naked. The strap mounts make it easy to secure your iPhone around your neck when actively shooting and the alignment for the lens mounting is flawless.

This is NOT a toy.

It's not that every other brand of lenses for the iPhone are just novelty playthings. True, most are and some of these lesser lenses are made a plastic (rather than metal and glass) while others are of primitive design or have no coatings. In the other camp, there are some mobile lenses of great quality that are pricier than Moment. But Moment has set the bar so high, even lenses from the well-known gourmet glass companies pale. Nothing came close to the original Moment Wide before. Now with Wide v2, Moment has a lens which has moved into a class by itself.

I'm surprised that Moment was able to keep the price of the Wide v2 to $100. This is the quality of glass you expect in interchangeable lenses on digital cameras. So if you’re one of those "serious iPhoneographer" oxymoronic types like myself, the Moment Wide v2 this is well worth the investment and will likely be useful for years to come.

Moment Wide v2 on Amazon

By the way, if you have original Moment lenses they'll work with the new iPhone 7 cases through an adapter that Moment sells for $5.

Master your iPhone camera: The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography

Read more useful iPhone Photography articles: CrapFreePix.com

May 28, 2017

Review: Bluristic Camera App for iPhone.

Turns camera blur into an artform. ★★★★★

Your iPhone Camera app is designed to freeze a moment in time, which is normally what you want. But Bluristic gives you a unique visual storytelling technique: capturing 8-16 seconds of time in a single image. Developer Johannes Pfahler has concocted an app that blends multiple photos for a fluid, poetic image.

The best tracking.

Bluristic's superpower is the ability to track a moving subject. (Most blur apps struggle and usually leave you with unintelligible color streaks.) Just tap the subject on the screen and hold the shutter. Bluristic will do its best to keep the subject in focus. You'll get the best results if you use the single focus setting in the toolbar and keep the red tracking dot close to the focus rectangle.

Manual save?

Like most blur apps, you must manually save the image in Bluristic. (Since the technique is experimental, there will be failures you don't want cluttering your Photos app.) In Bluristic manual save can be useful, since you have some post processing options. Once the image is captured you can tap the sliders icon to set the image's black, white and gray point or let Bluristic do this automatically. (I'd turn on the button on the bottom of the sliders and leave this up to Bluristic.) In Bluristic's settings (gear > wrench) you can save your image as an Ultra big, uncompressed PNG file, which photographers will find meets the standards for professional editing.

A word about RAW.

Bluristic essentially shoots a movie and creates your final image from it. You can save the RAW images as a .DAT file in Bluristic's iTunes File Sharing Folder or save a hi-def .MOV video. But that's all added work that can detract from shooting images.

My Take

Bluristic is a real dream for "long shutter" experimentation. I'm getting so many nice results hand-held that I'm not relying on the tripod for blurred images as much. Nice to b able to experiment without having to bring anything along, but the iPhone on your pocket.

Technique: The yin of stillness and the yang of movement.

When you blend stillness and movement in an image it can help balance as well as strengthen both. The Blend mode in Bluristic gives you nice even exposures with blur, as well as focus, and is a good place to start. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Tripod with moving subject. Mount your phone on a tripod to get a still background for your subject to move against. This is useful for blurring waterfalls, streaking car headlights and contrasting moving subjects.
  • Follow a moving subject. If you move with the subject and keep the red tracking dot near the focus box, the subject will remain in focus while the background blurs. You can follow the subject as it moves or walk in an arc around still subjects.
  • Move in a pattern. If the subject is bold, try moving in a pattern, like streaks or tiny circles. Less will be in focus, so your results will be more abstract. This can create patterns that become the composition. For example, lights will take on the shape of the movement.
  • Just hold still. Hand hold your iPhone and hold the shutter for the full 8 seconds in normal light or 16 seconds in dim light. While a still subject will stay in focus, you'll get soft focus on the edges.

Get Bluristic in the App Store

Get The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography at iTunes

May 28, 2017

Crap-Free Pix .com now part of wolfewithane blog.

My book, the Crap-Free Guide to iPhone Photography was first published in 2015 and updated for the iPhone 7 and iPhone7+ last year. This ongoing project has been a lot of fun and has been the book I'm most happy with. With minimal marketing put behind it, sales have been moderate (which is considered exceptional by self-published eBook standards.)

Though the book is updated regularly, I also created the companion CrapFreePix.com site to post more in-depth articles related to topics in the book. Knowing I wasn't going to be able to devote the time to a really serious site, I started CrapFreePix.com as a series of articles on DayOne's Publish platform. This was extremely simple to make happen, but DayOne seems to have abandoned Publish.

I'm in process of moving CrapFreePix.com over as part of my occasional blog. Much thanks to David Merfield, owner of my blogging platform Blot. David did some magic behind the scenes to make my iPhone photography articles all get indexed on a special page connected to the CrapFreePix.com URL. If you're not familiar Blot, it's an automatic blogging platform that turns a Dropbox folder with text files written in Markdown (the de facto content markup language of the web) into blog posts. It's convenient to write posts on my iPad in ByWord app and move them to Dropbox. At $20 a year, Blot is a real bargain for those looking for control and editorial freedom a notch above what you get on Tumblr and Medium and for who don't want to deal with the quirks and complexities of WordPress.

Slowly new posts are being added and current Publish content is being revised and moved over. If you want to bookmark the page, it's up in the nav and at http://crapfreepix.com. Your comments are always welcome and Twitter is the best place for those.

Oh, the book. (Wouldn't be much of a marketer if I didn't get in a plug for that.) The Crap-Free Guide to iPhone photography is available on iTunes and DRM-free, so it's readable on any ePub reader on any device. Updates are free forever. You can expect those shortly after the release of a new iPhone or a new iOS.

May 20, 2017

Shift-Line Force Freezeverb

Shift Line Force PedalShift Line Force Pedal

This cool little pedal from Russia takes the EHX Freeze concept and adds high-feedback reverb and the option of a sub-octave blend. Together these give the frozen effect ambiance and a nice modulated quiver. The only controls are a knob for effect volume and a toggle to control momentary or latch (tap the footswitch to resample.) I really like the sub-octave mode. To get to it: Hold the footswitch and flick the toggle down.

There's also a Shadow mode that automatically freezes what you're playing and fades it in and out under your dry signal. Really useful for ambient playing without having to mess with the footswitch. To access the Shadow mode: Disconnect power > Hold the footswitch > Plug it back in > Release the footswitch. Shadow mode is up. (There's an ambient delay demo when you toggle down.)

My take: For me this tiny pedal replaced my EHX Superego (and POG, chorus and tremolo chained to it.) The sound varies from organ to choir, but is always earthy, yet other worldly. A beautiful harmonious swarm to back your playing, so you'll probably find you'll use it more than you think. 9v and burns 70ma.

If you want it, ya gotta order it from St. Petersburg. Oleg at Shift-Line got mine to me promptly.