For the longest time, I've been using a 17" Macbook Pro for tethering. The big screen is great. Everything else, however, was a nightmare. I recently saw some colleagues of mine raving about a new product called the CamRanger, which allows you to tether to your Android device (April 2013), iPad or iPhone to your camera and had to try it out, as any solution that would resolve my near-daily tethering headaches would be fantastic.
As an architectural and interiors photographer, the technicality of my work requires that I shoot tethered. There are simply too many situations where not being able to see an entire frame on a big screen would prove incredibly frustrating. Angles are constantly adjusted to within inches, furniture is repositioned the tiniest bit, lights are constantly fiddled with, shiny surfaces are polished over and over, and so on and so forth. It could take an hour to get the scene set just right, and being sure everything is just perfect is far too hard on a tiny 3" LCD screen.
Which led me to purchasing a 17" MacbookPro so that I could provide clients with real-time results as we worked on their projects. If you've ever shot tethered to a laptop, you know that it's a double edged sword. The screen real estate is great, and having access to all of your programs and files is also a plus. But man, it can be a real pain in the neck sometimes. Laptops and the associated cords and cables are bulky and cumbersome, require their own Pelican cases and special stands, and people are a little bit intimidated by the whole thing. It's a solution, but not a very elegant one.
So when I was told about the CamRanger, I knew I had to try it. I contacted the guys at CamRanger who generously provided me a review copy to test out and then send back. I'll also disclaim that they paid me in no way at all (we can't even affiliate link this product), this was purely because I was curious and desperate to improve my tethering situation. Being that me and my iPad are basically an inseparable duo, I was excited to be able to bring it along on shoots and see what it could do when paired with the CamRanger.
Unboxing, Setup, and Installation
The CamRanger comes with some simple instructions, a few cables, a battery, a case, and the unit itself, a rather small, compact white boxy type of thing. Pretty minimal, which I appreciate, seeing as how these days I am lugging more and more gear than ever before.
Setup is an absolute breeze. Download the CamRanger app to your tethering tool of choice (Android, iPhone or iPad) and you'll be prompted to enter serial numbers and connect to the internet. You can quickly set up the CamRanger's WiFi network and connect your device to it, and from there, it's pretty much plug and play.
After the initial setup, all that's required is that you plug the CamRanger into your camera, turn the unit on so that it broadcasts its WiFi signal, and connect to the CamRanger network through your iDevice. Boom. You are shooting tethered. CamRanger will store image previews in a cache on your device, and the actual files will still be written to a CF or SD card as usual. You can limit the size of the cache and you can browse through your card to view previous images if necessary. It's nice that you don't have to worry about filling up your iPad with raw files.
But How Does It Work in The Real World?
I took the CamRanger on a few shoots to test it out and see how it would hold up in the real world. Since I do a lot of compositing and bracketing in my work, I would assume that the CamRanger would make shooting a hell of a lot easier.
And I was right. Not only does the CamRanger function as a remote trigger and enormous LCD for your camera, but it allows you to configure a number of in-camera settings from an off-camera location, if you will. Once you flip on the camera and CamRanger, the CamRanger dangles out of your USB port. It never fell out, but I ended up sticking some velcro to the back and onto my tripod leg to secure it in place. It comes with a pouch to protect it during use and travel which has a carabiner on it, but for some reason Manfrotto, the manufacturer of my (older-ish) tripod, doesn't have a place where I can clip it. I'd imagine that for most everyone with a decent tripod this wouldn't be an issue at all. I'd assume that you could securely clip the bag with the CamRanger in it to a loop on your tripod and you'd be good to go. After that, it's just a matter of opening the CamRanger app and getting to it. I've never had trouble with the app starting up and working immediately - it's bang on ready to go. Just make sure you follow the instructions (I know, hard for males) and connect to the CamRanger's wireless network before you open the app.
As I mentioned earlier, I do a lot of compositing and multiple exposure images. The CamRanger has cut down not only my time on location, but also my time in post for a couple of reasons. Don't underestimate how useful it is to be able to see the results you are creating without having to run back and forth to the LCD to check. This has got to be the most liberating thing ever for the type of work I do. Instead of having to set up one light, chimp to make sure it's right, walk back, set up another light, chimp, set up another light, etc, eight times in a row - I can just do all of this and chimp from where I'm standing instead of walking around back to the camera to check.
Instead of blindly shooting and guessing where my lights are pointed, I can make much more accurate adjustments now that I have the CamRanger in hand. By switching into Live View mode, I can see EXACTLY how I'm adjusting lights and props, and take the shot when I'm ready. You're also able to focus the camera wirelessly in Live View mode which is absolutely the most fascinating thing ever if you ask me. Technology is incredible. Anyway, more accurate lighting and staging means an easier time in post production, especially when I layer and composite my images together. I'd estimate that this has shaved at least 25% off of my post production time, because I'm weeding through less images and I have to do less finagling in Photoshop to get everything to match perfectly.
This would also be great in a studio setting, as well. Imagine shooting products with your camera on a tripod and a multiple light setup. You'd be able to walk around the product and adjust lights without having to circle back around to chimp at the back of the camera or worry about tripping over wires connected to computers as you work. While I'm mentioning studio shooting, I should also add that CamRanger has a focus stacking capability, though I didn't get to try it out because macro photography is as foreign to me as Keira Knightley's bedroom. From my quick research around the internet, however, it appears that people are happy with the feature. I would have loved to try it out, but hell I don't even own a macro lens, and I wouldn't know where to start when it comes to putting that all together. If anyone has experience with the focus stacking function, we would love to hear about it in the comments.
In addition, you're able to put the CamRanger into 'Client Mode' which allows you to control the shooting while you give the client the iPad. This will allow the client to see the images that are created in real time, but they won't be able to accidentally fire the camera or adjust settings because in Client Mode, the CamRanger hides all of those buttons to ensure that the client is just watching and unable to adjust anything. Pretty clever little trick, there.
Because the CamRanger operates over a WiFi signal in order to transmit data and remain cable-free, there are a few details worth noting. If you shoot raw, for example, it will take a couple seconds for the image to be displayed on the iPad screen. One quick and easy workaround is to shoot both raw and small jpeg at the same time (I'm a Canon shooter - not sure how this would work on Nikon). Because the CamRanger uses the file that is recorded to the card and then stores it in a cache, it will pick up the small jpeg file before the raw and display that. When shooting this way, the display of images is more or less instantaneous. I have Aperture set to import only raw files, so they get glossed over on import, and it's like nothing ever happened. The small jpeg files take up almost no space, so it's pretty much a non issue. If you are okay with waiting two seconds for the full raw to load on the CamRanger, this is worth ignoring.
In addition, there is also a range limitation imposed by the WiFi system. It is, more or less, the same range you can expect out of a decent-quality wireless router for your computers. Indoors, I never had a single problem with triggering, but outdoors things got a little dicey around the 100-150ft mark. Line of sight definitely helps, and it's best to not have any walls or trees in the way of the transmitter and your camera. For shooting tethered at these distances you should probably have an assistant anyway. I know I do, so again, it's kind of a non-issue unless you're in some very unique circumstances.
CamRanger also sports an intervalometer, which works quite well for short-term interval shooting. The issue is that if you lose your connection with the CamRanger, the interval shooting will stop, or if you accidentally quit the app, the same thing will happen. Like I said, very neat for short term interval shooting, but for long-term, hour+ situations, I'd rather get a dedicated intervalometer. It's certainly a nice perk, though!
You'll want to be aware of your camera's battery life when using LiveView thru the CamRanger. I wasn't sure if it was the LiveView or the CamRanger that sucked the batteries faster than usual - I'm willing to bet that it was mostly the live view, but don't forget to shut it off if you need to conserve battery life. Live view usually sucks batteries anyway, just something to make note of. I didn't really notice any excess use of battery from the CamRanger one way or another, as my camera's batteries (5d Mark III, 7d, 1d Mark III) all lasted plenty long.
The battery on the CamRanger itself lasts a good deal longer than I expected, too. I recharge it not because it's actually dead, but because I feel like I've gone an abnormally long time without recharging it. I never once ran the thing out of batteries, but I did top it off after a full-day shoot.
So after all that, what do I think?
After bringing the CamRanger along on four or five shoots, I can definitely say that this is something I won't be able to live without. It has made my shooting days less stressful, as I am not lugging around a Pelican with a Macbook in it, I don't have to bring my enormous tethering cart to a shoot anymore, and it is much easier to give to clients to have them follow along than an entire computer. I'm also able to walk around with it and chimp with a remote without having to walk back and double check the camera - like I said, a huge time saver for me.
My one complaint with the unit is that I could not figure out how to use my iPhone (or whatever device) to trigger the camera and then give an iPad to a client. Or trigger it with an iPad and give another iPad to my client, etc etc. It would be so amazing to be able to do both, and I would love to see this included in a future app update. But honestly, other than that one shortcoming, this may well be the best $300 you will spend on a photography product.
It's quite simply a no brainer. CamRanger:
-Makes my shooting more accurate as a result of the instant feedback
-Lets clients see what is going on without the bulk and stress of a computer on set
-Reduces time in post
-Has really cool built in features such as the bracketing, focus stacking function, and intervalometer
-Eliminates stupidly long USB cables from the equation of tethered shooting
-Is easy to use
-Doesn't break down every minute like my computer software (EOS Utility, I'm looking at you)
-It's compatible with basically every DSLR you're likely to use
-The price. Oh my god, the price. $300 for this is such a steal.
If you are looking to get into shooting tethered, this is one hell of a way to do it for cheap. If you already shoot tethered, save yourself a headache and pick up one of these. It will greatly simplify the process for both you and your clients. If you have an assistant, this might replace him or her (and save you some money in the process) plus it won't talk back.
For more information, check out CamRanger's website at www.camranger.com, where you can find more information about supported cameras, supported devices (iPhone and iPad are currently available, with Android support slated for release in Spring 2013) and answers to common questions. To see a few more testimonials and reviews of this product, you can check out their testimonials page, which also goes over a few more ways in which you can use the CamRanger.
Update: Dave, manager at CamRanger, has told us that Android firmware will be available in April 2013.