The Pros and Cons of Wired vs. Wireless Tethering

The Pros and Cons of Wired vs. Wireless Tethering

I love to shoot tethered whenever I can. It’s the most successful way to create real collaboration on set, and clients are more engaged when they can see what’s happening on a big screen. Depending on the environment and the demands of the production, I’ll choose between a couple of tethering approaches.

In the Studio

In the studio or in more controlled environments where the camera and computer will not move much, I will generally use a wired connection. Wired tethering offers the fastest transfer between camera and computer — there’s almost no delay between firing the shutter and seeing the images on screen.

The only downside is the cable.  It can get yanked out of the camera port easily, or wiggle loose just enough to break the physical connection and often times the software needs to be restarted before it will recognize the camera connection again. Using a cable retention device, where the cable connects to the camera, helps minimize the movement of the cord and can prevent it from inadvertently coming unplugged. There is also a version for the computer end, which is somewhat less critical, but helps make sure that the USB cord isn’t accidentally pulled out.

The most important piece of equipment for wired tethered photography is the cord itself. It’s really worth the extra money to get a good quality, extra-long tethering cable, that has plated connections, coatings to reduce signal noise, and a core that provides the best possible transmission.

Out of the Studio 

With all of that said, I shoot out on location almost all the time. I have tried (many, many times) the scenario above, but when working outdoors, I found that being connected by cables to a laptop was too limiting for my shooting style. I searched for quite some time for a reliable wireless tethering system and finally landed on the CamRanger Wireless Tethering System. The CamRanger is a small device that plugs into the camera’s USB terminal and then can sit in the hot shoe or anywhere you care to put it within range of the cord that connects it.

The CamRanger creates its own network so you don’t have to be connected to wi-fi and wirelessly transmits your JPEG or raw captures via the CamRanger software. If you want to, you can monitor the images, control the camera (change ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop), and fire the shutter through the software. You can also watch Live View on your computer monitor. 

I import all of my work into Adobe Lightroom, so when shooting with the CamRanger and CamRanger software, I like to use the Auto Import feature of Lightroom. This way we’re ingesting the images into Lightroom right away, making selections and flagging our favorites right there at the shoot. Doing this on set takes a big step out of the post processing workflow and I find it to be a great time saver.

The one drawback is lag time. Unlike wired tethering, there’s a delay of 15-30 seconds (or more depending on file size) while the images transfer to the computer. So, by the time the client is responding to the images I captured a minute or two ago, I might have already made changes to lighting or composition. The delay takes some getting used to, but I think it’s a very worthwhile tradeoff for what you gain in the process. 

Sometimes, when out on location, I shoot with the CamRanger and an iPad, which is a really great, light and elegant way to travel. The raw images are saved to the card and the images that are sent to the iPad are smaller JPEGs, so they show up on screen more quickly than the laptop mode mentioned above. 

Even though the files are smaller, I find that it’s sometimes just the right solution, especially when there’s no Digital Tech (DIT) on set. The downside is that shooting to the camera’s memory card requires the additional step of transferring the images from the card to the laptop and any images that were flagged as favorites on set have to be re-identified. For me, it’s not the most efficient workflow.

Shooting with the laptop for wireless tethered shooting integrates seamlessly with my studio practices, and it’s certainly the safest workflow in terms of protection from data loss. I follow the 3-2-1 back up rule, which advocates maintaining 3 copies of your data saved onto 2 different media types where 1 copy is kept offsite, so by shooting to the camera’s card and a laptop with an external drive attached, you have the 3-2-1 redundancy needed to keep files safe from damage, corruption, loss, etc. Just make sure that you don’t leave all three copies in one place at any given time! 

Back at the studio, I work from the Lightroom catalog already created on set, and simply drag the primary set of files in the folder from my laptop’s temporary working folder onto my Drobo, an amazingly easy to expand RAID — or Redundant Array of Independent Disks — that keeps your data safe from drive failure by writing it across multiple drives. I typically do this right away so that my laptop’s hard drive doesn’t get too full. The secondary backup on the external drive we made at the shoot stays “as is” and gets stored offsite. The third backup happens when the Drobo folder containing jobs in progress gets backed up using Apple’s Time Machine, and it’s now safe to reformat the CF card for the next shoot!

Learn more about wired and wireless tethered photography with mirrorless, DSLR, and medium format cameras in The Ultimate Tethering Guide, a free eight chapter downloadable PDF from ASMP and Tether Tools.  

Rhea Anna shoots narrative based, conceptual lifestyle stories in the still frame and in motion. Rhea’s lifestyle imagery is used by businesses and brands that inspire.

Images Copyright Rhea Anna and Aaron Ingrao.

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14 Comments

Patrick Shipstad's picture

I LOVE using the Camranger for tethering.. and clients love it too. The only drawback is that the Camranger only works with Canon and Nikon. I can't use it with my Sonys. I don't know if the technology has a limitation regarding mirrorless cameras, but if they can find a solution, that would be awesome!

Mark Davidson's picture

I talked to the CamRanger people and they are looking at offering Sony support. They gave me no timeline.

Scott Spellman's picture

Tethering is a fabulous tool to interact and talk about critical details with the Client. Its the best way to make sure everything is just right and you can move on to the next shot.

The concept of the CamRanger is great. I bought one to tether to my iPad and unfortunately its just not reliable enough for client use. After it failed on me with 2 different clients, I stopped using it. I now just use the built in wireless of the Canon 70D and and the Canon EOS Remote iPhone App which is much more reliable, and brings up images in less than a second. I can't even imagine asking my client to wait 15+ seconds to see the image.

CamRanger Dave's picture

Hi Scott, This is Dave from CamRanger. We are sorry you did not have a good experience with the CamRanger. Please email support@camranger.com and we can help you troubleshoot. Also if you shoot JPG+RAW the JPGs are what is viewed and only takes a few seconds for those to be viewed. The article is referring to viewing RAW images.

Nick Dors's picture

I hate how slow Lightroom is tethered, anyone has tips to speed that up? PS: Canon 6D with the iPhone/iPad app works great!

Lee Ramsden's picture

Sorry Nick, not a Lightroom tip,
but when shooting tethered, i use capture one.
Have not really got my head around the rest of the software,
as i find PS and camera raw does everything i need.
But i do like capture one when shooting tethered.

Prefers Film's picture

I tether my 6D to a Nexus 7 tablet. Willing to bet that I can use Chromecast to send the images to the 55" TV I got for my studio. That would beat tethering that screen to a laptop.

Joshua Gow's picture

I shoot wireless these days. Both in studio and out on location. I've not found the wait time to be much of a problem. Unless my camera is on a tripod I wouldn't go back to using a cable. If you have a client that wants to see the images quickly, set up a tablet to view the jpgs and have the RAW on the card. Horses for courses I guess, but wireless is the norm for me now.

Jay Jay's picture

Kind of strange that the Camranger is mentioned no less than 6 times in the article, but the Jerkstopper (that vague "cable retention device" mentioned in the first section- and actually featured in photo #2) wasn't mentioned. (There are also much cheaper competitors on Amazon and elsewhere that do the same thing the Camranger's do, btw)

Also, why no mention of the Hoodman Loupes (they fit over the camera lcd display and magnifies the image to blocks out light, so you can shoot in hard direct sunlight and still see your photos clearly)? The author even included a photo of it in image #4 (though the one featured in the image is the Hoodman knock-off from Neewer that you can find on ebay for half of what Hoodman charges)

I won't accuse the author of heavily promoting a specific product in this article, but it is kind of odd to mention one product by name all over the place but not mention the other products too? Hmm......

Mark Davidson's picture

The CamRanger is mentioned a lot because it actually does work really well. I am aware of the cheaper competition but they have their compromises. Most significant is the lack of support that is critical to a pro in the field. Most of us are not interested in freeware that may or may not work when our jobs are on the line.

Hoodman loupes are great but magnifying a small screen is huge compromise compared to seeing the image large on an iPad or zoomed in for focus check.

The author isn't getting paid for mentioning the products, just reporting what has worked for them and what they know.

Maybe you can write an article on the alternative Wifi solutions.

Judy Herrmann's picture

Hi Jay Jay & Mark - The article is not sponsored by CamRanger at all - that is simply the tool that Rhea uses for her own wireless set up. It's ironic, Jay Jay, that you mention the Jerkstopper cable retention device as the article is actually a slightly edited excerpt from The Ultimate Tethering Guide, which was co-produced by Tether Tools and the ASMP. The editorial team at Fstoppers was, understandably, uncomfortable with any mention of Tether Tools products by name since they were involved in the creation of the Guide, hence the "vague" cable retention device reference you cited. I hope this helps alleviate any suspicions you may have about the source of the information provided here. For the sake of full disclosure, I was ASMP's Director of Content Strategy during the development of the Guide and, in that capacity, served as the primary point person and editor for the Guide as well as coordinating the publication of this article. You'll find a link to the The Ultimate Tethering Guide at the end of the article.

Eric Knorpp's picture

For me nothing beats CaptureOne for tethered shooting and RAW converts.Just be sure to shoot to the computer and not an external hard drive as is slows it down quite a bit. Camranger sounds pretty good, but for my style of shooting it would be just way to slow. Jerkstopper is KEY to use, I broke 2 USB ports because of clients or makeup artist tripping over the cables. And it is not cheap to repair.

CamRanger Dave's picture

This is Dave from CamRanger. We appreciate the above article. I wanted to recommend that if speed is important please shoot JPG+RAW, as both are saved to the card but the JPGs are quickly transfered for viewing. So you will be viewing the image in a couple seconds. For the RAW images it can take 15+ seconds, especially with the newer cameras, as those files are quite large. As always please email support@camranger.com for questions, issues, or suggestions.

Jon Dize's picture

I use EyeFI 90% of the time and my CamRanger when I need to be away from the camera, so I can access the camera functions remotely. The EyeFi card stays in my camera all the time.