Give Your Old Smartphone New Life by Turning It Into a Dedicated Camera Controller

Give Your Old Smartphone New Life by Turning It Into a Dedicated Camera Controller

In 2019, every camera on the market, from action cameras, to 360 cameras, to Interchangeable lens cameras, has WiFi. Unfortunately, that means that every camera requires its own app to make work wirelessly.

I have an Olympus E-M10 Mark II, a Fujifilm X-T1, Several Panasonic Lumix G-series cameras, Canons, Nikons and 3 different 360 cameras that I own and others that are on loan at the moment. From that list alone, I would need Olympus Image Share, Fujifilm Camera Remote, Panasonic Lumix Link, Canon Camera Connect, Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility, Insta 360 One X, Insta360 Pro/Pro2 Controller, Kandao QooCam, Xiaomi MiSphere Camera all on my phone just to run all the cameras I have. If I bought a new Nikon camera, I’d need Snapbridge, but not if it was an action or 360 camera, in which case I’d need SnapBridge 360/170. Depending on which Panasonic I was using I might need the Panasonic Image App.

Clunking up my current Google Pixel 3a XL with all of that would eat into its 64 GB of memory very quickly, not to mention that it would muck up my folders and photo albums as each app did its own thing with images and videos.

Instead, I keep my daily driver phone free of the mess that are manufacturer camera apps by loading them onto a dedicated device: My old phone.

My Apple iPhone 6s has been seeing the inside of a drawer for the last two months, when I had the occasion to run 360 cameras for a few projects. With my Pixel down to 2 GB of memory and not a lot of time to clear it off, I thought about a few other options, and the iPhone came to mind. 

With the phone reset, it had all of its memory available to use to run cameras and wirelessly download photos. It became the perfect way to effortlessly use for a project I needed to work on. It’s much easier when the entirety of the phone dedicated to the task of wirelessly working the cameras, since project photos don’t get mixed in with photos of the kids.

The 6s is still current enough in the world of Apple that it’s able to update to the latest iOS without problems. Anything earlier is left out in the cold for iOS updates, but things might still work even on an older iOS version. Android phones are a bit of a crapshoot because of the looser software controls between phone manufacturers. I’m able to get an old Galaxy S2 tablet to run some of those apps, but because Samsung hasn’t updated the tablet software for several versions (even though it’s a fairly recent tablet), I can’t do them all.

While in a pinch you might not always be able to take a second phone with you, in the case where you’re working on a special project that requires a wireless connection and a phone app (like for instance running most 360 cameras), then the old smartphone route is the easiest way to go.

I used my Apple iPhone 6s to remotely trigger an Insta360 One X for this group selfie while visiting Holy Land U.S.A in Connecticut. My Google Pixel 3a stayed in my pocket.

One pro tip to remember when using the old phone: It’s likely to have an older battery that might be near end-of-life, so pack a power bank to keep it topped up. I ran an Insta360 Pro 2 on a recent shoot with my iPhone 6s, and while the camera was at 70 percent after a couple of hours, my smartphone was down to 1 percent battery life.

Now if camera manufacturers could agree on a set of standards to make a universal app, it would be wonderful, but sadly, that’s probably wishful thinking.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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This is a solid idea. I’m gonna add my iPhone 5 to the kit.

Great tip! I just jumped to the 11 Pro from a 7 plus so I'll be putting the 7 plus to use now with my kit!