Over the weekend we had a dandy time out with the finalists of the Mrs Modern Woman Pageant, shooting in the Warbirds hanger with a lovely old Antonov AN-2 as our backdrop! Left the studio just after 6am and returned to the studio just after 10pm. Typical photographers, only work half days!
It was a perfect scenario to try out the CamRanger wireless transfer/control unit on the Canon EOS 5DmkIII and it worked pretty much flawlessly. Why not just shoot standard tethering? because we are walking and shooting around a working hangar space, and moving lights and models around inside, and around the planes. The perfect place for somebody to trip over a wire and make use of my Public Liability Insurance!
The lighting conditions were challenging inside the hanger, with large hanger doors standing open, industrial lighting from the ceilings and off course, the Antonov only looks small, but looks can be deceiving (this is a 12 passenger bi-plane!) The Pageant owners were on hand to to ensure the images are what they were looking for (These specific shots was for their magazine spreads for the finalist’s profiles)
Anyhoo, lighting was sorted with Profoto Pro7A generators and ProHeads and some D1 500watt heads was used for fill lights in various places to light up the spots on the background.
So what’s it like shooting with the CamRanger? Let me start at the beginning:
The CamRanger is a wireless tethering device that can connect to most new cameras (with USB2 or USB3 tethering built in) – It can tether to your iPad or computer (you need to download the apps for it though! Don’t show up on your big shoot before installing the apps.)
It’s a very basic and simple solution. The Camranger creates a WiFi access point that your computer or tablet connects to, and the app downloads images and data for you to verify images on a big screen. With the added benefit that the CamRanger can also control most of your soft camera functions. So in essence, it works a lot like My Canon’s WFT transmitter grip, except you can use it on multiple cameras.
Did I like the CamRanger? Yes I did.
Is it a perfect device? Well, yes and no. It depends on what you need to do. Let me walk you through it, and then you will understand.
Most tethering solutions have good points and bad points, that’s a given. My Choice for tethering is CaptureOne Pro Software with USB cable. It works really well, quite fast and although it has a major strength over other solutions it also has a major weakness. The C1Pro software can “broadcast” the images to any iPad or iPhone that sits on the wireless network around it, so multiple people can look at the images, review and rate at the same time. But you need an active and already set up wifi network in place for this to function. Fine in a studio, not ideal on location. Also the C1Pro software doesn’t leave any files on the CF/SD cards. So you do not have a backup of the files on a second location. (also doesn’t support all cameras)
In this regard, Lightroom is better. It supports almost all cameras, transfers files to computer and keeps it on the camera’s own card, but everybody must be watching on your computer screen. So that’s a bummer.
Both of these solutions also requires the Branded Transmitters or USB/Cat5 cables.
The CamRanger gets past the cables (Big Bonus!), but doesn’t actually transfer the files over to your computer – It leaves it on the cards of the Computer. So in a clients shoot scenario, this tool will be mostly reference, not added secondary backup. Also, because it’s wifi, it’s not a high speed shooting device. The 5DmkIII’s 20mp files takes a while to show on the device, I can only guess at the speed a D800 will be pushing files through.
Because the CamRanger becomes a wifi hotspot, you connect to the wifi network generated by the CamRanger, so you don’t need a second wifi network, and you don’t need cables (which means you are free to walk around, inside or outside).
So, all the technicals aside, how does it work in real life and under pressure with clients watching?
Super simple, download the apps, plug in and switch on the device, and switch on the camera. Make sure your tablet or PC is connected to the CamRanger’s wifi network, and you are good to go. Shoot, and the CamRanger will send the files over (tagging the image with an [R] if it’s a RAW file) Like I said, it takes a few seconds, so it’s not for shooting super fast, but shot by shot, small adjustments to get it just right, with feedback from a creative director standing on the set, it’s fine.
The client can zoom in (there is a “client mode” so they don’t change your setting by pressing buttons!), check exposures and focus points, etc, etc, everything they need.
I couldn’t get more than one device at a time to connect and get the feeds, so it seems this is a “one-screen” solution. Still not a major problem as there is generally only one or two people on a set or location that needs to make decisions. From there it’s actually really just point and shoot, no more worries.
The camera control options are cool, you can even adjust focus in three variable steps, adjust shutter speed, aperture, etc. I think this is a handy function if shooting smaller sets (like food) or if you have a mounted camera in an inaccessible place, having the ability to see the live view AND adjust the focus to a perfect point is a major bonus! Slow feeds for the images really doesn’t mind in such a scenario because the fact that you can get the perfect shot, is worth much more than getting on a ladder, adjusting focus, and starting again with the shoot with a regular trigger, much more control, much less luck required to get the shot!
The literature says your range is about 50m but I have found that I seem to hit a limit on 30m, less when the battery was at it’s end. Although, in our scenario, we might have picked up electronic interference (they were preparing planes for an air show the next day, so lots of tools working and lots of radio checks).
The movie mode was nice. I could remotely switch on the camera’s movie mode and shoot my assistant slowly losing her mind without her expecting a thing! On a more serious note, I can see how this can be a very nice addition for something like vehicle mounted cameras. Again, you can make quick adjustments without having to stop everything, or a camera on a boom shooting the high shot.
This is a great solution for many more problems than I can throw at it!
The CamRanger did have a few problems. Or rather, to be fair, they are not problems, It’s things that I noticed that wasn’t ideal for the way I work.
My studio is prone to electronic interference (some radio triggers brought in by students can’t even trigger consistently!) so inside my studio I kept on losing connection. I am pretty sure this was not the CamRanger’s fault because I didn’t have this problem on location where we were shooting later. Well, almost. We did drop connection now and again, but It was much less, and I am pretty sure it was electronic noise generated from the location we were working in.
However, a bigger problem was that I couldn’t trigger the PocketWizard triggers remotely. You can trigger the camera shutter, but if you have triggers attached to the camera for studio lights or off camera flash, they wouldn’t trigger. I will have to test this further because I couldn’t spend time on it while shooting with a client looking over my shoulder (it might also just be a 5DmkIII quirk).
The Batteries – The Manuals say to expect about 5 hours on a battery, but we ran down two batteries within about 4 and half hours. We did stretch shooting distances (and the manual says if the system pumps up the wifi output, we can expect about 3 hours on a battery) so it’s within spec I think. Also, the intermittent interference obviously didn’t help either.
To try and save the battery, I started switching off the unit between setups, but then I realised that the “handshake” between the unit and the iPad was just too slow. You have to really plan to give it a minute to start up and get ready to shoot, and also answer the connection question on the iPad (on behalf of your client) – Worse If you are working in an area where there is another known wifi source that you use. You have to physically disconnect from that source and reconnect to the CamRanger every time you switched off the CamRanger.
Luckily we had breaks in-between that we could charge up batteries for the unit while waiting for the Make-up artists to finish and then it hit me the USB plug used for charging the batteries in the unit is still at the studio. But everybody has USB right? wrong! – it’s the flat, angled USB plug (Micro-B), not the standard one that plugs into most other small devices (Mini-A) – Result: No charging could be done, so remember and plan ahead!
I liked the unit, it worked as expected. Actually, it worked better than I expected and I can see them pushing it’s abilities quite a bit further over time. Thought went into this unit (except the charging cable… but I am sure they have their reasons), even supplying the bag with a mini carabiner to clip to your tripod or belt. For a certain type of user this is a great solution. I can see it becoming part of our arsenal in the future.