Mark Harris, frozentime.se

Camranger/Nikon D800/D810/Mac Book Air review

I don’t normally do reviews, but since the product is so new, and there are so many hardware and software configurations, I thought I’d let the world know my experience of using the Camranger with a Nikon D800 and Mac Air, for which I could find no information in Oct 2013.

What is it ?

The CamRanger is a piece of hardware that allows wireless control of cameras and wireless transfer of images, using a laptop/iPad/iPhone. Find out more at camranger.com

It’s expensive (300 USD), but not only does do away with cables, it also provides better software for shooting ‘tethered’ than I have been able to find for the Nikon/Mac combination.

Soundbite

I love it ! Except when the connection inexplicably hangs, which happened too often.
(Update : maybe just a bad USB cable. See below.)

Setup

It was very easy to set up, just download the control program to the laptop, type in the WiFi settings to the Settings app of OS X, plug in the CamRanger to the USB slot on the camera, start the control program, and you are away.

I then set the preferences to automatically download image files, since I like to have copies on both the camera card and the laptop, partly for security, and partly so I can immediately start working on them in Lightroom.

I also set the connection mode to “camera” rather than “PC”, since this allowed me to fire the camera by hand, if I want to.

In use

Once set up, I could send the camera up to the top of a 4m long mast, and then control pretty much everything except of course the zoom setting on the lens. And when it came down I could continue shooting by hand from the camera.

When triggered from the laptop, the camera fired immediately, and the jpeg thumbnail from the raw file appeared within a second, and the 36MP raw files were delivered in under 10 seconds, after which I could zoom in to 100% to check sharpness.

With Lightroom set to monitor the image folder, I could start doing serious work on the files immediately too.


Issues

1) The big one is that sometimes the app complained that it couldn’t make a connection with the camera, and once that happened it took a long time and/or fiddling to get it back.

I never worked out the cause or cure for this, so when it suddenly worked again, I didn’t know whether it was random, or time, or the particularly order of restarts and power-downs that I had desperately been going through.

I was working in remote rural churches, so it’s hard to imagine that electrical interference was the problem. I don’t  know what mysterious forces The Lord uses, his wonders to perform, but I’m guessing he is too well behaved to infringe the 2.4 GHz band.

One thing to note is that the problems decreased the more times I had used the device. I don’t know why this should be, but I suspect I was modifying my behaviour somehow, maybe waiting longer between switching on each device, and avoiding switching off the camera during a shoot.

I was ready to report that the problems had gone away, and that they must have been user-error, or user-impatience, but then on the last day of the project it hung up for half an hour, and I was close to going back to wired-tethered before it suddenly behaved itself.

Update May 2014 : Early on I tried swapping the USB cable, but it didn't help, but now that I tried a third cable it seems to have fixed the problem. Others have also reported 'bad' USB cables (that work fine elsewhere) can cause problems with CamRanger.

2) The CamRanger comes in a neoprene bag, which you are supposed to hang from the camera or tripod, but that didn’t feel good, and I suspect its wobbling caused the USB-3 connection at the camera to disconnect a few times, so I put some velcro pads on the device so I could stick it to a solid surface, and also bought a very short USB cable that also made the system less vulnerable.

3) Note that the camera must be set to ‘raw capture only’ if you want raw files to be transferred, if you set raw+jpeg then only the jpeg will be transferred. On the other hand, if you don't need the raw files on the computer for backup or processing, then you get a much faster response by using raw+large_basic jpeg.

Alternatives

There are many good tethering programs out there, but it turns out that the combination Mac-Nikon knocks out many of them, so I have always used Lightroom connected via USB,

which gives no control of the camera except firing the shutter.

Nikon Control is an expensive option for ‘wired tethered’ (150 USD)

Mark Harris, frozentime.se, Nov 2013